The People’s Liberation Army announced last week that their J-20 fighter aircraft has begun operational service. This is significant as apparently it is their first fifth-generation fighter. While the aircraft’s performance looks spectacular in airshow demonstrations it is unclear how ‘stealthy’ it really is.

Watch a pair of Chinese J-20’s in Action

The forward-mounted canards, poorly shielded engines and underside vertical stabilizers all limit the amount that its radar cross section — which determines how visible the aircraft is to a radar — can be reduced,” Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, has written.

Even so, the apparent arrival of an operational J-20 highlights China’s growing role as a military power.

“What they’ve been able to do in such a rapid period of time without any R&D … I understand there might be some differences as far as in the software and the weaponry and this and that,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, asked during a hearing in 2015. “But they’re making leaps, which are uncommon, at the behest of us, and we know this, I understand, but we’re not taking any actions against them.” – DefenseTech

This announcement was expected as China had demonstrated the J-20 at the Zhuhai Air Show in Guangdong province last November. Promoted as a counter to the US F-22 and F-35 the J-20 does appear to be a capable aircraft with a reported top speed of about 1300 miles per hour.

The number of J-20’s actually produced is unknown but it is clear the Chinese are somehow gaining advanced technologies at a rapid pace. Wonder how that is happening?