A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Defence, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, announced that China’s latest Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter has been officially commissioned into military service. However, it's likely it won’t be fully operational until 2018 or 2019.
“The J-20 is China's fourth-generation medium and long-range fighter jet. It made its maiden flight in 2011 and was first shown to the public at the 11th Airshow China in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, in November last year,” read a statement on state media organization website Xinhua.
The jet is China’s answer to Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor fast jet, which was developed for the U.S. Air Force. Testing for the completed J-20 is due to start soon, though a prototype had a maiden test flight in 2011 which surprised experts with its quick progress.
Despite the report by the Ministry of Defense spokesperson, its speculated that, much like the F-22 Raptor, the J-20 is actually a fifth generation fighter with stealth technology and the ability to reach supersonic speeds.
It's equipped with subsystems and field signature reduction technology that meets the internationally-accepted classification of “fifth generation” aircraft, says CSIS. Though China’s criteria for defining aircraft generations is different from international standards, so to them, the J-20 is a fourth generation aircraft.
So far, the United States is the only country with a fully operational fifth-generation fighter, the F-22. China and the US are the only two countries with stealth fighter programs.
Pilot training for China’s fighter jet began earlier this month, more than a thousand new cadets have been inducted into China’s Air Force Aviation University. The pilots were selected from a group of 120,000 high school graduates who applied for the program.
The Chengdu J-20
The J-20 is an advanced multirole stealth fighter and can fulfill both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat roles “for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the aviation branch of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (referred to as either Naval Aviation or the PLAN-AF),” states CSIS.
Much like the F-22, the J-20 is powered by two afterburning turbofan engines, which are currently Russian AL-31 engines but China has plans to upgrade in the coming years to the Chinese-made WS-15 engine.
Armaments-wise, the jet has two lateral bays for small air-to-air missiles, while underneath the fuselage is a larger bay for both missiles and surface attack weapons. There is also a variety of electronic system onboard, including an active electronically scanned array, a chin mounted infrared/electro-optic search and track sensor, and a passive electro-optical detection system that will provide 360° spherical coverage around the aircraft.
Regarding size, satellite imagery has revealed the fighter to be between 20.3 to 20.5 meters long, a similar size to its US counterpart.
The J-20 will potentially increase Chinese military strength and could “immediately become the most advanced aircraft deployed by any East Asian Power,” according to a 2014 U.S. Naval War College report.