The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force celebrated its 72nd anniversary on Thursday, highlighting some of the military branches’ recent key missions including bomber patrols around the island of Taiwan and foreign warplane interceptions in the East China Sea.
Many significant developments took place in the past year, including the announcement of several types of advanced warplanes, as the air service branch of the PLA reached a milestone by crossing the threshold of a strategic air force and accelerating its efforts toward the goal of building a world-class air force, with more cutting-edge equipment to debut in the future, analysts said.
Just before its anniversary, the PLA Air Force released a short video on patrols around the island of Taiwan, in which the pilots of an H-6K bomber led the audience to view the island from over 10,000 meters in the air, and showed the rivers and mountains, China Military Online reported on Wednesday.
Talking about the flights over the island, pilot Sun Luyu said, “I felt fresh and excited when I went on my first patrol mission. But the more I went, the more it felt like just a usual stroll in my own yard. Taiwan is Chinese territory, and the patrol is our silent statement.”
The PLA Air Force has routinized training and patrols around the island of Taiwan, often in conjunction with other service branches including the PLA Navy, as defense authorities on the island of Taiwan have been posting daily reports on PLA aircraft activities in the island’s self-proclaimed air defense identification zones.
Above the skies of the vast East China Sea, PLA Air Force sends J-16 fighter jets on alert missions that would see foreign warplanes warned away if they threaten Chinese airspace, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Thursday.
“This is the Chinese PLA Air Force. You are approaching China’s territorial airspace! Leave immediately, or you will be intercepted!” said J-16 pilot Shen Yi in radio contact with a foreign warplane in such a mission.
Alert patrols in the East China Sea, combat patrols in the South China Sea, forward deployments in the West Pacific and encirclement patrols around Taiwan island are some of the most representative missions the PLA Air Force has been carrying out in recent years as a sign of its rapid development in safeguarding national sovereignty, territorial integrity and development interests, a Chinese military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Thursday.
Established on November 11, 1949, the PLA Air Force made itself known to the world only one year later by joining the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53) as the Chinese People’s Volunteers Air Force, shooting down or damaging 425 hostile aircraft in deadly battles against the US Air Force.
That fearless spirit never faded away over 72 years, with one of the latest examples being that the Y-20 large transport aircraft took part in its first military operation other than war by sending medical personnel and supplies to where they were most needed – also places that were the most dangerous – at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.
From the aspect of weapons and equipment, the past year was also an important one for the PLA Air Force, as it announced at Airshow China 2021 the commissioning of new warplanes such as the J-16D electronic warfare aircraft and WZ-7 high-altitude reconnaissance drone, and ensured production capacity for the country’s most advanced stealth fighter jet, the J-20, now has domestically developed engines.
Both the J-16D and WZ-7 have recently entered combat training, the PLA Air Force announced in the past week.
In recent years, a large number of new domestically developed main combat equipment, including the J-20 stealth fighter, the Y-20 large cargo plane, the KJ-500 early warning aircraft and the HQ-9B air defense missile system, have been deployed for combat training, CCTV reported on Wednesday, noting that the PLA Air Force’s capabilities on strategic early warning, air strikes, air defense and missile defense, information countermeasures, airborne operations, strategic projection and comprehensive support have been continuously enhanced.
As a historic achievement, the Chinese Air Force has crossed the threshold to become a strategic air force, Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, spokesperson of the PLA Air Force, announced in August.
This was in line with a roadmap the PLA Air Force released in 2018, which said that the service branch would become a strategic force by 2020, modern by 2035 and world class by the mid-21st century.
Experts reached by the Global Times said that more advanced equipment will be developed and commissioned to realize the roadmap. In the short term, there could be Chinese engine-equipped Y-20 cargo planes, the aerial tanker variant of the Y-20, and the twin-seat variant of the J-20, experts said.
In the long run, the rumored H-20 stealth strategic bomber will eventually be unveiled, and sixth-generation aircraft that go beyond the J-20 will allow the PLA Air Force to safeguard national sovereignty and development interests even better, experts predicted.
An aircraft model that appeared in the latest promotional video of the PLA Air Force released on Tuesday to celebrate its 72nd anniversary has sparked speculations among Chinese military enthusiasts, who believe the model with a tail-less aerodynamic design is of an advanced warplane yet to be announced to the public.