PLA VTOL fighter could turn reefs into ‘unsinkable carriers’

China is planning to continue developing its short-range vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fighter, according to Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik International, cited by the military news web portal of China’s state-run Reference News.

Vasily Kashin, a researcher with the Moscow-based non-governmental research organization the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said that the aircraft will be mainly used for maritime combat.

Theoretically the fighter could be used in areas without airports, including difficult and mountainous terrain, according to the report. The Soviet Union tried to use vehicle-towed platforms to allow its VTOL Yakovlev Yak-38 strike fighter to operate in Afghanistan in the 1980s. However, in mountainous regions the aircraft’s lift jets were ineffective, so such a large aircraft found vertical take-off difficult, according to the website.

The US Marine Corps frequently used the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) AV-8B Harrier II ground attack aircraft in Afghanistan. However, these aircraft used conventional air bases, not making use of their VTOL functions. In theory, whenever a runway is destroyed by enemy forces, the VTOL function comes into play. However, the AV-8B is rather limited in capability compared to other fighters.

The report suggests that this means that, although it is not impossible that China is planning to use this kind of aircraft in mountainous areas like the Himalayas or in regions of Central Asia with poor infrastructure, it is more likely that it will be deployed at sea.

The report stated that the People’s Liberation Army Marine Corps is not an independent or influential branch of the armed forces, as it is subordinate to the PLA Navy. This suggests that the VTOL fighter is important for the entire navy, perhaps because of the ease of its deployment and that it can be used on the runways of islands in the disputed South China Sea, turning the islands into “unsinkable aircraft carriers.”

Full article: PLA VTOL fighter could turn reefs into ‘unsinkable carriers’ (Want China Times)

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