China’s largest airshow opened this week on Tuesday in the southern city of Zhuahai, and they plan to display the country’s most advanced fighter jet, the J-20, showcasing aerial maneuvers. The biannual air show was postponed from late 2020 due to the pandemic. China is excited to show off their newest technology. Yet the opening of the air show did not have the same fanfare it had when it was last held in 2018. There are limited overseas guests due to pandemic travel restrictions, and President Xi Jinping did not send a message. The ceremony was instead presided over by provincial-level officials who applauded the military displays as reflecting China’s growing “international influence and status.”

J-20 to Compete with F-22

Beside the J-20, spectators will be able to see the J-16D electronic warfare aircraft, WZ-7 high altitude drone, and WZ-8 high-altitude, high-speed drone at a ground display at an outdoor exhibit according to the state-run newspaper Global Times. The air show highlights China’s efforts to improve homegrown aerospace technology.

The J-20 development began in earnest after the F-22 was unveiled. And while a lot of its exact specifications are unknown, it is believed to be capable of a max speed close to Mach 2 (1,535 mph). And while today experts believe an F-22 would win a dogfight with a J-20, there is a belief that the advantage may soon disappear.

Space Race and New Aircraft

The Chinese space program also plans to unveil a rocket for crewed space flight capable of carrying a 25-ton payload to lunar orbit.

China continues to refine and improve on the aircraft as the manufacturing goes on,” said Timothy Health, a senior defense researcher at the Rand Corporation, “They’ll learn lessons and they can tweak and modify their aircraft, whereas in the U.S. that’s obviously much harder to do with all the factories shut down.” The U.S. ceased production in 2011.

China’s newest aircraft are much more interesting. The J-16D Electronic Warfare Aircraft could be seen as threat to Taiwan and unlikely Japan. But what the most likely ordination is actually U.S. Navy surface warships. If a modern air force wants to attack an adversary with significant antiaircraft defenses, it needs an effective Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) in order to avoid insupportable losses.

The WZ-7 is comparable to the U.S. Global Hawk high altitude long flight surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. The WZ-7 can execute monitoring, investigation, evaluation, intelligence gathering, and information relay and more. It is also speculated that it can locate targets for anti-ship ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

The WZ-8 is meant to provide surveillance where satellites cannot either because of location or timing of needed information. The WZ-8 is similar to the U.S. A-12 and SR-71, along with the Soviet MiG-25R. The U.S. is also currently developing a new drone to keep pace with the WZ-8 under the SR-72 program.

Mixed Reviews in 2021

So far, the reviews of the show are mixed. One spectator said, “The emphasis seems to be more on shooting down planes than on the miracle of human flight.” But others are excited about China’s rise as a superpower and said, “We may be far behind the U.S., but we are catching up.”

Keeping a watchful eye as China continues to grow and expand in the air industry makes this air show important to watch as new airframes are revealed and the dynamics of air power continue to change.

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Amanda is a military spouse and veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer including a deployment to Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career. She published her first book in 2019 titled Women of the Military, sharing the stories of 28 military women. In 2019 she also launched her podcast also titled Women of the Military. In 2020, she was published as a collaborative author in Brave Women Strong Faith. And in 2021, she launched a YouTube channel to help young women answer their questions about military life, Girl’s Guide to the Military. You can learn more about Amanda at her blog Airman to Mom.
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