- Manufacturers say they resumed full aircraft production in early February
- Pace must be maintained to meet military’s growing needs, observers say
The Chinese arms industry resumed full production early this month amid the prolonged coronavirus outbreak, as military experts said the People's Liberation Army should keep up its weaponry programmes in the face of rising security challenges in the region.
Several subsidiaries of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) that make the PLA's warplanes said on their websites they resumed full aircraft production on February 10, while aerospace institutes and naval shipbuilders pledged they would not let the coronavirus affect their production and scientific research schedules.
The new coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, central China, in December, and as of Saturday morning had caused the deaths of 2,360 people " almost all in China " and infected more than 77,700 worldwide.
Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC), a subsidiary of AVIC that designed and built the PLA's new-generation J-20 fighter jet, has a set target of producing at least 300 J-20s in the next decade, according to a military insider.
"Other state-owned enterprises like steel plants have also resumed production, and it's impossible for the aircraft and naval industry to slow up production once the heat treating furnaces are turned on," the person said, on condition of anonymity.
China's Central Military Commission, chaired by President Xi Jinping, had ordered the arms industry to maintain production levels to support the PLA, he said.
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Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie said the PLA needed at least 50 active J-20s in service by the end of the year to match intended Chinese air force deployment in the Asia-Pacific region. Military experts estimate China has about 24 J-20s already in service.
"The PLA Air Force should step up its new fighter jet build-up because the United States is expected to deploy more than 200 advanced F-35s fifth-generation fighter jets in northeast Asia, especially in Japan and South Korea, in the coming years," Li said.
"The Pentagon also deployed more than a dozen of its F-22 fighter jets to its Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in recent years, all those new deployments will cause a direct threat to China."
The newest versions of the J-20, with its advanced supersonic and manoeuvring capabilities, are capable of competing with the US's F-22, and the F-35s that have used by Japan and South Korea since 2018.
Li said both CAC and its sister company Shenyang Aircraft Corporation " which produced China's first and only active carrier-based fighter jet, the J-15 " would be back on track to develop the country's new-generation carrier-borne aircraft.
"The epidemic outbreak had postponed weaponry development progress for almost a month when the Lunar New Year holiday was prolonged, but now everyone should resume their schedules," Li said.
"Compared with other staff of state-owned enterprises, the arms industry's scientists, engineers and workers are more self-disciplined, and they are more capable to meet production missions during an epidemic."
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Besides the fighter jets, China plans to build a further two Type 002 new-generation aircraft carriers, expected to be fitted with catapults similar to those found on the nuclear-powered USS Gerald Ford " which uses the world's most advanced electromagnetic aircraft launch system.
All shipyards under the China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) resumed work earlier this month, according to their websites. Hudong Zhonghua Shipbuilding, builder of the Type 075 amphibious assault ship and one of CSSC's subsidiaries, has used reserve manpower to replace workers who could not make it back to work due to the epidemic, in an attempt to keep to their original production schedule.
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