China may be testing a new, long-range air-to-air missile that could take out early warning aircraft
President Xi Jinping is overseeing an ambitious military modernisation programme that includes stealth jets and aircraft carriers. The country has also tested anti-satellite missiles.
The official China Daily said the People's Liberation Army had recently posted pictures online of a J-11B fighter carrying a large, unidentified missile during drills last year.
Air force researcher Fu Qianshao told the newspaper he believed the missile was designed to hit distant high-value targets, such as early warning aircraft, normally outside actual combat zones.
President Xi Jinping is overseeing an ambitious military modernisation programme
That represents an improved capability over existing Chinese missiles, which have ranges of less than 62 miles.
The successful development of this potential new missile would be a major breakthrough
Fu Qianshao – Air force researcher
“The best solution to this problem I can figure out is to send a super-manoeuvrable fighter jet with very long-range missiles to destroy those high-value targets, which are the 'eyes' of enemy jets,” Fu said.
“So the successful development of this potential new missile would be a major breakthrough.”
The missile may even have an actual range of 249 miles, exceeding those used by Western air forces, and dive down on targets from the stratosphere, he added.
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Armed police officers and soldiers of a frontier inspection station drill in the snow on December 21, 2016 in Heihe, Heilongjiang Province of China
China is undergoing military modernisation that includes stealth jets and aircraft carriers
The air force has yet to formally comment on the new missile.
Chinese state media periodically report on new weapons before there is official confirmation of their existence.
The military modernisation comes as China has rattled nerves around the region with increasingly assertive moves to bolster its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and over Taiwan, which it regards as a breakaway province.
China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, recently sailed around the self-ruled island in what China called a routine drill, but which prompted Taiwan to scramble fighter jets and navy ships.