Warplanes: December 21, 2002


China is faced with a catastrophe in its air force. Thousands of J-6 and J-7 fighters 9 (as well as Q5, H5 and H6 bombers) are going be at the end of their useful lives in the next ten years. All of these aircraft are based on 1950s Russian designs. The J-6 is a Chinese copy of the Russian MiG-19, the J-7 a copy of the MiG-21. Since the end of the Cold War, China has been buying more modern Su-27 and Su-30 warplanes from Russia, as well as the technology needed to build them on their own. But Chinese industry has not been able to get up to speed on manufacturing such advanced aircraft. In ten years, China has bought or built only 150 of these new generation (roughly equal to the U.S. F-16 and F-15) aircraft. If that weren't bad enough, China has not yet modified these Russian designs to use Chinese built missiles. This is more of a problem than it appears. Russia is selling it's air-to-air missiles to just about anyone, including the United States. Chinese missiles are not sold so widely. This the U.S. would have an easier time dealing with the well known Russian missiles than with the more closely held Chinese designs. China continues to put money into upgrading their thousands of J-7 fighters. But these aircraft still suffer from unreliable engines and pilots who don't get enough flying time to be really effective. Moreover, China is not willing to throw a lot of money at the problem. But by 2010, the Chinese air force will shrink enormously as most of its older warplanes become too decrepit to fly. 


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