Zhuhai Airshow

China to speed up stealth fighter production, air force chief says

Comments by Ma Xiaotian appear aimed at dispelling concern J-20 is behind schedule

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 4:53pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2016, 11:24pm

The PLA Air Force chief said development of the J-20 fighter jet would be sped up, in an apparent bid to quell speculation the domestic aircraft was falling behind its production schedule.

“Of course I’m satisfied,” General Ma Xiaotian said when asked about the performance of the J-20 after its brief public debut at the opening of ­Airshow China in Zhuhai in Guangdong on Tuesday.

“It’s a very good thing that our J-20 made an appearance here. We’re speeding up development,” Ma told Shenzhen Satellite Television.

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A brief fly-past by the aircraft disappointed spectators and sparked concern among military analysts over the progress of the jet’s development. The pilots did not open the weapon bay doors as they did during a rehearsal a few days earlier.

Ma told the broadcaster the ­J-20 would not be exported, a sign the aircraft is the most advanced fighter under development by the nation’s military.

“We are not considering putting [the J-20] on the global market,” he said.

A military insider said Ma’s comments could be a way to pressure the manufacturer, Chengdu Aerospace Corporation, to deliver sooner. Japan already has F-35s built by Lockheed Martin, while South Korea expects to deploy its first batch of F-35s in 2018.

How China’s stealthy new J-20 fighter jet compares to the US’s F-22 and F-35

“There is a generation gap between the stealth fighters owned by China and its neighbours,” the insider said. “It creates strategic and psychological problems.”

He said the military was reluctant to provide details of the J-20 because some of its key components might not be finished or entirely originate from China.

The J-20 fly-past was to demonstrate Beijing’s confidence in its military capacity and boost national pride, Xinhua reported.

But other than the minute-long display, the public has not had another opportunity to see the aircraft.

“We learned very little. We learned it is very loud. But we can’t tell what type of engine it has, or very much about the mobility,” Greg Waldron, the Asia managing editor of FlightGlobal, told Reuters earlier.

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Military officials have said that the J-20’s design is a military secret as it involves many of China’s top technologies.

At the previous Zhuhai air show in 2014, Beijing unveiled the Shenyang J-31, another stealth fighter under development, but with the intention of attracting foreign buyers.

State-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China released the J-31’s specifications last year, hoping to compete with the F-35 in the global weapons market.

The J-20 and J-31 belong to China’s “fourth generation” of ­aircraft and should meet at least four requirements – including stealth technology, supersonic cruising speed, highly integrated avionics, and electronic fire-control systems.