A new version of the Chinese J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighter poses “a very significant threat” to Taiwan, according to a US military expert.
“It [China] is about to enter a new phase of testing that will precede deployment,” Richard Fisher, senior fellow in Asian military affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told the Taipei Times.
Images of the Chengdu Aircraft Corp plane performing high-speed takeoff trials — in preparation for its maiden flight — have appeared over the past few days on the Internet.
The prototype aircraft shows refinements have been made over the airframes of previous models to give it greater “stealth” capabilities and it has a new electronic targeting system in the nose, Fisher said.
“What is not apparent is a new Chinese-made turbofan engine, leading multiple Chinese sources to speculate that the J-20 could enter service by 2017 powered by a variant of the Russian Saturn A1-31 turbofan,” Fisher said.
“This early J-20 may not be able to supercruise [sustained supersonic flight], but it will have significant supermaneuverability, range and payload,” he said.
It is to be armed with a new generation of long and short-range air-to-air missiles and may also be able to carry new long-range ground attack and anti-ship missiles, Fisher said.
Fisher said that the J-20 program “will soon result in a very significant threat to Taiwan, US air forces in Asia and to our allies.”
“All of this means that Taiwan cannot delay the upgrading of its F-16s with new active electronic scanned array radar and with new air-to-air weapons,” he added.
The upgrades would make Taiwan’s F-16s more formidable, but not superior to the J-20, Fisher said.
The development highlights the need for the nation to press ahead with seeking a successor to the F-16, like the fifth-generation F-35, Fisher said.
“More importantly, the advent of the J-20 strongly affirms Taiwan’s longstanding quest for asymmetric deterrent capabilities like long range missiles and submarines,” he added.
Fisher said that in the 35th anniversary year of the Taiwan Relations Act, the US should commit to helping Taiwan obtain next generation military capabilities.
He said the nation needs more capable missiles and energy weapons to sustain deterrence in the Taiwan Strait into the 2020s.