The skies are getting a little less friendly. China has just completed initial testing on the J-11D, Beijing’s next step in upgrading its air forces. This generation of fighter aircraft shows the Chinese are making real progress with their indigenous combat aviation development program. While they appear to still be dependent on Moscow for engines, the rest of this fighter looks like a home-grown update of the Russian-made Sukhoi Su-27.
The challenge for the US will be to keep its lead on the competition. The Air Force took delivery of its last F-22 in 2012. The F-35 program remains controversial. The Defense Department Inspector General just slammed the state of engine production for the plane.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is already scratching its head trying to figure out what it needs to do next to stay ahead of the rest of the world. Defense analyst Todd Harrison recently mused that the F-35 may be the last war plane with a human in it that the Pentagon ever buys. The military has already tested a pilotless plane. Last year, the X-47B landed on an aircraft carrier at sea.
Bottom line the Chinese are still in the rear view mirror, but for how long? Don’t be surprised if red pilots are chasing down Maverick in Top Gun 2.