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China’s long-term military modernisation efforts are bearing fruit, with a string of upgrades for its warships and warplanes under way amid intensifying tensions in the Indo-Pacific, particularly the Taiwan Strait.

New helicopter engine

China showcased a 1,100-kilowatt turboshaft helicopter engine at a helicopter expo in Tianjin last week. A Chinese military expert said the high-powered engine, shown for the first time, is to China's development of medium- and heavyweight helicopters.

China still lags in the development of large helicopters, which can carry more weapons and cargo. They could also play an important role in transporting personnel and equipment in conflict scenarios.

Bigger, more advanced frigates

China launched a bigger and more advanced version of its largest frigate at the end of August, according to state and Hong Kong media reports, which cited experts as saying the Type 054B frigate could be equipped with an integrated electric propulsion (IEP) system, a more advanced radar with better detection capability, and a combined diesel and gas power system that makes it harder to detect.

The new frigate displaces about 6,000 tonnes — 2,000 tonnes heavier than the current 054A. It is also equipped with a 100mm main gun, replacing the 76mm main gun on the 054A, according to media reports. The new ship is about 147m long and 18ms wide, while the 054A is 134.1m x 15.2m.

The Type 054B will travel faster, go further, and is harder to detect, making it better at anti-submarine tasks. It also could be used as an aircraft carrier escort.

Western analysts have noted that China has lagged behind in anti-submarine warfare, which are vital to protect long-range aircraft carrier operations. A media report quoted a Chinese military expert as saying the new frigate can serve as a “mini destroyer”.

The new frigate will undergo sea trials after construction is completed. Two of the ships are being fitted out in shipyards in Shanghai and Guangzhou.

More powerful engine for stealth fighter

China is conducting small-scale flight tests for its J-20 stealth fighter equipped with new WS-15 engines. In July, the aircraft flew with two of the domestically made WS-15s, media reported. The new engine, replacing the WS-10C, is meant to give the J-20 more thrust, higher speed, the ability to fly supersonically without using fuel-guzzling afterburners, and a longer range. That could put US bases in South Korea, Japan and Guam within range of the J-20, according another media report.

Larger-scale tests are expected to follow. Chinese state media cited an expert as saying that more powerful engines are also most likely under development.

Aircraft carrier preparing for sea trials

China is in the final stages of preparing its third but first domestically designed and made aircraft carrier — the Fujian — for sea trials, a critical step before the warship goes into operational service.

Online images of the conventionally powered vessel under construction while docked at a shipyard in Shanghai show construction sheds above three tracks of the electromagnetic catapult aircraft launch system — the biggest feature of the carrier — have been removed recently. That suggests the carrier will most likely join the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) within two years as scheduled, a media report said this month.

Fujian underwent propulsion tests and mooring trials this year; the next step would be sea trials. Chinese carrier operations are closely watched by regional militaries, with some military attaches and analysts noting the PLAN still has some way to go in mastering the complex operations needed to protect the vessels far from shore.

Possible upgrade of amphibious assault ship

Images online and media reports have noticed shifts in the manufacturing process of China’s 075-type amphibious assault ship.

China has three such ships, considered critical for a possible attack on Taiwan. China claims the democratically governed island as its own; Taiwan rejects such claims. The new process suggests the warship might be upgraded with integrated electric propulsion, the same as that of the Fujian, a media report cited an expert as saying, which would boost its air assault capabilities. 


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