Andreas Rupprecht, an aviation expert and the author of several books about Chinese warplanes, wrote that he now [after the Zhuhai air show] expects the first J-20 squadron to be ready for combat with a dozen planes or so “around the year’s end or early 2017—much earlier than expected.”
China might have dozen or so J-20s on hand when the plane is finally war-ready. The USA already possess more than 180 F-22s and about 200 F-35s. F-22 production has ended, but the Pentagon wants to buy another 1,500 F-35s over the next 20 years.
The U.S. Air Force operates 20 B-2 stealth bombers and is currently developing the new B-21 stealth bomber to complement it. The Air Force and Navy are also beginning to draw up plans for two new warplane types to eventually follow the F-35.
China is developing another stealth fighter called the FC-31 that’s apparently cheaper and less capable than the J-20 is—and would be strictly for export, as Beijing reportedly does not want to sell the J-20 abroad.
There have also been rumors that China is working on a bigger J-20 model for bombing missions, plus a separate, vertical-landing fighter similar to the F-35B.
China’s wide-ranging efforts to build a stealthy air arm puts it firmly in second place after the United States when it comes to stealth technology. Third-place Russia is struggling to get its new twin-engine T-50 fighter to work—and to afford it. Japan has just begun experimenting with a prototype plane that could evolve into a front-line, radar-evading fighting sometime in the 2020s.
Japan is depending upon forty-two F-35s that were purchased from Lockheed. The first F-35A for Japan was presented at an official rollout ceremony on Sept. 23, 2016. This jet is the first of four F-35As assembled at the Fort Worth factory. The remaining 38 F-35As for the JASDF are being assembled at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Nagoya, Japan.
The J-20s at Zhuhai were still fitted with Russian-made AL-31 engines, rather than the WS-15 engines that Chinese engineers custom-designed for the J-20, but have since run into developmental problems.
With Russian engines, the first J-20 squadron could be “limited in its capabilities,” according to Rupprecht. Indeed, while Beijing might declare the J-20 to be officially combat-ready as early as this year, it’s possible the first squadron will mostly “explore operational tactics and procedures,” in Rupprecht’s estimation.
SOURCES- Daily Beast, Nikkei