Beijing: A leading expert on the Chinese military says the country`s prototype stealth fighter has made its first-known test flight.
Kanwa Asian Defence magazine editor Andrei Chang said the J-20 flew for about 15 minutes over an airfield in the southwestern city of Chengdu where it was spotted carrying out runway tests last week. Photos of the plane in flight were also posted on unofficial Chinese military websites.
The website of the Global Times, a popular Chinese newspaper owned by the People`s Daily -- the ruling Communist Party`s main paper -- featured a brief report headlined, "J-20 first flight successful", with a link to what it said were pictures of the flight (http://bbs.huanqiu.com/thread-507371-1-1.html).
The claims of a successful test flight for the advanced fighter come while US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates visits Beijing, seeking to improve often tense military ties.
In recent days, Chinese Web sites and some popular newspapers, which can come under a heavy grip of censorship, have carried many reports and pictures claiming to show the stealth fighter being tested on the ground.
But the government itself has been silent about the fighter.
The latest pictures may heighten concerns about China`s military build-up, including possible deployment in 2011 of its first aircraft carrier and a new anti-ship ballistic missile seen as a threat to US aircraft carriers.
Some analysts have said that the J-20 photos, if authentic, are a strong indicator that China is making faster-than-expected progress in developing a rival to Lockheed Martin`s F-22 Raptor, the world`s only operational stealth fighter designed to evade detection by enemy radar.
But US Vice Admiral David Dorsett, director of naval intelligence, has said deployment of the J-20 was years away.