The Conundrum of China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter JetPosted: November 22, 2016
That is in fact not a conundrum as China has given crystal clear massages in the short flight show of J-20 stealth fighter jet, but it seems a real conundrum because few military experts, commentators and reporters seem to take and understand the messages.
Some of them seem to have received no messages at all. For example, Tobin Harshaw wrote an article for Bloomberg titled “China’s New Jets Are Impressive. But Are They for Real?” to show his failure to understand the message. Harshaw concludes his article with the following statement of frustration: “The J-20 flyby showed only how little we know about China’s drive to become a cutting-edge military.”
He certainly fails to receive one of the two clear messages: J-20 has no cutting edge compared with US F-22 outside the region it defends. The flight show tells those who have military knowledge that J-20 is satisfactorily stealth only in its front. It is not satisfactorily invisible to radar or infrared detector from the sides and rear.
F-22 however is stealth from any angle. It is designed to go deep into enemy territories to attack enemy targets including ground ones.
In designing F-22, US military wants it to be perfect, but China does not want its J-20 to be perfect. It only wants J-20 to achieve one vital strategic goal. That is why Chinese air force chief commander is very much satisfied with J-20 in spite of its various shortcomings.
US experts, commentators and reporters are used to assume that China is developing its military in order to contend with the US for world hegemony or in better wording for world leadership. The flight show proves precisely the contrary. China is satisfied with its new stealth fighter that is in quite a few respects inferior to US ones for world hegemony. The flight show proves that China has no intention to contend with the US for world leadership.
Chinese leaders are wise to refrain from the ambition to pursue world leadership. If they have such ambition, I will denounce them as stupid.
China’s economy is much smaller than the US. China still lags behind the US in many areas of science and technology. China simply lacks the ability to contend with the US. Moreover, what benefit may world leadership bring China? To be heavily in debts like the US and unpopular even in countries such as the Philippines the US protects?
Therefore, J-20 is utterly not designed as a penetrating strike jet. It only serves the strategic goal of grabbing air supremacy from F-22 in defending Chinese homeland. It is a weapon of defense while F-22 is a weapon of attack.
Kyle Mizokami seems to know better in its article “China Has Big Plans For Its Deadly New Stealth Fighter: But is the J-20 a threat to American air superiority?” published on Foreign Policy on November 4. He knows that as I point out, J-20 cannot be a penetrating strike jet due to its less-effective stealth from the sides and rear. However as he has the wrong idea that China wants to project its power outside its border or resolve border disputes by force, he fails to take the message that China has no intention to use J-20 outside the area J-20 protects.
Mr. Mizokami mentions China’s disputes with Japan in the East China Sea. However, he fails to see that the disputed Diaoyu (known as Senkaku in Japan) Islands are but worthless rocks. What China contends for are the rich fish and energy resources around the islands. Chinese fishermen are fishing there and China has been conducting oil and gas exploration there smoothly. Why shall China fight a war with expensive J-20s for some rocks?
Similar is the case with China’s disputes in the South China Sea. Different from the rocks in the East China Sea, the rocks there can be used to build large artificial islands for fishing, fish farming, tourism and oil and gas exploitation. China has incurred huge costs to build seven large artificial islands enough for such purposes and for defense of the area against US intervention.
In addition, China is not so greedy as to exploit those resources alone. It wants cooperation with other claimants in doing so. Now all other claimants including Vietnam are willing to cooperate, why shall China use its expensive J-20 to fight a war?
We see from the above that J-20 flight show clearly revealed that J-20 cannot be used as a penetrating strike jet for projecting China’s power abroad, but foreign military experts, commentators and reporters do not or simply will not accept the message as the message contradicts their assumption of China’s intention to project power abroad.
The second message is also very clear: With J-20, China has air superiority in the area near it to prevent US attack of Chinese homeland.
The flight show makes very clear J-20’s super maneuverability by showing its vertical climbup and sharp U-turn and looping. As J-20 is a later development, it has better radar, electronics, sensors, etc. than F-22; therefore, it is able to contend for air supremacy with F-22.
As for F-35, it is smaller; therefore, its radar and weapons are inferior to J-20’s. As F-35 is not designed for dogfight due to the design presumption it is to deal with non-stealth fighter, test has proved that it cannot win dogfight even against F-15. J-20 has much better dogfight capability as its designer knows well there will be dogfight between stealth fighters when their missiles fail to hit.
Due to the high speed and radar invisibility of stealth fighters, when a stealth fighter finds an enemy stealth fighter, it does not have much time for missile attack before their distance has been reduced to dogfight distance. With better heavier radar, J-20 can detect F-35 earlier and shoot down it with long-range air-to-air missile. If the long-range missile misses, it can fire a short-range one. If that missile also misses, it will be able to shoot down the F-35 in dogfight. F-35 is simply no rival to J-20.
The above analysis justifies Chinese air force commander’s satisfaction with J-20 as J-20 will be able to achieve strategic goal of air superiority to defend Chinese homeland.
China has the advantage of having specific strategic goal in developing J-20 so that it is able to ignore some unnecessary functions such as sidewise and rear stealth, group data link, etc. to reduce the cost and duration of research and development. That makes J-20 much cheaper and easier to make. We can expect that China will make a larger number of J-20s than US F-22s and F-35s to dominate the airspace near China.
That is the most important message to the US: With J-20, China is sure to win if the US attacks it.
Comparison between J-20 and F-22 disregarding their entirely different strategic goals does not make sense!
Article by Chan Kai Yee