Home > technology > It is real; the much talked about Chinese stealth fighter J-20 makes flight

It is real; the much talked about Chinese stealth fighter J-20 makes flight

Right before Christmas 2010, amateur photos of China’s J-20 stealth fighter (歼-20) began to appear on the Internet and media around the world speculated about the plane’s authenticity. In this Huanqiu.com report, the J-20 made its first public flight today. Back in 2009, a high ranking Chinese military official announced the progress of this program and its expected roll-out into service around 2020. Compared to the U.S. F-22 “Raptor”, which went into service in 2005, China is 15 years behind. Of course that is assuming the J-20 is on par with the F-22, which many analysts doubt. The Russian T-50, “Sukhoi PAK FA” is expected to go into service in 2012.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in China this week to discuss military ties between the two nations. China cut off military exchanges with the U.S. after Obama announced selling arms to Taiwan. (In some ways, Chinese sentiments against that move can be summed up in this Open Letter from a Chinese netizen, LTML.) Gates made the controversial decision in 2010 to cap the production of the F-22 at 187 units in favor of advancing the F-35. This NPR report continues:

The J-20 would pose the greatest immediate threat to Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims as Chinese territory — to be recovered by force if necessary. Taiwan’s air force is composed mostly of aging U.S. F-16s and French Mirage jets, and its electronic warning systems would find it difficult to cope with stealth technology.

It is pretty interesting though to see the tactics used by the U.S. media. See how they snug this “threat to Taiwan” in the report? Other recycled themes are that this revelation of the J-20 was timed to “upstage” Gates. I often wonder why Americans put up with so much junk in their media.

While reading up about this news in China, I watched a panel discussion on CCTV about the impact of the J-20. One of the panelist made some comments I thought very interesting. With the U.S. budget deficit and the $700billion+ annual military budget, it is clear the U.S. will have to cut back. Gates announced recently cutting Pentagon budget by $78billion over the next five years. The panelist argued that it will be tougher for the U.S. to make this cut now, because opponents will cite China’s J-20 progress.

Also, military spending employs many Americans. Given the high unemployment rate, cutting back on military is even more tough. In this post, “Map of U.S. Military bases around the world” I argued given the U.S. footprint around the world, we might see it becoming more belligerent as a means to justify its size. And yes, that belligerence also means forcing Japan and South Korea to pay even more for the U.S. presence than what they are paying today.

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  1. SilentChinese
    January 11th, 2011 at 15:16 | #1

    No “Dustbin of history”???


    “I’ve watched this sort of cyclical view of American decline come around two or three times, perhaps most dramatically in the latter half of the 1970s,” Dr Gates told reporters en route to China.

    “And my general line for those both at home and around the world who think the US is in decline is that history’s dustbins are filled with countries that underestimated the resilience of the United States.”


    He said this while he was flying to Beijing.

  2. January 11th, 2011 at 15:27 | #2

    Lol, if the post doesn’t reference it you are always welcome to it in the comments.

    Gates was responding to those in the West criticizing a “decline” in the U.S. military. I agree with Gates though – the U.S. is way ahead of anybody, including the Russians. China is even further behind.

    The Russians may match the U.S. nuke for nuke, but compared to the constant large scale military exercises of the U.S., and the regular invasions of foreign countries where the U.S. get to practice her troops in all types of terrains and conditions on this planet, there is absolutely no match in experience and sophistication.

    Btw, this was a comment too from one of the panelists I watched carried on CCTV.

    Within China, the view of the U.S. military is clearly a league of her own and light years ahead.

    In the West, the “China threat” sells, and it’s great for business for the media and the weapons manufacturers.

  3. Charles Liu
    January 11th, 2011 at 16:58 | #3

    We actually don’t know what is the radar profile of this jet fighter. It looks like a hybrid of US(front) and Russian(back) stealth fighters. The theory of stealth is known, now it’s been around for over a decade (surface geometry, IR/radio wave absorbtion, signal jamming), the physics, material science, electronics are not trivial.

    We have no idea what the plane is capable of, or what the Chinese military’s intention is. PLA has relied on ambiguity as deterrent throughout the Cold War. For example there’s credible evidence China’s ICBM program in the 80’s only had 18 missiles, and none are operational because of various safeguard to prevent accidental firing.

    The “Hu Jintal was not told of test flight” claim is typical ridiculous characture of China’s leaders. I wasn’t able to find photos of the VIP planes you mentioned, but here’s a posting on Tainya that spotted a PLAAF 737 hauling people to watch the test flight:


    “漢和成都專電:7日10:45 分,專用機降落成都,無法確認機型,應該是Boing737,從西郊機場起飛”

    Here’s are few picture of the test flight, look at all the people watching:


    You gonna tell me Old Mrs. Wang knew but Hu Jintao didn’t? How gullible does our media think we are?

  4. Charles Liu
    January 11th, 2011 at 17:01 | #4

    Opps, that Tianya cite may have wrong date. SilentChines can you find the cite?

  5. r v
    January 11th, 2011 at 18:14 | #5

    Part of the uncertainty is inherent to Stealth: Even US hasn’t gone up against another country in “stealth vs. stealth”.

    No one knows what will happen.

    When one has stealth, one doesn’t really have to have the “best” stealth. Good enough might be devastating enough.

    If a Chinese J-20 can carry a big enough of an anti-ship missile on it, it’s going to take quite a few F-35 to hunt it down and prevent it from getting close to a visible carrier.

    If both sides have stealth fighters/bombers, airports and carriers might be useless.

    I would say, stealth refueling planes would be the next bit, or stealth carriers (very difficult). And also stealth missiles and bombs.

  6. silentchinese
    January 11th, 2011 at 20:26 | #6

    @r v

    It’s more like a hunter hunting for F35s.

  7. silentchinese
    January 11th, 2011 at 20:28 | #7

    @Charles Liu

    where you guys have been hiding in a cave?

    there were about half a dozen microblogers on sina covering it live.

    for all intents and purposes last week the first attempt at first flight half of china’s civil leadership were there.

    some one didn’t tell Gates the whole story.

  8. silentchinese
    January 11th, 2011 at 20:30 | #8


    “Within China, the view of the U.S. military is clearly a league of her own and light years ahead.”

    not anymore. those CCTV commentators who has an angle to sell not withstanding

    bit by bit they see that this is not some alien technology stuff.

  9. Charles Liu
    January 12th, 2011 at 00:36 | #9

    @SilentChines – can you provide some links?

  10. TonyP4
    January 12th, 2011 at 09:20 | #10

    Do not be over-joyed yet. It will take China at least 10 years to perfect the jet engine and put it into production. So, is the carrier killer system. However, it shows the west/us that China is on the way to break thru the technical barriers.

    The satellite killer is real. All the GPS satellites are real as part of the carrier killer system.

    The stealth jet could be a long way to go. The recent showing has political implication. Most likely the submarines with nuclear missiles are being tracked by US, so the stealth jets are more important.

    Chins is at least 50 years behind US in weapons – closer if you compare the progress. 60 years ago, China could not build a decent bicycle. Hence they have narrowed the big gap.

  11. SilentChinese
    January 12th, 2011 at 16:01 | #11
  12. SilentChinese
    January 12th, 2011 at 16:01 | #12

    what are you smoking man? 50 years?

  13. TonyP4
    January 13th, 2011 at 05:29 | #13

    The 50 years gap is from a well-respected journal. For me, missile technology is closer but most are not like carrier, jet…

  14. SilentChinese
    January 13th, 2011 at 10:03 | #14


    can I get a name of that respected journal and the article?

    50 years ago US jets flys with J79s.
    today Chinese jets flys with WS-10, equivalent to F110.

    at most it is a 20 year gap, at most with engines.

  15. r v
    January 13th, 2011 at 16:00 | #15

    20 years in Chinese production calendar will be more like 5 years.

    On another note, some people, even Chinese, complain that China only knows how to copy.

    Well, I disagree, making a good copy is a great skill to have. Improving on a copy is even better.

    Some Western Military analysts poopoo on the J-20 as a bad copy of F22 and PAK-FA put together. Well, I say, I like to see someone try to combine a F22 and PAK-FA and make it fly, and see how long it would take them do it.

    With US’s technical prowess, you would think they could have solved all the problems with F35 by now. (BTW, F35 is not that huge of an improvement over F22). But they are still having problems and delays and going over budget.

    Whatever US’s problems are, it only shows that “technical prowess” and “creativity” are not enough.

    Often times, even in military, it comes down to raw MONEY, TIME, EFFORT.

    Nothing wrong with borrowing the good ideas from others and make it better on your own.

  16. TonyP4
    January 14th, 2011 at 08:00 | #16

    I read a lot, so I cannot keep track of the source but I recall it is from a reliable source.

    When a jet can fly, it does not mean production is near. You have to compare how advanced is the jet engine to start. Some engines can last 30 hours without rebuilding it and some can last 300 hours. For the former, it is not ready for production. I can see it will take about 10 years to perfect an engine from the current stage (unless China does not use its own engines).

    Even the best jet China makes today cannot compete with the current jets in US and Russia. As I stated before, the jet technology needs a lot of supporting industries and China is on its way to resolve a lot of technical barriers.

  17. SilentChinese
    January 14th, 2011 at 09:06 | #17


    First flight of YF-22 is Sep 29 1990. First flight of Project 718 Engineering Article 01 (the “J-20”) is Jan 11. 2010.

    That is 19 years and change.

  18. wuschel
    January 16th, 2011 at 17:12 | #18

    Of course China is catching up in terms of technology research in production, both through own means or aquiration. Sooner or later they are going to catch up with the “West” – but I really doubt that it will happen in the next years.

    The “West” and China. It is so easy to divide people in a Brave New World like this — and it is mostly the politicians of those countries that attempt such divisions.

  19. January 23rd, 2011 at 09:42 | #19

    Having lived for eight years in China where I couldn’t drink the water without bottles, breathe the air without cycling masks, or cycle on the road without getting hit four times, it’s clear the Chinese had to steal to get where they are. EVERYONE knows where to go for the cheapest fake DVDs, the cheapest fake Windows systems, the cheapest fake clothes etc. A country of 1.4 billion and no Nobel prizes for science now suddenly has stealth technology… guess it will have to come up with its own replacement, not liking the choice for Nobel Peace prize.

  20. r v
    January 23rd, 2011 at 12:53 | #20

    “EVERYONE knows where to go for the cheapest fake DVDs, the cheapest fake Windows systems.”

    Yes, Bittorrent, invented by Westerners. And they are not “fake”, just copies.

    I don’t know what “cheapest fake clothes” means. What are “fake clothes”? Clothes that are not really made from cloth?

    And there is a difference between knockoffs and imitations. Imitations are not necessarily illegal. (i.e. most touch screen phones are similar looking to iPhones. Some even have iPhone icons).

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