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PLA advances in arms, ability over past decade

By ZHAO LEI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-08-16 07:03
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Editor's note: To mark the 95th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army, China Daily is publishing a series of stories elaborating on Xi Jinping Thought on Strengthening the Military, expounding its main ideas from different angles.

The army of the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducts long-range live-fire drills in the Taiwan Straits, Aug 4, 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

Major strides made as Xi attaches great importance to military tech development

During the recent live-fire exercises carried out by the People's Liberation Army, multiple types of cutting-edge hardware were deployed, such as the DF-17 hypersonic ballistic missile and the YY-20 aerial refueling plane.

This new hardware has extensively enhanced the PLA's fighting prowess and made it one of the best equipped militaries in the world.

Observers said that the past decade has been an unprecedented time in which the Chinese military commissioned a great deal of high-tech weaponry and equipment, as the country has set the goal of basically realizing the modernization of national defense and the armed forces by 2035.

President Xi Jinping always attaches great importance to the development of hardware and technology for China's armed forces, stressing that advanced weaponry and equipment are critical to military modernization.

Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, has repeatedly urged the PLA to make full use of modern science and technology to strengthen its combat capabilities.

Speaking at a top-level military conference in Beijing several years ago, he told high-ranking commanders that along with the evolution of military technologies, the factor of hardware "is becoming more significant" when it comes to winning modern warfare.

"It would be very difficult to defeat the enemy if there are generational gaps between our weapons and theirs," the president said.

While meeting the military's hardware development planners and executives from State-owned defense contractors in December 2014, Xi said that advanced weaponry is a key symbol of a powerful military and also an essential pillar of national security and rejuvenation.

It has always been the Party's goal to build and operate a well-equipped military, he said.

At a grand gathering in Beijing in August 2017 to celebrate the PLA's 90th founding anniversary, Xi called on the armed forces to uphold scientific and technological innovation and closely follow the latest global trends in defense technology.

In his speech, he emphasized the importance of farsighted planning as well as the research of strategically crucial, cutting-edge and game-changing technologies. Xi also said that science and technology must be better used to facilitate the military's development and boost its operational capabilities.

The report to the 19th CPC National Congress in late 2017 set the goal of basically realizing the modernization of national defense and the armed forces by 2035 and fully building the armed forces into world-class forces by the middle of the century.

At the 19th National Congress of the CPC, Xi Jinping Thought on Strengthening the Military, which answered the major questions on building strong armed forces in the new era, including the tasks, targets, principles, strategies and approaches, was included in the Constitution of the CPC.

In October, during the Chinese military's most recent hardware conference, Xi urged professionals working in the defense sector and the armed forces to "break new ground "in the development of weaponry and to continue to strive to achieve the military's key goals.

He said workers in the defense sector and equipment officers in the armed forces should uphold the Party's thought on strengthening the military and its defense strategies in the new era, speed up the implementation of tasks planned for the coming years, and establish a modern management system for equipment.

Due to relentless efforts in hardware and technology development, the PLA now has much advanced hardware such as stealth fighter jets, aircraft carriers, large destroyers and hypersonic missiles. Compared with old weapons, the new equipment has greater firepower, higher information-processing capacity and better mobility.

For instance, the PLA Air Force has become the world's second-largest operator of stealth fighter jets following the United States thanks to the deployment of the country's domestically developed J-20.

Advanced equipment

China's first stealth combat aircraft, the J-20 was designed and manufactured by Aviation Industry Corp of China and is widely deemed as one of the best fighter jets built in modern times.

The plane conducted its maiden flight in January 2011 and was officially declassified in November 2016 when it staged a brief flight performance at the 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition. It was commissioned in the PLA Air Force later that year, becoming the third stealth fighter jet in the world to enter service following the US'F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II.

Senior Colonel Zhang Weilin, commander of an air base that deploys J-20s, said his unit has arranged many realistic air-combat exercises in which J-20s fought with each other or confronted other types of fighter jets to test its capabilities and tactics.

"The outcomes of these exercises proved that the J-20 is outstanding in terms of situational awareness, electronic warfare and collaboration ability," he said. "It is fair to say that the service of the J-20 is accelerating the air force's transformation toward a modernized, strategic force and also helping it gain superiority in the global race for an aerospace force."

Military analysts said the aircraft has enabled the PLA Air Force to engage any other top fighter jets and has substantially enhanced its operational capabilities.

In addition to the J-20, the PLA Air Force also boasts a world-class transportation capacity that was made possible by the Y-20 strategic transport plane.

One of the world's largest strategic heavy-lift jets, the Y-20 was first flown in January 2013, making China the third nation following the US and Russia that is capable of developing strategic transport aircraft. It began to be delivered to the PLA Air Force in July 2016.

With a maximum takeoff weight of about 200 metric tons, the Y-20 can ferry cargo and personnel over long distances in all types of weather, strengthening the PLA Air Force's strategic power projection capability.

Strong Navy

For the PLA Navy, the past 10 years also meant a decade of remarkable modernization, climaxing this June with the unveiling of what is expected to become the world's largest and most advanced conventionally powered aircraft carrier.

The CNS Fujian is now in the final stage of construction at China State Shipbuilding Corp's Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.

Upon its completion, the gigantic ship will displace more than 80,000 tons of water. It will use an electromagnetic launch system, or electromagnetic catapult, to launch fixed-wing aircraft.

Defense industry observers said the Fujian is the biggest and mightiest warship any Asian nation has ever built and is also one of the world's biggest naval vessels of all time.

In the next phase, the carrier will undergo mooring and sea trials to comprehensively test its overall capabilities and specific equipment, the PLA Navy said.

Currently, the PLA Navy operates two carriers-the CNS Liaoning and the CNS Shandong. Both of them have a standard displacement of around 50,000 tons and a conventional propulsion system, and use a ski jump mode for launching fixed-wing aircraft.

Compared with its two predecessors, the Fujian is much bigger and heavier, and has a larger flight deck and a smaller superstructure.

Those differences mean that it will be able to carry more aircraft and fuel and will be capable of deploying and recovering more fighter jets in combat operations. Its greater carrying capacity also means that the ship can sail further, operate longer and has stronger fighting power, according to experts.

Moreover, the PLA Navy has commissioned at least six Type 055-class guided-missile destroyers.

The Type 055 is the country's newest, most capable generation of destroyer class.

It has a displacement of more than 12,000 tons and is equipped with new types of air-defense, missile-defense, anti-ship, anti-submarine and land-attack weapons.

The vessel has a total of 112 vertical launching cells capable of firing various kinds of missiles including the nation's long-range cruise missiles. Its firepower is believed to be double that of the Type 052D class, the heaviest and best surface combatant in the PLA Navy before the Type 055.

Shao Dan, a researcher at the PLA Academy of Military Science, said that though China always sticks to a defense policy that is defensive in nature, it is necessary for the Chinese military to have world-class weaponry and equipment as it must be able to deter China's adversaries and ensure the nation will never be bullied again.

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