China to Expand Military Reach with a Fleet of the World’s Largest Planes

An Antonov An-225 cargo plane at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, in March 2011. | Lance Cpl. Samantha H. Arrington


Ukraine’s Antonov has entered a pact with a Chinese firm to restart production of the An-225.

The Soviets built a single Antonov An-225 cargo jet — the longest and heaviest airplane ever built — to carry the Buran space shuttle. Now China wants a fleet of them.

A recently announced deal with Ukraine’s Antonov firm is the latest evidence of Beijing’s strategic aspiration to be able to deploy military forces rapidly, anywhere in the world.

“It would provide China with the large and global lift that not even the U.S. has possessed, except by rental,” said Peter Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at New America who tracks Chinese military technology on his Popular Science blog. “It’s large enough to carry helicopters, tanks, artillery, even other aircraft.”

The six-engine aircraft, which can haul more than 250 tons, would help on the civil side as well, Singer said.

“It opens all sorts of new frontiers in both commercial and military air transport for China,” he said. “A fleet of civilian An-225s could quickly ship heavy, bulky cargo of massive scale ranging from construction equipment to a massive scale of consumer goods.”

Then there are uses that haven’t even been thought of, such as space launch or a mother ship for drones, Singer said.

Antonov will also transfer technological know-how for the plane and its engines to the Chinese allowing them to build a new, modernized version of the plane indigenously.

A Beast

The An-225 is a beast, more than 275 feet long with a wingspan of nearly 300 feet. It’s bigger than than the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747, the two largest passenger jetliners. In fact, the only plane ever built with a larger wingspan than the Mriya — Ukrainian for dream — is the Hughes H-4 Spruce Goose.

History Repeats

The An-225 deal is essentially history repeating itself. China purchased the unfinished aircraft carrier Varyag from Ukraine in 1998. China finished building the ship, now named Liaoning, and has used it to learn how to operate an aircraft carrier at sea.

Full article: China to Expand Military Reach with a Fleet of the World’s Largest Planes (Defense One)

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