Military Aviation

China’s J-20 Mighty Dragon acts as mock F-35 Lightning II during air defense exercise

J-20 Mighty Dragon simulates the US F-35 stealth aircraft.

In a recent air defense exercise, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) utilized a People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) J-20 stealth fighter jet to simulate an attack by a US F-35 Lightning II stealth aircraft.

China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Mar. 22, 2023 that an air defense brigade attached to the PLA 75th Group Army and a PLAAF unit based in the region held a joint c exercise under realistic combat scenarios in the central region of South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

According to Global Times, the exercise was organized to connect the command chain and firepower chain between PLA and the PLAAF units and hone their combat capabilities as an integrated system.

During the drill, the Air Force unit shared air information with the Army air defense brigade, Alert 5 says. Despite the opposing aircraft’s attempt to penetrate defense at a very low altitude, the defending side was able to lock on to the targets and deploy countermeasures to defeat a night time attack, all the while under strong electromagnetic interference.

Low-altitude penetration

The CCTV report included footage showing an Army anti-aircraft artillery gun aiming at and tracking a PLAAF J-20 stealth fighter when the aircraft was flying low and could be visually confirmed.

According to Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, the F-35 stealth fighter jets are mainly designed for ground attack missions and could opt to penetrate air defense from low altitudes rather than high altitudes. In this scenario, the PLAAF’s long-range radars and missiles could lose their advantages, while the PLA’s short-range radars, infrared and optical sensors, as well as air defense artillery guns and missiles mounted on highly mobile vehicles, gain significance.

By integrating and sharing real-time intelligence, the PLA and the PLAAF have a complete set of tools and measures to deal with different types of threats, Fu said. “In addition to stealth aircraft, low-flying, small and slow drones are also major threats,” he pointed out.

J-20 representing F-35 Aggressor Aircraft

The US Air Force unveiled the first J-20 representing F-35 Aggressor Aircraft at Nellis Air Force Base on Jun. 9, 2022 with a directed mission to know, teach and replicate fifth-generation air adversaries.

“Due to the growing threat posed by PRC fifth- and sixth-gen fighter development, we must use a portion of our daily fifth-generation aircraft today at Langley, Elmendorf, Hill, Eielson, and now Nellis, to replicate adversary fifth-generation capabilities,” Air Combat Command commander Gen. Mark Kelly said. “Precisely because we have this credible threat, when we do replicate a fifth-gen adversary, it has to be done professionally. That’s the Aggressors.”

F-35 encounter with J-20 Mighty Dragon

As already reported, USAF General Kenneth Wilsbach, Commander, Pacific Air Forces, said on Mar. 14, 2022 during a discussion posted on the YouTube channel of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies (see the video below) that US Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters have had at least one encounter with Chinese Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon stealth fighters and that the Shaanxi KJ-500 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft has a key role in long-range air-to-air kill chains.

Wilsbach did not specify when the F-35/J-20 encounter took place, or if there have been more than one.

“It’s a bit early to say what they intend to do with the J-20, so really all we’ve seen it do is air superiority,” he said about the role played by the Mighty Dragon.

“But we notice that they are flying it pretty well. We recently had – I wouldn’t call it an engagement – where we got relatively close to the J-20s along with our F-35s in the East China Sea, and we’re relatively impressed with the command and control associated with the J-20.”

“We’re seeing relatively professional flying and it’s still too early to tell exactly what they intend to do with [the J-20] – whether it’s going to be more like an F-35 that’s capable of doing many, many missions or more like an F-22 that is primarily an air superiority fighter that has an air-to-ground capability.”

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J-20 over Taiwan

In January a PLAAF J-20 pilot said that he flew over Taiwan’s airspace and his Mighty Dragon was not intercepted by Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) aircraft.

PLAAF Captain Yang Juncheng of the “Wang Hai” brigade recently told CCTV that he flew over Taiwan, overseeing the entire island from his cockpit. He said that he flew over Bashi Channel, Miyako Strait, and Tsushima Strait in the East China Sea.

Yang said, “When I was flying the fighter plane Treasure Island of the motherland, I could see the entire coastline and mountains of the Treasure Island. At that moment, I was proud and proud [sic].”

Yang added: “I said to myself at that time, I will fly over in the future! There is no such thing as the Taiwan Strait.”

Taiwan’s National Ministry of Defense (MND) did not officially acknowledge a J-20 flight near its airspace at the time. The MND regularly publishes data about Chinese aerial and maritime incursions on its official Twitter handle. This could mean that either the island forces could not intercept the J-20 or chose to withhold that information.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Alert5 and emperornie via Wikipedia

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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