Beijing: China`s radar evading stealth
fighter that made its high-profile debut coinciding with the
visit of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates may take three to
fours year before it actually becomes operational, official
media reports said.
Yang Yao, one of China`s top test pilots told state
run Global Times that after the maiden flight, the J-20 will
undergo a battery of tests prior to being approved for use in
the field, a process that usually lasts at least three years.
"After that, at least another year is needed before
full production of the plane. Then the Chinese pilots will
need to learn how to manoeuvre this new-generation fighter
jet, which will take a certain amount of time," he said.
It is perhaps extraordinary that Chinese President Hu
Jintao himself confirmed yesterday`s test flight of the J-20
during his meeting with Gates.
"I asked President Hu about it directly, and he said
that the test had absolutely nothing to do with my visit and
had been a pre-planned test. And that`s where we left it,"
Gates later told reporters.
Before that, Chinese official media launched a high
voltage campaign saying the flight "reportedly" test flown for
15 minutes. All official media websites were agog with reports
and some even with the video footage of the plane conducting
the trial run, presumably at Changdu air base where it was
The test flight featured as the lead story in almost
all dailies highlighting that China will be next only to the
US to develop it.
Ni Feng, a researcher of US Studies at the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences said the timing of the test flight
to coincide with Gates` visit showed the confidence the
military has in the project.
"The timing of the J-20`s maiden flight is a
coincidence, but it showed that China is more confident and
honest in unveiling its military progress. This is a step
forward for promoting mutual trust with other major players in
the global community," he said.
Gary Li, a China expert with the London-based
International Institute for Strategic Studies, called the
exposure a sign of "unofficial transparency".
"The PLA (People`s Liberation Army) would not have
decided to unveil such a leap in aeronautical development in
such a manner if they were not confident about it," Li said.
He was apparently referring to comments by some
analysts that China has not yet produced an engine for its
home-made fighter jets, including the J-10 being manufactured
in collaboration with Pakistan. Its engines are imported from
Russia. Refuting this, the official newspaper China Daily said
days ahead of the flight China`s Central Military Commission
has awarded a first-class merit to Gan Xiaohua, an aircraft
engine expert from a PLA Air Force equipment research
institute on January 6.
It is perhaps an indication that China might have
developed the engine too, though the daily did not mention it.
"Many analysts and Chinese netizens regarded the award
as a positive sign that implied the country had achieved a
remarkable advance in the aircraft engine field," it said.
The Chinese media also highlighted reports from the US
that J-20 may be superior to US Air Force`s stealth jet F-22
Due to defence cuts, the US has ceased the production
of the F-22 in favour of the F-35, a cheaper fifth-generation
fighter jet that has fewer capabilities.
Global Times quoted retired US Air Force Lieutenant
General Thomas McInerney as saying that the F-35 will be no
match for the J-20, repeating his call for inserting funding
for F-22s into the Pentagon`s defence budget for 2011.
It also quoted Carlo Kopp and Peter Goon, partners in
the Air Power Australia think-tank as saying that the US
Navy`s F/A-18 Super Hornets and the F-35 fighter jets are
"aerodynamically and kinematically quite inferior" to the
They claimed that due to the J-20`s larger size, the
Chinese plane would be optimally designed for fast,
high-altitude interception using long-range missiles, as
opposed to close-range dog fighting, it said.
Li Daguang, a military expert at the PLA National
Defence University, however, disagreed with those predicting
the potential outcome of battles between the J-20 and F-22.
"It is too early to say whether the J-20 can challenge
the F-22, since we don`t have any technical details for the
Chinese plane. I also have doubts over the plane`s stealth
capability," he said.
"The J-20 is definitely stronger than previous Chinese
jets, but one plane`s development doesn`t necessarily bring
about great progress in the country`s overall air strength,"
The US-based Aviation Weekly reported that, based on
the pictures, the J-20 jet has features that make it less
compatible with stealth activities.
"The J-20 may not match the all-aspect stealth of the
F-22," it said.
Some analysts said the J-20, with a larger size and a
higher ground clearance than the F-22, might be a mixture of a
stealth jet and a bomber.