“China’s J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters cannot super-cruise, or fly at supersonic speeds like their closest rivals, Lockheed Martin’s F-22 and F-35 stealth planes, without using afterburners.”
As Dave Majumdar previously covered , China recently declared that its J-20 fighter jet had attained initial operational capability. “China’s latest J-20 stealth fighter has been commissioned into the air force’s combat service,” China’s Defense Ministry said on February 9. Chinese analysts touted the country’s achievement as breaking the Western stranglehold on stealthy aircraft. “The J-20 will also change the history of the air force in Asia-Pacific region. In the past, only the U.S. and its allies like Japan were capable of arming stealth fighter jets. But now, their monopoly in this region has been broken by China’s J-20,” Song Zongping, a military expert, was quoted as saying in official media.
China has indeed long depicted the J-20 as a competitor to America’s fifth-generation jets, the F-22 and F-35. But a new report casts doubt on those claims. Specifically, the Hong Kong–based South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that “China rushed its first advanced stealth fighter jet into service ahead of schedule last year, using stopgap engines, in the face of rising security challenges in the region.” According to SCMP, that “means its capabilities will be severely limited, affecting its manoeuvrability and fuel efficiency as well as its stealthiness at supersonic speeds.”
The story notes that the J-20s were initially slated to be powered by a specially designed W-15 engine. However, during testing in 2015, the W-15 engine exploded. Although no one was injured in the explosion, Chinese engineers have not been able to fix the engine. One source told the Hong Kong paper that the “reasons it happened were complicated, with one being the quality control of its single-crystal turbine blades, the key component for such a powerful turbofan engine.” More concretely, the W-15’s single-crystal turbine blades have been unable to handle the high temperatures and maneuverability of the J-20.