China’s premiere aerobatics team, August 1st (Bayi in Mandarin), headed on a Southeast Asian tour this month, appearing first at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA) 2015 exhibition from March 17 to 21.
Akin to the American Thunderbirds unit, the Bayi team flies China’s most modern fighter, the Chengdu J-10, painted in an eye catching blue, white and red color scheme (wartime colors are standard PLAAF grey). Founded in 1962, Bayi is a PLAAF squadron which started flying J-10s in 2009, having previously flown J-7s and MiG-17s. Among other occasions that Bayi has flown include the 2013 MAKS airshow in Russia and China’s 50th National Day parade.
LIMA is Malaysia’s biggest defense and security exhibition, like China’s Zhuhai Airshow or the UAE’s IDEX. At LIMA 2015, Bayi flew alongside American F-16s, French Rafales, Malaysian Su-30 Flankers and the UAE Al Fursani aerobatics team, Bayi was easily the most colorful out of all the aerobatics. Chinese defense contractors attended LIMA 2015, offering amphibious assault and air defense warships for Malaysia’s naval modernization.
Following Malaysia, Bayi visited Thailand starting on March 23, as part of a military exchange program. While Thailand is one of America’s oldest Asian allies, Bangkok also has strong military ties with China, including arms sales of rocket artillery and warships. The J-10s flew alongside Thailand’s Saab Gripen fighters as part of the opening ceremonies, as a prelude to public demonstrations.
These visits are notable as China has been busily increasing its international military presence not just with arms sales, but also through “soft military power” displays like aerobatics, humanitarian and naval port of call visits. As Bayi continues to win international accolades for China’s air force, many believe that the Chinese Navy itself may one day create its own Blue Angels style aerobatic squadron to match their PLAAF cousins.
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