China’s biggest airshow to highlight military prowess

Country’s most advanced fighter jet will take part in aerial manoeuvres as new electronic warfare jet and advanced drones go on display for the first time.

Two J-20 stealth fighter jets of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force perform during the last China Airshow in 2018 [File: Kin Cheung/AP Photo]

China’s military will display some of its most advanced weaponry and equipment when the country’s largest airshow gets under way this week.

Airshow China opens in the southern city of Zhuhai on Tuesday after a year-long delay as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state-run newspaper Global Times reported there would be “dazzling flight performances” involving the J-20, the air force’s’s most advanced fighter jet.

Other advanced aircraft including the J-16D electronic warfare aircraft, WZ-7 high-altitude drone and WZ-8 high-altitude, high-speed drone, would also be on static display at the outdoor exhibition area for the first time, the paper said.

The show, highlighting the country’s efforts to improve homegrown aerospace technology, comes amid growing strategic rivalry in the Asia Pacific.

The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia recently announced a trilateral security pact for the region, including the provision of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, while the Quad leaders met in person for the first time at the White House on Friday.

The Quad includes the US, Australia, Japan and India and is seen as an effort to counter the rise of China, which has become increasingly assertive in the region, particularly in the disputed South China Sea and over Taiwan.

“As China faces increasing threats from the West, it needs to improve its military-industrial, aviation and aerospace capabilities,” said Song Zhongping, a military commentator and former PLA instructor on missile technology.

The J-16D has two large electronic warfare pods on its wings, which will be used to disrupt and jam hostile electronic equipment, including radar and communications systems, the Global Times reported. It also has a new avionics system and domestically-made engines.

A Chinese PLA J-16 fighter jet flies in an undisclosed location. China has sent military aircraft into Taiwan’s defence zone on numerous occasions over the past couple of years [File: Taiwan Ministry of Defense via AP Photo]

More than 100 aircraft have registered for display in the air or on the ground as China shows off its military might and its space ambitions, including a next-generation crewed rocket and heavy-lift launch vehicle.

The flying displays will feature some products China wants to export, including the AG600, the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, designed for fire-fighting and sea-rescue roles.

The Wing Loong II, an armed drone similar to the American MQ-9 Reaper, has already been sold to customers including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan as China competes against Western rivals to increase military exports.

A new series of drone products named Feihong, including an unmanned helicopter, loitering missiles and a new generation of stealth drones, will make their debut at the show.

“Beijing is intent on not just pushing locally made military aircraft and aerospace technologies, but also its ability to address almost any military requirement out there,” said Kelvin Wong, a Singapore-based defence technology analyst at Janes.

Taiwan has complained repeatedly of incursions by China’s air force. Beijing claims the democratically-governed island as its own.

China has also built artificial islets and established military outposts far into the South China Sea, which is also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Its claim to almost the entire sea, based on its controversial nine-dash line, was dismissed by a court in The Hague in 2016 after the Philippines took legal action. Beijing has ignored the ruling.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies