The Diplomat (August 16) published an analysis that a recent officially released photo of China's 5th generation fighter J-20 with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bore a serial number indicating it belonged to a frontline combat unit.  The J-20 was announced to have entered service by the PLAAF in late 2016, and then subsequently to have “been commissioned with combat troops” in February 2018. These announcements likely referred to the J-20 being activated in the Flight Test and Training Base in Dingxin and the Flight Training Base in Cangzhou, respectively. These two units are sometimes referred to as 176th brigade and 172nd brigade respectively, but are more often referred to as simply “Dingxin” and “Cangzhou.” The unit in Dingxin has the role of developing and testing tactics, while Cangzhou serves the role of advanced training and as a combat reserve unit. Therefore, J-20s officially “entered PLAAF service” when Dingxin activated J-20s around late 2016, while J-20s entered service with “combat troops” in February 2018 when Cangzhou received their J-20s. Rumors from late 2018 to early 2019 suggested the first regular frontline PLAAF unit to receive J-20s would be the 9th brigade located in Wuhu, under the Eastern Theater Command. A few video clips and pictures taken in early 2019 from the area suggested J-20s had indeed begun arriving at Wuhu, and satellite pictures taken of the 9th brigade in April demonstrated at least three J-20s were present at the unit. However, the picture released from the PLA of a J-20 with serial 62001 was the first clear evidence of a J-20 belonging to 9th brigade, fully confirming J-20’s status in a combat unit.

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