Beijing: China has not deployed its new J-20 stealth fighter in Tibet – or anywhere else in the country – as it is still undergoing trials, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) website said.
Suggesting that media reports jumped the gun about its deployment based on an unverified photograph of the fighter, the PLA said that the Tibetan plateau was an unlikely site for its first deployment as its airports weren’t even ready to accommodate the fifth-generation fighter, which is still undergoing trials and has not been deployed anywhere else in China.
A photograph supposedly showing the fighter at the Daocheng Yading airport, which was shared on social media websites but not verified, had led to media reports suggesting the J-20 had been deployed in Tibet.
The Yading airport is located in Sichuan province, not in the Tibet Autonomous Region but in a prefecture bordering the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). It is China’s highest airport.
Much of the PLA’s air force deployments aimed at India are located in five civilian and military airports in the TAR. The PLA has unusually sought to publicly deny the reports, rather than leave strategic experts guessing as it has been done in the past.
The report on its website said the media reports claiming the move could be a warning or tit-for-tat for the BrahMos missile being deployed in Arunachal Pradesh had jumped the gun.
The PLA’s official newspaper had itself warned India about the BrahMos deployment. “It is said that J-20 will be put into service soon but the China-India border is apparently not the ideal place for its deployment. In addition, the world’s highest airport there does not have a complete set of supporting facilities and such shortage will impede the function of J-20,” said a report published on a website of the PLA, China Military Online, which usually carries officially-sanctioned reports and statements.
“J-20 will not be deployed in Daocheng Yading airport as the airport is too close to the border, and it is vulnerable to India’s first wave hit. If India is to deploy BrahMos missile on the China-India border, then the Daocheng Yading airport will likely to become its target,” the report suggested.
It added that if the J-20 had indeed been sighted at the airport, “it may turn out to be a high altitude performance test to accumulate test data and experience for operations in plateau areas”.
China’s Su-27 and J-10 fighters had already “solved problems of high-altitude operations”, the report said, requiring longer runways and higher landing speeds.Chinese experts say the stealth fighter, which is still undergoing trials, is more likely to be deployed first in the plains rather than on the plateau to begin with. Reports say the fighter may only be combat ready by 2019 at the earliest.
While pooh-poohing the report, the PLA website couldn’t resist a dig at India. Despite China’s massive infrastructure developments in Tibet, the report claimed India had been more aggressive on its border deployments, including C-130 transport planes from the US and Heron unmanned aerial vehicles, not to mention the BrahMos.
At the same time, it concluded, “India is not yet the biggest threat for China and though confrontation events along the border would occur from time to time, the overall situation is rather stable. In this way, China does not put too much emphasis and focus targeting India.”