SU-30SM, SU-35S, and SU-34 flying in formation - Sputnik International, 1920
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© AFP 2023 / NOEL CELISA man walks in front of a Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation's KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft at the 13th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai in southern China's Guangdong province on September 28, 2021.
A man walks in front of a Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation's KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft at the 13th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai in southern China's Guangdong province on September 28, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.11.2022
The Zhuhai International Airshow continues to surprise the audience with various innovations of the Chinese military-industrial complex. China has demonstrated serious success in various areas. Read more in Sputnik's interview with military expert Vasily Kashin, director of the HSE’s Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies.
Sputnik: What innovations in terms of Chinese military aviation and aviation weapons have you paid attention to? How do you assess the capabilities of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force in conflicts with potential adversaries?
Vasily Kashin: The air show presented a large number of aviation weapons, including: a wide range of high-precision munitions for unmanned aerial vehicles, new types of guided air bombs for tactical aviation, and gliding bomb cassettes. They demonstrated a Chinese aviation missile that looks similar to Russia's hypersonic Kinzhal missile. This is a Chinese ballistic missile that can be launched from under the wing of a bomber. They also demonstrated samples of low-visibility cruise missiles. The range of air-to-air weapons was traditionally well represented, including what China is proud of: a new type of long-range air-to-air missile with an advanced guidance system, including radar systems with active phased antenna arrays.
In general, China demonstrates that it is one of the leaders in the production of aviation weapons and the aircraft industry itself. At the same time, it is able to finance a large number of research and development areas at once, achieving impressive results there. Of course, the vast majority of the demonstrated Chinese weapons have never been used in real combat operations, which is a certain weakness. But the claimed characteristics are impressive.
Seizing air supremacy over Taiwan is one of the main scenarios the PLA Air Force is working on. Success in this case will be determined not only by the ability to defeat Taiwanese aircraft, but also by the ability to suppress the island's powerful air defense system. Significant efforts have been thrown at this task, including the development of special aircraft - specialized fighter-bombers to break through the air defense system, including the production of specialized drones, loitering munitions to defeat SAMs. There is not enough information to make definite predictions, but China has a serious advantage in high-precision missile weapons, including ballistic missiles and heavy MLRS, with which it can, firstly, keep airfields under fire and, secondly, destroy air defense positions.
Sputnik: Have any innovations been introduced at Zhuhai related to the growing capabilities of the PLA Navy?
Vasily Kashin: Since the Zhuhai Airshow has long gone beyond the scope of just being an air show, and has become a diversified exhibition, a large number of naval weapons were also displayed there. These included naval SAMs, a wide range of anti-ship missiles, including supersonic missiles. A carrier-based fighter, a low-observable J-31, and new deck helicopters that can be based on aircraft carriers, among other things, were on display.
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Sputnik: China pays a lot of attention to UAVs of all kinds. What success has China achieved in this area?
Vasily Kashin: Indeed, China itself is starting to set trends in UAVs. New, heavier modifications of the existing families, with a longer range and more weapons, have been introduced. For example, a new modification of the Pterodactyl UAV family, with an increased payload and range. Attention is also paid to simpler devices - different types of loitering munitions, and small UAVs. In general, China produces the most comprehensive range of UAVs: from Chinese copies of the American lightweight Switchblade single-use drone, to heavy strategic reconnaissance drones, which are in the same niche as the American RQ-4 Global Hawk or MQ-4C Triton. They also showed a wide array of UAV weaponry: bombs ranging in mass from a few kilograms to hundreds of kilograms.
Sputnik: What can you conclude about China's military capabilities from the Zhuhai exhibition?
Vasily Kashin: We can see enormous progress and a clear superiority of China over other manufacturers in certain areas. We can talk about China's superiority, first of all, in MLRS, short-range ballistic missiles, in the range of high-precision air-to-surface weapons. They have a wider range of available assets than anyone else. Even the US does not have some models. They have achieved great success in developing long-range air-to-air missiles and very great success in developing new types of cruise missiles and, especially, hypersonic weapons.
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Sputnik: In modern warfare, both the use of high-precision weapons and the fight against similar means of the adversary are relevant. What can China offer here?
Vasily Kashin: As for high-precision weapons, China produces them in huge quantities and in a wider range than anyone else. The great variety is a result of the significant scale of production and the ability to develop many areas simultaneously. When it comes to countering the enemy's high-precision weapons, the army's HQ-17 surface-to-air missile system, the FK-2000 self-propelled air defense system, which was unveiled this year, is of key importance here. If it is put into mass production with a cheap anti-aircraft missile, it will allow them to better fight against both drones and high-precision munitions. New types of SAMs were also demonstrated, including new HQ-9 modifications and a new medium-range complex with an increased number of anti-aircraft missiles in the launcher.
In general, China has made great progress in the field of air defense. In terms of the organization of military air defense, with a further increase in funding and preservation of priorities, China can reach the leading position in the world.
A J-20 stealth fighter of China's People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) takes part in drills near Taiwan on August 3, 2022. - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.10.2022
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Sputnik: How can we assess the armaments presented at the air show in light of Chinese President Xi Jinping's statements about the need to "strengthen the comprehensive training of the armed forces and ensure their readiness for combat operations"?
Vasily Kashin: If we consider a conflict in the Taiwan Strait as the most probable one for China, then, again, the indispensable task will be to suppress the island's air defenses. That will involve maximum forces and means: both the previously listed aviation means, ballistic missiles and heavy MLRS systems, as well as high-precision munitions, UAVs and specialized UAVs for suppressing air defenses.
China's progress in building its own air defense systems plays another important role, because Taiwan has a strike capability - some unknown number of medium-range missiles that we could see being used on the mainland in the event of war. And in the event of US intervention, the tasks of Chinese air defense systems would be very complex and large-scale.
Of course, we must not forget about naval armaments. China's ability to win naval battles around the island is perhaps the most important thing. We can see progress on all fronts at once, and this is precisely the reason for the growing concern of the United States. In contrast, China is able to devote a much larger share of its military budget to R&D and production. Therefore, China's progress on all fronts can be seen quite well.
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