Designed for Aerial Superiority
The Chengdu J-20, officially named Weilong or the Mighty Dragon, is a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet developed by Chengdu Aerospace Corporation for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAA) of China.
In February of last year, China declared the J-20 attaining initial operational capability – in other words, the plane is now combat ready. With this, the Asian giant has become the first nation-state in Asia and second in the world, to have a stealth aircraft developed and manufactured domestically. Russia, on the other hand, is currently lagging behind the race for air superiority with its Sukhoi Su-57 PAK-FA.
The J-20 is mounted with some of the most advanced avionics system software which makes it a formidable challenge to the US Air Force’s fabled F-22 Raptor. In fact, Chinese military analysts touted the homegrown fighter jet as the weapon that could tip the balance in the on-going contest for aerial superiority in the Asia-Pacific region.
J-20 Air Show – David Chao
The US and its allies in the region like Japan and South Korea, were among the few countries to have stealth fighter jets in its arsenal. With the J-20 in the picture, this monopoly of force will now become history.
But setting aside other competitions, how exactly the newly-commissioned Chengdu J-20 really measure up against America’s battle-hardened F-22?
Looking at the Fine Print
Measurement & Speed
On paper, the J-20’s impressive specs compare well with the F22. From the tip to its tail, both jets measure almost the same at around 20m. Their wingspan doesn’t differ that far either. Performance-wise, the two planes can reach the maximum speed of around 2,400km/h – faster than the speed of sound.
Under the hood, the US aircraft boasts a dual 3D thrust vectoring engines made by Lockheed Martin that are capable of making a total of 70,000lbs of thrust. To say that this engine is powerful would be an understatement. On the other hand, the Chinese aircraft is equipped with twin Saturn AL-31F-M2 or the Xian WS-15 engines capable of generating a dry thrust of up to 25,000lbs each.
J-20 Air Show – David Chao
According to aviation experts, the J-20’s reliance on relatively old but upgraded Russian-made engines severely affects the maneuverability of the plane when it reaches supersonic speeds. Meanwhile, the stability of its engines allows the F-22 to supercruise at Mach 1.82, a feat that cannot yet be achieved by the J-20.
Speaking of stealth-ability, the F-22 has the upper-hand against the J-20 due to the better materials used to develop and build the American jet. Analysts, however, say that the frontal and side stealth capacities of its Asian counterpart are excellent on its own right.
The J-20 has the capacity to carry 6 air-to-air missiles (ATAM). Moreover, its large compartment further allows it to carry longer range missiles and guided bombs. Although, it is not yet confirmed if the J-20 has any guns on-board.
In comparison, the F-22’s missile capacity includes 8 short to medium range ATAM and air-to-ground missiles. It also has a M61 Vulcan gun.
It’s no secret that the US is really serious when it comes to funding military projects. Which is why, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise if you’d know that a single F-22 Raptor costs up to USD$340 million! In comparison, the Chinese plane costs around USD$100 to USD$110 million per unit to make.
The Jarring Question
And so we come to the moment of truth: Can the J-20 take down the F-22?
F-22 Raptor Pass – Jason Mrachina
In a nutshell, the J-20, despite all its flashy military tech, is still under the developmental process. Whereas, the F-22 is already “tried and tested” having been used in many wars and constantly being upgraded throughout the many decades of its service.
China’s attempt to challenge the US in this apparent global power competition is nonetheless admirable and should not be undermined. But as of the moment, the F-22 still reigns as the fearsome predator in the sky.