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The J-20 vs. The F-35: An Aerial Clash of Titans

Analyzing the Strengths, Weaknesses, and Strategies of China’s J-20 and America’s F-35 in a Hypothetical Pacific Confrontation

By FarooqPublished 28 days ago 3 min read
The J-20 vs. The F-35: An Aerial Clash of Titans
Photo by Kimon Maritz on Unsplash


In the high-stakes environment of modern aerial warfare, two giants of military aviation face off: China’s J-20 and America’s F-35. As tensions escalate in the Pacific, a dramatic encounter unfolds in the skies 700 miles east of Taiwan. This narrative delves into the strategies, technologies, and tactics that could define the outcome of such a confrontation.

The Setting: A Strategic Standoff

Satellite surveillance has tracked two American supercarriers positioned out of range of all but the longest-range anti-ship ballistic missiles in the Chinese inventory. Ordinarily, this would put Taiwan beyond the reach of the U.S. Navy's F-35s. However, the U.S. Air Force's fleet of tanker aircraft is flying non-stop circuits from Japan, extending the range of both Air Force and Navy fighters.

The Engagement Begins

Friendly AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft easily pick out the large F-15s from hundreds of miles away. The J-20s, equipped with new WS-15 engines capable of supercruise, burn fast to get into firing range. The Chinese pilots know American air doctrine well: the F-15s are not the tip of the spear, but rather the shaft behind it. The real threat, the invisible speartip, lies hidden, guiding long-range air-to-air missiles fired by the F-15s while remaining out of detection range.

The Unseen Threat

For the J-20 pilots, the unnerving thought is knowing there’s an unseen enemy. The J-20, although stealthy especially from the frontal aspect, doesn’t quite match American stealth technology. Yet, it wasn’t designed to. The rest of the Chinese air fleet is over Taiwan or within a safety bubble provided by ground-based and ship-based air defenses. This flight of J-20s has a specific mission, well ahead of the fleet.

Engine Failure and a Desperate Maneuver

As the J-20s approach, one experiences a malfunction. An engine flares out under extreme stress, causing the aircraft to lose airspeed. The pilot faces a dire choice: turning back exposes the unstealthy rear of the aircraft to enemy detection, while continuing forward ensures an engagement with a disadvantage. Opting for a last-ditch effort, the pilot gains altitude and volley fires four PL-15 missiles in a Maddog maneuver, hoping to disrupt the American formation.

The First Strike

The stricken J-20 attempts to return home, but an AIM-120 missile from an unseen F-35 hits it, breaking the aircraft in two. The firing F-35 had detected the wobbling J-20 as its engine flared out, compromising its stealth. The merge between the J-20s and the American fighters begins at a combined speed of nearly 2,000 miles per hour. The F-35s, now detecting the J-20s, begin ripple-firing AIM-120s.

Missile Exchanges

The Chinese respond, their PL-15 missiles out-ranging the AIM-120s. However, their targets are not the F-35s, which remain elusive, nor the distant F-15 missile trucks. Instead, the PL-15s target the American tankers and AWACS, vital support assets deep in the rear.

Aircraft Comparison: J-20 vs. F-35

The J-20 and F-35 are both 5th-generation fighters, though this term is somewhat arbitrary. Each represents a significant advancement over 4th-generation fighters and poses a deadly threat to anything that isn’t a peer rival.

• Numbers and Deployment: China has 150-200 J-20s, aiming to replace its older fleets, while the U.S. has around 450 F-35s, set to become the backbone of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.

• Design and Technology: The J-20, influenced by stolen American technology and optimal stealth shapes, has features that compromise its stealth compared to the F-35. It includes canards and vertical winglets that improve maneuverability but reduce stealth.

• Role and Strategy: The F-35 is a multi-role aircraft capable of air superiority, strike missions, and acting as a mini-AWACS and data node. The J-20, larger and built for long-range engagements, is likely tailored for intercepting support assets like tankers and AWACS.

• Weapons and Upgrades: The J-20 carries more fuel and has a longer reach, while the F-35 is more versatile. Both are limited in stealth mode by internal weapon carriage but are undergoing upgrades for increased missile capacity and unmanned teaming capabilities.

• Pilot Experience and Avionics: U.S. pilots have more flight hours and combat experience. American avionics are generally more advanced due to the U.S.'s technological dominance, further bolstered by international collaboration and realistic training exercises.


The F-35, with its advanced avionics and versatile capabilities, is overall the better aircraft. However, the J-20 doesn't need to be superior in every aspect if it can fulfill its primary mission: neutralizing the support infrastructure the F-35 relies on. In a conflict over Taiwan, this strategy could significantly impair American combat operations.

For a deeper dive into how the U.S. plans to counteract Chinese advancements in the Pacific, check out our detailed analysis.


This rewritten version maintains the detailed description of the engagement, the capabilities of each aircraft, and their strategic implications, while providing a more structured and engaging narrative.


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