China's new J-20 stealth fighter may be ready for a fight sooner than you think

Military Tech
A J-20 stealth fighter jet of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force performs during the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2018, in Zhuhai city, south China's Guangdong province on November 6, 2018. (Imaginechina via Associated Press)

NEW YORK — China may declare its first stealth fighter operational this year as it also develops long-range bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons, part of a regional buildup by Beijing that the U.S. is closely monitoring, according to the U.S. Air Force's Pacific commander.


Gen. Charles Brown, the head of Pacific Air Forces, said the stealthy J-20 fighter could "possibly" be operational this year, a move he said would signal "greater threat, greater capability" for China in the Pacific. He went on to emphasize that U.S. efforts to counter those developments include rising deployments of next-generation F-35 jets and continuing overflights of strategic areas such as the South China Sea.

"My sense of the way the Chinese operate is somewhat incremental," Brown said in an interview this week at Bloomberg's headquarters in New York. "They'll continue to push the envelope to figure out does anybody say or do anything — if you don't push back it'll keep coming."

Fielding the J-20 would add to what's already the region's largest air force and world's third largest, with more than 2,500 total aircraft including 1,700 combat fighters, strategic bombers, tactical bombers and multi-mission tactical and attack aircraft, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report earlier this year.

China's J-20 fighter is part of a modernization effort that's been "closing the gap with Western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities, such as aircraft performance, command and control and electronic warfare." according to the report.

Brown also said he thinks China is moving to develop dual-use bombers that would be "similar to our bombers" in terms of being able to carry nuclear weapons and nonnuclear precision-guided weapons. "I don't think it would be too far off the mark to say they could do that as well," Brown added, without indicating whether China may have a stealth bomber capability.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, in a statement Wednesday for the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said a Chinese long-range bomber "if successful, would make it only one of three nations" to "possess a nuclear triad" of land, sea and air-based nuclear capabilities.

The U.S. has a number of ways to counter China's buildup, Brown said. That includes being unpredictable in deployments of the B-1B, B-52 and B-2 bombers. The B-1B, Brown said, is now qualified to carry a new Lockheed Martin Corp. anti-ship missile, a few of which have been stockpiled in the Pacific region.

Brown, a four-star general who has logged more than 130 combat flight hours out of 2,900 overall, was on the U.S. East Coast this week to speak with Asia experts about the challenges facing his command. He started in the job more than eight months ago after serving as deputy commander of U.S. operations in the Middle East and head of the air war against Islamic State in 2015-2016.

A key issue for Brown in his latest post is "how do I gain a greater understanding of how China operates — not only their equipment capability — but how they operate, how they command and control. I want to understand what makes their blood pressure go up" so as to avoid miscalculations.

"Their propensity to fly out over the water has increased over the years," he said.

It's not just the U.S. noticing the increased Chinese capability, Brown said. He touched briefly on the State Department and Pentagon's review of a potential sale of new F-16s to Taiwan. President Donald Trump's advisers encouraged Taiwan to submit a formal request for the jets. That request would need to be converted into a formal proposal by the Defense and State departments, and then Congress would have 30 days to decide whether to block the sale.

"There's been a little increase in tension there recently, which may be the impetus" behind Taiwan's request, Brown said. The Beijing government considers Taiwan's fate a "core interest" — more important than almost any other issue, and has increased pressure on countries and multinational companies to avoid actions that could imply sovereign status for the island.

The U.S., wary of antagonizing China, hasn't sold advanced fighter jets to Taiwan since President George H.W. Bush announced the sale of 150 F-16s in 1992. The Obama administration rejected a similar Taiwanese request for new jets, agreeing in 2011 to upgrade the island's existing fleet.

Brown has more than a passing familiarity with the F-16 — he said it's his favorite military aircraft of the numerous ones he has piloted. In addition to the F-16, he has flown the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, V-2 tilt-rotor Osprey, AC-130U gunship, B-1B, B-2A and B-52H bombers, C-130J transport and KC-135 tanker, among others.

———

©2019 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

SEE ALSO: The US Military Put A Fake Chinese J-20 Stealth Fighter At A Georgia Air Base

WATCH NEXT: Is This China's Ne H-20 Stealth Bomber?

Hospital Corpsman, 3rd Class, Jennifer Rooney, who was immediately promoted after selection through the Meritorious Promotion Program, was pinned in a ceremony Sept. 20, 2019, by her father, Robert Rooney, and grandfather, John Rooney. (U.S. Marine Corps/Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Molina)

A U.S.S. Manchester, CL-83, hat firmly tucked on his head, John Ronney, pierced the collar of his granddaughter, Jennifer Rooney's new rank during a special pinning ceremony at Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune on Sept. 25.

By Rooney's side was his son and Jennifer's father Robert, a Navy veteran. Together, three Navy veterans brought together for military tradition.

"They are the two people who taught me everything I needed to know about the Navy," said Jennifer.

Read More Show Less

CAMP PENDLETON — The military prosecution of a Coast Guardsman accused of murder began Wednesday with a preliminary hearing at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

Seaman Ethan W. Tucker, 21, was arrested August 28 after a seven-month Coast Guard investigation into the January death of Seaman Ethan Kelch, 19, who served on the same ship as Tucker— the Kodiak, Alaska-based high endurance cutter Douglas Munro.

Read More Show Less

ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey would press on with its offensive into northeastern Syria and "crush the heads of terrorists" if a deal with Washington on the withdrawal of Kurdish fighters from the area were not fully implemented.

Erdogan agreed on Thursday in talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence a five-day pause in the offensive to allow time for the Kurdish fighters to withdraw from a "safe zone" Turkey aims to establish in northeast Syria near the Turkish border.

Read More Show Less

President Trump stoked confusion Friday by declaring the U.S. has "secured the Oil" in the Middle East amid continued fallout from the Turkish invasion of northern Syria that he enabled by pulling American troops out of the region.

It wasn't immediately clear what the president was talking about, as there were no publicly known developments in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East relating to oil. White House aides did not return requests for comment.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. State Department investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state has found no evidence of deliberate mishandling of classified information by department employees.

The investigation, the results of which were released on Friday by Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley's office, centered on whether Clinton, who served as the top U.S. diplomat from 2009 to 2013, jeopardized classified information by using a private email server rather than a government one.

Read More Show Less