China’s first stealth fighter jet, the fifth-generation J-20B, has entered mass production, according to an anonymous military source close to the project. The new stage of production was marked by a July 8 ceremony unveiling the jet, which was attended by senior military officials including the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission.
The J-20A, the first version of the J-20 fighter jet, entered service in 2017 when the United States delivered 100 F-35 strike fighters to Japan and South Korea. The J-20 was designed to rival the F-35; however, it did not meet the agility requirements of a fifth-generation fighter. The newly updated J-20B jet is equipped with a modernized thrust vector control that allows better control and maneuverability. The new thrust allows pilots to tilt the jet’s exhaust nozzles, allowing it “to perform jaw-dropping maneuvers at very high angles of attack.” While this rapidly drains the jet’s energy, potentially leaving it vulnerable to attacks, it does provide an advantage in avoiding missiles and other air combat.
Delays on China’s domestically built WS-15 engine means the J-20B will use the Russian Saturn AL-31 engine. China’s engine is expected to be completed in a year or two and will give the jet a greater thrust-to-weight ratio, increasing its acceleration and rate of climb, as well as reducing reliance on Russian production.
The updated J-20B, built by Chengdu Aerospace Corp., is a full-fledged fifth-generation fighter—the only operational stealth jet designed outside the U.S. Fifth-generation fighters “are defined by their stealth technology, supersonic cruising speed, super maneuverability, and highly integrated avionics.”