China reportedly tests stealth fighter
Central News Agency
Hong Kong, Jan. 11 (CNA) China test-flew a J-20 fighter, its version of the stealth jet, for the first time Tuesday, according to a military observer.
Andrei Pinkov, founder and editor-in-chief of the Canada-based Kanwa Asian Defense monthly, told CNA that the test flight lasted for 15 minutes, with the stealth escorted by J-10 fighters.
He said the first test flight of the J-20, described by China as its fourth-generation fighter, was originally scheduled for Jan. 7, but bad weather led to a delay.
"It was not a pure test flight of any kind, for it was obviously aimed at showing off China's military power to the United States, " according to Pinkov.
Photos of the test flight were posted on several Chinese military websites.
Meanwhile in Beijing, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry refused to confirm that the flight took place.
"It is normal for any country to upgrade its military weapons and equipment to meet the needs for safeguarding national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, " Hung Lei said at a press conference.
But according to a report by Reuters from Beijing that Chinese President Hu Jintao confirmed to visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that China had on Tuesday conducted its first test-flight of a stealth fighter jet.
Pictures of the prototype J-20 stealth fighter first appeared on several websites earlier this month after the U.S.-based Aviation Week reported that the aircraft had been undergoing taxiing tests late last month at an airfield in Chengdu, western China.
The debut of the J-20 was announced in November 2009 by Gen. He Weirong, deputy commander of the People's Liberation Army Air Force, during an interview on Chinese TV.
The general said the "fourth-generation" stealth fighter would be launched in 2010-2011 and would become operational by 2017-2019, according to the weekly.
Pinkov said that although the J-20 might not be on a par with its counterparts in the U.S. and Russia in terms of technical levels and performance, it still represents a major breakthrough in China's aircraft manufacturing capability.
One of the J-20's drawbacks, according to Pinkov, is that it is not capable of supersonic navigation.
"J-20s might not meet the norms of fourth-generation fighters in either the U.S. or Russia. Rather they are fourth-generation fighters with Chinese characteristics, " he said.
"Large improvements are expected for the Chinese stealth in the next 10-15 years, and it will then be neck-and-neck with, or even exceed, its U.S. and Russian counterparts once China develops more advanced power and radar systems, " Pinkov said. (By Stanley Cheung & Bear Lee) ENDITEM/J
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