Lawmaker: Chinese J-31, J-20 ‘Mirror’ American F-35, F-22

A J-20 prototype prepares to take off from the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute's airfield in Sichuan Province in 2011. (People's Daily Photo)

A U.S. senator asked Pentagon officials why the government hasn’t retaliated against China for copying the designs of its most advanced fighter jets.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said the Chengdu J-20 twin-engine stealth fighter bears similarity to the F-22 Raptor made by Lockheed Martin Corp., while the Shenyang J-31 twin-engine multi-role fighter resembles the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter design also made by Lockheed.

“What they’ve been able to do in such a rapid period of time without any R&D, do you believe that that gives them a competitive advantage?” Manchin said on Tuesday during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on cybersecurity.

“I mean, I understand there might be some differences as far as in the software and the weaponry and this and that,” he added. “But they’re making leaps, which are uncommon, at the behest of us, and we know this,  I understand, but we’re not taking any actions against them.”

Manchin posed the question to James Clapper, director of national intelligence; Robert Work, deputy defense secretary; and Navy Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency.

Work acknowledged that the Chinese “have stolen information from our defense contractors and it has helped them develop systems.” But he said, “we have hardened our systems.”

On Friday, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to refrain from electronic theft of each other’s intellectual property for commercial gain. on Tuesday, Work was careful to characterize the agreement as a “confidence-building measure.”

“We are asking them to prove to us that they are serious about what they say about what they will do to control these efforts,” Work said.

Manchin didn’t seem convinced that the pact would substantially change Chinese behavior in cyberspace.

“I’m saying we know the J-20 is pretty much mirroring our F-22,” Manchin said. “We know that their J-31 is pretty much mirroring our F-35. We we know this and the cost to the American taxpayers … why wouldn’t we take hard actions against them? I just don’t understand why we wouldn’t retaliate from a financial standpoint.”

Work replied, “There are a wide variety of cost imposition options that we have. They’re developed through the inter-agency and, again, it’s not necessarily tit for tat. It is proportional response and we’re working through all of those right now.”

Clapper then reminded the panel that the Chinese actions in cyberspace amount to cyber-espionage.

“Of course, we too practice cyberespionage,” Clapper said. “In a public forum, I won’t say how successful we are at it, but we’re not bad at it. When we talk about what are we going to do to counter espionage, to punish somebody, or retaliate, I at least think it’s a good idea to think about the old saw that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.”

That comment didn’t sit well with the committee’s chairman, Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona.

“So it’s OK for them to steal our secrets that are most important, including our fighters, because we live in a glass house?” McCain asked. “That is astounding.”

Clapper replied, “I’m not saying it’s a good thing. I’m just saying that both nations engage in this.”

–Brendan McGarry can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Bernard

    Hardened systems don’t matter if clearance holders fall for simple phishing scams. You’re only as secure as your weakest link. Kick them out or keep feeding intel to China.

  • Capt Obv

    Hardened systems don’t matter if clearance holders fall for simple phishing scams. You’re only as secure as your weakest link. Kick them out or keep feeding intel to China.

  • Lance

    Chinese coping US and Russian weapons…… DUHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Been news if it was 50years ago!!!!

  • gogoody

    I believe what Clapper was trying to hint at, without giving away the farm, was.., China is a huge Glass house and very vulnerable. What can they possibly provide us, we don’t already have? We shouldn’t be too arrogant. They did invent gunpowder and silk. They must be creating and inventing stuff. We can also be evaluating how truly advanced their shell craft are underneath their superior appearing exteriors.

  • Dfens

    First of all, the J-20 looks like nothing the US has. In fact, our idiot Air Force stated emphatically that it would not accept a canard equipped airplane in the ATF competition, which is what cause Grumman to drop out. It seems the only secrets the US governmenet can keep are those they keep from the US citizen.

    On the other hand, it is obvious to me that the Chicoms did steal US information to build both airplanes. The obvious thing to do would be to stop providing US defense contractors with a profit incentive to give away those secrets by allowing them to make a profit on R&D. You can bet if Lockheed were spending their own money on R&D they’d protect that information a lot better than they do secrets we pay for. As usual all obvious solutions will be studiously ignored.

    • Ron

      The Chinese probably figured out what was going into our aircraft based upon the stuff Lockheed Martin has manufactured in China. Most of our electronic components are now made in Southeast Asia (China, Malaysia, Vietnam), and a good intel operation shouldn’t have much difficulty figuring out what we’re building based upon what we’re buying.

      • blight_asdfljk

        4.5th generation crown jewels are stealth materials and designs. 5th generation crown jewels are the hardware and software…which amusingly are probably easier to grab.

    • Mike

      You could bet if Lockheed were spending their own money they would be SELLING the prototypes to other countries whether the USAF wanted the prototype or not. If they spend their own money, the US has NO say on what they do with it. They are a “for profit” company, not the government. When you give a company money to build something for you, you have the say so on who can use it… but if they pay for it they have the say so.

      • Dfens

        Yeah, ever heard of ITAR. Apparently not.

      • blight_asdf

        Can’t sell until the US approves it. And even if you do sell it, if the US government isn’t doing an item buy to invoke economies of scale and reduced cost, it doesn’t sell well. See F-20 Tigershark. F-16 won because it had large scale production and the US government to pay for much of the preliminary R&D.

    • david

      It has the exact same air inlet and front profile, which is the most important profile for a stealth deign.

      • Mike Spiker

        LoL you do know that fuselage design was pioneered by the Russians, right?

      • XYZ

        IIRC, the ATF was optimized for top aspect stealth, according to publically available data.

        Anyone remember?

        Either way, USAF did NOT want canards for it because they are apparently not stealthy enough.

    • Greg

      I could not agree more. Our military industrial complex should have enough faith to spend their own money on R&D.

      • Dfens

        They should have something at stake. As the Proverb goes:

        He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it: and he that hates indebtedness is sure.

        We are a nation of fools that allow our government to sign us up to be responsible for the debts incurred by these huge defense corporations.

  • Xi Jung Un

    Yeah, but their stuff is made with bamboo and duct tape.

  • all this Chinaphobia and espionage accusations can mean one thing, America is beaten and scared????

    • blight_asdfljk

      The US and USSR spent the last fifty years trading barbs. Unsure if that indicated either side was “beaten”. Scared that the other might nuke them, certainly, but beat…no.

      China’s economy is going to level out soon. Even when it does, it’ll still be an impressive global powerhouse. A unipolar world is an aberration, and we’ll have to live in a multipolar world just as the Europeans did for centuries.

    • Vik

      China = an OLD CIVILIZATION but now a BORN LOSER nation run by IDIOT LEADERS!!!!
      number 1 KLEPTOMANIAC

  • DUDE


  • ray

    “I’m saying we know the J-20 is pretty much mirroring our F-22,” Manchin said.

    Manchin should have his eyes checked. The J-20 does not look like F-22 at all. The J-20 has four wings and is longer than the F-22.
    “I mean, I understand there might be some differences as far as in the software and the weaponry and this and that,” he added.
    So the J-20 does not look like the F-22, and the software and the weaponry and this and that are different. Why does Manchin say J-20 mirrors F-22?

    • blight_asdfljk

      Unless mirroring means “fulfills a similar role”, regardless of look/technology etc.

      Which isn’t so scary.

    • LOLLOL

      Well, actually Sen. Joe Manchin should have his brains checked. But then that will clearly be a waste of time, as we all know by now that he has got a brain.

  • herrumph

    The J-20 is a Delta design. The F-22 is not. Even the J-31 has major differences. If it was a copy of the F-35, why didn’t China copy the unstealthy bumpy fuselage of the F-35? When it comes to aerodynamics, the slightest changes can make huge performance differences. Might as well claim all countries stole US designs.

  • Victor Belen

    I HATE THIS!!! We are just find out that the Chinese J-31 and J-20 Mirror our F-35 and F-22 That the Russian’s Shuttle was just like our reusable NASA shuttles and the Russian’s Black Jack Bomber looked just like our B-1…let’s find out what is going on?

  • I AM

    Dang, are people blind or something? I’ve seen the F22 a couple times. That J20 in the picture looks nothing like the F22.

    • Eric

      It looks like somebody handed an artist a picture of an F22 and told them to make something with the same design principles. The J20 is superficially using the F22’s “art style.” The intakes, wing shape, angled tail, and various other aerodynamic bits are mated with last gen exhaust and cockpit designs.

  • william l

    Be it copy or steal, it’s still no small feat for a country that started with no such technology to build a fighter jet. Lest we forget, the technological advancement of any county is always first you copy/steal, then you improve and then you innovate. Japan and Korea are excellent examples. Our space program wouldn’t be where it is without us stealing, or commandeering, German know-how.

  • Wulf145

    Because they have nothing to do with the subject.

  • NathanS

    The Shenyang J-31 on first glance looks like a twin-engine F-35 clone, but it’s only skin deep. If you remember its videos left analysts unimpressed as it was decisively underpowered, almost requiring afterburner to make a simple turn. And this was likely without armament, high fuel-load, or advanced avionics to weigh it down. And China also wants to produce native engines for their jets, but are currently believed to be a long way behind the Russian engines they currently use. If leaked specs are to be believed, it’s two engines are much heavier than the F-35’s engine (F-135), and produce ~20% less dry thrust. And it’s likely to be far less fuel efficient (and this is comparing it to the Block 1 Pratt & Whitney F-135 engine – not the proposed Block 2 which adds 7-10% more thrust with 5-7% less fuel burn, let alone the possible future ADVENT engine).

    Since then, Beijing’s A-Star Science and Technology has started developing electro-optical targeting system (EOTS) and the infrared search and track (IRST) for the J-20 and J-31. This is not a simple task; Korea’s KFX fighter program was recently derailed when the US Government blocked the transfer of four key pieces of technology from the F-35 (understood to be its AESA radar, IRST, electronic optics targeting pod (EOTGP) and RF jammer), which Korea was hoping to use on its native program. One analyst said it takes 20-30 years to produce these technologies if starting from stratch. Although some of these systems are available from other places like the European Union, unifying these systems is not easy, and it’s this software that’s caused more delays to both the F-22 and F-35 than anything else.

    It also remains to be seen if China can mass produce its air-craft to the same tolerances that current stealth aircraft require (under 1000th of an inch).

  • F-35, it’s hard to survive in air combat. F-35 have used too much complexity system. If there are some technical failure Maybe it’s a plane crash it all. It is not worth the investment. It appropriate should be stay at NASA.

    • The one armed man

      Stick to Russian, English isn’t your strong suit.

    • gogoody

      If you recall the F-4 phantom.., it had so many wing whoopee-de-doos, because it was a big bad bus. Really difficult to handle and fly. It was dominant because it had plenty and more than enough power to compensate. The excess wing de-doos on the Chinese J-31, 20 are probably not for looks, but to compensate for poor engineering and handling issues. Our pilots already are figuring out how to take advantage of the obvious.

  • Suren Sahni

    It’s immaterial they copied the outside frame what matters that’s inside.

    • Dfens


    • danh le

      I think the Chinese people , they are copied the shape of these air planes.?????

  • Beef Stick

    Next month Walmart will sell the J-31.

  • stephen russell

    Chinese spies at work overtime.

  • guest

    Some more things about the Chinese lack of gas turbine engine technology , they copied early generation four engines. These engines where first flown with the MIG29 etc. They do not have the current technology let alone the 5th generation engine that the newest F-15, F-16, F/A-18 E/F let alone the F-35 and the F-22. What good is a stealth aircraft with old engine tech ? An aircraft the can be seen by the their smoking engines which equals a dead stealth aircraft. Their engine mean time between failures is far worse than anything we currently use. Finally the adaptive cycle engine is going change everything from fighters to commercial aircraft and with the new rules created by engine manufactures only the engine manufactures will be allowed to do major repairs…Thus protecting engine designs for that matter when you buy an aircraft you only lease an engine..

  • Tad

    Geez, come on Pentagon! Just patent the designs of your warplanes and take the Chinese to court if they copy them.

  • erik

    I bet this guy thinks an F-15 and F-14 look alike too. I don’t think he realizes planes that LOOK alike do not necessarily perform alike.

  • AmericanHero

    It’ll be funny if the J-31 outclasses the F-35.

  • franklin

    Chinese intel goes back hundreds of years! Just open any fortune cookie to find amazing revelations! The J-20 is far superior to the F-22 because they recognized that the Air Force built the wrong fighter instead of picking the YF-23 which had twice the range without the auxiliary fuel tanks of the tactical F-22. Later Northrop/McDonnell Douglas proposed making it larger into a bomber version and that was rejected as well. The Chinese did not make this mistake while we have almost useless tactical fighters in the Pacific where we need long range strike capabilities with sizeable payloads. Tankers have their limitations, and refueling planes four or more times just to get to their targets is a logistical nightmare. I hate to disappoint people but the age of dogfights in the air is almost over along with AA missiles, and penetrating bombers. Our geriatric Pentagon needs seriously assisted thinking! Here’s are a few fortune cookie quotes;

    Change can hurt, but it leads a path to something better.
    You learn from your mistakes… You will learn a lot today.
    Be on the lookout for coming events; They cast their shadows beforehand.
    You already know the answer to the questions lingering inside your head.
    Now is the time to try something new.

    • Capt Obvious

      The J-20 > F-22? Unless you are a double agent and have unrestricted access to both aircraft, I find it difficult to understand how you came to that assumption unless of course, you pulled it out of your ass. Which.. in turn, makes your whole statement look like garbage.

    • blight_asdf

      Heh, it does feel like WW2, where we enter the war with fighters too short ranged to follow the bombers…

    • XYZ

      Wait, the J-20 is superior to the F-22 because China realized the US built the wrong fighter? Not because the US built the wrong fighter, but because China realized that they built the wrong fighter?

      Or are you trying to say China built the YF-23 while the US built the YF-22 and therefore China’s is superior? Because this thing is even further from the YF-23 than it is from the YF-22, and that should tell you a LOT.

      I wonder what the range of F-22s with a decent combat load and external fuel tanks is? Because parts of the Chinese coastline are already within the combat radius of Kadena-based F-22s… Or so Google Maps + Wikipedia tell me :P

    • 1MollieM

      Thank you the lesson.

  • Walter

    Any fighter aircraft is only as good as the pilot flying it. I’m not too high on the f35, but the raptor and a well trained u.s. pilot, I’d put my money on him any day of the week.

    • Dfens

      That’s why we’re going back to Sopwith Camels. Think of all the money we’ll save.

    • gogoody

      Made the difference in all conflicts.., especially Korea.., F-86.


    Sen. Joe Manchin has about the same IQ as the now infamous Congressional idiot that thinks an island populated on one side may tip over.

    He’s also a clear indication of the average IQ of US politicians and US voters.

  • virgil cuttaway

    Chinese building up military, economy, and cyber force compliments of US consumers buying their products.

    We give the Chinese the ability to hack our systems but educating their top students at US universities, transferring technical know-how abd production methods to the Chinese, selling them equipment for high tech industries, and then we whine and complain when they use all of this knowledge against us.

    Moral of the story: the US can blame itself for this new agressive Chinese behavior and espionage activities.

  • Atomic Walrus

    I don’t believe there’s sufficient unclassified information available to actually assess the J-20 and J-31. Sure, they’re flying prototypes with shaping consistent with a stealthy aircraft. That doesn’t tell us anything about the effectiveness of the actual shaping, the materials used, or the build quality required to make the design work. Beyond that, we have no idea of the level of maturity of the aircraft systems, avionics, or software. Making a flyable aircraft is easy – making an operational weapons system is hard. If deploying a new fighter was as easy as the demonstrator, the YF-22 would’ve gone into production in 1992 and the X-35 in 2003.

  • Mike Spiker

    Comments like that is only good enough to feed the dimwit so they have something to whine. If you know anything about aerodynamics, you can see the J20 has a canard configuration – yes those 2 little wings in the front. This pretty much dictates that the F22 and J20 have totally different aerodynamics, and must go through their own wind tunnel development, fight control software, weapons hard points, etc. Those are different planes dimwits – besides both having wings :-)

  • Victor Belen

    Even dough these aircraft look similar, ours usually have the latest technology, more powerful engines, long range weapon system and detection target acquisition systems, exceptionally trained maintainers, independent decision operators aided by the latest onboard computing technology. Last, I think once we are done with minor bugs in the operation, our maintainers keep them fighting for ever….

  • steve

    The Chinese haven’t invented a damn thing by themselves since fireworks.

  • superraptor

    Lets copy China for a change. The rather slow short range F 35 will not make it against the Mach 2.5 longe range J 20
    We need our own J 20 analog which we could build by making one longe range interceptor out of 2 F 35

  • shooi dan tom

    We are doing the best we can. We have to start somewhere. We are trying to catch up.

  • Gerald Parkhurst

    How do we justify letting the Chinese use their monopoly on rare earth products to bring our secret rare earth product in house by refusing to sell the rare earth elements in export? Don’t we have laws forbidding our secret designs being given to our potential enemies by having them manufacture our secret items in their country? Is the Pentagon ignoring the law and logical keeping our secrets in-house?

  • APK

    They may look similar to the US crafts by design but if they have really copied the system, then many questions will arise regarding this.

  • CB 1941

    Yes, Congressman Manchin should indeed have his eyes checked…but this is the caliber of our representatives when they start talking about STEM issues.
    Too many lawyers in Congress! RX in Henry the Sixth, Part 2, Act 4, sc. 2, 71-78.

  • Amos Shamos

    So long as they’ve copied the ones we want them to copy it’s great, we have the means to disable there bootlegged systems at any time and they will be useless. Keep on xeroxing…

  • makusu

    interior design is nothing like the f35 and f22, the exterior design looks similar and we called it a copy? it is like when apple sue samsung for similar case design as the iphone 4 or 5. just so stupid. oh you drew a circle like my circle? lol what we are suppose to do? draw a circle like a triangle? a plane has wings, o you copy my plane lol

  • Stan

    Considering the insane amount of money we borrow, much of it from Chinese, spend it on military R&D which then gets stolen by said Chinese while we remain on the hook for the money, it baffles me that the freaking Pentagon didn’t apparently create it’s own computer network separate from the Internet and prohibit the military contractor info systems from being hooked up to anything other than this milnet.


    Someone’s house keys, so I’m sure you get the latest version..

  • The Chinese and Russians have been stealing (and copying) our technology for decades, and essentially we’ve NEVER done a flippin’ thing about it, except some periodiclly spoken “outrage” bull, by some elected HACK ! Examples:

    – We spent tons of money on developing our early nuclear bombs! But thanks to an individual close to the inside, and of course the Rosenburg’s, Russia developed theirs for pennies on OUR dollars!

    – All their best tanks in the 40’s were copies of those we supplied under lend-lease.

    – We landed a B-29 in Russian territory on the tail-end of WWII, and they copied it so perfectly, it even had the Boeing logo on the yoke. It WAS their front line bomber for years, and R&D cost them -0-

    – Their Mig 15 most definately came from the same gene-pool as our F-86 Sabre Jet. Amazing how great minds of the time,1000’s of miles apart, can think so much alike! Dito their Mig17 … 29 … 31 vs F-15, 16, FA18, etc…. Actually, the only thing I can think of (off the top of my head, that the Russians came up with pretty much on their own, that’s better, more reliable, and cheaper than most other folks is the AK-47!

    – Rockets, space-launch vehicles, computers, VCR’s, digital watches, etc, etc. etc … The chinese can & do copy just about anything, … and eventually make it better (and definately cheaper) than anybody in the west !!

    – The Russian space shuttle definately looks to be from the same bakery (if not the same cookie cutter) as ours.

    – Now … our latest and greatest (F-22 & F-35). We didn’t make enough of the F-22 to make a real difference (126), if the poop were to hit the rotating propeller, and we haven’t even ironed out any of the wrinkles on the F-35 yet ! But, the Chinese will build 100’s perhaps 1000’s (using the interest we pay them on their loans to the US to pay for them), while we spend a few more trillions on Obama Phones, and illegals!

    We spend the million, billions, and now trillions on R&D using crooked open-ended contracts with “cost over-run clauses (that almost always seem to over-run), using a “competitive bid process” that’s so full of it that you could laugh (if we weren’t already busy crying from what it costs us).

    And don’t forget those fat multi-million dollar “performance bonuses” the manufacturers get (for being close to doing what they contract to do), and the $$$$$ parachutes for CEO’s, for producing CRAPOLA, that WE have to pay more millions to problem-solve before anythings even operational.

    But for US companies to start-out by investing in a solid cyber-security system at the contractor level, and take the steps from the start to ensure the security of that which cost’s the taxpayer soooo dearly ! … NAH ! That’ll cut too much into profits !!!

    So, usually, all our nasty neighbos has to do is buy an insider or two, send some spooks, or hack-in on the cheap, and our worthless “leadership” (sic) just shrugs it off once again. And of course, their boilerplate BS is “ now improved the security”, “We’ve upgraded that system”. What a crock: OK …

    So what you’re sayin’ is that you gave the over-paid contractor more millions in tax-dollars to put another cheap lock on their old dry-rotted barn door, now that your nasty neighbors have made off with ALL the milk and ALL the eggs from OUR cows and chickens! And I do mean ALL!!

    Oh, what the frack, it’s only our economy and perhaps someday (sooner than later) our very existance as a nation that’s at stake. That can’t be as important as some short-term big profit margins within the military industrial complex or hugh bonuses for CEO’s, or high-paig future board seats (with those contracctors) for current General officers. And of course it’s nowhere near as important as some holier-than-thou worthless politicans getting rich(er) or gaining some additional political traction, and of course being re-elected!

    How stupid of me to even mention it! ALL IS WELL (cried poor chicken little, as the sky fell).

  • I believe what Clapper was trying to hint at, without giving away the farm, was.., China is a huge Glass house and very vulnerable. What can they possibly provide us, we don’t already have? We shouldn’t be too arrogant. They did invent gunpowder and silk. They must be creating and inventing stuff. We can also be evaluating how truly advanced their shell craft are underneath their superior appearing exteriors.