China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter Is Getting the Hollywood Treatment

It looks like China is getting its J-20 stealth fighter ready for some serious publicity. These photos show the jet getting up close and personal treatment by a professional camera crew at Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group’s airfield where the small fleet of J-20 test planes is based. The J-20 is China’s first stealthy fighter plane, ...

By , a former national security reporter for Foreign Policy.
Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog
Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog
Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog

It looks like China is getting its J-20 stealth fighter ready for some serious publicity. These photos show the jet getting up close and personal treatment by a professional camera crew at Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group's airfield where the small fleet of J-20 test planes is based.

It looks like China is getting its J-20 stealth fighter ready for some serious publicity. These photos show the jet getting up close and personal treatment by a professional camera crew at Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group’s airfield where the small fleet of J-20 test planes is based.

The J-20 is China’s first stealthy fighter plane, the grainy amateur photos that leaked of the jet in late 2010 were a signal to the world that China was ready to start challenging, at least a little, American dominance of the skies.

The Chinese government has a habit of allowing plane-spotters to hang out on the perimeter fences of airfields belonging to two of its major military aircraft builders, Chengdu and Shenyang, when the government is ready for images of a new project to leak out. In the two and a half years since the J-20 emerged we’ve seen another stealth jet, the J-31, and a stealthy drone, the Li Jian, unveiled in similar fashion.

This new crew? They’re no amateurs. Maybe this means the plane will merely star in the next Chinese version of Top Gun. It may also be a harbinger of big news for the plane. We do know that there are at least two J-20 test jets, labeled 2001 and 2002. The first plane, 2001, is likely used to prove that the airframe’s basic design is airworthy while engineers are using 2002 to test how well the plane’s mission systems like avionics, radars and missiles work. (2002 is the star of this movie, notice how the plane has its weapons bay doors open in one of the photos below.)

Chinese officials have said they expect to have a stealth fighter in service as early as 2017. If so, that means that Chengdu is likely rushing through the development of the jet in order to get the production line established.

Remember, we’ve seen plenty of evidence to suggest that the Chinese government is using its military hacking units to acquire the designs of U.S. weapons — like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Chinese spies are also trying to steal the secrets of the West’s advanced manufacturing procedures in an attempt to leapfrog past the decades of research and development work needed to produce modern weapons. It’s entirely possible that these attempts at development shortcuts will pay off and China will field its first squadron of stealth fighters in as little as four years. (Whether the PLAAF can master the use of such jets is another question.)

At the very least, it looks like we can expect to see some relatively high-quality imagery of the jet coming out sometime soon.

John Reed is a former national security reporter for Foreign Policy.

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