China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has begun inducting the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) J-20 ‘fifth-generation’ multirole fighter aircraft into its combat units, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) in Beijing announced on 9 February.
The move marks “an important step in developing the aircraft’s full combat capabilities”, PLAAF spokesperson Shen Jinke was quoted by the MND as saying, adding that the aircraft will further improve the service’s operational capabilities and “help shoulder more responsibilities in maintaining national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity".
The spokesperson, who did not reveal how many of the platforms have joined the PLAAF’s combat units, also said that the aircraft played “an important role” in the ‘Red Sword’ aerial exercise held in November 2017.
The J-20 made its maiden flight in 2011 and was first publicly displayed at the Airshow China 2016 exhibition in Zhuhai. In March 2017 state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) stated the aircraft had entered military service, although it is thought that only small numbers of the platform have been produced.
Since then the aircraft is known to have taken part in several events and training manoeuvres. For instance, three J-20s performed a fly-past as part of a military parade held on 30 July at the Zhurihe military training base in the country’s northern region of Inner Mongolia to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). A few months later the PLAAF revealed that the aircraft had begun formation training with other military aircraft.
Moreover, the state-owned China Daily newspaper reported on 11 January 2018 that several J-20s had taken part in a series of combat exercises against less advanced Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) J-16 and CAIG J-10C fighter aircraft, and practised beyond-visual-range aerial fighting manoeuvres.
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