China unveils aircraft accused of being USAF rip-off while F-35 program faces more setbacks

A Chinese J-20 aircraft (left and a USAF F-35 Lighting II.

The Chinese are set to schedule public flights of their new Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter- and a few features look awfully similar to American fifth-generation fighters.

While the Chinese vehemently deny the claim that the J-20 is anything but an original piece of work, previous reports point to the theory that the fighter is the result of stolen information and technology that was developed by the United States.

The Chinese stealing technology from western nations (in an attempt to reverse-engineer and compete) is nothing new- earlier in the year, a Chinese national pleaded guilty to charges of attempting to hack data on the F-22 on behalf of the Chinese government. In addition, Chinese hackers have been stealing secrets from US Government contractors for some time.

That said, the J-20 is nothing new. While public flights are only now becoming an authorized event, the aircraft has been seen -and studied- in flight by defense analysts, who weren’t always so impressed.

As far back as 2011, defense and aerospace experts noted that the J-20’s design resembled the abandoned Russian Mig 1.42/44 prototype, which was designed in the early 1980s and cancelled after only a handful of flights in 2000. Other “selling point” aspects of the fighter now date back over 30-years.

“I’m not sure that it’s even much of an impressive airframe,” said Richard Aboulafia told the Telegraph in 2011. “It looks like something that might have been designed in 1985.”

Another Chinese “fifth-generation” fighter, the Shenyang J-31, has been carefully analyzed and noted to be an aesthetic copy of an F-35 without many of the performance perks.

US Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein -who was shot down in 1999 over Serbia by a Surface-to-Air Missile- said comparing the J-20 to American fifth-generation fighters “is almost an irrelevant comparison.”

Earlier this year, Goldfein told Breaking Defense that the F-35 project is “about a family of systems and it’s about a network- that’s what gives us an asymmetric advantage,” citing that the J-20 is more akin to the F-117 stealth fighter of old (which had stealth but was unable to work in an integrated network of sensory data like the F-35) than the Lightning II. “That’s why when I hear about F-35 vs. J-20, it’s almost an irrelevant comparison.”

Still, the Chinese maintain their stance that the J-20 is all one could want in a fifth-generation fighter, with Chinese state aerospace company AVIC president Tan Ruisong saying that the world superpower is now on the leading edge of aerospace technology.

The J-20 will be featured at the Zhuhai air show from November 1st to the 6th, taking to the skies with over 151 other aircraft and 700 exhibitors from 42 countries and regions.

According to the Daily Mail, AVIC president Tan said that the state-run company (whose export sales exceed $11.8 billion a year) would ‘persistently struggle’ to realize the dream of a great Chinese air force and a strong military- carrying out “the strategic plan of the Communist party, the government and the People’s Liberation Army.”

In the United States, the F-35 has its own problems as well: despite gradual progress in the wake of issues surrounding the expensive program, the fighter’s production and shipment has slipped from 12 to 10 units in the third quarter this year, two-less than the third quarter of 2015 and missing the 2016 target.

Next Big Future reports that Lockheed-Martin cited lower-tier supplier issues surrounding “out-of-spec” deliveries of (coolant) insulation tubes, which affected several aircraft.

A single F-35 ranges in cost from $98 million (for the F-35A) to over $116 million (for the F-35C), with costs expected to drop once full production begins in 2018.

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Author

  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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