Over a caption reading “An Air Force J-20 fighter conducts real combat training,” the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) released a photo on 24 July of a J-20 low-observable (stealth) combat aircraft bearing the serial number of a combat unit, thus indicating the aircraft has completed its trials and entered operational service. An accompanying statement extolled the strategic value of the airframe.

The aircraft carried the tail number 62001, which indicates it is deployed with a combat unit in the PLAAF Eastern Command, according to Chinese sources. Previous J-20s have all carried numbers beginning with 7, which indicates their operation with a trials unit. Although the PLAAF announced the type’s entry into operational service in early 2018, this photograph marks the first official visual confirmation of its status.

In China’s recently-published Defence White Paper, the J-20 is listed as one of the key high-tech weapon systems commissioned by the nation’s armed forces. Some observers believe the aircraft to be more sophisticated than the F-35 – though some also point to the perennial issues China has with development of modern aircraft engines as being a potential limiting factor on its performance and/or manufacturing sustainability.

An opportunity to see the J-20 in public will in all likelihood occur in Beijing on 1 October at a parade expected to mark then 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

The J-20 appears to have entered service with operational combat units of the PLAAF’s Eastern Command. (Photo: PLAAF)

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