Stealth Battle: Could China's J-20 Stealth Fighter Beat Russia's Su-57?

Mark Episkopos

Key point: Whereas Chinese defense commentary has been largely complimentary of the Su-57, their Russian counterparts have been much more tepid about the J-20. 

As the Su-57 enters serial production in much larger quantities than previously expected, Moscow is making a concerted effort to pitch the fifth-generation fighter to major arms importers including Turkey, India, and China.

Over the past several years, Chinese defense media has been particularly keen on following the Su-57’s development; their--mostly positive commentary--has long been taken as one bellwether of Chinese import interest.

But the question is rarely asked in reverse: namely, what does Russia think of China’s own J-20 fighter?

Whereas Chinese defense commentary has been largely complimentary of the Su-57, their Russian counterparts have been much more tepid about the J-20. In a recent article on the “mutual benefit” of a China Su-57 import deal, prominent Russian defense outlet RG concluded that the Su-57 is neither better nor worse than the J-20 but fulfills an altogether different operational purpose. The J-20 was designed as a stealth missile platform that can penetrate sophisticated air defenses in order to target critical infrastructure or military assets. The Su-57, on the other hand, excels as an air superiority platform that trades stealth and ground attack features for raw dog fighting potential. Thus, RG aptly characterizes the thrust of the Russian export argument: China’s air force should buy the Su-57 not as a replacement, but as a complement to the J-20.

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