Chinese stealth fighters are combat-ready, Beijing says

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Story highlights

  • J-20 is China's twin-engine stealth fighter
  • J-20 seen as China's answer to US F-35 and F-22 fighters

(CNN)China says its newest stealth fighter is combat-ready.

Posts on both the website of the People's Liberation Army and the official Xinhua news agency said the J-20 fourth-generation fighter had been armed and officially commissioned into China's air force.
    Long touted as China's answer to US F-22 and F-35 stealth fighter jets, analysts say the J-20 is intended to fulfill two roles, air-to-air combat and ground attack.
    "The stealth jets will improve the air force's comprehensive fighting ability and enable it to better safeguard China's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity," Shen Jinke, spokesman for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force, is quoted as saying by Xinhua.
    A report last year from the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests the J-20 could be used to strike enemy airfields and command centers in the ground attack role.
    The report also points out that if long-range air-to-air missile are mounted on the J-20, it could threaten key components of the US air fleet, such as aerial refueling tankers and early warning and command and control aircraft.
    In a post on the PLA's English-language website, Chinese military expert Song Zongping said the J-20 will "engage with rivals in the future who dare to provoke China in the air."
    The post goes on to claim that the arrival of the J-20 will change the balance of air power in the Asia-Pacific region. "In the past, only the US and its allies like Japan were capable of arming stealth fighter jets. But now, their monopoly in this region has been broken by China's J-20."
    China first flew the twin-engine J-20 in 2011, and it was introduced to the public during a flyby at the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, near Hong Kong, in November 2016.
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    US challenge

    The US' own stealth fighter jets have been deployed to the Pacific over the course of the last 12 months, with both the Air Force and Marine Corps versions of the single-engine F-35 operating out of US bases in Japan.
    Japan's Air Self-Defense Force is also adding its own F-35s, with the first of 10 of the planes deploying to Misawa Air Base at the northern end of the main island of Honshu late last month.
    When the F-35s were sent to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in January 2107, a spokesman told CNN they would be key to the US defense of Japan and Pacific allies.
    "It will be the cornerstone of a multi-mission joint force possessing improved mission flexibility and unprecedented effectiveness to engage and destroy both air and ground threats," 1st Lt. Karoline Foote of the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Japan told CNN in an email.
    US officials have also played down the challenge of the Chinese J-20s to what has long been regarded as US dominance in Asia-Pacific skies.
    "When I hear about F-35 vs. J-20, it's almost an irrelevant comparison," US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in August 2016, according to a report from BreakingDefense.com.
    The US general said the US F-35 integrates with other US weapons and systems to give it the technological advantage, the BreakingDefense report said.
    Goldfein said the J-20 employed technology more like the F-117A fighter, which the US Air Force first flew in the 1980s and which is no longer in active use by American forces.
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    Work in progress

    China, for its part, said the J-20's participation in its Red Sword 2017 war games in November "laid a foundation for the enhancement of its new war capacities," according to the Xinhua report.
    Analysts also say the J-20 is not yet a finished product.
    The China Power Project report says China is expected to put an advanced communications suite in the J-20 that will link its systems with those of other platforms, much like the Americans do with the F-35.
    China is also upgrading the J-20s engines from the Russian ones used in early models to domestic Chinese-made units that will enable the planes to cruise at supersonic speeds while using less fuel, the report said.