China's J-20: The fighter that “stole” the attention and then some

The origin and technical characteristics of China’s J-20 Mighty Dragon stealth fighter, putting accusations of technological theft into context.

Parallels between the Chinese J-20 and the American F-35: A critical analysis

China's J-20: The fighter that “stole” the attention and then some

China’s J-20 Mighty Dragon, China’s stealth fighter, has sparked debate around its design and technology. There are consistent allegations suggesting that some of its technology comes from cyber theft targeting other countries’ defense programs, in particular  Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program. The parallelism in design, especially in the front section, is notable and has fueled such speculation.

China's J-20

Reports leaked by Edward Snowden in 2007 indicated that Lockheed Martin had been the victim of a security breach in which Chinese hackers accessed sensitive F-35 data. This assumption gained further traction when, a decade later, another cyberespionage incident was reported against an Australian defense contractor linked to the F-35 program. This fact highlights the persistent vulnerability to global arms supply chain cyber-attacks.

In its 2019 report on China’s military power, the Pentagon also recognized Chinese cyber espionage as an ongoing threat to the security of American defense technology. These incidents raise questions about the integrity and security of classified defense information.

Technical analysis of China’s J-20: Advances and potential based on stealth technology

One of the most notable similarities between China’s J-20 and the F-35 is Lockheed Martin’s sensor system, specifically the Electro-Optical Targeting System integrated into the forward section of the aircraft. This system is crucial to the F-35 ‘s efficiency in situational awareness and strike capability with laser-guided munitions. Incorporating similar technology into the J-20 would significantly boost its offensive and defensive capabilities.

China’s J-20 was introduced in 2017 and operational in 2018, displaying capabilities such as Airborne Early Warning and Command and Control. These functions allow the J-20 to exchange critical data with other aircraft, increasing its efficiency in joint operations. Additionally, it has a “stand-off” missile launch system capable of attacking targets outside visual range, which reinforces its profile as a multipurpose fighter.

Regarding its engine, the J-20 uses the WS-15 after-burning turbofan engine, surpassing the capabilities of the original Russian model. This gives it a top speed close to Mach 2, an operating ceiling of 60,000 feet, and a range of nearly 700 miles. According to estimates,  China could have up to 50 units of the J-20, representing a significant advance in its air force.

Implications of alleged Chinese cyber espionage on global security

Allegations of technology theft raise the need for greater cyber hygiene among F-35 program subcontractors. The ability of Chinese hackers to exploit vulnerabilities, often caused by bad practices by individual users at supplier companies, is a security concern. These incidents affect the US and international allies involved in shared defense projects.

China's J-20

Developing the WS-15  engine for the J-20 reflects a growth in the confidence and capability of China’s defense industrial base. This advancement, possibly accelerated by cyber espionage, indicates an aggressive strategy by China to advance its air military capabilities. Modern warfare, which often involves technological and information components, becomes an arena where advantage tilts toward those willing to use any means necessary to obtain it.

In conclusion, the J-20 Mighty Dragon represents not only a technological milestone for China but also an emblematic case of the complexities and vulnerabilities inherent to cybersecurity in the global defense sphere.


What are the similarities between the Chinese J-20 and the American F-35?

The J-20 and F-35 share similarities in design, especially in the front section. Both use stealth technology and advanced sensor systems. Accusations of cyber theft against the F-35 program by China have intensified debate over these similarities.

Which F-35 system is similar to that of the J-20?

Lockheed Martin’s Electro-Optical Targeting System, crucial to the F-35’s efficiency, resembles the system built into the J-20. This technology improves situational awareness and strike capability with laser-guided munitions, strengthening the J-20’s offensive and defensive capabilities.

How did cyberespionage affect the F-35 program?

Cyberespionage, particularly by Chinese hackers, has compromised the security of the F-35 program. Incidents such as the 2007 data breach and attacks on defense contractors have highlighted vulnerabilities and raised global security concerns.

What unique capabilities does the J-20’s WS-15 engine offer?

The J-20’s WS-15 afterburning turbofan engine offers superior capabilities to the original Russian model, with a top speed close to Mach 2, an operational ceiling of 60,000 feet, and a range of nearly 700 miles, highlighting China’s technological advancement in air defense.

What does alleged Chinese cyber espionage mean for global security?

Alleged Chinese cyber espionage, especially in relation to the F-35 program, underscores the need for greater cybersecurity. It affects not only the US but also its international allies and reflects China’s aggressive strategy to advance its air military capabilities.