China’s new fifth-generation stealth jet is believed to be drawing closer to completion after a supposed low-rate-initial-production, or LRIP, test plane was spotted last week.
According to Sputnik, video footage from Chinese websites emerged showing the suspected J-20 unit in action.
This would be the second J-20 caught by onlookers after one was spotted in December. Unlike that unit, however, the most recent J-20 was painted in gray and marked with no identifiable serial numbers – it was reported that one of the few noticeable markings on the fighter was a toned-down version of the national insignia.
Several sources suggest that this would be the fourth LRIP developed by the Chinese air force. But despite the evidence, such as satellite imagery of J-20s from China’s Flight Test Establishment base, government-owned news outlets have not confirmed the existence of the jet.
Even a quick look at Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group’s lineup of military aircraft shows no trace of the development of the J-20.
- Chinese Military Review
The J-20’s progress comes at the heels of a congressional report from the US Defense Department that claims it may become operational in 2018, while some sources have even claimed it would be combat-ready by 2019.
Though the J-20 may be well on its way to supplementing China’s squadrons, aviation experts have asserted that China has gone through dubious means to get its program up-to-date.
Aviation expert Carlo Kopp of the think tank Air Power Australia writes, “By cleverly exploiting contemporary United States-developed stealth fighter shaping design rules, Chengdu engineers were able to rapidly get an excellent basic shaping design with a minimum of risk and cost, and significant long-term stealth performance growth potential.”
Powered by twin Russian Saturn AL-31 engines, the J-20 is estimated to fly at speeds as high as 1,305 mph, and it holds a central bay of four beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles and two short-range air-to-air missiles.
As of 2011, analysts have also estimated the cost of each J-20 unit to be about $110 million.
Here’s some footage of the preproduction variant of the J-20: