United States Air Force (USAF) Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets had at least one close in-flight encounter with China Air Force’s Chengdu J-20s, USAF General Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of the Pacific Air Forces, revealed during a video from the YouTube channel of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
The military said that the approach between the aircraft took place in the East China Sea region, but did not clarify when it took place. “We recently had, I wouldn’t call it an engagement, where we got relatively close to the J-20s along with our F-35s in the East China Sea, and we’re relatively impressed with the command and control associated with the J-20,” the USAF official said.
It is the first known air encounter between rival 5th generation stealth fighter jets. In addition to China and the United States, stealth aircraft technology is also dominated by Russia, which recently introduced the Sukhoi Su-57 fighter jet into service.
In US service since 2016, the F-35 is the second US-designed stealth fighter, after the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which debuted in 1998. The Americans pioneered the development of stealth technology with the Lockheed F-177 Nighthawk attack aircraft, which was commissioned in 1983.
In 1988, the USAF began operations with Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spitit, a long-range flying wing heavy bomber – which will be replaced by the B-21 Raider over the next decade.
China, in turn, was the second nation to explore stealth technology and show practical effects with the J-20 fighter jet. The aircraft produced by the Chinese state-owned Chengdu first flew in 2011 and was incorporated into the air force from 2017. The Chinese are also designing a stealth fighter for use on aircraft carriers, the Shenyang FC-31.