According to the South China Morning Post report, China is falling behind on the production of its most advanced fighter jet.
China will need to speed up the production of its most advanced Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter jets, with the supply of the “Powerful Dragons” well behind demand, military analysts said.
China would need between 100 and 200 J-20s at least to maximize mission flexibility, according to Hong Kong military commentator Song Zhongping.
“The J-20 can tackle enemy radar with its stealth capability or attack enemy planes for air [weaponry] superiority from beyond visual range,” Song said.
China was thought to have built about 50 J-20s by the end of 2019, but problems with the jets’ engines delayed production plans. Chinese engineers have been developing high-thrust turbofan WS-15 engines for the J-20, but that work has fallen behind schedule.
In the meantime, the J-20 is understood to have used either Chinese WS-10B or Russian-built AL-31FM2/3 engines, compromising its maneuverability and stealth capabilities at supersonic speeds.
By comparison, the US’ F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters, which are regarded as the major rival to the J-20 in the Asia-Pacific, are in mass production. By 2025, 200 F-35s are expected to be in service in the region.
The Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group production line is believed to be able to manufacture about one J-20 a month.
In comparison, Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth assembly plant in Texas delivered 134 F-35s in 2019, three more than its target and 47 percent more than its output in 2018, according to the company.
Song said that China’s approach to J-20 research and development was to build a small number of each block while continually improving technologies for the following block, as its priority was to gradually improve and then optimize the configuration of the warplane.
“When technological improvements are in place, for the second and third variants the production can be significantly sped up,” Song said.
The J-20 made its first test flight in 2011, made its public debut at Airshow China 2016 and entered military service in 2017.