The Mystery Chinese Stealth Jet Seen at U.S. Base Is For Marine OPFOR Training.
The U.S. Air Force has officially confirmed to TheAviationist.com that the Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon photographed at a military facility inside Savannah-Hilton Head Airport, Georgia, US, on Wednesday, Dec. 5, is a training mock-up for use by the United States Marine Corps.
“It is a full scale replica and remained at the Air Dominance Center for a short period during the week of 4-6 Dec. The USMC is funding and directing the training objectives of this device […] Col. Emmanuel Haldopoulos, Commander of the Savannah Air Dominance Center, wrote us.
The specific role of the realistic, full scale mock-up has not yet been clarified by official U. S. Marine Corps sources.
The photo caused worldwide speculation when we broke the story on Thursday, the day after the aircraft was sighted at Savannah-Hilton Head Airport. It was provided to us by a reliable spotter who asked to remain anonymous and shot the photo from public property. A number of theories about the plane’s authenticity and origin, including bizarre ideas about a Viktor Belenko style defection, however unlikely, swirled around social media. The Russian media outlet Sputnik ran a feature on the photograph and our story.
Internet and social media pundits around the world have viewed the photo millions of times and offered wide-ranging theories on what the aircraft was doing in the U.S. Others incorrectly questioned if the photo was authentic. In the internet frenzy that followed publication of the photo, some observers, including Russian sources, suggested the photo may have been altered or created using digital resources such as Photoshop.
One observer provided a radar track of an unidentified aircraft that was alleged to have flown from Alaska to Savannah-Hilton Head Airport just prior to the sighting. As is usually the case the conspiracy theories of secret defections and fake Photoshop images proved incorrect.
We have been confirmed via email by the Commander of the U.S. Air Force Air Dominance Center that the J-20 is a full-scale replica parked there Dec. 4-6. This finally proves your forensics analysis was wrong.
— The Aviationist (@TheAviationist) December 9, 2018
Late last week, Chinese Defense subject matter expert Andreas Rupprecht, noted author of several authoritative reference books on the Chinese air forces, was the first to observe that the aircraft’s control surfaces had not moved while parked in a static position. He also noted that the exhaust nozzles looked inaccurate and the landing gear was different from a real Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon. These observations confirmed the aircraft was a full-scale mock-up and not a real Chengdu J-20.
Before the USAF confirmed the role of the J-20 mock-up as a Marine Corps training tool to TheAviationist.com, there had also been some suggestion that the aircraft was a prop for use in the ongoing production of the Hollywood movie, “Top Gun: Maverick”.
Now that the authenticity of photo and the purpose for the Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon have been officially confirmed by the U.S. Air Force the more interesting story becomes how the U.S. Marine Corps will integrate the aircraft into its training operations.
The appearance of the USMC-owned J-20 mock-up suggests that the U.S. is taking the emergence of this and other Chinese weapons systems seriously. With a significant increase in both indigenous and export weapons programs coming from China the U.S. focus on emerging Chinese defense technology is well justified.
We will keep you updated as more details emerge.