China’s Aerospace Strategy

J.V. Singh

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China has emerged as a major regional power and has clear aspirations to be a global power in the not too distant future. Comprehensive military modernisation programs, sustained economic, scientific and technological developments have substantially elevated China’s international profile. For the past three decades, China has been modernising its strategic weaponry and enhancing the capabilities of its nuclear warheads. It has also been developing new and complex military platforms that would be of great value to joint operations warfare. The decade from 2011 through 2020 will prove critical to the PLA as it attempts to integrate many new and complex platforms, and to adopt modern operational concepts, including network-centric warfare.

China’s air force is in the midst of a transformation. A decade ago, it was an antiquated service equipped almost exclusively with weapons based on 1950s-era Soviet designs and operated by personnel with questionable training according to outdated employment concepts. Today, the PLAAF appears to be on its way to becoming a modern, highly capable air force for the 21st century. The PLA Air Force has continued expanding its inventory of long-range, advanced SAM systems and now possesses one of the largest such forces in the world. The January 2011 flight test of China’s next generation fighter prototype, the J-20, highlights China’s ambition to produce a fighter aircraft that incorporates stealth attributes, advanced avionics, and super-cruise capable engines over the next several years. China is upgrading its B-6 bomber fleet with a new, longer-range variant that will be armed with a new long-range cruise missile. China’s aviation industry is developing several types of airborne early warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft. These include the KJ-200, based on the Y-8 airframe, for AWACS as well as intelligence collection and maritime surveillance, and the KJ-2000, based on a modified Russian IL-76 airframe.

China can decisively defeat India in any nuclear confrontation, but is currently unable to match the IAF in any conventional conflict, specifically along the border region of the Himalayas. Also, the IAF has greater experience than PLAAF in actual combat operations with its many conflicts; India is gradually building powerful military capabilities in tune with its expanding geopolitical interests, even as the eastern and western fronts are being strengthened to deter the twin Pakistan-China threat. IAF is on the path to transform into a true aerospace power with the capability to rapidly deploy and operate at great distances.

As for the two-front challenge, apart from progressively basing Sukhoi-30MKI fighters and missile squadrons in the two theatres, the plan also includes upgrading the airfields and advanced landing grounds in the sectors in order to give both defensive and offensive options. It is important for India to realise the relevance of Chinese achievements in space technologies and to critically view and analyse Chinese achievements in the area of manned space missions In order to achieve further success in the space arena, developments in cryogenic technology are important for India. These should be pursued in order to develop the capability of launching 4-5 ton satellites, which will help in achieving a greater commercial edge. Programmes like moon and mars missions, using robotic technologies, are also important in order to know more about the nature of resources, especially minerals, available on these bodies and undertaking their mining. It is also important to work towards launching satellites for India’s armed forces, which will help gain an advantage over adversaries.

The book is an attempt to analyse the strategic importance of rising economic, political and military stature of China with a view to understand its regional and global implications in a new world order. As a rational actor in a chaotic world, China will defend its security interests at all costs. Besides undertaking a comprehensive modernisation of its armed forces, China is developing a series of offensive space capabilities while advocating the peaceful use of outer space. The book will be of immense value not only to the readers of the countries in the immediate neighbourhood of China, but to the strategic community across the globe since rise of China and other major Asian players including India will shape the strategic international environment in the decades to come during this century.

It is hoped that the book will contribute to the understanding of the growing importance of integration of air and space and the fact that aerospace has truly become the new theatre of war and thereby establishing a new milestone in mankind’s history of warfare. The unifying space dimension will remain the single most important source for information and communication which can be used in multiple forms. Hence, China’s aerospace strategy and its implications for India assume greater military importance.

J.V. Singh Group Captain JV Singh (retd) holds a masters degree from Lucknow University, 1975 Batch. He was commissioned in the Indian Air Force in June 1978. During his active service of over 32 years, he has served in various capacities in discharge of his professional duties. He has held a number of field and staff appointments in his branch in IAF and also served in a DRDO Laboratory. He is a graduate of the prestigious Defence Services Staff College and has undergone a course in National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE).

He has earlier worked at Centre for Air Power Studies and successfully completed a project for two years and published a book titled “Transformation in Defence Logistics” in year 2009. After his retirement in 2010, Gp Capt JV Singh has re-joined at CAPS as a senior fellow and since then has been working on a project in China Studies Group. His current areas of interest include China’s Aerospace Studies and Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW).



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