A quick update on China's stealth fighter program: Photos newly published on a Chinese Web sites show what might be a third prototype J-20 stealth jet.
China has two different types of stealthy-looking fighters: the large J-20 and the smaller J-31. Many speculate that because of its large size, the J-20 is high-speed interceptor designed to fly out and shoot down enemy bombers -- similar to the old Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat -- or that it is a high-speed stealthy bomber designed to use a combination of stealth and speed to penetrate enemy air defenses and fire cruise missiles or bombs at targets such as bases or ships.
The latest photos show a J-20 with open compartments on the forward sections of its fuselage, which may contain avionics, communications gear or sensors. It is also worth noting that the third aircraft appears to have a different nose radome than its sibling J-20s, meaning that this jet may also contain an Active Electronically Scanned Array radar. All of this suggests the Chinese may be testing the sensors it plans to include on production J-20s. Still, without confirmation from the Chinese air force, this is pure speculation.
Photos of the first two J-20 prototypes, dubbed J-20 2001 and J-20 2002, have been appearing on Chinese Web forums for nearly two years, with the first jet making its maiden flight in early 2011.
The smaller J-31, revealed in September, appears to blatantly copy the shape of two American-made fighters: Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. (It's worth pointing out that Lockheed's F-35 program was badly hacked several years ago. Loads of information was stolen, forcing a costly and time consuming redesign of several systems.) Little is known about the J-31 or what it will be used for.
Click here for more images of the possible third J-20.
Chinese Internet, China Defense Blog
John Reed reports on the frontiers of cyber war and the latest in military technology for Killer Apps.