“…Beforehand, reports about the test flight of the jet, which could potentially evade detection by foes, in the southwest Chinese city of Chengdu had been widely circulated on Chinese Internet blogs and online news sites.

They showed pictures of a fighter plane in flight and some offered what were cast as running accounts of the J-20 stealth jet fighter taking off after midday for a short flight from an airport in Chengdu.

The website of the Global Times, a popular newspaper owned by the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s main paper, featured a brief report headlined: “J-20 first flight successful”. It published a link to what it said were pictures of the flight (here)…” Source: Reuters

China Stealth Test Upstages Gates, Hu


China’s first test flight of its stealth fighter Tuesday overshadowed a mission to China by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to repair frayed military relations, and prompted concern about whether President Hu Jintao and the civilian leadership are fully in control of the increasingly powerful armed forces.

U.S. officials said that President Hu appeared to be taken by surprise when Mr. Gates asked him about the test flight during a meeting, hours after pictures and accounts of it began appearing online.

Analysts said that would be an embarrassment for China’s top leader—who in theory controls the military as chairman of the Central Military Commission—just as Chinese officials anxiously try to make sure Mr. Hu’s planned trip to the U.S. next week goes smoothly.

If the military deliberately kept Mr. Hu in the dark, that would reinforce concerns that hawkish elements in the military are increasingly driving China’s foreign policy—including ties with the U.S.—and that they are trying to enhance their power in China’s domestic politics ahead of a leadership transition next year.

“It was clear the civilian leadership was uninformed” of the J-20 test, said a senior U.S. defense official after the meeting between Mr. Gates and Mr. Hu…

The J-20, which has been conducting runway tests for the past several weeks, took off from an airstrip at the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute just before 1 p.m. local time and flew for about 15 minutes, according to Chinese bloggers.

Bloggers also posted video and still images of the sleek, dark-gray, twin-engine plane—which looks similar to the U.S. F-22, the world’s only fully operational stealth fighter—taking off and in flight in slightly hazy skies over a built-up area surrounding the airfield.

Military aviation experts say the images suggest that China is making faster-than-expected progress in developing a potential rival to the F-22 and the Russian T-50 which made its first test flight last year…

Mr. Hu’s apparent lack of information is likely to fuel international concern that he and the other eight civilians who make up the Party’s Politburo Standing Committee—China’s top decision-making body—are losing some of their control over the PLA.

“It suggests worrying levels of assertiveness and defiance of civilian leadership within the PLA,” said Rory Medcalf, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.

“This revelation confirms that the PLA is willing to take provocative, assertive steps regardless of diplomatic priorities—perhaps even in deliberate opposition to them.”

…But after two decades of rapid military modernization, many Western and Chinese analysts say some factions within the PLA are pushing a hard-line agenda, which is having increasing impact on decision making in Beijing, especially in the run-up to the party leadership change in 2012.

While opinions aren’t uniform within the military, some analysts speculate that nationalist generals are now feeling their power, as they’re courted by prospective members of the incoming ruling elite, and are using that as leverage to influence foreign policy.

That agenda was apparent in China’s more forceful stance last year on territorial disputes in the East and South China seas, and in hawkish public statements from serving generals and other senior officers, which often pre-empted comments from the civilian leadership.

It is not the first time that gaps have appeared between the military and political hierarchies. A lack of communication was also highlighted on Jan. 11, 2007, when China shocked the world by shooting down a disused satellite with a missile—and the Foreign Ministry appeared not to have been informed.

Later that year, the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk was temporarily denied permission for a long-planned port call in Hong Kong—apparently again without the Foreign Ministry’s awareness—an incident that Mr. Gates said afterward also suggested a “disconnect” between the military and civilian sides of the Chinese government…

Mr. Gates arrived in Beijing Sunday on a three-day mission to deepen and stabilize military exchanges that China has repeatedly suspended for political reasons, most recently in January 2010 over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

However, China’s military appears to be doing the bare minimum to revive military ties and ensure Mr. Hu’s visit goes smoothly, while at the same time showcasing its growing firepower before a domestic and international audience, analysts say.

On Monday, Mr. Gates’s Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liang Guanglie, rebuffed a U.S. proposal for a clear timetable of deeper strategic defense talks, and made clear that China would suspend military ties again if the U.S. sold more arms to Taiwan…

China ‘Developing Military Spacecraft’

Chosun (Daily News from Korea)

China is making progress in building an “upper-atmosphere” jet fighter, an official said last week, adding to a flurry of speculation about China’s growing air power.

Hong Kong’s Ming Pao daily on Tuesday said Shaanxi TV last Saturday quoted acting provincial governor Zhao Zhengyong as saying China has “succeeded in the test flight of a prototype aircraft that can fly through the atmospheric layer.” Zhao was visiting a state-run aircraft corporation at Xi’an high-tech industrial development zone.

The channel showed images of a prototype space fighter being assembled whose outward appearance was almost identical to a U.S. pilotless upper-atmosphere military spaceship, the X-37B, the daily said.

In April last year, the U.S. successfully tested the X-37B, which is about a quarter of the size of existing spacecraft.

The daily said China’s development of the aircraft was leaked to the pres like recent stories about its new stealth fighter dubbed the J-20, but authorities were “deleting all Internet posts about the space fighter.”

The Ming Pao and the Zhongguo Pinglun (China Review), a news website in Hong Kong, posted an article headlined “China succeeds in spacecraft test flight in tandem with U.S. X-37B” until early Tuesday, but no mainland Chinese media websites mentioned anything about it.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that in a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday he expressed concerns about China’s test flight of a prototype of the J-20 during his visit. But Hu assured him the timing is not related to his visit, he added.

China’s official Xinhua news agency reported a J-20 took off around 12:50 p.m. and landed at 1:11 p.m. after a successful flight of about 18 minutes on Tuesday.” It showed 23 stills of the fighter flying over an urban area or in maintenance.

Gates’ visit achieved maximum exposure for the images. The U.S. defense secretary had earlier said the Chinese stealth fighter would not be ready until about 2020.

Anti-Stealth Sensors to Tackle Chinese and Russian LO Designs

Aviation Week – Posted by David A. Fulghum

…“It’s too early to tell the true status of the Chinese AESA program,” says a Washington-based intelligence official. “We’ve seen lots of press and airshow info on the program, but that doesn’t automatically translate into a robust development or give us an accurate look at where the PRC is as far as fielding one anytime soon.

“Like the [high-performance] engine, it’ll be a challenge to take the step from older radars to one designed for a 5th-Gen fighter,” he says. “Again, though, the J-20 is just the first or second — depending on whom you believe — prototype into a very long development program.”A two-seat J-10 fighter acted as chase plane for the J-20 during the flight.

Photographs show the J-20 flying at shallow angles of attack and with its undercarriage extended. An observer posting minute-by-minute reports of proceedings to the Global Times, apparently from the fence at Avic’s Chengdu facility, said at 12:50:08 local time (04:50:08 GMT) that the aircraft had begun moving, following a second later with “accelerating” and at 12:50:16 “flying”. The landing was reported 18 minutes later…

“Chinese military [sources] are saying that the first test pilot for the new Chinese fighter is Liang Wanjun,” the analyst says. “He has previously test flown the J-7, J-10 and JF-17. Liang has a total of 2,300 flying hours, joined the PLAAF in 1982 and became a test pilot in 1998.

It is unclear whether the J-20 is a prototype or only a technology demonstrator. Either way, it is not the only program for an advanced combat aircraft…

“The J-20 is reminiscent of the Russian MiG 1.42 both in terms of planform, and also with regard to the rear fuselage configuration,” says Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies. “The most obvious difference is the greater forward fuselage shaping as the basis for low observable characteristics, along with the different engine intake configuration. The MiG program was cancelled by the Russian government around 1997.”

Others note that the planform also has a resemblance to Sweden’s SAAB Viggen.

Another issue that will continue to surround all stealth designs is how long will current stealth designs offer invulnerability as air defenses adopt even larger and more powerful AESA radars. From the early days of AESA development, a key goal was to build a radar that can detect a very small object like a cruise missile at a distance great enough to target and shoot it down or a larger object like a fighter with a very low observable treatment…

The Strategic Impact of the J-XX [J-20] Stealth Fighter

Air Power Australia – By Dr Carlo Kopp

…In any conflict involving China, a well sized fleet of mature production J-XX [J-20] would have significant freedom of action to attack and destroy aerial and surface targets throughout the geography of the Second Island Chain. Pre-emptive strikes such as those flown in previous conflicts by US Air Force B-2A and F-117A stealth aircraft, intended to cripple and thus paralyse IADS and C3I systems, would present a genuine and very serious risk in any standoff or escalated contingency.

Moreover, with a robust payload of satellite/inertial guided bombs, a multirole or strike derivative production J-XX [J-20] would have significant capability to shut down United States and allied airfields across the Second Island Chain, in a manner no different to that envisaged by the US Air Force as a prime role for the GBU-39/53 Small Diameter Bomb armed F-22A Raptor – and proposed FB-22. No differently, US Navy CVBGs are at significant risk, adding to the risks posed by the DF-21D ASBM.

Unlike ballistic missile terminal stages which present terminal guidance challenges in accuracy, and warhead mass limitations, guided bombs delivered by aircraft can be extremely precise and have large warheads, with significant capability to penetrate reinforced concrete, or warship hulls, and high explosive filler payloads of up to many hundreds of kilograms.

As the PLA-AF and PLA-N have access to over 200 airfields, most semi-hardened, some well hardened, and a few super-hardened and deep underground, dispersal and continuous relocation of a J-XX [J-20] fleet is a feasible deployment strategy, and one which presents genuine difficulties in countering with pre-emptive air or cruise missile strikes.

The supersonic cruise capability and large fuel capacity of the J-XX [J-20] would permit it to be based deeper inside China’s territory, compared to older types, further complicating efforts to close down or destroy airfields from which the J-XX [J-20] may be operating, as significant penetration into China’s increasingly dense and sophisticated IADS would be required to hit such sites. As the J-XX [J-20] will have close to twice the productivity, in sortie rates achievable compared to conventional non-supercruise types, basing the aircraft deeper inside the IADS would not impair productivity in the manner it would for subsonic cruising types.

In terms of China’s ability to manufacture and deploy significant numbers of the J-XX [J-20] it is worth observing that in terms of raw “bang for buck” China’s defence industry is outperforming the United States’ industry by a robust margin. The oft quoted comparisons between the United States and PRC defence budgets produce a misleading picture of the relative scale of investments, especially in terms of equipment recapitalisation.

Chinese aggregate defence budgets as cited reflect primarily capital equipment acquisition and support costs, while many infrastructure and personnel costs are born by regional governments. United States budgets tend to carry a significant fraction of operational costs which have been unusually high over the last decade due to the ongoing global conflict with Islamo-fascist insurgent movements.

The woeful inefficiency of many portions of the United States defence industry, and procurement bureaucracy, is best exemplified by the fact that the underperforming single engine F-35 is now more expensive than the larger and much better twin engine F-22 Raptor, in terms of Unit Procurement Costs. Many other United States programs display similar symptoms, with overpriced and frequently underperforming products.

China has a much healthier manufacturing industry than the United States, and a larger pool of highly skilled personnel, in a job market where personnel costs are tightly controlled. China’s ability to rapidly develop both the sophisticated J-XX [J-20] and complex KJ-2000 AWACS over the last decade, with little prior depth in the basic technologies involved, shows an efficient and effective R&D environment, and supporting manufacturing base.

The Chengdu J-XX [J-20] thus represents a techno-strategic coup by China, and if deployed in large numbers in a mature configuration, a genuine strategic coup against the United States and its Pacific Rim allies. The development of the Chengdu J-XX [J-20] represents an excellent case study of a well thought out “symmetrical techno-strategic response” to the United States’ deployment of stealthy combat aircraft, which no differently to the United States’ play in the late Cold War and post Cold War period, elicits a disproportionate response in materiel investment to effectively counter.

The only US design with the kinematic performance, stealth performance and sensor capability to be able to confront the J-20 [J-XX] with viable combat lethality and survivability is the F-22A Raptor, or rather, evolved and enhanced variants of the existing configuration of this aircraft.

The US Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is outclassed in every respect, and would be as ineffective against a mature J-XX [J-20] as it is against the F-22A Raptor.

All variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be equally so outclassed, assuming this failed project even progresses to any kind of actual production.

All US Air Force, US Navy and allied legacy fighters are outclassed in much the same manner, and are ineffective kinematically and in sensor capability against this class of threat system.

The extant IADS technology base of the US Army and Navy and their sister services in Pacific Rim allied nations will be largely ineffective, requiring the replacement of most if not all acquisition radars with VHF-band AESA technology replacements designed to defeat S/X/Ku-band stealth capabilities.

From the perspectives of both technological strategy and military grand strategy, the J-XX [J-20] is the final nail in the coffin of the utterly failed “Gates recapitalisation plan” for United States and allied tactical fighter fleets. Apologists for the “Gates fighter recapitalisation plan” will no doubt concoct a plethora of reasons as to why the J-XX [J-20] should be ignored, as they did exactly one year ago when the Russians unveiled the T-50 PAK-FA stealth fighter.

The material reality is simple. If the United States does not reverse course in its tactical air fleet and air defence recapitalisation planning, the United States will lose the Pacific Rim to China, with all of the practical and grand strategic consequences which follow from that.

Related Links:


China’s Eyes in the Skies

CTBA (Briefing): Sustaining America’s Strategic Advantage in Long-Range Strike (PDF)(35 PAGES)

CTBA (Full Report): Sustaining America’s Strategic Advantage in Long-Range Strike (PDF)(108 PAGES)

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