Chinese AF making stealth gains on US

The Chinese military rolled out their newest stealth fighter, the J-31, with new pictures appearing on government media outlets to coincide with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit.

The Chinese media ploy caught the attention of Air Force Gen. Herbert Carlisle, commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces. He said Wednesday at the Air Force Association annual conference that the U.S. is still way ahead of the Chinese in respect to stealth jet fighters, but the Chinese are catching up.

“The [People’s Republic of China] with respect to stealth capability, they are behind us, but they will develop and they will get better, and we certainly can’t rest on our position,” Carlisle said.

It’s striking how similar the J-31 to the U.S. F-22 and even the F-35, in some regards. However, as John Reed with Foreign Policy notes, “simply having a stealthy shape does not mean the Chinese planes are truly stealth planes. Modern stealth aircraft involves the sues of special radar absorbent coatings, along with heat and electronic signature masking technology.”

Carlisle pointed out that the U.S. still has a considerable lead in the development of stealth aircraft. The F-35 program has faced considerable roadblocks and the F-22 fleet was slashed from what Air Force leaders had wanted, but the U.S. still has fifth generation fighters in the fleet.

He warned the Air Force can’t afford to rest on their laurels.

“I think whatever advantages we have technologically will still be there, but they won’t last as long,” Carlisle said.

The focus on aviation stealth has taken a ten year sabbatical as the military has had little use for a stealth fighter jet when fighting enemies without much of an air force to speak of, let alone a significant air defense network. The F-22 has yet to fly a combat mission.

The pivot to the Pacific outlined in President Obama’s new defense strategy will force Pentagon leaders to re-evaluate their stealth capabilities. Commanders will not have the relative freedom to move assets in the air without fear of reprisal over countries like China or North Korea.

The PACAF commander urged the nation to maintain investments to develop stealth technology. Facing the threat of significant cuts to planned defense spending in future years, modernization accounts will get slashed and stealth development could be put on the back burner. Carlisle said this is unacceptable.

Defense industry leaders hope the Air Force’s renewed push for a next generation long range bomber will refocus research efforts on advancing stealth technology.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter also hinted at the possibility of further research on stealth drones. He said Wednesday the Pentagon is planning on making investments into drone technology that can operate in contested environments.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • Dfens

    Fortunately it takes China 3 decades to develop new fighters, which is waaaay longer than it takes us. Oh wait, it’s just the opposite. Oh, that’s bad.

    But let’s not change anything. Let’s not get all upset and go changing things back to the way they were when we had new airplanes rolling out 2 and 3 a year. No, those were the bad old days. Just ask any defense contractor. They’ll tell you.

    • Dave

      It helps when you have Chinese “Americans” in defense research that seem to have more allegiance to the PRC, handing over technical data, than to the US of A that likely gave them their education and defense research career and a good life. Anyone that believes that Wen Ho Lee was innocent is just being politically correct. But that’s just my unPC opinion based upon my travel restrictions while in the USAFSS.

    • @RSPW_DEP

      I’m sure we would like to get back to when we rolled them out quicker, but the politicians are getting paid off. China isn’t just buying technology with their money. That’s why we aren’t selling Taiwan and the Phillipines what they need to keep pace, I’d lay dollars to donuts.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Lockheed seriously screwed up if they allowed China to get access to the F-35’s technology. Obviously the avionics and materials of the aircraft matter and until that’s public knowledge we’ll need to wait and see just how stealthy this Chinese knockoff truely is.

  • Hefe

    I’ve heard so many different experts with opposing viewpoints on the f-35. It seems to me that the big problem that is mentioned is that it does not have a good range. If our carriers have to get close to a warzone to launch them then that puts the carriers at risk. I do like the fact that it has the best jammer in the world on it. When a dogfight happens, the strategy will be to have the lead F-35’s jamming the enemy squadrons while the other 6 lock on and take the enemy out. I’d like to see the F-35 brain inside the F-22’s body however. Also, the chinese stealth Jet has canards which ruin stealth.

    • XYZ

      I don’t think I see canards on this one. The other one definitely did, though, you’re right.

    • Praetorian

      The F-35A/C has better range then the F-16C & F-18A/C. both of which the F-35 is replacing. This is with internal fuel, not drop tanks.

    • Mat

      Just pray it never enters a dogfight ,as its top speed ,power to weight ratio and wing loading make it a very poor dogfighter and regarding BVR you can bet F35 missles will have much higher failiure rate than on F15,F16 as they are carried internaly and heated to within a few degrees of their design limit each and every flight

  • duuude

    One word: Drones.
    They don’t need oxygen. They can as much g-force as the airframe allows. If they get shot down, open another crate!

    F-22 costs $200mil, carries 16 missiles max internal and external. What’s to stop a hostile nation with decent technological and manufacturing capabilities from sending up 18-19 drones at $10mil a copy, armed with AAMs, for every single F-22?

    • Russell Romick

      Using drones as your only means of maintaining a combat presence is dodgy at best. You see with full use of drone technology there is nothing to give a country pause at appalling losses. The combat loss aspect becomes removed and the fear of losses is not in the picture. That is when unrestricted warfare begins. We are less sensitive to enemy civilian losses as well when you are at the end of a 5000mile chain. An aircraft pilot already has a certain disconnect to losses on the ground, do you really want to make it worse? I think that using only stealth tech will mean the downfall of our society not to mention civilization. Plus yu will always need “boots on the ground” and “warm wings in the air” to maintain a political presence abroad. Despite some outcry no one would really make much fuss if China shot down a marine Global Hawk, but an F22 with an American citizen? See it works both ways, it would give them pause too. They may do it but there is alot more politics involved in killing the citizen of another country than a bunch of cold circuit boards, sensors and cameras.

      • Russell Romick

        sorry, “using drone tech” not stealth tech.

      • Anonymous

        ” We are less sensitive to enemy civilian losses”

        What sensitivity? Tens of thousands (possibly 100k+) are dead because of our 2 decade-long wars. Sensitivity would be ending the Afghan war when it was won 3 months after 9/11 and never going into Iraq.

      • Tiger

        A lot low level shooting went on in the Cold War & the fact they had people on board gave few much pause. I ‘m still waiting to get the USS Pueblo back.

      • duuude

        Some enemies might not have such qualms.

      • Owen

        Great reasoning!

  • Superraptor

    The F-35 is outmatched, but we will do nothing about it.

  • tribulationtime

    Far East war.

    • Menzie

      Well then you best become a “Doomsday prepper” Hope it works out for ya.

  • STemplar

    Big surprise, a US official visits and they roll out another tacair platform. The chicken littles run around wailing about the falling sky. The Chinese want us spending ridiculous money on tacair options because those are options they might be able to fight back against. The last thing they want to see is the US shift procurement priorities to large #s of TLAMs, JASSMs, VA class subs and a new bomber, because those are options they will have a pickle of a time doing anything about.

    • BlackOwl18E

      That sounds about right.

    • blight_

      I think we’re overdue for the next generation of TLAM.

      TLAM was designed to be a long range subsonic platform that emphasized low altitude travel to penetrate Soviet air defenses, as part of a tag team with the Pershing IRBMs.

      Nowadays, it might be too slow, not stealthy and may or may not carry enough payload.

      Perhaps next gen TLAM should be stealthy (leveraging off of experience with both stealthy ALCM types, one of which got retired early). However, if we go stealthy it means we continue to go subsonic and long range, which may suit our purposes.

      Or we go the Brahmos route and design a fast moving cruise missile from scratch…?

  • Drake

    The US does not have a tech problem, but it does have a procurement/integration and testing problem. It takes too long, too expensive, and then not enough procured to really matter for a modern opponent.

  • gt350jr

    One aspect at least i hope we never lose is are training, were way ahead on that for sure, that just makes any machine more lethal.

    • ltfunk2

      F-22 and F-35 cant train thier aircraft are envelope limited when they arn’t simply grounded.

  • The great Jessmo

    1. Rafaels did 1st day strikes on Libyan IADS?
    I seem to recall the French flying over rebel fighters and steering cleat of Tripoli.
    2. The Issue with using only cruise missiles is the limited inventory and non ability to hit moving targets and bunkers. H

  • The great Jessmo

    3. Drones cost just as much money to operate as manned fighters. The have a large logistics tail, and require hi end networks. Further more drones are jammable.
    ,4. At the end of the day a guy has to fly over that bunker or air fiel and bomb it.
    5. The F -35 had more range than the F22,F15,and F18 on internal fuel.

  • Cape

    I guess the Chinese AF would be making stealth gains on US, considering they’ve stole all the secrets & technology!!
    Small wonder!!

  • Joe

    China is playing right into the hands of the air force. they want a fleet of new bombers and high end aircraft to fight an imaginary enemy.

    and to be certain the marines are THRILLED to have what they consider to be ‘their’ mission.

    Sorry but a massive expansion of the military is exactly what we do not need after more than ten years of conflict.

    Lets build some schools, hospitals, repair some roads and maybe secure our southern border.

    four billion dollar a copy flying dreadnaughts are about as useful as last century’s floating type.

  • majr0d

    Nice copy China! It’s a wonder China doesn’t lead the world in copy machine tech.

  • Kole

    -If you guys keep stirring a useless pot, all you will do is become useless. derp

    A.) The J-31 is the size of the F-35, except it has two engines.

    B.)The basic air-frame in the front section is in fact almost identical to that of an F-35.

    C.) The engines seem to be a recycle of the Jf-17’s engine.

    D.) Can the Chinese produce the same RADAR absorbent paint that the U.S. does?

    E.)Does the aircraft possess vectored-thrust like an F-22?

    F.)Can the J-31 hold a 60 degree AoA?

    -Answer to all… most likely not.

    • J Weich

      I’m not sure that you’re conversant with the technical necessities of modern warfare. But to address your points,
      A: So it has more power
      B: Similar, it does the same job
      C: Weak point
      D: Probably, it’s been out there for two decades and China has quite good research capabilities.
      E: Vectored thrust on the F22 was designed in to counter the already capable Russian aircraft capable of doing it. However, this was irrelevant to modern long range radar guided AA missiles. It’s unlikely that if the F22 ever does fight in anger that it will ever have to use vectored thrust.
      F: Another American copy of Russian technical ability, useless in modern long range warfare.

  • orly?

    Copy or not, it would be a bad thing if they started production and augmented their already large list of aircraft.

  • bart

    The chinese did get a good look at that stealth drone the iranians stole… no doubt they can reverse engineer paint.

  • Nate

    Who cares…. In other news we have the best pilots in the world!

  • Tim uk

    Could an AWACS with a friggin huge IRST destroy the concept of stealth ? Just data link the results to your fighters and bye bye stealth advantage.

  • Ron

    Hold your horses comrades, Chinese propaganda is all this is-their so called carrier came from Russia, subs came from Russia,tanks-you tell me for both those countries which never sat foot on the moon suddenly have the technology for advance military tech.they are nowhere near our military capability.With our shortcoming on stealth technology to perfect it, I’ll be worried if they suddenly show up with B-2 bomber knock off, till then sleep tight comrades.

    • J Weich

      The Russians beat the US to the moon with a robot spacecraft. Not widely known.

  • Dave Barnes

    I know.
    Let’s have a war with the PRC.
    Then, we will really know who has the best fighter.

  • Woody

    All you arm chair aircraft company CEO’s and members of the Joint Chiefs are funny. The US is by far the most powerful force in the world….and its always been “he who controls the oceans controls the world”… takes the 17 countries to match the US Navy, and with the advent of the 35’s and 22’s plus whatever they have in the works at the skunkworks will keep the US far in the lead until our grandkids collect Social Security….c’mon guys….stop cuttin’ down the US and have a little faith the rich wont allow anything less….

    • cs4

      If there is still a social security for your kids, let alone your grand kids to collect.

    • ltfunk2

      Unless faced with armed farmers then it goes to pieces.

    • Brandon

      Your correct as long as the economy doesnt continue dumping with our current debt. The F35 isnt helping that situation very much. Im still pro F35 but Im starting to lean toward caneling it and replacing F15s (Best combat record) with silent eagles with all the upgrades coming out, and further upgrading super hornets while restarting the F22. Lockheed wont scrap the F35 now. Its too late for that and most of their costs have been paid for. They will be able to export it for profit and if we cancel the contract, they will magically find cost savings and make the plane work.

    • reuben

      Whhoaa!!! I love your way of thinking brother. Yes we rule the air and own the sea below…if some bad ass country thinks they have what it takes to take on the US Armed Forces…come on out and play.

    • Kissabums

      You are a big spoilsport. The arms industry needs to arouse fears, anxieties, and insecurities, so that the government can allocate a bigger budget to defense and give out those ridiculously big contracts. How else can they sell you hammers at 100 bucks a piece, and “survival rations” of cookies at 100 bucks a pack when you can but them at 10% of the price in the open market? In the present age, they use China as the bogeyman to spend your tax dollars. In the past it was the Russians. And the Vietcongs. And Saddam with his WMD. And Osama and his talibans. Now China. The people paying the tax and doing the votes are the suckers.

    • blight_

      I’ve always wondered if the United States could deal with a wartime situation where we could not replenish VLS tubes except at ports like Pearl Harbor and San Diego, which might be the first to get hit by conventional BMs.

      The Japanese did not take out Pearl Harbor’s fuel dumps, the drydocks themselves, the submarine forces or the crypto unit: all of which bit them in the long term. Additionally, I’m skeptical of Raytheon being able to crank out TLAM’s like Khrushchev’s sausages…

  • Matrix3692

    Some day in the future, at some airshow, F-22 and F-35 in static display, beside them, the J-20 and J-31. Wonder when and where that could be?

  • Tony…

    Well, I guess we can confirm that this is true.

  • Guest

    John Reed with Foreign Policy claims “simply having a stealthy shape does not mean the Chinese planes are truly stealth planes”.

    Well, neither does the F-35, because the aircraft simply has partial stealthy shape only in the front fuselage area, except from behind the fuselage, the upper side and from the lower sides which means the F-35 is quite detectable by the 55Zh6M Nebo M “Counter Stealth Radar”, L-Band AESA and other extremely powerful radars to detect LO/VLO aircraft. And in fact the exhaust nozzle of the F-135-PW-100 engine will be extremely hot when the aircraft is in full afterburner which attracts heat seaking AAMs and advanced SAMs.

  • Mark

    Let’s wake up and smell the egg rolls …

    If we don’t stop these Red Chinese Punks from stealing our technology …

    We’re DEAD.

    On the bright side - I’m sure this makes OBAMA and his State Department happy.

  • Jason

    Pak-FA… all i have to say for now

  • Chris

    This thing is far from stealthy… look at those burners!

  • top dog

    Look like one of ours don’t it? They probably took a picture of it and went from there. Sounds familiar?…or somebody sold it to them……….

  • Patrick J. Busche

    I wonder how much of Mitt Romney’s outsourcing of American jobs to China has contributed to funding China’s defense program for these fighter aircraft?

  • Kevin

    There is no Chinese stealth fighter. If they had one, they’re military and state controlled media would not be the ones feeding you all the information about it. Like the pictures. This, the carrier, the supposed AEGIS ships are all the biggest head fake since the First US Army Group in 1944.

  • Rugby19

    Lockheed Martin’s new marketing campaign: We supply the US warfighter with state of the art jets, and we also supply the China warfighter with state of the art jets. If the two most powerful nations use our products, so should you.

    No doubt the China spies working inside LM along with their cyber attacks are starting pay off.

  • Brandon

    The more and more I hear negatives on the F35, I fall into the category of the Super Hornet and Silent Eagle supporters. While we just upgrade or buy Silent Eagles/Super Hornets, we should restart the F22 with money saved from cutting F35. Lockheed can continue to develop F35 on their own dime since we have funded the majority of development and they will be able to export it. In the future, if the technology actually matures and becomes useful and reliable, then we could consider buying them. Right now, as always, the private sector is using the DoD to force technoligical maturity so they can then turn and use it in some other form for profit. I dont blame them, its what everyone does if there is a buck to be made from the government. It has even brought on great things but has also led to a lot of money and time wasting that wouldnt have happened if companies were doing it on their own dime to begin with.

  • Tribulationtime

    A seriuos post today. “Electronic signature masking technology” stand for?. Something like a “Active noise control” system tuned to work with electromagnetic waves? Or what?. [Be sure to add a comment about my Inglish].

  • The great jessmo

    Has anyone realized the positives from this for Lockheed? If its true that this plane is a naval fighter then I can see future orders of F-35Bs and Cs for japan and India.
    The Chinese are going to fuel F-35 orders like it or not. navalized Mig-29s rafales, and tejas wont cut it anymore.

  • longshadow

    Isn’t it more costly to develop and deploy stealth aircraft than it is to build AESA/passive radar systems? It seems like the Chinese are pouring money into a potentially dying concept if they aren’t coupling it with a strong EW capability.

  • oli

    At least we have some sort of competition which is hardly any.

  • BlackOwlE15


    • BlackOwl18E

      So glad I have my account now. Fraud proof. :)

  • NeoconBrony

    That’s cute, what plane are they going to build a mock up of next? YF-23? F-117? X-32?

  • Dfens

    “John Reed with Foreign Policy notes, “simply having a stealthy shape does not mean the Chinese planes are truly stealth planes.”

    Uh yeah, moron, it pretty much does. What a f’ing idiot.

  • Woody

    If some conflict arose between the US and the Chi-coms it would most assuredly be bloody, you can never underestimate an opponent. Sure the Chi-coms would score a few victories, but in the end couldnt hang in long enough. The things in the skunkworks now that we all have no clue about that are most likely ready or very close to ready has our backs. The Chinese Navy pales in comparison, it takes something like the next 20 countries to match the US Navy’s capability. Chi-coms fighters cant even come to grips with F-4 Phantoms let alone 15’s, 16’s and 18’s…..I’m not worried a bit…

  • TimUK

    These whole debates ignore so many factors.

    What success rate for an Asraam kill ??
    The effects of ECM on Asraam ?
    The effects of being hugely outnumbered on f22 tactics
    The effects of IRST ?
    The ability of the Chinese to just launch hundreds upon hundreds of long range heat seeking missiles in the general direction of f22s/JSF and mess up their tactics ?

    Loiter times for JSF/F22 and their tankers huge unstealthy prescence.

    It seems the F22 and JSF aerial dominance relies on all the above working out in their favour. The doctrine is flawed , stealth as many senior US admirals are saying is being undermined by sensors in other em spectrums .

    The USAF and Lockheed have sold the Pentagon two crocked jets that in these reduced numbers will not give dominate the airspace, the bang for buck is criminal !!!

    • Bill Nye

      You don’t really send too many jets in when there are SAMs active in any area or potential for pop-ups. And if those sensors are radiating to find the stealth aircraft, you can guarantee SIGINT will pick it up and fire a TLAM or HARM in that direction.

  • St Germain

    Stealth is over rated. Even now improvements in radar processeing and multi-sensor systems are making stealth an expensive and marginally useful technology. The key in aerial warfare is and always has been the competency of the aircrew.

  • Benjamin

    It would be interesting to see how the Aim-9X block II or AIM-120D will perform against these new Chinese stealth aircraft.

  • Rob

    Warfare isn’t about matchups plane versus plane. Too many here are forgetting this. Tactics and finding weak points in the defense lines in a major country on country conflict.

    Be more concerned if they build a 25 mil man airforce.

    Seems to me stealth is overrated if our weather radars can pick up hail.

    Optical scopes can pick up objects in our sky for long ranges.

    At night it becomes harder as IR range maybe shorter but seems our satellites could detect aircraft by sound.

    Also countered by more anti-aircraft on our ships, bases & defense points between our countries.

  • Mutantone

    I wI would just want to know how they got so many advances so quickly after Obama Kowtowed to them?ould just wnat to know how they got so many advances so quickley after Obama Kowtowed

  • Big-Dean

    Has anyone thought of the idea of kamikaze drones?

    Imagine a fast, small, highly maneuverable drone that’s program to hit or blow up (proximity fuzed) other fighters. It’s would be much like a missile except very smart. Where a missile can be spoofed, jammed or dodged, a hunter killer pack of 7 or 8 drones that link with each other would prove very dangerous because they would keep attacking

    It could out maneuver any manned aircraft and it would have persistence-unlike a missile. It have radar, infrared, and other forms of guidance and it would be intelligent enough to pick and choose targets. If the pack of drones is linked together they would form a coordinated attack, i.e. if the first drone missed or was shot down the other drones would be in pace for the kill. It would be nearly impossible to escape this pack

    I sure the bad guys would trade a couple of million dollar smart autonomous drones for a single F-22 any day

  • Rob

    Lets consider some possible China Stealth scenarios.

    Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and/or USA are their only few potential adversaries.

    Unless rest of world helps, we cannot defend or reliberate Taiwan for sure. China could opt to just destroy it completely.

    In a Korea conflict how effective can stealth be with mass dogfights & warships everywhere.

    Against Japan or US, they would have to nuke to be able to destroy anything significant enough with Stealth.

    My curiosity is does Stealth cause loss in speed, armor maneuverability or range of the craft? What about the heat signature?

    If no real difference, then more worry that China builds an entire airforce of Stealth. And we should already be doing the same. Stealth anything that doesn’t need thick armor.

  • James Moglia

    Open up the F-22 production line and build about 300 more fighters, we don’t have time to keep playing around with the F-35. The F-22 would have been a lot cheaper per copy to produce than the F-35, but the cost escalated due to limited production, ie. B-2 bomber syndrome. With the way our technology is stolen, only a fool would have thought we had a 10 to 12 year advantage in stealth.

  • jaidyn

    Can the F-22 ,land on a carrier, take off vertical or carry a 2kLb stealthy load?

  • vec

    Stop be delusional like Harry Potter.

    China is coming.

  • Kissmabums

    Oooh…….weeee… All the Chinese or the American arms suppliers got to do is put out some pictures and stories about the bogeyman’s “latest advance” in weaponry, real or imaginary, is enough to make the government open up the wallets to put more money into weapon development and procurement, at outrageous prices. The taxpayers are the suckers.

  • blight_

    The motto of House Stark is now…China is coming.

  • Hosting for Business