Staff Writer (Updated: 3/20/2016):
In fact, according to a BBC report dated January 24th, 2011, Balkan military sources state that the technology behind the new J-20 may have actually been based on the downed Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk "stealth fighter" lost to a Serbian surface-to-air missile during the Bosnian-Kosovo air war in 1999. The incident resulted the first and only time that an F-117 was downed by enemy fire in a hostile environment. The thinking is that some of the debris may have fallen into the hands of Chinese operatives active in the country. The Chinese and Serbian governments thought to have maintained a close relationship at the time of the war so the exchange of technologies seems plausible. The idea of the modernization-crazy Chinese taking the F-117 debris, studying them and reverse-engineering them to understand the technology and concepts is a viable initial source for the technology utilized in the new J-20 platform. Portions of the same F-117 - the left wing assembly, ejection seat used by the pilot to escape, the onboard radio system and the canopy were claimed by the Belgrade Aviation Museum and went on display. The whereabouts of the other surviving portions of the aircraft went unknown, presumably collected by a handful of farmers in the area and subsequently sold to "interested" parties like the Chinese. Of course all of this remains speculation but it does play well into the scenario of what the appearance of the J-20 means today. One can assume it is based on the 1970s technology utilized to jumpstart the American stealth program mixed in with modern engineering learned by Chinese engineers to the procurement across decades of Russian technology.
The Chengdu J-20 attempts to cover what has been proven in other fighter designs to date (both 4th and 5th Generation types) and is the culmination of the latest in Chinese supercruise capabilities, airframe maneuverability, STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) qualities and stealth technology. Stealth design philosophies of the J-20 revolve around much of what makes the American F-22 Raptor stand out in a crowd. Conscious attempts have been made to ensure that the new Chinese aircraft can compete successfully with the best that the major superpowers have to offer including use of strategic angles to deflect radar emissions, radar absorbing materials to retard the aircraft's radar signature and an internal weapons bay to promote a less faceted radar target. The J-20 is believed to be on par with the American F-22 and F-35 fighters and the upcoming Russian Sukhoi T-50/PAK FA currently in development - joining an elite group of modern fighters to say the least. Should she enter service within the next decade, the Chinese will take yet another step towards being seen as a legitimate world superpower and major military player - particularly in a region where their influence is well known. While the US intelligence community originally estimated that the Chinese would not have a competent stealth-minded aircraft until 2020 or later, the Chinese are expecting their J-20 to be operational beginning in 2018, perhaps even as early as 2017. At any rate, the arrival of the J-20 will drive the modernization of the Chinese military even further - a fact that has many persons in Washington, the Pacific and throughout Asia quietly worried.
The Chinese undertook a variety of aircraft development programs throughout the 1990s to which the West utilized such designation markers as "J-XX", "J-X" and "XXJ" to delineate these different endeavors. At their core, the programs sought to fulfill a requirement for a new indigenous Chinese 5th Generation fighter platform to be rated on par with any other such aircraft in the world. The end-product of the J-XX program became the J-20 "Black Eagle", a collaborative effort between the Chinese firms of Chengdu Aircraft Corporation and Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. Two airframes were completed by November of 2010 with these prototypes designated internally as "S/N 2001" and "S/N 2002". These are expected to serve as test flight and stationary stress test examples respectively. Construction of the airframe is said to center on heavy use of advanced composites for maintaining inherent stealth characteristics but also make for a substantially cheaper product to manufacturer on a large scale when compared to her global counterparts. However, some have questioned the availability of such advanced composites in quantity for the Chinese, leading some to believe that these components might be imported into the country.