China is locked in an intensifying arms race with the US, and it’s not backing down, Chinese media warned Monday.
China is developing a sixth-generation fighter that could be seen as early as 2035, if not sooner, the Global Times reported Monday, citing a recent Chinese media interview with Wang Haifeng, a chief architect at Chengdu Aircraft Research and Design Institute who was involved in the development of the J-20 stealth fighter.
“China will not fall behind in the global race toward sixth-generation fighter jets,” the Global Times, an outlet known for its hawkish-brand of nationalism, asserted.
It’s unclear exactly what capabilities a sixth-generation fighter would have, but it is generally expected to be more capable than the previous generation, incorporating more advanced weapons systems, improved stealth, artificial intelligence, and other high-end features.
Plans for a next-generation Chinese fighter jet have yet to be officially announced, but China’s R&D pattern suggests that China is likely pursuing this technology, a Chinese expert explained.
“China’s tradition is to have one generation in service, a new one in development and a next-generation under study,” a military expert told the Global Times, as was the case with Chinese aircraft carriers. “Now that the J-20 is already in service, the development for a new aircraft is also underway.”
Indeed, the designer of the J-20 admitted last year that the company is already thinking about future aircraft.
“We are not complacent about what we have achieved,” Yang Wei, deputy director of science and technology at Aviation Industry Corp of China, told the state-run People’s Daily last March. “We will develop the J-20 into a large family and keep strengthening its information-processing and intelligent capacities. At the same time, we will think about our next-generation combat plane to meet the nation’s future requirements
The J-20 entered service in March 2017; however, it did not begin integration with Chinese combat units until February 2018. Chinese media has touted this fighter as superior to its American counterparts, arguing that it could achieve “aerial superiority in a 21st Century battlefield.”
But experts suggest that US fourth-generation aircraft like the F-15C Eagle could probably best the Chinese fighter in battle. And while the J-20 may be the most capable air-superiority platform in China’s arsenal, there’s no contest when it comes to American fifth-generation fighters like the unmatched F-22 Raptor.
“The F-22 likely significantly outperforms the J-20 in almost every aspect of combat capability,” Justin Bronk, an air combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, previously told Business Insider.
China is taking steps to rapidly close the gap, though.
China needs new weapons to take on the US fighter jets, and that’s where China’s dreams of a sixth-generation fighter come into play. “A generation gap means the sixth-generation warplanes would easily top fifth-generation ones, including the US’ F-22,” the Global Times reported, citing Chinese analysts.
But, the US — much like the UK, Russia, Japan, France, and Germany — is also developing a sixth-generation fighter, which is expected to be fielded in the 2030s. So China will have that aircraft to deal with when the time comes.