People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s Chengdu J-20 fifth generation is seen as pitted against the US F-22 Raptor and has lent China a unique air superiority as this is the first fighter from the fifth generation which has made its way into the active service outside US mainland. J-20 is endowed with highly sophisticated capabilities like escaping radar detection, air-to-air missiles, great manoeuvrability along with superior stealth capabilities.
PLA has enhanced its combat systems significantly as in within a year of commissioning of J-20 the new version has hit the skies with all the desired upgrades. A prominent drawback of all the earlier versions was the use of WS-10 G the 4th generation engines based on AL-31 from Russia for powering heavy fighters. This was no match for the F119 employed in F-22 Raptor thus depriving it of the much-needed air superiority. J-20 is surely set to become one of the most robust defence platforms. This glaring gap pushed the Chinese military industries to develop an engine analogous to F119 which finally made its way to the fifth generation WS-15 a highly important step over its previous versions.
J-20 also had many other advancements in software, radar, electronics etc. Additional work to further enhance its engine, stealth coating and weapons bay are underway to ultimately improve the flight performance and firepower. The most significant fact is the speed at which the J-20 has been upgraded in comparison to the F-22 Raptor which still awaits its second upgrades after been in service for 13 years. It has been years since US Air Force is attempting at an improvement in the F-22 weapons bay and firepower. It has taken years for programs like Raptor Agile Capability Release to take effect even though they aren’t as important as the upgrades undertaken by the Chinese to their J-20 jets. Going at the same pace, it is quite possible that China will be working at new ramjet versions of PL-21 and PL-12D air-to-air missiles on J-20 which will endow it with greater speeds and range of up to 200-400 km while US Raptors will be seen getting equipped with AIM-120 D air-to-air missiles of 180 km range.
This apparent lag seen in the improvement of Raptor is basically seen because of the conclusion of the program and it is no longer live. That means that there will be no further development of the same as seen in cases of F-35, F-15 etc. US Air Force stated that there are prominent issues in the basic design of Raptor as it is based on 1990s computer architecture, a slow core processor speed of 25 MHz which only leads to complications in upgrade while the J-20 is based on newer computer architecture which is much easier to modify. This is the reason J-20 has narrowed the gap which was seen at the time of its induction into service much quicker.
This may not really signal China to overtake US capabilities of air defence soon but the situation can’t be completely ruled out. The balance of power in Pacific in future will depend on the range of aerial combat abilities of both the nations and everything counts.