Saturday, January 08, 2011

China offers peek at J-20 stealth fighter

By Bruce Rolfsen - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Jan 8, 2011 10:17:59 EST

China's new stealth fighter looks like a bigger F-22. A government-run newspaper published photos of the J-20 along with a story in its Jan. 5 editions, lending credence to speculation by defense experts worldwide that China is making faster-than-expected progress on a rival to the Raptor. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has suggested a Chinese stealth fighter would not be a threat to the U.S. until 2020.

Air Force officials refused to comment on the J-20, although they weighed in a year ago when Russia's stealth fighter, dubbed the T-50, made its maiden flight. Secretary Michael Donley and the commanders of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Pacific Air Forces — Gen. Roger Brady and Gen. Gary North, respectively —discussed the airplane at an Air Force Association conference.

"I didn't see anything… that would cause me to rethink plans for the F-22 or the F-35," Donley said. One of Brady's remarks: "It looks like a plane we've seen before," referring to the F-22. From North: "I guess the greatest flattery is how much they copy you."

The Navy and the Pentagon, however, addressed the J-20.

"Over the years, the Chinese military doctrine was one of hide and bide — hide your military resources and bide your time," Vice Adm. David Dorsett, the Navy's top intelligence officer, told reporters Jan. 5.

Now, Dorsett said, Chinese leaders "appear to have shifted into an area where they're willing to show their resources and capabilities."

The Defense Department isn't worried about the China military, said spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan.

"It is not of concern that they are working on a fifth-generation fighter," Lapan said, since the Chinese are "still having difficulties with their fourth-generation fighter."

The newspaper did not address the authenticity of the photos, which showed up a month ago on unofficial military news websites.

A Washington-based Asia military affairs analyst, though, describes the jet shown in the pictures as "the real deal."

"At first glance this fighter has the potential to be competitive with the F-22 and to be an efficient F-35 killer," said Richard Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, author of the new book, "China's Military Modernization."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.