After heavy investment, China’s next generation of weapons and military equipment nears readiness

  • Several key pieces that could significantly improve the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army are expected to be completed or delivered next year
  • Aircraft carriers, strategic stealth bombers and nuclear submarines are among the equipment being developed and tested
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 12:33pm

China has been investing heavily in its military modernisation, with one of the focuses on the research and development of next-generation weapons and equipment.

There have been advances in recent years, and several key pieces that may significantly improve the PLA’s capabilities are expected to be completed or delivered to the forces in the next year.

Second aircraft carrier

China’s Type 001A carrier – its first domestically built carrier – has undergone three sea trials in 2018. It is likely to enter service sometime next year.

In comparison, China’s first carrier, Liaoning, had its first sea trial in 2011 and was commissioned in 2012.

Based on Liaoning, a 55,000-tonne Soviet Kuznetsov-class vessel, the Type 001A has made some significant modifications including upgrading the radar system, integrating the command bridge and, in particular, redesigning the aircraft hangar to make it capable to carry 32 J-15 fighter jets instead of 26. The ship is still conventionally powered with a ski-jump take-off.

According to the PLA Navy’s naming rules, the new vessel be named after a Chinese province when commissioned. In the case of Liaoning, the former Varyag was renamed after the province where it was retrofitted.

First Type 055 destroyer

In 2019, the Chinese navy is also expected to receive its first 055 destroyers, which have been on sea trials since August.

This 12,000-tonne guided-missile warship, which exceeds the usual size of “destroyer”, will serve as the primary escort to the aircraft carrier in its strike group.

Type 055 is said to be the world’s second most powerful destroyer, after the US Navy’s DDG-1000, or Zumwalt class, and is the largest and strongest in Asia.

Three 055s were launched in 2018 and four more are being built, as the navy is quickly increasing its blue water capability.

JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile

China reportedly carried out the first JL-3 test flight in late November from a modified Type 032 submarine platform near the northeast city of Dalian on the Bohai Sea, the Washington Free Beacon cited a US intelligence source as saying.

China’s next-generation JL-3 “great wave” is expected to be able to carry 10 multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), each containing multiple nuclear warheads.

The JL-3, which uses solid fuel, is believed to be the submarine-launched version of the road-mobile DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which entered service in the first half of 2018.

Why Chinese submarines could soon be quieter than US ones

Having a range of at least 12,000km (7,500 miles) means the submarine-launched ballistic missile could reach anywhere in the US even from underwater near the China coast.

Once fully developed, the JL-3 will be comparable to the US Trident II D-5 and new Russian Bulava SLBMs. It will be loaded onto the future Type 096 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).

Type 095 nuclear submarine

Type 095 nuclear attack submarines (SSN) will be the underwater escorts for the PLA Navy carrier strike groups. A total of eight are expected to be built.

The PLA hinted that construction probably began on the first of the nuclear-powered Type 095s in 2017.

The US Department of Defence reports said that with better acoustic features and noise reduction technologies, Type 095 would be much quieter than its predecessor, Type 093B, which is notoriously noisy while in operation. It also has a new air-independent propulsion (AIP) system that can sustain an underwater missions for months. It has also greater weapons capacity.

FC-31 ship-borne fighters and KJ-600 early warning aircraft

The fifth-generation stealth fighter FC-31 “gyrfalcon” made its maiden flight in 2012. It has since been tested and modified and is expected to be finalised in the next year or two.

The FC-31 are smaller than the heavyweight air superiority fighter J-20. Some analysts said this twin-engine mid-size jet might replace the current J-15 to become the next fighter option aboard the aircraft carriers.

Meanwhile, there is still a lack of ship-based fixed-wing aircraft to provide electronic early warning and reconnaissance for the Chinese carriers. It is predicted that China’s next-generation early warning and reconnaissance aircraft JK-600 is likely to take its first flight soon.

With large active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, this aircraft is designed for the PLA Navy’s future electromagnetic catapult-launch carriers.

H-20 bomber

China has confirmed that its new strategic stealth bomber is called H-20. In August, state TV said there had been “significant progress” in its development.

The H-20 will join the J-20 fighters, Y-20 airlifters and Z-20 helicopters in the PLA Air Force’s “20” series of new aircraft. Many observers believe the “20” means they would be in service around the year 2020.

Although few details have been disclosed, H-20 is believed to be a huge leap forward from the H-6K, the Chinese air force’s only current long-range nuclear-capable strategic bomber, which is based on the Soviet Tu-16 from 1950s.

In a promotion video by the developer Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation, a demonstration of a flying wing-shaped aircraft covered by a veil is considered to be a prototype H-20, which means it has a similar design to the US B-2 “Spirit” stealth bomber, with built-in fuselage and no tail.