Is China’s Stealthy J-20 Superior to the F-35?

A Chinese paper is claiming that its 5th-generation stealthy J-20 aircraft is superior to the US F-35, based on recent comments from an Air Force general following an incident in which US-35s had “close contact” with the Chinese fighter over the East China Sea.

J-20 vs. F-35

The Chinese government-backed Global Times newspaper describes an incident wherein the J-20 and F-35 flew in close proximity to one another as part of routine People’s Liberation Army exercises in the region.

The paper quotes comments from Air Force Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, Commander of US Pacific Air Forces, saying the US pilots were “impressed” with the J-20. The US general’s quote reportedly came from an online event broadcast on youtube, the paper says.

“We got relatively close to the J-20s along with our F-35s in the East China Sea, and we’re relatively impressed with the command and control that was associated with the J-20,” Wilsbach reportedly said, according to the Chinese paper.

Wilsbach also reportedly said the Chinese pilots were “flying the J-20s pretty well,” according to the paper.

However, when placed in a more complete context, Wilsbach’s comments are by no means unusual, as senior Air Force and Pentagon leaders often point out the technological abilities of Chinese weapons systems as part of a vital need to ensure continued US modernization.

F-35

However, this by no means indicates that the Chinese 5th-generation aircraft actually outperforms or even rivals an F-35. Apart from the J-20s visible external configuration, and many Chinese press reports about its improved domestically-built engine and fast-improving performance, there may be little known information about the PLA aircraft’s mission systems, computing, sensors or weapons interfaces.

Clearly its stealth exterior would suggest it may be an F-35 and F-22 “copycat” in terms of its blended wing-body and rounded fuselage. However, apart from its apparent stealth properties, any true margin of difference between the two aircraft would likely reside in less visible technological variables such as sensor range and fidelity, on board data processing and weapons targeting precision, among other things.

Two J-20 fighters breaking formation

Should Wilsbach’s comment about the J-20s command and control be accurate, that does introduce an interesting and rare window of observation into perhaps previously unknown elements of the J-20. If in fact the Chinese aircraft appeared to maneuver with an effective command and control system, that would indicate that perhaps at least some of the J-20s mission systems and computing are effective.

At the same time, it seems important to point out that regardless of potentially being “impressed” with the J-20 and its flying, Wilsbach offered no input or comment regarding the question as to whether he thinks the Chinese 5th-generation aircraft in anyway resembles the F-35.

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