China's stealth fighter, the J-20, has flown for the first time, Chinese officials said on Tuesday. The 15-minute flight took place Tuesday morning from the Chengdu airfield where it was seen last week. Chinese President Hu Jintao confirmed that the first flight had taken place when asked by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is in China this week. Hu said it was coincidental that it occurred during Gates' visit. The J-20 appears to be a stealth fighter, but defense experts have said the aircraft appears to be less advanced than U.S. fighters. China's own defense minister, Gen. Liang Guanglie, said this week that China is not an "advanced" military force. "The gap between us and that of advanced countries is at least two to three decades," he said, according to The Guardian.
Other industry analysts weighed in on the aircraft's apparent capabilities. "The J-20 appears to be either a demonstrator or a prototype of a combat aircraft with low observable characteristics, particularly in the front quadrant," Douglas Barrie, an aviation analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said this week. "The design, particularly the rear section and in plan-form is reminiscent of MiG's 1.42 fighter project, the program for which was cancelled in the latter half of the 1990s," Barrie told Ria Novosti, a Russian news agency. The J-20 seems to be designed to compete against the F-22, according to Andrei Chang, a Hong Kong-based defense analyst. "This is an earthquake which has especially shaken Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries," Chang told The Wall Street Journal. "I'm sure Japan and others will push the U.S. to restart the F-22 production line." Officially, the U.S. says the new aircraft is not a threat. "It's not of concern," Pentagon spokesman Marine Co. Dave Lapan told the New York Daily News.