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China’s Military Gets Expeditionary (Page 5 of 6)

Expeditionary PLA Air Force

The PLAAF is likely to press harder for longer-range transport aircraft in the wake of the Libya evacuation, where the 4 IL-76 Candid transports dispatched to Libya performed well.  At present, the PLAAF has 14 IL-76s and 25 Y-8 long-range transports, according to Jane’s. This would likely create a capacity shortfall in the event that the PLAAF is called upon to bear the brunt of a large-scale evacuation from an inland country where the PLAN struggles to directly assist.

In the event of an evacuation or intervention operation under hostile conditions, long range, highly capable SU-27, J-11, or SU-30 fighter bombers could provide limited tactical air cover provided they can access a regional airfield such as Khartoum in Sudan. The transit of four PLAAF SU-27s to Turkey for the Anatolian Eagle exercises in September 2010 for example, showed the PLAAF is becoming able to deploy tactical aircraft to areas far from China even without aerial refueling.

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Also, Chinese commanders operating in unfamiliar locales will likely clamor for improved intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) efforts to support their missions.  Thus, space-based sensors and air-breathing observation platforms like the WJ-600 drone unveiled at the 2010 Zhuhai air show will play a vital role in maximizing commanders’ situational awareness. In 2010, the number of Chinesespace launches equaled the US launch figure for the first time. More importantly, a significant portion of China’s launches involved satellites that are helping to build up a persistent and survivable ISR capability along China’s maritime periphery and beyond.

China has launched 7 Yaogan surveillance satellites since December 2009, suggesting that a more robust spaced-based reconnaissance capability is a high priority for the PRC. China is also building up a constellation of Beidou navigation satellites that will likely give Chinese forces an independent regional navigation and weapons guidance system by 2012, with global capabilities coming into existence around 2020.Lastly, China is reportedly preparing to launch a second Tianlian data link satellite in June 2011, which in conjunction with the existing Tianlian-1 could provide coverage over as much as 75 percent of the Earth’s surface. 

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