The U.S. knows very little about China’s newest stealth fighter prototype, the Shenyang J-21. But the just-released photographs of the Chinese jet reveal it to have a barely noticeable but key detail — one that suggests the jet might be hauled by China’s future fleet of aircraft carriers.
The Shenyang J-21, according to the three photos of it circulating on the Internet, has twin nose wheels. That’s kind of tough landing gear usually associated with naval fighters optimized for launching and landing on the heaving decks of aircraft carriers at sea. Could the J-21 be a tool of Chinese naval power?
Just two days after the J-21 — or J-31, as some observers think it’s designated — made its blurry Internet debut at a factory airfield in northeastern China, there are far more questions than answers about the new airplane’s origins, characteristics and purpose.
How stealthy is it — and how far along in its development? Is the J-21 a copy of the U.S. F-35 based on blueprints stolen by Chinese hackers, as some China-watchers contend? Is the new plane meant to compete with, or complement, the larger Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter prototype that debuted 21 months ago? And was the J-21′s first appearance timed to send a forceful message to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is China on his first visit as Pentagon chief?