Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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China’s Military Shedding Copycat Notoriety; Developing Better Indigenous Advanced Technologies


(Photo : Reuters) A J-31 stealth fighter, which looks a lot like the U.S. F-35 it copied.

China is moving from being infamous as a copycat and purloiner of military technologies from the West into a nation that seems to be reaching "near-parity with the West," especially in the aerospace realm.

This according to "The Military Balance 2017," the latest edition of the much awaited annual assessment of global military capabilities and defense economics published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.

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Released only this week, The Military Balance 2017 reckons that Western military technological superiority "is increasingly challenged" by China.

"We now judge that in some capability areas, particularly in the air domain, China appears to be reaching near-parity with the West," said the report.

The report noted that for decades China was only capable of copying Soviet-era or Russian weapons or technologies. Today, however, China has shifted to the domestic research, development and manufacture of weapons and technologies, supported by sustained military spending.

China's military budget is 1.8 times larger than those of South Korea and Japan combined and accounts for more than a third of Asia's total military spending in 2016.

The report claims China is now seen as a "pacing threat" to the U.S. in aerospace technologies. It noted that the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has just introduced into service the "PL-10," a short-range air-to-air missile only a few countries have been able to develop.

The PL-10 is unique in that it can be slaved to a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD), a system only used by a few fighters such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Russian Sukhoi S-35 air superiority fighter.

The HMD allows a pilot to track a target beyond the aircraft's radar scan envelope using the missile's high off-boresight capability, achieved by the pilot turning his head towards the target to lock-on.

China is also developing what might be the world's longest range air-to-air missile, aptly called the "Very Long Range Air-to-Air Missile" or VLRAAM.

VLRAAM is being developed to shoot down strategically important but slow and unarmed U.S. aerial tankers and airborne early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C), and not faster stealth fighters such as the F-35 flown by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

Chinese state-controlled media revealed VLRAAM is over six meters long compared to the 3.6 meter length for the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) currently in use by the United States military. VLRAAM has a diameter of 33 cm compared to AMRAAM's 18 cm.

News stories and photos showed one of these VLRAAMs mounted beneath each wing of a Shenyang J-16 fourth generation, multirole fighter bomber during tests. Chinese sources said the missile is incompatible with China's new stealth fighters, the Chengdu J-20 and the Shenyang J-31.

This disadvantage means the easily detectible J-16 can be easily engaged at long range by U.S. fighters such as the F-35 or the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets flown-off U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. The two-seat J-16 has a round trip range of 3,900 km.

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