DT Poll: How Effective Will the J-20 Be in Combat?

Earlier this week we ran a poll asking readers what they think China’s J-20 stealth fighter will be used for.

Nearly half of those who responded think it will be used as both a high-speed interceptor capable of taking out fighters, AWACS and tankers and as a long-range weapons truck designed to penetrate an enemy’s air defenses to attack its bases or aircraft carriers.

One interesting point against the carrier/base killer argument came from aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia a while back when he said the following to DT:

If real, [J-20] would fall under Secretary Gates “exquisite” category. Why not invest the enormous platform-related resources into better long-range stealth missile technology? That sounds like much better bang for the buck, especially since they could try to overwhelm US defenses with larger numbers that way. Also, how does it explain those radar signature-producing canards on the J-20? Still, you can’t discount the possibility.

Now, we want to ask you how effective you think the jet will be in combat against air forces equipped with jets like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F-22 Raptor or even the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA.

While advanced tech details of the plane are unknown, production versions of the jet are allegedly going to have WS-10 thrust vectoring engines or WS-15 engines that will also allow the jet to super-cruise. As for sensors, the plane may be equipped with an Active electronically scanned array radar and a host of electro-optical sensors that would feed into a modern glass cockpit. With regard to low-observable tech, the bird appears fairly stealthy head on but the big canards up front and the aft section isn’t too stealthy.

Here’s a recap of things the big jet will need if it is to take on air forces equipped with fifth-gen fighters and advanced air defenses.

Anyway, tell us what you think in the poll after jump.

How Effective Will China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter Be in Combat?

  • B Rad

    Hmmm. To beat 5th Gen jets one on one? Who knows. To beat our ‘Air Force’ or ‘Navy’ as a whole, is an entirely different ballgame. Training, AWACS, Intel, Coms, etc. No chance for J-20…

    • Chimp

      You’ve actually recapitulated the PLA’s own public assessment on the state of their military now. They are obviously working on filling those gaps (AWACS planes, and *vastly* improved ground combat capabilities), but there’s no way that the PLA can take on a first line military (US, Japan, NATO) at the moment.

      The *point* is regional, and the *opponents* are resource competitors. Whether the politics of the situation will lead to a shooting war over the Spratleys, for example, is as much in the hands of the other parties to the dispute as anyone else.

    • Lois

      Well, I think this is the real issue. With drones and command and control systems to bear, the whole strategic battlespace is about more than fighters. The “problem” is that there hasn’t been a major war to prove this to anyone (not that I am suggesting we should have one). But, it complicates defense procurement decisions, as the Australia debate over the F-35 proves: http://asiapacificreporting.blogspot.com/2011/09/

  • Musson

    It is just a one way attack machine on the US Carrier Group.

    Rocketing out at Supersonic Speeds it will be a hard to track target. The first hint of the aircraft may be when it opens the bomb bay doors.

    It will fire an anti-ship missile from a standoff distance then turn and run home – hoping to arrive before it’s engine burns out.

    But – if the missile hits – it was successful.

  • brian

    By the time this hits prime time deployment we will have moved on to stealth drone fighters. So they are about 20 – 30 years behind us. That plane looks to be about 25 yearish behind our current designs, nothing has changed. I think people forget that stealth tech is a 1970’s tech and its 2011 already.

    I would rate it as a 4 – 4.5 gen plane when all is said and done like the F15 Silent Eagle

    • Cameron

      They are working on stealth drones too such as the dark sword (anjian) ucav.

      4.5 gen? – They already have 4.5 gen planes J-10B and J-11B.

      The silent eagle, with a few modifications, can achieve the same frontal stealth as the F-35. The J-20 was designed from the outset to be stealthy.

  • Ben

    Our planes are far more advanced and our pilots are far more competent. In a conventional fight, there’s absolutely no contest. The only real threat this fighter presents is surprise attacks on nearby carrier groups and bases. It may give some of our 4-4.5 generation fighters trouble, but by time China finally fields the J-20 there won’t be many left in service.

    If it IS meant to be an air superiority aircraft, it isn’t meant to contend with us. Not as it stands right now at least.

  • Lance

    There is too much hype over this plane much like the MiG-25 was in the early 70s. Fact is you don’t know if the plane is doing well period. Its a copy of the Soviet era MiG-1.44 fighter and it dosnt have much of a payload. Since it’ll take nearly 10 years before it could enter production the DoD says its not even a immediate threat. Most Chinese weapons are not of the best quality. Id be worried f a air force using SU-PKs than this planes since the SU-PK has a heaver weapons load and is a official air superiority fighter. There is just too little data on the J-20 and we don’t know what it even for it could be a nuclear striker like the FB-111. Who knows? We can se scared over this plane all over or just have the USAF to modernize F-15SE and buy more F-22 once the US dumps President Obama in 2012 and keep our forces ready to defend any one form any weapon from a J-5 to a J20.

  • John Moore

    Where did they steal the plans from I gotta ask?

    • Lance

      Ceck out associated press release last month it came from Russia.

  • Tim

    Firefox .

  • superraptor

    The F-35 has been outclassed, not enough range, no supercruise, less maneuverable. The J-20 and PAKFAT-50 will have longer range AAMs than the Aim120 C and AIM120D and will carry at least 8 of them internally.
    USAF salvation: accelerate development of the JDRAM and equip its AWACS planes, tanker, P-8s, not only its Tacair planes with it. Truncate the F-35 buy and restart production of an upgraded F-22 and/or develop the FXX with Boeing in secrecy now. Elect a conservative president. As far as the F-35 is concerned, LMT has proven itself to be a wimpy no can do company.
    By the way; fasten your seat belts: would not be surprised if the first Chinese Stealth bomber comes next year

    • bubba birner

      anyone elst think the U.S. is trying to give all the information we have to help protect our nation to china to help pay off their debt.

      • KFK

        I think you’re both crazy and sensationalist. I hope you’re being sarcastic.

  • Belesari

    The size of the aircraft leads me to think it is more likely a Fighter bomber or a missile truck than a front line interceptor.

    Dont think its ment to go toe-toe with a F-22 or a squadron of F-35s. More like its ment to provide a hard hitting tech advantage against taiwan or Japan.

  • wqedsd

    If China’s third indigenous fighter (after J-10 and JF-17) can take out F-22s I’d be shitting my pants for whats coming up next.

    • Ben

      A current chinese fighter that can take down an F-22? Nice try, buddy ;)

    • Lance

      I doubt that Chinese junk would outclass the F-22 or F-15 especially those junky Su-27 copies.

    • jhm

      what are u gonna say next? teh m1a2 sep is outclassed by type 99s??/ ahhaahahahahahaha

  • Letsallbefriends

    Reasons the J20 might be good enough to pose a threat in the not too distant future as part of China’s overall access denial strategy:
    1. Lots of money for development and potentially lower costs of production could equal large numbers.
    2. A proven ability to ‘learn’ quickly from Americans/Europeans/Russians, by various means.
    3. Lots of very bright, very driven science and engineering graduates, some of whom have studied at the best universities in the West and have good links with high-tech industries there.
    4. Despite their achingly long development and eye-watering cost, the most exquisite, state-of-the-art weapons do not always work as advertised, especially in the heat of battle. This fact of life applies to everyone, including America and China.
    5. The J20 is clearly not a straight copy of the Mig 1.44 but just because something is a copy doesn’t mean it won’t do its job. The AK47 was copied from a German WW2 design, but it’s still plenty good enough now.
    6. The Chinese military are not completely useless. They got one of their diesel electric subs into torpedo range of one of an American carrier.
    7. The American military is not infallible. With all their high-tech systems and combat experience they still shot down 2 of their own Blackhawks.
    8. Just because it’s Chinese does not mean it’s bad quality. They sell rubbish to America because Walmart wants stuff cheap and the American consumer is dumb enough to buy it. The J20 will not be made in the same factory as the knock off Rolexes.

    Reasons it might not be good enough:
    1. In their desperation to get it operational early and impress everyone, they might rush the development and mess it up, like the high speed railway.
    2. Corruption might lead to corners being cut and money for developing it/making it properly might get siphoned off. Like the high speed railway.
    3. The West has had a very, very long headstart and have spent massively on R&D. If they could get the hang of bringing things into service on time and on budget, they’d be hard to beat.

    In conclusion, I just like the look of it and I think it’ll be great. But I liked Firefox too.

  • paperpushermj

    Outline the Scenario and I’ll give you an opinion

  • Kski

    The Chinese always try to copy anything from other countries. The last time they had any sort of war was in the late 70s with the Vietnamese. In the end with lack of any experience with the exception of advanced training, the PLA in all will be whipped out by us, the Japanese, the South Koreans, any body with a bone to pick with the Chinese. Alls that J-20 is a huge pile of metal that will be out performed by anything from the west and more importantlly by western trained pilots.

    • Lance

      Agree and to Letsalbefriends

      Most Chinese equipment liker rifles and tanks are poor quality they are cheaper metals and welds and Chinese strategy is Quantity over Quality to over whelm western opponents. There MiGs and Eurofighter copies lack sophisticated radar and avionics most of there planes fared badly against Vietnam in the 80s and they were Soviet vs Chinese MiG designs. take a look at the Type 95 rifle cheap plastics lousy design with high mounted sights and inaccurate at longer ranges.

      • blight

        The scholarship on Sino Viet war is limited; however a few points are worth noting:

        -The PVN was in the Soviet sphere during the Sino-Soviet split.
        -The PVN was well-supplied as a consequence of the Vietnam War by Soviet shipping.
        -The PVN received /some/ supplies from the PRC, and was predominantly based in southern China during second Indochina.
        -The PVN inherited leftover RVN equipment from the former RVN, and used it against Cambodia, and presumably retained it for Sino-Vietnam.

        The PLA was using a tank derived from the olde T-54. The PVN had the M48, M41, the PT-76 (Lang Vei), and also used the same Type 59 supplied by the PRC.

        Working on finding specifics about Soviet aid to Vietnam. What I can find in general terms is

        “…the hardware donated by the USSR included 2,000 tanks, 7,000 artillery guns, over 5,000 anti-aircraft guns, 158 surface-to-air rocket launchers. ”

      • Hunter78

        What’s the dig against high mounted sights? Isn’t that fairly standard with modern rifles– purpose being to transmit the recoil directly toward the shoulder to avoid barrel rise and hence improve accuracy?

        • blight

          Everythin’ different and Chinese is a concession to their stone age tech or their Oriental ways. [/satire]

      • Chimp

        Having handled the type 95, I would say it’s not bad. It’s no AUG, but it’s solid and feels fairly well built. A bit heavy, but (with the exception of the AUG) they all seem to be.

        Having fired just about every small arm in the PLA inventory, I reckon the 95 is a major step forward over the dreck they used to field.

        • asdf

          did you fire the f-2000 (euro weapon)?

  • Hunter78

    The large size of this beast suggests it’s intended for long range. That weakens it as a fighter and puts its role more in the bomber mode, carrying cruise missiles.

    That is, if it’s really designated for full scale production. In limited production it fills the role of showing the flag, providing an experimental platform, tricking the US into misdirected production with a feint, and flying to Paris.

    • Cameron

      Apparently, it’s no bigger than an Su-27.

      Also, the canards, lerx, delta-wing and all-moving stabilisers would indicate that it was designed with supermaneouverability in mind, which would strengthen it as a fighter.

  • Roland

    I still believe in our (USA) ability than that of the Chinese. The only big killer is where to get the funds to produce the new and more jets to counter J-20.

    • TLAM Strike

      Not to sound alarmist but the problem is what will the Chinese have by then? The F-22 was designed to counter the MiG-29, Su-27/33 and their decedents. The Prototype YF-22 first flew in 1990, and the F-22 became operational in 2005. 15 years (the F-22 was in development when most of its current pilots were mostly concerned with getting laid for the first time). In that time the PRC went from copies of Soviet 2nd Generation fighters, to copies of Soviet 4th Generation fighters then their own 4th Generation fighter.

      While their quality maybe lower they have made a huge jump in technology. What has happened in China’s aviation field in the past 15 years is about a big as the jump in US aviation that happened between 1945-1960 (F-80 to F-86 to F-4). This jump is across the board for their military, their navy had gone from destroyers that looked dated for the 1950s to their own Aegis copy. Someone else can comment as to the advancements of their Army. The major point must be that will all this develop and prototyping the Chinese are learning, the technological stagnation of the Cultural Revolution era is over, if they can built their personnel base up to western training standards they could be a major force to be dealt with. That last part maybe the hardest of all though…

      • jhm

        yup. the chinese army has improved vastly, but in terms of armor such as tanks, they are still slightly outclassed. the type 99 includes many interesting features for a chinese tank, but as without much tank warfare experience in terms of modern war, china’s tanks will still lack. numbers won’t help much since china still only has a few thousand type 96s and 99s. but hey, their much better tehn thouse over grown t55 copies :)

      • Matt

        TLAM: the big difference is that the US (and occasionally the Soviets) were inovaters. We/they created new tech and concepts. So far all China has been able to do is (try to) match the tech of others. Its easier to copy an ifv/mbt/fighter/etc than create a concept from the ground up (like with the bmp, F22, etc)

    • WUAmerica

      Answer to question: We will borrow the money to build a fighter to counter the J-20 from China and then a defence contractor will build them in China to maximise profit.


    Without closer inspection of the aircraft, it’s difficult to tell whether China’s J-20 is a major breakthrough where they have caught up to the West or is this a cosmetically altered Pontiac Fiero made to look like a Ferrari.

  • Sanem

    1) it’ll be no match for the F-22, F-35 or even upgraded F-15 and F-16

    2) it doesn’t have to be: considering its size it’ll have excellent range and weapons load, meaning it can avoid western air defences and hit were it hurts, like AWACS, tankers, air bases and aircraft carriers

    3) it mostly comes down to the quality of its stealth: if too low it’ll be easily detected and intercepted, but if good enough it’ll get close and then it’ll be able to do some serious damage. it really doesn’t take much to take out a carrier, even light damage will see it running back to port

  • duuude

    do we even know what it’ll be armed with and what kind of sensors it has?

  • jessmo

    @sanem that size is a catch 22. while I MIGHt have the range, it certainly wont out turn and burn a F-35 or a f-22 with that kind of fuel fraction. also notice.

    1. No built in laser pod, I have serious doubts of it beign used as a strike plane.

    2. Very large foward canard, I might do some decent High alpha but it wont do a full post stall or J-turn.

    3. Very poor rear aspect stealth. This thing is meant to shoot and run.

  • May AF buy j-20 cause very cheap and, chinese borrowing US 1 triloon dollar.

  • Letsallbefriends

    The J20 looks like it has a big fuel capacity and it definitely has big all moving canards and tail surfaces. I also wouldn’t bet against them getting the engines right fairly soon, so I think it will match the F15SE/Super Hornet/Typhoon for speed, height, reach and agility. I think it will beat them on stealth because of the internal weapons and overall shaping. It doesn’t look as stealthy as the F22 because of the canards, ventral fins, actuator fairings and engine exhausts (although some of those might go on the service version). If a big plane means bigger, longer range missiles though that may make up for some of that disadvantage.

    It’s impossible to know how good the electronics and software will be but do Western electronics firms have factories in China? Does China have computer experts? Do they have people who are good at Maths? Even the most complacent, anti-Chinese among you must know the answer to that.

    I think it will raise the cost of American intervention in China’s backyard to unacceptable levels.

    • Matrix3692

      well, as a foreign student studying in china, i can tell that one subject you can’t even think of beating a chinese: math, they are real good at that subject.

  • tribulationtime

    Well I only fly a couple of hours on her…..and I´m only a jetjockey not electronics graduate. KIDDING!!!. Each warrior needs fight on their terrain, a full scale conventional war is very complex something like predicts weather past three days only Lord knows.

  • demophilus

    Let’s not forget that the PRC also has concerns about India and Russia. So we should consider how the J-20 stacks up to the PAK-FA/T-50.

    Also, the J-20 is rumored to be part of a high/low altitude mix, like the F-22 and F-35. So we might consider how the next PRC stealth platform(s) fit with the J-20’s capabilities.

    Finally, I’d be less concerned about the J-20, than its sensor and missile suites. A few advances there would mean a lot to its “combat effectiveness”.

  • Stan

    How would your readers know? Robert Gates didn’t think this plane would make an appearance until 2020 (?). I get the feeling Americans are habitually underestimating the Chinese and we will pay a very high price in the end. The reason why the US beat the Russians is by overestimating their abilities and developing accordingly.

    • Enrico

      “Americans” are actually underestimating everyone after the end of the Cold War, in the end I hope that at least the policy makers are being more careful but I’m not sure about it…
      Regarding the J-20, since it’s probably not in the same class of F-22/F-35/T-50, I doubt that any comparison should be done, it’s like comparing the Panavia Tornado against the F-15.

  • SAM

    China wouldn’t be fighting ‘fair’. It would be fighting asymmetric warfare on a grand scale. The doctrine of Sha Shou Jian/ ‘Assassins Mace’ will be employed to take out the eyes and ears of the US by destroying its satellites first before attacking with aircraft.

    • Melcyna

      technically that’s the exact same doctrine used by most modern countries including US really, i mean first thing the coalition did in iraq? knock out their radars and command bunkers for SAMs.

      in any modern war it’s almost standard really to hit the surveillance and intelligence capability of the foe first to blind them.

      and in return, pretty much every country in the world with modern armies have scenarios precisely tuned in defense of that.

    • Melcyna

      there is no country i know of with an army to worry of that will just simply send their forces on a general attack without any real objective besides ‘knock the enemies out’ so i don’t know if you can call those asymmetric warfare anymore considering it’s almost standard practice.

      Hitting satellites were among the scenarios already in place as well during the cold war with Soviet, and **** both sides during that era made dozens of weapons (some still kept last i recall) and other methods to knock satellites of the opposing sides down (sometimes expending your own satellites if need be).

  • Vu Le

    Some of you are giving China way to much credit. With a culture that relies on copying and not creativity, China will never be able to match us.

    What I wish is for Vietnam to ally with the US and lease Cam Ranh Bay to the US at which point the US will have a base next door to China. That would be awesome!
    Russia ended the lease a few years back and Vietnam did not renew the lease. It’s time for the US to lease that strategic bay.

    • Youknowwho

      I think an American base in Cam Ranh Bay would suit the Chinese better than the Americans. Then they wouldn’t even need aircraft to hit it, just light up the rockets & stand well back.

      • Vu Le

        Again….way too much credit to the chinese.When was the last time China was in a conflict and how did it do? They have very little experience.

        • Robert

          OMG read your history, The Chinese are not stupid. There are few reasons for tooling up a military. Use it offensively, defensively, gain political leverage in talks, attract allies, or cause misdirected expenditures of others.

  • Nickell

    We invented the airplane, we should always own the skies.

    • Sorachart

      You invented the car, Japanese own the roads.

  • Roland

    The J-20 is a combination design copy of our YF-23 and one of Pak-FA model. Its acrobatic flight exercise prove itself in the sky.

    We (USA) should come up with a new jet design to counter future threat from J-20. Maybe a modified YF-23?

    • Youknowwho

      Yeah, and in 25 years time you might have a couple in service

  • Roland
  • Roland

    Probably there is something to be learned everyday. Have anyone seen this video? I don’t know if its real, I just saw it today.

  • No concern of ours unless it is flying over San Diego. Lets open up the F-22 production line and crank out aircraft for the Chinese. Its on of the few products other than Buicks they will buy from us. even up the trade inbalance and payoff some of the debt. let the Aussies and Japs worry about it. all I see in China’s defense is opportunity.

  • Gregg Max

    maybe we should make friends rather than enemies. Gregg Max, USN 1966-70 ADJ2

  • Uranium238

    Like all things made in China, quality is irrelevant versus quantity. If an AMRAAM won’t kill it, it’s lack of truly low RCS will.

  • Terry Oynan

    Vu Le you fool! if Vietdumb gives a base to US to attack CHina that mean you invite the Chinese to bomb you Vietdumb.

    US is bankrupt and there is no way that they can’f afford to fight the war with CHina. J-20 is design to be total pocket, its cans serve as fighter and long range bomber and probably able to carry the nuclear free fall bomb.

    • blight2

      Hmm. If the United States goes to war with China, then various Chinese banks are stuck with promissory notes from the USG that won’t get paid during a war. What happens then?

      Taxes will probably go up to around 80%, as they were in WW2. People who try to move their money overseas will probably be relentlessly hounded and parted from their cash to pay for the war effort. The workforce will have to be retrained for heavy industry: our service economy is the wrong one to rapidly militarize a country; conversely as those employees aren’t plugged into heavy industry they can be drafted to be used as the government pleases.

  • Kevin Aud

    With out further information it is hard to tel whether this will match up with an f-22 (in my very biased opinion the f-22 will be better) but i definitely think that the USAF’s pilot training and procedures will count for a lot. that being said, the Chinese can mass produce these, meaning lower cost per plane. The US made the mistake of building f-22’s at a very slow rate resulting in such a high cost per plane that we couldn’t afford to produce very many. In conclusion i think that if the Chinese mass produce this plane then the USAF would be hard pressed to hold air superiority.

  • Nathan Mosely

    This is for everyone here. OK, first what are they fighting for? Example, Taiwan’s freedom. Yes the J-20 is impressive to their air force but not ours. Anyone remeber the Mig 1.44? Yes its fast and agile, but its biggest weakness was its stealth and avionics that the F-22 would use against it. Same thing here, the J-20 is limited by it engines and avionics. Something the USAF has years in advanced development. And here is my biggest point to make, the USAF has about 500 tankers and other air assets, the PLAAF has way fewer 30-50 tankers. That means only 30 or so J-11s or even J-20s can spend about 15 minutes over Taiwan, and the USAF can stay there all day. Air superiority goes to the americans and their F-22s / F-35s. Checkmate, fights over.

  • Lou W

    Both China and Russia combat operations depend on strength in numbers in which they
    can sustain heavy loses while depleting your resources .Do not under estimate the technology strengths of china .They have stolen or gained access of our most sensitive military equipment .We have to blame our own american citizens for aiding them in achieving this information .You can also include politicians selling out american technology. Technology is what gives us the advantage.