China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) seems to have mastered the art of copying the technology invented by other nations, helped to some extent by the Chinese diaspora. Reverse engineering has been China’s forte since the 1960s. They have learned to fine tune a reverse engineered product, make just enough changes and give it a completely different look.
A history of stealing USAF stealth technology
On 27 March 1999, one of the U.S. Air Force’s stealth bombers was shot down in Yugoslavia during Operation Noble Anvil. All but the cockpit of the wreckage was sent to China to so they could focus on the stealth technology. That cockpit still sits in a Belgrade museum today.
On 7 May 1999, the USAF bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade amid rumors that Washington had learned of their intentions to steal the F-117A technology. Later, Washington apologized and maintains that the incident was not intentional and merely an accident. Soon after the Kosovo war ended, an exact replica of F-117A was observed at one of PLAAF’s radar development establishments. A similar replica of another USAF aircraft, an F-22, was observed in China at the Neifu Pucheng airport.
After the U.S. raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, it is believed that Pakistan provided China access to study the remains of the MH-X Stealth Black Hawk helicopter that brought in the U.S. Navy Seals and crashed during landing. The existence of the super-secret stealth helicopter was not known or acknowledged until that raid.
The first flight of the J-20 took place on 11 January 2011. The first flight of the J-31, the second Chinese stealth design, was first identified at Shenyang Aircraft Cooperation’s airstrip on 31 October 2012. The aircraft is a twin-engine mid-size stealth fighter supposedly being developed for the PLA Navy.
A surprise revelation made at Gaobeidian, about 70 km southwest of Beijing, appeared to be a replica of USAF stealth X-47, albeit in a smaller size, was spotted. This could be for testing the JY-11 3-D air surveillance radar or a new UAV.
The PLAAF has tested J-20 stealth aircraft for high-altitude operations, especially landing and take-off. Pictures of Amdo Banda airport with a lone J-20 in camouflaged cover were seen on Chinese internet. J-20’s observed in Tibet created an internet sensation amongst watchers of China’s military technology, complete with rumors that four fighter jets were deployed at Lhasa’s Gonggar airport. The latter turned out to a false alarm — for now. It made its inaugural public display at the the 11th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition (11th Airshow China) in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province in November 2016.
China made history in the Fall of 2017 as the first country besides the U.S. to finally field its stealth aircraft — finally putting it into active service — but reports from its regional rival, India, indicate that it may want to go back to the drawing board. The Indian Defense Research Wing report that its Russian-made Su-30MKI fighter jets can spot the supposedly stealth J-20s, and have already observed them in flight. According to the J-20’s primary designer, Yang Wei, the plane is set to be serialized in the future to increase the country’s military capabilities.
Looks like the Chinese may have some more to steal from the U.S. if they want to get this right.
What say you SOFREP? Are we doing enough to protect our technology from China? Sound off in the comments.