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

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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.”

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The Pentagon’s $10-billion bet gone bad

Leaders of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency were effusive about the new technology.

It was the most powerful radar of its kind in the world, they told Congress. So powerful it could detect a baseball over San Francisco from the other side of the country.

If North Korea launched a sneak attack, the Sea-Based X-Band Radar — SBX for short — would spot the incoming missiles, track them through space and guide U.S. rocket-interceptors to destroy them.

Crucially, the system would be able to distinguish between actual missiles and decoys.

SBX “represents a capability that is unmatched,” the director of the Missile Defense Agency told a Senate subcommittee in 2007.

In reality, the giant floating radar has been a $2.2-billion flop, a Los Angeles Times investigation found. Continue reading