RIA Novosti‘s Ilya Kramnik takes a skeptical view of China’s new J-20 stealth-fighter prototype, noting that “China has consistently lagged 15 to 20 years behind the world leaders in aircraft manufacturing.” The Russian analyst’s salient points:
It is not clear what kind of engine the plane will have. Some say it will use the prospective Chinese-made WS-15 engine with a maximum thrust exceeding 18,000 kg, but the engine is still in the pipeline. China has been unable to reproduce Russia’s highly efficient high-temperature turbofan AL-31F engine, designed in the early 1980s and currently mounted on the Su-27 fighter and its modifications. The engines for Sukhoi planes manufactured in China are made in Russia and then assembled and adjusted in China.
A fifth-generation stealth fighter must be able to evade radar, and so it must be made from modern composite materials. However, China does not produce such materials in commercial amounts, and experts doubt that it can develop and produce them for its Air Force.
Electronic equipment, primarily radar, in China stands at approximately the same level as its engines. Chinese designs fall short of the capabilities of their Russian, European and American counterparts. Although China has been gradually narrowing the gap, it still has to import modern electronic equipment for its aircraft.
The guided weapons used in the Chinese Air Force were mostly copied from U.S., Israeli and Russian prototypes made in the 1960s through 1980s. China will have to spend a great deal of time and effort to develop its own weapons, even if it borrows elements of prototypes bought from other countries.