02.09.2022 Author: Dmitry Bokarev

China’s Long String of Aviation Industry Successes

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In 1951, the young People’s Republic of China decided to develop its own aviation industry. The Aviation Industry Administration Commission was established, which by now has evolved into the state-owned AVIC megacorporation. As a result of more than half a century of work, China has built an aircraft industry that is almost independent of foreign supplies, and has learned how to create aircraft for various purposes, sometimes as good as the world’s best-known counterparts. Moreover, some of China’s aerospace products are relatively inexpensive, enabling the PRC to enter the global aviation market with them. In terms of economic strength, AVIC is now able to compete with such global giants as the US Boeing and the European Airbus. Having saturated its own market and supplied its army with aircraft, China began to produce aircraft for export.

For example, HAIG, an AVIC member company, has been supplying the global market for a long time with military and civilian aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) it manufactures. HAIG-produced Y-12 general-purpose turboprop aircraft have been in use for many years by armed forces and civil services in more than 20 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, HAIG is best known as China’s premier helicopter manufacturer. Its brainchild, the multi-role Z-9 attack helicopter, has been exported to more than 10 countries over the past two decades, bringing millions of dollars to China’s budget and becoming the most popular Chinese helicopter in the world.

Convinced of its capabilities, HAIG began to develop China’s first Z-19E helicopter, designed specifically for export to other countries, a two-seat fighting vehicle to attack enemy positions. The helicopter’s export orientation is demonstrated, in particular, by the fact that its design offers ample scope for adaptation to specific environmental conditions. The operation of helicopters in arctic snow is known to be different from their use in the mountains or desert, and each type of terrain requires specific design solutions.

Another company within AVIC is Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group. The company specializes in the production of aircraft – both civilian business jets and military fighters, as well as UAVs. The Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group’s development of the Wing-Loong II UAV holds great promise for foreign exports. With a wingspan of almost 20 meters, this large vehicle is designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, as well as bombing and missile strikes. It can be controlled by an operator at a distance, or it can fly autonomously. With satellite communications, Wing-Loong II can deliver precision strikes at very long range and hit time-critical targets.

In February 2017, the Wing-Loong II made its first test flight. Commenting on the event, its developers noted that it marks the beginning of a new phase for Chinese military UAVs and practically brings China on par with the US in this field.

In April of the same year, the new Sino-Pakistani JF-17B fighter aircraft, a modification of the JF-17 based on the Soviet MiG-21, made its maiden flight at Chengdu military airfield in China. The JF-17B is also reportedly export-oriented and designed to meet international market requirements.

Finally, in May 2017, the aforementioned Z-19E export combat helicopter from HAIG made its maiden flight in Harbin, China.

AVIC executives said that a series of successful test flights of export aircraft conducted in 2017 clearly demonstrated the level achieved by products bearing the “Made in China” label.

In addition to producing high-quality products, a certain amount of international diplomacy is required to successfully market them globally. AVIC and HAIG representatives said that countries associated with China’s cooperation in the global transport and economic Belt and Road Initiative, launched by China, are primarily seen as potential buyers of new products from the Chinese aviation industry.

Almost immediately, foreign countries began ordering new Chinese vehicles. The JF-17B fighter, for example, is already in service with the Myanmar and Pakistani forces.

And the Wing-Loong II UAVs have already proven themselves in combat operations. In 2020, for example, they were used by United Arab Emirates troops against Libya’s Government of National Accord. At the time, UAE-owned Chinese drones shot down a significant number of enemy-owned Turkish Bayraktar UAVs.

According to various sources, 10 states in Asia and Africa, as well as Serbia, have already decided to get Wing-Loong II UAVs by 2022.

China is not slowing down and continues to develop and test new aircraft. A new series of test flights took place in 2022.

In June 2022, a large unmanned cargo aircraft TP500 with a payload capacity of 500 kg was tested.

A month later, in July, the ZA800 lightweight, two-seat sport aircraft took to the air. What makes this vehicle special is that it is made entirely from high-strength carbon fiber. The production of all its components is reportedly entirely localized in China and does not depend on imports. This demonstrates yet again that China’s aviation industry is at the cutting edge of global technological progress.

In August 2022, the AR-500CJ shipborne unmanned helicopter made a successful flight. It is reported that large ships of the Chinese Navy, including aircraft carriers, will be equipped with these vehicles, and the AR-500CJs will be engaged in reconnaissance and patrol of Chinese waters. The vehicle can reach speeds of up to 170 km/h and is capable of operating over a distance of 200 km.

Another unusual but highly effective demonstration of the Chinese aviation industry’s achievements was the military exercise around the island of Taiwan, deployed by the Chinese military in August 2022 in response to a visit to the island by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Thus, an entire group of 25 Chinese CH-4 multirole UAVs circled around Taiwan. The CH-4 UAVs are designed for both reconnaissance and missile-bombing missions. It is reported that they can reach speeds of up to 230 km/h. The CH-4s are already known abroad: they are in service with the armies of Algeria and Saudi Arabia. The latter has already used these UAVs more than once in combat operations in Yemen. It is possible that international interest in Chinese UAVs will grow even stronger after the Taiwan exercise.

So far, aviation made in the West leads in popularity. The global market is accustomed to trusting the quality of Western technology. But China has already shown that its aircraft are only slightly, if at all, inferior to their Western counterparts, while being noticeably cheaper. Within the next few years, China can be expected to become the world leader in the sale of, if not all types of aircraft, then at least military UAVs, which are considered to be the future of military aviation.

Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

 


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