A number of photos including the one above have surfaced over the Christmas weekend on Chinese Internet forums, catching the eye of Aviation Week fighter guru Bill Sweetman. The latest leaked photos depict a large and heavy Chinese stealth-fighter prototype which appears to be capable of performing long-range strike missions.
According to Sweetman, the pics might be fakes as Chinese are known for their governmental misinformation campaign. Majority of the Chinese military websites out their contain jaw-dropping Photoshop art and many fake pics have emerged previously too in the Chinese Internet like the flying “heli-carrier” or the “submarine flattop” etc.
But there are definitely some hints that the leaked J-20 photos are real:
- Despite the majority of ill-defined snapshots, much clearer shots do exist.
- The prototype of J-20 depicted in the snapshots has some definite right characteristics of a fifth-generation stealth fighter/bomber prototype: a chiseled front-section, triangular wings, all-moving tailplanes. In fact, it seems to combine the front fuselage of the USAF’s F-22 with the back half of the Russian T-50 prototype.
- The fact that the rumored photos were yanked is itself perhaps proof that Beijing really does have a new secret fighter.
Rob Hewson at Jane’s reported:
“Russia has supplied 32,000-pound thrust 117S engines for the J-20, which would be adequate for an aircraft in the 80,000 pound class – with perhaps lower supercruise performance and agility than an F-22, but with larger weapon bays and more fuel.”
According to aviation journalist, Rick Fisher:
“Rumor has it that better shots have put in transient appearances on Chinese Websites before being zapped by the censor. In China’s military fan Web culture, the rapid intervention of the censors is always a boost for the credibility of the poster.”
No word came out from The Pentagon on the J-20 photos but in the past, Secretary of Defense Robert Gate acknowledged that the Chinese were working on a stealth fighter. He insisted the Communist country would have “no fifth-generation aircraft by 2020” while the United States would have more than a thousand F-22s and F-35s (though as of now Pentagon has delayed F-35 production where as China has apparently accelerated its own stealth development).
It’s important to mention that even if the photos are real, even then it could take a decade or more for the J-20 to get into active service and to appear in sufficient numbers to make its presence felt among the other fighters in its class.