Recently China gets a lot of attention in the defense community with their J-20. We can also observe many new projects developed by the Chinese companies and a changing reality on the Pacific.
Things that used to work well 5 or 10 years ago now need some serious rethinking. Especially the US potential in that region. I have written about it many times and when it comes to the J-20 it is one of the elements which change the situation dramatically.
The answer to the title question is a strong NO. I see no point in comparing the J-20 to the F-22 or F-35. Of course they fit into the same category as fifth generation fighters but their jobs are different. It seems the Chinese do not position their J-20 as a direct opponent to the F-22.
It should attack the backbone of the F-22 fleet – the tankers. An F-22 as every other aircraft has a limited range and the distances on the Pacific are enormous. If the USAF wants to operate the F-22 right there it has to refuel it. The J-20 fits nicely in this scenario. It doesn’t matter if it has a smaller potential against the F-22 – it won’t have to face it.
Recently a picture of a J-20 with four big additional tanks appeared. The fighter is already big which indicates that it might carry a lot of fuel. Adding four drop tanks would significantly broaden the operating radius of this aircraft. Flying the first part of a mission in low profile and moving up after dropping them could allow the J-20 to stay in the shadows until it reaches it’s opponents. The amount of missiles carried in the bays would allow to destroy even 4 aircraft (I assume that not all missiles hit their targets).
Lets leave the tankers for a while. Other high value targets which could be in the scope of J-20’s are aircraft like the P-8A, P-3C or E-2D. The also are very important to the whole chain of command and the way that USA fights it’s wars.
Destroying them or even partially disabling their potential thanks to the J-20’s long range might be a tough nut to crack for the US commanders. All of the sudden the assets at their disposal became targets. Aircraft which allowed the force to operate with great flexibility in this specific scenario are starting to become a burden which you need to protect at all cause.
On top of that a few days ago a story broke that the Chinese have developed a new radar which could potentially make the whole F-35/F-22 fleet obsolete. The quantum radar technology is advertised as able to track stealthy aircraft from distances near to 100 km. Of course we do not have any hard facts that such technology exists in working examples in China or is transferable to a fighter aircraft at this point. This might just be some usual misinformation and media hype but what if it is true?
In the end there is also an argument of quantity. When quality might not be the best we can use quantity to fill the gap. China can do it. There is only a limited fleet of F-22 so a massive fleet consisting of J-20 fighters might be able to confront the formidable F-22. The production line of the Raptor is closed since a long time. Of course here and there we can hear some voices to re open it and build an upgraded version of the F-22 but the costs would be enormous. The J-20 production lines are just starting to spit out new machines.
Unfortunately we happen to live in very interesting times. The future might bring us many unexpected changes. We can not assume that the US military forces will stand still and watch as their air and military superiority fades away. New technologies and ideas are also revealed by the defense industry in USA so – the race is on!