Military Aviation

‘Our F-35s had at least one close encounter with Chinese J-20 Mighty Dragon Stealth Jets,’ Pacific Air Forces Commander says

“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,” USAF General Kenneth Wilsbach, Commander, Pacific Air Forces.


US Air Force (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.

However, as first noted by Flight Global, 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.”

Given that in recent years has emerged as China’s key AEW&C platform, Wilsbach also spoke about the KJ-500.

The Shaanxi KJ-500 (Kōngjǐng Wǔbǎi; literally: “Air Warning 500”) is a third-generation AEW&C aircraft used by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force. It was built by Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation, and is based on the Y-9 airframe.

“The KJ-500 plays a significant role in some of their capability for long range fires,” he pointed out.

“Some of their very long-range air-to-air missiles [such as the PL-15 long range air-to-air missile that is understood to have a range in excess of 107nm (200km) and that is carried by the J-20 and other Chinese fighters] are aided by that KJ-500. Being able to interrupt that kill chain is something that interests me greatly.”

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

According to Flight Global, Wilsbach’s remarks hint that the KJ-500 may identify and assign targets for Chinese fighters, which can then launch the active radar homing PL-15 from great stand-off distance.

As already reported, last September the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) showcased J-20 Mighty Dragon stealth fighter jets fitted with domestically produced engines at the Zhuhai Airshow. This represents a significant milestone as Beijing pushes the capabilities of its J-20 aircraft in a bid to rival the US Air Force (USAF) F-22.

Moreover, on Sep. 29 Wang Wei, the Deputy Air Force commander of the People’s Liberation Army, issued a veiled challenge that if the US is not scared of China’s advanced weapons “let us meet in the sky.”

Wei referenced comments about China that US Air Force (USAF) Secretary Frank Kendall made in August. Kendall said during an interview with Defense News that the focus of the USAF should be to stay ahead of China’s military technological developments to continue to field the types of weapons that “scare China.”

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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