A US plane shot down during the Kosovo war could have gifted the Chinese the technology behind its military’s new stealth fighter. The F-117 stealth jet, called the Nighthawk, was grounded by Serbian forces in 1999 during NATO’s bombing of the country.
Until now, the US military has been the sole owner of a stealth fighter, the Nighthawk being the first. Given the title because of their elusive nature, stealth jets are difficult for radar to detect. The Nighthawk’s creation was a highly classified project, and after it was shot down, other nations clamored to get a piece of the jet. The AP reports that the US military attributes the plane’s crash to “a combination of clever tactics and sheer luck [that] had allowed a Soviet-built SA-3 missile to bring down the jet.”
Apparently, some of the wreckage made it into the hands of Chinese agents. Adm. Davor Domazet-Loso, Croatia military chief during the Kosovo war, told the AP, “We believe the Chinese used those materials to gain an insight into secret stealth technologies…and to reverse engineer them.”
And this has spawned the Chengdu J-20, unveiled earlier this month. It’s years from actually entering the military arena, but has caught the watchful eye of governments and their forces. According to the BBC, China’s military budget has quadrupled in the last 10 years, standing in 2010 at $78 billion. Compare that to the US’ $700 billion, and any worries about a Chinese version of Red Dawn making its way stateside should be mildly subdued. The Air Force has yet to be convinced the J-20 is based off the F-117, but there’s no question the US has been wary of China’s ascent to global superpower, especially when it comes to technology and economics.