We have found where the USMC put their J-20 training mock-up we first spotted in December 2018.
In December 2018, we were the first to report about a somehow weird sighting: a Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon at an airport in Georgia, US. We were also sent some images that indeed showed a J-20 replica and we geo-located the photographs as being taken in front of the USAF Air Dominance Center at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, where the U.S. Air Force and Air Force reserve operate a number of aircraft.
A few days later, we also got the confirmation from the Col. Emmanuel Haldopoulos, Commander of the Savannah Air Dominance Center, that the aircraft, was “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 […] wrote us.
The specific role of the realistic, full scale mock-up was not completely clarified by official U. S. Marine Corps sources. A statement to Marine Corps Times from Marine Corps Training and Education Command, or TECOM, said the mock-up Chinese aircraft we had spotted was used for visual and sensor training.
The Corps’ operating forces collaborated with Marine Corps Range and Training Area Management Branch to identify various threat systems to replicate.
“The initial aircraft mock-up identified was a J-20 fighter to develop as a proof of concept, with a plan to develop additional threat aircraft and vehicles in the future,” TECOM explained.
“The prototype was built by a contractor in LaGrange, GA and was moved to Air Dominance Center (ADC) Savannah, Georgia to evaluate the assembly and dis-assembly process, heat and light signatures, and prepare for movement to the chosen training area in North Carolina,” TECOM said.
It’s pretty common for both the U.S. Marine Corps and the USAF and USN to use realistic peer rival aircraft for training purposes or even for realistic aggressive opposing forces training. For instance, in 2018, the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force Training Command filed a solicitation for contractors to provide Russian-built Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter, equipped with electronic tracking pods for integration into simulated combat exercises at the MCAS Yuma Range and Training Area (RTA) to serve as accurate opposing forces threat simulation aircraft. The same is done by the other U.S. services, including the U.S. Air Force, that operates two Mi-24s at Davis-Monthan AFB for dissimilar aerial training with HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters (and also trains with some secretive Su-27 inside Area 51, as we reported in details back in 2017).
Anyway, we did not get any additional detail until we were suggested by one of our readers to have a look at the satellite imagery of Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue, or “Bogue Field”, an airfield that serves as a Marine Corps’ East Coast site for Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) and carrier qualification. The airfield is periodically visited by MCAS Cherry Point’s AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets as well as teams of the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force teams conducting tests with the F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Lightning II stealth jet that can carry out vertical landing maneuvers in simulated expeditionary conditions on the airfield.
Indeed, a J-20 replica can be clearly seen parked on the left border of the northern apron of Bogue Field. The photo dates back to March 12, 2019, so it was taken after the mock up was spotted in Georgia. We don’t know what kind of visual or sensor training it is supposed to support over there: it may be some kind of night/day attack jet or helicopter pod usage or long-range targeting in a simulated attack on an enemy airfield. Who knows?
Needless to say, despite being realistic, the full-scale mock up also embeds some inaccuracies, which become pretty evident from close distance. Andreas Rupprecht, an expert on Chinese military aviation, responding to our questions about the replica J-20 back in 2018, 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, a two engine fifth generation stealth aircraft developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
Whatever, as commented when we were officially confirmed the J-20 mock-up was USMC-owned, it’s interesting to note that the U.S. is not only replicating the Russian threats but is taking the emergence of Chinese weapons system seriously. Let’s see if any other Chinese replica is introduced as part of the US forces realistic adversary training in the near future.