Thursday, December 01, 2005

China's Future Air Force

At a fighter jet conference in mid-November in Washington, Richard D. Fisher, vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said he expects two to three new Chinese aircraft to come into readiness by the end of the next decade that will move the country's fighter force from so-called "second generation" to "fifth generation" – basically, F/A-22- or F-35-lite, with stealthy characteristics, active phased-array radar, internal weapons, and advanced networking capabilities.

China has 17 active aircraft programs at the moment, Fisher said, including the J-11; two variants of the Su-30; the J-10; the J-8; the J-7, which is being modernized as the JF-17 (see "Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Continues Flight Testing"); and an advanced version of the Q-10. Of each type, China could be producing some 15-30 aircraft a year, equal to about one new regiment or two for each program.

In general, the country is looking to acquire whatever kind of advanced technology it can get from other countries, thus the on-and-off push to lift the European Union's non-binding arms embargo against China, an issue that for now has subsided as a result of strenuous US objections (see "Euro Parliament Favors China Arms Ban").

A Shenyang J-11 on the tarmac.
But here and there, despite trade restrictions, the military is steadily acquiring new technology. For example, while Chinese aircraft may not yet be able to sport advanced helmet display technology like the Joint Helmet Mounted Cuing System, the military is making progress toward fielding a comparable capability, thanks to both Israeli and domestic developers. For advanced weaponry, meanwhile, China thanks Russia for selling it the R-77 mid-range missile and the KH-31 anti-ship missile, among other armaments.
For more on this, see "China's Aims for '5th-Generation' Fighters."

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