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BEIJING, Jan 28 AFP

January 28 2013, 8:03PM

China's new heavy-lift transport aircraft and a successful missile interception test are key steps in expanding the strength and reach of its armed forces, analysts and state media say.

The Y-20, China's biggest home-produced military transport jet, staged a successful maiden flight on Saturday.

The flight took place months after Beijing's first aircraft carrier entered service and was on the same weekend as new missile-interception system was tested.

Pictures showed the bulky green plane soaring into a clear blue sky.

The state-run Global Times on Monday hailed the flight as a "significant milestone", saying China needed the aircraft to "enhance its global power projection".

The Y-20 has a maximum payload of 66 tonnes, which it can carry 4400 kilometres, the China Daily said. With 55 tonnes on board it could fly from western China to Cairo.

It is big enough to hold the heaviest tank used by China's army, the paper added, quoting a military expert as saying that "the heavy air freighters will ensure that we are able to safeguard our interests overseas".

"With them, we can transport our people or large equipment to farther destinations," said Liang Fang, professor of strategy at the PLA (People's Liberation Army) National Defence University.

The test flight was a "big step" for China's air force, said Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canadian-based Kanwa Defense Review, but added that the Y-20 was technologically inferior to other military transport planes.

Also at the weekend, China announced a successful land-based missile interception test following an earlier one in 2010, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

"The test has reached the preset goal," it quoted a defence ministry official as saying, without giving detailed information.

"The test is defensive in nature and targets no other country."

In a commentary on Monday, Xinhua said the test, together with other progress, demonstrated China's "fast-growing ability to defend its own national security and deter any possible threats".

But it added that the advances were purely defensive, denying any "ill-grounded 'China threat theory'."

China more than doubled its publicly declared military spending from 2006 to 2012, roughly in line with economic growth, but rattling its neighbours.

By Tom Hancock