China's latest flying military aircraft prototype, the J-20, may or may not be stealthy, or a true "fifth-generation" fighter, because "we don't know, frankly, much about the capabilities of that plane," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said this week. Currently, the Pentagon does not know if China's new aircraft uses a "fifth generation" engine or the capabilities of its avionics. Regardless, what the Pentagon believes is that by the time the J-20 is operational, the U.S. will be flying 187 F-22s, "which will be unmatched," and will have "an abundance of F-35s." And based on what the Pentagon does know, the new Chinese jet "has not changed the strategic calculus at all." Morrell also contested the notion that U.S. intelligence was caught flat-footed by the J-20's first flight, perhaps rolling back comments made earlier by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Morrell said the Pentagon has been "well aware of this evolving capability" and have "talked about their pursuit of the J-20 for a long time." What Secretary Gates said on Jan. 8 was that "what we've seen is that they may be somewhat further ahead in development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted." Morrell now says it's too early to make those determinations and that even calling the test flight successful may have been premature.