Old jets converted into cruise missiles could hit US ships

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am

The People's Liberation Army has turned more than 1,000 retired second-generation Jian-5 fighters into unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or cruise missiles that could be used to target US aircraft carriers in a cross-strait conflict, according to a mainland military magazine.

The weekly Military Digest, run by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, said yesterday that the unveiling of five UAV models at the 6th Zhuhai air show last year had shocked the outside world because some of the aircraft were stealth fighters capable of evading enemy radar.

'The UAV aircraft will surely undertake the main mission of attack in any future war against Taiwan independence because they are low cost but high efficiency,' the magazine reported.

It said mainland UAV expert Lu Qingfeng had confirmed the development at the show.

'If China installed enough explosives and a remote positioning system in the retired fighter, they could become cruise missiles to attack aircraft carriers effectively.'

The report said China's UAV development had been swift to catch up with advanced international standards, including those of the US and Israel, even though its aviation industry started half a century later than in other countries.

Milton Liao Wen-chung, a Taiwanese military researcher who specialises in the PLA, said mainland UAVs would target United States aircraft carriers in or near the Taiwan Strait in the event of a conflict.

'Each Jian-5 can carry 650kg of explosives and fly 2,000km after being changed into a UAV,' Mr Liao said. 'The rebuilding cost is just 750,000 yuan for a plane. It's very cheap.'

He said as the operating radius of fighters across the strait was only 1,500km, the cheap PLA re-equipped UAVs would become powerful weapons against expensive American aircraft carriers.

'I don't know if the PLA got the idea from the 9/11 terror attack,' Mr Liao said. 'But I know the mainland authorities have spared no efforts to develop UAV technology since 2002.'

Andrei Chang, a Hong Kong-based military expert, said the PLA had co-operated with Israel, the second-most-advanced developer of UAVs, and other developing countries like Ukraine and South Africa to improve its technology.

'The PLA realises that the UAV system is the vital weapon in the 21st century battlefield,' Mr Chang said. 'It is because UAV is multifunctional. It could be a fighter, a reconnaissance plane or information connector.'

The Military Digest said the PLA could also fire mini-UAVs into Taiwan to collect military intelligence during a cross-strait war.

It said China would decommission thousands of Jian-6 fighters in the next 10 years, with each aircraft only needing 1.5 million yuan to be re-equipped as a UAV fighter or cruise missile.

In the United States, the cost of a Tomahawk cruise missile was US$2 million.

Meanwhile, Yamaha Motor has been banned from exporting high-performance unmanned helicopters for nine months for attempting to illegally sell a restricted model to China, Japanese officials said yesterday.

The ban came months after Japanese police arrested three company officials on charges of attempting to sell an unmanned helicopter that could be converted for military purposes to Beijing BVE Technology, a firm linked to the PLA, in December 2005.