China J-20 Stealth Fighter 2015 aircraft in flight
2015 made its first flight on December 19, 2014. At this point in the J-20's development, the design is essentially fixed, though the AL-31 engines are likely to be swapped for more powerful Chinese WS-15 turbofans by 2019. Andreas Rupprecht at China Defense Forum
China J-20 Stealth Fighter 2015

J-20 2015 First Flight

The 6th J-20 stealth fighter takes off on December 19, 2014 in Chengdu, China. The rapid production of J-20 prototypes (4 so far) this year suggests that the fighter is well on its way into production.

On December 18, 2014, the 6th J-20 stealth fighter prototype took off from the Chengdu Aviation Corporation factory. At six airframes, that makes the J-20 the most numerous non-American stealth fighter in the world (the Russian T-50 PAK-FA has only four airworthy examples, after an accident in June 2014 destroyed the fifth model). So far, 2014 has seen the debut flights of four J-20 fighters (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015).

J-20 radar Tu-204

J-20 Radar Testbed

This fan made comparison shows the Tu-204 “769” airliner modified for use as the J-20’s radar testbed, along with its American Boeing 757 counterpart which tested the F-22A’s radar. The grey panels beneath 769’s cockpit could be smaller side and rear mounted radars for the J-20, to provide 360 degree coverage. Like the F-22, the J-20 will have an AESA radar capable not only of detecting enemy radars and guiding missiles, but also it can jam enemy electronics, communications, as well as conduct intelligence gathering and processing.

Fifth generation fighters are commonly accepted to have a stealthy airframe, an active electronically scanned radar, networked sensors and supercruise engines (supercruise engines provide enough velocity by themselves to reach supersonic speeds, without using fuel thirsty afterburners). Currently, the J-20 uses an advanced version of the Russian Al-31F, which is unlikely to be fast enough to supercruise (to be fair, the F-35 doesn’t supercruise either).

China J-20 Stealth Fighter 2015

2015 Parked

“2015” sits on a runway in Chengdu, China. The fighter is expected to leave for further testing at the CFTE base in Xian, China, nearly a thousand miles away. The main difference between “2015” and the earlier “2011” and “2012” seem to so far be the modified tail boom stingers, which likely house rear facing radar.

2015 features slight improvements to the airframe, compared to 2011 and 2012, with changed tail booms around the engine nozzles. The changes to the stingers are likely to accommodate rearwards facing radar, similar to the secondary radar arrangements on the T-50 PAK-FA. Having secondary radar arrays located on the rear and side will give a fighter 360 degree radar coverage, allowing for greater situational awareness and the ability to shoot long ranged radar guided missiles against pursuing aircraft. 2013 and 2015 both have retractable inflight refueling probes located alongside the cockpit, to extend their operational range.

China J-20 Stealth Fighter 2015 aircraft in flight

2015 in Flight

2015 made its first flight on December 19, 2014. At this point in the J-20’s development, the design is essentially fixed, though the AL-31 engines are likely to be swapped for more powerful Chinese WS-15 turbofans by 2019.

Coming less than three weeks after the fifth prototype, “2013”, first flew on November 29, 2014, the rapid production of J-20 stealth fighters suggests that China’s flagship fighter program is entering Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP). LRIP is the stage in the development of military platforms where the design is essentially frozen, thus allowing the manufacturing to begin gaining experience by producing small numbers of the finished design (the F-35 is currently on LRIP Batch 8). The rapid production of four similar fighters within a year suggests that China has settled on the final design of the J-20, and it is likely that production of the first squadron could happen in 2015. The first squadron of 20-24 fighters would be produced in 2015 and early 2016, going to the China Flight Test Evaluation Regiment to develop tactics for the J-20’s advanced capabilities. Assuming things go to schedule, the first J-20 squadron would be ready for combat in 2017.

China J-20 2013


“2013” first flew on November 29, 2014, just three weeks before “2015”. The ability of Chengdu Aviation Corporation to field so many J-20s in such a short timespan is indication of growing capability to rapidly produced a finalized design of the J-20 fighter.

A 2016-2017 introduction places the J-20’s debut in the same window as the Russian PAK-FA fighter, as well as the USMC F-35B and USAF F-35A. More importantly, the J-20 would make the PLAAF the first Asian air force to have a fifth generation fighter, definitively shifting the balance of indigenous Asian air superiority to China for the first time in history. Future iterations of the J-20 would be equipped with the supercruise capable WS-15 Chinese turbofan engine, and possibly advanced systems like directed energy weapons (lasers) and networked UAVs.

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