Beijing unveiled its state-of-the-art jet – the Chengdu J-20 – earlier this month.
Military officials say it is likely the Chinese were able to develop the stealth technology from parts of an American F-117 Nighthawk that was shot down over Serbia in 1999.
During Nato’s aerial bombing of the country during the Kosovo war, a Serbian anti-aircraft missile shot the Nighthawk. It was the first time one of the ‘invisible’ fighters had ever been hit.
The Pentagon believed a combination of clever tactics and luck had allowed a Soviet-built SA-3 missile to bring down the jet.
The pilot ejected and was rescued but the wreckage was strewn over a wide area of farmland.
Civilians collected the parts – some the size of small cars – as souvenirs.
‘At the time, our intelligence reports told of Chinese agents crisscrossing the region where the F-117 disintegrated, buying up parts of the plane from local farmers,’ says Admiral Davor Domazet-Loso, Croatia’s military chief of staff during the Kosovo war.
‘We believe the Chinese used those materials to gain an insight into secret stealth technologies... and to reverse-engineer them.’
A senior Serbian military official confirmed that pieces of the wreckage were removed by souvenir collectors, and that some ended up ‘in the hands of foreign military attaches’.
In what appears to be a clear message of its military might, China staged the first test flight of the new stealth jet earlier this month - at the same time that U.S. defence chief Robert Gates was in Beijing on the second day of an official visit.
The fighter jet's successful test follows reports that China is planning to launch its first aircraft carrier and has tested a ballistic missile capable of sinking U.S. vessels in the Pacific.
The prototype jet was shown in flight, with civilians and air force personnel watching on, in pictures on several unofficial Chinese military websites, after local media outlets had claimed a successful test flight had taken place.
While the Chinese government is renowned for its stringent approach to state secrets, photos and reports of the J-20's test have remained online.
According to international agencies, the scheduling of the test flight to coincide with Mr Gates' visit to China, coupled with the seemingly relaxed approach to reports about the flight, indicated Beijing's willingness to be more open about its military intentions.
Nonetheless, reports of the stealth's successful test will do little to quell anxieties about the speed of China's military progress.
The U.S. F-22 Raptor is currently the only operational stealth fighter in the world, while Russia's Sukhoi T-50 jet is expected to enter active service in the next four years.
But pictures of China's J-20, which looks larger than the F-22 or T-50, will be of concern to the Taiwanese government, whose antiquated aircraft and radar systems would provide little resistance to radar-evading Chinese jets.
The U.S. has claimed China would not be capable of developing a stealth jet for years and production of the F-22 was recently capped.
But the J-20's successful test, coupled with reports of the development of an aircraft carrier and missile system, confirms China's growing military might.
SPY TECH: HOW THE J-20 SHAPES UP AGAINST ITS RIVALS
*This article is being posted from Toronto, Canada By DTN News ~ Defense-Technology News, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org