China 5th Gen J-20B Breathing Down India’s Neck; Can Rafales, Sukhois Match The ‘Stealth’ Jet?

Chinese stealth fighter jet – J-20B has undergone an upgrade to finally classify itself as a full-fledged fifth-generation aircraft. In doing so, it now aims to directly challenge the US dominance led by F-35 and F-22 fighter jets and dominate its neighbours.

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An upgraded version of the Chinese J-20B stealth fighter jet has formally entered mass production. The modification has earned it the title of being a fifth-generation fighter jet. Fifth-generation fighters are defined by their stealth technology, supersonic cruising speed, super manoeuvrability, and highly integrated avionics.

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Although J-20 has been on active duty since 2017, western aviation experts had described the jet as a “dedicated interceptor aircraft” because of its lack of agility.  The modified J-20B was unveiled earlier this week. The ceremony was hosted by many senior military leaders including the Central Military Commission (CMC) vice-chairman General Zhang Youxia.

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Speaking at the event, Zhang, who is also in charge of weapons development for the People’s Liberation Army, confirmed the mass production of the J-20B. He said that J-20B is now equipped with thrust vector control thus helping the jet achieve agility criteria required to ‘classify’ as a fifth-generation fighter jet.

Thrust vector control (TVC) allows pilots to better control the aircraft by redirecting engine thrust. Chinese advancement in TVC technology was first displayed in 2018 when Beijing debuted its J-10C multirole fighter at the air show in Zhuhai.

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Besides challenging the US stealth fighter jets, the J-20s are anticipated to dominate the Asian skies and pose a direct challenge to soon to be acquired Japanese F-35s and Indian Rafale and other aircraft that New Delhi is in the process of acquiring.

J-20B vs F-35 and Rafale

The mass production of J-20B has handed a massive boost to the Chinese Air Force.  With adversaries like India, Japan and South Korea equipped with modern fighter jets such as Dassault Rafale and Lockheed Martin F-35, the original Chinese J-20 did not offer much competition.

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However, with the mass production of J-20B, the Chinese Air Force would now have an aircraft that levels the playing field in the Asia-Pacific. According to experts, the J-20B could give a stiff challenge to the F-35s but would simply overwhelm the Taiwanese F-16s.

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As EurAsian Times reported earlier, the US recently approved the sale of 105 F-35 joint strike fighters to Japan at an estimated cost of $23 billion. The approved package includes 63 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing aircraft and 42 F-35 short takeoff and landing variants as part of a December 2018 decision by Japan to increase its procurement of F-35s from 42 to 147.

India is set to receive 36 Rafale from France and would be purchasing more hi-tech jets as part of the MMRCA contract. This led to Beijing speeding up its own fighter jet program, experts argue.

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Although the current J-20B is currently powered by Russian Saturn AL-31 engines, Beijing aims to power the jet with its domestic WS-15 engine.

Chinese engineers have been developing high-thrust turbofan WS-15 engines for the J-20 and it is expected to be ready in the next one to two years. The ultimate goal is to equip the J-20B fighter jets with domestic engines.

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Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC), which manufactures the J-20s, has already received ‘heavy orders’ from the PLA. CAC set up its fourth production line in 2019, each one with a capacity to make about one J-20 a month.

Once China is able to power its J-20B fighter jet with Chinese made engines, it will only become the third country after the United States and Russia to have a fully indigenously developed fifth-generation fighter jet.