Photos of Chinese 5th-Generation Fighter Revealed
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - China's fifth-generation stealth fighter program took a noticeable step forward this week when the first high-resolution photographs appeared on Chinese non-governmental websites of a prototype of the Chengdu J-20 fighter being built for the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).
In the photos, the J-20 appears to be conducting a high-speed taxi test. There have been suggestions the photographs are fake, including questions over the unusually large Chinese red star painted on the tail. PLAAF red star insignias are normally smaller with parallel adjacent red bands.
In the past, due largely to grainy photos taken by cell phones, the existence of the J-20 was treated with some skepticism by many observers.
However, the newest photos are "the real deal," said Richard Fisher, an Asia military affairs analyst at the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center.
The photos reveal the J-20 has a canard-delta twin-engine configuration, diverter-less supersonic intakes, and a shaped nose consistent with the use of an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
The J-20 design is similar to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the Sukhoi T-50 fighters. Sources indicate the twin-engine J-20 prototype could be using the Russian-built Saturn 117S (AL-41F1A) engine, the same being used in the T-50 and Su-35 prototypes. China has expressed interest in procuring large quantities of the Saturn 117S from Russia and rumors at the recent Zhuhai Airshow in China indicate a J-20 prototype had been outfitted with the 117S.
There is also the possibility the prototype is being outfitted with the Chinese-built Shenyang WS-10 or WS-15 engine.
"At first glance this fighter has the potential to be competitive with the F-22 and to be an efficient F-35 killer," Fisher said. Fisher is the author of the new book, "China's Military Modernization."
The release of the J-20 photos follows comments made last week by U.S. Pacific Commander Robert Willard in the Japanese media that China had reached the "initial operational capability" of its first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), the Dong Feng 21D. The DF-21D has been dubbed the "aircraft carrier killer" in China, a reference to China's overall anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) strategy.
China's ability to undermine two critical pillars of U.S. deterrence in Asia, with the ASBM and now with the advent of its first 5th generation fighter, "points to a real crisis in U.S. political-military leadership" in Asia, Fisher said.