China has kicked off its biggest airshow to display its increasingly sophisticated air power and the most advanced home-grown weaponry, in the face of the West’s growing military adventurism in Indo-Pacific region.
The airshow was opened on Tuesday in the southern coastal city of Zhuhai, where the military showed off a prototype of a new surveillance drone — the CH-6 — designed for surveillance and strike operations.
Other debutants include the WZ-7 high-altitude drone for border reconnaissance and maritime patrol, as well as the J-16D fighter jet which can jam electronic equipment.
The J-16D shows "overall improvement" in the combat capabilities of China, said James Char, a Chinese military expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.
“This is indeed a significant development since it gives the Chinese military an advantage in terms of conducting aerial electronic warfare over targets that possess significant air defense capabilities," he added.
Both drones — the CH-6 and the WZ-7 – have already entered service with the air force, and “will play a major role in both the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea," military commentator Song Zhongping told AFP.
“As China faces increasing threats from the West, it needs to improve its military-industrial, aviation and aerospace capabilities,” he said.
CH-6 has a cruising altitude of 10,000 metres, "but it can go as high as 15,000 metres," said Qin Yongming, general manager of drone maker Aerospace CH UAV Co.
More than 100 aircraft have registered for display in the air or on the ground, in the airshow, including a next-generation crewed rocket and heavy-lift launch vehicle.
The normally biennial Airshow China in the southern city of Zhuhai, delayed by a year because of COVID-19, is being held from Sept. 28 to Oct. 3, allowing Beijing to parade its growing aviation prowess.
A new series of drone products named Feihong, including an unmanned helicopter, loitering missiles and a new generation of stealth drones, will also make their debut at the show.
Beijing considers plan to meet a 2035 deadline to retool its military for modern warfare.
A Singapore-based defense technology analyst at Janes, Kelvin Wong, said, China is also "clearly positioning itself to be an alternative supplier" of advanced drones, with relative affordability.
Giant international plane makers are scrambling to gain foothold in China as Brazil's Embraer Commercial Aviation CEO Arjan Meijer said in a statement that, "We believe the Chinese aviation market will become world's largest in the future. Embraer has already built a strong and positive presence on the market providing a solid foundation for our most advanced jet, the E2."
China’s efforts to improve homegrown aerospace technology are in the spotlight at a time of a growing strategic rivalry with the West.
Washington has made it clear that its military will maintain a strong presence in the Indo-Pacific region where it has been trying to contain the growing influence of its Asian-rival.
The US, Britain and Australia have established a security partnership this month, drawing instant condemnation from China and the European Union.
Many have warned that the trilateral alliance, dubbed Aukus, could lead to a situation very similar to the US-Russian arms race during the cold war.