Faking Chinese Stealth Fighters

Interest in grainy photos of China’s J-20 show how the West relies for news on milibloggers. Sometimes too much.

In the United States, they’re called ‘milbloggers’ — that is, bloggers or Internet forum users interested in war news, strategy and tactics and the latest military technology. Most developed countries have active milblogging communities. In some, particularly the US, the best milbloggers have even joined the ranks of bona fide journalists.

But few country's milbloggers are more influential than China’s. With China possessing so few government-sanctioned outlets for military news, foreign observers of Beijing's military modernization increasingly rely on milbloggers for the latest information. Chinese bloggers have obliged by posting amateur photographs revealing new ships, armoured vehicles and aircraft.

The December revelation of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force J-20 stealth fighter prototype by some enterprising amateur photographers represented the Chinese milbloggers’ greatest coup. 

But mixed among the legitimate bits of news are fantastical creations, plus more subtle acts of fakery that can mislead foreign audiences.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Just last week, foreign news sites began circulating an image purportedly depicting China’s second stealth fighter prototype, ostensibly a radar-evading modification of the 1990s-vintage JH-7 fighter-bomber.

While it has long been suspected that China is working on more than one stealth fighter, it seems unlikely the PLAAF would base a new warplane on the rudimentary JH-7, which is roughly equivalent to the West's Jaguar attack plane developed in the 1960s.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before a Chinese Web user admitted he had created the ‘stealth JH-7’ image using Photoshop software. 

The most compelling aspect of the faked Chinese stealth fighter isn’t the creator's trickery. Rather, it’s that news audiences are so accustomed to big advancements in Chinese military technology that they assume any grainy image of a new warplane is, in fact, authentic.