Month: February, 2018

This Season’s Flu Vaccine Is Only 36% Effective, But Experts Say You Should Still Get It

While flu season is still in full swing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say this year’s vaccine is only about 36 percent effective for adults against the A and B strains, leading to one of the worst seasons in years, according to the center’s most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

About 69 percent of those suffering from the flu this season have H3N2, a type of influenza A virus.

Despite its low effectiveness in older patients, the vaccine has a higher rate of success in children — it is 59 percent effective in children aged 6 months to 8 years old.

However, the CDC, and healthcare professionals, still recommend people receive the shot.

If you have gotten the vaccine and still get the flu, your symptoms will be less severe and the virus won’t last as long had you not been vaccinated.

You’re 36 percent less likely to get the flu and see the doctor if you get a flu shot. If a young child gets a flu shot, he or she is 59 percent less likely to get the virus and have to go to the doctor,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNN.

Getting the flu shot is the same kind of sensible precaution as buckling your seatbelt. If you got the flu shot but you end up catching the flu, it could be less severe and less likely to land you in the hospital.”

Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told CNN out of the 63 pediatric deaths from the flu this season, three-quarters of the children were not vaccinated.

The flu vaccination is safe,” Adams said. “It is still your best defense.

This flu season is the first in 15 seasons in which all states in the continental U.S. reported widespread flu activity in the same week.

Flu season began in October and more than 12,000 people have been hospitalized since, the CDC reported earlier this month.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Truth About Speed Reading

Speed reading has long been a skill peddled by supposed experts, and recently a slew of cheap apps claiming to teach the technique have put it back in the spotlight.

So, let’s take a look at the claims of speed reading and if it’s really possible to read 1,200 words a minute.

Most of us tend to read at about 200-400 words per minute. Speed readers claim to hit around 1000-1700 words per minute.

To get a better idea of whether these claims have research to back them up, I spoke with professor and eye tracking researcher Keith Rayner from the University of California, San Diego.

Let’s start by taking a look at different methods of speed reading before we dig into what does and doesn’t work about it.

Different Methods of Speed Reading

Before we can talk about speed reading, we need to lay down the specifics of how we tend to read and comprehend text normally.

Speed readers supposedly shorten how long they fixate on a word. They tend to do this by cutting down on subvocalization. The end goal being faster than the 0.3-0.5 seconds listed above.

The idea of speed reading has been around since the 1950s, but it’s seeing a revival recently with many apps popping up in the last few weeks.

As you’d expect, speed reading has a few different popular methods, but most fall into a couple different systems. These methods include skimming, meta guiding, Rapid Serial Visual Presentation, and others.

Skimming is to glance through text to find important parts to read. Although this is usually considered a speed reading method, you’re not teaching yourself to read faster.

You’re just learning which parts you can skip over. As you’d expect, studies show that we don’t remember that many details when we skim.

Another method pushes you “read” multiple lines at once by expanding your peripheral vision. Tim Ferriss has a speed reading technique that riffs on this idea and trains your focus more than anything else.

Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) is a method used by most of the recent digital speed reading systems. Single words flash on the screen so you’re concentrating on a single word at a time.

Speed reading is a nice idea, and the ability to see 1000 words a minute is possible. However, you don’t truly understand those words.

Research is pretty limited here, but Keith Rayner’s “Eye movements and information processing during reading” is one of the more comprehensive looks at how our eyes work when we’re reading.

Studies show that as reading speed increases, comprehension drops. This means you’re not taking in the information, which defeats the purpose of reading.

With RSVP (and the apps that use it) you don’t have the ability to look back to reread text and you overload short term memory so you don’t remember as much.

Of course, counter arguments exist. Most recently, research conducted by the speed reading app Spritz counters Rayner’s research.

Spritz claims that since their system allows your eyes to rest on a single point you can read faster. That could be true, but it doesn’t account for Rayner’s working memory problem.

So, in short: Speed reading anything you need to truly comprehend is probably a bad idea.

However, if you have a few documents you need to get through or you’re reading something that isn’t that important, these methods can still be worthwhile.

Just know that you won’t become a super-fast reading comprehension machine.

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The Mystery Of The Giant ‘Honeycombs’ On Mars

MRO captured a look at the features with the Context camera and its HiRISE instrument, revealing greater detail.

Each cell is about 5-10 kilometers (3-6 miles), with rippling sand that suggests the region may have been subjected to wind erosion.

But, there may be other processes shaping the land as well.

Exposures of bedrock seen within the cells resemble features formed as dykes, NASA explains.

These are typically associated with volcanic activity.

According to NASA, “the lack of impact craters suggest that the landscape, along with these features, have been recently reshaped by a process, or number of processes that may even be active today.

“Scientists have been debating how these honeycombed features are created, theorized from glacial events, lake formation, volcanic activity, and tectonic activity, to wind erosion.”

Recently, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted a potential sand-producing region that could be feeding the red planet’s stunning expanse of dunes.

In a breathtaking new image, the space agency revealed a look at the sloping sediments near the boundary of Mars’ Southern highlands and Northern lowlands.

The image shows dark material is being eroded from layers of the bedrock in a massive surface depression, indicating the sand grains were not carried there by wind, according to NASA.

The image, captured by MRO’s Context Camera, shows linear markings in the huge depression that appear to slope downward.

This helps to tell the story of the processes taking place at the surface.

The grains of sand that make up sand dunes on Earth and Mars have a hazardous existence because of the way that they travel,” NASA explained.

Wind-blown sand is lifted above the surface of each planet before crashing onto the ground and bouncing in a sequence of repeated hops, a process called saltation.

“Sand grains can also roll along the ground as they are blown by the wind, and they are also jostled by other sand grains that are similarly flying across the surface.”

As these impacts repeat, the sand grains are worn down and smoothed out, eventually forming their spherical shape.

And, the tiny fragments that break of add to Mars’ dust deposits.

Over time, this process destroys the grains entirely – but, the region spotted in the image may help to keep Mars’ dunes going.

As Martian winter gives way to spring, the snow-covered features on the red planet begin to change form, driven by an influx of sunlight.

It might sound familiar to the seasonal changes that take place here on Earth – but, in Mars’ northern hemisphere, the snow and ice speckling the landscape is made not of water, but carbon dioxide.

And, when this ‘dry ice’ is exposed to the sun, it creates remarkable patterns across the surface.

A recent captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed a look at these features, showing how ice, sand, and gases react to form wave-like designs that ripple across the dunes.

The image was captured on May 21, 2017 by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, according to NASA.

At this time, spring was underway in the Northern hemisphere.

The Martian surface is covered in all sorts of remarkable features that have been brought to light by the spacecraft over recent years.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

NASA Is Building A Shuttle-Era Cargo Module To Become Deep Space Habitat Prototype

An aluminum cargo container, built more than 15 years ago to move large equipment to space, will be transformed into a prototype of a space habitat where astronauts would live during long missions.

The project is a step toward NASA’s next big human spaceflight project called the Deep Space Gateway, a “spaceport” in the moon’s orbit where astronauts would live for up to a year.

NASA’s goal is to have it up and running by the mid-2020s, and from there, the space agency hopes to gain some experience and develop capabilities needed to push farther into the solar system, specifically to Mars.

Colorado-based Lockheed Martin, a NASA contractor, announced last week that it will refurbish the cargo space container into a habitat prototype.

It won’t look like much on the outside — just a massive cylindrical metal container, about 21 feet long and 15 feet in diameter.

The interior will be turned into a living quarter, with robotics work stations for astronauts, a place to exercise and storage spaces for food, water, toiletries — “all the things you need to live and be happy in space,” said Bill Pratt, of Lockheed Martin.

It is easy to take things for granted when you are living at home … Something as simple as calling your family is completely different when you are outside of low Earth orbit,” Pratt said in a news release.

“While building this habitat, we have to operate in a different mindset that’s more akin to long trips to Mars to ensure we keep them safe, healthy and productive.”

Named Donatello, the cargo container was one of three built by the Italian Space Agency in the 1990s to serve as “moving vans” carrying equipment, experiments and supplies to and from the International Space Station, a large spacecraft orbiting the Earth and where astronauts have lived since 2000.

Donatello was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center from Italy in 2001.

While the two other cargo containers, called Leonardo and Raffaello, flew on several shuttle missions to the International Space Station, Donatello was never used.

Lockheed Martin will refurbish Donatello at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The work would take about 18 months.

Although Donatello was originally built to be flown to space, the refurbished hardware won’t make it there, Pratt said.

Lockheed will turn over its prototype to NASA, which will then start looking at building the actual habitat, Pratt said.

The Deep Space Gateway habitat will be docked to a spacecraft called Orion, the “exploration vehicle” that will carry astronauts to space.

Lockheed Martin is one of six U.S. companies NASA contracted to build habitat prototypes for the spaceflight project.

The Deep Space Gateway, which focuses on sending astronauts on extended missions in the moon’s orbit, is a far more modest goal than reaching Mars.

But, as The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach wrote, it’s more technologically doable in the near term under plausible budgets.

NASA said it hopes to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Mars 2020 Rover (collab with Fraser Cain)

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The Mars Curiosity Rover is one of the most successful planetary missions of all time. Here’s how NASA plans to follow that up – the Mars 2020 Rover


Science Objective A: Explore once potentially-habitable areas

Science Objective B: Seek bio signatures

Science Objective C: Sample Caching

Science Objective D: Demonstrate in-situ resource utilization.

And here are the instruments that will make that possible. It contains 2 cameras on the probe’s mast, one called Mastcam-Z, which is the main “eye” for the rover.

It can take 360 degree panoramic 3D views with an advanced zoom that can see something the size of a housefly from the distance of a soccer field. And the second camera is called SuperCam.

This can actually do a spectrographic analysis of a rock’s chemical makeup from over 20 feet away by burning a hole in the rock as small as the point of a pencil.

This was developed in conjunction with a team from France. PIXL, or Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry will examine rock and soil samples for signs of ancient microbial life and can take extremely close up images of soil samples down to the size of a grain of salt. MEDA, the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer is a contribution from a team in Spain, it’s a tiny weather lab that measures wind speed, temperature and humidity and also gathers data about dust particles in the Martian atmosphere.

RIMFAX, the Radar Imager for Mars Subsurface Experiment from Norway is basically like a sonogram that see tens of meters below the ground and detect elements down to the centimeter. This will help find underground water and ice on Mars. The aptly named SHERLOC, or Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals is a big sciency way of saying it looks for signs of ancient life with UV light, much like forensic investigators at crime scenes.

Hence, Sherlock. But SHERLOC will carry a couple of interesting things with it, one is a Mars meteorite for calibration purposes.

There’s a handful of meteorites found here on Earth that we know were once a part of Mars that were blasted away in an asteroid impact, then travelled through the solar system and eventually landed on Earth.

SHERLOC is going to carry a piece of one of those meteorites to use to calibrate its laser on the Martian surface, which means this will be the first time a piece of martian rock will be returned to Mars. The other thing is it will be carrying samples of materials that may be used to make Martian spacesuits, to see how well they fare in the Martian environment. And last but definitely not least is MOXIE, the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment.

This is the module that will be testing in situ resource utilization techniques in the hopes of turning the CO2 in the martian atmosphere into oxygen, just like a tree. The rover will also contain a special microphone, giving us the first sound recordings from the surface of Mars.

Olympics TV broadcast Camera Lenses Cost As Much As A Lamborghini

TV broadcast cameras that capture every minute of the Olympic Games use massive camera lenses, called box lenses, which cost more than $200,000.

Canon has more than 70 broadcast box lenses on site in PyeongChang, including some of the flagship UHD DIGISUPER 86, which you can buy on the open market for $222,980.

The camera weighs 59.5 pounds and is 10 inches wide and tall and 24 inches long.

The cameras are so heavy and expensive because they are filled with lots of glass lenses called “elements” which are used to refract and focus the light as it travels through the camera.

A DSLR camera on the market today has around 10 elements inside but the Canon broadcast camera has 30-40 elements.

The UHD DIGISUPER 86 can reach 86x zoom range while the typical DSLR reaches only 3x or 4x optical zoom.

Besides the glass, there are also plenty of electronics required to control the zoom and focus within the camera that gives it a price tag equivalent to a Lamborghini.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Test Your Android Phone’s Performance With These Free Benchmarking Tools

How much do you know about your phone? Beyond a name, a price, and vague sense of whether it’s “high end” or not, you’re probably in the dark.

Even if you look up the stats, you don’t really know how it performs. The only sure way to know is to run a few benchmarks.

This not only gives you an idea of how fast your phone is, but also lets you see how it fares against marketplace rivals or older phones, and can help you troubleshoot problems by comparing against similar phones.

Don’t worry, benchmarking your Android phone is easy and cheap. All these tools are free, fun to use, and a few are gorgeous enough to show off to friends.

Setup and Prep

Before you benchmark your phone or tablet, you’ll want to charge it up completely, then kill all background tasks in the multitasking menu.

You don’t want anything to interfere with your tests, so you also might want to put it in Airplane mode to prevent it from fetching mail or receiving calls.

Make sure the ambient temperature isn’t too hot, as the difference in results can be dramatic.

If you’re running a bunch of these tests in a short time and find the device is getting really hot, causing benchmark scores to fall, try removing any heavy cases like Otterbox’s Defender. They act like insulation.

Interpreting Results

Don’t expect test results to tell you everything. Established designs sometimes outperform newer replacements thanks to better cooling or highly-tuned code.

Bigger devices like tablets simply have more space to play with, allowing the use of faster, more power-hungry chips.

Also in play are manufacturer and carrier Android add-ons that make a big difference in how fast a device can feel.

And of course, the fastest phone isn’t necessarily the best. You have to consider size, design, materials, camera quality, sound quality, and much more.

Gamers have unique needs when it comes to performance. Super high-density screens are easy on the eyes, but it’s tough for small, low-power mobile graphics processors to run games smoothly at really high resolutions.

As displays skyrocket to 4K, selecting a device with a fast graphics processor and a slightly lower display resolution can help keep those demanding 3D games running smoothly.


3DMark reigns supreme for PC gamers and has made impressive headway on other platforms as the de facto standard for 3D benchmarking.

The free Android version includes a flashy demo reel as well as the physics and GPU tests from the “Ice Storm” module of the Windows suite, while adding a few mobile-specific queries like battery life tests.

Usage is push-button simple. Results are shared online via Futuremark’s cloud database and web comparison system.

It’s easy to see where you sit on the ladder, and although this feature isn’t exclusive, Futuremark has been doing it a lot longer than anyone else here, so the tools provided for comparing, recording, and sharing are mature and well-executed.

CPU test results track with real-world usage but are geared more towards gaming loads than everyday operations. The battery test is handy, but has the same limited scope.

It only gives you an idea of how long your device will last while pushing pixels as hard as it can.

GFXBench 3.0

3DMark isn’t the only game in town when it comes to mobile GPU benchmarking. GFXBench arrived early in Android’s history and delivers more detailed results than Futuremark’s flagship.

It’s also smaller; a big advantage if space is at a premium and your phone or tablet doesn’t support removable media.

GFXBench is all about the details, and the developers serve them up page after page. You get more than framerates, and the numbers aren’t abstractions.

Driver overhead figures, rendering quality tests, precision, and computing performance all get attention, taking GFXBench beyond gaming and deep into graphics geek territory.

Like 3DMark, you also get access to a crossplatform database that extends to desktop systems, but GFXBench doesn’t leave Mac users out in the cold.

Accurate results aside, certain areas of the test look decidedly low-rent these days. Objects, effects, lighting, and other aesthetics are in need of a makeover.


The hardware moguls at Qualcomm may have created Vellamo, but they don’t play favorites; the results show no favoritism towards Snapdragon processors.

Vellamo doesn’t test everything.

It’s mainly focused on testing browser speed, but also includes a mode called Metal that goes low-level for CPU, memory, and bandwidth testing, and a Multicore mode that tests the efficiency of thread latency and handling.

Browser benchmarks may have fallen out of favor as stand-ins for proper mobile CPU tests, but they can still tell you quite a bit about the efficiency of the web browsing engine.

On Android, changing up your browser can have a huge impact on performance.

Like most of the packages here, running the main suite takes a single button press, but some of these tests run a few minutes, so bring along some patience.

Fortunately, Vellamo happens to be a pleasure to use, with elements of Material Design already incorporated into the user interface ahead of Lollipop’s release, so waiting isn’t a chore.

Swiping left on the start screen brings up the results table, device comparison list, and information panels, although you won’t find desktop computers or operating systems other than Android represented here.

Qualcomm’s benchmarking largess extends only to compatible hardware.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

China’s New Space Lasers To Take Out Satellites Leaving West At Mercy Of Beijing Missiles

The lasers will take out US and European satellites from the ground killing off the Washington’s ability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles in retaliation.

ven basic military communications may become impossible if the super-powered lasers take down key communications network satellites.

Electromagnetic railguns and high-power microwave weapons are also being developed, according to military expert Richard Fisher.

And he claims the push to produce these futuristic weapons is to neutralise US intelligence along with communication and navigation satellites.

Ground-based radars would first be used to identify enemy satellites, with precision targeting ensured by a special camera.

And a deployable membrane telescope would then focus the laser’s beam on the target, before obliterating it.

Mr Fisher said: “The Chinese government would not hesitate to use the lives of its astronauts as a shield to deceive the world about the real purpose of its space station.

“Having gained the advantage of surprise, the combat space station could begin attacks against key US satellites, thus blinding the US to the launch of new combat satellites that would attack many more US satellites.”

Military secrecy means it is difficult to know the full extent of the laser weapons programmes, which are believed to be capable of destroying enemy satellites in orbit from its position in low-Earth orbit.

But published research has provided some insight into the huge levels of government support being pumped into the development of such arms.

The idea was first proposed by researchers Gao Ming-hui, Zeng Yu-quang and Wang Zhi-hong in the journal Chinese Optics in December 2013.

They claimed anti-satellite weapons will be “very important” in future wars, with the space-based laser systems likely to have a substantial part to play.

It is thought the five-ton chemical laser could even be operational as soon as 2023, if the Chinese military which oversees the country’s space programme can fund the research.

Mr Fisher added: “As long as China demonstrates its willingness to exploit much of its space program for potential military missions, the US must possess options for at least neutralising potential threats, preferably short of threatening lives.”

The news comes just a day after it was revealed China had unveiled its latest military addition to the People’s Liberation Army’s airforce.

The new J20 stealth fighter jets are so advanced, they make Britain’s new US-built F35s look antique in comparison.

The futuristic Chinese aircraft have longer range, more internal fuel capacity and a larger weapons capacity – and equipped with unique WS-15 turbo engines capable of reaching supersonic speeds.

While the F-35’s top speed is 1199mph, the J-20s is a hefty 1,305mph.

However when fully operational the F-35 may offer significant advantage in terms of manoeuvrability as questions hang over the Chinese plane’s air-to-air capability.

The F-35 can also land vertically – meaning it can be used in many more theatres of operations.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Pigeons: The Next Step In Local Eating

A vintage postcard of a pigeon plant.

When you look at a pigeon, you might see a dirty, rat-like bird that fouls anything it touches with feathers or feces, but I see a waste-scavenging, protein-generating biomachine.

At a time when rising demand for meat across the globe endangers the food system, and local eating has gained millions of adherents, it’s time to reconsider our assumptions about what protein sources are considered OK to eat.

You see, city pigeons are the feral descendants of birds that were domesticated by humans thousands of years ago so that we could eat them and use their guano as fertilizer, we read in Der Spiegel.

They’re still doing their part, i.e. eating and breeding, but we humans have stopped doing ours, i.e. eating them.

Numbering in the hundreds of millions, they could be a new source of guilt-free protein for locavores in urban centers.

Instead, we’re still trying to kill off our species’ former pet birds, which (as any city-dweller can attest) doesn’t work.

Killing makes no sense at all,” Daniel Haag-Wackernagel, a biologist at the University of Basel, told Der Spiegel. “The birds have an enormous reproduction capacity and they’ll just come back. <

“There is a linear relationship between the bird population and the amount of food available.”

And in the developed world after World War II, there’s always been plenty of food.

This explosion of the pigeon population is due to the large food supply, because after the war food became cheap in relation to income,” Haag-Wackernagel argues on his website.

“Since this increase in our welfare, society has produced pigeon food in abundance through our wasteful practices.”

It sure sounds like a bad situation, but put the two quotes together in the context of food production. A food source that lives on our trash that is so reproductively prolific that we can’t kill it off?

That’s green tech at its finest! Pigeons are direct waste-to-food converters, like edible protein weeds, that leave droppings that could be used as fertilizer as a bonus.

And yet we expend energy trying to get rid of them.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, eating pigeons is as American as eating pumpkin pie. Probably more so, on a net weight basis, actually.

A 1917 report to the Massachusetts Board of Agriculture details the story of the American passenger pigeon, extinct kin to our current city birds.

The birds provided our founding fathers with a bountiful feast in 1648 when, according to Massachusets Bay Colony luminary John Winthrop, “multitudes of them were killed daily.

The report describes the many millions of birds that were killed all across the nation through the 19th century.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

China Appears To Have Rushed Its J-20 Stealth Fighter Into Service

Chinese state media announced on Friday that the Chengdu J-20 stealth jet had officially entered into service as a combat-ready platform— but inside sources say it’s a long way from fighting fit and has an embarrassing flaw.

Citing military sources with knowledge of the J-20’s development, the South China Morning Post reported that the jets that entered service didn’t feature the engines China custom-built for the platform but used older ones instead.

The result is an underpowered, less stealthy jet that can’t cruise at supersonic speeds and is therefore not a true fifth-generation fighter.

The Posts’ sources pinned the jet’s troubles on a test in 2015 in which the custom-built engine, the WS-15, exploded — something they attributed to China’s inability to consistently build engines that can handle the extreme heat of jet propulsion.

It’s so embarrassing to change engines for such an important aircraft project several times … just because of the unreliability of the current WS-15 engines,” one of the sources told the Post.

It is the long-standing core problem among home-grown aircraft.

How old engines make the J-20 fight like an old fighter

The older engine, the WS-10B, is basically the same kind used in the J-11 and J-10 fighters in 1998 and 2002.

Without the new engines, the J-20 can’t supercruise, or fly faster than the speed of sound without igniting its afterburners, like the US’s F-22 and F-35 can.

Experts have assessed that the goal of the J-20 platform is to launch long-range missiles at supersonic speeds, but they won’t perform as well if they can’t fire at such speeds, Bronk said.

The major drawback from not having the ability to supercruise in this case would be having to choose between using a great deal of fuel to go supersonic or stay subsonic and accept shorter effective range from the fighter’s missiles and an inferior energy position compared to a supercruising opponent,” he said.

A senior scientist working on stealth aircraft who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of their work previously told Business Insider that the J-20’s design had a decent stealth profile from the front angle but could be exposed from others.

According to Bronk, the older engines may exacerbate that problem.

A US Air Force affiliate researching the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force told Business Insider that an analysis of imagery suggested the service’s 9th Brigade traded its Russian-made Su-30s for J-20s, but they disputed whether the jet was operational in the way Western militaries use the word

The researcher said that even for planes that aren’t stealth and as radically different as the J-20, that could take up to a year, adding that the new WS-15 engines most likely won’t be added until 2020.

So while China claims it has become the only nation other than the US to field a fifth-generation stealth jet, at the moment it looks as if it’s hardly stealth, hardly fifth-generation, and a long way from the field.

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