(Reuters) - China gave a rare public showing of an air base to military attaches and foreign reporters on Tuesday, as it seeks to modernise its own forces and build export markets.
Here are some facts about China’s air force.
- The People’s Liberation Army Air Force grew out of aircraft left behind by retreating Nationalist forces at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Soviet aid then bolstered its ranks, enabling China to start manufacturing its own versions of Russian aircraft like MiG-15s, MiG-17s and MiG-19s.
- The air force has not been engaged in serious, large-scale combat operations since the 1958 Taiwan Straits crisis, when its planes and pilots were outflown by those of Taiwan, which operated U.S.-made jets with far-better-trained crew.
- Today, China boasts the world’s third-largest air force, with about 400,000 personnel and some 2,000 combat aircraft. That compares to more than 2,300 for the United States, and around 400 for Taiwan.
- Along with the development of its aeronautics industry, China has developed a more formidable design capacity. Its most advanced aircraft currently in service, and for the United States and Taiwan the potentially most threatening, are Russian Su-30 and Su-27 fighters. China is now developing its fourth-generation J-11.
- Last year’s Oct. 1 parade marking the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China featured bombers, unmanned aircraft, reconnaissance and rescue helicopters.
- Modernisation has included developing an inflight refuelling capacity, to give its fighters a greater reach, and early warning aircraft.
- China also exported planes, mainly to Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe, and it is starting to promote the J-10, a more modern fighter produced in China.
- China has air bases throughout the country, with many in southern and eastern provinces facing Taiwan. At least seven ring the capital Beijing. Some bases share runways with civilian airports, while others have tunnels hollowed out of mountains to
protect aircraft from aerial bombardment.
Sources: Reuters, globalsecurity.org (Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jerry Norton)