China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) successfully completed one of the largest air-combat exercises ever undertaken by Chinese military forces on 30 November. More than 100 elite aircrews engaged in an intense air-combat readiness assessment representing crews from 14 PLAAF aviation brigades and regiments.
Chinese official media sources reported that the event included some of China’s newest combat aircraft as well as older models in a challenging test designed to simulate the intense ferocity of close-in aerial combat. This event, according to information posted on the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper website, was one of the largest and most comprehensive airborne confrontational drills ever undertaken by the PLAAF.
The air exercise, held in the skies above the desert regions of northwest China, included evaluations designed to measure the PLAAF’s capabilities to conduct electromagnetic interference suppression, succeed in air-to-air dogfights, and to engage in close-in aerial combat focusing on the use of gunfire to bring down an adversary.
Aircraft involved in the exercise included some of the newest multirole J-10 and J-11 fighters, two-seater Russian-built Sukhoi SU-30 aircraft, and older aviation assets still in operational use.
Engagement parameters for the event were modified to emphasize real-life combat scenarios and to measure the combat flying skills of pilots tasked with engaging an adversary with minimal support from ground control resources. The exercises also employed the service of significant numbers of ground-based experts schooled in the use of radar, airborne weapons, and electronic countermeasures.
Of course, an objective analysis of the success of this event by outside sources is not possible; leaving the international community limited verifiable data to assess the “true” results of this exercise. Despite the lack of definitive confirmation by a neutral party, an exercise of this nature demonstrates that China has made surprising advances in its military capabilities. This is especially true when we consider the fact that, while this exercise was underway, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) successfully landed and launched new J-15 jet fighters aboard China’s sole operational aircraft carrier.
These two events, proving many reputable defense analysts have vastly underestimated China’s technological capabilities, demonstrate that Beijing is quickly developing a military force of greater combat capability and respectable firepower than ever before imagined. Although China cannot yet muster a force capable of challenging the force-projection abilities and massive combat superiority long enjoyed by the United States, they are making unprecedented progress in their efforts to become an international force to be reckoned with.
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