China activating J-20 stealth fighters now in advance of South Korea getting 40 F-35s in 2018

China’s state media reports that that the fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighter has been put into active military service and this is two years earlier than previously expected. China’s military has not confirmed this.

Military insiders said the appearance of J-20s in the air force was meant as a warning to Japan and South Korea, which are expected to buy US F-35 stealth fighters now that China has equally advanced warplanes.

The J-20 stealth fighter has weaker engines and is not as stealthy as the US F-22. However, the J-20 would be able to put US Aircraft carriers at risk and would be able to attack refueling planes and AWAC radar planes.

Thursday’s report did not provide details on where the fighter will likely be deployed.

Video footage aired by CCTV afternoon produced J-20 fighters alongside PLA Y-20 transport planes and H-6K bombers. The broadcast did not say how many J-20s were operational.

The report said the new aircraft had joined joint drills with troops, rocket forces and the navy.

A source close to the PLA said the J-20s were all equipped with home-made WS-15 engines, but because the engine had not entered mass production, only a few J-20s were available for service.

“There are still a series of technical problems that need to be tackled [on the J-20], including the reliability of its WS-15 engines, [and the plane’s] control system, stealth coat and hull materials and infrared sensor, Said the source, who requested anonymity

In the US as a result of the US deploying a batch of F-35s in Japan in January, and South Korea planning to have 40 F-35s in 2018, “it’s urgent for China to show off its achievements as soon as possible”, the source said, adding That more J-20s would join the PLA this year.

The J20 has radar-absorbent paint, a redesigned canopy, redesigned external features such as air intakes and wheel doors, and — most importantly — a new nose to accommodate an active electronically scanned radar (AESA). A gold standard among modern fighters, AESA radars create discrete “beams” of radio waves that allow detection without revealing the aircraft carrying it—a key requirement for stealth aircraft.

The fighter jet’s engines has proven a problem for China. The J-20 needs two powerful, high-performance engines to “supercruise” — aviation jargon for cruising above the speed of sound with a full load of weapons and fuel. China’s aviation industry has lagged far behind those of the West and Russia in the development of high-performance jet engines. Early J-20 models are flying with imported Russian AL-31FN engines, as its predecessor plane, the J-10, did, but production aircraft are expected to fly with domestically built Xian WS-15 engines offering 50 percent more thrust.

But what exactly is this plane for? A twin-engine aircraft with three internal weapons bays is capable of a range of missions. One potential use for the J-20 is as a long-range strike aircraft, capable of penetrating enemy air defense networks to launch missiles against high-value ground targets such as airfields, command and control bases, and other military installations.

Aviation analysts Mike Yeo and Chris Pocock believe that based on the emphasis on frontal-aspect low visibility the J-20 is meant to be a long-range interceptor. In that case, the J-20 would detect and shoot at enemy planes head-on from beyond visual range. Such a role would make the J-20’s less-effective stealth from the sides and rear less of an issue than if it was intended to be a penetrating strike jet that would travel deep into enemy territory and need to be stealthy from all angles.

The J20 is less stealthy and has inferior engines compared to the US F22 and F35.

SOURCES- South China Morning Post, CCTV