At Least Three Frontline Units Now Operating ‘Fifth-Generation’ Fighter
An image released on Chinese online forums indicates that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has been equipping its 5th Air Brigade at Guilin-Lijiacun with Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) J-20A fifth-generation multirole aircraft to replace its ageing J-10B and J-10S fighters.
Released in mid-January, the photograph shows a J-20A powered by indigenous WS10C engines. Serial numbers indicate the aircraft is operated by 5th Air Brigade, subordinate to Southern Theatre Command (STC).
Meanwhile, state-broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) released footage of a J-20A confirming that 1st Air Brigade at Anshan (in Northern Theatre Command), also operates the type. This means there are now at least three operational frontline units equipped with J-20As: 5th and 1st Air Brigades, both operating variants with WS10 engines, and 9th Air Brigade at Wuhu (Eastern Theatre Command.)
Besides frontline squadrons, the J-20 is also operated by 172nd Air Brigade at Cangzhou/Cangxian air base and 176th Air Brigade/Flight Test & Training Base (FTTB) at Dingxin air base. The 176th is the operational test unit used to evaluate the J-20 and develop tactics, while the 172nd is the initial training unit for instructors and for developing training material.
Based on the construction numbers spotted on some aircraft, it seems there are more J-20As already in service than initially estimated. A recent image of a J-20 revealed a construction number corresponding to the 56th aircraft in the second batch, suggesting that about 100 J-20As, if not more, may have already been built.
Andreas Rupprecht and Gabriel Dominguez reporting for MON