Saturday, 1 January 2011

China's stealth fighter - my former students at work?

Several blurry photos have emerged showing what appears to be a Chinese stealth fighter, something which US defence experts had not expected to see this soon. Whilst these photos are of dubious provenance, I can't help but think of a conversation I had with one of my students at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics back in 2003 when I had just arrived in Mainland China for the first time.

Sitting down in a tea shop with some students I knew, I asked them about their research projects. One of them baldly replied that their research was in the field of reverse engineering stealth technology from the US-built F-117 and B2 stealth aircraft. Fearing that the student might be putting them self in trouble by telling me this, I changed the subject, so I never learned how the samples on which the reverse engineering was conducted were obtained. However, it's hard to believe they could have been obtained without some kind of espionage, although it is also possible that samples were bought from the Yugoslavs after they shot down a F-117 during the Kosovo conflict.

At any rate, it is strange to think that I may have shared a pot of tea with the people who developed China's newest wonder-weapon.

(Picture taken from


Anonymous said...

Sure, China may have reverse engineered one of these high-tech gizmos, and could even have a few rolling off the production line, but I wouldn't get too exercised about it.

The US has been at this game since WW2 - ironing out the bugs each time something new rolls of the production line, training suitable personnel, building effective command and control systems etc - not to forget actual applications in Iraq etc.

Just can't see China pulling off the same in a matter of a decade. Should there be a real conflict situation, China will have its arse handed to it on a platter.

We are not talking about flat screen TVs here.

Footnote. My last post was making a minimal claim, FOARP. Why introduce Mittel Europa Soprano fiefdoms like Belarus into the discussion. Nonetheless, I appreciate your long response and thanks.


Gilman Grundy said...

KT, I for one am not surprised that the Chinese appear to have mastered stealth technology, not least because I knew they were working on it!

Anonymous said...

Hey FOARP. I was not questioning your report of a past interaction with stealth designers.

Pick up on my point about the difference between the ambition and the realisation in a real serious conflict China-US situation.

If you want to engage with folk, have the wit to engage with the points they make. This is not an e-swinging dick competition. It is supposed to be an intelligent conversation.


Gilman Grundy said...

@KT - I guess I'm just covering up for the fact that I don't actually have that much to say on this - not least because the photos may still be the work of some expert photoshopper.

And yeah, I don't think that China would win if it fought a war with America now - but I don't really think it's going to. If China is going to fight a war, then it will either do so when it can win, or when it has no choice.

Anonymous said...

FOARP. Certainly agree with you there. Cheers and Thanks.

justrecently said...

I have no clue about stealth fighters, but the Taipei Times quotes a number of people who seem to have their doubts about this one.

Gilman Grundy said...

@JR - Against which should be placed the fact that these photos have been published in the Chinese-language government-owned Global Times. This is not the same as official confirmation of the story, and it would be naive to dismiss the idea that this may be disinformation, but it does point to the photos being genuine.

Anonymous said...

@ justrecently. I read that report yesterday morning, but if you google stealth fighters this morning, there are about four reports suggesting this prototype exists, notably The Guardian and NYT. . "I'd say these are, indeed, genuine photos of a prototype that will make its maiden flight very soon," said Peter Felstead, the editor of Jane's Defence Weekly.

Two points.

It is not surprising that the appearance of this prototype has emerged in such quick time. Unlike the US, China is able to throw unlimited resources at such a project. It does not has those pesky US oversight bidding and contracting processes, Senate committees and other cumbersome and wasteful procedures.

As Ive already noted. A prototype is just that, bugs and all. It has to go into glitch-free mass production, and then be inserted into a larger system of control and command ie capable of operating within an integrated defence/offence network.

That would take a decade or more, and a lot can happen in a country such as China in that intervening period to derail the whole deal.

(There is a ton of tech jargon one can use to desribe the points I am making, but you get the point.)

King Tubby

justrecently said...

@ King Tubby:
if it will take another decade to remove all the bugs, that will be basically the time frame the pentagon was planning with last year, if I remember it right.
That said, every military project shelved in the U.S. may help to fire up the motivation among China's military and their allies in government and industries to dedicate more financial means to projects of their own. Taiwan is eagerly awaiting its return to the motherland at an earlier date. ;)

Anonymous said...


I remember seeing you before Fool's mountain, but I guess you also got tire of it as well, like so many others.

While news of this stealth fighter is interesting, I'm already wondering about any other futuristic weapons and technology the researchers in China are working on.

There are a lot of students from China studying in very complex engineering and scientific subjects in the US. While some of them do return, I kind of have a feeling that they either already know or are pretty aware of most of the projects in the US. Due to this academic network, not just espionage. Just guessing here.

Gilman Grundy said...

I take your point, all the same usually reverse engineering requires physical samples.