Pentagon: China Years Away from Effective J-20

Defense Department officials don’t think China’s stealthy J-20 combat aircraft will vie for supremacy of East Asian skies for at least another seven years, according to the Pentagon’s new report to Congress on Chinese military developments. “Although the appearance of this prototype underscores the level of [People’s Republic of China] investment in advanced defense systems, the Defense Department does not expect the J-20 to achieve an effective operational capability prior to 2018,” states the document, released Aug. 24. China unveiled the J-20 last December and began flying it in January. Although US defense officials have acknowledged that the J-20’s emergence came earlier than intelligence estimates had predicted, they maintain that it won’t be a cakewalk for the Chinese to field the aircraft. The report reinforces this, stating: “China faces several hurdles as it moves toward J-20 production, including the mastery of high-performance jet engine production.” But eventually, it notes, the J-20 will “give the PLA Air Force a platform capable of long-range, penetrating strikes into complex air defense environments.” (China report; caution, large file.) (See our earlier coverage of the China report.) (See also In Reasonably Good Shape.)