Arthur Herman sees China's test of the J-20 stealth fighter as a "Sputnik" moment:
Compare this to the moment the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb in 1949. The face of modern warfare has changed--and America's military superiority hangs in the balance.
Air Power Australia, a highly respected defense-analysis outfit, has pronounced the J-20 "a techno-strategic coup." The US Navy's F/A 18, the mainstay of our naval-air fleet, is "outclassed in every respect." So is the plane the Pentagon is counting on to form the next generation of supersonic fighter, the F-35, and so are our integrated air-defense systems. Right now, only our Stealth B-2 bombers and F-22 Raptors stand between us and aviation obsolescence, but President Obama has axed the Raptor program.
There is a long and well-document tendency in U.S. foreign policy circles to vastly over-state the capabilities of American adversaries. From the non-existent "missile gap" decried by President Kennedy to Saddam Hussein's supposed nuclear weapons and WMD. China's military modernization might produce a force capable of imposing greater harm on the United States should the two countries come to blows in the Pacific, but that's a far cry from the force the Soviet Union fielded. (And the J-20, like much of China's military, is completely unproven and untested in combat.)
The analogy to Sputnik is overwrought for more than just technological reasons. Does Herman really believe that China aims to ignite global revolutions to impose Beijing-lead communist governments around the world?