China’s J-20 stealth fighter joins service after tests in Tibet

Swift, stealthy, and armed with long-range missiles, the J-20 stealth fighter represents a leap forward in China’s ability to project power in Asia


The J-20, China’s fifth-generation stealth fighter made its public debut at the Zhuhai Air Show in southern China last November. Photo: AFP
The J-20, China’s fifth-generation stealth fighter made its public debut at the Zhuhai Air Show in southern China last November. Photo: AFP

Beijing: China has operationalised its first stealth aircraft and tested it in the rugged Tibet region for its endurance in high altitude, a development that will have major implications for India.

A video footage from state-run CCTV Channel 7 on Friday showed J-20 fighters joining the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) with Y-20 transport planes and H-6K bombers. CCTV did not say how many J-20 fighter jets were serving in the air force, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Friday.

The average height of Tibet Autonomous Region is more than 4,000 m above sea level, for which Tibet is known as the ‘roof of the world’. J-20 fighters is regarded as major breakthrough for China which is moderninsing its military in a big way. The airing of the video coincides with the current annual session of China’s Parliament.

Highlighting J-20 features, an official in the PLAAF told media in Zhuhai last year that “J-20 contains many of China’s top technologies in stealth aircraft plus other military secrets.” “The secrets include the J-20’s body shape, the proportion of its wing and body and other secrets as aircraft experts can easily calculate its stealth parameters from its exterior,” the official was quoted as saying.

However, experts said perhaps a small number of aircraft may have been made ready. Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said that it was likely that just a small number of J-20 jets had been produced due to engine problems.

“The J-20 has not yet entered mass production progress, and now just a few limited aircraft are able to serve in the air force, similar to the Y-20,” he said. Earlier, the J-20 which was displayed at China’s biggest air show at Zhuhai last November made waves in India when its photographs at an airport in Tibet were published.

But subsequently the Chinese military has discounted that J-20 will be deployed in Tibet along the India-China border. Reacting to media reports, China’s stealth fighter J-20 spotted at the Daocheng Yading Airport in Tibet an article on the PLA website in September last year said the plane will be put into service soon but the ‘China-India border is apparently not the ideal place for its deployment’.

“In addition, the world’s highest airport there does not have a complete set of supporting facilities and such shortage will impede the function of J-20,” the report had said. “J-20 will not be deployed in Daocheng Yading airport as the airport is too close to the border and it is vulnerable to India’s first wave hit. If India is to deploy BrahMos missile on the China-India border, then the Daocheng Yading airport will likely to become its target,” it said.

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