Stealth Showdown: America's F-22 Raptor vs China's J-20

The People’s Republic of China Is likely to be the only peer level competitor to the United States

Warrior Maven Video Above - Analyzing the Pentagon's AI Plans

by [Dave Majumdar](https://www.scout.com/User/Dave%20Majumdar "Dave Majumdar")

Is likely to be the only peer level competitor to the United States over the next fifty years. While a conflict is unlikelya Third World War is in nobodys intereststhe United States must be prepared for such an eventuality.

As with all modern conventional wars, airpower and air superiority will play a key role. For the United States, the stealthy Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor will be Americas premier weapon to ensure dominance over the skies until it is eventually replaced by whatever comes out of the U.S. Air Forces F-X program.

Recommended: [The Case for War with North Korea](http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/why-war-north-korea-inevitable-22532 "The Case for War with North Korea") [3]

The most direct Chinese analogue to the Raptor is the Chengdu J-20. How would such a jet fair against Americas best?

Not much is known about the Chinese jetit might not even be a fighter in the traditional sense of the word. It could be a specialized aircraft that is specifically designed to attack the sinews of U.S. power projection capabilities in the Western Pacific as part of an overall [Chinese anti-access/area denial strategy (A2/AD)](https://csis.org/publication/emerging-anti-accessarea-denial-challenge "<u style=\&quot;box-sizing: border-box; font-family: proxima_nova_rgregular, Arial, sans-serif; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; font-weight: normal;\&quot;>Chinese anti-access/area denial strategy (A2/AD)</u>") [4]. Basically, the jet might be optimized to hit support assets like tankers, AWACS, JSTARS or even carry long-range cruise missiles to attack scattered U.S. bases and aircraft carriers in the region.

Recommended: [China's New Stealth Fighter Has Arrived](http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/chinas-new-j-20-stealth-fighter-has-officially-entered-22529 "China's New Stealth Fighter Has Arrived") [5]

(This first appeared in 2015.)

Here is what we do know about the J-20. It appears to have a stealth airframe and it liberally borrows design cues from both the Raptor and its Lockheed stable-mate, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Thats not an accident; [the Chinese very likely stole](http://breakingdefense.com/2013/06/top-official-admits-f-35-stealth-fighter-secrets-stolen/ "<u style=\&quot;box-sizing: border-box; font-family: proxima_nova_rgregular, Arial, sans-serif; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; font-weight: normal;\&quot;>the Chinese very likely stole</u>") [6] a large amount of [classified F-35 data](http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/snowden-chinese-hackers-stole-f-35-fighter-jet-blueprints-article-1.2084888 "<u style=\&quot;box-sizing: border-box; font-family: proxima_nova_rgregular, Arial, sans-serif; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; font-weight: normal;\&quot;>classified F-35 data</u>") [7].

Recommended: [America Can't Shoot Down a North Korean Nuke](http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/would-america-have-been-able-shoot-down-north-koreas-missile-22109 "America Can't Shoot Down a North Korean Nuke") [8]

There are some indications that the J-20 is a primarily a strike aircraft but with a robust air-to-air capability. Like the American F-35, the newest J-20 prototypes appear to have an electro-optical targeting system mounted under the nose. That sensor could be Beijing A-Star Science and Technologys [EOTS-89](https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/maks-chinese-firm-unveils-new-sensors-for-j-20-j-31-416111/ " <u style=\&quot;box-sizing: border-box; font-family: proxima_nova_rgregular, Arial, sans-serif; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; font-weight: normal;\&quot;>EOTS-89</u>") [9] electro-optical targeting system (EOTS). A dedicated air superiority fighter wouldnt need that kind of sensor.

There are also indications that the Chinese jet carries an [active electronically scanned array radar](http://www.popsci.com/blog-network/eastern-arsenal/stealth-radar-tests-passenger-jet?dom=PSC&loc=recent&lnk=2&con=-stealth-radar-tests-on-passenger-jet " <u style=\&quot;box-sizing: border-box; font-family: proxima_nova_rgregular, Arial, sans-serif; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; font-weight: normal;\&quot;>active electronically scanned array radar</u>") [10] (AESA). Allegedly, the J-20 would be fitted with a Type 1475 radar, which is supposedly being tested on a China Test Flight Establishment owned Tupolev Tu-204. However, there is no way to confirm that information because the Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) isnt really all that forthcoming about sharing information about its developmental projects. That being said, given Beijings interest in the Su-35which is mostly likely driven by a desire to harvest that Flanker variants radar and [engine technology](http://thediplomat.com/2015/06/why-chinas-air-force-needs-the-su-35/ "<u style=\&quot;box-sizing: border-box; font-family: proxima_nova_rgregular, Arial, sans-serif; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; font-weight: normal;\&quot;>engine technology</u>") [11], I have my doubts about how far along the Chinese have gotten on developing an operational AESA.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence that would point to the J-20 being optimized for the strike role is the fact that the airframe is enormous but has relatively small wings. Its also seems to have huge weapons bays. While such a configuration works well for a fast supersonic strike aircraft, its not ideal for an air superiority fighter that needs be able to sustain high rates of turn.

Moreover, China hasnt demonstrated that it has the requisite engine technology necessary to power an air superiority fighter of that size. The Peoples Republic hasnt perfected its indigenous WS-10, let alone come close to finishing development of the next-generation WS-15. In fact, China hasnt demonstrated it can build any reliable jet engineand thats including designs that it stole from Russia. But a strike aircraft doesnt need to have a spectacular thrust to weight ratiothus the jets current twin [Russian-built Saturn](https://www.rt.com/news/203879-china-fighter-russian-engines/ "<u style=\&quot;box-sizing: border-box; font-family: proxima_nova_rgregular, Arial, sans-serif; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; font-weight: normal;\&quot;>Russian-built Saturn </u>")[12]AL-31F engines might be adequate for Chinas purposes.

Further, there is a strong argument to be made that short-range tactical fighters like the F-22 and F-35 are [ill-suited for operations in the Western Pacific](http://csbaonline.org/publications/2010/02/why-airsea-battle/ "<u style=\&quot;box-sizing: border-box; font-family: proxima_nova_rgregular, Arial, sans-serif; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; font-weight: normal;\&quot;>ill-suited for operations in the Western Pacific</u>") [13] where distances are vast and bases are scarce. The same geographic constraints also apply to the Chinese. That means that jets like the F-22 and F-35 need tankers to operate over those vast distances. The most logical way for the Chinese to tackle American and allied airpower is not to confront those forces head-on but rather by removing their ability to fight. That means going after U.S. bases, tankers and communications nodes. Thus in that sense, the J-20 could be Chinas means to establish air superiority if viewed through that lens. In that sense it might have the upper hand against the F-22.

Of course, this is all conjecture. Only the PLAAF knows where the J-20 fits into their order of battle, but it could prove to be a formidable foe.

[This story was originally published by The National Interest](http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/stealth-showdown-americas-f-22-raptor-vs-chinas-j-20-who-22558 "This story was originally published by The National Interest")

Dave Majumdar is Defense Editor for The National Interest. You can follow him You on Twitter: [@DaveMajumdar](https://twitter.com/DaveMajumdar?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor "<u style=\&quot;box-sizing: border-box; font-family: proxima_nova_rgregular, Arial, sans-serif; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; font-weight: normal;\&quot;>@</u><u style=\&quot;box-sizing: border-box; font-family: proxima_nova_rgregular, Arial, sans-serif; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; background: transparent; font-weight: normal;\&quot;>DaveMajumdar</u>") [14].

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