- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2011

China’s stealth jet

The Pentagon is scrambling to explain what appears to be an intelligence failure after Internet photos made public recently showed a faster-than-estimated advance of China’s new fifth-generation warplane.

U.S. intelligence estimates previously concluded the jet, dubbed the J-20, will not be deployed until 2020.

Vice Adm. David Dorsett, director of Naval Intelligence, told a group of defense reporters on Wednesday that the new Chinese fighter program was not a surprise, but “the speed at which they are making progress … we underestimated.”

“Across a broad array of weapons systems, they are making progress,” the three-star admiral said.

Progress on the J-20 is among several other Chinese military developments that U.S. intelligence agencies have been accused of missing over the past decade. Others include the failure to detect a new class of Chinese submarine called the Yuan and shortcomings related to Beijing’s long-range cruise missiles and a new anti-ship ballistic missile.

Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan confirmed to Inside the Ring that recent photos of a new Chinese jet show “taxiing tests” on a prototype aircraft apparently photographed by people who saw it pass by.

“This is evidence that a fifth-generation fighter program is proceeding,” Col. Lapan said.

“However, progress appears to be uneven: Open-source reports show that China has been seeking jet engines for its fourth-generation fighter from Russia, indicating that they are still encountering some difficulties in working toward fifth-generation capabilities,” he said.

The faster development of the J-20 was first discussed by Chinese Gen. He Weirong, deputy commander of the Chinese air force last year. He predicted deployment as earlier as 2017.

The jet is expected to rival the U.S. F-22 superfighter whose production was canceled by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates after 187 jets were built. In scrapping the F-22, Mr. Gates stated publicly that one reason for his decision was that the Chinese would not deploy a comparable jet until 2020, thus more F-35 jets would be built instead of the more capable F-22.

Richard Fisher, a military analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center who was among the first to spot the J-20 photos months ago, said the aircraft is manufactured by the Chengdu Aircraft Co.

“Chengdu’s goal is to beat the F-22 and then build their own F-35 when the 18-ton thrust engine is ready. It is a full challenge to the U.S. strategy for air power,” Mr. Fisher said.

Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations are to blame for not continuing production of the F-22, which is needed if there is ever a conflict with China over Taiwan, he said.

“Absent a better combat aircraft, this constitutes one of the most serious U.S. intelligence and leadership failures since the end of the Cold War,” Mr. Fisher said.

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