Maybe Not a Fighter

The newly revealed Chinese J-20 might not be China’s answer to the F-22 or F-35. With an apparent length of more than 70 feet, the Chinese have apparently designed the aircraft for stealth, speed, and range, with a healthy internal fuel and weapons payload. They may intend it to serve more along the lines of the stillborn FB-22 or RS-23 projects—US stealth fighter designs adapted to the long-range interdiction and strike roles—or, put another way, a kind of low-observable F-111. If so, this aircraft would nicely fill a now-empty niche in China’s strike portfolio and exactly conform to China’s strategy of blunting US forces at long range from mainland China. Aviation experts say the Shenyang design bureau in Liaoning province is working on its own stealth project, possibly designated J-12 or J-13, which might be more of a true air superiority fighter than Chengdu’s J-20.