CHINA has put into service its new generation J-20 stealth fighter, a warplane it hopes will narrow the military gap with the US, as senior naval officers said the country was building a “first-class” navy and developing a marine corps.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is overseeing a sweeping modernisation of the country’s armed forces, the largest in the world, including anti-satellite missiles and advanced submarines, seeking to project power far from its shores.
In a report late on Thursday, state television’s military channel confirmed the J-20 had now entered service, though it gave no other details.
The aircraft was shown in public for the first time in November at the Zhuhai airshow and was first glimpsed by Chinese planespotters in 2010.
However, questions remain whether the new Chinese fighter can match the radar-evading properties of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor air-to-air combat jet, or the latest strike jet in the US arsenal, Lockheed’s F-35. The F-22, developed for the US Air Force, is the J-20’s closest lookalike.
China showed off another stealth fighter it’s developing, the J-31, at the last Zhuhai airshow in 2014, a show of muscle which coincided with a visit by then-US president Barack Obama for an Asia-Pacific summit.
China hopes the J-31, still in development, will compete with the US-made F-35 stealth aircraft in the international market, according to state media reports.
The navy is another key focus for China.
China‘s navy has been taking an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and new Chinese warships popping up in far-flung places.
With US President Donald Trump promising a shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot-button issues, including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the US Navy.
People’s Liberation Army Navy deputy chief of staff Wang Weiming told Xinhua on the sidelines of the Parliament annual meeting China was speeding up the development of a marine corps, adding destroyers and frigates and will step up air and sea patrols.
“We will intercept any intruding aircraft and follow every military vessel in areas under our responsibility,” Wang said.
“Our sailors should stay vigilant and be able to deal with emergencies at all times.”
China‘s second domestically-developed aircraft carrier is in “good shape” and now awaiting fitting, he added, in comments reported late Thursday.
Experts expect it to enter service around 2020, joining China‘s existing Soviet-built carrier, the Liaoning.
Another senior officer, Li Yanming, political commissar of the Navy’s armaments department, said a “first-class navy should be equipped with first-class armaments”, the report added.
Navy arms manufacturing would have “better quantity, quality, scope, and functionality”, Li said, without elaborating.
China‘s military ambitions, including taking a more assertive stance in the disputed South China Sea, including building artificial islands and ramping up defence spending, have long rattled its neighbours.
China this year initially failed to publicly release its defence budget on the opening day of Parliament as it has done in previous years, finally saying a day later on Monday it would rise by seven percent to 1.044 trillion yuan (US$151.12 billion).
China‘s defence spending amounts to only about a quarter of the US defence budget, though many experts believe its actual spending on the military to be higher than the official figure.
China denies it is a military threat to anyone.
The Eastern Theatre Command deputy political commissar Wang Huayong told Xinhua Chinese forces were for defensive purposes only.
“The aircraft carrier is still in training and trial stage. The marines remain weak, and the number and quality of long-distance vessels do not meet expectations.” – Reuters