back to article China's 'stealth fighter' flies – brown trouser time, or not?

The death-tech beat has spoken of little else but China's new "stealth fighter" for some weeks now – and yesterday, funnily enough just as the US Defense Secretary was visiting Beijing, the J-20 (or whatever it may turn out to be officially called) finally took to the air. The People's Republic is making no real effort to keep …


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  1. Andrew Moore Silver badge

    I'm sure...

    the only reason China has done this is so it can sell a bucket load of them to the US for a fraction of the cost of an F22.

    1. Mark 65 Silver badge

      The Chinese Xerox machine

      "the only reason China has done this is so it can sell a bucket load of them to the US for a fraction of the cost of an F22."

      Nice theory, highly topical with US outsourcing (and I'm sure you're being satirical) but I doubt it. This thing just looks like yet another cheap shitty Chinese copy of a Western design and its only saving grace is that they can probably knock it out by the thousand and have ample pilots (or meatsacks at least) to fly them. Missiles to knock it out the sky are probably still cheaper though even at Western prices.

      1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

        Cheap shitty copy...

        of a Russian design perhaps... It just looks so...

        but nevertheless, how many countries can do this?

        If it's main _PURPOSE_ of existence is to provide some sort of perceived deterrence to any US carrier group closing in on Chinese soil, it may just be successful in that role.

        Consider :

        (1) How would a US carrier group actually cope _in_practice_ with a zerg of anti-ship missles..

        (2) How many planes/missiles it would cost China to nail a US carrier if push came to shove. This number probably really exists, I am thinking something like 10-20 planes maybe but who the hell really knows? If a better plane design, even though incremental and not revolutionary, had the potential to reduces this number, it is probably worth it.

        (3) This is NOT Soviet era Russia we're talking about. This is China in the 21st century. They make iPads, Eee PC's. They have cloned their own MIPS. One would do well not to underestimate them. Both their technical prowess and actual manufacturing capability.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fly 'em into the ground

    Would be nice to see these fly right into the ground due to computer programming defects.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fly 'em into the ground

      Fly into the ground?

      I think you're getting China mixed up with Japan.

    2. Deadly_NZ

      or maybe they as safe as the cars made in China

      either way safe is NOT a word I would use in conjunction with anything made in china.

      Look at their toys Still have lead paint, thousands of times above the legal limit and little bits that fall off and choke the children. watch the car one and tell me you would even want to get into one.

    3. Big-nosed Pengie

      Programming defects?

      What - they're running Windows?

  3. Richard Gadsden 1

    India? Russia?

    China has more borders than their Eastern one.

    To the South and Southwest lies India, a country they've already had one shooting war with, and the host for the Dalai Lama - obviously being supported to try to subvert Chinese control over Tibet.

    To the North and Northwest is Russia, another country they've already had a shooting war with.

    Improving their military capabilities vis-a-vis these is a far more attainable goal than butting heads with the USA.

    Also, China's military budget might be small, but the Renminbi is artificially held low, so the money is worth more than the nominal value - and the low wages and prices in China means that the same money goes a lot further; you get a lot more soldiers and airmen to the yuan than you do to the dollar - which means you have more left after salaries to pay for R&D.

    1. Dapprman

      Well put

      China is more likely to go to war over a resource grab with India or Russia than the US, even with the Taiwan situation.

      As to the engines - a number of reports have pointed out that they're having problems developing 5G power units, so they may well be testing with existing 3G or 4G jets, hence the shape of the afterburner control foils/spout (or what ever it's called).

    2. ian 22

      "With cat-like tread upon our way we steal!"

      So not really stealthy then. More in the Pirates of Penzance mode.

      But perhaps stealthy enough for the southern barbarians: India and Vietnam. And stealthy enough for the merchants of death to take another whack at our wallets.

    3. Mark 65 Silver badge

      Let's also not forget

      They also have a border with the fucking nutcases in North Korea.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Manned aircraft...

    ... that's so 20th century

  5. Paul_Murphy


    China can afford to wait around and let us bankrupt ourselves (especially the Americans) paying for our consumables.

    Once they have all of our money and credit they can just buy us up - one country at a time.


  6. Tom_

    My dad's bigger than your dad

    Seems like the author has a bit of a throb on for the US military who have managed to win at wasting ten times as much money as everyone else.

    Well done.

    1. maclovinz

      Not writing checks...

      ...their asses can't cash, though!

      THAT, I will give them.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Manned aircraft

      Radio jammers.... thats of 1930's

      1. fatchap

        Manned aircraft

        Autonomous death dealing robots...that's the future (and the past if they get their way!).

      2. Alfred

        Mid 21st Century....

        Autonomous aircraft needing no such radio link.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      "Throb on"

      Is that a pistol in his pocket?

      That's Lewis Page so yes, it probably is.

    4. Arctic fox

      @Paul_Murpy: You've got a point.

      Much more of the same old same old from the "masters of the universe" on Wall St and it will be a moot point whether or not the US government will be able to afford the Raptor's price tag. Its no good having the better technology if it costs so frakking much in relation to your GDP that you cannot pay for it. The Chinese seem to be pursuing a doctrine of "affordable strategic sufficiency", roughly translated as "we won't start it but it will cost you if you choose to get in our face". Might be something for certain Western powers to consider. If you can't afford to build it, you can't afford to fire it.

      1. Mark 65 Silver badge

        Unless of course

        Like many other countries China is rapidly garnering Western tastes particularly the "money-grabbing bastard" ones. If their runaway investment in the property market is anything to go by they could quite easily develop their own Wall Street tendencies and piss it all back down the drain.

    5. Anonymous Coward

      @Tom_: Yes, the repeated bias is tiresome

      The author believes (despite past form) that the US could actually win a war against a well armed adversary.

      Conveniently, he omits to mention China's ability to remove US aircraft carriers from the face of the planet:

      or their satellite removal technology:

      which would probably result in the US losing to Afghanistan!

      1. asdf Silver badge

        lol doing the impossible

        Not even hundreds of billions of dollars and the might of the greatest army in the world can get Afghans to be anything but ignorant poppy growing goat farmers who refuse to leave the 12th century. Don't confuse putting a hurt on your enemy (2.5 million Vietnamese deaths to 60k American deaths) and building a nation.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Do not insult the Afghans.

          They are living in a state of war for 36 years now. You expect what kind of culture to flourish under these conditions already?

          As for our culture: daily soaps and what else for the last 20 years?

          Pray for our troops that nobody gives proper equipment to the Afghans, like Mr. Page's darlings did in the eighties.

          AC, obviously.

  7. daka

    Value for money?

    Surely the Chinese get more value for money on what they spend on the military? I mean, it's not like they are going to be paying the same mark up to private companies that USA and Europe do. A quarter of expenditure may very well mean the same amount of development.

  8. ColinP

    Bad for business

    Modern China has no interest in agression or expansion. Why on earth would they need to when they will be the major economic power in the world by the end of the century? War with your major trading partners tends to be bad for business.

    So this fighter isn't some sort of escalation of their ambitions. At most, it'll be used to keep those uppity North Koreans in check and will be available for export to anybody who wants it, at a fraction of the cost of an F-35, and completely unhindered by US trade embargoes. Expect Iran to be a client. Again, it's all good for business.

    1. Marcus Aurelius

      Re: Value for money

      The Chinese maintain a much larger army for a much lower cost than the UK, US or any other developed nation, primarily due to the fact that the average wage can be much lower.

      Lewis does seem to have missed the point that it is believed that the current engines on their jet are only temporary until they can produce a stealthy, vectored thrust unit (with a greater power output), which is when the advantages against the US are going to significantly narrow.

      The plane itself is bigger than its rivals, meaning it has provision for more fuel and weapons capacity, so when it is out of the prototype stage, I expect that the US and UK defence analysts will stop laughing at it then

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        ...or maybe not

        "The plane itself is bigger than its rivals, meaning it has provision for more fuel and weapons capacity, so when it is out of the prototype stage, I expect that the US and UK defence analysts will stop laughing at it then"

        Hmm, read what Boyd had to say on that subject. Thinking that bigger is better is what made US fighters from Vietnam-era jets to the F14 relative dogs.

        What counts is thrust:weight ratio and the fuel+payload fraction of the MTOW, not absolute size.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Its a bomber...

          Not a fighter.

          Now maybe the sniggering can stop.

      2. AtomDreams

        Time freeze

        "...which is when the advantages against the US are going to significantly narrow."

        That would only be true if the U.S. military stopped researching and developing new aircraft. As it is, the J20 (supposedly China's most advanced fighter aircraft), is at least 10-15 years behind the west. By the time China works out any kinks and sends the prototype to production, the U.S. would have produced advanced aircraft that would make the J20 obsolete.

        1. Arctic fox

          @AtomDreams: Time compression in fact..

          Technological/Industrial development in this or that country does not follow the same timeline in each successive country that goes through the phase concerned. Britain was the first country to go through what historians now call the Industrial Revolution. The "dates" commonly accepted are from approximately halfway through the eighteenth century to about halfway through the 19th - by which time Britain was no longer primarily an agricultural nation. One hundred years. Do you believe that all the countries in Europe that followed Britain into the Industrial Age needed to go through 100 years of industrial development to achieve parity? Of course not. The fact that the Chinese are 15 years behind NOW does not mean that the "techno-time-gap" will be the same in, say, five years time. Take a look at consumer electronics, they've gone from merely being the Western Worlds low rent assembly line to being a major player in that area - in what? Bout ten years or so?

    2. Marcus Aurelius

      War with your major trading partner

      May be bad for business but that doesn't stop war happening. cf France v Germany, rounds 1,2,3....

      1. byrresheim


        The (thank you, anglosphere) highly successful french landgrab started in the late 16th century and went right on until it suffered an minor setback at the end of the first Napoleon's reign and a larger setback at the end of the third Napoleon's reign. That was later corrected by Lloyd George and Wilson, and again by Roosevelt and St Churchill and we rest at that.

        But for the cold war, the french would by now have territory on both sides of the Rhine - nearing what they arrived at around 1800, before being pushed back a bit.

        So your count is not exact at all. What you are talking about are roughly rounds 29-31.

    3. 68 SK LFG Silver badge

      Full Stop

      Making proclamations about what China has in mind for the future and only considering economics as a factor is pretty damn stupid. They will be under tremendous pressure due to their one child madness. Madness because Asian culture values males over females and because of that, their male/female ratio is horrible - read somewhere it will reach 10-1 shortly. So what do you do with all those swinging dicks out there? Send 'em to war, get some stuff back, get some extra stuff. Cut your male population down and get new stuff. Win Win.

      Hell, the Number One reason to go to war is ego. My balls are bigger than yours.

      In any case, shit happens and anything else is a best guess.

      (I have a sneaking suspicion that China will be fighting the Middle Eastern Islamic countries one day. Close to each other and they don't exchange Christmas cards either - not much love lost)

  9. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Maybe it's not aimed at the US

    China has any number of border disputes with non-aligned countries - most especially with Vietnam and India. How would the J-20 compare to their latest aircraft should Beijing decide that these matters need to be resolved without resorting to diplomacy?

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  11. Nick Davey

    The Chinese Stealth Fighter...

    ..called the J-20, I wonder what flavour they'll finally be available in, Apple & Melon, Orange and Passionfruit, Raspberry...

    1. kororas


      Really ? I thought it was a bunch of speculation.

    2. Anton Ivanov

      I would beg to differ

      While the article is spot on regarding the Chinese contraption, I would beg to differ regarding the assessment of Russian's flight, military spending and aircraft development.

      1. Russian pilots used to fly a couple of hours a year for more than 15 years till 2007-ish, Putin changed that. At least some units are clocking very reasonable air hours now. You would not get Bears patrolling down the US Eastern Seabord and UK coast and White Swans in Venezuela with a couple of hours a year. Similarly, units are being re-equipped, upgraded and brought to combat spec. It is nowhere near the heyday of military spending under Andropov, but it is not 2 hours a year either.

      2. The assessment of Su-TAKPA being 1985 tech is totally off the mark:

      2.1. No US stealth aircraft had flight vector alteration in 1985. TAKPA already has it and has flown with it. That puts it firmly on par with the maiden flight of the Raptor which is 1997, if not later.

      2.2. It shares a lot of its design with Su-[27..37] and most of the "weird aerodynamics" and "damn, what do we do with these composite materials" problems have been looked at during the development of the upgrades to these as well as the development of the Berkut. It is not a leap of faith like the F-117 and the B2 so putting that much time between now and it being production is wishful thinking.

      3. Su-TAKPA is intended to be _SOLD_. Up to 500 in total. Coming back to the wishful thinking about how long it will take for it to be production - I would not be surprised if first orders for it will be taken from India by the end of this year. This is especially so after the Chinese first flight. Similarly, I would not be surprised if Pakistan would put preliminary orders on the Chinese contraption before year end as well.

      1. Pan Narrans

        re: I would beg to differ

        Is the Su-TAKPA the same as the PAK-FA ( Because the 400 or so PAK-FAs being built by Russia and India will be what the J-20 is intended to counter (though my money's on the Sukhoi there should they ever tangle).

        To those who say "Raptor Rules All" - I say "pride goeth before the fall". Depending on who you listen to, the PAK-FA could well come as a very nasty surprise to the F-22. Kopp's analysis ( makes for interesting reading at least.

        Page says "America is my sugar daddy" and Kopp says "oh noes! Russian fighters!". Take the average of both perspectives and you might find some reality.

        So in short, dismiss the Chinese and Russian efforts at your peril. They might just be more capable than we think.

        1. Anton Ivanov
          Thumb Up

          Yep, I meant the PAK-FA

          Writing it at the end of a long day I guess...

          In any case giving an aircraft which is already on the delivery schedule equivalence to a 1985 early prototype is disingenuous at best.

          While I would not fully agree with the article you point it, a stealthy fighter jet with an aerial agility on par with Su-35 achieves at least parity with F-35 even prior to having 5th gen engines. I would not go as far as makes it obsolete for now though. It has the potential, but it is clearly not there.

          In any case - 400 of those out there sold to Argentina, Venezuela, Iran, Libia, Syria and a few of the other usual suspects change the equations of world air force parity quite a bit. We may actually live to welcome the Chinese bringing some competition into this so that these slag it off against each other while we sit and watch.

        2. Arctic fox

          @Pan Narrans: I agree, a little more humility.....

          ......would be a military advantage - it stops you underestimating the "enemy". I seem to recall that when a Soviet pilot defected with a Foxbat (Mig 25) via Japan in the middle 70s the Americans were highly entertained to discover that some onboard systems used thermionic valves. They stopped laughing when someone reminded them that such systems were less vulnerable than ones based on transistors if an HEMP device were deployed.

  12. Swoop


    J20 - does it come in orange & passion fruit and apple & mango flavours?

    OK, I'm going!

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Quantity has a Quality all of it's own

    The article forgets to mention that the plane doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough, when you can fill the skies with them, and the oposition only has a couple of dozen "full up" stealth fighters to hand.

    Also how many of these are China going to sell to india, pakistan, et al?

  14. Brian Miller

    Of course UK + France > China's spending

    Come on now, of course the UK and France are spending more than China! One never knows when those two will be at each other again.

  15. F111F

    Only One Problem...

    with the author's one in the US DoD is even bothering to give this thing a second glance, let alone go "brown trousers" over it. Did the author really expect no one to sit up and take notice when China produces a "fifth generation" aircraft? Of course the various pundits are going to do their thing, from both sides of the argument...that's what pundits do. So a "Well Done!" on highlighting the very obvious and wasting our time. The course is fixed for the next decade or so. Continue testing unmanned fighters/bombers until they can pass the "interesting, but what good is it?" stage; and secondly, get a replacement bomber for the B-52s, B-1s, and B-2s, most of which are older than the readers on this site and I suspect the author as well.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    RN implications?

    Would be interesting to model how well a couple of these armed with sea skimmers would do against our new £1bn+/hull destroyers?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    China surely populated by legions of idiots who can't read and write, who don't know Physics and Chemistry. Only idiots could invent Silk while others wore that solid dead-bear-skin. And only idiots would need a compass when Vikings simply used the sun. What you say ? No sun. Dammit.

    Before you don't know something substantial about a potential adversary's systems, it is best to refrain from ridiculing said systems. There are Chinese engineers who can write RF modelling code and use RF modelling code. Also, there are Chinese engineers who can read certain uncontrolled publications where this Mil-RFy issues are discussed.

    There is not much known about the J-20 and it might turn out that there is an innovative concept behind it. It might turn out that they made serious progress on engine durability. It might turn out that this aircraft is part of an elaborate tactical concept and part of a large program to achieve a certain capability. As a wild guess, long-range strike paired with an attack on reconnaissance assets of a potential adversary of China.

    Never underestimate what opponents might achieve on tiny budgets. Tiny budgets mean someone with a sharp mind and a sharp pencil might have developed something clever and quite effective. Some people call this "asymmetric approach".

    Look up the T-34 and the Vympel AAM. World-leading Russian technology exposed only after the fact.

    1. Marcus Aurelius


      I would skip Sea Skimming missiles and see if they could be used to get a decent sized guided torpedo on the way. No Gatling CIWS is going to stop that......

      1. Volker Hett

        Yes but ...

        according do Lewis, Subs with Torpedos are no threat at all, especially for carriers :)

        Pirate because that's closest.


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