China has carried out a test flight of its advanced laser-evading stealth fighter J-20, according to media reports, perfectly timing the event to coincide with the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the country.
The New York Times quoted a Hong Kong-based Chinese military expert as saying that the stealth fighter flew for about 15 minutes over an airfield in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Chinese media project the J-20 as the Dragon's answer to the United States' F-22 Raptor. Japanese newspaper Ashai Shimbun said last week the fighter will be equipped with large missiles and could reach island of Guam, a US territory in the western pacific with the aerial refuelling.
The show-piece fighter is proof to China's rapid advancement in military technology, but the timing of the test flight appears to have a hidden message to the U.S.
The Daily Mail said it may take years before the J-20 enters active use, but the timing of its test flight was important. The J-20 is thought to be years from entering active use in China's airforce but its test run seemed impeccably timed, with U.S. defense chief Robert Gates in Beijing on the second day of an official visit at the time of the flight.
The Wall Street Journal said photographs of the twin-engine plane making its first flight were splashed over Chinese websites. Videos of the fighter doing runway tests had been leaked out last week.
WSJ said nobody from the Chinese military establishment could confirm the report of the J-20's first flight.
The test flight of the latest addition to the ever advancing Chinese war machine came significantly a day after China told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the U.S. needs to change its policies if it was seeking defense cooperation with Beijing.
Chin's Defense Minister Liang Guanglie who held talks with Gates on Monday said China’s weapons modernization program was not a threat to the U.S. China's progress in developing complicated defense systems like aircraft-carrier-killing ballistic missile, anti-satellite weapons and stealth fighters has been cautiously watched in the U.S.
The successful launch of the J-20 will lift China's air warfare capability significantly as it will bridge a huge gap with the U.S. technology. Currently the F-22 Raptor is the only fully operational stealth fighter in the world.