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J-20 stealth fighter photos: Did China leak them intentionally?

J-20 stealth fighter photos have appeared on Chinese websites, suggesting that the leaks of images of what could be China's first stealth fighter jet are a calculated moved by the traditionally secretive People's Liberation Army.

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This Wednesday photo reportedly shows a Chinese J-20 stealth plane after finishing a runway test in Chengdu, southwest China. State media are reporting on the appearance online of photos that appear to show a prototype Chinese stealth fighter undergoing testing.

Kyodo News/AP

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Photos leaked online that appear to show a prototype of China's first stealth fighter jet were discussed in state media Wednesday — a move that supports claims the country's military aviation program is advancing faster than expected.

Both the English and Chinese language editions of the Global Times ran front-page articles on the photos of what appears to be a future J-20 fighter, along with extensive reports on the buzz the pictures have generated overseas.

Photos of the plane appeared on unofficial military news websites and hobbyist blogs last week and were still viewable Wednesday.

The Global Times did not comment on the authenticity of the pictures, but since the government wields extensive control over state media, the report's appearance and the fact that censors have not removed images from websites suggest a calculated move to leak the information into the public sphere.

That in turn would reflect the growing confidence of the traditionally secretive People's Liberation Army, which is pushing for greater influence and bigger budgets.

But the U.S. Defense Department said it wasn't worried about the reports.

"It is not of concern that they are working on a fifth-generation fighter," Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said, since the Chinese are "still having difficulties with their fourth-generation fighter."

Calls to the spokesman's office at the Defense Ministry rang unanswered.

Aviation websites said the photos were taken from outside a fence at the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute's airfield in southwestern China. The plane appeared to be undergoing a taxiing test of the sort that precedes an actual flight test.

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