China’s inventory of stealth fighters is about to surpass the US’s F-22s.

China's inventory of stealth fighters is about to surpass the US's F-22s.

The Military Balance database says that Beijing has 150 J-20A jets and is growing rapidly.

China is overwhelming the United States in stealth fighter production, and the inventory of its most advanced J-20A will surpass that of the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor as soon as this year, the director of the International Institute of Aircraft said on Wednesday—Strategic Studies, based in London.

At an online event to launch The Military Balance 2023, IISS Director General and CEO John Chipman told reporters that China’s fighter aircraft have changed over the past five years.

Chipman noted that The Military Balance database now shows more than 150 J-20A fighters. Although the United States is also increasing the number of its fifth-generation F-35As, which already has number about 360, “the pace of China’s defense industrial production means it is catching up,” he said.

“In fact, if deliveries continue at the same rate, by 2023, the number of J-20As will surpass the inventory of the US Air Force’s other fifth-generation fighter, the F-22,” Chipman said.

The first fifth-generation fighter to enter service, the F-22 was long considered America’s most advanced fighter. Export of the plane is prohibited because its technology was deemed too advanced to fall into the hands of another country.

The F-22 is no longer produced due to its high cost, and the United States has shifted its resources to the F-35, which is considered more affordable and versatile. Even so, the F-22 is expected to remain in service well into the 2030s, offering the Air Force air superiority.

The J-20 is China’s first fifth-generation fighter and was designed to rival the F-22.

The Military Balance noted that the 7% nominal increase in China’s defense budget to 2022 represents an increase of about $16 billion for the People’s Liberation Army and its largest annual increase in absolute terms.

“These funds are enabling the continued modernization of the PLA,” he said, including the addition of more complex aircraft carriers, frigates, and destroyers, as well as a new longer-range submarine-launched ballistic missile, the JL-3.

The JL-3 could allow the People’s Liberation Army Navy to target the United States from longer ranges than before, giving it options to improve the survivability of its deterrent, according to The Military Balance.

Analysts have pointed out that if the JL-3 had a significantly longer range than China’s current JL-2 missiles, Beijing could keep its ballistic missile submarines in the South China Sea and target the United States from there instead of having to move to the Pacific Ocean.

Chipman said the Ukraine war had highlighted the importance of arms reserves and defense production capacity.

“Immediate equipment needs have led some European states to look for new suppliers beyond national or traditional sources,” Chipman said. He said that Poland split its orders for tanks and rocket artillery between US and South Korean companies.

The Military Balance described South Korea as “the region’s most important industrial success in 2022.” He highlighted the framework agreements for selling 1,000 K2 main battle tanks to Poland, 672 K9 self-propelled howitzers and 48 FA-50 light combat aircraft.

“The deals between Poland and [South] Korea represent by far the largest defense export deal ever achieved by an Asian country,” he said.

Chipman noted that the war in Ukraine is also changing the European defense landscape in another way.

“The supply of old, Soviet-era equipment to Ukraine by Eastern European states is accelerating the modernization of these countries’ inventories as they re-equip with Western-made systems. It is also creating opportunities to improve the homogeneity of the teams in Europe”, he stated.

Separately, Chipman noted that weak currencies, slow economic growth, continued supply chain disruptions, and rising inflation had hampered countries’ ability to acquire desired defense capabilities, despite the increased tensions.

“While global defense spending grew in nominal terms in 2021 and 2022, higher inflation meant that spending fell in real terms in both years. We estimate that, in 2022, inflation wiped out about $312 billion of global defense spending,” Chipman said.

As for India, The Military Balance said that the country continues to modernize its armed forces and that New Delhi is looking to improve the military infrastructure on its northern border.

He noted concerns over India’s reliance on Russia for weaponry and spare parts arose in 2022 following Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“Recent imports of foreign equipment have come mainly from the United States and France,” it stated.

But India’s large conventional forces are struggling with inadequate logistics and a shortage of ammunition, spare parts, and maintenance personnel, according to the report. “Although modernization continues, many equipment projects have suffered delays and cost overruns, especially indigenous systems.”