Page 1 of 2 The tearful origins of China's stealth
By Peter Lee
The recent test flight of China's J-20 stealth fighter has occasioned certain
uproar in international security circles, as well as paroxysms of joy among
China's more nationalistic netizens.
Despite no hard information on its stealthiness or its capabilities beyond the
fact that it was able to take off, fly for 15 minutes, and land, the J-20 is
already serving as justification for heightened concern and its inevitable
adjunct, higher military spending, in the United States, South Korea and Japan.
From a psychological standpoint, an interesting sidebar to the J-20 furor has
been the reporting on allegations that China used industrial and military
espionage to develop its stealth
capabilities, perhaps with the implication that China's reactive and decadent
communist system would be incapable of such innovations on its own.
On January 24, an Indian-American engineer who had worked on the B-2 stealth
program, Noshir Gowadia, was sentenced to 32 years in prison for selling secret
military aviation technology to China. The New York Times characterized the
technology, apparently incorrectly, as "stealth missile technology"; according
to the Times of India, the technology in question was nozzle technology meant
to reduce vulnerability to heat-seeking missiles, rather than the radar-related
cloak of invisibility usually associated with "stealth".
It is not difficult to view the timing of Gowadia's sentencing (which was
reportedly originally supposed to occur in November 2010 after five years of
imprisonment and a trial that concluded in August 2010 with a guilty verdict)
as an effort to emphasize the tainted character of China's stealth achievement.
News reports also addressed the possibility that China had successfully
exploited the wreckage of a US stealth fighter to develop its own capabilities.
During the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) campaign against Serbia in
1999, an American F-117A stealth fighter was shot down. Some wreckage
undoubtedly made it into Chinese hands. Slobodan Lekic and Dusan Stojanovic of
the Associated Press (AP) reported on January 23:
"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
"We believe the Chinese used those materials to gain an insight into secret
stealth technologies ... and to reverse-engineer them," Domazet-Loso said in a
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". 
The idea that the United States had not
taken adequate steps to secure the F-117A wreckage and useful technology may
have thereby found its way into enemy hands is apparently rather irksome to the
Elizabeth Bumiller transmitted the US official pushback in the January 26 New
York Times article titled "US Doubts '99 Jet Debris Gave China Stealth Edge":
hard to imagine that a great deal of applicable and useful information could
have been culled from the site," said an Air Force official, who asked for
anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about military
Careful readers will note the conditional
remark that little useful information "could have been culled from the site".
There is the issue of what useful information could have been extracted from
wreckage removed from the site.
There is a link between Serbia in 1999 and the flight of the J-20 in 2011 that
is undeniable: the US bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on May 7,1999.
And the wreckage of the F-117A may have been the crucial precipitating factor.
It is safe to say that almost no one in China believes that the 1999 embassy
bombing was accidental. When the incident is referenced in Chinese media, the
term "mistaken bombing" (wuzha) is often enclosed in quotation marks, as
in "alleged mistaken bombing".
The official US story has done little to dispel suspicion.
George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), testified
before the US Congress that the US intended to bomb Yugoslavia's Federal
Directorate for Supply and Procurement aka a warehouse suspected of "arms
proliferation activity", but the wrong coordinates were provided to the bomber,
causing five 2,000-pound (909 kilograms) MK-84 JDAM GPS-guided smart bombs to
slam into the Chinese Embassy instead, killing three (identified by the Chinese
as journalists), injuring 20, and gutting the structure.
Amazingly, of the 900 target packages executed during the Kosovo war, it
transpired that the "mistaken bombing" was the only mission developed by the
Although the air war was nominally under NATO direction, the embassy mission
(as well as several others) was flown as a strictly US operation using
equipment based in the United States. 
A European defense publication reported:
It should be noted that, in an
interview with the author, NATO spokesman Lee McClenny confirmed that the
targeting information did not go through JTF NOBLE ANVIL, or any other NATO
structure, in contrast to Tennet's [sic] official public statements. Instead,
the co-ordinates were passed directly from the CIA to Whiteman Air Force Base,
the home of the 509th Bomb Wing, where it was programmed into the JDAMs. Mr
McClenny asserted that the entire process had remained 'Stateside', hence the
failure of NATO staff to 'scrub' the target to check its accuracy, authenticity
When asked, the CIA again asserted that the story given by Tennet [sic] to the
House Committee was true, but claimed that the targeting information went from
the CIA to the Pentagon to be processed. The Pentagon was only prepared to say
that "some of the F-117 and B-2 missions were used as 'national assets' and
therefore did not pass through NATO command structures", despite the
requirement under the NATO charter to clear all missions carried out under NATO
auspices with the NATO general council ... [Previously reported in Venik's
Aviation web site, citing a May 2000 report in Air Forces Monthly; link no
A joint investigation by the British newspaper
The Observer and Denmark's Politiken made the explosive allegation that the
Chinese Embassy had been intentionally targeted to remove a key rebroadcast
station directing the military activities of Slobodan Milosevic's forces in
their struggle to resist NATO forces.
According to The Observer, a US officer airily dismissed the handwringing of
his NATO associates:
British, Canadian and French air targeteers
rounded on an American colonel on the morning of May 8. Angrily they denounced
the "cock-up". The US colonel was relaxed. "Bullshit," he replied to the
complaints. "That was great targeting ... we put three JDAMs down into the
[military] attache's office and took out the exact room we wanted ... 
The story was largely ignored by the US media.
When FAIR, the organization for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, pushed the
New York Times to address the allegations, the paper, as it would do again in
2011 on the stealth story, obliged the Pentagon by pushing back.
Today, post-Internet, post-Iraq War, post-Judith Miller, the Times'
self-satisfied complacency in dismissing the story has the quaint air of a
In an October 22, 1999 article, FAIR wrote:
So far, the reaction in the
mainstream US media has been a deafening silence. To date, none of America's
three major network evening news programs has mentioned the Observer's
findings. Neither has the New York Times or USA Today, even though the story
was covered by AP, Reuters and other major wires.
The Washington Post relegated the story to a 90-word news brief in its "World
Briefing" (10/18/99), under the headline "NATO Denies Story on Embassy Bombing.
"By contrast, the story appeared in England not only in the Observer and its
sister paper, the Guardian (10/17/99), but also in their leading rival, the
Times of London, which ran a follow-up article on the official reaction the
next day (10/18/99). The Globe and Mail, Canada's most prestigious paper, ran
the full Reuters account prominently in its international section (10/18/99).
So did the Times of India, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Irish Times (all
10/18/99). The prominent Danish daily Politiken, which collaborated with the
Observer on the investigation, was on strike, but ran the story on its website.
FAIR and its supporters rattled a few media cages, and got
dismissive replies from the New York Times and USA Today. The Times' Andrew
Rosenthal characterized The Observer article as "not terribly well sourced". In
its rebuttal, FAIR stated:
FAIR contacted journalists at both The
Observer and Politiken. According to The Observer's US correspondent, Ed
Vulliamy, its foreign editor, Peter Beaumont, and Politiken reporter Jens
Holsoe, their sources included the following:
A European NATO military officer serving in an operational capacity at the
four-star level - a source at the highest possible level within NATO -
confirmed three things: (1) That NATO targeted the Chinese Embassy
deliberately; (2) That the embassy was emitting Yugoslav military radio
signals; and (3) That the target was not approved through the normal NATO
channels but through a second, "American-only" track.
A European NATO staff officer at the two-star level in the Defense Intelligence
office confirmed the same story.
Two US sources: A very high-ranking former senior American intelligence
official connected to the Balkans - "about as high as you can get", according
to one reporter - confirmed that the embassy was deliberately targeted. A
mid-ranking current US military official, also connected to the Balkans,
confirmed elements of the story and pointedly refused to deny that the embassy
had been bombed deliberately.
A NATO flight controller based in Naples and a NATO intelligence officer
monitoring Yugoslav radio broadcasts from Macedonia each confirmed that NATO's
signals intelligence located Yugoslav military radio signals coming from the
Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. When they informed their superiors, they were told
that the matter would be handled further up in the chain of command. Two weeks
later, the embassy was bombed.
An official at the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency told the reporters
that NATO's official explanation, which involves a faulty map of Belgrade, is a
"damned lie". 
Finally, the Times, still coasting
on its Pentagon Papers reputation, replied to one correspondent:
is nothing in the distinguished history of the Times - where reporters have
risked their lives, been threatened with jail and indeed gone to jail to
protect the public's right to know things the government does not want to get
out - to suggest that we would withhold such a story."
that the US bombed the Chinese Embassy may still be stamped "Not Proved", but
the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong.
As to why the US might have wanted to bomb the embassy, the theories are
They all center on the indisputable fact that China was sympathetic to Serbia
and had dispatched a team of intelligence specialists under the direction of a
senior military attache, Ren Bokai (identified in many news reports as "Ven Bo
Koy"), to get a first-hand look at US technology, capabilities and doctrine.