Our good friend and Singapore-based colleague Greg Waldron filed a story this morning about the emergence of another new Chinese combat aircraft, which appears to pull together design features from both the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; although that of course could be entirely coincidental.
Shenyang's product is referred to with a few different designations on the Chinese-language websites where several pictures emerged over the weekend, but we've used J-21 before and like it best.
You can read some instant analysis about the aircraft and see extra pictures by checking out Greg's story, but the timing of this bird's emergence also struck us as rather siginificant. At the very start of last year, then-US defense secretary Robert Gates visited China, and Chengdu flew its stealthy J-20. Scroll forward to September 2012, and his successor Leon Panetta just so happens to be in Beijing now on a formal visit. As The DEW Line's creator Stephen Trimble put it in a Twitter post: "Maybe SECDEF should visit China more often?"
Big questions about the J-20 and J-21 relate to the true nature of any claimed stealth content and other "fifth-generation" features, such as advanced avionics equipment, plus the quality of their Russian or Chinese engines, radars and air-launched weapons. But what's clear is that any remaining thoughts of the West having a cosy 20-year technology advantage over Beijing can be dropped.
Incidentally, the newly-revealed aircraft is clearly the same airframe design that Greg wrote about in late June on our Asian Skies blog, when it was snapped in camouflaged-form on the back of a truck. I wonder how long it will be before we see this one up and flying?