Several years after China unveiled its first aircraft carrier, a curious combination of a on old Russian hulk reincarnated with the help of some ultra modern, reverse-engineered US technology, today China once again showed off its aviation - as well as reverse-engineering - capabilities when it unveiled for the first time ever its Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter at an air show on Tuesday, in the latest sign of the growing sophistication of the country’s military technology.
The fifth-generation warplane, which very much resembles the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor (one almost wonders why), performed a series of maneuvers under overcast skies at Airshow China in the southern city of Zhuhai. There were gasps and applause as two of the jets roared over hundreds of spectators at Airshow China, held in the southern city of Zhuhai. Arriving at low level, one jet sped off to the horizon and left the other to perform a series of turns. The brief display, lasting only around a minute, did not involve low-speed passes and the pilots did not open the weapon-bay doors.
"I think we learned very little. We learned it is very loud. But we can't tell what type of engine it has, or very much about the mobility," said Greg Waldron, Asia Managing Editor of FlightGlobal cited by BBC. "Most importantly, we didn't learn much about its radar cross-section."
First spied by planespotters in 2010, experts have said the J-20 is a big step forward for the Chinese military. China has been honing the plane's design for most of this decade as it attempts to catch up with the aviation capabilities of America.
The long-range J-20, armed with air-to-air missiles, performed its first test flight in 2011 and has been the object of feverish attention by the nation’s aviation buffs. At least six prototypes have been produced, according to an annual report on the Chinese military issued by the Pentagon this year. As CBS reported, the Pentagon said a second Chinese stealth fighter under development, the FC-31, is intended for export as a competitor to the U.S. F-35. The FC-31 first flew in 2012 and debuted at Zhuhai in 2014. China is the only country apart from the U.S. to have two concurrent stealth aircraft development programs.
While the planes’ stealth capabilities remain a secret, the Pentagon said that China views the technology as key to its transformation from a “predominantly territorial air force to one capable of conducting both offensive and defensive operations.”
Among other recently developed Chinese aircraft appearing at the weeklong air show is the Y-20 large transport aircraft, with a maximum takeoff weight of around 200 tons. The plane is being introduced into the People’s Liberation Army to carry out aerial command-and-control operations and parachute drops.
Also featured is the CH-5 unmanned aerial vehicle, China’s largest combat drone, which made its first flight last year and appears to be based on the U.S. MQ-9 reaper.