China’s air force will have more than 60 of its most advanced J-20 fifth-generation fighters ready for combat by the end of 2019, according to recent Chinese media reports.
Meanwhile, the United States announced that its Air Force is moving 11 of the older model F-35A fighter jets to be part of a reactivated squadron in Nevada, for air exercises that will simulate combat against China’s J-20 or Russia’s Su-57.
The United States and China are the only countries in the world that currently have fifth-generation fighters in production. Such fighters have supercruise, supermaneuverability, stealth, and advanced avionics capabilities.
Russia’s Su-57, also named the T-50, is a fifth-generation fighter that first flew in January 2010. But Su-57 is still a prototype and hasn’t been put into production.
As recent Pentagon reports have assessed how China’s geopolitical ambitions pose threats to regional stability throughout the world, including in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. Air Force has ramped up efforts to prepare for a conflict with China.
Simulating Conflict With Rivals
The Air Force said on May 9 that it would reactivate the 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, which had been inactive since September 2014. The F-35A Lightning IIs are to be moved there for use in training pilots on how to fight adversaries.
The new program at Nellis is part of “high-end conflict” training, by having U.S. pilots fly older F-35A jets to simulate how a J-20 or Su-57 would behave, Military.com reported.
“The F-22 [Raptor, U.S. fifth-generation fighters] guys are hungry to get at a fifth-gen adversary like a J-20,” Military.com quoted an anonymous fighter pilot as saying in 2017. “The problem is, no squadron can replicate it unless you have dedicated fighter [squadrons of aircraft like the F-35 or F-22] acting as adversary air.”
This request will now be met after the squadron finishes its adversary tactics training.
China has recently increased its aggressive rhetoric, threatening its neighbors with use of force to defend its territorial claims.
Wei Fenghe, China’s defense minister, said at the Singapore security summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue, on June 2, “If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military has no choice but to fight at all costs for national unity.”
While speaking about the South China Sea, Wei criticized the United States for sending warships on freedom-of-navigation missions, claiming that all the artificial islands where the Chinese regime has built military bases are Chinese territories—and thus, legitimate.
This isn’t the first time that the Chinese regime has vowed to use force to solve sovereignty disputes about Taiwan and South China Sea. Indo-Pacific states are on high alert as a result.
According to Nikkei, Japan’s Self-Defense Force has been approved to order 42 F-35Bs from the United States—giving Japan the largest F-35 fleet among U.S. allies. The East Asian country is also buying 63 other U.S. jets.
F-35B stealth fighter jets can do short takeoffs and vertical landings. Meanwhile, Japan refurbished the decks of its two largest warships—the Kaga and Izumo—to facilitate takeoffs and landings by the F-35Bs.
Taiwan is also gearing up, as Beijing has continually threatened to use military force to unite the island—which it views as part of its territory—with the mainland.
On June 6, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed that it had begun the process to pursue the purchase of more than $2 billion of U.S. missiles and battle tanks made by U.S. defense companies General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. The arms deal includes 250 Raytheon FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, designed to attack aircraft.
In China, all J-20 information is treated as state secrets, but the Chinese government has released some details to media after careful censorship.
Chinese news portal Sina Military reported on June 3 that since its first delivery in 2016, the Chinese air force had made about 28 J-20s as of the end of 2018, and would have more than 60 J-20s ready for combat by the end of 2019. It plans to have more than 100 J-20s before 2021.
But the portal also previously reported on May 31 that the J-20 has had several setbacks. While the state-run Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group is the maker of the J-20, and has the capacity to produce 100 J-20s per year, the air force didn’t order more of the jets for two reasons: the technology isn’t yet completed, and the price tag is too high.
The report said the engine is the biggest issue for the J-20.
The J-20 uses Russian-made Saturn AL-31F engines. Chinese state-run media Xinhua News first reported in March 2017 that state-run manufacturers planned to develop a domestic-made engine for the J-20. Sina Military then reported a few months later in October that the first J-20 equipped with a China-made WS-10B engine had begun testing flights.
Chinese military expert Yin Zhuo told Chinese state-run broadcaster CCTV in November 2017 that J-20s would eventually use the WS-15 engine, an updated design that is more advanced than the WS-10B.
But there has been no official information about the status of the WS-15. J-20s are still using Russian-made engines or the China-made WS-10C, engines that were featured in China’s fourth-generation fighters.
“For sure, the capability and performance of the J-20 still has much room for improvement, but it’s a threat [to the West] nonetheless,” Tang Jingyuan, a U.S.-based commentator, told The Epoch Times on June 6.