China sends its most advanced fighter jet to patrol disputed seas


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CNN

China has started sending its most advanced fighter jet, the J-20, to patrol the East and South China Seas, Chinese state media reported.

Early versions of the J-20 stealth jet used Russian engines, but have since been replaced by domestically-built twin-engine engines. The jets were first shown to the public with the new Chinese engines last year at Airshow China.

The deployment aims to “better protect China’s airspace security and maritime interests”, the state-run tabloid Global Times reported on Wednesday, citing military experts.

Ren Yukun, spokesman for the state-owned J-20 manufacturer, added that it was “training routine” for the J-20 to begin patrolling now that it is fitted with Chinese engines, according to Global. Times.

The announcement comes just weeks after US General Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of US Pacific Air Forces, said US F-35s and Chinese J-20s closed in on each other over the sea from eastern China.

The East China Sea and the South China Sea have long been contested regions, with overlapping territorial claims by many countries.

China claims almost all of the vast South China Sea as its sovereign territory. He built and militarized his installations there, turned islands into military bases and airstrips, and is said to have created a maritime militia that could number in the hundreds of boats.

Meanwhile, in the East China Sea, China claims sovereignty over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, also known as the Diaoyu Islands. In recent years, the United States has reiterated its promise to defend the Japanese islands in the event of foreign aggression.

Experts say the deployment of the J-20s shows two things: China’s increased confidence in its military capabilities and its warning to other countries involved in the territorial dispute.

With approximately 200 J-20s in service, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) “now has in regular service a fleet of advanced stealth fighters as good as the Americans, which remain the benchmark”, said Peter Layton, a visiting scholar. at the Griffith Asia Institute in Australia. He added that China’s message to the world is: “Any foreign military aircraft entering China’s claimed airspace in the East and South China Seas can now be intercepted by J-20s.”

While such a move is politically heavy, the J-20’s wide range means it could patrol farther out to sea or stay longer in areas like the East China Sea, Layton said.

Small formations, such as a handful of jets, could also conduct occasional deep patrols in the South China Sea, land to refuel at one of China’s island airbases and then return to the mainland. The PLAAF could even launch missions to fly over any US carrier battle groups that enter the South China Sea.

The transition from Russian to Chinese engines also shows China’s growing independence in military manufacturing, Layton said. “It’s not just that China no longer needs Russian help, it’s that Chinese-built planes are now superior to Russia.”

The fact that the J-20s now have more reliable twin-engine engines than Russian engines makes such patrols “a much more plausible option,” which could explain why they hadn’t been sent on patrols before, Layton said.

The J-20 has long been touted as China’s answer to the American F-22 – considered the world’s first stealth fighter – and the F-35.

A 2017 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ China Power Project said the new Chinese engines would give the J-20 low supercruise capability, meaning they could fly at supersonic speeds for long periods of time.

US officials have long said the J-20 can’t compare to US stealth fighters – but Wilsbach, the commander of the US Pacific Air Forces, said last month that the J-20s had made an impression when they had encountered American F-35s over the East China Sea.

“We’re relatively impressed with the command and control associated with the J-20s,” Wilsbach told a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies lecture.

The United States observed “relatively professional flight” by Chinese airmen, he said, but noted that the United States did not know how China would use the J-20s, whether in roles multi-mission like the F-35 or in an air superiority role like the F-22.

Layton said the United States, Japan and other nations will “actively collect electronic intelligence data” on all J-20s on coastal patrol, hoping to gather more information about its stealth characteristics, as well as on all radio and data link transmissions.


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