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.