China’s Quest for Advanced Aviation Technologies

Phillip C. Saunders and Joshua K. Wiseman

Although China continues to lag approximately two decades behind the world’s most sophisticated air forces in terms of its ability to develop and pro­duce fighter aircraft and other complex aerospace systems, it has moved over time from absolute reliance on other countries for military aviation technol­ogy procurement to a position where a more diverse array of strategies can be pursued. Steps taken in the late 1990s to reform China’s military aviation sector demonstrated an understanding of the problems inherent in high-tech­nology acquisition, and an effort to move forward.1 However, a decade later it remains unclear how effective these reforms have been. Where are the Peo­ple’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and China’s military aviation indus­try headed? What obstacles must be overcome for China to join the exclusive ranks of those nations possessing sophisticated air forces and aviation indus­tries capable of producing world-class aircraft? Answering these and related questions is at the heart of this study. Because advanced fighter aircraft exem­plify the most sophisticated level of aerospace technology, are important for air force combat capabilities, and present unique design and fabrication chal­lenges for a military aviation industry, the authors’ analysis focuses primarily on China’s efforts to acquire, produce, and develop fighter aircraft and related technology. It also includes some discussion of bombers, transports, and air­borne early warning aircraft where relevant to Chinese technology develop­ment and acquisition efforts.

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