Threat analysis of Chengdu J-20 the chinese stealth fighter

China recently showed the world its latest fighter aircraft in a typical Chinese way with the Govt media denying it but allowing Chinese hobbyist to upload images of the aircraft on the internet. According to latest reports the aircraft is carrying high speed taxi run and is expected to take to the skies anytime. A Chinese stealth aircraft will definitely change the balance in the region in favor to an extent in favor of China. Before we can analyze the implications we first need to analyze the aircraft.

Design: The J-20 is delta win canard configuration with V-Shape tail and has two S-Shaped DSI inlets. The aircraft is probably the biggest 5th Gen aircraft and is approximately 60-65 feet long. It has a bubble canopy similar to the F-22. Overall the aircraft uses Chinese experience on the J-10 and JF-17 in wing and inlets area. Most other aspects are taken from the success of the American F-22.

Threat: The aircraft is abnormally large in size which indicates that the aircraft will have high weapons and fuel payload capacity giving it long range and capacity to carry a lot more weapons than any other 5th Gen fighter. The nose is also well designed keeping in mind possibly large AESA radar. The overall design of the aircraft is very good and should make it much stealthier than the Russian PAK-FA (if it remains the way it is). The aircraft is stated to get a 180 kN capacity engine which will give it a decent kinematic performance. Chinese production capability is probably the best in the world, PLAAF can get hundreds J-20’s within a very short span.

Weakness: The canards are not good to maintain a very low observability profile as they increase the RCS. The current prototype is most probably carrying avionics system developed for the current line of 4th Gen aircrafts which are not the most advance in the world. China still has long way to go in composite materials thus the aircraft will have much higher maximum take-off weight. This is followed by China’s inability to build a reliable turbo-jet engines as it is yet to perfect a 90kN engine for the JF-17. Chinese designers have taken note of these deficiencies and have made the airframe suitably. The aircraft will carry a large payload of less sophisticated weapons rather than small number of highly sophisticated weapons, the aircraft has some 6 control surface (which includes the canard) and more fuel to burn to meet kinematic requirements and be somewhat comparably to the superior and better engineered American and Russian 5th Gen fighters. Also the aircraft is as good as its pilots and according to American, Japanese and Taiwanese assessments the Chinese pilots are not as skilled as American, Indian and Japanese pilots who have International exposure in air combat. Also the PLAAF is unproven force where as most of its adversaries are combat experienced.

IMPLICATION: In last few decades the aggressive behavior of the Chinese govt has made countries like US, Japan & South Korea to consider China as a military rival along with countries who already have a long standing border dispute (India, Vietnam & Taiwan). Most of these countries have a firm 5th generation Plans with South Korea and Japan considering the F-35. Japan is also developing its own 5th Gen Fighter for research purpose. US already have F-22 and the F-35 is in making. India is already committed to the Russian PAK-FA project and is also developing its own 5th Gen Fighter named AMCA. Meanwhile Vietnam is expected to be the first customer of the PAK-FA.

The J-20 will mostly enter service in the 2020 time frame and by than the PLAAF will have approximately 200 Chinese made Flanker series aircrafts along with some 500 J-10 series aircrafts. Most of the older inventory will be retired. The order for J-20 could well go above 500. However the US Navy will itself have some 700 Hornet series aircraft along with hundreds other much more advance fighters with her allies namely Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. India will also have about 600 advance 4th Gen aircrafts. So though the PLAAF air fleet is sizable it is still not comparably with a larger and much more advance American fleet and a smaller but a more advance Indian Fleet.

US & Allies: US and its allies are least likely to be affected by the J-20 because of their traditional technological and numerical superiority. Also the American F-22 and F-35JSF are technologically much more mature than the J-20. If US and China go to war post 2020 the Americans will still win but should take heavier loss than now and most of them would be caused by the J-20

India: India is likely to be affected by the Chinese J-20 as the IAF has smaller fleet of aircrafts and can suffer from reduced margin of safety with higher attrition. However India has an advantage with better 4th Gen fighters, advance weaponry and systems, better Pilots and experience. India also has an advantage with the single seater PAK-FA which is in advance stage of development. The Twin seater version will also enter service within the same time frame or before as it will be based on the single seater version. India also has added advantage of testing 5th gen avionics and subsystem on Tejas Mk-2 fighter and the PAK-FA which should reduce the development time of AMCA. India has taken note of the J-20 and has launched an official study on it. J-20 will affect India moderately.

Vietnam: Vietnam never had an advantage over the PLAAF as bulk of its fleet consists of older MiG-21’s. J-20 will have most sever implication for Vietnam as its already obsolete air force will suffer even poorly in the hands of J-20. This could force Vietnam to order larger numbers of PAK-FA and possibly replace the MiG-21’s with a better 4th Gen fighter.

Conclusion: J-20 is very promising start for China and the aircraft is designed well keeping in mind China’s strength and weakness. J-20 will be a fighter to reckon with for China’s adversaries. But the world should take J-20 as a natural step on its natural course which China has been taking for past decades. Also China should not consider the J-20 as the silver bullet which will give her global air dominance as that title will be shared by the American F-22 and the Russian-Indian PAK-FA/FGFA.

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About Pratik Sawerdekar

  • Jorge

    The U.S. and its Allies India, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea will most definitely have no problem in dealing with China's latest "Toy"! plane,. Others say china technology is still very much behind American, European, and Japanese Technology! But when it comes to superior quantity and number of Squadrons China can field, Most definitely Vietnam will do most affected by China's superior capabilities and certainly other South East Asian Nations in the Far East especially the Philippines in which I am sad to say have no Airforce whatsoever.. I can honestly say in my own opinion China's J20 Stealth plane reperesent a Clear and Present Danger to the Philippines! But while Filipino Politicians still believe in China's good shadow intentions for the Philippines economic relations is positive according to the Arrogant Filipino Politicians here… I can only watch, wait, and pray for a better tomorrow for my country..

  • ho ho

    I believe these arms race could turn into a cold war. But I guess that's not such a bad thing. For too long F-22 had a monopoly. So in a way this will get better improvements on F-22 too because of the potential threat.

    On the other note. I was just thinking the other day which one of the 5th gen fighter are the most beautiful I feel out of all F-35 looks the best. Just my opinion.

  • David

    The improvements the USA needs is to cut the cost of building them. Be ruthless with the design and engineering processes to identify and remove redundant and useless parts of the processes.

  • Jay

    "The U.S. and its Allies India, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea will most definitely have no problem in dealing with China's latest "Toy""

    Isn't what people said about the Japanese before WW2?

    F35 is a sitting duck compared to J20 and PAK-FA.

  • Tomas

    Jay: "F35 is a sitting duck compared to J20 and PAK-FA. "
    Now its actually completely the other way around, J20 and PAK-FA sits, while F35 undergoes the last tests. Add some 5 to 10 years for russian and chinese figthers to enter the service… 2020… Isn't it too late?! By then 5th gen will be no such big thing. Why at the moment everybody is so interested in UAV? Because they are faster, easier and cheaper to manufacture. In combat you wont lose a pilot. UAV can perform such things, which human cant do, because he would die inside plane doing that… And USA now is developing several UAV projects. So, dear russia and china, you are too late… Future belongs not to 5th gen fighters but to drones.

    • Ha ha

      Tomas: Nice comment, but I think there will be manned aircrafts in 2020-30. Why? Because UAV is limited. The current main roles UAV have are surveillance and strike ground targets. In future, it may extend to interception role on KNOWN, high value and slower moving air targets (e.g. AWACS and refuellers), but not dogfights; and also perform simple logistics – such as providing medical and other supplies behind enemy line. I think in near future most UAVs will still not be faster than current jet fighters because it does not make economical sense to manufacture jet sized UAVs (with jet performance) as this will cost more than comparative manned aircrafts, plus the added risk that you can lose network control over the UAV if the supervising satellite/s are destroyed. What do you think?

  • Raja

    Let the Chinese dream about their toy plane. US is and will be the strongest country by any measure for at least 1000 years to come. As for the others well its no harm in dreaming. USA forever.

    • james

      No, no, india will surpass US in only 100 years

    • hjlkj

      Sounds awfully like what Hitler would say to his supporters.

  • rithuik

    but ind-rus wolf pack is catching up.

  • Ha ha

    @Pratik Sawerdekar: Please do not take it personally, but your article is flawed in a number of ways.

    Here are some (part1):
    1) You mentioned "If US and China go to war post 2020 the Americans will still win but should take heavier loss than now and most of them would be caused by the J-20". This is absolutely rubbish because you neglected the theater of war and the changing of times (e.g. USA and Chinese economics, Chinese procument of more advanced technologies, pilot training);
    2) You mentioned "Also China should not consider the J-20 as the silver bullet which will give her global air dominance as that title will be shared by the American F-22 and the Russian-Indian PAK-FA/FGFA." The J20 is designed for Chinese air defence, not global air defence. There is a massive difference! You cannot have a modern global air defence when you don't have the global systems and logistics behind this, and China recognise that;

  • Ha ha

    In continuation,

    @Pratik Sawerdekar: Please do not take it personally, but your article is flawed in a number of ways.

    3) You are assuming that China and India will remain rivals. This is so old fashion. The fact is, the tide is turning, as both sides recognise the needs to move on and work together. Please keep yourself up to date with politics;
    4) You are incorrect to have put the pilot as a weakness of the J20. The pilot has nothing to do with the success of the J20, but it has to do with the success of the airforce (in the current case, the PLAAF). What if the same J20 model was exported to a country whose pilots are experienced. Would the weakness of the J20 change suddenly? The answer is no because the J20 is still the same J20, regardless of who is piloting it. Please do not get confused between a plane and an airforce.


  • yo yo

    @Ha ha

    What exactly makes you think that China and India are "working together?" Of a recent spate of visits to India by foreign leaders, China's was the least welcomed, to name just one anecdote.

    Politically speaking, the PLA seems to have tipped its hand far too early regarding its prototype stealth fighter (and for political reasons it seems). This plays right into the hands of the defense advocates of neighboring countries. The F-22 made its maiden flight 20 years ago! I'm sure that the J-20 will be a formidable fighter, by today's standards, in 20 years (by "today's standards" is the operating phrase hear) but what will have become of the USAF+Allies by then?

    Also please don't mention long-term economic-trend statistics, one can go either way on that subject, citing whatever examples they feel are relevant to one's argument. The fact right now is, China's ability to manufacture advanced jet-aircraft is not nearly on par with that of the US, or even the Russian Federation.

  • Shiva

    I like the (iniitial?) mockups of the J20 – It looks like the convoluted Chinese copy of the YF 23. Back in late 1990's, when the Clinton Democrats were licking the rear of the Chinese, it was a well known fact that all the blue-prints of the YF-23 were taken back to China by the Chinese "technician" employed at Northrop and McDonnell Douglas offices at the gleeful behest of of the then "Govt of USA"… (Just as Israel's blue print of the F16 (aka 'Lavi') program managed arrive on China's doorstep to create their (surprise surprise!!) J10 plane (Yeah sure, the J10 has nothing to with Lavi :-)) ) … And more than that, Just as how Walmart managed to suddenly turn China into an 'Economic SuperPower')
    So, let us please spare our audience from the bullcr.p?; However, while the air-frame can *look* stealthy, a lot depends on the smarts of what goes into that air-frame… Much as the China-lovers in places like Australia (or even some in Europe?) will salivate at the prospect of China and Islam ruling Asia, they might be in for a reality crisis…

  • Austin Jones

    Why doesn't somebody start a war right now and we will all find out who has the best combat aircraft. Not a very big one, but one in which enough sh__ flys. Also, for you China and Islam lovers remember this. If China is in the process of forcing its pregnant women to abort their babies and killing those that are born alive and exterminating the population of Tibet, what the hell do thing these barbarians are going to do to anyone else that they conquer? The same question also goes regarding those barbaric Islamists, too.

  • popsiq

    What's with the war crap? Isn't reason one of having a military to ensure the peace? Oxymoronic as it may sound, wars are never particularly militarily beneficial. If the first principal of organizational psychology is to ensure the preservation of the organization, the last thing any military should want is a war.

    Other than providing an opportunity for urban renewal they're not much good for much else except 'blacksmiths' and undertakers.

  • Dick

    Dear all,

    Recently information about the wrong design of F22 fighter show that F22 may cease flying until 2012 before F22 finish the upgrade / amend of its original design. In this gap our J20 have a good time to increase more and more test run for further improvement before first batch production.

    I have a plan to deal with our enemy stealth aircrafts like F22/F35 series. Overall speaking, F22/F22A/F35A is an air superiority aircrafts. But, it highly depended on its air bases / AEWs and oil refilling aircrafts supports.

    For a country likes China with middle / long range land-land missiles attack system (such as DF21 series). The F22/F22A/F35A series aircrafts / well trained operators and engineering staff / commanders / supporting hardware like oil refilling system and fuels will not safe in war time. During the first or second wave missiles attack, most of the advanced aircrafts will destroy on ground. Although, some may skip from the attacks. However, most of the right peoples and hardware will eliminate on the ground. The air base became useless.

    Kindly regards,

  • Dick

    Dear all,

    For the remained F22/F22A/F35A series aircrafts, our AEWs + J20 with long range air-air missiles are good method to deal with them. Because, the first priority of our J20 is to shoot down any enemy oil refilling / AEWs aircrafts. Without the supporting aircrafts, F22/F22A/F35A series aircrafts need to open its radars to locate targets. Once, they open radars they certainly will attack by our huge numbers of

    J11/J10/J8II series fighters along 1,000 km from our coastal line.

    For enemy stealth fighters / stealth UMAV, we can use our J8II (upgrade version) plus AEWs to patrol at very high sky level. As J8II is last century technology as a high speed high shy interceptor with long range air-air missiles. As no present stealth fighters / bombers equipped with upper surface stealth technology. Advanced J8II can retrofit with a big diameter advanced AESA radar on its big front head (forget the high retrofit radar cost). It is a good method to eliminate the high price stealth aircrafts. As those stealth aircrafts highly concerned on the middle range sky level for its air superiority


  • Dick

    Dear all,

    One full set F22A with missiles cost can purchase 4-5 nos. full upgraded J8II interceptor with missiles.

    For our enemy F35B/C Navy series fighters mainly used for multi-function roles but not air superiotiry. I very doubt that they will have chance to survival during very hard air war with our J20 or advanced model.


  • Sam

    Dick there's so much wrong with what you said both information wise, and grammar wise.(granted I'm not the best) For starters the US has missile defense systems so that plan isn't the greatest. Second our BVR systems and AWACS are the most advanced in the world so we will be able to spot you first. Third we won't use AEW's until we obtain air superiority. Fourth ya its called a NIMITZ CARRIER WE HAVE A BUNCH! Do you know what that means? Pretty much we can launch countless aerial operations from very close by, i.e. you die. Fifth there's other things wrong I just don't feel like correcting it.

  • How About This

    how about no wars, and no dog fights lets just all get along the world is going to end anyway.

  • Jiesheng Li

    F-35 has only 4 internal pylons. J-20? Don’t believe all the F-22s will be placed against the Pacific and in Pacific nations. Maintenance will be hell.

  • sdfo


  • Max Glazer

    Canards by design are not any worse or better then normal horizontal stabilizers in terms of RCS. It’s a moving horizontal surface and it’s totally irrelevant as to where it is positioned behind or in front of wing.