China modernizes its air force to project power globally

Chinese military aviation personnel take delivery of a new transport aircraft
Chengdu, July 6, 2016: Air Force Divisional Commander Chen Gang salutes during the handover ceremony of China's newest heavy air transport jet, the Y-20 (source: dpa)

  • China has rapidly modernized its air force since the mid-1990s
  • Its new-generation aircraft are plagued by technical problems, particularly relating to jet engines and advanced avionics
  • Reverse engineering and espionage have their limits, so it may be decades before China reaches technological parity with the West
  • As 2016 winds down, remarkable progress should be noted in China’s push to achieve air supremacy in Southeast Asia. Chinese military aviation is still not on par with the United States, but it has been steadily narrowing the gap. Several of China’s key aircraft programs have entered new development stages
  • Just this year, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) officially brought the Y-20 heavy strategic transport plane into service, confirmed it is working on a long-range strategic bomber, and made its first public demonstration of the J-20 stealth fighter at an air show in early November. That does not mean that 2016 was an unbroken string of successes for Chinese aviation, however.

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