Croatia's top military official during NATO's 1999 air war in the former Yugoslavia is saying that Chinese intelligence officials scooped up parts of an F-117A Night Hawk stealth fighter shot down during that war and used the information gained to help fuel the development of Chinese stealth technology.
Some are skeptical that the roughly 30 year-old technology found in the F-117 would be massively useful to China. This is a good point, especially considering that the vastly superior F-22 and F-35 were already in various stages of development at the time of the shootdown.
Still, if Chinese agents did indeed get to the wreckage, then tech gleaned from the F-117, combined with info that may have been stolen from the F-35 program in a massive cyber attack years later that some believe China was behind, could absolutely aid in the development of Chinese stealth -- and counter-stealth -- technology.
Combined, all this information may not have revealed all the secrets of modern stealth tech; but, at the very least it might have helped Chinese engineers understand the basics of low-observable technology, moving them one step closer toward developing a fifth-gen fighter.
From the AP:
"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 Adm. Davor Domazet-Loso, Croatia's military chief of staff during the Kosovo war.Russian officials are also reported to have been granted access to some of the wreckage.
"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 telephone interview.
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."
In Washington, an Air Force official said the service was unaware of any connection between the downed F-117 plane and development of Chinese stealth technology for the J-20. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject involves classified information.
Oh, and someone on Wikipedia has already made the link to the U.S.' bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade just months after the F-117 was shot down. You know it was only a matter of time before somebody moved to tie these two events.
Here's the AP piece.