Welcome to the newest branch of open source intelligence: pottyology.
The Chengdu observation team reports preparations in place for a VIP event: a row of portapotties, a gleaming PLA-AF 737 visiting the field, people with serious cameras tolerated on the fence line, and ground crew (inexplicably) dressed up as Power Rangers.
What could that event be?
Another interesting development: the jet's engine nozzles have apparently changed color from gray to silver. Moreover, they don't look like any earlier imagery of either Russian AL-31F nozzles or the Shenyang WS-10A currently under test on the J-11B. I'm drawing that to your attention but not trying to formulate any hypotheses yet.
Meanwhile, the world's major media discovered the story yesterday, a mere ten days behind the defense blogosphere. The result is some degree of confusion. The BBC leads on the idea that the Pentagon is downplaying the J-20 because it is "years away" from service - but then nobody, including the PLA-AF, has been saying anything else.
In late 2009 the deputy head of China's air force, General He Weirong, said the country's stealth fighter would be ready sometime between 2017 and 2019, reports said.OK... why is the "but" in there? Seems to me that General He and Adm Dorsett are saying the same thing.
But US director of naval intelligence Vice Admiral David Dorsett said that it would be "years" before China's new fighter would be operational.
The Daily Telegraph quotes our former colleague Douglas Barrie:
Douglas Barrie, an aerospace expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, noted that the J20's airframe resembled that of an abandoned Russian prototype, the MiG 1.42.It does to some extent, but the bit where Doug explained that there were differences got left out and replaced by:
"I'm not sure that its even much of an impressive airframe," said Richard Aboulafia, another analyst. "It looks like something that might have been designed in 1985." You mean like the F-22? Actually, Aboulafia might have accidentally landed close to the truth. Because back in 1985-86 was when Lockheed and Northrop convinced the USAF that they could design the Advanced Tactical Fighter with all-aspect stealth, for a minimal cost and weight penalty, and the AF quietly told the other five competitors to go and team with one of those two.
Didn't turn out too well...
A lot of people, it seems to me, are projecting that the J-20 won't deliver much capability for a long time - based on the idea that China's engineers are copiers rather than originators. That's a mistake - and even if their guesses turn out to be right it will be an accident.