Tuesday, January 29, 2013

China Unveils Military Plane That Boosts Global Reach

China’s new heavy-lift transport aircraft and a successful missile interception test are key steps in expanding the strength and reach of China’s armed forces, analysts and state media said Jan. 28.

The Y-20, China’s biggest home-produced military transport jet to date, took to the skies for its maiden flight Jan. 26 in the northwest of the country, just months after Beijing’s first aircraft carrier entered service. Pictures showed the bulky green plane — an aircraft that will enable China to project military power across vast distances — soaring into a clear blue sky.

The state-run Global Times hailed the flight of the plane, numbered 20001, as a “significant milestone,” saying China needed the aircraft to “enhance its global power projection”.

The Y-20 will allow China’s military to end its dependence on the Russian-made Il-76, a mainstay of humanitarian and disaster relief around the world, the paper quoted a military expert as saying.

The Y-20 has a maximum payload of 66 tons, which it can carry as far as 4,400 kilometers (2,700 miles), the China Daily said, and with 55 tons onboard, it could fly from western China to Cairo. It is big enough to hold the heaviest tank used by China’s army, the paper added, quoting a military expert as saying that “the heavy air freighters will ensure that we are able to safeguard our interests overseas.”

“With them, we can transport our people or large equipment to farther destinations,” said Liang Fang, professor of strategy at the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) National Defense University.

The test flight was a “big step” for China’s air force, said Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canadian-based Kanwa Defense Review, but Chang added that theY-20 was technologically inferior to other military transport planes.

True figures for the Y-20’s maximum load and flying range were likely to be lower than those cited in state media, he added, due to the plane’s reliance on a “very old” Russian-designed engine.

“(The engine’s) oil consumption is very bad; it wastes a lot of fuel,” he said, pointing out that because of noise, some developed countries have banned aircraft using it from landing, threatening its potential appearance at European air shows.

The Y-20 is likely to take at least another five years to enter operational service, he added, and its design appeared to incorporate features from the world’s most advanced military cargo plane, the U.S.-made Boeing C-17 Globemaster.

But Chang said that the C-17 was a “much better plane,” in part because it apparently uses a much higher proportion of lightweight composite materials, which China struggles to produce.

The U.S. Air Force says on its website that it has more than 200 C-17s in its inventory.

Also over the weekend, China announced a successful land-based missile interception test following an earlier one in 2010, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

“The test has reached the preset goal,” it quoted a defense ministry official as saying, without giving detailed information. “The test is defensive in nature and targets no other country.”

In a commentary Jan. 28 on the launch, Xinhua said the test, together with “a string of other military equipment progress,” including the aircraft carrier and the heavy-lift plane, demonstrate China’s “fast-growing ability to defend its own national security and deter any possible threats”.

But it added that the advances were purely defensive, denying any “ill-grounded ‘China threat theory’.”

China more than doubled its publicly declared military spending from 2006 to 2012, roughly in line with economic growth but rattling its neighbors inAsia. It insists its army expenditure is not aimed at any other country.

China is currently locked in a bitter dispute over the sovereignty of the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing calls the Diaoyus, in the East China Sea.

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