Today the internet was abuzz over photos of a new J-20 “stealth fighter” in China. The pictures were leaked through the internet and later appeared on “Global Times” in both Chinese and English. To the amateur eye, the Chinese fighter looks similar to the F-22 Raptor built by the United States military. Some are citing the photos as evidence of China’s growing investment in the military. China has always had a very large military, but also lagged behind when it comes to technological advances. A true “stealth fighter” would be a tremendous advancement for the Chinese in a short time. Still, U.S. military officials seem unfazed by the development.
A stealth fighter is considered much harder to defend against, given its inherent ability to hide from radar. No one knows if the J-20 jet shown in the photo is actually operational. All the photos only show the plane taxing on the ground, not flying in the air. Even if the fighter does fly, it is another question as to whether it is truly “stealthy” enough to avoid United States radar systems.
Some believe the Chinese might have purposefully leaked the photos ahead of the upcoming visit by United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Analysts point out that the photos are still appearing on Chinese news sites, which are heavily censored by the Chinese government. Marine Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the military is not concerned about China’s development of a fifth-generation fighter since they are “still having difficulties with their fourth-generation fighter.” According to defense officials, the Chinese stealth fighter would not be operational until 2018. The United States already has multiple stealth fighters and bomber operations, and could very well be developing other planes in secret.
The bigger concern is the development of other technologies by the Chinese. Most notably, the development of a Chinese supersonic anti-ship missile could endanger the United States aircraft carrier fleets. American military power is largely reliant on the ability to use the “floating air bases” of carriers to establish air superiority. For instance, if the Chinese were ever to attack Taiwan, the United States would move one of their carrier fleets down from Japan to try and defend the island. If the Chinese were able to destroy an aircraft carrier with their new missiles, it would greatly limit the ability of the United States military to assert their influence. The Chinese are also known to be developing methods to attack through cyber-warfare, which could be devastating, given the reliance on computer communications by every advanced military.
Still, the Chinese lag far behind America when it comes to the most frightening weapon of all. Even with the ratification of the new START Treaty, the United States will have 1,550 nuclear warheads that can be delivered via inter-continental ballistic missiles, stealth planes, or cruse missiles from ships or submarines. The Chinese are believed to have less than 200 nuclear warheads, and much less sophisticated means to deliver them.