On the 26th of July China has managed to successfully test-fly its fourth prototype of the Chengdu J-20 fifth generation stealth bomber.[1] The newest version of the bomber flew for two hour before landing.[2]

Many factors have contributed to the development of the aircraft. Espionage is of course one of them. Most open source data states that the aircraft is rather similar to the F-35, F-22 and Russian made T-50. This may very well be because a Chinese native, alongside two co-conspirators, have managed to hack into Boeing’s international network in order to steal as many as 32 different American defense projects, including some data concerning the F-22 and the F-35.[3] It has been presumed that earlier this year China also managed to steal data regarding the F-35’s sensor system by hacking.[4] The Chinese stealth program is believed to have started as early as the war in former Yugoslavia, when Chinese agents made great haste to buy pieces of the shot down F-117 Nighthawk that had been stolen from the fields by farmers, as souvenirs.[5] Another source of the Chinese stealth projects appears to have been Noshir Sheriarji Gowadia, one of the engineers working to develop the B-2 Bomber who was accused in 2005 of disclosing the infrared suppression system of the B-2 to as much as eight foreign governments.[6] He also made several trips to China in the 2003-2005 timeframe. Gowadia will be released from prison in 2033.[7]

The evolution of the J-20 has been reasonably rapid. Since 2011 experts have concluded that the various prototypes presented have shown design improvements aimed at better concealing the aircraft against enemy radars.[8] The time frame set by Chinese military officials in 2009 for the full deployment of the J-20 within the PLA has been 2017-2019.[9]

The Chengdu, is supposed to be equipped, amongst other things, with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar[10] which is known to have the capacity of avoiding interception and to be more resilient in the face of jamming. It is said that most East Asia air defense systems would not be prepared to detect the J-20 because of the AESA radar.[11]

It is estimated that the Chinese government intends on building as much as 20 such fully operational war machines by the end of the decade[12], a clear indicator of the fact that China is augmenting its recently improved naval capacities with an air support system ready to apply hits to potential targets within the Asia-Pacific area. With a probable range of up to 1.000 nautical miles, the plane would be able to hit Japan, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines.[13] This is not quite what the doctor ordered for this area of the world since China has territorial disputes with all these countries. Nevertheless, a war is not in Beijing’s interest and we may presume that the newest Chinese technology is just for show. In the improbable event that things get hot though, China would have the means of retaliating. Until then we will not know how the aircraft really performs in battle.

Chengdu J-20


China also needs to show some restraint and discipline in using its military resources, especially when it comes to air power. For example, on 22.08.2014, Washington protested the conduct of a PLA fighter pilot who intercepted a P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine and reconnaissance plane. Rear Admiral John Kirby stated that the PLA plane made some risky maneuvers alongside the P-8, including a barrel-roll over its head, as well as maneuvers to show the P-8 that the PLA aircraft was properly equipped for warfare.[14] Rear Admiral Kirby noticed that “this kind of behavior not only is unprofessional, it's unsafe […] And it is certainly not in keeping with the kind of military-to-military ... relations that we'd like to have with China.”[15] The event is yet another clear indicator of the fact that Beijing’s power policy has a lot to do with controlling and managing a bigger portion of the sea. The event is also an indicator of the fact that some of the PLA officers use the technology that equips the PLA in order to make strong statements about what they see as China’s natural area o influence. With the arrival of new technological gains in term of air-power, as the J-20, such incidents may intensify.

[1] Jeremy Bender, “China’s fifth generation fighter could be a game changer in an increasingly tense East Asia”, Business Insider, 21.08.2014,, consulted on 22.08.2014.

[2] ibidem.

[3] Jeremy Bender, “FBI: a Chinese hacker stole massive amounts of intel on 32 US military projects”, 16.07. 2014, Business Insider,, consulted 22.08.2014.

[4] Jeremy Bender, “Chinese data theft could be disastrous for the US military’s most expensive fighter jet”, Business Insider, 14.03.2014,, consulted on 22.08.2014.

[5] “China used downed U.S. fighter to develop first stealth jet”, Mail Online, 19.04.2014,, consulted on 22.08.2014.

[6] Larkins Dsouza, “Noshir Gowadia father of Chinese stealth technology”,, 14.03.2014,, consulted on 22.08.2014.

[7] ibidem.

[8] Jeremy Bender, “China’s fifth generation fighter could be a game changer in an increasingly tense East Asia”, Business Insider, 21.08.2014,, consulted on 22.08.2014.

[9] “China’s stealth Chengdu J-20 Jet Fighter rivals American F-22”, Salem News, 01.03. 2014,, consulted on 22.08.2014.

[10] ibidem.

[11] ibidem.

[12] ibidem.

[13] ibidem.

[14] David Alexander, “U.S. protests intercept of Navy jet by Chinese warplane”, 23.08.2014,, consulted on 23.08.2014.

[15] ibidem.

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