China's sixth-generation fighter aircraft to have capabilities similar to NGAD, says US official

At their current pace, the U.S. will have to race to stay ahead.
Ameya Paleja
F-35 fighter jet
F-35 fighter jet


China is busy working on developing its own version of the sixth-generation fighter aircraft, and its vision for the program is similar to the U.S. Air Force's Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, the head of the Air Combat Command (ACC) Gen/ Mark D. Kelly said at a media interaction, The Drive reported.

Sixth-generation fighter aircraft are mainly conceptual, and while they are in development for various militaries, their exact capabilities are unknown. These aircraft are expected to arrive by the end of the decade at the earliest and are likely to feature uncrewed drones flying alongside crewed aircraft and new-era weapons and sensors.

China's approach to developing sixth-generation aircraft

At the media interaction, Kelly highlighted that China's vision for such an aircraft was similar to that of the U.S. in terms of seeking an exponential increase in power and sensing capabilities while expecting identical rate reductions in signature.

China's sixth-generation fighter aircraft to have capabilities similar to NGAD, says US official
Three combat fighter jet on a military mission with weapons

To achieve this, China is expected to deploy its iterative approach to quickly close the gap between its existing technologies and those it desires. This is something it has executed very well with the Flanker series of aircraft of Soviet origins.

According to The Drive, China first imported the Su-27 aircraft in 1992 and began producing them under license as J-11 and J-11A aircraft in the next eight years. Using locally sourced avionics and engines, China then rolled out the J-11B as its aircraft with multirole capabilities.

It has then something similar to the Su-30MKK aircraft, which as the J-15, is also seeing multirole assignments. Recent advances in warfare have meant that the upcoming variants of J-15 and J-16 are also equipped for electronic warfare.

The country's recent decision to purchase a small batch of the Su-35s was also seen by Kelly as a way to gain access to the fifth-generation speed and avionics of the otherwise fourth-generation aircraft, The Drive said in its report.

China's capabilities in these domains mean it could rapidly move in developing its sixth-generation aircraft such that the U.S. would have to race to stay ahead, Kelly told the media.

New J-20s: Much ado about nothing?

Kelly's comments sharply contrast with how Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, the head of Pacific Air Forces, views the new J-20 aircraft. Although a fifth-generation aircraft, Wilsbach had mentioned that the J-20 wasn't a major concern since it suffered the same issues as China's other homegrown aircraft, underpowered engines, Business Insider reported.

The aircraft features new-age stealth characteristics, high maneuverability, advanced avionics and sensors, radar tracking, and an internal weapons bay. China has not only deployed the J-20s regularly in the East and South China Seas. Although it is not clear whether the aircraft is being developed as a multirole fighter or for maintaining air superiority, China has plans to make many of these, something the U.S. is keeping an eye on.

In addition, China is also developing an H-20 bomber and an uncrewed combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) for now, so a sixth-generation fighter aircraft on the horizon shouldn't be a surprise.

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