For a stealth fighter, the PLA’s new J-20 aircraft is certainly getting a lot of exposure. Chinese bloggers report the plane has made its first test flight, a 23-minute whirl with landing gear down, apparently, above the Chengdu airfield where the fighter had also been seen last week taxing on a runway (see video above). Pictures of the test flight are plentiful. There is also a video clip. Less clear is how much of a prototype it is that the PLA has got into the air. China has previously said it doesn’t expects the plane to be battle-ready until between 2017 and 2019.
Left to their own devices, all militaries, and the PLA in particular, cloak in strict secrecy such additions of cutting-edge military technologies to their forces. While the PLA has made no public comment about the J-20, such blogging couldn’t have been possible without some official facilitation. It is also surely no coincidence that the flight took place during the four-day visit of the U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates met his counterpart, Liang Guanglie and other leaders including President Hu Jintao, who confirmed the J-20 flight to Gates, but also said it was a long planned test date.
There was little progress in easing the strains on this particular strand of the Sino-American relationship. Gates repeated that China’s military build up remains a leading security concern of Washington’s; Liang responded that the PLA’s modernization was appropriate given China’s growth. Gates asked for more formal strategic dialogue between Washington and Beijing on security issues. He received no more than a offer to set up a committee to study the proposal.