Chinese J-20 stealth fighters execute dramatic ‘Elephant Walk’

China’s official English-language news website for the People’s Liberation Army [PLA], China Military, recently shared several new photos of the Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon” [codenamed “Fagin” by NATO]. This past Friday, a particular picture drew the attention of many – it showcased no fewer than six of these twin-engine, all-weather stealth fighter planes in a symmetric lineup along the runway. 

Thrust vectoring engine: J-20 performs strong maneuvers at low speed
Photo credit:

The photo’s caption stated, “J-20 stealth fighter planes, belonging to an aviation brigade of the PLA Air Force, participated in a military procedure referred to as an ‘elephant walk’. This took place on the runway before takeoff, during a flight training exercise, in early February 2024.” 

Recently, the US Air Force seems to have developed a fondness for this military drill known as the “elephant walk”, which is essentially a mass taxiing of aircraft before takeoff. This coordinated display often leads to minimum interval takeoffs, but the real intent behind such drills is typically seen as a show of power and military strength. It is quite probable that the recent elephant walk featuring the J-20 was conducted for this very purpose. 

J-20 fleet is growing - 13 Chinese brigades have the Mighty Dragon
Photo credit: Pinterest

The release also included another striking photo that presented the diligent ground crew conducting nighttime checks on a J-20 fifth-generation stealth fighter plane before a flight training exercise. Additional visuals depicted the gargantuan aircraft preparing for takeoff, and some even caught it mid-flight.

Roots of the J-20

Starting in the 1990s, the J-XX initiative by Beijing brought life to the Chengdu J-20. This innovative program had a clear objective: creating an air-dominant fighter with precision strike capability. Remarkably, the end result was the Chengdu J-20, which became the third “fifth generation” fighter aircraft to be operationally deployed worldwide. The only aircraft that preceded it hailed from the United States Air Force, including the revered Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The Chengdu J-20’s noteworthy journey started in 2011 with its inaugural flight. 

Chinese stealth J-20 with serial number 2051 has design changes
Photo credit: Chinese Internet

Zooming forward to 2017, the formidable Chengdu J-20, endearingly known as the Mighty Dragon, was officially incorporated into the People’s Liberation Army Air Force [PLAAF]. Thanks to its sophisticated, streamlined design featuring a canard-delta configuration, a low-radar cross-section blended fuselage, and substantial canted twin tails, this aircraft has undeniably made its presence known. Moreover, it boasts extensive internal weapon bays designed for long-range and air-to-air missiles. In addition, the J-20 comes equipped with two small side bays designed for short-range air-to-air missiles.

Stolen tech?

Consider the J-20 – China’s significant advancement in aerospace technology. Contrary to what one might initially believe, experts suggest that this feat didn’t come purely from indigenous research and development [R&D]. Rather, it appears they might have drawn heavy ‘inspiration’ from abroad. 

J-20 fleet is growing - 13 Chinese brigades have the Mighty Dragon
Photo credit: The Drive

Notably, Russia, which is typically aligned with China, has shown signs of growing dissatisfaction. The reason? It appears that China’s somewhat audacious ‘borrowing’ of technological advancements isn’t sitting well with them, particularly as Beijing continues to exhibit a series of impressively upgraded military apparatuses. 

Nevertheless, the intriguing case of the J-20 prompts us to raise a question. When you take a close look at it, don’t you see similarities to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor? Indeed, aircraft are often built following cues from pre-existing models, but Beijing’s approach here seems especially familiar. Reports suggest that they may have overstepped boundaries by obtaining technology and design blueprints directly.

Enhanced potent Dragons emerging 

Chinese J-20 aircraft fired a short-range PL-10 infrared-homing AAM
Video screenshot

Despite its roots, there’s an unwavering belief in Beijing in their J-20, their primary fifth-generation stealth fighter. They’ve turned every stone to expedite its production, to counterbalance the induction of U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors and F-35 Lightning IIs in the Indo-Pacific region. 

The latest visuals serve as a gentle reminder from Beijing to the world, reinforcing this very fact.

About J-20

The Chengdu J-20 is a stealth, twinjet, fifth-generation fighter aircraft developed by China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force [PLAAF]. It is China’s first stealth fighter, designed for superior stealth, speed, and agility. The J-20 can execute both air superiority and strike missions. 

The J-20 is distinguished by its long, slender fuselage, a chiseled nose section, and a frameless canopy. It measures 20.3-20.5 meters in length, has a wingspan of 12.88-13.50 meters, and stands at a height of 4.45 meters. The aircraft features an all-moving tailfin pair, along with ventral stabilizing fins. Its maximum takeoff weight is approximately 37,000 kg. 

Powering the J-20 are two after-burning turbofan engines. Initially, it utilized the Russian AL-31FN series 3 engines; however, it’s expected to shift to the more advanced WS-15 engines in the future. The WS-15 engine is engineered to facilitate supercruise capabilities while also maximizing fuel efficiency.

Thrust vectoring engine: J-20 performs strong maneuvers at low speed
Photo credit: ADN

J-20’s armament

The operational range of the J-20 is estimated to be around 1,200 kilometers on internal fuel, which can be extended with aerial refueling. Its service ceiling is approximately 20,000 meters, and it has a maximum speed of around Mach 2.0, which is roughly 2,470 kilometers per hour. 

The J-20 is armed with a variety of air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, and precision-guided bombs. It has a large belly weapon bay for long-range air-to-air missiles and two smaller lateral weapon bays for short-range air-to-air missiles. The aircraft is also equipped with a 30mm cannon for close-range combat scenarios. 

China showed a two-seater stealth J-20 in combat camouflage
Photo credit: South China Morning Post

Other specifications of the J-20 include an advanced avionics suite with a glass cockpit, a helmet-mounted display, and a passive electronically scanned array radar. The aircraft also features a reduced radar cross-section and heat signature for enhanced stealth capabilities.


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