Japan recently made news by showing off the X-2 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Advanced Technology Demonstrator – Experimental (ATD-X),a full-scale test model of a domestically designed fifth-generation fighter, unofficially called ‘ShinShin.’ But on Jan. 18, China demonstrated it is well past demonstrators. At the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation factory in Sichuan, China it began the test flights on “2101”, the first production J-20 stealth fighter.
“2101” is the first airframe in the inaugural production batch of J-20 fighters. With the first J-20 squadron expected to be fully delivered by year’s end, the China Flight Testing Evaluation regiment will being developing operating procedures, tactics and technical proficiency to bring the J-20 to combat readiness. At this pace, it is expected that in 2017-2018, the Chinese Air Force will have its first operational stealth fighter squadron.
The J-20 fighter is the showcase of modern Chinese military technology. While it currently relies on Russian AL-31 series turbofan engines (the powerful domestic WS-15 engine will enter service in 2019-2021), everything else on the J-20 is Chinese; its stealth coating, infrared sensor, powerful AESA radar, are all domestically made.
The incoming J-20 service entry will happen around the same period that the US F-35 becomes combat ready. Perhaps more important to regional arms races and prestige, it give China roughly a ten year lead on building and using domestically developed stealth fighters vs. other Asian rivals (domestic Indian, Japanese and Korean stealth fighters are not expected to enter service until after 2027). In addition to J-20 and the soon to follow in production J-31 stealth fighter, Chinese plans also call for stealthy drones, bombers and advanced cruise missiles.
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