The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) officially inducted the J-20, developed and produced by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG). This was announced by Wu Qian, a spokesperson of China’s Ministry of National Defence on Thursday, September 26.
China the first non-Western (and non-U.S.-ally) power to fully induct a 5th-generation fighter. In turn, the J-20 is also the first operational non-American 5th-generation fighter. It is not known how many J-20s the PLAAF intends to induct, but currently and in the near future, it is unlikely factor significantly in the PLAAF.
The mainstay fighters of the PLAAF – i.e. Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-11 – are being procured in numbers and will utilize next-generation subsystems, such as active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radars. The advancement of these platforms and their proliferation in the PLAAF fleet will be of greater importance.
Analysts (The National Interest) expect that the J-20 will begin its service by serving complementary roles in the PLAAF fleet, such as aggressor training for mainstay fighters and field testing for China’s emerging technologies (e.g. stealth materials and new electronics and munitions).
However, the J-20 is evidently progressing. Besides official induction with the PLAAF, China appears to be making headway in domestic engine development for the J-20. In September, Chinese observers spotted a J-20 prototype seemingly fitted with indigenously produced WS-10 turbofan engines (East Pendulum).
The Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) is developing a smaller and lower-cost 5th-generation fighter in the form of the FC-31. In December 2016, an improved FC-31 prototype conducted its maiden test flight, and a third prototype is rumored to be under development.
The FC-31 is being positioned for both domestic use and export. At the 2015 Dubai Air Show, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) had promised that FC-31 buyers could begin receiving their fighters (at Initial Operating Capability) in 2022-2023 (Aviation Week). The F-35 notwithstanding, the FC-31 has progressed the furthest among export-oriented medium-weight 5th-generation fighters.