Early last week, we reported on what appeared to be a copy of China’s most advanced fighter, the Chengdu J-20, parked on an airstrip in Savannah, Georgia, of all places. The aircraft certainly bore a striking resemblance in the sole photo that surfaced on the internet by way of The Aviationist, prompting a wave of theories that ranged from the logical to the downright outlandish. Here at Fighter Sweep, our best guess was that the aircraft was a prop built for “Top Gun: Maverick,” which is currently filming. Soon, however, most of us were proven wrong when the Air Force came forward with a statement that answered at least some of our questions.

“It is a full-scale replica and remained at the Air Dominance Center for a short period during the week of 4-6 Dec. The USMC is funding and directing the training objectives of this device,” Col. Emmanuel Haldopoulos, Commander of the Savannah Air Dominance Center, explained.

Real J-20 (Top) and the image taken last week in Georgia (Bottom).

Armed with a newfound understanding of who built the J-20 mock-up, the internet was still left with a slew of questions regarding why. Some wondered if the Marine Corps was purpose-building aggressor aircraft to fly against new Marine Corps F-35Bs or the Air Force‘s fleet of F-22s, but most reasonable assessments quickly dismissed the idea that the aircraft in the image was an operational flier. It would cost a fortune to develop a J-20 aggressor that could actually replicate the real fighter’s flight characteristics — and because the J-20 was largely based on stolen plans for the F-22, simply using that as an aggressor plane in training would be a far more cost-effective solution.

Now, the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, or TECOM, has shed more light on the J-20 mock-up spotted in Georgia.

“TECOM has contracted with the Army Threat Systems Management Office (TSMO) to provide full scale, realistic aircraft and vehicle mock-ups for multiple Marine Corps Bases, Range Training Systems Program (RTSP) requests from 2018,” TECOM said in a statement.

“The initial aircraft mock-up identified was a J-20 fighter to develop as a proof of concept, with a plan to develop additional threat aircraft and vehicles in the future. The prototype was built by a contractor in LaGrange, GA and was moved to Air Dominance Center (ADC) Savannah, Georgia to evaluate the assembly and dis-assembly process, heat and light signatures, and prepare for movement to the chosen training area in North Carolina,” TECOM said.