It would appear that China is getting jiggy with the 21st Century. News broke a few hours ago [as of this post 12AM EST 1-14-2011] that China had decided it was time to unveil a new stealth aircraft. The release of this aircraft would coincide with the visit from Defense Secretary Gates to the nation earlier Yesterday. Eyewitness report that they saw the aircraft take off, fly around for about 15 minutes and return to the ground [source].
Now, the fun part of course is trying to make a big deal about what China happens to be doing with a stealth aircraft. One of the biggest things that we had going for us in the United States was the thought that we were currently the worlds only owners of Generation 5 Aircraft [The F-22 Raptor and JSF - 35 both primarily spearhead by Lockheed Martin]. It was rumored some time ago that someone had bothered to break through the Pentagon’s various levels of security and extracted data on the JSF 35 [which would be the US's most advanced fighter Jet] [source], so it’s not to hard to imagine that some of the more critical components of stealth technology might be floating around. In addition to this, we know of a few incidents in the various wars during the 90′s in which we lost F-117′s [source].
It may have taken some 20 to 30 years, but it seems like another world power has finally caught up to us in terms of fighter technology. Now, the interesting thing here is that people are quick to dismiss China’s military might because their Navy just can’t do the same dance that ours can having only one carrier that they bought from the Russians. I feel that this kind of condemnation probably isn’t worth it in the long run, I mean let’s be honest here. The US Navy isn’t all that effective as a true fighting weapon anymore [source]. The basic idea was that while the idea of a Carrier was fantastic in World War 2 before the dawn of the Jet Engine, with weapons that can move faster than any defensive armament above a carrier or any member of the carrier battle groups can respond [including weapons like the Phalanx]; The notion that a Carrier Group is safe against an opponent with even a smidgen of military might be insane.
Add to this another article [source] about a naval exercise that was conducted back in 2002 between some Navy Brass and a retired marine commander. The Marine commander decided to use suicide techniques in order to do damage to naval forces in the simulation and ended up destroying or crippling a good percentage of the Naval Fleet in the simulation. In response, the Navy decided that the tactics were OP [over powered for non gamers] and demanded that the test be done again without such tactics. The Marine commander involved in the War Games would resign as a result of them.
All of this leads me to one central point, and that is that China may not be investing in a Navy because they know that it’s not actually a valid point to sink money into. The US has been staying with the Navy because we built a massive one during World War 2, and we would feel just foolish if we ever got the nerve to mothball it. So, my theory is that China is catching up in the one area that pretty much ensured we would have the advantage in any event of conventional warfare.
The Generation 5 Fighter craft is the pride and joy of the US military. Sure they may be proud of the Marines, the Army, or even the Coast Guard, but the truth of the matter is that no one quite gets funding like the Air Force does. This may be due to the fact that they don’t have so many people to spend money on, or perhaps because it’s the most advanced way with which to fight a war. Either way, the key to our success in air combat has been our ability to utterly dominate the enemy since the creation of things like the F-14 and it’s family of aircraft.
Because the F-14 and the likes were able to outpace most of the Russian MiGs, it allowed us to retain control of the skies in most of the conflicts that we entered. The opposing forces who chose to engage us knew that they would stand no chance even with a fleet of Russian MiGs against even a carrier’s worth of F-14′s. We extended this game to the modern-day always out doing ourselves with things like the F-15, F-22, JSF-35, and so on and so forth. It was only a matter of time before someone finally caught up to us, and if the Plane launched in China is even a minor match for the JSF-35 / F-22 than it could mean massive bits of trouble for the US.
We’ve always been able to avoid even thinking about the Nuclear option with smaller groups because we were already well above their technological level. When you’re dealing with forces like China, not only do they have a Nuclear option, but the unveiling of this aircraft could mean that they also happen to be able to compete with us in a more traditional warfare sense, which probably scared the living Bejesus [assuming the US wasn't already aware] out of US Defense Analyst.
China of course claims that they just happened to put their top of the line aircraft out for testing about the time US Secretary Gates landed. Now, I’m all for taking people’s word, but seriously these kind of things don’t just go by on some calendar like “Oh yeah and at 3 we’re launching an experimental Generation 5 aircraft”. It was probably a bit of a sign to tell us to knock off sending arms to the Taiwanese government without even a second thought.
If I were going to have to make some predictions on what this could mean in the coming days it would be as follows: The US reconsiders those military cuts [even though we desperately need them], The 24 hour news media finds a missing white girl in one of the 50 states and can’t be bothered to notice, and China finds out that their stealth plane probably has some kinks that still need to be worked out.
Just my .02$