A heavily modified Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter jet formally entered mass production this month, according to a new report via South China Morning Post (SCMP), who spoke with military sources about the development surrounding the fifth-generation fighter jet with upgraded Russian engines.
China held a ceremony last week, unveiling the modified J-20B stealth fighter jet. The source said, "production of the J-20B started on Wednesday. It has finally become a complete stealth fighter jet, with its agility meeting the original criteria."
"The most significant change to the fighter jet is that it is now equipped with thrust vector control," the source said.
Thrust vector control (TVC) is cutting-edge aviation technology that is currently dominated by the US and Russia, gives these nation's stealth jets better combat capability.
"TVC involves a movable thrust nozzle that enables a fixed-wing plane to change the direction of its engine exhaust. This allows the pilot to raise the aircraft's nose cone vertically while maintaining forward momentum so the plane effectively "sits" on its own tail in an aerodynamic stall caused by low speed and a high angle of attack.
"The use of such technology extensively boosts the maneuverability of a fighter jet, providing advantages in aerial combat, especially during close-range dogfights," said Defense Aerospace.
Thrust vectoring capabilities will allow J-20Bs to take on US' Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II that Washington has spent several years deploying to allied countries around China, effectively building an "F-35 friends circle."
SCMP notes Chinese engineers were working on a TVC system of their own but failed to materialize into promising results.
"The Chinese engine designed for the J-20s still failed to meet requirements, but its development is going quite smoothly, and it may be ready in the next one or two years," the source said.
Chinese engineers then decided to go with Russian Saturn AL-31 engines as the "ultimate goal is to equip the J-20B fighter jets with domestic engines," the source said.
"The launch of the J-20B means this aircraft now is a formal fifth-generation fighter jet," the military source said, adding that Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC), which manufactures the J-20s, had received "heavy orders" from the People's Liberation Army (PLA). - SCMP
In 2019, the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAF) said an upgraded J-20 (likely referring to the J-20B) will achieve "overwhelming superiority" over the F-35.