Will J-20, F-22 and Indian Rafale be on par, or will American technology and Indian pilot qualifications have an advantage?

Will J-20, F-22 and Indian Rafale be on par?


For military analysts, the persistent question is whether a Chinese J-20 stealth fighter can shoot down a US F-22 or an Indian Rafale? Will they be on par, or will American technology and Indian pilot qualifications have an advantage?

On July 30, 2020, War is Boring website published an article titled: “Collision Course: China claims F-22 and Rafale have “No Chance” against the J-20” by Andy Wolf. The article has given interesting points about a potential confrontation between the world’s most modern fighters. War is Boring is a news and military analysis site under Bright Mountain Media, Inc, an American digital media company.

China believes that the F-22 and Rafale have no chance against the J-20

According to the author of the article, recently, Chinese media are actively giving “challenging” views, saying that, in the face of a hypothetical conflict, J-20 will prevail over the US F-22 Raptor and the Rafale that India has just put into service.

On the same day, the South China Morning Post and Global Times published two articles related to the superior combat capabilities of the J-20. While such self-praising articles are not uncommon for any country, the Chengdu J-20 is being flattering in its own way.

According to these articles, “America’s F-22 stealth fighter may be limited in Asia-Pacific conditions.” The South China Morning Post cited claims by Yang Wei, a designer of the J-20, and said that the F-22 was designed for combat in Europe, in a scenario of going to war in the Asia-Pacific battlefield against indigenous aircraft, it would reveal inherent weaknesses.

An example is the F-4 Phantom fighter-bomber, Yang Wei implies that the weapon designed to confront the Soviet Air Force, but fought in Southeast Asia, gave it a difficult time during the Vietnam War. According to Wei: “The complex environment and political constraints in Vietnam caused the F-4 to almost fail to show its high-speed performance and over-the-horizon combat capabilities.”

Although the J-20’s designer did not make a direct comparison to the F-22, the South China Morning Post supplemented the article with the argument of Song Zhongping, a military commentator in Hong Kong, that the biggest advantage of the J-20 is that it was later developed, with advantages drawn from the F-22’s shortcomings.

In an article published in the Chinese aviation magazine, Yang Wei, the designer of the J-20, admitted to taking the design concept from the world’s most powerful fighter F-22. Analysts said that openly admitting learning the American idea was a way to help Yang Wei promote the J-20, as the country’s designers are racing to develop carrier-based fighters for China’s next-generation aircraft carriers.

Of course, the Chinese media never mentioned whether the J-20 was the result of blatant intellectual theft and reverse-engineering from successful foreign designs, especially for the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II.

In a scenario against the F-22, the South China Morning Post argued that the J-20 is completely superior to its rival. On the other hand, another fighter also underestimated by the Chinese media, the French Rafale, has recently been added to the payroll of the Indian Air Force.

The Chinese media said that the French-made fighter is not on par with the Chinese rival. According to Global Times, “the Rafale is only a ‘third-plus’ generation fighter jet, and does not stand much of a chance against a stealth, fourth generation one like the J-20.”

It is conceivable that these articles appear to be just part of the media war between China and India. On the Indian media side, the India’s former air chief marshal, B.S. Dhanoa, said that Rafale “is a game changer, and the Chinese J-20 does not even come close.”

The Global Times countered that, “it is common knowledge that a generational gap in fighter jets represents a huge difference that cannot be made up by tactics and numbers in combat.”

Weakness of the PLAAF?

According to “war is boring”, despite the great leaps in military technology, experience is something that Chinese pilots are still very much lacking. It is also a weakness that anyone can see of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.

In contrast to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, the pilots of the US Navy and Marines are people with experience in combat, some with a record of aerial combat. For example, the F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down the Syrian Su-22 in 2017.

Even India, the pilots of this country’s air force have been in combat, they even announced the shooting down of Pakistani fighters in 2019.

The last time Chinese pilots entered combat was more than half a century ago, on January 13, 1967, over the Taiwan Strait. Despite their numerical advantage in air combat, 12 J-6s, a Chinese variant of the MiG-19, performed poor performance against four Taiwanese F-104s. As a result, 1 Taiwan fighter was reported “missing”, while the People’s Liberation Army Air Force was shot down two fighters.

Straits of Taiwan 1967
Straits of Taiwan 1967

Another noteworthy encounter was the 2001 Hainan Island Incident. After the PLAAF’s Shenyang J-8D took down an American EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft, Lieutenant Commander Wang Wei accidentally crashed into the American plane.

After the air crash, the EP-3 had to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island, resulting in the US reconnaissance plane being captured and dismantled by the Chinese. 24 crew members were detained for 10 days.

Despite an emergency ejection from the plane, Wang Wei was presumed dead and turned into a “revolutionary martyr”.

According to Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, the incident caused China to step up its coastal defense, and is believed to be the beginning of the modernization of the Chinese military, especially regarding operations in the South China Sea.

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