Around the turn of the New Year grainy mobile-phone photos of what appeared to be China’s new J-20 stealth fighter taxiing along the runway in Chenghdu started to emerge on the web.
Skeptics were quick to pick faults with the images and claimed they were fake, however two weeks later, China’s President, Mr. Hu Jintao, confirmed to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the J-20 had begun its testing phase and successfully made its first test flight on January the 10th.
The BBC quoted Mr. Hu saying that the test flight was not timed to coincide with Gates visit, as many had expected.
The test flight lasted around 15 minutes from take-off to landing. As Defense Blog Ares writer Robert Wall points out, it appears that the landing remained extended throughout the flight – however it is a little difficult to tell from the quality of the video clip.
Currently, the U.S. is the only country with a fully operational stealth fighter in its arsenal; however both Russia and China are working to develop their own fighter that is invisible to radar.
The images and video of the J-20 making its test flight ahead of schedule had raised concerns that China could be ready to add a high-tech strike-fighter to its forces quicker than anticipated.
However, as U.S. director of naval intelligence Vice Admiral David Dorsett, pointed out to the BBC, “Developing a stealth capability with a prototype and then integrating that into a combat environment is going to take some time,” [BBC]
Nevertheless, China expects the stealth plane to be operational sometime between 2017 and 2019.
Ares Defense Blog writer Bill Sweetman followed up with some interesting technical analysis of the J-20 – based on what can be seen in the pics – offering several possibilities as to the mission objectives and performance abilities of the J-20