It recently came out that parts of the radar-elusive F-117 plane the Serbs shot down in 1999 (and cleverly commented, “Sorry, we didn’t know it was invisible!”), may have surfaced in China’s sleek new J-20:

China stealth fighter ‘copied parts from downed US jet’ (BBC, Jan 24)

The technology behind China’s J-20 stealth fighter may have come from a US plane shot down during the Kosovo war, Balkan military sources say.

Adm Davor Domazet-Loso, Croatia’s military chief of staff at the time, claims Chinese agents took parts of a downed F-117 stealth jet in 1999.

The F-117 had been shot down by a Serbian anti-aircraft missile during a Nato bombing raid.

China’s J-20 stealth fighter had its first test flight earlier this month.

Currently, the United States is the only nation with a fully operational stealth plane.

Nighthawks were the world’s first stealth fighters - planes that are almost invisible to radar.

When the F-117 was shot down in 1999 during Nato bombing, it was the first time one of the jets had been hit.

Military officials and experts say they believe that some of the parts found themselves in Chinese hands, which allowed China to replicate them to develop similar technologies.

“We believe the Chinese used those materials to gain an insight into secret stealth technologies… and to reverse-engineer them,” [Adm Domazet-Loso] said.

A senior Serbian military official confirmed that some of the pieces were removed by souvenir collectors, and that some ended up “in the hands of foreign military attaches”.

Alexander Neill, head of the Asia Security Programme at the Royal United Services Institute, said the proposition was highly possible, as Serbia and China had a very close relationship during this time and routinely shared intelligence.

“At that time the Chinese had a close relationship with Serbian military intelligence and in that regard - just as an intelligence-sharing relationship - a windfall such as a F-117 would be gold dust, and any modernising military worth its salt would examine anything of that nature extremely closely,” he told the BBC.

He said it would be very difficult to know for sure, but that China had during that time a “rapacious appetite” for technology which would help them with their modernisation programme.

China’s Chengdu J-20 stealth jet is expected to be operational some time between 2017 and 2019.

Some analysts have claimed this sign of military strength will worry the US government, but the Pentagon has played down concerns over the fighter. […]

Of course, given the U.S. president at the time, it’s surprising to learn that there was anything left to share with the Chinese at all. Indeed, what Bill Clinton didn’t give the Chinese, his war apparently did.

Another report: Was China’s Stealth Tech Made in America? by David Axe (Jan. 24)

On March 27, during the height of NATO’s air war on Serbia, a very smart and very lucky Serbian air-defense commander achieved the seemingly impossible. Firing three 1960s-vintage SA-3 missiles, Col. Zoltan Dani managed to shoot down an attacking U.S. Air Force F-117 stealth fighter-bomber piloted by Lt. Col. Dale Zelko…

A fast-acting team of Air Force A-10 attack planes and helicopters retrieved Zelko intact, but not so the wreckage of the colonel’s top-secret jet, one of the technological stars of the 1991 Gulf War. The destroyed F-117’s left wing, canopy and ejection seat — plus Zelko’s helmet — wound up in a Belgrade aviation museum, but most of the rest of the 15-ton jet was gathered up by farmers living around the crash site. Twelve years later, some of those components may have finally surfaced — in the design of China’s new J-20 stealth fighter.

The J-20 appeared without warning in late December and flew for the first time [last] month. For weeks, observers from all over the world have debated the J-20’s significance. Some are calling it the death-knell for 50 years of U.S. air dominance. Others dismiss it as a visually-impressive but militarily useless piece of showmanship. The truth is probably somewhere between those extremes, especially if the J-20 has F-117 DNA.

Back in March 1999, the F-117’s wreckage was possibly still cooling when foreign agents sprang into action. “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,” Adm. Davor Domazet-Loso, then the top Croatian officer, told the Associated Press.

“The destroyed F-117 topped that wish-list for both the Russians and Chinese,” added Zoran Kusovac, a military consultant based in Rome.

A plane’s materials — particularly any skin coatings — are equally important. That’s where China might have really benefited from studying the crashed F-117.

It’s possible the U.S. defense establishment knew that China had cracked the F-117’s secrets. Perhaps accepting that the cat was out of the bag, the Americans reportedly made no effort to retrieve the stealth artifacts from that Belgrade museum…

And in a move that surprised many observers, in 2008 the Air Force formally retired the entire F-117 fleet, then roughly 40 strong. (A few F-117s are secretly still flying, apparently for tests.) Officially, the F-117 was obsolete. “I mean it’s a 30-year-old concept now,” F-117 pilot Lt. Col. Chris Knehans said, ignoring the fact that almost all U.S. combat aircraft designs are at least that old. It could be that the F-117 had to go because every potential rival knew its secrets.

Still, it should be discouraging to U.S. war planners that the loss of a single high-tech fighter can possibly render useless that fighter’s entire design. What happens when the first B-2, F-22 or F-35 crashes in enemy territory?

If this was a theft/copy — one perhaps more significant at the time than it seems now — is it too much to hope that maybe our military structures have asked themselves at least once: Was it worth it? In general, is the possibility of such technology leaks — always a risk during war — justified by wars as gratuitous as the one against Yugoslavia?

And while the Air Force and Pentagon downplay the significance of 30-year-old technology, those “satellite photos” of the supposed Srebrenica mass graves which Madeleine Albright was waving in 1995 are still under lock and key for 50 years, classified out of “national security” concerns about revealing our “surveillance technology.” Never mind that these photos were taken by a U2 plane, flying since the 60s.

Two more useful details:

China’s military buildup has increasingly worried the Pentagon, although officials in both the United States and China say the Chinese are a generation or two behind the American military.

The J-20 caused an uproar two weeks ago when the Chinese sent it on its first test flight, 15 minutes long, a few hours before Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates met in Beijing with President Hu Jintao of China. On a visit meant to smooth over rocky relations between the American and Chinese armed forces, the flight was seen as an unusually bold show of force.

And a UK Guardian report had this tidbit:

Russia’s Sukhoi T-50 prototype stealth fighter made its maiden flight last year and is due to enter service in about four years. It is likely that the Russians also gained knowledge of stealth technology from the downed Nighthawk.

Isn’t there just a touch of irony that in spreading jihad while attacking Russia’s neighborhood, we may have inadvertently helped Russia get stronger?

Way to go, “America.” On so many counts concerning the 90s Balkans that they’re too numerous to count.

****UPDATE: CHINESE FORMER PRESIDENT JIANG ZEMIN’S MEMOIR CONFIRMS THE F-117 TECHNOLOGY WAS GIFTED TO CHINESE DIRECTLY: “Attack in Serbia by US was no error — Truth about mistake bombing of Chinese embassy” by Michael Sheridan****

The former Chinese president Jiang Zemin has admitted in an unpublished memoir that Serbian military intelligence units were hiding inside the Chinese embassy in Belgrade when Nato bombed it in 1999.

The memoir is reported to say that Jiang acceded to a personal plea from Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader, to shelter key military intelligence personnel, and that 14 Serbs and three Chinese citizens died there when US bombers struck.

Although the United States apologized for the raid - which led to anti-western demonstrations in China - blaming faulty target mapping by the CIA, the Chinese government never accepted this explanation.

Now a Chinese-language magazine in Hong Kong has published an account of the bombing from a series of essays written in retirement by Jiang, 85, who stepped down from his last post in 2004.

It said Jiang regretted allowing the Serbs sanctuary inside China’s diplomatic mission and believed it was a serious political mistake. The memoir is said to tell how a furious Chinese government was forced to mute its protests after the Americans privately presented evidence of Serbian electronic communications from within the embassy.

The diplomatic bargain appeared to be that the Americans saved China’s face by apologising for a “mistake” and the Chinese allowed the street rage to cool off without serious violence.

Jiang believes the Belgrade bombing destroyed his relationship with Bill Clinton, then the US president, according to the magazine Qiansao (Outpost), which quoted Jiang’s aides and family members. He appears to have gambled and lost because he saw a chance to outflank Russia, which had refused to help Milosevic protect his intelligence assets.

The magazine claimed the Chinese were already sending secret supplies of surface-to-air missiles to the former Yugoslavia through Libya. “When the air campaign began, Yugoslavia’s defence ministry, information department and police headquarters were all destroyed by NATO bombs,” it said, quoting the memoir.

“Slobodan Milosevic once again asked Jiang to allow core departments of military intelligence to take refuge in the Chinese embassy basement so as to keep operating.” The Chinese leader agreed.

As the NATO bombing intensified, the Chinese foreign ministry asked Jiang if it could withdraw its staff from Belgrade, but he ordered them to stay put as a sign of solidarity with Milosevic, the memoir admits.

NATO was bombing Serbia to force it to withdraw from Kosovo, a province seeking independence. To China, fighting its own separatists in Tibet and Xinjiang, it was a matter of principle to support the government in Belgrade.

Although the memoir seems not to say so, there was another reason for Chinese involvement on Serbia’s side. The magazine says Milosevic’s agents handed over to China some navigation gear, thermal insulation and part of a jet exhaust from an American F-117 Stealth fighter shot down over the Balkans. China surprised the Americans by unveiling its own stealth fighter in a test flight last month.

The Belgrade bombing is one of “two regrets” in Jiang’s memoir, said Qiansao. The other is his decision to stage a crackdown on the Falun Gong meditation group.

Chinese journalists believe the magazine’s account of the memoirs is authentic, pointing to previous instances when high-level documents or memoirs have first appeared as leaks in Hong Kong.

Asked about the magazine’s claims, a NATO spokesman referred to a statement made by Jamie Shea, then its spokesman, in May 1999, in which he regretted the loss of life and damage to the embassy.

Shea added: “I would like to remind the people of Yugoslavia that we carefully select targets that are directly related to President Milosevic’s political and leadership apparatus.”

In other words, the above article closes with yet another lie. Among the many things that the aggressive war on Yugoslavia is famous for is that it targeted civilians. That is, for its terroristic nature. NATO leaders and U.S. lawmakers at the time boasted about hitting civilian infrastructure to make life unlivable — while media commentators from Tom Friedman to Charles Krauthammer to Bill O’Reilly called for more blood — and there were intentional bombings of one civilian train, convoy or bridge after another.

****ADDITIONAL UPDATE****

From a senior analyst at Hicks & Associates (parent company SAIC“):

[W]hile everyone is talking about how the Chinese insulted Obama at the White House, and their junk non-stealthy fighter, nobody is talking about how the non-stealthy fighter was built for carrier service and how the Chinese have taken the three gigantic derelict Soviet aircraft carriers which were bought to scrap or turn into casinos, and secretly turned them into - aircraft carriers. China is about to commission the first and it is loaded with fun technology that they stole from us.