China may declare its first stealth fighter operational this year as it also develops long-range bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons, part of a regional buildup by Beijing that the U.S. is closely monitoring, according to the U.S. Air Force’s Pacific commander.
General Charles Brown, the head of Pacific Air Forces, said the stealthy J-20 fighter could “possibly” be operational this year, a move he said would signal “greater threat, greater capability” for China in the Pacific. He went on to emphasize that U.S. efforts to counter those developments include rising deployments of next-generation F-35 jets and continuing overflights of strategic areas such as the South China Sea.
“My sense of the way the Chinese operate is somewhat incremental,” Brown said in an interview this week at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. “They’ll continue to push the envelope to figure out does anybody say or do anything -- if you don’t push back it’ll keep coming.”
Fielding the J-20 would add to what’s already the region’s largest air force and world’s third largest, with more than 2,500 total aircraft including 1,700 combat fighters, strategic bombers, tactical bombers and multi-mission tactical and attack aircraft, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report earlier this year. (end of excerpt)
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(EDITOR’S NOTE: Chinese state-owned media reported in March 2018 that the J-20 fighter was officially commissioned into China's air force in September 2017, “significantly improving the country’s air combat capability.”)