In Reasonably Good Shape

The emergence of China’s J-20 and Russia’s T-50 stealth combat aircraft designs is not overly disconcerting, even with the latest delays to the F-35 strike fighter, said Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week. “I think that we’re in reasonably good shape” in the area of tactical aviation, Gates told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during testimony on the Defense Department’s Fiscal 2012 budget proposal. He said the Russians and Chinese “are likely to run into a number of the same challenges we did early in our stealth programs.” Gates acknowledged that the first flight of the J-20 may have come “half a year, a year or so before our intelligence estimated,” but asserted that “it’ll be quite a while” before the Chinese have a large stealth fighter inventory. In fact, he said, the latest US intelligence estimates indicate that, by 2020, China “might have 50 deployed” stealth fighters and, by 2025, “maybe a couple of hundred.” But that still would mean “a huge disparity” between the size of the Chinese stealth fleet and the much larger US stealth fighter inventory anticipated by then.