The first clear photos of what appears to be a Chinese stealth fighter prototype have hit the Internet—and they're sparking concerns that China’s military modernization is happening faster than previously thought. The pictures, which many experts believe are authentic, appear to show a J-20 prototype performing a high-sped taxi test, which likely means the aircraft’s first flight will happen as soon as the next few weeks, the Wall Street Journal reports. The prototype appears to have "the potential to be a competitor with the F-22 and to be decisively superior to the F-35," the United States’ two stealth fighters, says an expert.
If the pictures are authentic, it would mean China is close to developing an F-22 rival—that jet is currently the only fully operational stealth fighter in the world. Along with other new military equipment, including its first aircraft carrier as well as “carrier-killer” missiles, the J-20 could give China the ability to challenge the US Navy in the Asia-Pacific region. US officials downplayed the photos, however, claiming there is evidence the Chinese are still having development problems. American intelligence agencies reportedly place the J-20’s operational date around 2018, two years earlier than Robert Gates predicted in 2009. Click for more details about the J-20.