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China builds its own stealth fighter

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BEIJING — China appears to have completed a prototype of its first stealth fighter, highlighting Beijing’s military modernization drive, but experts said Wednesday the jet will not be operational for years to come.

Photographs published online and Chinese military sources cited by the Japanese media indicate a test model of the J-20 fighter has been finished, with taxi tests carried out last week at an airfield in southwestern China.

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The news comes just days before a visit to Beijing by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will seek to mend military ties cut off a year ago by China when Washington sold billions of dollars in arms to its rival Taiwan.

Experts say the J-20 will eventually rival the US Air Force’s F-22, the world’s only fully operational next-generation stealth fighter jet — but not any time soon.

The J-20 “will become fully competitive with the F-22, in capability and perhaps in numbers, around the end of this decade,” Rick Fisher, an expert on the Chinese military at the International Assessment and Strategy Centre, a US think tank, told AFP.

Dennis Blasko, an expert on the People’s Liberation Army — the world’s largest military force — said the timeline for development of the jet was “probably considerably longer than what most outside observers would estimate”.

China plans to begin test flights of the J-20 as soon as this month, with plans to deploy the jet as early as 2017, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper said, quoting Chinese military sources.

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The fighter will be equipped with large missiles and could reach the island of Guam, a US territory in the western Pacific, with aerial refueling, although it would take 10 to 15 more years to develop technology on a par with that of the US F-22, it said.

In late 2009, the deputy head of China’s air force, General He Weirong, said the country’s stealth fighter would be operational sometime between 2017 and 2019, reports said.

Officials at China’s defense ministry declined immediate comment when contacted by AFP about the reports.

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Western military experts expressed doubts over how far the PLA had progressed with the J-20 program.

“I have yet to see proof of a test flight. And testing for a prototype can take quite some time before production begins,” Blasko said.

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Other than the United States and China, only a handful of countries are working on so-called next-generation stealth fighters.

In January 2010, Russia unveiled a new aircraft touted as a rival to the US jet, developed by Sukhoi. According to Fisher, Japan has a homegrown programme, while India is cooperating with Russia.

The news about the J-20 comes at a key moment in Sino-US relations, with Gates due in Beijing on Sunday and Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit Washington later this month.

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US military officials and strategists see Beijing as a potential threat to Washington’s once unrivaled dominance of the Pacific. Ahead of the visit by Gates, contacts had only resumed at a technical level.

Fisher indeed predicted that the J-20 could become a “serious threat to US air superiority in Asia before the end of the decade”.

China’s massive annual military spending also has aroused concern among its neighbors. Japan last month labeled Beijing’s military build-up a global “concern”, citing its increased assertiveness in the East and South China Seas.

China has repeatedly insisted its military growth does not pose any threat.

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Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said last week that China was currently beefing up its navy, air force and strategic missile forces, while decreasing its ground forces.

According to defense industry publication Aviation Week, the J-20 is larger than observers expected — suggesting a long-range capacity and the ability to carry heavy weapons loads.

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WATCH: Trump wonders if he should start taking insulin

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On Tuesday, at a press conference, President Donald Trump mused aloud whether he should start taking insulin.

"I don’t use insulin. Should I be? Huh? I never thought about it," he said.

"But I know a lot of people are very badly affected, right?" he added a second later. "Unbelievable."

Insulin is a crucial hormone the regulates blood sugar. People who are afflicted with Type 1 diabetes are incapable of producing it in their pancreas, and thus must administer it to themselves regularly through injections or pumps.

Watch below:

Trump muses about using insulin just for fun pic.twitter.com/PWvEhEcmTM

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‘Exonerated Five’ member warns of a ‘dangerous time’ after latest Central Park incident

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On CNN Tuesday, Yusef Salaam, one of the members of the Exonerated Five, warned about the implications of recent racist incidents to the state of civil rights in America.

"I want to ask you, in the course of the last couple of days we've covered this story, we've covered the story of a man who died after police put him in a hold with a knee to the neck. Yesterday I spoke with an African-American journalist who covered the Kentucky governor being hung in effigy, with people doing it who didn't seem to understand why that was problematic," said anchor Brianna Keilar. "And I just wonder what that says to you, after all of these decades, about where the country is."

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SpaceX readies for blast-off with NASA astronauts aboard

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Gray skies loomed over Florida's Atlantic coast Tuesday, just one day before two astronauts were set to blast off aboard a SpaceX capsule on the most dangerous and prestigious mission NASA has ever entrusted to a private company.

There was a 60 percent chance for favorable weather for Wednesday's flight, according to Tuesday's latest Cape Canaveral forecast.

US astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have been in strict quarantine for two weeks ahead of their trip on the brand-new Crew Dragon capsule, which will be propelled by a Falcon 9 rocket.

Both the capsule and the rocket were manufactured by SpaceX, the start-up founded in 2002 by the then-thirty-something Elon Musk, a brilliant and brash Mars-obsessive who made his fortune with PayPal and also created the famous Tesla electric cars.

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