Can China Really Produce a 6th-Generation Fighter Soon?

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is striving to become a true global superpower and has big goals. To do this, it has worked to develop a top-tier blue sea navy that radiates strength throughout the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Beijing has similarly concentrated on creating a local aviation programme independent of Soviet/Russian designs.

The FC-31 Gyrfalcon, a twin-engine fifth-generation aircraft as a result, is now at the prototype stage. However, there are already rumblings that China may be considering joining the list of countries working on a 6th-generation fighter. China may be in for a Sisyphean task given the condition of the global efforts to build and manufacture such an aircraft.

The UK-led Future Combat Air System (FCAS), also known as the Tempest, will present a flying demonstration within the next five years, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) stated last week at the Farnborough International Airshow. The competing 6th-generation programme, also known as FCAS, which was led by the Franco-Germans, was informed at the same time as that statement that it might be cancelled. Conflicts about the course that the project should take and programme delays have been identified as major issues.

The Japanese have already sought to collaborate with the UK-led programme, and there have even been murmurs that the two European initiatives should be combined.

Where Does That Leave China?

China may struggle to create such an aircraft given the state of the development being made—or not being made, depending on the situation—in Europe. Unless, of course, it uses hackers to “glean” information from the FCAS operations or the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) programme of the US Air Force.

It is already commonly believed that China has stolen design parts from the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II manufactured by Lockheed Martin. As a result, even while Beijing has bragged about its ability to domestically produce cutting-edge aircraft, it has nonetheless gotten “assistance” from the west!

The state-run Global Times broke the news of a Chinese fighter of the sixth generation for the first time in 2019. The publication confidently declared, “China will not fall behind in the global race toward 6th-generation fighter jets.” The source also cited a media interview with Wang Haifeng, the principal architect at the Chengdu Aircraft Research and Design Institute who worked on the J-20 stealth fighter’s development.

As was the case with Chinese aircraft carriers, “China’s tradition is to have one generation in service, a new one under development, and a next-generation under study.” “The development for a new aircraft is also under process,” the statement continued.

While that is undoubtedly ambitious, China hasn’t exactly persuaded the world that its fifth-generation aircraft can compete with those of the United States, which it may have influenced. The J-20 “Mighty Dragon,” a twin-jet all-weather stealth fighter aircraft created by China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation, has long been praised by Beijing for its capabilities. Western analysts, however, have long cast doubt on their abilities, contending that Chinese aircraft are insufficiently powerful to compete with the F-22 or F-35 of the US military.

According to Justin Bronk, an expert on air combat at the Royal United Services Institute, “the F-22 probably greatly exceeds the J-20 in almost every area of combat capabilities.”

To put it another way, the J-20 may appear capable, but appearances can be deceiving.

Furthermore, even if China achieves its lofty objective of fielding a 6th-generation aircraft by the middle of the 2030s, it will probably still lag behind what the UK or US may have in operation at that time. Beijing will probably keep catching up even as it makes its biggest strides forward.

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