The Chinese Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter made its public debut for the first time on Tuesday during the Airshow China.
It’s finally here—and flying in front of the public for all to see: the much-anticipated Chinese J-20 stealth fighter. Two J-20’s performed a flyby at the Airshow China on Tuesday in front of an eager and surprised crowd. China’s attempt at making a stealth aircraft and matching the USAF’s F-22 Raptor made a quantum leap with the J-20’s first public performance and the flyby opened the eyes of many Western analysts.
“This shows they now have confidence to put it out in public,” said a western industry official who has monitored the biennial show from its inception 20 years ago.
“This is the airplane for China in the way that the J-31 is not; this is the one they develop[ed] for themselves,” he added.
Two J-20’s flew down the runway at several hundred feet and then performed a vertical split. One aircraft then departed, while the other performed a few high G turns followed by a high-speed climb out. The large jet appeared to be fairly agile during its high G turns (although the maneuvers were very basic). However, the 60 second performance concluded with more questions than answers.
Besides the flyby, there were no other signs of the J-20 at the airshow. The Chinese did not hold briefings related to the J-20 program, nor were there any static display models in the show hall. Media covering the event still have not had an opportunity to see the aircraft up close and personal. Perhaps this is to keep the public from analyzing the stealth characteristics of the aircraft from a close vantage point. If so, the covert game plan seems to be working.
First seen in 2010, a lot about the J-20 still remains a mystery. Aviation experts are mostly in agreement that it is too early to say to what extent the new Chinese fighter can match the radar-evading properties of the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lighting II.
However, FighterSweep’s Nate “Buster” Jaros provided an excellent analysis last month of what we can expect from the new Chinese 5th generation fighter. He concluded that the J-20 is “medium” stealthy in the “mid to higher frequencies (acquisition and fire control radars mostly) and from front aspects only”.
Perhaps the real story is that China had enough confidence to show off their latest high-end product to rest of the world–and even potential buyers. China is expected to overtake the US as the world’s largest aviation market within the next 10 years. Making a stealth debut shows China is serious about the top end of the aviation market as well as the commercial domestic market.
The stealth debut should also raise the concerns of the US and its allies in the region. With the United States remaining engaged in the Middle East against ISIS, Russia and Iran, the “pivot to Asia” strategic plan seems to have stalled. Subsequently, China has slowly emerged in the region with new air combat capabilities–real or perceived–that will eventually fill the void created by US complacency. The J-20 debut is a serious component to that balance of power in the region.
Bradley Perrett of Aviation Week and a veteran China watcher, summed the situation up by stating: “It is clearly a big step forward in Chinese combat capability.”
Only time will tell just how big of a step it is.
Top Photo credit: Two J-20 stealth fighters fly past at Airshow China in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. China Daily/Reuters
Video: Youtube Channel FlowerVideo
You can read more about the J-20 debut here.