The clearest video footage yet of what appears to be a Chinese stealth fighter prototype has been posted online.
The footage shows what appears to be the J-20 fighter moving around an airfield during ongoing tests at the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute in the western city of Chengdu.
The first clear still images of the aircraft were posted online in late December, suggesting that China is making faster-than-expected progress in developing a potential rival to the U.S. F-22 –- the world’s only fully deployed stealth fighter
Like the still images and a few blurry video clips, the new footage appears to have been shot clandestinely and posted by Chinese aviation or military enthusiasts on unofficial local defense-related websites, blogs and microblogs.
However, Western experts say Chinese authorities may have leaked them deliberately to suggest progress in their stealth fighter program, without officially confirming anything.
The lack of official confirmation would also save China from embarrassment in the event of an accident during the tests. China’s Internet censors usually delete politically sensitive material, but they appear to have allowed most images of the plane to be posted.
The Chinese Defense Ministry and Air Force and the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute all declined to comment.
Gen. He Weirong, deputy head of China’s Air Force, announced in 2009 that China’s first stealth fighters were about to undergo test flights and would be deployed in “eight or 10 years.”
Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, had predicted earlier in 2009 that China would not have any such aircraft by 2020 and only a “handful” by 2025.
U.S. defense and intelligence officials now say they expect China to deploy the aircraft by around 2018.