Aug. 28, 2013—Observers say China's stealth
fighter programs represent a significant leap forward for the Chinese military's
technological capabilities, but differ as to whether these programs pose a
serious threat to the United States.
In late 2010, images surfaced of what
was apparently China's first, fifth generation stealth fighter prototype, the
J-20. At the time, observers highlighted the aircraft's
to that of a decades-old Russian prototype called the MiG 1.42.
In Sept. 2012, photos of what appeared
to be China's newest stealth fighter prototype, the J-31, appeared on the
Internet, followed soon afterward by photos depicting the same aircraft during
an apparent test flight.
Shortly after the public debut of the
J-20 in 2011, US military officials acknowledged that China was
closing in on the United States' technological edge. Rick
Fisher, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center
in Washington, D.C., said that technology gap has narrowed considerably since
"Both programs and their successors
. . . represent an attempt by China to match and exceed the United
States," Fisher told the Daily
Report. "China is not going to settle for parity. Like any great
power, China wants its military to be superior," he said.
Fisher's comments come in the wake of the
release of the Pentagon's 2013 annual report on China's military and security
developments, which stated that China was developing its stealth fighters in
order to "improve its regional airpower projection capabilities and
strengthen its ability to strike regional airbases and facilities."
Fisher believes China's military
capability could eclipse that of the United States by the end of the next
decade. The fifth generation fighter programs are "one part of a much
larger program to build a globally powerful military capability, and eventually
to build a globally dominant military capability," he said.
Other observers seem more ambivalent
Mark Stokes, executive
director of the Project 2049 Institute in Washington, D.C., said in a written response
to the Daily Report that "it's not clear exactly what the PLA [People's
Liberation Army] is doing, and what effect a new fighter would have on air
defense systems in the region." He also noted that China's aviation
industry has tended to be problematic. However, like Fisher, Stokes
acknowledged the advances in China’s military technology.
Ross Babbage, founder
of the Kokoda Foundation in Australia, similarly refrained from drawing
conclusions about China's stealth fighter programs. "I think it's a fairly
straightforward evolution to develop advanced fighters at this time, but you
can't read too much into it in terms of capabilities," he said in an
Associated Press report
late last year.
According to the Pentagon's China
report, China's stealth aircraft are not expected to be operational before
Defense Department’s Afghanistan inspector general recently issued criticism of
the Afghan Air Force C-130 program, questioning the need for the aircraft in
light of low utilization rates.
Despite the sequestration funding cuts, the
military must continue to pursue advances in cyber and directed energy weapons
and continue aggressive research and development, said two key members of the
House Armed Services Committee on July 24 during a Brookings Institution forum
in Washington, D.C.
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