Reports Of China's Stealth Fighter Come As Pentagon Proposes Cuts

January 6, 2011

Mark Memmott

This news:

"China's state media have published pictures that appear to show a prototype of the country's first stealth fighter jet -- a move that supports experts' claims that China's military aviation program is advancing faster than expected." (NPR staff and wires)

And this news:

"Defense Secretary Robert Gates is announcing the latest round of cost-cutting measures for the [U.S.] military, including a plan to do away with a new amphibious vehicle that can ferry troops to shore while under fire." (The Associated Press)

Call to mind a Weekend Edition Sunday story from last August by NPR's Tom Gjelten, headlined "China's Economic Rise Enables Military Growth." As Tom reported:

"Their country may have just become the No. 2 economy in the world, but China's leaders seem determined to downplay the significance of the move.

" 'China is a developing country,' Commerce Ministry spokesman Yao Jian said this week, in the government's initial reaction to the news of China's surpassing Japan for the first time in its gross economic output. 'The quality of China's economic development still needs to be raised.'

"Behind that apparent humility, however, is a complex story of Chinese ambitions and anxieties. Just as China's second-quarter gross domestic product showed it leading Japan, the U.S. Defense Department was reporting that the country's economic achievements have enabled China 'to embark on a comprehensive transformation of its military.' The annual Pentagon report on China's military development highlighted the country's rapid expansion of missile, submarine and space-warfare capabilities, all made possible by its dramatic economic growth."

That Pentagon report states that:

"China is developing and fielding large numbers ofadvanced medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, new attack submarines equipped withadvanced weapons, increasingly capable long-range air defense systems, electronic warfare and computer network attack capabilities, advanced fighter aircraft, and counter-space systems."

And it cautions that:

"The [People's Liberation Army] has made modest improvements in the transparency of China’s military and securityaffairs. However, many uncertainties remain regarding how China will use its expandingmilitary capabilities. The limited transparency in China’s military and security affairs enhances uncertainty and increases the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation."

All fodder for thought as Washington begins the latest debate about defense spending. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.