China Says Its Air Force Will Become World Class By 2035

Heading for space
J-20 stealth fighters (Photo: PLAAF)

Space will be the next battleground. With the United States Space Force slated to become operational in 2020, China has announced its firm intent to also fight in space.

Space, in this case, means Low Earth Orbit (LEO), or the geocentric orbits with altitudes ranging from 160 km to 2,000 km.

China will reorganize the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) so it can expand its presence into space as part of an ambitious strategic plan to become a world-class force by the 2050s, said Senior Colonel Wang Zhonghua, head of the Planning Bureau of the PLAAF's Equipment Department.

Col Wang said the PLAAF will spare no effort to deal with all threats, especially those emanating from the United States and its Space Force. The PLAAF is also gearing up to extend its reach beyond the clouds and into space.

He revealed the PLAAF is undergoing revolutionary changes that will need to generate systems capable of functioning in future warfare scenarios, including a war in space.

Lt Gen Xu Anxiang, PLAAF Deputy Commander, revealed the PLAAF has a multiphase roadmap for building a strong, modern air force. He said the building of a stronger modern air force supports China's overall goal of strengthening its national defense and the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the armed forces of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Gen Xu said the first step in the building of a stronger modern air force is to build a strategic force by 2020 that integrates aviation and space power and strike and defense capabilities. When this goal is achieved, the PLAAF's fourth-generation equipment will become the backbone of the Air Force's arsenal. Gen Xu also said information-based combat capabilities will be enhanced.

The Air Force categorizes its top weapons such as the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter jet and Xi'an Y-20 strategic transport aircraft as fourth-generation equipment. On the other hand, the Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-16 combat fighters are classified as third-generation.

The second step will have the PLAAF improve its strategic capabilities and modernize its theories, organizational structure, service personnel, and weaponry. The building of a modern and strategic air force will be basically completed by 2035, said Gen Xu.

Ultimately, the PLAAF will be fully transformed into a world-class force by the mid-21st century, said Gen Xu.

By this time, however, the U.S. Air Force and its nascent Space Force will be more formidable foes to contend with. The hawkish Trump administration remains big on defense.

Vice-President Mike Pence said the U.S. will create a new era of peace through strength in space. He noted the U.S. sees space as a warfighting domain, just like the air, land, and sea, and America will be just as dominant there as we are here on Earth.

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