Recent photos have emerged showing what appears to be the fourth prototype of China’s “fifth generation” stealth fighter, the Chengdu Aviation Corporation’s J-20. Of course, the first thing one notices about these photos is that they appear to have the sepia tone of antique photos, giving China’s 21st century fighter jet a decidedly 19th century feel. This doesn’t mean that Chinese military jet designers are necessarily hipsters though; Instagrams and other photo manipulation apps are the latest in a long line of survival mechanisms used to allow the filtering of Chinese military photography onto the Internet. Adding sepia tones and whimsical shading to photos is certainly a step up from previous Chinese military enthusiast techniques of rough pencil sketches and Photoshopped blurred-out backgrounds. Chinese Internet censors are certainly aware of these “de-enhancement” methods, though they tolerate them for the purposes of providing an open source window on PLA modernization to impress both domestic and foreign audiences.
Y-20 First Look, past the Great Firewall of China
On a more militarily significant note, the plane depicted in the photo, numbered “2012,” is the fourth flying prototype of the J-20. It appears to be similar to the third prototype, “2011.” Compared to the first two J-20 prototypes, these newer versions carry a stealth optimized targeting and infrared search pod, as well as have redesigned engine inlets and stealthier wings.
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