Two J-20 fighter jets conduct an exercise. (LI SHAOPENG/XINHUA)
Fifth-generation jet, pilots put to test during realistic drills
The Chinese Air Force has deployed its best combat plane - the J-20 stealth fighter jet - to conduct exercises with other advanced jets.
The Air Force of the People's Liberation Army said in a news release on Thursday that several J-20s took part in a series of combat exercises against the less-advanced J-16 and J-10C.
The exercises took place over the past nine days at an undisclosed air base and were realistic, the release said.
The military said J-20s practiced beyond-visual-range aerial fighting maneuvers during these drills, without elaborating.
This is the first time the Air Force has confirmed that the J-20 has participated in a combat exercise. In July, the Air Force sent three J-20s to a military parade at the Zhurihe Training Base in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and used that occasion to make public some details about the inside of the jet's cockpit for the first time.
In late September, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry confirmed at a news conference that the fifth-generation aircraft has been com-missioned to the Air Force.
Wu Peixin, an aviation industry observer in Beijing, said sending J-20s on combat exercises would not only enable its pilots to get familiar with the plane and its tactics as soon as possible, but also would help other aviators hone their skills on how to confront a cutting-edge fifth-generation jet in combat.
He said China faces a big challenge in the Asia-Pacific airspace from the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II - the other stealth fighters in service - deployed by the United States and Japan respectively, so it is urgent for Chinese pilots to know how to deal with such warplanes.
China conducted the maid-en flight of the J-20 in January 2011 and declassified the plane in November 2016.
Developed by Aviation Industry Corp of China, the State-owned aircraft giant, the J-20 shoulders the heavy responsibility given by the Air Force to create space for other aircraft during an air battle, according to Zhang Hao, head of an Air Force flight-testing center that has deployed the jet.
"J-20 will be like a needle that can penetrate and break down the enemy's air-defense network," he previously told China Central Television. "The plane is a typical offensive weapon. It has good stability, stealth capability, situational awareness capacity, and fire-control systems."
Yang Wei, chief designer of the J-20, has predicted the plane will be the backbone of the PLA Air Force for the next 20 years.