PLA may have new air-to-air mis­sile

China Daily (Canada) - - TOP NEWS - By ZHAO LEI zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

An im­age re­leased on­line by the Chi­nese Air Force has led to spec­u­la­tion that the military is test­ing a be­yond-vi­su­al­range, air-to-air mis­sile in com­bat drills.

The photo, re­cently up­loaded to the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army web­site, shows a J-11B twin-en­gine fighter jet car­ry­ing a large mis­sile— it stretches about one-fourth of the length of the 22-me­ter-long air­craft — dur­ing Red Sword 2016, an aerial war­fare ex­er­cise over a north­west­ern desert in­Novem­ber.

Nearly 100 air­craft as well as air de­fense and elec­tronic coun­ter­mea­sure units from two the­ater com­mands par­tic­i­pated in the ex­er­cise, the Air Force said.

It comes af­ter pho­tographs cir­cu­lated on weapons web­sites late last year of a Chi­nese J-16 strike fighter car­ry­ing a nearly iden­ti­cal mis­sile.

A spokesman for the Air Force was un­avail­able for com­ment on Wed­nes­day, and no of­fi­cial in­tro­duc­tion of the po­ten­tial new weapon has been dis­closed by the PLA or de­fense con­trac­tors. How­ever, its ap­pear­ance has at­tracted at­ten­tion from military en­thu­si­asts, many of whom say such a mis­sile would boost the Air Force’s com­bat ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Chi­nese fighter jets cur­rently use the PL-11 and PL-12 mis­siles to at­tack long-dis­tance tar­gets, but their max­i­mum ranges are shorter than 100 kilo­me­ters.

Fu Qian­shao, an equip­ment re­searcher with the PLA Air Force, said on Tues­day that he be­lieves China has de­vel­oped a new mis­sile that can hit high-value tar­gets such as early-warn­ing planes and aerial re­fu­el­ing air­craft, which stay far from con­flict zones.

Most air-to-air mis­siles in ser­vice around the world have a max­i­mum range of around 100 km, while a hand­ful of new types pro­pelled by ram­jets can reach 200 km, he said. How­ever, all of them are un­suit­able for com­bat­ing early-warn­ing planes be­cause of their short ranges.

More­over, he added, lon­grange ground-to-air mis­siles are re­stricted by their fixed de­ploy­ment when deal­ing with planes far away.

“The best so­lu­tion to this prob­lem I can fig­ure out is to send a su­per-ma­neu­ver­able fighter jet with very-lon­grange mis­siles to de­stroy those high-value tar­gets, which are ‘eyes’ of en­emy jets,” Fu said. “So the suc­cess­ful de­vel­op­ment of this po­ten­tial new mis­sile would be a ma­jor break­through in the Force’s weapons up­grade.”

He said the mis­sile could have a max­i­mum range of 400 km, far­ther than any air-to-air mis­siles used by West­ern air forces. He added that based on his ex­pe­ri­ence, an ul­tra­lon­grange mis­sile would en­ter the the strato­sphere — at an al­ti­tude of 20 to 50km— and con­tinue its flight there un­til it de­tects its tar­get and dives to strike.

In ad­di­tion, its size would en­able it to be equipped with a large, cut­ting-edge guid­ance radar to de­tect tar­gets. All of these ca­pa­bil­i­ties would al­low it to deal with large planes and stealth jets, Fu added.

Wang Ya’nan, ed­i­tor-inchief of Aero­space Knowl­edge mag­a­zine, said he has been un­able to ver­ify the mis­sile in the PLA pic­ture. How­ever, he sug­gested that the su­per­long range of such a mis­sile would mean it could use satel­lites to re­lay data and con­trol sig­nals.

The United States’ longes­trange air-to-air mis­sile is the AIM-120D, which has an op­er­a­tional range of up to 200 km. Rus­sia also has the R-37 and K-100 air-to-air mis­siles, which their de­sign­ers say have op­er­a­tional ranges of up to 400 km. Air

WU ZHIYI / CHINA DAILY

Premier Li Ke­qiang greets a girl dur­ing a visit to a flower mar­ket in Kun­ming, Yun­nan prov­ince, on Tues­day. Li, who bought two bou­quets, told the florists, “You wake up early and go to bed late, and your hard work brings hap­pi­ness to the peo­ple. I wish you a pleas­ant Spring Fes­ti­val.”

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