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A Chinese stealth jet lookalike passed through Savannah-Hilton Head airport. Here’s why

A Chinese Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon” fifth-generation stealth fighter.
A Chinese Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon” fifth-generation stealth fighter. Wikimedia Commons

A photo of what appeared to be a Chinese-inspired, military jet fighter at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport caused quite the stir this week, and now the U.S. military has released more information about the aircraft’s origin and purpose.

The aircraft, first reported by The Aviationist last Friday, looked similar to a Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon” fighter, an advanced, fifth-generation stealth jet that, according to South China Morning Post, was rushed into service last year.

But closer examination of the photo, which The Aviationist obtained and verified, showed subtle differences between the J-20 and the aircraft parked on the tarmac in Savannah.

The aircraft is actually a full-scale mock-up, a “proof of concept” prototype ahead of other planned aircraft and vehicle “threat systems” mock-ups that will be used to train U.S. military forces, according to a Marine Corps Training and Education Command statement sent Thursday afternoon to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.

In short, as The Aviationist opined, it seems the U.S. military is taking seriously the threat China’s stealth jet could pose.

It was developed by a defense contractor in LaGrange, Ga., the Corps said, and was transported to the U.S. Air Force’s and Georgia Air National Guard’s Air Dominance Center at Savannah-Hilton Head International “to evaluate the assembly and dis-assembly process, heat and light signatures, and prepare for movement to the chosen training area in North Carolina.”

An airplane’s “signature” refers to its visibility on radar or other detection devices; stealth technology attempts to drastically reduce signature or defeat detection altogether.

“The prototype was not built for flight training,” the statement continued. “There is no further information ... at this time.”

The U.S. Army’s Threat Systems Management Office is a partner on the project, according to the statement.

The prototype, which was in Savannah from Dec. 4-6, according to The Aviationist, isn’t the first hint of concern about the J-20.

A document titled “Test and Evaluation Resources” for the 2016 fiscal year found on the Operational Test & Evaluation Office of the Secretary of Defense’s website noted a “Fifth Generation Aerial Target study” has been in the works since 2006; it specifically cited the J-20 and Russia’s PAK-FA as threats.

Such fifth-generation target would be used to evaluate “U.S. weapon systems effectiveness,” the document said.

“China rushed the J-20 into service ahead of schedule (in 2017) in response to ... America ... deploying its F-35 stealth fighters in the Asia-Pacific (area)“ and South Korea taking delivery of 40 F-35s in 2018, the South China Morning post reported.

Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort is home to an F-35B “Lightning II” training squadron.

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