China Didn’t Get the Memo

The appearance of what is being called the J-20—China’s new stealthy looking aircraft—seemingly beats predictions by Defense Secretary Robert Gates as to when China would join the stealth club. Justifying his decision to halt F-22 Raptor production at 187 airframes—less than half the Air Force’s stated need—Gates said in June 2009 that, in 2020, the United States would have “roughly 1,200” stealth combat aircraft while “the Chinese will have zero.” Gates went on to say that five years later, in 2025, China would have “a few hundred” stealth aircraft, while the US would have 1,700. Just two months earlier, in April 2009, Gates reported seeing intelligence that Russia would achieve initial operating capability with a fifth generation fighter in 2016, while China would lag by four more years. A Gates spokesmen did not provide a comment by press time. The most recent official US multi-agency report on Chinese military capabilities, the annual report to Congress issued in August, was utterly silent on the subject of a stealth capability for China, speaking only in broad terms about how China is pursuing “anti access” and “area denial” capabilities.