China’s Copycat Jet Raises Questions About F-35

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Did the Chinese theft of data on the US fighter jet and other weapons shrink the Pentagon’s technical superiority?

China’s twin-engine design bears a striking resemblance to the single-jet F-35. Still, the Joint Strike Fighter is expected to fly slightly farther and carry a heavier load of weapons, according to the data, which was first reported by Jane’s.

Military experts say that while the J-31 looks like, and may even fly like, the F-35, it’s what’s under the hood and embedded in the skin that really matters. The U.S. has the better computer software, unique sensors and other hardware, stealth coating, and engines technology—all critical attributes that make fifth-generation aircraft different than the military jets of last century.

Exactly how long that advantage lasts is up for debate; senior Pentagon officials and experts believe American technology superiority is shrinking. That means the U.S. military’s weapons will not overmatch adversaries for as long as they have in past decades.

“It’s basically, are they producing weapon systems that have fifth-generation characteristics that potentially nullify some of our planned advantages in the future battlespace,” said Peter Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at New America.

“[W]e were depending more so on the [American weapons] having that generation-ahead edge and if we don’t have that generation ahead edge that is incredibly scary for us in various scenarios,” he said.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work and acquisition chief Frank Kendall have spent much of the past two years warning that the U.S. military’s technology advantage is eroding.

“What it does is reduce the cost and lead time of our adversaries to doing their own designs, so it gives away a substantial advantage,” Kendall said of cyber espionage at a 2013 Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing.

For the J-20, a Chinese stealth fighter being built to rival the F-22, there have been numerous prototypes in which the plane’s design has become stealthier, Singer said.

“Their designs, their capabilities are shifting from prototype to prototype in a way that has not happening with the current way that we are building our fifth-gen systems,” he said.

Full article: China’s Copycat Jet Raises Questions About F-35 (Defense One)

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