China’s Chengdu Aircraft Company (CAC) has built a new Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) J-20 stealth fighter jets with video footage on Chinese websites showing the latest rendition in full fury this week. This is the second known J-20 LRIP fighter jet after the first with the serial number 2101 displayed in late December 2015. There are believed to be a total of four such next generation jets in the possession of the Chinese Air Force.
The fighter jet is painted in shades of gray along with a toned down national insignia, but unlike previous J-20s, it has no identifiable serial numbers. China’s official Xinhua and CCTV news outlets have yet to confirm the existence of the new J-20 despite video evidence to confirm its existence.
Security analysts believe that the appearance of the LRIP fighter jet suggests that it is nearing introduction into service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force well ahead of official US Department of Defense projections that the J-20 would become operational in 2018.
The J-20 soars at a top speed of 1,305MPH (2,100kmh) and features a stealth design comparable to Lockheed-Martin’s F-35 Lightning II although with far fewer reported technical setbacks and safety concerns. The J-20’s weapons are carried internally, with a central bay believed to contain four beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs) as well as two short-range air-to-air missiles (AAMs).
Only one challenge remains before the J-20 is inducted into the Chinese Air Force – what power source will be used for mass production of the fighter jet? Currently, the J-20 is powered by two Russian Saturn AL-31 engines, but Beijing hopes to eventually install 180-kN (40,000-pound-trhust) rated WS-15 turbofans, but the indigenous jet engine development program has run into a series of manufacturing problems that has delayed their full scale production.
The emergence of the J-20 over the skies of the South and East China Seas would provide Beijing with unparalleled regional air superiority as they continue to battle over the contested Paracel and Spratly Islands amidst US intervention and for the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands against Japan.
The advance of the J-20 fighter jet comes at a worrying time for Tokyo which faces a several year capability gap as they wait to see whether a functional F-35 fighter jet will ever fully materialize after the US prohibited their ally from acquiring the ultra-elite F-22 Raptor.