China’s Air Force Boosts Tech by Buying European Companies, Still Steeped in Outdated Technology

The Chinese ‘Chengdu’ J-20. Considered a Fifth-generation jet fighter. (
The Chinese ‘Chengdu’ J-20. Considered a Fifth-generation jet fighter. (

China is bidding to challenge U.S. airpower. One part of its strategy to do this is to acquire foreign companies. On May 19, Chinese firm Guangdong Elecpro Electric Appliance Holding announced plans to acquire Switzerland’s Mistral Engines SA which manufactures engines for light aircraft, helicopters, and drones and Germany’s SkyTrac which makes helicopters.

Previous purchases include Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s (AVIC) acquisition of Austria’s Fischer Advanced Composite Components (Airplane Parts) and Germany’s Thielert Aircraft Engines.

The acquisitions come at a time when the Chinese leadership, which works very closely with its industrial players, is pushing an ideology of bringing it’s military technology to par with the West and bringing China’s market competitiveness to the West’s levels as well.

Aside from buying European companies with established knowledge, the Chinese got an extra push through ties with Russia.

According the Epoch Times, “Russia will provide China with a new helicopter based on its Mil Mi-26, which is a military and civilian heavy transport helicopter capable of carrying up to 82 fully armed soldiers. Russia and China will also be developing a 400-seat, wide-body commercial airliner, which they plan to pit against Airbus and Boeing.”

China’s military says it has 1,321 fighter aircraft, just shy of the United State’s 2,025.

“The problem for China is that most of its planes are really old,” says the Times. “[Defense and security expert] Mizokami notes that only 502 of China’s fighter aircraft are modern, of which 296 are Su-27s from Russia and 206 are its own J-10s. As for its other 819 fighters, they’re mostly from models designed in the 1960s and built in the 1970s. Mizokami notes, “They wouldn’t last long in a shooting war.””

China has been putting its focus on developing its next generation of fighter jets, the J-20. The J-20 is a suspected knock-off of Russia’s defunct MiG-1.44. It has also incorporated technology that was stolen from Lockheed Martin through cyber-espionage. Presumably by China itself. Still, the estimated completion date for the J-20 is between 2017 and 2020. By 2020, the United States will already be developing a new generation of aircraft.

The moral of the story is that be they dwarfing the military of the US and all other nations in size, China’s armed forces still lag far behind technologically. This holds true for its airforce, ground units, and industrial sector in general. Albeit with some crafty cyber-sleuthing and ingenuity, not a hallmark of dictatorships, they’re trying to bridge the gap.

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