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Entries in Lockheed Martin (2)

Friday
May182012

New China Stealth Fighter: Rival to Troubled US F-22 Raptor?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Just as America’s latest breed of super jet fighters are being reigned in due to a mystery safety problem, a new Pentagon report released Friday notes that China’s own version of a next-generation fighter appears to be designed to have similar capabilities.

“The January 2011 flight test of China’s next-generation fighter prototype, the J-20, highlights China’s ambition to produce a fighter aircraft that incorporates stealth attributes, advanced avionics, and super-cruise engines,” said the Pentagon’s 2012 annual assessment of the Chinese military.

The report comes a month after a second prototype of the J-20 was reportedly spotted rolling around a Chinese airfield, more than a year and a half since China’s only other known prototype made its first public flight.

The three attributes described by the Pentagon are among the advanced capabilities of the F-22 Raptor, the stealth fighter jet billed by the U.S. Air Force and its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, as the most sophisticated fighter on the planet. But currently the entire fleet of F-22s, which cost the U.S. government an estimated $79 billion, has been slapped with strict flight restrictions due to safety concerns for pilots.

The restrictions, which keep the planes in close proximity to potential landing strips in case of a mid-air emergency, were announced two weeks after an ABC News Nightline investigation found that the advanced $420 million-a-pop fighter jets have been plagued by a rare, but potentially deadly oxygen problem for years. Despite multiple investigations -- including a four-month full-fleet grounding last year -- the Air Force has been unable to pinpoint the cause.

The concept of the F-22 itself has also been long debated. Officials at the Air Force and Lockheed Martin have said the jets are essential to the future of American war power. However, funding for new super jets was cut by Congress in 2009 after powerful critics from across the political spectrum, from Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) to then Defense Secretary Robert Gates to President Barack Obama, all called on lawmakers to halt F-22 orders at 187 planes, saying that the plane was designed to fight fleets of other, rival next-generation fighters — an enemy that does not exist.

Despite going combat operational in late 2005, the jets have yet to go into combat, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the “no-fly zone” over Libya last March. In all cases, the Air Force said the sophisticated fighters simply weren’t needed.

Just before funding for the F-22 was cut in 2009, President Obama received a letter from more than a dozen Congressmen and local lawmakers in support of the F-22. In the letter, the supporters claimed the full force of a 600-plus F-22 fleet would be needed to counter future rivals like Russia and China.

Since, both Russia and China appear to have developed prototypes for their own next generation fighters. The Russian variant, the Sukhoi T-50, was shown off to the public during an air show last August. Russian news reports compared the jet’s capabilities directly with those of the F-22. Though China is not believed to have more than a couple J-20s, a U.S. government report on Chinese weapons systems released last month said U.S. intelligence estimated that at least some J-20s could go combat operational as soon as 2018.

That document, from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, revealed that some U.S. analysts doubt the Chinese are very far along in developing the “key components for designing a fifth-generation fighter” such as effective stealth technology and high-performance engines.

“We’ve got to continue to watch as it develops. It’s still in the prototype phase,” David Helvey, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia and Asia Pacific Security, told reporters Friday. “We’d like to be able to continue to monitor developments on that to understand exactly what China may intend to use it for and I wouldn’t want to speculate at this point for what those specific missions might be.”

In a speech in 2009, Gates noted that other nations were developing next-generation fighters, but said America is already way ahead in the numbers game and that gap “only widens” as the Air Force begins receiving hundreds of the F-22-s companion fighter, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter - a plane that has had its share of cost overruns and delays in development.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May092011

Chinese Stealth Fighter Could Rival U.S.'s Best: Report

F-22 Raptor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker)(WASHINGTON) -- The next generation stealth fighter under development by the Chinese military could rival America's best fighters in speed, stealth and lethality, according to a new private report.

Details on the Chinese J-20 fighter are scant as the project has been developed under extreme secrecy, but an analysis conducted by the conservative Washington D.C.-based defense policy think tank The Jamestown Foundation based on the little publicly available information concluded that the fighter "will be a high performance stealth aircraft, arguably capable of competing in most cardinal performance parameters...with the United States F-22A Raptor, and superior in most if not all cardinal performance parameters against the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter."

The F-22 Raptor, which cost the U.S. government $77 billion for 187 planes from defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin, has never seen combat in any of America's three simultaneous major combat operations, but is considered by the Air Force and Lockheed Martin to be a stealth fighter without match. The slightly cheaper F-35, an all purpose stealth fighter being developed by Lockheed Martin for the Air Force, Navy and Marines, is not meant to focus on air-to-air combat like the F-22, but on air-to-ground attacks and is expected to work in tandem with the F-22.

The Jamestown Foundation report, written by defense analyst and F-22 proponent Carlo Kopp, was first published last week just days after America's entire fleet of F-22s was grounded due to oxygen system concerns and a new video surfaced online, purportedly showing a rare test flight by a prototype J-20. The report noted the Chinese planes would not have the range to make unsupported strikes against the continental U.S., but U.S. military bases and allies in the region are well within the potential target zone -- including air bases that have been home to the F-22 fighters. It also says that due to its larger size, the J-20 could potentially carry more or bigger payloads than the F-22.

Though the Defense Department declined to comment on the Jamestown Foundation report, in response to the J-20 video, a Pentagon spokesperson told ABC News last week the U.S. has been "carefully monitoring China's comprehensive and sustained military modernization and its implications for the region."

But as early as January, shortly after a test flight of what appeared to be the J-20, Department of Defense Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters, "We don't know, frankly, much about the capabilities of that plane" and urged observers to "slow down a little bit on our characterizations of the J-20 at this point."

China is still in the development stage for its fighter, whereas once the oxygen system issues are sorted out, the U.S. Air Force will return to having more than 160 operational F-22s. The last of the 187 planes are still being delivered by Lockheed Martin.

As more information has surfaced about the secretive J-20, the Defense Department spokesperson would only say the Pentagon has not been taken by surprise.

"The fact that China has developed a prototype for this program is not surprising and is consistent with the direction we have seen China's military taking over a number of years," the spokesperson said.

According to Lockheed Martin, which is still receiving hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to upgrade current F-22s, the J-20 "shows that other nations are seeking to develop the capability to challenge the F-22, and by extension, our capacity to attain air superiority in future conflict.

"Such emerging threats illustrate the need to continue enhancing the F-22's capabilities so that it stays ahead of evolving threats," a Lockheed Martin spokesperson said.

Both the Air Force and Lockheed Martin said the reason the $143 million-a-pop F-22s have yet to fire on any enemies is because they're designed specifically to dominate the air against rival sophisticated air weapons like the J-20, not small, poorly armed third-world militaries and insurgent groups.

The planes' natural enemy, therefore, is one that the program's biggest critic, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said in 2009 did not exist.

"The F-22 is clearly a capability we do need -- a niche, silver-bullet solution for one or two potential scenarios -- specifically the defeat of a highly advanced enemy fighter fleet," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in 2009 while advocating that Congress ditch further funding for the Raptor from the budget. "[But] the F-22, to be blunt, does not make much sense anyplace else in the spectrum of conflict."

Before the decision was made to cut the F-22 program at 187 planes -- rather than the more than 600 that were originally part of the deal -- dozens of supporters in Congress and state governments sent letters to President Obama arguing that the full force of the F-22s would be needed to counter the next generations planes being developed by China and Russia. Gates dismissed the idea, saying the F-22s and newer F-35s would greatly outnumber any adversaries' forces for the next 15 years at least.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio