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China's mysterious stealth fighter revealed

China's mysterious stealth fighter revealed

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The public recently got an up-to-date glimpse of the J-20 AKA Mighty Dragon performing aerial maneuvers over an unspecified region of China's airspace.

Some of you might remember that it was around this time a year ago that the first photos and a video of China's rumored J-20 stealth figther surfaced on numerous web sites and blogs. Not too long after, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Chinese president Hu Jintao openly acknowledged to him to that the Chinese military had indeed just completed a 15-minute test flight.

Since then, things quieted down a bit. That is until last week, when the public got an up-to-date glimpse of the J-20 AKA Mighty Dragon. The latest snapshots show the aircraft performing aerial maneuvers over an unspecified region of China's airspace. While a fully operational fighter jet won't be ready for a while, perhaps for even a decade, Business Insider reports that "the prototype is said to be using the Saturn AL-31 turbofan engine developed by the Russians for their Su-27 air superiority fighter."

However, many big questions remain. Although the recent announcement that China will boost defense spending by 11 percent shows increased commitment to strengthening their military force, what's less obvious is how the stealth fighter plays into the grander scheme of things. For instance, no one outside of the Chinese military knows for sure why China is developing the J-20 and what officials will eventually use it for.

According to a report in Aviation Week:

There is another, more fundamental question: What is the J-20 for? The fighter is large for air combat—but China, simply because of geographical factors, doesn’t face an adversary fighter force of the kind that the F-22 was designed to counter. At the same time, the J-20 weapon bays are not large enough for most standoff air-to-surface weapons. One possibility is that the J-20 is intended to threaten intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets and tankers, by using stealth and speed to defeat their escorts.

Answers will likely emerge in due time. But for now, everyone will have to keep a close eye on the skies.

(via Business Insider)

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure