Chinese magazine depiction of PLAAF 5th generation fighter.

The U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center is predicting that China will field a 5th generation fighter”in the ballpark” of the U.S. F-22 around 2018. As a neighbor and potential adversary, this has serious implications for Japan.

Or does it?

The date cited for the expected deployment is years ahead of previous Pentagon public forecasts and may be a sign that China’s rapid military buildup is topping many experts’ expectations.

“We’re anticipating China to have a fifth-generation fighter … operational right around 2018,” Wayne Ulman of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center testified on Thursday to a congressionally mandated group that studies national security implications of U.S.-China economic ties. (Reuters)

While pondering the above statement, Japan should consider the following.

1. It took the United States, the most technologically advanced country in the world, fifteen years or more each to field the F-22 and F-35, both original designs. Of these, only the F-22 is operational.

2. Russia, which has a long history of fighter production, has produced only one fifth generation fighter, which is based on an existing, non-stealthy Russian design. PAK-FA has taken eight years to produce a prototype and it is still years from becoming operational.

3. China has no experience independently designing aircraft. Even with outside assistance the aircraft it has designed, the J-10 and J-11, are far from perfect. The J-10, based on the Israeli Lavi, is suffering quality control problems contributing to a high accident rate. The J-11 has been refused delivery by the PLAAF due to unacceptable vibrations.

Now, given all of that, should Japan really expect China to have a fifth generation fighter operational in just eight years?

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch