Saturday, January 15, 2011


Peter Goon, a vehement critic of the F-35 joint strike fighter that Australia has committed to buying from the United States, says the Chinese J-20 is far superior to the American fighter and we must immediately adapt to the new status quo.

The Chinese tested the J-20 for the first time last week, on the day that the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, arrived in Beijing for defence-related talks. Although the Chinese said the timing was coincidental, Mr Gates expressed concerns about the military's motives.

A Lowy Institute analyst, Rory Medcalf, a recent visitor to Beijing, said it was possible that the military did not signal the testing as a way of expressing displeasure at Mr Gates's visit.

Mr Goon, co-founder of the Air Power Australia think-tank, said the US and its allies had been ''caught flat-footed'' by the J-20's maiden appearance.

The J-20 has been described by some analysts overseas as ''unimpressive'' and a ''mish-mash of Soviet and American design features''. But Mr Goon said it was clear from the images of the plane and other material that it is far superior to the JSF, and even to America's top-of-the-range F-22 ''Raptor'' jet.

''It is basically a lot more stealthy than the JSF, will fly faster and higher, be more agile and because it's a much bigger aircraft it can carry more weapons,'' he said.

''This thing has been designed to compete with and defeat the F-22. They haven't even bothered with the JSF, and why would you?''

Mr Goon said the J-20 had been designed to advance China's ''second island chain'' strategy, which promotes the protection of Chinese trade routes within an area bordered in the east by Pacific islands such as the Marianas, Guam and the Caroline Islands, all the way to the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. In other words, most of south-east Asia.

One of the priorities in the federal government's 2009 Defence white paper was the need for Australia to achieve and maintain air combat superiority in the region.

''If Defence does not rethink in a timely, objective and coherent way their current plans we should take them out, put them in the stocks and pillory them,'' Mr Goon said.

''If they don't now redress the situation that's obvious to everyone else as a result of the J-20 and the T-50, then they're being delinquent in their responsibilities.''

Air Power Australia has been a loud critic of the government's decision to order 100 of the joint strike fighters for up to $16 billion, on the basis of cost and capability. The JSF project has been bedevilled by cost blowouts, technical problems and schedule overruns.

Following a recent Pentagon review of the troubled project, Mr Gates threatened to cancel the US Marines version of the fighter within two years unless the lead contractor, Lockheed Martin, ironed out problems with its structure and propulsion systems and lack of reliability.

The US Debt Commission has also recommended the Marines' F-35 be axed. Production on the F-22 jet was stopped by Mr Gates last year because it was too expensive.