This Bystander is shocked, shocked to find that geo-politics is going on in the region!
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China may have reversed engineered the J-20 stealth fighter it has been ostentatiously leaking pictures of in recent weeks from a U.S. F-117 stealth jet shot down by Serbia in 1999 while on NATO duty during the Kosovo war. That is the implication of remarks by Admiral Davor Domazet-Loso, Croatia’s military chief of staff at the time who says Chinese agents bought up parts from the downed plane, one of the first to have been shot down, from local farmers. (via BBC). “At the time, our intelligence reports told of Chinese agents criss-crossing the region where the F-117 disintegrated,” Domazet-Loso says.
The BBC says a senior Serbian military official confirms that some of the pieces were removed by souvenir collectors, and that some ended up “in the hands of foreign military attaches”. If nothing else, this would all help explain why China and America’s stealth jets look so similar.
China (and Russia) maintained close intelligence links with Serbia during the Kosovo war. Beijing is long thought to have run an intelligence post from inside its Belgrade embassy during the war. The embassy was struck by U.S. bombs barely a month after the F-117 was shot down. The U.S. maintained the attack, which was orchestrated by the CIA and in which three people died and 20 were injured, was an accident, the intended target being a Serbian arms warehouse a quarter of a mile away. While we have absolutely no evidence to think otherwise, we do now wonder.
Update: State media have refuted the allegation that the J-20 is based on a downed F-117. The Global Times quotes test pilot Xu Yongling as saying that “the J-20 is a masterpiece of China’s technological innovation”. He adds that it would have been impossible for China to glean technology from the F-117, whose stealth technology lags far behind fourth-generation fighters and was regarded as ‘outdated’ even when it was shot down. The same article quotes an unnamed defence ministry official as saying “it’s not the first time foreign media has smeared newly unveiled Chinese military technologies. It’s meaningless to respond to such speculations.”
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.