China Vaunts Its Fifth Generation Stealth Fighter

Chengdu J-20 fighter displaying its weapon bays, missiles, and avionics during the 2018 Zhuhai Airshow.

“The J-20 can not only launch missiles under optimal conditions but also under emergency and extreme conditions, which can bring important tactical advantages.”

China’s J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighter has undergone many changes since its maiden flight in January 2011, and is now reported to be deployed to all five Chinese Theater Commands.[i] China is now applauding these accomplishments.

According to the excerpted article from the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times, the J-20 [RG1] stealth fighter can “launch missiles under extreme battlefield environments,” providing tactical advantages in combat. In testing the J-20’s capabilities, chief test pilot Li Gang was able to open the bay hatch and launch a missile while performing high-G rolling maneuvers simulating the evasion of an enemy missile attack. The test proved the J-20 could successfully conduct both attack and evasion operations simultaneously.

Over the past decade, the aircraft has evolved becoming more streamlined, decreasing the shock wave angle and wave resistance at transonic speeds, and improving flight maneuverability.[ii] The sensor suite is being upgraded with a new gallium nitride radar, which has a larger bandwidth, stronger detection capability for small targets, and better anti-electronic interference capability.[iii] The fighter is now equipped with domestic WS-15 turbofan engines. The WS-15, as compared to the previous Russian A1-31 and domestic WS-10C engines, marks a significant milestone providing higher thrust and more dynamic performance envelope originally meant for the J-20.[iv] It is unknown how many J-20s are currently deployed. Various sources put the number between 150 and 200. The general consensus is the number of J-20s exceeds (or will soon exceed) the number of F-22 [RG2] As, the most capable U.S. fifth-generation fighter.[v] The second excerpted article from the Global Times reported that the J-20 has been operational in the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Taiwan Strait, where it is used to “safeguard China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and development interests.” As the J-20 extends out over disputed territorial waters, it improves China’s ability to respond to emergencies and could alter the strategic landscape of the region. The J-20 could also intensify tensions and raises the question about what the United States’ strategic response should be.


Liu Xuanzun, “China’s J-20 Stealth Fighter Can Launch Missiles Under Extreme Conditions: Test Pilot,” Global Times (Chinese Communist Party’s English language newspaper), 6 October 2023.

Despite having to hide its munitions in an internal weapons bay to achieve a high level of stealth, China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet can still launch missiles under extreme battlefield environments, bringing tactical advantages in combat, [Li Gang] the chief test pilot of the aircraft revealed recently.

It took nearly seven years for the J-20 to be commissioned into the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force since its maiden flight in 2011, and during this period, the aircraft underwent a series of combat-oriented test flights that challenged its limits and validated the warplane’s safety under all kinds of extreme conditions, Li Gang, the chief test pilot of the J-20, said in an interview with China Central Television (CCTV) that was aired during the National Day holidays this week.

“It takes some time for the missile to launch after I press the launch button. If an enemy missile were to come for me during this period, I would have to make emergency maneuvers at high speed and high G forces. In this scenario, my missile needs to be ejected from the weapons bay without hitting my own aircraft and without leading to any danger,” Li said.

The test flight confirmed that the J-20 can not only launch missiles under optimal conditions, but also under emergency and extreme conditions, which can bring important tactical advantages, a Chinese military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Friday.

Wei Qi and Fan Wei, “八一飞行表演队换装歼-10C,专家:体现中国空军装备更新加速度更快 (Ba Yi Aerobatics Team Refitted with J-10Cs, Experts: This Reflects Acceleration of Upgrades to Chinese air Force’s Equipment),” HUANQIU SHIBAO (Chinese language version of Global Times—Chinese Communist Party newspaper), 17 May 2023.

[According to military expert] Zhang Xuefeng, “…In the past, when we just had third-generation aircraft, only elite troops could equip the advanced fighters. Now, the J-20 has been deployed in all military theaters…”


[i] Wang Yanan, “歼20首次布署就在西部战区,卫星看清后,印度收到一好一坏两消息 ( J-20 Deployed for First Time Western Theater Command; After Being Clearly Seen by Satellite, India Received Two Pieces of News, One Good and One Bad),” Tencent, 26 September 2023.

[ii] Ma Haoliang, “歼20B新战甲超音速新境界 (J-20B’s New Armor Brings a New Level of Supersonic Speed),” Ta Kung Pao, 30 January 2023.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Rick Joe, “China’s J-20 Gets Another Upgrade,” Diplomat, 1 August 2023.

[v] Richard Fisher, e-mail message to author, 19 October 2023.

Image Information:

Image: Chengdu J-20 fighter displaying its weapon bays, missiles, and avionics during the 2018 Zhuhai Airshow.
Source: emperornie,
Attribution: CC By-SA 2.0