US Navy Operations Specialist explains why China is not yet able to build a stealth fighter jet comparable to the F-35

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why China is not yet able to build a stealth fighter jet comparable to the F-35

By Dario Leone
Apr 27 2024
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J-20 Mighty Dragon production

As we reported back in 2021, J-20 program officials released comments at that year’s Zhuhai air show (Airshow China) that the production of the J-20 Mighty Dragon, touted by China as a stealth fighter jet (and considered the Chinese answer to F-22 / F-35), would likely increase.

J-20 deputy designer Wang Hitao explained to Global Times, a state-run news organization that Chinese industry can “satisfy any level of demand from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force [PLAAF] for the Mighty Dragon.”

He pointed out that, even though advanced aircraft development usually takes a long time, “particularly for equipment like the J-20, we need to do it faster in all aspects, including designing, production, testing, and crafting.” According to Global Times, Wang added that the J-20 has turned in “outstanding” performance in stealth, sensors, and firepower.

Since then no further info about the J-20 production was released and however production ramp rates have not been disclosed.

Can China produce a stealth fighter jet comparable to the F-35?

At this point one may ask if China has the capabilities to produce a stealth fighter jet comparable to the F-35.

‘Eventually? Yes.

‘Now? No, they cannot,’ Eric Wicklund, former US Navy Operations Specialist, explains on Quora.

‘Just producing a stealthy-looking shape is only one part of many different aspects of stealth. Even internal structures, and how they’re configured, matter. Notice how this radar is tilted up. Radar waves hitting it are scattered upwards.

‘I’m not giving anything up by mentioning this. Reports about this are all over the internet. I’ve seen it many times before, and just now found it again with a simple google search.

‘Another major part of Stealth is the RAM (Radar Absorbent Material). Up to 80% of the radar waves that are absorbed/scattered happen because of the RAM. Understanding this requires cutting edge knowledge of materials science. This has been a weak point for China.

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why China is not yet able to build a stealth fighter jet comparable to the F-35
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

‘China does, I believe, have RAM on its J-20 stealth fighter.

Reverse engineering the process to produce RAM

‘But how good this RAM is, is up to speculation. Stealing Stealth “shaping” secrets off a computer is great fodder for internet memes, but learning how to manufacture RAM is far easier said than done. I could hand the Chinese a chunk of RAM, they could analyze it, and realize it is genuine, but the problem is in reverse engineering it. They know what it is, but wouldn’t know how to make it.

‘I could hand a Damascus Steel blade to an Egyptian sword-maker. He’d realize immediately that the material was far superior to anything he’d ever seen before. Problem is, he wouldn’t be able to reverse-engineer the process that produced it. This is the problem Chinese engineers are facing.

‘China struggles for many years to learn how to make fan blades for their WS-15 engine, capable of withstanding the intense heat within a jet engine. It’s tricky stuff, but China has finally got the WS-15 into production.’

Wicklund concludes;

‘RAM is going to be another difficult stepping stone, and until they master it, China’s stealth fighters will be outmatched by the F-35.’

US Navy Operations Specialist explains why China is not yet able to build a stealth fighter jet comparable to the F-35
This model is available from AirModels! CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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


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Dario Leone

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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