China has inducted J-20 stealth fighters in its arsenal, marking a solid incremental step in the transition of its air force to the next level.
Video footage on CCTV Channel 7 on Friday showed the indution of the fighter jets in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), along with the Y-20 transport planes and H-6K bombers, which are already part of the country’s military aviation assets.
The Y-20 planes, inducted last year, are essential for force projection as they can carry heavy loads of personnel and equipment, possibly China’s Type 99 series tanks and troop carriers over long distances. The J-20 stealth fighters are designed to compete with other fifth generation fighter jets, such as the F-22 Raptor of the United States and the Russian PAK-FA.
However, the South China Morning Post quoted Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong as saying that it is likely that only a small number of J-20 jets have been produced on account of engine problems.
“Technical and production problem of WS-15 engines, which were in the J-20, are not solved,” said Mr. Wong. “The J-20 has not yet entered mass production progress, and now just a few limited aircraft are able to serve in the air force, similar to the Y-20.”
China is also focusing on the development of its Navy, though its offensive punch is still limited by the presence of only one aircraft carrier, which is mainly used for training purposes.
Xinhua quoted Wang Huayong, deputy political commissar of the Eastern Theatre Command, as saying that China’s increasing Naval power does not pose any threat. “Our entire forces are for defence purposes,” he observed. “The aircraft carrier is still in training and trial stage. The marines remain weak, and the number and quality of long-distance vessels do not meet expectations.”
Nevertheless, China’s indigenous aircraft carrier, which would be the second in its inventory, is in an advanced stage of construction. The second carrier will have a displacement of 50,000 tonnes, and will fly J-15 fighters and other aircraft from its deck, a Defence Ministry spokesperson had earlier said.
In an effort to transition to a more technology intensive military, China will slash its Army reserves, while increasing reserves for the other services, Sheng Bin, chief of the National Defence Mobilisation Department of the Central Military Commission, said on the sidelines of an ongoing parliamentary session.