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Chinese Stealth Fighter Completes First Test Flight

January 11, 2011

China’s J-20 stealth fighter made its first public test flight on Tuesday, completing a 15 minute test run over an airfield near the southwestern city of Chengdu, according to various media reports.

Christopher Bodeen of the Associated Press (AP), citing Kanwa Asian Defense magazine editor Andrei Chang as a source, says that the J-20 was followed by its predecessor, a Chinese J-10 fighter, during its test flight. Furthermore, Bodeen reports that photos of the plane, both in flight and on the ground, had surfaced on unofficial Chinese military websites.

The stealth fighter’s inaugural flight came during a visit to Beijing by American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and according to Malcolm Moore of the Telegraph, many feel as though the timing of the test flight was not a coincidence.

“Some experts suggested the flight was designed to show off China’s prowess to Mr. Gates, who has already admitted that US intelligence underestimated the speed of China’s progress and had not expected a functional stealth fighter to have already been completed,” Moore wrote on Tuesday.

“Others suggested that China was merely keen to demonstrate a new-found transparency to Mr. Gates over its military programs,” he added, noting that an unidentified US Defense Department official told him that “the People’s Liberation Army carried out the test flight without informing Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, the head of the China’s Military Commission, or any of the country’s civilian leaders” that the J-20 would be taking flight.

Gates, who is in the country negotiating for improved military ties between the two countries, contradicted those claims, telling Tania Branigan of the Guardian that Chinese President Hu informed him that the test was not planned to coincide with the Secretary’s visit.

“I asked President Hu about it directly, and he said that the test had absolutely nothing to do with my visit and had been a pre-planned test,” Gates told reporters, according to Branigan. “I take President Hu at his word that the test had nothing to do with my visit.”

Earlier this month, photos of the J-20 had leaked, and at that time there was some speculation that the photos had been faked. However, Rick Fisher, a Chinese military export working at the International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC), confirmed that they were “the real deal” in an interview with Defense News. Fisher also told AFP’s Sebastian Blanc said that the J-20 “will become fully competitive with the F-22, in capability and perhaps in numbers, around the end of this decade.”

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