Is Gates wrong on the aircraft gap?

He appears to be wrong to the same degree that 5th generation stealth fighters are not defensive. Secretary Gates, who in July 2009, predicted that, “nearly 1,100 [combat aircraft in the U.S. Air Force] will be the most advanced fifth-generation F-35s and F-22s. China, by contrast, is projected to have no fifth-generation aircraft by 2020. And by 2025, the gap only widens.” There is new evidence that Gates may in fact be inaccurate in his prediction. For the past week photographs of China’s new 5th generation fighter aircraft has been circulating the web, and this plane is clearly not defensive. The photos of the new plane have been available online for the past week, and they may indicate that China’s 5th generation J-20 fighter project may in fact be ahead of schedule. Video footage of the plane taxing on the runway is now also available on Youtube.com.

Although all offensive weapons in some capacity serve as a deterrent, and thus as a defensive technology, this framework becomes less convincing when a country has acquisitive goals. Acquisitive goals, more clearly defined as aspirations for territorial gain or reuniting former territories. So, when a country that has stated that, “reuniting” Taiwan with the mainland is a strategic goal, develops a 5th generation stealth fighter, perhaps its time for a few eyebrows to be lifted at the DOD. Furthermore, perhaps all of the academic optimists out there, liberal and realist alike, who claim that China is just looking to defend itself from the United States, should reevaluate their Pollyanna analysis due to the recent exposure of China’s new stealth J-20 fighter aircraft.

According to the Associated Press this new stealth plane is larger than both Russian and U.S. planes, which will allow it to either carry more fuel so it can attack a more distant target, or carry a larger payload — or both. It may actually be a plane suited for the military reunification of Taiwan. In regards to whether or not that the aeronautics technological gap is widening, the Guardian UK quoted Peter Felstead, the editor of Jane’s Defense Weekly, as saying; “I’d say these are, indeed, genuine photos of a prototype that will make its maiden flight very soon.” A flight of a 5th generation plane by China in the near-term is in stark contrast to the aforementioned statement by Secretary Gates.

Much of the academic analysis on China’s military capabilities has been based on that and similar statements. However, Richard D. Fisher, Senior Fellow of the International Assessment and Strategy Center at the Hudson institute challenged that claim early on in a September 1, 2009 Wall Street Journal piece. The most recent development suggests that it is indeed Mr. Fisher who is right, and not the Secretary of Defense, unless of course Secretary Gates in engaging in a denial and deception information campaign for the purpose of convincing China that our intelligence on their capabilities is much more limited than it really is. If that is the case, this might be the biggest deception coup in aeronautics since China found out it couldn’t acquire Harrier Jets from collecting Pepsi Points in 1999. Although there is probably no evidence of causation, Pepsi out sold Coca-Cola in China following the famous ad. Pepsi Harrier Jet Ad

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However, what should irk the casual defense aficionado the most, is that Secretary Gates cited the F-22 Raptor in his July 2009 Statement about the “growing” gap between Chinese aircraft technology and our own. If the F-22 were such a prize in maintaining the aircraft gap, one would think that he would have done more to defend the F-22 program. Now, with the J-20 looking to fill the gap, perhaps its time to reconsider whether the cutting the F-22 from the 2010 defense appropriation was wise. All though its easy to justify the administration’s idea that we don’t really need new technology or weapons because with globalization what we really need is allies, we don’t seem to be gaining new ones in the region as much as we are experiencing the weakening of our relationships. Do we no longer consider Machiavelli’s basic concept of power, that if one is well armed, one will have good friends? What about Reagan’s philosophy of peace through strength?

However, as of January 9th, it seems that Gates has begun to change his position on China. He stated, “I think that what we’ve seen is that they may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted.” With that said, its time to then reconsider the draconian defense spending cuts. In the last congress Representative Trent Franks offered an excellent bill that could help keep the administration’s hand out of defense spending by creating mandatory defense spending at 4% of GDP. H.J.Res 23 should be reintroduced in the new congress! The text of the bill is available on Thomas.gov.

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