The Chinese have deliberately and very cleverly leaked their new fifth generation stealth fighter, the J-20, just in time for Secretary of Defense Gates' long delayed visit to Beijing this Sunday.
This is another move by the Chinese to subtly send the current American administration -- and our Asian allies signals -- that they are investing heavily in military capabilities that will dominate Asia in the future.
Could we see the first flight of this prototype during Secretary Gates visit or perhaps even when President Hu Jintao visits Washington on January 19? This is a very interesting question but it is clear to me that these important visits are linked with these initial sightings of the J-20 at the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute's airfield.
The J-20 looks like a knockoff of the USAF’s FB-22 that Lockheed proposed in 2002. It makes sense that it would now shows up as a prototype, almost ten years later, in China a country that has been the single biggest leader in cyber-espionage in the world.
Make no mistake, with China as our single leading creditor nation, the country has been moving forward aggressively to build a very creditable anti-access/anti-denial (AAAD) capability that is outstripping our capabilities to operate in the Taiwan Straits or the Chinese littoral.
The addition of the DF-21B Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) -- which is already operational according to Admiral Willard, Commander of Pacific Command -- is alarming. This capability, coupled with the J-20 stealth fighter (although not operational for a number of years), presents American and Allied Forces in the region with a formidable threat to our carrier battle groups and our decreasing Air Force tactical and bomber forces.
On any given day we would be lucky to have 70 F-22s and 5 B-2s operationally available worldwide plus the new F-35 which will be no match for the J-20. Shades of 1939 are here again.
The Obama administration’s decision to kill the F-22 production line in April 2009 without a whimper from a Democratically-controlled Congress does not look very good now. I can assure our readers it will have huge adverse consequences in the future. Alarm bells should be going off in the new Republican Congress. I hope they are not in denial like their predecessors.
The quickest solution would be to insert funding for 12 F-22s into the 2011 budget that is under a Continuing Resolution now while the F-22 line is still open -- and keep that line going as a counter to this fast developing Chinese threat.
Our Japanese and Australian allies in the Pacific would be delighted to buy this superb stealth fighter aircraft if we would only let them. Burden sharing by our allies is going to be even more important for stability in Asia in the future.
Secretary Gates' and President Hu Jintao’s visits and discussions will further reveal that the Chinese have a different vision of their future position in Asia than the United States and our allies had previously imagined.
Bottom line: Beware America, time is running out!
Thomas G. McInerney is a retired Air Force Lt. Gen who graduated from West Point in 1959 and retired as Assistant Vice Chief of the Air Force. He is a Fox News military analyst.