China's new J-20 radar-evading jet during its public debut at China Airshow

China’s J-20 stealth jet ‘big step forward’

Image credit: Reuters

China has demonstrated its new J-20 stealth jet, which it hopes could compete with the USA's radar-evading F-22 Raptor.

The aircraft showed its capabilities during the opening ceremony of Airshow China, the country’s only international aerospace trade show. Two J-20's swept over a crowd of spectators at the southern city of Zhuhai during a 60-second flypast.

Industry analysts present at the unveiling agreed the craft is evidence of China being well on-track to catch up with the USA, the world’s aerospace technology leader.

A Western industry official who has monitored the biennial show from its inception 20 years ago told Reuters that “this shows they now have confidence to put it out in public.”

Aviation Week analyst Bradley Perrett agreed: “It is clearly a big step forward in Chinese combat capability,” he said.

The roaring engines of the jets prompted not only applause from the audience, but also set off car alarms at the venue’s car park.

The success of J-20 is an important step for China, which is set to overtake the USA as the world’s largest aviation market by 2030.

The country hopes to become a major player in the global aerospace industry and is already developing products for export. With the J-31 jet currently under development, China aims to go head-to-head with Lockheed Martin’s F-35. The Chinese jet is designed as a cheaper alternative to the F-35 single-seater fighter.

Analysts hesitated to say whether J-20 will really be able to take on the radar-evading F-22 Raptor, which it closely resembles, or even the F-35. Some foreign observers also questioned the craft’s stealth capabilities.

The jet will, however, provide China with home-grown assets that will help the country exert more influence in the region, most importantly in South China and the East China Sea.

Other defence technologies China is  displaying in Zhuhai is the Xian Y-20 strategic airlifter and the AG600, described as the largest amphibious plane in production.

Some experts said the AG600, promoted as a fire-fighting and search-and-rescue plane, could serve as a cargo delivery craft for China’s outposts in the South China Sea. In July this year, the Hague tribunal rejected China’s claim to parts of the region.

Missing from the show is the heavily delayed Comac C919 passenger jet – China’s attempt to go against Europe’s Airbus and America’s Boeing in the commercial aircraft market.

The 150-seater C919 was expected to perform its already massively delayed maiden flight this year, which according to industry insiders, won’t happen until 2017.

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