Chinese Aerospace Setback

The earthquake that leveled parts of inner China May 12 caused a military disaster of still-undisclosed proportions for the People’s Liberation Army Air Forces near the city of Chengdu, US intelligence sources said May 22. Chengdu Aircraft, north of the city, and not far from the epicenter of the quake, suffered significant damage to its production facilities, these officials said. The plant builds the indigenously-produced J-10 fighter, considered to be on a par with the Lockheed Martin F-16. The sprawling Chengdu aerospace complex was also ramping up to build another fighter, the FC-1, developed in partnership with Pakistan. And the facility also churns out both military engines and parts for Boeing commercial aircraft. To comprehend the damage, “Imagine a serious earthquake in Ft. Worth, Texas,” where Lockheed Martin builds F-16s and F-35s on a mile-long assembly line, one analyst said. Satellite imagery shows the various production plants were hit hard, to say nothing of the deaths and injuries among workers employed by them. The area is also home to an electronic warfare research center, which has been engaged in developing indigenous avionics for Chinese military aircraft, and a branch of Chinese intelligence that collects and analyzes electronic intelligence. A nearby facility is also the principal Chinese aerodynamic research center. The Chinese government has yet to offer any official comments about damage at the facilities, but some commercial aircraft parts distributors were warning airline customers to buy up any needed Chengdu-made parts, as there is no way to know when production will resume. Aftershocks have continued to rock the area.