China to modernize military, arsenal in next 5 years

▲China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet displays its new coating of stealth material and flies over the exhibition hall at Airshow China 2018 on Tuesday. Photo: Cui Meng/GT

China will develop and produce modern, advanced weapons and equipment in the upcoming five years, as the world could witness the debut of China’s first long-range, stealth-capable strategic bomber, the country’s third and electromagnetic catapults-equipped aircraft carrier, among other new weapons that aim to safeguard the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and development interests, Chinese military experts and analysts predicted on Monday, after China’s recently released 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and the Communiqué of the fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) set the tone for the development of the country’s national defense and armed forces.

The roadmap is in line with China’s overall national strength and the urgent needs of national defense brought by the likes of hegemonies, power politics and regional instabilities in other parts of the world when China is having more development interests overseas, analysts said.

The plenary session made “making significant strides in the modernization of national defense and armed forces in the next five years” one of the main goals for the development of the economy and society in the 14th Five-Year Plan, and stressed that the development of the economy should go side by side with the strengthening of the military.

Among others, it is arranged in the 14th Five-Year Plan that the military should be enhanced by technologies, the integrated development of mechanization, informatization and intelligentization should be accelerated, key and innovative fields should develop in a coordinated way, and the layout for national defense and technology industry should be optimized.

By the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army(PLA) in 2027, the centennial goal of military development should be achieved; by 2035, the country should achieve the modernization of the national defense and armed forces, it was announced at the plenary session.

▲The Shandong aircraft carrier is moored at a naval port in Sanya, south China’s Hainan Province. (Xinhua/Li Gang)

 Additions to arsenal

Looking back at the past five years, the Chinese military’s arsenal saw many breakthroughs across all services, with many new and top-level weapons and equipment commissioned or made debuts, including the J-20 stealth fighter jet, Y-20 large transport aircraft, Z-20 utility helicopter, H-6N strategic bomber, Type 055 large destroyer, Shandong aircraft carrier, Type 15 light tank, PCL-181 truck-based howitzer, DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missile, DF-17 hypersonic missile and DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile.

To follow the 14th Five-Year Plan and reach the goals, China is expected to continue its momentum in the domestic development of modern weapons and equipment in addition to the military reform and scientific military exercises, analysts said.

The 14th Five Year Plan period will be a very hopeful and fruitful period for the PLA Air Force, as the long-range, stealth-capable strategic bomber will likely make its long-expected public debut, Fu Qianshao, a Chinese military aviation expert, told the Global Times on Monday.

China has been reportedly developing the new bomber, often dubbed the H-20, for many years, and its maker, the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, has been hinting its development since 2018.

“We have been studying on the bomber for a certain period. As we have conquered the difficulties in large aircraft production, stealth technologies and engine design and production. The time is ripe for us to roll out a new bomber,” Fu predicted.

The aircraft is expected to be a fourth-generation bomber, compared to China’s current H-6 bomber platform, which is only of the first generation, Fu said, noting that it will come out with world-leading design and technologies. Its stealth capability and range will at least as good as the US’ B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, Fu predicted.

In other warplane developments, Fu believes that China will start to mass-produce and improve the J-20 fighter jet, with its engines replaced with more powerful ones; drones and artificial intelligence will also see advanced developments.

In terms of the PLA Navy, Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, predicted that China’s third aircraft carrier is very likely to be commissioned during the 14th Five Year Plan period. 

The new carrier is expected to be much larger, and the country’s first one using a flat flight deck equipped with electromagnetic catapults to release aircraft, a more efficient way than the ski-jump approach used on the country’s previous carriers, analysts said.

In accordance with the PLA’s carrier groups construction, the construction of supporting warships for the carriers, including destroyers like Type 052D and Type 055, as well as amphibious assault and landing ships, anti-submarine warfare aircrafts, will likely continue in the next five years, Li told the Global Times on Monday.  

“Overall, in the following 10 years, the PLA Navy will develop more systematically and integrated, centering on the construction of aircraft carrier groups,” Li said.

In specific, new amphibious vessels will be launched and existing destroyers and frigates, such as the Type 055 and Type 054A, will be upgraded. The network integration of the PLA Navy will also be improved, Li noted. 

China is reportedly developing the electromagnetic railgun, which is widely expected by analysts to be installed on an upgraded version of the Type 055.

A type of aircraft carrier-based stealth fighter jet, rumored to be developed based on China’s second type of stealth fighter jet the FC-31, could also make its debut in the coming years, along with the aircraft carrier-based early warning aircraft the KJ-600, observers said.

China’s centennial goal of military development in 2027 aims to develop the military with the capability to defend national sovereignty, safeguard against security threats posed by the hegemony in western pacific region and protect overseas development interests as China’s overseas economic presence grows, Li said.

As the world has seen a rise in strategic competition, constant armed conflicts and regional warfare, and increasingly obvious instability and uncertainty in security, China as a rising power with huge development interests both at home and abroad requires its military to adapt to new missions, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.

“The centennial goal is in line with national strength,” Song stressed.

Zhang Yesui, spokesperson for the third session of the 13th National People’s Congress, had pointed out in May that from a global perspective, the proportion of China’s defense expenditure to GDP has remained at around 1.3 percent for many years, far below the world average of 2.6 percent.

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