The Chengdu J-20, China’s independently developed fighter has entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
The news comes to light after an announcement by the military channel of China Central Television last week.
Based on initial photographs with focus on the aircraft’s size, early speculations referred to the J-20 as an F-111 equivalent with little to no air-to-air ability while others saw the J-20 as a potential air superiority fighter once appropriate engines become available.
More recent speculation considers the J-20 as an air-to-air fighter with an emphasis on forward stealth, high-speed aerodynamics, range, and adequate agility.
The first test flight of the aircraft coincided with a visit by United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to China, and was initially interpreted by the Pentagon as a possible signal to the visiting US delegation. Speaking to reporters in Beijing, secretary Gates said:
“I asked President Hu about it directly, and he said that the test had absolutely nothing to do with my visit and there had been a pre-planned test.”
In April 2009, a Wall Street Journal report indicated that, according to the Pentagon, information from the Lockheed Martin F-35 had been compromised by unknown attackers that appeared to originate from China. There is some speculation that the compromise of the F-35 program may have helped in the development of the J-20.