BEIJING, CHINA - China's air force is celebrating its 60th anniversary this weekend with an aerial show and skydiving exhibition, the country's third major military display this year.
Sunday's event is intended to underscore the rapid modernization of the People's Liberation Army Air Force as hundreds of antiquated MIG fighters are mothballed and replaced by state-of-the-art combat aircraft.
Beijing insists such displays are intended only to boost public pride and confidence in the armed forces, although they have also renewed concern abroad about the ultimate aims of China's military expansion.
The show "underscores the rise in the country's comprehensive national power and the firm material and technological foundation provided for air force modernization," air force commander Gen. Xu Qiliang told the PLA Daily newspaper in an interview published this week.
China earlier this year held an international ship review to celebrate the Navy's 60th anniversary, along with the massive Oct. 1 National Day military parade featuring hundreds of tanks and other armored vehicles.
China's air force and navy have been prime beneficiaries of huge defense spending increases as the primarily land-based, defensively oriented military boosts its ability to project force far from the nation's borders.
Tanker planes, AWACS and other support aircraft have been added to extend the reach and effectiveness of the People's Liberation Army Air Force's advanced Russian Sukhoi and domestically developed J-10 fighters.
The force has more than 600,000 members and about 2,000 aircraft - making it the largest in Asia - but still far smaller than the United States Air Force with more than 5,500 aircraft and nearly 327,500 active service personnel.
The improvements are primarily seen as augmenting the force's key mission of protecting China's borders and preventing formal independence for Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims as its own territory.
China's air force is largely considered superior to Taiwan's in both quantity and quality, while 1,300 short and medium range missiles deployed opposite the island could deal severe blows to Taiwanese airfields and anti-aircraft defenses.
The Chinese forces deficiencies include a lack of actual combat experience, outdated training and tactics, and a shortage of large aircraft to transport troops and equipment.