China’s new J-20 “Mighty Dragon” stealth fighter officially unveiled and ready to enter active service

The PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force) has eventually unveiled its long-awaited J-20 stealth fighter to the public during the Zhuhai Air Show’s opening ceremony. Is it possible to compare it with the F-22?

Two LRIP (Low-rate Initial Production) J-20A stealth jets did a brief 60-second fly-past at the Zhuhai Air Show 2016 in Guangdong province on the Show’s first day on Nov. 1, 2016, marking the first public appearance of the “Mighty Dragon” fighter that performed its maiden flight back in 2011.

Even though the J-20s did not fly a dramatic flight demo, the two fighters thundered above hundreds of spectators as well as political and industrial dignitaries and executives, made a few climbs, turns and formation fly-bys and then disappeared again.

The public appearance was far from being unannounced, due to the preparation at CAC earlier this month.

Four days ago even the PLAAF itself announced in an official statement, that it would demonstrate its latest J-20 stealth fighter jet at the Zhuai Air Show: Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, PLAAF- spokesman noted, that “the J-20 was designed by our aircraft researchers for future aerial combat. Test pilots from the Air Force will use it to perform at the 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition.”

The Chinese Chengdu J-20 is a fifth generation stealth aircraft developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).

We still know little of about this aircraft even though it bears a loose resemblance to at least three (if not more) other types of aircraft: the F-22 Raptor; the Mig 1.42 prototype; and the the Mig-31 “Firefox”, a fictional aircraft appearing in “Firefox”, a 1982 action film produced and directed by, and starring, Clint Eastwood based on a 1977 novel written by Craig Thomas.


The aircraft is believed to be equipped with IRST (Infra-Red Search and Tracking), AESA radar and several other interesting stuff, but its ability to match the most advanced western “hardware” is still much debated.

What follows is an analysis of the latest J-20’s achievements.

2016 milestones

With the arrival of the first LRIP aircraft in December 2015 and further new aircraft since then, all “older” prototypes (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017) were transferred in the meantime to the CFTE at Xi’an-Yanliang for further ongoing tests with regular detachments for alleged weapons testing at the PLAAF’S Flight Test and Training Base (FTTC) at Dingxin. These tests so far included captive tests with four large drop-tanks and reportedly included firings of both the new PL-15 long-range AAM as well as the new PL-10 short-range AAM. Besides that, it was reported that the WS-15 has just finished ground testing (with a thrust of about 160kN reached), and it is ready to begin the test on an IL-76LL platform.

In retrospect the year 2016 so far was an extremely successful year for CAC: reports assume that at least seven LRIP J-20As were flown; and most interesting, not only in yellow primer or standard PLAAF-grey with toned-down national markings, but apparently at least one spotting an all-new splinter scheme [similar to that used by West’s Aggressors]. Other reports assume that a few J-20A have already left Chengdu to a first OPEVAL unit, which is most likely established at the flight test center (FTTC) at Dingxin air base, where 12 new hangars were erected since 2015.

Otherwise most spectators, enthusiast and analysts still have to be patient and it is surely too early to judge to what extent the J-20 can match the stealth properties of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II or how far its avionics are comparable. So far not even its external dimensions, specifications on its KLJ-5 AESA-radar –that is also under test on a special Tu-204C testbed – nor its type of engine were officially revealed, however following the latest reports it is not unlikely a special custom-tailored version based on the Salut AL-31FM2.



Since its maiden flight in January 2011 ten prototypes were manufactured (Note: the two demonstrators 2001, 2002 = now 2004, + the prototypes 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and two static test specimen) and that this type is to be the third stealth fighter jet to enter operational service following the United States’ F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. In retrospect the J-20A has indeed reached the LRIP-phase with the J-20’s design being frozen. If the PLAAF follows now the usual procedures, a first unit equipped with these LRIP J-20As of the current interim standard will enter service within the PLAAF at around the year’s end or early 2017; much earlier than expected. As such it seems to be confirmed that even if limited in its capabilities due to the missing WS-15, the PLAAF will bring that type to service as soon as possible to exploit and explore operational tactics and procedures for this new fighter.

Concluding, the J-20 is a giant leap for the PLAAF both capability-wise and technology-wise alike. Did anyone of us expect a Chinese stealth fighter to be operational before 2020 when asked in, let’s say, 2010?

As such even if probably no match in terms of stealth to the latest F-fighters (due to no stealthy-nozzle, open chaff-and-flare boxes and other details…) it is surely much more stealthy than any other type operational in that area. Even if its engines are not the top ones desired – aka the future WS-15 – they are surely comparable (if my theory is correct and I’m quite confident!) – they give that type already a performance surely not worse than the latest J-11B … as such it is a huge step even if it might be well below the F-22’s capabilities.

Andreas Rupprecht is an aviation journalist. He has written several books on China’s military aviation, including “Flashpoint China” and “Modern Chinese Warplanes”.

Image credit: Weibo/Chinese Internet via Rupprecht



  1. I watched video of the J-20 flying at the Zhuhai air show. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Not with the plane’s looks, not with its obvious lack of stealth, not with its large size, not with its ho-hum maneuverability. The electronics are probably as lackluster. I wouldn’t hesitate to fight it in a Tomcat (R.I.P.) or Eagle. Viper or Typhoon. Rafale or Hornet.

    Now you China-good America-bad and canard fanatics may like it, and we won’t ever hear you say a bad word in critique against it, but trust me – the U.S. military is not worried about putting F-22 or F-35 in a fight vs. it
    Obviously the air vehicle was made using stolen design schematics from the U.S. F-35 and Russia’s failed MiG-1.44 projects. A bast_rd child if I may be so bold. But competitive with American 5th gen? Not on your life! Yet for them it is admittedly a start.

    Next time, when we design our 6th gen, let’s make sure we secure all servers. Let the Chinese make a plane all by their lonesome – that is IF they can. But fear the F-35? The PLAAF and RuAF had better. They have nothing that can compete with it, and won’t for at least one to two decades. Hope the locals enjoy the airshow.

    • They are not intended to fight against F-22 and F-35, so yes, US military have no worries about that, and with the rest you say, you must be an well educated experts that have this ideas that most aerodynamic, military and electronic expert do not have, very interesting indeed.

    • “Needless to say, I was not impressed”… Of course leroy, my little kid. You are going to each possible military website saying the same: “They have nothing that can compete with it, and won’t for at least one to two decades”… blah, blah, blah. Keep in your delusions.

      • I’ve got a Gold set of wings compliments of the U.S. Navy. Tell me Diego, what did they pin on your chest after all those hours flying kites?

    • “and won’t for at least one to two decades”

      WOW now that’s some insider’s information. How long have you worked in the Pentagon to be so sure about the future of the Russian forces ?

    • LoL…Does saying all these nonsense make you feel more comfortable? F-22 is decent but F-35 is like a piece of shit before J-20. Btw, your 6th Gen fighter is a joke. We can do dozens of pre-design picture within one day…

    • Your comment clearly has been shoved right up from your one single pipe of green-with-envy and fake-as-ersatz self-righteousness that your mom gave you at birth.
      The J-20 is designed to work with ground / surface radars to completely wipe out American aerial tankers, AWACS, JSTARS and especially the F-35 using its superior PL-15 and PL-21 missiles that outstick anything carried by the little stubby and squat fella, the F-35.
      The J-20 is not designed to fight in American airspace. This job is strictly reserved for the huge arsenal of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and hypersonic missiles that the aggressive American attacker currently cannot match.

      • You are funny. Nothing China has can compete with U.S. and Western equipment. Nothing. No ships, planes or submarines. Maybe you can explain why China can’t build a decent fighter engine, and why they have to steal most of what they have from the low-tech Russians? If there is any envy here, it’s coming from your hilarious comment!

        • You can’t hear correctly. A man just said China has the fastest super-computer for the last 6 years in a row.

          No major nation fight a war for 70 years. Let’s leave it that way and hope we will never have to find out who’s #1.

    • everything is a waste of money for the US taxpayer, China will never go to war with USA and viceversa, USA will never go to war with Russia and viceversa, all this technology is designed to be sold at the end, is a busineess like any other, but very profitable!

      • Drones are the most efficient predators on the planet and everyone know the number of targets are relatively small if you destroy only the people with influence. Terrorist easily win mental battles, war is about forcibly changing attitudes.

  2. Su-35 is likely to be the premier multi role fighter in the PLAAF’s forthcoming inventory.

    • The Shenyang J-16 is more likely to be the premier multi role fighter than the Su-35, which is from Russia. China is only buying 24 Su-35s but they can build their J-16 as much as they want. The Chengdu J-10 series already has a strike version. I am waiting for a strike variant of their new J-20. Perhaps specialized for anti-ship missiles, unless they intend that role for their upcoming H-20 bomber.

    • Shortly after 17th Nov. meeting between Mr. Vladimir Putin and Mr. Xu Qiliang (Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Commission), Russia nad China signed a contract for 24 Su-35 units to supply.

      Flying beauty, isn´t she?

      • So was a Spitfire, but you wouldn’t take it into combat today. This is a 1970s vintage aircraft that cannot compete with U.S. 5th gen. The Russian Air Force is a joke and getting funnier with every NATO nation that is transitioning to the F-35. In an air war, Sukhois and MiGs would be falling from the skies like chickens dropped out of hot air balloons! All flap no fly.

        • Obviously you are not a pilot and speak for overseers. The F-35 flies about as well as a cannon ball, can’t dogfight and has Chinese chips. So much for the F-35.

    • The Su-35 is actually a piece of crap. Why ? It is unlikely to do well against smaller aircraft like the Gripen armed with the Meteor missile.

  3. Retro engineering near perfect clones of all types of tech for half of the prize. Under cutting the market in all fronts including aerospace & astronautics. Good for some if you know how to take advantage, buying directly from China. Regardless J-20 is a good testing bed for the next Stealth dragon. 20-30 years from now….

  4. I don´t know about its capabilities, but it looks pretty cool, specially with that paint scheme, reminds me of the futuristic fighter concepts drawings from the 80´s, lol.
    I have always thought this plane was a demostrator, are they going to make this desing operational?

  5. the real proof will be when they get in skirmishes with some of their neighbors. Vs indian rafaeles, japanese or korean f-16/15’s will be the real test

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