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China to Add Long-Range Bombers and Other Arsenal in the Next Five Years

By Sahil Mishra *

NEW DELHI | BEIJING (IDN) – The highly publicised fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) concluded at the end of October 2020 with an important communiqué which outlines the main objectives of China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) and the long-term vision to realize socialist modernization by 2035. [2020-11-25]

Among many political, and economic measures, one aspect that emerged from the four-day closed-door meeting is that China will endeavour to develop modern and advanced weapons and equipment over the next five years.

These include an indigenous long-range, stealth-capable strategic bomber and an electromagnetic catapults-equipped aircraft carrier. The two weapons are the key to bolstering China's claims in the South China Sea and fulfilling its long-standing aspiration of becoming a blue water naval power.

The Chinese military experts have been pleading for development of these indigenous long-range weapons for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), as it takes on the US Navy in troubled waters of Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea.

According to the Chinese media reports, making "significant strides in the modernisation of national defence 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. It stresses that the development of the economy should go hand in hand with the strengthening of the military. 

Sizeable investments in new weaponry – despite the economic decline and structural readjustments to trigger economic recovery and the Covid-19 pandemic – underline that China doesn't want to wait to assert its muscular power. And this when the world economy is struggling to recover the momentum of normal growth.

Chinese experts argue in favour of augmenting defence expenditure. They stress the need for military development through technological advancements as part of the high-profile civil defence integrated military program, which calls for further enhancement of technologies under the 14th Five Year Plan, by way of accelerated and integrated development of mechanisation, informatisation. This will be a key layout for optimisation of national defence and technological industry. 

The West has seen an increasing number of espionage cases involving Chinese scientists and students involved in stealing sensitive technological and military research data. The concept of national defence and technology industry is highly dependent on IPR infringement and transfer of key technologies from the West.

The CCP has called that 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 modernisation of the national defence and armed forces, it was announced at the plenary session.

China's state-owned defence manufacturer, Aviation Industry Corporation of China has been developing a long-range bomber H-20 for many years. However, its development has been marred by issues related to stealth technologies and engine design and production. China is seeking to develop H-20 on the lines of the US' B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. China has long been struggling to mass-produce and improve the J-20 fighter jet, as it struggles to replace its engines with more effective ones.

China's third aircraft carrier is also 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. There were reports that China will be using electronic catapult in the second aircraft carrier Shandong. However, it was finally equipped with the traditional ski-jump approach, as PLAN failed to develop a reliable electronic catapult in time.

China's military and political propaganda machinery is upbeat in the country, meeting its centennial goal of military development in 2027. This centennial goal has been interpreted as developing the military with the capability to defend national sovereignty. However, because of Chinese actions in the South China Sea, Line of Actual Control, Taiwan and Pacific show that the development of the above weapon systems will be used to expand Chinese hegemony in the western pacific region and to assert Chinese interests globally. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 November 2020]

* Wing Cdr. (retd) Sahil Mishra. Sahil is a retired Air force officer. He is a National Defence Academy alumnus and completed his Air force training in Hyderabad getting commissioned as a fighter pilot. He took charge of ground duty after a decade long experience of flying MiG's. He has been widely published among others in the USA, UK, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Photo: Aircraft carrier of the Peoples Liberation Army Navy.