In what seems to be a message to the US, China and Russia have launched their large-scale strategic military exercise in northwest China. This comes at a time when their common adversary, the US, is holding month-long war games with its QUAD allies across the Indo-Pacific.
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During the drills, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) dispatched advanced weapons and equipment including the J-20 stealth fighters and Y-20 large transport aircraft, which were also the highlight of the inauguration ceremony.
According to Chinese experts, this is the first time that the PLA has sent the J-20 stealth jets to participate in joint exercises with another country. The PLA move would enable the Russian military to gain first-hand insight into the J-20 Mighty Dragon, which competes with the Russian Su-57.
Analysts see this as a testimony to the high level of cooperation and mutual trust shared by the militaries of China and Russia at a time when both countries are facing challenges due to changing security situations in Central Asia after the exit of Western troops from Afghanistan besides direct threats from the US.
This is the first joint military exercise to be hosted by China since the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The appearance of the J-20 in the drills shows that the military cooperation, exchange and mutual trust between China and Russia have reached a very high level, since the J-20 is one of China’s most advanced hardware”, Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, was quoted as saying by the state-owned Global Times.
Press statements issued by China and Russia said that Russian personnel have been given access to the PLA’s Type 11 wheeled assault guns and Type 08 infantry fighting vehicles in adaptive training over the past week.
During the Kavkaz-2020 strategic drills held in Russia in September last year, Chinese troops for the first time used main battle weapons and equipment provided by the Russian military, including the T-72B3 tank, BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle, and Igla-S air defense missile, CCTV reported at that time.
“This will allow both sides to better understand each other’s way of combat and form better tacit understandings in future joint military operations and counter-terrorist missions,” said Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military expert.
The Zapad/Interaction-2021 exercise in the Qingtongxia Combined Arms Tactical Training Base in Northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region began on Monday (August 9) morning.
Participating troops, weapons, and equipment, including armored vehicles, wheeled assault guns, self-propelled howitzers, long-range multiple rocket launcher systems, surface-to-air missiles, drones, and support vehicles were all lined up under the Helan Mountain at the opening ceremony, China Central Television (CCTV) reported.
The inauguration ceremony was kickstarted with 15 attack and transport helicopters flying past the site.
Six types of warplanes including the J-20 stealth fighter jets, J-11 heavy fighter jets, J-16 multirole fighter jets, JH-7A fighter bombers, H-6K bombers, and Y-20 large transport planes of the PLA Air Force also took part in the event.
The J-20 ‘Mighty Dragon’
The J-20 is a fifth-generation fighter jet developed by China’s Chengdu Aerospace Corporation. It is a single-seat, all-weather, stealth fighter aircraft with precision strike capability.
On June 18, the Military Development Vanguard Air Group made its debut with the world’s third operational fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, which is currently in service with the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), state-owned Global Times reported.
This is the second PLA unit to be equipped with a J-20 fleet. The first one, the Vanguard Air Group, “made glories in the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53) and homeland air defense missions by shooting down 92 hostile aircraft”, according to a PLAAF spokesperson, quoted by the Chinese daily.
The J-20 is designed to execute ground attack missions even in hostile environments. The aircraft can reach higher altitudes with its delta wings at supersonic speeds. It is larger than Russian Su-57 and Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
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The front portion of the prototype looks similar to the F-22 Raptor and the rear section looks like a Su-57. The J-20 is armed with an internal cannon for close-range combat missions. It comprises eight hardpoints and a large belly weapon bay to incorporate a long-range PL-12C/D and PL-21 air to air missiles (AAM).
The aircraft is equipped with two small lateral weapon bays beneath the air inlets to integrate PL-10 short-range AAM. It is also expected to be equipped with air-to-surface missiles, anti-radiation missiles, laser-guided bombs, and drop bombs.
The Su-57 is Russia’s answer to the American stealth duo — F-22 and F-35. The fifth-generation fighter comes equipped with advanced stealth technology, which ensures a low level of radar and infrared signature.
The twin-engine fighter jet can take out any target and develop supersonic cruising speed. While the combat aircraft took to the skies a decade ago, it entered service only late last year.
— Co-authored by Kashish Tandon