China, in an event symbolic of its push for rapid military modernization, has rolled out the J-20, the country's first stealth jet fighter. Only the U.S. and Russian air forces possess operational stealth fighters. China's military is showing off the J-20 in public test flights that have attracted, perhaps as hoped, the close attention of media outlets across the Pacific. Though U.S. analysts and reporters agree that the J-20 tests signal China's determination to develop the ability to project "world power" class military force, they differ on the extent to which China has reached that goal or will be able to do so in the near future . However, analysts largely downplay concerns that this signals a Chinese "threat" to U.S. military hegemony. Here's what they have to say.
- 'New Policy of Deterrence' The New York Times' Michael Wines and Edward Wong write that "some analysts say the timing is no coincidence," and that the Chinese "'want to show the U.S., show Mr. Gates, their muscle.' These days, there is more muscle to show. A decade of aggressive modernization of China’s once creaky military is beginning to bear fruit, and both the Pentagon and China’s Asian neighbors are increasingly taking notice."
- China Still 20+ Years Behind U.S. and Russia RIA Novosti's Ilya Kramni writes, "Since the 1970s, China has consistently lagged 15 to 20 years behind the world leaders in aircraft manufacturing. This was true of their third- and fourth-generation aircraft, and this appears to be the case with its fifth-generation fighter plane." The U.S. equivalent, for example, was first built 20 years ago, and the J-20 is still at least 10 years away from production. "Despite the strides made by China's aircraft designers in the last 20 years, China has only slightly narrowed the technological gap dividing it from the global leaders."
- Shows U.S. Shouldn't Lower Defense Spending "China has a long way to go before it approaches parity with the U.S.," Commentary's Max Boot explains--"but then again, it doesn't need parity. Much of our military spending goes to enable operations thousands of miles from home. China, by contrast, seems to lack global ambitions, at least for the moment. It is concerned with dominating its region. And that does not require that it match U.S. military capacity across the board. All it has to do is raise the cost to the U.S. of taking action to keep in check Chinese expansionism, whereas the U.S. must worry not only about the threat from China but also about North Korea, Iran, al-Qaeda, Somalia, Yemen, and myriad other concerns."
- Only Has 1.5 of 11 Required Elements Military aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia tells Defense Tech that there are 11 essential elements for an effective stealth jet fighter. The J-20 offers one item from this list (#7). I'm not convinced that the PLAAF has any other items from this list, although China seems to be making some progress with #9." Here's number seven: "An airframe with low-observable characteristics." And number nine: "Sophisticated and reliable precision guided weaponry."
- J-20 Less Important Than Military Proficiency Wired's Spencer Ackerman cites Navy intelligence chief Vice Adm. Jack Dorsett in writing, "Looking at China's new military hardware misses the broader picture. The real issue is how well all the different Chinese military elements knit together, much as the U.S.’s do. 'I don’t see China with those capabilities right now,' Dorsett says. 'I see them delivering individual components, individual weapons systems, those things are being developed. But until they acquire that proficiency, the question is how competent are they going to be.'"
- China's Long-Term Intent Still Unclear The Center for New American Security's Abraham Denmark tells the New York Times, "When we talk about a threat, it's a combination of capabilities and intentions. ... The capabilities are becoming more and more clearly defined, and they’re more and more clearly targeted at limiting American abilities to project military power into the western Pacific." However, "What’s unclear to us is the intent. China's military modernization is certainly their right. What others question is how that military power is going to be used."
- Proves China's Potential for Military Innovation Aviation Week's Bill Sweetman says the J-20 should belie "the idea that Communists are unimaginative bureaucrats who can't innovate their way out of a wet paper bag. ... China's military engineers and planners have unintentionally reinforced this image over the decades, preferring to upgrade Soviet-era systems rather than developing new platforms. But that tends to obscure the fact that (to take one example) the latest version of the HQ-2 surface-to-air missile bears only an external resemblance to the Soviet V-750." However, "Since the current military modernization started, new [Chinese] weapons have been increasingly innovative."