Pentagon Spokesman Discusses China, North Korea

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2011 — The jury is still out on China’s appar­ent fifth-gen­er­a­tion J‑20 stealth air­craft, Pen­ta­gon spokesman Geoff Mor­rell said today.
“The J‑20 sto­ries, frankly, that I’ve seen over the past cou­ple weeks … have been a lit­tle over the top,” Mor­rell said dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence. He not­ed that reports of “suc­cess­ful test­ing” ignore the unknowns of the Chi­nese air­craft.

“What we know is that a plane that looks dif­fer­ent than any oth­er they pro­duced, that they claim to be their J‑20, had a short test flight when we were in Bei­jing,” the press sec­re­tary said. “But we don’t know, frankly, much about the capa­bil­i­ties of that plane.”

The test flight occurred dur­ing Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates’ vis­it to Chi­na this month.

The J‑20’s engine capa­bil­i­ties and degree of stealth capa­bil­i­ty are among the unknowns, Mor­rell said, adding that the U.S. cur­rent and devel­op­ing air fleet is more than equal to any pos­si­ble Chi­nese chal­lenge.

“That’s why we have pur­sued not just the F‑22, which we have in more than enough num­bers to deal with any sce­nario involv­ing Chi­na, but also the F‑35, to the tune of near­ly 2,500 planes,” Mor­rell said.

Mor­rell said “giv­en what lit­tle we know,” of the Chi­nese air­craft, “I would just urge every­body to … slow down a lit­tle bit on our char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of the J‑20 at this point.”

China’s capa­bil­i­ties and North Korea’s recent provo­ca­tions make the ques­tion of U.S. force pres­ence in the region an impor­tant one, Mor­rell said.

“In light of the threat that we see ema­nat­ing … from Pyongyang,” he said, “we have said that we will do what is nec­es­sary to pro­tect our­selves here as well as our for­ward-deployed forces [and] our allies, who we have secu­ri­ty com­mit­ments to.”

The Unit­ed States has 28,500 troops on the Kore­an penin­su­la and more than 50,000 more in Japan, Mor­rell not­ed.

“And over the long-term lay-down of our forces in the Pacif­ic, we are look­ing at ways to even bol­ster that, not nec­es­sar­i­ly in Korea and Japan, but along the Pacif­ic Rim, par­tic­u­lar­ly in South­east Asia,” he said.

Aus­tralia and Sin­ga­pore may offer U.S. access to cer­tain mil­i­tary facil­i­ties in the region, he said, adding, “Guam, obvi­ous­ly, would be the best exam­ple of us chang­ing our lay-down and our foot­print in the region, enhanc­ing [our pres­ence] in South­east Asia.”

Mor­rell said Gates’ recent com­ments on the North Kore­an threat should­n’t be con­strued as apply­ing imme­di­ate­ly.

“I think what he said is they’re becom­ing a direct threat to the Unit­ed States,” the spokesman said. “By that, he does­n’t mean at this very moment. But giv­en their pur­suit of both the nuclear weapons and their bal­lis­tic-mis­sile capa­bil­i­ties, he sees them being a direct threat not with­in five years, but soon­er than that.”

Mor­rell said that’s why defense offi­cials are work­ing with Chi­na, Japan and oth­ers to impress on North Korea that “they’ve got to cut out this provoca­tive behav­ior, the desta­bi­liz­ing behav­ior, and they’ve got to seri­ous­ly reeval­u­ate their pur­suit of nuclear weapons and deliv­ery vehi­cles.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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