NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
China’s stealth jet
The Pentagon is scrambling to explain what appears to be an intelligence failure after Internet photos made public recently showed a faster-than-estimated advance of China’s new fifth-generation warplane.
U.S. intelligence estimates previously concluded the jet, dubbed the J-20, will not be deployed until 2020.
Vice Adm. David Dorsett, director of Naval Intelligence, told a group of defense reporters on Wednesday that the new Chinese fighter program was not a surprise, but “the speed at which they are making progress … we underestimated.”
“Across a broad array of weapons systems, they are making progress,” the three-star admiral said.
Progress on the J-20 is among several other Chinese military developments that U.S. intelligence agencies have been accused of missing over the past decade. Others include the failure to detect a new class of Chinese submarine called the Yuan and shortcomings related to Beijing’s long-range cruise missiles and a new anti-ship ballistic missile.
Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan confirmed to Inside the Ring that recent photos of a new Chinese jet show “taxiing tests” on a prototype aircraft apparently photographed by people who saw it pass by.
“This is evidence that a fifth-generation fighter program is proceeding,” Col. Lapan said.
“However, progress appears to be uneven: Open-source reports show that China has been seeking jet engines for its fourth-generation fighter from Russia, indicating that they are still encountering some difficulties in working toward fifth-generation capabilities,” he said.
The faster development of the J-20 was first discussed by Chinese Gen. He Weirong, deputy commander of the Chinese air force last year. He predicted deployment as earlier as 2017.
The jet is expected to rival the U.S. F-22 superfighter whose production was canceled by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates after 187 jets were built. In scrapping the F-22, Mr. Gates stated publicly that one reason for his decision was that the Chinese would not deploy a comparable jet until 2020, thus more F-35 jets would be built instead of the more capable F-22.
Richard Fisher, a military analyst with the International Assessment and Strategy Center who was among the first to spot the J-20 photos months ago, said the aircraft is manufactured by the Chengdu Aircraft Co.
“Chengdu’s goal is to beat the F-22 and then build their own F-35 when the 18-ton thrust engine is ready. It is a full challenge to the U.S. strategy for air power,” Mr. Fisher said.
Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations are to blame for not continuing production of the F-22, which is needed if there is ever a conflict with China over Taiwan, he said.
“Absent a better combat aircraft, this constitutes one of the most serious U.S. intelligence and leadership failures since the end of the Cold War,” Mr. Fisher said.
Mr. Fisher said the images of the jet reveal that China is advancing rapidly toward fielding a credible and competitive fifth-generation fighter. The photos show a large fighter with radar-evading stealth features, an advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and “supercruise” — the ability to fly at supersonic speed for long distances using less fuel, he said.
“With refueling, this fighter can carry the fight out to Guam,” Mr. Fisher said.
As for the Pentagon’s claim that the Chinese are having problems developing an advanced engine for the jet, Mr. Fisher said China is ground-testing a new, more powerful jet engine and, as a result, could deploy the new jet by 2017.
“If the United States wishes to remain an Asian power capable of deterring Chinese aggression, or preventing future generations from becoming victims of China’s dictates, it is essential that an improved version of the F-22 be put into crash development, as well as putting a sixth-generation fighter into formal development,” Mr. Fisher said.
Russian missile defense
Russia’s military is working to deploy an “impenetrable” missile-defense shield by 2020, according to Gen. Nikolai Makarov, chief of the Russian armed forces staff.
Gen. Makarov was quoted in Russian news reports Monday as saying “the state will have an umbrella over it which will defend it against ballistic missile attacks, against medium-range missiles, air-based cruise missiles, sea-based cruise missiles, and ground-based cruise missiles, including missiles flying at extremely low altitudes, at any time and in any situation.”
“Of course, this is a long process that requires a significant financial investment. But the foundation for this system will be established as early as 2011,” he said.
The general’s statement raises questions about the testimony last year by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who told Congress while lobbying for the ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that the Russians “hate” missile defenses, based on their constant opposition to U.S. defenses and efforts to limit U.S. defenses in the arms treaty.
Based on Gen. Makarov’s comments, what the Russians really hate are U.S. missile defenses because they could be expanded to counter Moscow’s missiles.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is being offered a visit to China’s Great Wall during his much-anticipated visit to the Middle Kingdom set to begin next week that pro-China officials in the Obama administration hope will jump-start stalled military exchanges.
Trip planners in the Pentagon and Beijing are working on the itinerary for the visit, which is expected to be the first clear reflection of whether China’s military, the bastion of anti-U.S. sentiment within the communist leadership, is willing to sign on to U.S. efforts to build trust.
The test will be whether the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generals who have refused to allow U.S. leaders to visit sensitive military sites in the past will give Mr. Gates more access than past secretaries.
In 2005, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was the first to visit the headquarters building of the Second Artillery Corps, the strategic missile forces in 2005. That was hailed as a breakthrough, even though no missile sites or warhead storage facilities were included.
If Mr. Gates goes to the Great Wall and is denied access to a never-before-seen PLA base, the visit will likely be dismissed by critics as an example of “military tourism.”
That’s what happened back in the late 1990s, when then-Defense Secretary William S. Cohen was shown an aging missile defense facilities in what officials at the time said was a propaganda effort by the Chinese to show the United States how backward their military was — all the better reason the United States should lift the embargo on military sales and loosen advanced technology controls.
So far, no U.S. military or defense leader has been allowed to visit the real Chinese Pentagon — a vast underground command center known as the Western Hills near Beijing. China’s military has prohibited all U.S. military personal from the site, although there have been reports that Russian military visitors have seen it.
The FBI has joined Newark, Del., police in probing the mysterious murder of John “Jack” Wheeler III, a former Pentagon official and West Point graduate who was among a group of advocates in Washington leading the fight in recent years over how the U.S. government should conduct computer-based cyberwarfare.
Baltimore FBI spokesman Rich Wolf confirmed the bureau’s assistance but declined to disclose details about the aid. “Right now, we’re treating this as a homicide,” Mr. Wolf said by telephone.
Mr. Wheeler, 66, was found murdered Dec. 31 in a landfill near Wilmington. Investigators said his body had been left in a trash bin in Newark, Del.
Investigators are said to be looking into several theories for the motive behind the killing, including a legal dispute with a neighbor or a robbery.
Mr. Wheeler held a security clearance and had worked as a contractor for the McLean office of the Mitre Corp., a defense contractor.
Mitre spokeswoman Jennifer Shearman said Mr. Wheeler worked on “outreach activities aimed at promoting discussions among government, industry, and academia on cyberdefense topics.”
Mr. Wheeler, who was known as a fierce political infighter, in recent years helped set up a blue-ribbon panel of experts to study the issue of cyberwarfare.
Mr. Wheeler sided with the U.S. military and defense advocates who want cyberwarfare to be dominated by military warriors rather than intelligence officials, who have sought to make cyberwarfare more oriented toward gathering intelligence and conducting espionage.
The dispute over the military-versus-intelligence orientation of cyberwarfare and the legal authorities for each currently has slowed the U.S. government’s cyberwarfare efforts.
Mr. Wheeler was an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and helped set up the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Mall.
“America was blessed to have a ‘few great captains’ in the Army Air Corps who were visionaries on the use of air power before World War II,” said Edward Timperlake, a technology security official at the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration and a friend of Mr. Wheeler’s.
“Jack Wheeler will go down as one of our ‘great captains’ on fighting in cyberbattle space,” he said. “Jack knew the value of being prepared for offensive combat and he was driving home that lifetime lesson he learned over four decades ago at West Point.”
• Bill Gertz can be reached at email@example.com.
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