China Conducts First Flight Test of J-20
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - China has conducted its first flight test of the Chengdu J-20 Black Eagle stealth fighter, according to Chinese media reports. The reports come during a high-level visit to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
According to Chinese-language news reports, a twin-engine J-20 prototype flew for 18 minutes on Jan. 11 from the "Plant 132 aerodrome" in Chengdu in southwest China. "Plant 132" is the designation for the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group. A Chengdu J-10S Vigorous Dragon twin-seat fighter served as the chase plane.
Photographs of the flight test can be found on the china-defense.com and bbs.huanqiu.com websites.
A scheduled flight test for Jan. 7 was reportedly canceled due to bad weather. In late December photographs emerged of what appeared to be a taxi runway test of the J-20, then last week a video was released of the same runway test.
The Jan. 11 flight test will no doubt surprise many analysts. Gates told reporters on Jan. 8 that China "may be somewhat further ahead in the development of the aircraft than our intelligence had earlier indicated." The comments were made at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland en route to visit Beijing.
Gates also clarified previous comments he made on whether China would be able to field a fifth-generation fighter by 2020. "What I said was that in 2020 or 2025 that there would still be a vast disparity in the number of deployed fifth-generation aircraft that the United States had compared to anybody else in the world."
China's development of a stealth fighter will no doubt renew calls for the U.S. to release 66 F-16C/D fighters requested by Taiwan, now on hold since 2006 due to Chinese pressure.
China has been adamant that continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan would damage Sino-U.S. ties. China canceled military ties with the U.S. after Washington released a $6.4 billion arms package to Taiwan last January.
"On that, China's position has been clear and consistent - we are against it," said Chinese Minister for National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie during a joint news conference with Gates on Jan. 10 in Beijing.
"Because United States arms sales to Taiwan seriously damaged China's core interests and we do not want to see that happen again, neither do we hope that the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will again and further disrupt our bilateral and military-to-military relationship," Liang said.
Though new F-16s seem unlikely, the U.S. does appear ready to release price and availability data for a retrofit for Taiwan's older F-16A/B Block 20s, most likely after Chinese president Hu Jintao visits the U.S. later this month.
Taiwan has 145 F-16A/Bs, 126 Indigenous Defense Fighters, 56 Mirage 2000-5s, and 60 F-5E/Fs.
Over the past three years, the U.S. has released a variety of new aircraft and missile systems to Taiwan, including P-3C Orion anti-submarine warfare patrol aircraft, UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters, AH-64 Apache Longbow attack helicopters, and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) air defense missile systems.