Source : Pakalert Press
The technology and firepower of the People’s Liberation Army are growing so fast that observers are no longer curious but concerned, says Malcolm Moore.
- American plane-spotters have already begun speculating that China’s first stealth fighter jet might be able to beat an F-22 in a dogfight
It has been a month to remember for the top brass of China’s People’s Liberation Army. While other armies fret about their funding, China’s generals have unveiled three major new weapons that could challenge the military supremacy of the United States and provide the firepower to underline China’s superpower status.
In a dry dock in the northern city of Dalian, smoke has begun to billow from the chimneys of the Shi Lang, a hulking Soviet-era ship that China bought from Russia and has refitted to become its first aircraft carrier. Named after a Qing dynasty admiral, the carrier is slated to make its maiden voyage later this year, four years ahead of schedule. Five more aircraft carriers could bolster the Chinese fleet further over the next decade.
Meanwhile, at an air base in the central city of Chengdu, China’s first stealth fighter jet has been spotted taxiing along a runway. It has yet to take off, but American plane-spotters have already begun speculating that it might be able to beat an F-22 in a dogfight. Finally, at a command bunker in the north of Beijing, the Chinese Second Artillery Corps controls the jewel in the crown – a new missile that could sink a US aircraft carrier, the first such weapon in the world. The Dong Feng (or East Wind) 21D missile is now “operational”, according to Admiral Robert Willard of the US Pacific Command, which will now have to think twice before committing a $20 billion (£12.8 billion) aircraft carrier and its 6,000 crew anywhere within 900 miles of the Chinese coast.
The unveiling of the new weapons could not have been better timed. Tomorrow, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, is due to visit the tall white skyscraper that serves as the Second Artillery’s headquarters. Mr Gates, who has admitted that US intelligence has underestimated the speed of China’s progress, will be able to see the PLA’s array of nuclear and ballistic missile options for himself.
The transformation of the PLA, from Chairman Mao’s Red Army into a modern fighting force, began in the wake of the first Gulf War, when America’s precision missiles impressed upon Beijing that modern warfare no longer depended on having the biggest army. Ever since then, the PLA has been shedding troops, from some three million during the 1990s to 2.3 million currently. Xu Guangyu, a senior military analyst, predicted that troop numbers would keep falling, to 1.5 million – “Around the same size as the US and Russian armies,” he said.
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