First, some good news: The Global Times quoted a senior Chinese air force officer last week saying the Chengdu J-20 is still a research project and it's "difficult to say" when the theorized stealth interceptor would be ready for combat.
Not-so-good news: The RAND think-tank yesterday published an analysis concluding the J-20 exposes the fundamental problem that civilian control of the Chinese military is "under-institutionalized".
The RAND monograph is based on a widely-reported "senior [US] defense official's" observation that China's paramount civilian leader Hu Jintao was clueless about the J-20 in a meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on 11 January, which happened -- by coincidence or design -- to be only a few hours after the J-20 achieved first flight.
Was Hu just playing dumb (it wouldn't be the first time I've heard about a civilian official pretending ignorance of a quasi-secret military program), or did he really not know about a key and heavily -- albeit unofficially -- publicized milestone for one of the most sophisticated demonstrations of China's military and industrial power?
Says RAND's Andrew Scobell: "Analysis of Chinese handling of the J-20 test flight raises serious doubts about Beijing's capacity to manage successfully its ascendance as a great power and raises a serious question as to whether a civil-military 'gap' exists in China's peaceful rise."