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Surprise! China’s Stealth Jets Are 2 Years Ahead of Schedule

• http://www.wired.com, By Spencer Ackerman

The Pentagon’s top China official has now revised that estimate. The J-20, China’s first stealth jet, will be operationally ready “no sooner than 2018,” David Helvey, deputy secretary of defense for East Asia and Asia Pacific Security Affairs, told reporters Friday.

The new anticipated timetable for the J-20 hardly augurs the end of American military dominance. But it wasn’t the only Chinese military development that took the Pentagon by surprise last year.

According to the Pentagon’s new report (.pdf) on the Chinese military, China’s got three nuclear-powered submarines — an advance that Helvey conceded the U.S. military didn’t anticipate. China also fielded an “improved” amphibious assault vessel last year, while the U.S. Marine Corps is having trouble upgrading its own.

 And that’s just the stuff that the Pentagon can see. Helvey speculated that the Chinese military keeps its research, foreign military acquisitions and nuclear modernization off its books. The report estimates that China’s declared $106 billion annual military budget is really more like $120 to $180 billion.
 
None of that means China’s military will overtake America’s anytime soon. China won’t, for instance, have a global communications and navigation satellite network until 2020, which means it doesn’t have a prayer of having a truly global Navy until at least then — even if it starts building its own aircraft carriers. Helvey disclosed that China still has neither built nor acquired any armed drones, and the spy robo-planes it has are the Harpies that Israel sold it nearly a decade ago. And while China may have an amphibious ship, the report says it can’t actually invade or hold nearby Taiwan, let alone any target further away or better defended.

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