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China Rising

The Pentagon has quietly established an office to deal with the increasing number of threats to the United States’ space assets — a pretty big deal given the fact that space officials have been fretting about the overcrowding and militarization of space for years now.

Calling it DoD’s “ace in the hole” against military threats to U.S. satellites, National Reconnaisance Office director Bruce Carlson told reporters during a breakfast in Washington this morning that the Pentagon has stood up the Joint Space Protection Program (JSPP) to figure out how to defend against everything from attacks to accidents in space:

It’s becoming very congested [and] we recognize that it’s becoming very contested because other countries are launching a lot of stuff, sometimes more than we do and it’s becoming very competitive. There’s only so much space up there because there are really only about three, maybe four, (orbital) regimes that you can use and everybody knows what those are, they’re defined by natural laws, so we all have to operate in the same space. I don’t think it’s any secret that the Chinese are becoming more active in space and that concerns us because we’re not absolutely sure of their intent. So we have worked very, very closely with [Air Force] space command, first Gen. Bob Kehler and now Gen. William Shelton, and we have a Joint Space Protection Program. I have to tell you that the exact elements of that are very closely held because that’s going to be our ace in the hole should somebody try to do something. We also use the space protection program to work around the congestion problem; how do we make sure that we don’t run into something else up there by accident.

I’ve got to wonder what, if any, role the Air Force’s mysterious X-37B robot space planes (pictured above) play in the JSPP. Many believe they can be used to launch small spy satellites and even monitor other nation’s satellites up close. The first X-37B flight lasted 220 days and amateur spotters noticed the craft switched orbital patterns numerous times during this extremely long spaceflight.

Enter the China Question:

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Earlier this week we ran a poll asking readers what they think China’s J-20 stealth fighter will be used for.

Nearly half of those who responded think it will be used as both a high-speed interceptor capable of taking out fighters, AWACS and tankers and as a long-range weapons truck designed to penetrate an enemy’s air defenses to attack its bases or aircraft carriers.

One interesting point against the carrier/base killer argument came from aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia a while back when he said the following to DT:

If real, [J-20] would fall under Secretary Gates “exquisite” category. Why not invest the enormous platform-related resources into better long-range stealth missile technology? That sounds like much better bang for the buck, especially since they could try to overwhelm US defenses with larger numbers that way. Also, how does it explain those radar signature-producing canards on the J-20? Still, you can’t discount the possibility.

Now, we want to ask you how effective you think the jet will be in combat against air forces equipped with jets like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F-22 Raptor or even the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA.

While advanced tech details of the plane are unknown, production versions of the jet are allegedly going to have WS-10 thrust vectoring engines or WS-15 engines that will also allow the jet to super-cruise. As for sensors, the plane may be equipped with an Active electronically scanned array radar and a host of electro-optical sensors that would feed into a modern glass cockpit. With regard to low-observable tech, the bird appears fairly stealthy head on but the big canards up front and the aft section isn’t too stealthy.

Here’s a recap of things the big jet will need if it is to take on air forces equipped with fifth-gen fighters and advanced air defenses.

Anyway, tell us what you think in the poll after jump.

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Here’s some J-20 stealth fighter porn to start your short workweek. Enjoy these photo-montages of the the big fighter rolling and banking hard as its test pilots expand the plane’s flight envelope. Meanwhile, take the poll below the jump and tell us what missions you think China’s stealth jet will be used for.


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This Friday morning — more like midday —  is going to be devoted to stealth jets here at DT. Look at the above picture of China’s J-20 Stealth jet. See that big open door just forward of the main landing gear? My colleague Phil Ewing recently asked me if it’s the opening for another weapons or equipment bay.

While I’m no expert on this fighter, I think we can say that we’re seeing the main landing gear bay. Look at the photos below and notice how the gear should fold forward into that open bay.

Chalk any confusement up to grainy pictures of the plane combined with the layout of the forward-folding landing gear and the placement of the bay door. Keep in mind that the door could also provide maintainers access to other internal systems on the plane in addition to accommodating the landing gear.

You can see in the last photo below how that open gear door looks like it wasn’t meant for the landing gear.

The real mystery surrounding the giant plane is; what will it be used for?

My guess is that it’s a high-speed interceptor along the lines of the famous MiG-25 Foxbat and MiG-31 Foxhound or that it’s meant to be a penetrating, F-111 or F-15E-style weapons truck designed to strike heavily defended targets like air bases or carrier battle groups. As you can see in this video, it certainly appears to have the weapons carrying capacity for either of these missions.

Click through the jump for pictures.

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Enjoy this  hilarious photo of China’s J-20 stealth fighter taxiing past a “no cameras” sign at the Chengdu aviation facility. Funny considering the legions amateur photographers who, for months now, have been hanging out just outside the base fence to catch shots of the “secret” jet.

I hope base officials take the “no smoking” signs a little more seriously than this when ramp personnel are handling jet fuel.