With China’s long-term plans for the J-20 rather opaque, there is ample room to continue speculating about how the aircraft may fit into the PLAAF's future force structure.
Not everyone believes it will be a centerpiece of the fleet. “I see them building more Su-30-type aircraft,” says Richard McCrary, an international business development manager for Boeing. “And they will build a ton of those,” he adds in reference to the Chinese Su-27 fleet and its J-11 copy.
Even if other nations have technically more advanced fighters, the sheer number of J-11 types will be a force to reckon with.
A stealth aircraft with a few missiles would be ill-matched to counter far more Su-30-types with lots of missiles. “If you run out of bullets it does not matter how good your revolver is,” McCrary quips.
Moreover, he believes the Chinese will build "some number of those [J-20s].” But in some respects, the J-20 may already have proved China’s point. “The fact that they are able to build a high-technology airplane is really all they have to demonstrate.”