We reported last week that China is doing
taxi trials of its new J-20 stealth fighter. The J-20 is being seen as a
competitor for both the Lockheed F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter (which is
going out of production after
187 units have been produced), and the more "workhorse" Lockheed
F-35 Lightning II.
Despite the leaked pictures that clearly show that China has
something quite advanced in its back pocket, U.S. officials are downplaying the
significance of the J-20 in its current state according to Reuters. While the plane appears to
be in finished form, it hasn't actually taken to the air like
Russia's Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter.
"It's still not clear to me when it's going to become
operational," said U.S. Vice Admiral David Dorsett who is director of
naval intelligence. "Developing a stealth capability with a prototype and
then integrating that into a combat environment is going to take some
Dorsett believes that China is still a few years away from
actually deploying its stealth fighter.
Another Pentagon official, Colonel Dave Lapan, was even more
dismissive of the J-20, stating; "Our assessment of when China might
have an operational fifth generation fighter puts it at some point in the
future, close to the end of this decade."
Regardless of how long it will take China to field the J-20,
it would likely be unwise to underestimate the capabilities
of the Chinese military which is using its robust economy to bolster its
The United States has a highly capable platform with the
F-22, but its numbers are quite limited due to cost overruns. Likewise, the
F-35 is a much more versatile platform (it will be replacing the F-16, F/A-18,
AV-8B, and A-10), but it's development has been marred by setbacks and it
too has been plagued with cost overruns.
It would be interesting to see how new T-50 and J-20 stack
up to the latest and greatest from America, but hopefully we'll never have to
find out in the real world.