Is China’s J-20 stealth fighter being readied for a Hong Kong flypast?

Sources suggest advanced jet could take part in the city’s celebrations, with visit likely to coincide with the arrival of Liaoning, China’s aircraft carrier

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 July, 2017, 9:32am

China’s new generation stealth fighter jet, the J-20, may fly to Hong Kong to join the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from Britain to China, according to two independent sources close to the military.

The first said the J-20 may join the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong garrison and the country’s first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, which will visit Hong Kong this week.

The aircraft carrier is scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong on Friday and to leave on July 11. It will lead a flotilla that will also feature guided-missile destroyers, missile frigates, J-15 fighter jets and helicopters, Chinese navy spokesperson Liang Yang said on Sunday.

The warships will be open for public to visit on July 8 and 9.

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“The PLA air force has suggested [that the] J-20 fly to Hong Kong to join the full-scale military exercises for the handover celebration,” the source, who requested anonymity, told the South China Morning Post.

“The J-20 may fly over Hong Kong for just a few minutes [however] before returning to the air base in neighbouring Guangdong province.”

The second source said the J-20, which joined the Chinese air force late last year, is likely to “just hover” above Hong Kong.

“Due to technical issues, it would be difficult for the J-20 to land and take off in Hong Kong,” the person said, though declined to elaborate.

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The aircraft carrier entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on Saturday and sailed just to the west of the middle of the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the island’s defence ministry said.

Taiwan’s military jets and ships were deployed to monitor the flotilla’s passage.

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Large aircraft carriers like the Liaoning, which has a displacement of 60,000 tonnes, need to berth in deepwater ports. Visiting US aircraft carriers used to dock southeast of Tsing Yi when making port calls to Hong Kong.

Local media speculated that the J-20 might appear with the Liaoning flotilla, with some suggesting it could even line up on deck alongside other aircraft.

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Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie dismissed such a suggestion, however, saying it would be impossible due to the fact that the J-20 is not a carrier-based aircraft and could not land on the Liaoning.

China has only one carrier-based fighter jet, the J-15, which was developed by Shenyang Aircraft Coporation and based on the Soviet-designed Sukhoi Su-33. Such planes have to be able to take off in very short distances, and be sturdy enough to withstand the impact of launching from and landing on a pitching deck. Also, their wings are generally able to be folded so as to save space on deck and in hangers.

While the J-20 won’t be seen with the flotilla, Li said it could take part in the Hong Kong air show, as it did in Zhuhai last year.

The plane, which was developed by Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC), made its public debut at Airshow China in Zhuhai on November 1, after taking off from an airfield in nearby Foshan.

“The J-20 may make aerobatic flights [in Hong Kong] along with the carrier-based J-15 fighters or other aircraft,” Li said.

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The sources said it is not yet clear when the J-20 will be seen in Hong Kong, but that its flight would likely coincide with Liaoning’s visit this week.

Although Western military experts have claimed that the J-20’s shape was copied from the US F-22 fighter jet, many of the Chinese aircraft’s internal details remain a mystery.

A report from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV in March quoted the J-20’s designers as saying the fighter represents a “big leap forward in terms of the capabilities of the PLA”.

The aircraft has a longer range, greater internal fuel capacity and larger weapons capability than the US F-22 and F-35 fighters, they said.