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China's Stealth Fighter Moves into Mass Production

September 9, 2018

Sources within China say bugs in a high-power turbine engine built for its J-20 stealth fighter have been resolved, and the J-20 is on its way to volume production.

First public showings of China's Chengdu J-20 during the opening of Airshow China in Zhuhai in 2016. It is a single-seat, twinjet, all-weather, stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft developed by China's Chengdu Aerospace Corporation for the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). Photo: Alert5, CC

With China having grown both as an economic as well as political superpower, the next step which has been progressing rapidly in the background was to become a military superpower. The benchmark was always the U.S., whose superior forces, weaponry and craft in the air, on land and in the water have dominated the globe for decades. The new J-20 fighter, designed to counter increased U.S. manufacturing and deployment of its F-22 and F-35 fighters in the Asia-Pacific region, was considered critical to establishing China’s relative equality, if not its dominance, in the area of high-speed secure tactical air defense.

The J-20 had not yet ramped to production reportedly because of problems with its advanced technology WS-15 engine. The powerful thrusters include unique single-crystal turbine blades and other features not seen in other aircraft of this type. While the engine worked well in smaller quantity builds, it had until recently proven difficult to manufacture reliably until very recently. China’s officials say those problems now are resolved.

China military strategists had projected that the U.S. might have as many as 200 to 300 of its most advanced stealth fighter, the F-35, in the Asia-Pacific region by 2025. Signs that this was already happening came when 12 of the F-35 jets were brought to the U.S. Air Force Kadena Air Base in Japan in November. South Korea is expected to get its own delivery of the fighters with a 40 unit shipment later this year.

With this happening, China seeks to have a competitive fighter, which it believes it has in the form of the J-20, in production and delivered at similar volumes as the U.S. deployments. China is also working in parallel to build a fleet of aircraft carriers through acquisition and internal development.

China currently has 20 J-20s in active service and hopes to have considerably more sometime next year. It is also increasing training activities for J-20 pilots, technicians and related ground crew.

Copyright: North America Procurement Council Inc., PBC