The newest and most modern fighter of the PLAAF is currently the J-20 stealth aircraft, which entered service in March 2017.
Like the US F-35 fighter program, new technologies are being applied to the J-20, from supersonic air-to-air missiles to new stealth coatings, electronics and even in the future there will be laser weapons. China hopes the J-20 will be China’s game-changing weapon.
The second most capable fighter in the PLAAF is the J-16. This fighter was developed by China from the Soviet Su-27, but with major improvements, especially the airframe, avionics and weapons.
The J-16 was designed as a multi-role fighter with equal capabilities in both air-to-air and air-to-ground roles. Because it is not equipped with a thrust vector engine, the maneuverability is not as good as the Russian fighters.
China is the first foreign customer of Russia’s 4++ generation Su-35 fighter jet. The Su-35 was designed by Russia to gain air superiority over America’s most advanced stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptor and F-35. China’s Su-35s would readily control their airspace in the event of a war.
The PLAAF also owns fourth generation light fighters, the J-10. Although there are still doubts about the origin of the J-10, it is generally a relatively advanced, light fighter with similar features to the US F-16 and Swedish JAS 39 Gripen.
The J-10 is equipped with a AL-31FN afterburning turbofan engine, for high maneuverability. The J-10 is also equipped with the AESA radar, and can also use a range of advanced weapons developed for the J-16 and J -20; including the PL-15 long-range missile.
There are also J-11 fighters, copied from the Russian Su-27. It has many innovations in avionics, and is the largest fourth generation fighter in the PLAAF today. J-11BG is a version with many Chinese features. It possesses a lighter and more durable airframe, thanks to the application of a variety of composite materials. The new sensors, avionics and electronic warfare systems are more modern than those of Russian counterparts.