Recent images of two Chinese stealth fighters, the J-20 that appeared almost two years ago and the J-21 that surfaced this past week, have stymied American observers. No one knows how advanced these aircraft may be. They look like carbon copies of America's top stealth fighter, the F-22 (no, not the dog F-35 the U.S. wants to saddle us with). But there's no way as yet of evaluating whether the Chinese have the keys to the inner temple - the secrets of American stealth coatings that are radar absorbent and the electronic wizardry that is also instrumental in making stealth work.
What is known is that the Chinese have been actively pursuing these technologies. Since 2009 there have been incidents in which hackers, believed to be Chinese, have broken into American and British computers to filch massive amounts of F-35 data and code.
Chinese Hackers were able to penetrate into computers belonging to BAE
Systems, Britain’s biggest defence company, and to steal details about
the design, performance and electronic systems of the West’s latest
fighter jet, the costly F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The hacking attack has raised concerns that the fighter jet’s advanced
radar capabilities could have been compromised and comes few weeks after
papers about the future British-French drone were stolen in Paris.
Three years ago, the Wall Street Journal revealed the F-35 had been compromised by computer spies.
The Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35 Lightning II, is the
costliest and most technically challenging weapons program the Pentagon
has ever attempted. The plane, led by Lockheed Martin Corp. relies on 7.5 million lines of computer code, which the Government
Accountability Office said is more than triple the amount used in the
current top Air Force fighter.
Six current and former officials
familiar with the matter confirmed that the fighter program had been
repeatedly broken into. The Air Force has launched an investigation.
And then there's Lockheed Martin's state of the art stealth drone, the RQ-170, that Iran managed to seize just before Christmas. As expected, the Chinese have pored over the aircraft at length and presumably taken samples of its stealth coatings.
In mid-August, a team from China removed electronic components from the drone that were taken back to their homeland for reverse engineering.
China, it seems, doesn't have to re-invent the stealth wheel. It can simply steal much of the technology online and can fill in many of the gaps when American forces deliver the latest and greatest stealth drone into their very laps.
While we don't know how stealthy China's J-20 and J-21 fighters will be, the Chinese well may have copied enough of America's secrets to make their aircraft highly capable. That bodes very badly for the F-35 which was intentionally designed to be far less stealthy than America's super stealth fighter, the F-22. America's allies are getting stuck with the Plymouth when even the Chinese may be flying around in Corvettes.
When someone sells you something that is supposedly exclusive or super-secret but you subsequently discover that it's no longer exclusive, no longer super-secret, isn't it time to question the giant size price tag?