Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged that China’s efforts to develop a stealth combat aircraft may be more advanced than the United States previously thought. “We knew they were working on a stealth aircraft. I think that what we’ve seen is that they may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted,” he told reporters Saturday while traveling aboard his aircraft to Beijing on the first leg of his Asia trip. A reporter had asked him about the recently revealed Chinese J-20 aircraft, which appears to be a stealth design. Gates said “there is some question about just how stealthy” the J-20 is. Despite the J-20’s emergence, Gates said, he “continue[s] to stand” by his earlier assertion that there will be “a vast disparity in the number of deployed fifth generation aircraft” that the United States has by the middle of next decade compared to China or any other nation. That’s even with the changes being made to the F-35 strike fighter program, he noted. (Gates transcript) (See also China Joins the Stealth Club)
While some of the Air Force's newly announced changes will happen quickly, it may take most of Chief of Staff Gen. David W. Allvin's tenure in the job to accomplish the rest, he said in a Brookings Institution event Feb. 28.