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J-20 fighters start patrols in East, South China Seas

China's J-20 stealth fighters have started to patrol the East and South China Seas. (Chen Chang/VCG via Getty Images)

China's J-20 stealth fighters have started to patrol the East and South China Seas as part of routine training missions, state-owned media reported.

According to the Global Times newspaper, the announcement was made by Ren Yukun, head of the discipline inspection and supervision team and a member of the leading party group at the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

In a press conference on 12 April, Yukun reportedly said that it has become a training routine for Chengdu J-20s to fly “combat patrols” in the East China Sea and “alert patrols” in the South China Sea.

He added that these patrols are being undertaken after the J-20 switched to using “domestically developed engines”.

The aircraft were originally powered by Russian-made Saturn AL-31FN-series engines. Janes previously reported that the Saturns are starting to be replaced by indigenously developed Shenyang-Liming WS10C turbofan engines from at least September 2019. The Chinese engine is said to offer superior thrust in comparison with the Saturns.

J-20As powered by WS10C engines have entered service with the 172nd Air Brigade of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The aircraft also appears to be operational with the 1st Air Brigade at Anshan Air Base in China‘s Northern Theater Command from April 2021 onwards. According to Janes World Air Forces, a total of about 40 aircraft are in service in the PLAAF.

Beijing has not officially announced that the J-20 has been deployed with the PLA's Southern Theater Command.

Yukun's announcement follows comments in mid-March by General Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of the US Pacific Air Forces, that US aircraft encountered J-20s over the East China Sea.

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