The F-35 stealth fighter just pulled off a massive flex that China's J-20 and Russia's Su-57 aren't anywhere close to matching

f 35 hill air force base elephant walkPilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings taxi F-35As on the runway in preparation for a combat power exercise Nov. 19, 2018, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.Photo by Cynthia Griggs

  • 35 F-35s just took off from a single runway and flew in formation in a show of combat power that the US's rivals, Russia and China, can't hope to match.
  • The F-35 is being mass produced in the hundreds for countries around the world. Russia's Su-57 and China's J-20 have only a couple dozen airframes to show.
  • Also, Russia and China's jets don't have the right engines in yet, which cripples their performance.
  • Meanwhile the F-35 is flying combat missions and supporting troops around the world.

Hill Air Force Base in Utah just held a combat power exercise with 35 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters taking off from a single runway and flying in formation in a massive show of force that the US's rivals haven't even come close to.

The 388th and the 419th fighter wings, the only two combat ready units with Air Force F-35A variant, launched the massive formation on November 19 to show that the most expensive weapons program in history is ready for action.

"We are ready to fight tonight, and exercising with multiple squadrons of F-35s can demonstrate our ability to defeat potential adversaries wherever they may arise," Maj. Caleb Guthmann, 34th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations and exercise project officer said in a statement from HAFB.

China and Russia have both tried to field their own fifth-generation fighters to compete with the F-35, but neither jet is anywhere close to pulling off a feat anything like Monday's.

Though both China's J-20 and the Russia's Su-57 have been declared "operational" by their respective militaries, that operation so far has been little more than a public relations blitz.

J-20

J-20 china stealthWikimedia Commons

China's J-20 doesn't have the proper engines yet, which kills performance and makes the jet unable to achieve supercruise. The lack of a home-built Chinese engine for a fifth generation fighter is reportedly "embarrassing" the air force that hopes to overtake the US military.

Currently, China has just a few dozen or so J-20s in total. Experts who spoke to Business Insider assessed that the airframes they do have, such as the ones it showed off at the Zuhai Air Show, were pre-production, and not ready for combat.

Read more: China's most advanced stealth fighter shows off its weapons for the first time, revealing some serious heat

"We do not know of more than four production machines at any location. Four in a line unit, four in a
R&D unit. If five are at any location, that is news by itself," Lawrence Trevethan, a researcher at the China Aerospace Studies Institute, which works with the US Air Force, told Business Insider.

Su-57

Su-57 T-50Dmitry Terekhov/Flickr

Russia calls its Su-57 "combat proven" after a few days dropping bombs on unprotected enemies of President Bashar Assad in Syria, but that jet too fails to reach the bar of real operational status.

The combat carried out by the Su-57 could have been done by any number of 1970s-designed, Soviet-built Russian jets stationed in Syria and absolutely did not vindicate any of the stealth or fifth-generation claims laid by Russia.

Read more: Get up close and personal with Russia's only 5th-generation fighter during a low-level photo shoot

Additionally, at maximum, 12 Su-57s exist in the world. The Su-57 also doesn't have the final engine installed, and Russia hasn't even bothered to order any to give to its combat brigades.

In short, the world has been promised three new fifth-generation fighter jets by the end of this decade, and as of November 2018, only one of these is a real production airplane - the F-35.

F-35 Vs. J-20/Su-57: Who would win?

f 35a hill air force base.JPGPilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings taxi F-35As on the runway in preparation for a combat power exercise Nov. 19, 2018, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.US Air Force photo/Senior Airman Justin Fuchs

The US has 91 F-35s, international partners have 28, and 22 have been sold to additional countries. A month prior to the November elephant walk, the HAFB fighter wings flew the plane's 10,000th sortie. In total, the US has ordered more than 2,000 F-35s to fly from land, aircraft carriers, and even improvised or short runways.

F-35 pilots have had years of practice on developing new tactics and training regimes for the jets that don't fly like anything else previous.

While the F-35 still awaits software updates, and will be continually upgraded and modified throughout its lifespan, it's already at sea aboard the USS Essex carrying out combat missions in Afghanistan.

Russia and China frequently talk up the theoretical and future capabilities of their nascent aircraft, but as of today the answer to the question of "Who would win, F-35 or the J-20/Su-57," the answer is simple and clear.

The F-35 wins because it's a real program and a real aircraft that's actually ready to defend its country. Until China and Russia sort out their engines and actually build the planes, they're not worthy of a mention in the same breath.

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