China navy eyes new aircraft in modernisation plan

By Siva Govindasamy

China's navy plans to accelerate the purchase and development of a new generation of aircraft as part of a long-term modernisation plan aimed at boosting its bluewater capabilities.

"The navy will move faster in researching and building new generation weapons to boost the ability to fight in regional sea wars under the circumstances of information technology," says navy chief Adm Wu Shengli.

The navy has around 800 aircraft including fighters, bombers, maritime patrol, transport aircraft and helicopters, but these are not as modern as the aircraft in the air force's inventory. In recent years, however, the country has been seeking to buy and develop new aircraft to modernise its aviation fleet.

The Chinese navy has around 600 aircraft including this Xian JH-7 (image released by Chinese military)

China has been in discussions with Russia for several years to buy Sukhoi Su-33 naval fighters along with a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier, Kamov Ka-29 attack helicopters, Kamov Ka-31 airborne early warning helicopters, and Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft. Chinese companies are also working on a naval version of the Chengdu J-10 fighter, Shenyang J-11 fighter and Harbin Z-15 transport helicopter.

Last October, the first batch of 50 cadets began a four-year course at the newly established naval fighter pilot academy. This was the first time China had acknowledged a structured programme for naval fighters.

Wu, a member of China's powerful Central Military Commission, the country's top military body chaired by President Hu Jintao, made his remarks a week before the service's 60th anniversary. They reflect the country's wish to develop a bluewater navy that can effectively patrol its sea lanes and assert itself beyond its territorial waters, according to Chinese newspapers.

High on the wishlist are aircraft with supersonic cruise abilities, stealth submarines, electronic weapons and long-range missiles, says Wu. He adds that the country wanted large warships, which the newspapers say include aircraft carriers. Further details have not been released.

In March, China said that its 2009 defence budget will grow by 14.9% to 480.7 billion yuan ($70.34 billion). Beijing did not break the budget down by service, but the US Department of Defense and other Western military organisations have consistently claimed that the country's actual defence spending is much higher than reported.

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