China’s J-20 Fleet Strength Not More Than 73; Three PLAAF Brigades Now Operate ‘Mighty’ Stealth Fighters — US Think Tank

The PLA Air Force 5th Aviation Brigade is now equipped with J-20 stealth fighters, China Aerospace Studies Institute, a US think tank, claims in a report.

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Citing a satellite image taken on December 10, 2021, the report said that four J-20s were spotted at the 5th Aviation Brigade’s airbase in the southeast of Guilin City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. 

The PLA appears to be fielding new J-20s in yet another theater command. The move seems to be aimed at providing various PLAAF units with opportunities to train with and against the fifth-generation fighters. 

J-20 shows high combat readiness in New Year combat training - Global Times
J-20 – Global Times

Previously, the 1st and 9th Aviation Brigades of PLAAF received J-20 Mighty Dragons. 

Total Number Of J-20 Jets

The J-20 was first deployed by the PLAAF in 2017, the same year when the US military started exporting F-35 fighter jets to Japan.

The PLA Eastern Theater Command’s 9th Aviation Brigade at Wuhu was the first combat unit to operate these jets, starting in early 2019. It apparently finished transitioning to a full brigade of 24 to 30 J 20s in the first half of 2021.

This base, located around 280 kilometers from Shanghai, is home to one of the PLAAF’s most advanced fighter squadrons. The first deployment of the J-20 to the Eastern Theater Command highlights the strategic importance of Taiwan.

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Prior to their deployment, the J-20s were used only for operational evaluation and tactical training at the 176th Air Brigade at Dingxin Air Base and 172nd Air Brigade at Cangzhou Air Base, respectively. 

The PLAAF 1st Aviation Brigade was the second combat unit to acquire the J-20. It received at least nine J-20s as of January 2022. 

File Image: J-20

The brigade hasn’t entirely replaced its fleet of J-11B fighters. In fact, it flew the J11B, a fourth-generation Su-27 derivative, throughout 2021 and continues to do so. 

Since the J-20 was recently introduced to the 5th Aviation Brigade, it is possible that there’s only one flight squadron with four J-20s. Thus, one could estimate the total number of J-20s with PLAAF to be anywhere between 53 and 74 (37 to 54 in combat units), the report said. 

Geographical Distribution Of J-20 Fighters

The J-20 stealth fighter is now operated by three PLA coastal commands: Northern, Eastern and Southern Theater commands.

The idea that the 5th Aviation Brigade received the J-20 before the 1st Aviation Brigade finished its transition implies that the PLAAF is more concerned about the geographical distribution of the fighter jets than accomplishing the transition of any single combat unit.

The J-20s being operated by three different geographic commands should give adjacent units greater opportunities to practice with and against the fifth-generation fighters.

The EurAsian Times had previously reported, the Chinese PLA Air Force has put its J-20 stealth fighter jets through intensive simulated training in order to assess their superiority over previous fighter fighters like the J-11B and J-16.

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It’s pertinent to mention that the country is developing one more stealth fighter, FC-31, a prototype of which first flew in October 2012. The PLAAF rejected it in favor of the J-20 at the time.

Since then, the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation has been trying to refine the design. An enhanced FC-31 variant with structural improvements to the canopy, wings, and tails flew in December 2016. Furthermore, it was reported that the company is developing a carrier version of the FC-31 stealth fighter.