US: China Stealth fighters will lag US for years

February 18, 2011 05:02

WASHINGTON — The United States will retain a far bigger fleet of top-end fighter planes than China for years to come despite Beijing's early test of a Stealth jet that has stoked concern over its military buildup, the US defense chief said Thursday.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told lawmakers that China faces a "long road" before deploying its J-20 Stealth fighter in any numbers, and predicted a continuing "huge disparity" compared with America's fleet of low-observable aircraft.

The chief of the Pacific Command, however, acknowledged that China also has a "formidable" ballistic missile capability that has grown for two decades.

US Adm. Robert Willard said the United States was watching "very carefully," and it was important for China to be open and hold a dialogue with the US and other countries in the region about its intentions.

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