Underestimating China

The sudden appearance of a Chinese stealth airplane making high-speed taxi tests in the last couple of weeks was “not a surprise” to US intelligence, Vice Adm. David Dorsett, director of naval intelligence, said Wednesday. Previous Pentagon estimates about China’s progress toward stealth aircraft indicated it would be five to 10 years before such a prototype appeared, and Dorsett, speaking with defense reporters in Washington, D.C., did not directly address that disconnect. However, he acknowledged that “we have been pretty consistent in underestimating the delivery and [initial operational capability date] of Chinese technology weapon systems.” New Chinese weapons tend to go from prototype to operational service “quicker than we frequently project,” said Dorsett, adding that “we need to refine our assessments.” He said the taxi tests of the J-20 represent “the front end of a capability that they’re rolling out,” and that US intelligence will be “focused on” the aircraft’s implications. Despite his admissions about underrating China’s speed of weapons development, he guesstimated that a mature Chinese stealth aircraft integrated with the rest of its military is “years off.”