The Zhuhai Airshow, in China, did not stand out for large commercial announcements like other similar events, but it certainly served to confirm the existence of a massive fleet of 5th generation J-20 fighter jets in the PLAAF, the Air Force of People’s Liberation Army.
The participation of some examples of the Chengdu stealth fighter in Zhuhai led the analyst Andreas Ruppercht, specializing in the Chinese armed forces, to estimate that there are at least 200 J-20s in service today.
The finding was possible due to high resolution images taken at the event and which allowed to notice that two of the fighters had inscriptions “CB0369” and “CB0370” on the front part of the fuselage. According to Ruppercht, the code would mean that they are aircraft of the 4th production batch (CB03), number 69 and 70, that is, there are at least 70 fighters already delivered in this batch alone.
The other production batches (CB00, CB01 and CB02) had 18, 45 and 56 aircraft completed, according to reports, which would total 189. Added to the 18 initial pre-production fighters, we would then have 208 J-20s already delivered.
The J-20s on display in Zhuhai were equipped with the WS-10C engine, manufactured by Shenyang, which is an improved version of the turbofan, with more power and stealth characteristics.
More J-20 than F-22 Raptor
The fleet of 200 Chinese J-20 fighter jets impresses by far surpassing the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor of the US Air Force (USAF), a similarly sized, twin-engine aircraft with a primary air superiority mission.
The pioneering 5th gen fighter would have just over 120 aircraft in service, plus a few dozen being used in training, testing and have no combat capability.
It is worth noting that the F-22 is a fighter that is on its way to retirement, expected to occur until the early 2030s. Therefore, the western aircraft with most production similarities to the “Mighty Dragon”, as the J-20 is called , would be the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
Currently, the US Department of Defense has at least 450 F-35 fighter jets in operation in three variants, the F-35A (USAF), F-35B (Marines) and F-35C, used by the Navy and Marines alike.
Smaller and more versatile, the F-35 is expected to reach a fleet of 2,500 aircraft in the 2040s, the height of its operational career. In addition, the USAF is developing the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, which will give rise to a 6th generation fighter and which promises to establish a new level of technology in air combat.
However, the status of the program is little known. A demonstration plane is already in flight, but no technical details of the mysterious aircraft are known.
The fact is that the high capacity of Chinese production, combined with the availability of personnel, may compensate for a natural technical inferiority in relation to the USA.
Unlike the troubled Su-57 Felon which has few operational units, the J-20 made its maiden flight about 12 years ago and reaching a fleet of two hundred aircraft in that space of time is undoubtedly an achievement.