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China's Stealth Fighter, Or Political Prop?

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UPDATE -- Chinese authorities confirmed the aircraft's existence, Tuesday, as Chinese media dispersed first flight video.

Reports spread Wednesday from news sources like the Guardian U.K. to Stars and Stripes discussing new leaked images that are apparently meant to depict China's prototype stealth fighter, which some call the J-20, in ground tests. To be sure, not all sources are convinced the pictures are representative of an actual functional prototype. The images have appeared in Chinese language editions of the Global Times and Chinese censors have not removed the images, according to Forbes.com, but they also have not confirmed them. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was scheduled to be in Beijing on Sunday, which has promoted some speculation with regard to the timing of the images' release. Guardian.co.uk states the photos are "likely to prompt calls for accelerated production of F35's," which broadly suggests the unconfirmed images may be used for political influence. Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan was quoted saying, "It is not of concern that they are working on a fifth-generation fighter." He added that they're "still having difficulties with their fourth-generation fighter." If nothing else, the images are visually appropriate for creating intrigue.

The jet, as pictured, is not exceptionally conventional in its planform. It appears to sport twin inlets, rear downward angled stabilizers or fins, plus a canard and widely spaced, sharply angled twin vertical tails outboard of twin exhaust nozzles. The nozzles, at first blush, appear to be conventional, or at least are dissimilar to the thrust-vectoring variety seen on the F-22. According to Stars and Stripes, "China's decade-long military buildup is well known, if not completely understood." The main question asked by the military news source is not whether the Chinese-made jet exists, but "could China effectively use them?"

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