Tai Ming Cheung: What The J-20 Says About China’s Defense Sector

Tai Ming Cheung, an associate research scientist at the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation in San Diego, writes on the China Real Time blog about the significance of China’s new J-20 fighter:

The Chinese military aviation industry has made impressive strides over the past 15 years in narrowing the technological gap with the world’s advanced aviation powers. In the mid-1990s, China was struggling to produce third-generation, 1970s-era combat aircraft that were 20-to-30 years behind their global counterparts. After major structural reforms and considerable assistance from Russia, China is now able to field fighter aircraft such as the Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-11 that are only 10-to-15 years behind the most advanced Western models. The J-20 will reduce this gap even further.

China’s military aviation industry is now a prospective candidate to join an exclusive group of countries able to indigenously develop a stealth aircraft. The only established member of this elite set is the U.S., which has successfully developed and fielded a number of stealth aircraft over the past two decades. Russia is in the early stages of test-flying its first stealthy aircraft, called the T-50. Other advanced military aviation powers such as the U.K., France, and Sweden that potentially have the technological capabilities to develop stealth programs have opted not to because of the huge costs involved, uncertain sales prospects, and their considerable investment in more traditional non-stealthy fighter aircraft projects.

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