The jury is still out on China’s apparent fifth-generation J-20 stealth aircraft, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said today.
“The J-20 stories, frankly, that I’ve seen over the past couple weeks … have been a little over the top,” Morrell said during a Pentagon news conference. He noted that reports of “successful testing” ignore the unknowns of the Chinese aircraft.
“What we know is that a plane that looks different than any other they produced, that they claim to be their J-20, had a short test flight when we were in Beijing,” the press secretary said. “But we don’t know, frankly, much about the capabilities of that plane.”
The test flight occurred during Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ visit to China this month.
The J-20’s engine capabilities and degree of stealth capability are among the unknowns, Morrell said, adding that the U.S. current and developing air fleet is more than equal to any possible Chinese challenge.
“That’s why we have pursued not just the F-22, which we have in more than enough numbers to deal with any scenario involving China, but also the F-35, to the tune of nearly 2,500 planes,” Morrell said.
Morrell said “given what little we know,” of the Chinese aircraft, “I would just urge everybody to … slow down a little bit on our characterizations of the J-20 at this point.”
China’s capabilities and North Korea’s recent provocations make the question of U.S. force presence in the region an important one, Morrell said.
“In light of the threat that we see emanating … from Pyongyang,” he said, “we have said that we will do what is necessary to protect ourselves here as well as our forward-deployed forces [and] our allies, who we have security commitments to.”
The United States has 28,500 troops on the Korean peninsula and more than 50,000 more in Japan, Morrell noted.
“And over the long-term lay-down of our forces in the Pacific, we are looking at ways to even bolster that, not necessarily in Korea and Japan, but along the Pacific Rim, particularly in Southeast Asia,” he said.
Australia and Singapore may offer U.S. access to certain military facilities in the region, he said, adding, “Guam, obviously, would be the best example of us changing our lay-down and our footprint in the region, enhancing [our presence] in Southeast Asia.”
Morrell said Gates’ recent comments on the North Korean threat shouldn’t be construed as applying immediately.
“I think what he said is they’re becoming a direct threat to the United States,” the spokesman said. “By that, he doesn’t mean at this very moment. But given their pursuit of both the nuclear weapons and their ballistic-missile capabilities, he sees them being a direct threat not within five years, but sooner than that.”
Morrell said that’s why defense officials are working with China, Japan and others to impress on North Korea that “they’ve got to cut out this provocative behavior, the destabilizing behavior, and they’ve got to seriously reevaluate their pursuit of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles.”