Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Early Eclipse: F-35 JSF Prospects in the Age of Chinese Stealth
Money Shot: New Chinese J-20 Stealth Fighter poses for eager onlookers at Chengdu Test Facility
Much to the chagrin of Lockheed-Martin's JSF team, it appears there really is a new Chinese stealth fighter. And by the looks of it, the Chinese J-20 is a heavyweight contender built to challenge the F-22 Raptor. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, US air dominance seems in question. But where does this leave the F-35 JSF?
JSF is the "one-size-fits-all fighter", good for the US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as all interested foreign customers. In an attempt to meet all roles and needs, within an affordable budget, the JSF has necessarily compromised capability in some areas, particularly air-to-air combat. The US Congress and International Customers were told the JSF possessed sufficient air-to-air capability, with Lockheed-Martin claiming a "close and long-range air-to-air capability second only to that of the F-22 Raptor." However, with the sound of the twin-engined Chinese J-20 roaring down the flightline at Chengdu, it appears Lockheed-Martin's claim may have been a bit short-lived.
Many international customers currently invested in the JSF would have preferred purchase of the air-to-air optimized F-22 Raptor, but the US has banned Raptor exports. International buyers were told JSF was the best air-to-air fighter their money could buy. Now facing a likely overmatch against the Chinese J-20, JSF shareholders such as Australia and potential Asian buyers such as Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and of course Taiwan must now be quite soured on the US refusal to sell the F-22.
It seems certain the emergence of the J-20 into the Asian military equation will precipitate a cascade of new fighter procurement in the region. Beyond Australia which has already financially committed to the JSF, the F-35 will most likely not be among the new types sought.