Monday, 16 May 2016
Evolution of PLAAF towards Modernization
Tensions in the South China Sea and continued warnings about Chinese militarization of the disputed areas (Paracels and Spratlys) have led USA and its allies to sharpen focus on Chinese Air Force acquisitions and technological advances.
The U.S. Air Force’s technological air power superiority over China is rapidly diminishing in light of rapid Chinese modernization of fighter jets, missiles, air-to-air weapons, cargo planes and stealth aircraft. The PLAAF currently has approximately 2,200 operational aircraft, nearly 600 of which are considered modern.
In the early 1990s, soon after the disintegration of Former Soviet Union(Presently Russia) in 1991, Beijing began a comprehensive modernization program to upgrade the PLA Air Force from a short-range, defensively oriented force with limited capabilities into a modern, multi-role force capable of projecting precision airpower beyond China’s borders, conducting air and missile defense and providing early warning
Regarding stealth aircraft, the recent flights of prototypes of the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter, calling the aircraft more advanced than any other air platform currently deployed in the Asia-Pacific region. The J-20 5th Generation fighter jets would be deployed by 2018; as the production of these jets have already started. The Chinese are also testing a smaller stealth fighter variant called the J-31 although its intended use is unclear.
The U.S. technological advantage in air platforms is rapidly decreasing, which can be easily illustrated through U.S.-Chinese fighter jets to one another roughly twenty years ago versus a similar comparison today. In 1995 a high-tech U.S. F-15, F-16 or F/A-18 would be vastly superior to a Chinese J-6, J-7 aircrafts. However today — China’s J-10 and J-11 fighter jet aircraft would be roughly equivalent in capability to an upgraded U.S. F-15 and F-16 jets.
Chinese remain highly secretive about their military aviation projects, any information reaches to open-source domain is through online Chinese military forums. Moreover, China’s latest J-11D fighter aircraft can easily defeat America’s 4th Generation fighter jets as well as can compete against F-22 and F-35 fighter jets. The J-11D’s most noticeable upgrade is an upwardly canted radar dome, which carries an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, as well as further use of composites and stealth coatings in the fuselage to reduce weight. The J-11D’s upgrades allow it to take full advantage of new PLAAF capabilities, and in turn, extend those capabilities further. For example, the IFR probe would enable aerial refueling from an Il-78 tanker, extending both the aerial patrol time and range of the fighter. The AESA radar offers key advantages over older, conventionally scanned radar; it’s more resistant against electronic jamming, offers higher resolution when targeting stealthy aircraft, and has greater range.
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