Warplanes: It Was Not Easy To Let Go


November 15, 2012: Despite successful efforts to convert their elderly Q-5 ground attack aircraft to use smart bombs, China has decided to phase out this model. The production line has been shut down, after 44 years. The last batch of Q-5s were not even combat models but two seat trainer versions. It was not easy to let go.

Over the last decade China appeared to be retiring its 200 Q-5, as more and more were withdrawn from service. But two years ago some were spotted carrying a television guided smart bomb (a half ton KAB-500Kr). This is a 1980 Russian weapon which the Chinese copied. Equipping the Q-5 to carry this weapon, along with GPS guided bombs (which the Chinese recently introduced), could extend the lives of the Q-5s. But it was not to be. A new generation of air force generals are taking over, who paid more attention to quality than quantity. Thus even upgraded, but elderly, combat aircraft are being phased out. For the Chinese quantity does not compensate for quality quite like it used to.

Based on the Russian MiG-19, the 11.8 ton Q-5 has two engines and thus does not have the nose air intake characteristic of the early MiG jet fighters. China has produced over a thousand Q-5s since 1968. The single seat Q-5 is armed with two 23mm autocannon and can carry two tons of bombs and missiles. The navy has been using its Q-5s to carry anti-ship missiles. The Chinese have been upgrading the Q-5 over the years and in the early 1990s began adding a lot of modern electronics (HUD, laser rangefinder), and that led to a version able to deliver laser and GPS guided bombs. One development version had a targeting pod. It was believed that these smart bomb versions were only experimental. Maybe they were, but several have been seen carrying smart bombs at bases for regular, not experimental, aircraft. That will continue until the last Q-5s are retired by the end of the decade.


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