Gates Clarifies China's Stealth Capabilities
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI – U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates clarified Pentagon concerns over recent revelations China was developing a stealthy fifth-generation fighter, the J-20, during a press conference Jan. 8 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland en route to visit Beijing, China.
During the press conference Gates said China "may be somewhat further ahead in the development of the aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted."
Photographs of the J-20 appeared on websites throughout China in late December in what many analysts believe was a taxi runway test. Though there had been grainy photographs of the fighter appearing on various Chinese defense blogs in the past, the new photographs revealed details not seen before. This past week a video of the J-20 taxiing on the runway was released.
Gates clarified previous comments he made on whether China would 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."
Many of China's new weapon systems are part of a larger effort to develop anti-access area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities that will discourage U.S. military forces from intervening in a conflict over Taiwan.
Gates called China's investment in A2/AD capabilities high priority areas. "They clearly have the potential to put some of our capabilities at risk and we have to pay attention to them, we have to respond appropriately with our own programs," he said.
Another area of concern is China's development of the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), dubbed the "aircraft carrier killer" by many analysts. Gates could not recall whether the DF-21D had reached initial operational capability (IOC), but did say China was "fairly far along" in the development of an operational ASBM.
In December, U.S. Pacific Commander Robert Willard was quoted by the Japanese media as confirming the DF-21D had reached IOC status.
The Dong Feng (East Wind) ballistic missile family comes in short-range (DF-11/15), medium-range (DF-21) and long-range (DF-31) variants. The new road-mobile DF-31A is capable of striking Washington, D.C. with a nuclear tipped missile.
China has about 1,300 short-range DF-11/15 SRBMs targeting Taiwan. During the 1995/96 Taiwan Strait Missile Crisis the Chinese fired ten DF-15 SRBMs into the waters south and north of Taiwan in an attempt to intimidate Taipei.
Taiwan responded by procuring Patriot PAC-2 air defense missile systems. These systems are now being upgraded and newer PAC-3 systems are being added. Taiwan has also constructed a new early warning radar system along the central west coast facing China. There also efforts to field a new indigenous air defense missile system, the Tien Kung 3 (Sky Bow), capable of intercepting both aircraft and missiles.