China achieved a military milestone when a homegrown fighter jet landed on its new aircraft carrier, the latest step in a modernization bid that’s recorded advances in submarines, cyber warfare and in outer space.
The J-15 fighter jet successfully landed on the Liaoning aircraft carrier, the official Xinhua news agency reported Nov. 24, citing unnamed People’s Liberation Army naval sources. The English-language China Daily ran a front-page photograph today of one of the jets taking off from the carrier.
The carrier tests underscore China’s progress in military modernization, which has been accompanied by a doubling of the defense budget since 2006. China, the biggest spender on defense after the U.S., has become increasingly assertive in the region as President Barack Obama executes a strategic shift toward Asia and tensions rise with Japan and other nations over territorial disputes.
“There are only a handful of countries that have even attempted this and been able to achieve it,” Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said of the carrier landings. “They’re advancing at a very brisk pace but it’s a steady pace. It’s one that shows that the defense budget is growing even faster than the economy.”
China commissioned its Liaoning aircraft carrier in September. The country is looking to build more carriers and base them in the South China Sea, the site of territorial disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam, Cronin said.
The build-up follows advances across the military and in space. China may be able to deploy submarine-launched nuclear missiles in two years, according to a U.S. Defense Department annual report to Congress early this year, and performed its first manned space docking in June.
Defense spending, projected to be 670 billion yuan ($107.3 billion) in 2012, has more than doubled since 2006, tracking a rise in nominal gross domestic product to 47.2 trillion yuan from 21.6 trillion yuan. Military outlays were 1.3 percent of GDP in 2011.
China may spend about $7 billion building four aircraft carriers and another $30 billion to complete their carrier groups, Wang Baokun, an associate professor at the Economic Security and National Defense Economy Institute at Renmin University, wrote in the China Daily on Nov. 6.
At the center of the program is the J-15, a jet capable of carrying weapons including anti-ship, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, as well as precision-guided bombs, according to Xinhua. The jet was developed and built by AVIC Shenyang Aircraft Corp., a unit of China’s largest aerospace company, Aviation Industry Corp of China.
Shenyang Aircraft President Luo Yang, who was the chief director at the scene of the test landing, died yesterday of a heart attack while working, according to an e-mailed statement issued by AVIC.
China is embroiled in a dispute with Japan over islands claimed by both sides. Japan’s decision to buy the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, touched off protests across China in September. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Nov. 23 any actions taken by China in response to the Japanese purchase were “proper and necessary.”
China has also resisted talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a legally binding code of conduct in the South China Sea, where it’s deployed maritime surveillance ships to assert its territorial claims.
The military advancement is “colored and tainted by the rivalry that is growing between China and Japan,” as well as other countries, Cronin said. He said the military had many more programs aimed at boosting its technology.
“There’s nothing the Chinese are not working on -- they’re just not working on it publicly,” Cronin said.
— With assistance by Nick Wadhams