Chinese state-owned media have for the first time released an image of a Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) J-20 fifth-generation multirole fighter bearing the serial number of a known combat unit of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), suggesting that the aircraft is ready for frontline service.
The image, which was released by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) in late July, shows the aircraft bearing the number 62001, indicating that it has been assigned to the PLAAF’s 9th Air Brigade based at Wuhu, which operates under the PLA’s Eastern Theatre Command.
Commercial satellite imagery captured in March 2019 showed three J-20s at Wuhu Air Base, suggesting that the aircraft have been operating there since early 2019 or late 2018. It is likely that the fighters are replacing the Su-30MKKs assigned to the 9th Air Brigade, which is believed to be one of the premier fighter units within the PLAAF.
Wuhu Air Base is situated near the Yangtze River approximately 280 km inland from Shanghai. The base is home to the 7th and 9th Air Brigades. The 9th Air Brigade received the Su-30MKK in 2001.
Assigning the J-20 to such a combat unit is a significant move because the two previous PLAAF units known to operate the J-20 were related to operational evaluation and tactical training.
As Jane’ s previously reported, the 176th Air Brigade at Dingxin Air Base is the operational test unit used to evaluate the J-20 and develop tactics, and the 172nd Air Brigade at Cangzhou Air Base is the initial training unit for training instructors and developing training material.
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