The Conundrum of China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter Jet

America’s F-22 Raptor can easily handle China’s new J-20 fighter jet, analysts say. Photo: US Air Force

America’s F-22 Raptor can easily handle China’s new J-20 fighter jet, analysts say. Photo: US Air Force

Two People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) J-20 stealth fighter jets fly over spectators during an aerial performance at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, China, on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. The biannual air show runs from November 1 to 6. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Two People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) J-20 stealth fighter jets fly over spectators during an aerial performance at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, China, on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. The biannual air show runs from November 1 to 6. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

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


7 Comments on “The Conundrum of China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter Jet”

  1. Simon says:

    The latest and greatest ever American warship the $4.4 billion Zumwait has broken down

    Like their GoPro Karma drones that falls out of the sky America can no longer make anything fit for purpose.


  2. Simon says:

    Like Western powers the Mongols practice hegemon which saw its vast empire lasting just 100yrs. The British empire lasted 100yrs from end of Waterloo to Flanders in WW1. It looks like the Americans are heading that way, 1945-2045.
    The Romans was an exception because contrary to how hollywood portray them to be it turned away from hegemony when it looks like it was about to collapse after 100yrs with Hadrian embracing peace with its neighbours and sharing of culture and trades for a win win outcome.


  3. Eastern Looking Glass says:


    Amerika’s pivot to the Far East Asia, or Western Pacific as they like to call it, is a futile exercise.

    Geographically speaking, it’s a region beyond their control. Sooner or later, if necessary, China and/or Russia can launch a war to remove the pesky American invaders and their military outposts from their doorsteps. All it needs are some missiles to obliterate Guam, Kadena and Anderson in Japan, Futenma in Okinawa, and Jeju in South Korea, and a threat to vaporize Japan if it allows itself to be used by Amerika as a proxy.

    If China and Russia can show an iron WILL that it means business, Tokyo will likely capitulate and do nothing thereby depriving Amerika the opportunity to fight to the last Japanese. If the Amerikans wants to prosecute the war, they can jolly well send their own young men to fight and die in a senseless war and for what purpose? No point dying in a war you can’t win and which they – the Amerikans and Japanese – are already getting what they want – cheap labor and other resources in an open market system that is enriching their capitalists fabulously.

    If that is the case as logic dictates, even the Amerikans may capitulate, throw down it’s weapons and pack up and go home. Such a scenario can be over in less than a few weeks once it IS clear China and Russia really means to fight. The Amerikan politicians, it’s admirals and top brasses in the U.S. air force and land forces, know a war in the Far East is war they CANNOT WIN.

    The assumptions here is that China and Russia have built a sufficiently large and strong armed forces with nuclear warheads in numbers to go that dwarves the combined Amerikan’s and Japanese’s in every way.

    The best scenario is where Amerika withdraw voluntarily from the Far East the way the British gentlemanly wihdrew and return back the independence and sovereignty of their colonies there. The second best is a strong nationalist leader in Japan who will NOT and does NOT want to be Amerika’s vassal anymore and has the will and mettle to make that absolutely clear. Much like President Rodrigo Duterte. Once the Japanese lynchpin is gone, it’s but a matter of negotiation for the Amerikans to close their military bases and withdraw .. perhaps to Australia if they like.

    Far East Asian nations need NOT worry nor fret about the “crazy” and “aggressive” North Koreans attacking or invading their countries. It’s just a bogey created by Amerika to psychologically frighten Far East Asians so that they want the Amerikans to stay. Once the bluff is call, the vote is in, and Ameriexit is it.

    Which explains why we have been seeing “Kabukis” from the Amerikans in the form of “Freedom of Navigation”, war drills to threaten Pyongyang, B-1s, B-2s, and B-24s flying over North Korea and over the Spratly islands and apparently, over the Chinese ADIZ in the East Sea etc., for the last decade or more. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the show is about to be over soon. The curtain will fall soon from the stage. Logic dictates the Amerikans will have to close their military bases in the Far East and behave themselves. It is hopeful that the nasty war mongering, lying, deceitful, murderous quaintly called “neocons” will be finally and fully eradicated with the current “Amerikan Spring”; That the unseen hands of the Amerikan oligarchs are chopped off to trouble the Amerikans and the world no more. It is hope the disinterest and opinion by the American people against the economically bleeding and destructive hegemonic drive will end and peace and harmony returns once more to the world.; That “Babylon” is no more.


  4. Allen Lau says:

    The question posed by Americans of “Is China threatening US world domination?” cannot be answered from Chinese perspective. US views all threats with a heavy dose of schizophrenia. You cannot ask why the US spent trillions of dollars on wars in the middle east, or why they dropped millions of tons of bombs on rice farmers in South East Asia or why the US is plotting regime change all over the world.
    The US reactions to perceived threats are heavy handed and out of proportions (e.g. by moving 60% of its military to China’s doorstep). China is wise to keep a low profile and keep developing what it needs to protect itself.


    • Steve says:

      Well Said…but it is imperative that China’s economic viability surpasses that of the US, just to shake the foundation of American hegemonic mentality.


      • Allen Lau says:

        Like the question posed to the Marathon Man (in the movie of the same name by Lawrence Olivier) : “Is it safe?” The question is not demanding an answer, but is used by the questioner to justify the horrendous actions he is about to take.