China’s new stealth technology: “Made in America”?

“It’s predictable that China and the U.S. will reassure each other that China’s rise is not intended to harm America, and that America will encourage the peaceful process of China’s rise but wants to ensure that China is willing to contribute to the prosperity and stability of the world.” – Shen Dingli, CRI

If true, the partly American origin of China’s first radar-evading warplane could be both a damning indictment of the Pentagon’s reliance on easily-copied high technology, and a potential comfort to U.S. military planners – Wired

In a twist that has echoes of a Hollywood spy thriller, Balkan military officials and other military experts have told the Associated Press that technology used in China’s new stealth fighter might have been appropriated from an American F-117 Nighthawk, the world’s first stealth fighter.

The plane in question was shot down over Serbia in 1999, during NATO’s aerial bombing of the country in the Kosovo war. This was the first time a F-117 had ever been hit, which the Pentagon blamed on a combination of clever tactics and sheer luck. Soon after the crash, civilians living around the extensive crash site began collecting plane parts as souvenirs and then intelligence reports of foreign agents arriving in the region began to appear.

“At the time, our intelligence reports told of Chinese agents criss-crossing the region where the F-117 disintegrated, buying up parts of the plane from local farmers,” explainedAdmiral Davor Domazet-Loso, then the top Croatian officer, told the Associated Press. “We believe the Chinese used those materials to gain an insight into secret stealth technologies… and to reverse-engineer them.”

12 years later, it is being alleged that those components may be in the design of China’s new J-20 stealth fighter, which will be both reassuring to the Pentagon and also embarrassing that its military technology can be carbon-copied so easily. Even though China may have borrowed some of the American’s stealth technology, the physics of aerodynamics and radar-deflection still allow Chinese engineers to understand the basics of how to make a plane invisible to radar. In late 2009 the deputy head of China’s air force,General He Weirong, said the country’s stealth fighter would be ready sometime between 2017 and 2019, BBC reports said.

The entire fleet of F-117s was formally and surprisingly retired by the U.S. Air Force in 2008, with its 30 year-old technology being declared obsolete, even though Associated Press reports that almost all U.S. combat aircraft designs are at least that old. Efforts by Associated Press to obtain comments from China’s defence ministry and the Pentagon were unsuccessful.

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usman hashmi

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