American intelligence agencies recently obtained new information on China’s second new stealth fighter-bomber revealed on the Internet in the past two years, according to U.S. officials.
The new jet, dubbed the F-60, is a fifth-generation warplane; a prototype was disclosed in photographs posted on two Chinese military affairs websites beginning June 21.
Officials familiar with intelligence reports said the shape and design of the F-60 appears similar to the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, the U.S. military’s most advanced stealth fighter, although it is smaller in size.
The similarities are raising concerns in counterintelligence circles that China obtained design details for its new jet from the F-22 through espionage or cyber-spying, as occurred with the Chinese compromise of F-35 data by suspected intelligence hackers several years ago.
A Defense Intelligence Agency spokeswoman declined to comment on the new Chinese stealth jet.
According to the U.S. officials, intelligence analysts recently conducted detailed analyses of photos that show the first prototype of the new jet being transported on the back of a flatbed truck along the Beijing-Shenyang highway under escort by vehicles and officials of the Ministry of State Security, China’s political police and intelligence service.
The new jet was shown at a rest stop during its transport during what Chinese websites said was transfer to a stress testing facility.
The twin-engine jet was shown without its tail stabilizers or cockpit canopy, leading some analysts to conclude it was an L-15 trainer aircraft.
However, analysis of the photos revealed that the new jet is larger in size and has different wing shapes and engine intakes than the trainer, and therefore is likely the new F-60.
The photos and commentary were posted on Tiexue (www.tiexue.net), a military website in Beijing that reports on People’s Liberation Army developments; and Feiyang Junshi, (www.fyjs.cn), another military website based in Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province.
No mention was made of the F-60 in recent unclassified Pentagon annual reports to Congress on China’s military.
The 2011 report stated that development of the J-20 stealth jet and long-range conventional missiles “could improve the PLA’s ability to strike regional air bases, logistical facilities, and other ground-based infrastructure.”
The F-60 jet is under development by the Shenyang Aircraft Corp., which analysts say lost out several years ago to the manufacturer of China’s first stealth fighter, the J-20, which is being built by the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute.
The J-20 was first shown in a test flight during the visit to China in January 2011 by then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in what was widely viewed as anti-U.S. political posturing by China’s communist government and military.
Gates had canceled production of the Air Force’s F-22 months earlier claiming that large numbers of F-22s were not needed because China would not field a comparable jet until 2020.
It now appears that China will have two new fifth-generation stealth fighters capable of challenging the U.S. Air Force in Asia years before the U.S. intelligence estimate of 2020.
The Pentagon considers stealth jet fighters key “anti-access, area denial” forces that China is developing as part of a strategy of forcing the U.S. military to operate further from Chinese shores.
The arms have prompted a new Pentagon doctrine called the Air Sea Battle Concept that calls for new U.S. forces and upgraded alliances in Asia to better assist U.S. forces in coming to the aid of democratic friends and allies in any future conflicts in the region.
Other high-tech forces being built by China for use against the United States include anti-ship ballistic missiles; anti-satellite missiles and lasers; large numbers of submarines; cyber warfare capabilities; and anti-missile defenses.
Some U.S. intelligence analysts are viewing the disclosure of the F-60 as an official leak by the Chinese military. Evidence for that view was one photo of the jet that shows an Audi A6 parked next to the truck transporting it. The parked Audi appears designed to provide foreign or domestic observers with a vehicle of known dimensions that will allow analysts to make calculations on the size and shape of the new jet.
China in the past has revealed new military developments on the Internet through similar official leaks. For example, China’s new Yuan-class attack submarine was built entirely in secret until photos of the submarine appeared on the Internet in 2004.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, a former deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said the disclosure of the new Chinese stealth jet "should not come as a surprise."
"The PLA [air force] has a very comprehensive planning process, and may have several advanced aircraft in various stages of design and development," Deptula told the Free Beacon.
Larry Wortzel, a former Army intelligence officer, said it would be difficult to determine if the Chinese obtained secrets on the F-22 for the new jet.
“We know the F-35 had a major cyber penetration,” Wortzel told the Free Beacon. “But even without a penetration, there have been enough opportunities to see F-22s to assist a manufacturer in trying to copy the external design. Xian and Shenyang were working parallel programs for stealth fighter aircraft.”
Richard Fisher, a specialist on China’s military program, said in addition to the rest stop photos, later pictures showed the new jet at a People’s Liberation Army Air Force test center near the city of Xian.
“The F-60 has been reported by Chinese sources as a possible ‘private’ program that it hopes it can sell to the PLA later,” Fisher said in an interview.
“This has happened numerous times before, as in the case of the Hongdu K-8 trainer. What we see on the truck could also be a full-scale model headed for a wind tunnel, electronic or stress testing facility. We do not know yet if a flying prototype has been built.”
However, Fisher said image analysis shows the new jet to be a possible smaller fifth-generation fighter that could be promoted by Shenyang as a lower cost fighter than the Chengdu J-20.
“It is just slightly longer than the F-35, has twin engines but clearly uses stealth shaping as would a fifth-gen fighter,” Fisher said. “It may also employ internal weapon carriage and most likely has a modern [active electronically scanned array] radar. If this is a real program, it will also be developed into a carrier capable version. The size and twin-engine configuration is correct for usage on China's carriers.”
China is currently conducting sea trials for its first aircraft carrier, the Soviet-era Varyag, and U.S. intelligence officials have said two additional carriers are under construction at a shipyard near Shanghai.
“The bottom line here is that as Washington can't figure out whether it can afford just one fifth-gen fighter program, China may be pursuing up to three or more,” Fisher said.
The Chinese fighter buildup comes as the Navy is having second thoughts about purchasing large numbers of the naval version of the F-35, which was designated the mainstay future U.S. fighter jet after Gates killed off the F-22.
“When fighter programs start this kind of dive before production and deployment, the ending is usually bad,” Fisher said. “If the Shenyang fighter program is real, this only serves to compound the disaster of having ended F-22 production, which has to rank as one of the most shortsighted and dangerous acts of U.S. unilateral disarmament since the end of the Cold War.”
If the Navy cuts its plans to buy large numbers of F-35Cs and rely more on jets from the Air Force, there are concerns that the Air Force with about 120 F-22 will not be able to do the job, Fisher said.
The second new Chinese stealth fighter development further undermines the decision made by Gates in 2009 to limit production of the F-22 to 187 aircraft and to instead produce several thousand F-35s.
Gates said on July 16, 2009 that by 2020 the United States would have 1,100 fifth generation F-35s and F-22s, but that China was projected to have none, and that the gap of U.S. to Chinese advanced fighters would widen by 2025 with 1,700 advanced U.S. jets to Beijing’s “handful” of jets capable of penetrating strongly defended airspace and the ability to fly long distances.
Fisher said in response to Gates’ 2009 assessment: “With delays being compounded by further cutbacks and production reductions, it does not seem possible that the United States will have 1,700 fifth-generation fighters in 2025 while the Chinese may only have a handful."
“The Chinese may have two hundred to several hundred by 2035, which in their neighborhood will go far to deter the United States,” he said.
To meet the Chinese jet fighter imbalance, “it is imperative that we revive production of an improved version of the F-22,” Fisher said. “Otherwise we condemn ourselves to either a slow retreat from Asia or a ‘Pearl Harbor’ that will be delivered by China.”
The Pentagon’s 2011 report on China’s military said, “In January 2011, initial images of China’s fifth generation J-20 stealth fighter were posted on the Internet.”
“Although the appearance of this prototype underscores the level of PRC investment in advanced defense systems, the Defense Department does not expect the J-20 to achieve an effective operational capability prior to 2018,” the report said. “China faces several hurdles as it moves toward J-20 production, including the mastery of high-performance jet engine production.”
The report also said “the J-20 will eventually give the PLA Air Force a platform capable of long range, penetrating strikes into complex air defense environments.”