Monday, April 6, 2015

Cutter progress in Chinese shipyards

I last wrote about China's expansion of civilian maritime force here. Due to recent requests, I'm doing an update. Please note that as with all else Chinese shipbuilding related, the various programs do change and some new builds may have been mixed. This is my best attempt at summarizing what has happened in the past 2 years.

In the first part of that last post, I wrote about the expansion of CMS (Chinese Maritime Surveillance) provincial branches. From the table in that section, 36 cutters of 1500 ton, 1000 ton and 600 ton class were built for various provincial flotilla of CMS. Much of the building and launching activities happened in 2013 and 2014. HP shipyard, which builds most of the larger cutters, have delivered all of the cutters that they were contracted to build by middle of 2014. WC shipyard seems to have completed its share too. Even the smaller shipyards seem to have finished most if not all of their ships. So at this point, it looks like the provincial expansion have completed.

After this first expansion of provincial fleet, the Chinese Maritime Surveillance, now under the Coast guard, is undergoing a further expansion as mentioned in the second part of that post. That program consists of 2 12000 ton cutters to be built by JN shipyard, 4 5000 ton cutters to be built by WC shipyard, 4 4000 ton cutters to be built by HP shipyard and 10 more 3000 ton cutters to be built by HP and WC shipyard. Most likely, RFPs were sent out to the various shipyards around the country, but only a few shipyards in China are capable of building these larger cutters. The 2 12000 ton cutters were launched at JN shipyard this past few months and they are probably the first major cutter projects that JN shipyard has worked on. They are given the designations Haijing-2901 and 3901. It's unclear if more of this class will be built. The 4000 ton class cutters have been all delivered by HP shipyard as Haijing-1401, 2401, 3401 and 3402. It looks like those 3000 ton class cutters have now all been launched and commissioned into service with Coast guard. 3 of them are with the North Sea Flotilla, 4 with East Sea Flotilla and remaining 3 with South Sea Flotilla. In addition, works have been under way for the 5000+ ton class ships cutters with 3 of them (Haijing-1501, 2501, 3501) launched in the past few months at WC shipyard.

All of the work by HP shipyard were completed by the end of 2014, whereas WC is still in the middle of completing the 5000 ton class cutters and just most recently completed work for 3000 ton class cutters. All of this is somewhat surprising, because WC shipyard had taken the lion share of cutter constructions in the past, while HP is new to the game. I think the experience that HP gained from the 054A and 056 class projects really improved their ability in delivering ships on time. They are now rewarded with large orders for both naval ships and cutters. Back in 2013, CMS had joined the coast guard along with FLEC and customs as part of a consolidation of China's large maritime surveillance programs. Before that point, only the coast guard ships were allowed to be installed with naval gun. As part of this consolidation, all the newer large cutters for various arms of the consolidated Coast Guard are installed with naval gun. With all the maritime issues that China has with its neighbours, I think the ability to install naval and machine guns on these cutters is definitely a reason that pushed for the consolidation of the 4 agencies.

On top of the work for CMS, FLEC also had money to expand its fleet with 3000 ton and 1000 ton cutters. Since FLEC also merged into the coast guard, I found it hard to hard to determine which of the newer cutters are for its orders. There are a couple of new 3000 ton class cutters launched at both HP/WC shipyards like 3301 and 2301 that seem to fit the profile.

Of the 2 smaller agencies that consolidated, HaiGuan (Chinese customs) had an order for 3 1500-ton class cutter with electric propulsion and 9 600 ton class cutters. The 1500 ton class cutters are to be built by HP shipyard. The first of which was launched last year and has now been painted with Haijing-44104. The 600 ton cutters are built by Guijiang shipyard. Guijiang shipyard handles a large quantity of Coast guard's 600 ton class cutters. They were the first to built Type 618 and improved versions of Type 618 cutters for the old Chinese coast guard. They have continued to built Type 618B cutters for the new consolidated coast guard.

Since the last update, the majority of the programs have been completed or well under way. The old CMS agency has been delivered with most of the ships it had ordered, whereas FLEC still seems to be waiting for all of its ships. The new consolidated Coast guard agency have since started new programs. A year ago, they started projects for Type 818 patrol vessels (3000 ton class) and Type 718 cutters (2000 ton class), HP shipyard signed for 4 of the Type 818 and 5 of Type 718. It sounds like Hudong, guijiang and Zhejiang are also participating in these 2 programs. WC shipyard's involvement was not clear, although my guess is that it will be building them too. So, the Chinese coast guard build up is continuing over the next few years, but probably at a slower pace than the past 2 years.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Myanmar and Kokang

In this past month, Myanmar air force has apparently waded into Chinese territory 3 times as part of its ongoing struggles with Kokang rebels. In the most recent time, bombs were dropped which killed 5 Chinese citizens. Due to the fact that the vast majorities of Kokang population are ethnically Han Chinese and use RMB as their currency, there is understandably a lot of sympathy in China toward the plight of Kokang. Many people have compared this to Russia and Crimea and others wonder if China should do more in this conflict.

As usual, China keeps to its official stance of not interfering with another country’s internal affairs while building up air defense capabilities in the border area. China painstakingly makes it clear that it’s not supporting Kokang rebels causes, because it has relatively good relationship with Myanmar and does a lot of business in the country. In the future, it is also possible that China would want to set up base in Myanmar to access Indian Ocean. So it should be quite understandable that PLA does not devote much resource in this area. There is 2 regiments stationed in the area, but they are quite a distance away from where the bombings took place. A lot of people were wondering about the readiness of PLAAF to respond to intrusions, but it seems like they really didn’t have that much time based on where the intrusions happened.

The interesting part is that Myanmar first reacted to these bombings by putting the blames on the rebels and absolving itself of all responsibility. They have since toned down their accusations and may have even offered compensations to the victim’s families, but I think they really looked quite foolish in the process. A swift apology and some kind of pledge to investigate the matters would have done a lot to pacify the anger in China right now. As it is, the Chineses gov’t is under pressure to do something.

So far, it looks like they have told Myanmar that this kind of action is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. And I think that if China wants to be the leader in this region, it certainly cannot allow repeated incursion of its airspace and bombing of its citizens. The way to do that is by building up more air defense weapon systems and installing more early warning radar in the range. If China’s radar cannot reliable track Myanmar’s Mig-29s, then they need to improve those radar systems. And if another deadly bombing does occur, then they probably need to launch strikes against certain Myanmar military targets. Other than that, it is in China's interest to keep this as low-key as possible.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What's most shrouded in secrecy

The Chinese navy has long been accused of not showing enough transparency. While that has certainly really improved in the recent year, there are still plenty of areas that's hard for a blogger like myself to follow. Certainly, most of the surface combatants are easy to track, since many photos are released of them. Most of the subsystems and weapon systems on these ships are also quite transparent with some version of them offered for exports. There are some many news reports giving even more information on various naval ships and their subsystems. So which programs are noticeably absent from all these photos and news releases?

The most obvious answers would be their strategic platforms. Certainly, CV-16 is a strategic platform, but it also happens to be one of the more transparent programs due to how it has captured the imagination of the ordinary people. At this point, I don't see them introducing any significant secrecy to CV-16 or aircraft carriers in general due to the excitement it has generated. Certainly, the nuclear submarine programs are probably the most secretive platforms amongst all of the naval ships. We very rarely see pictures of under construction nuclear submarines, but we do get some pictures of them at the naval bases and out on patrols. Also, 093 was officially declassified a few years ago, which allowed for some more pictures to come out. As shown in my previous blog entry, we get enough information about 093 and 094 from China themselves and Google Earth photos in addition to ONI reports to make some educated guesses on where they are at.

So, what else are really hard to get any kind of useful information on? The first would be the ASBM project. I've written numerous articles on it back in 2009. Such articles were written based on work already done by Chinese bloggers on the same topic. Even though numerous articles were written by people like myself, Andrew Erickson and numerous other PLA followers, much of what we gathered were based on our observations of various support systems that were developed. Certainly, we get more information on China's satellite programs, ELINT programs and UAV programs than DF-21D missile itself. We know that it is an active program, but the actual operational status is unknown at this point. It certainly makes sense that such secrecy is given to this program because of its strategic nature against US aircraft carriers. Due to the amount of attention I've seen USN given to this program, it seems like China would be wise to continue the secrecy here.

Secondly, What caused me to write this blog is the secrecy in China's torpedo programs. First thing to note is the different levels of transparency given to light and heavy torpedoes. We have not only seen many photos of Yu-7 carried by helicopters and launched by naval ships, but we've also seen export versions (ET-52) of Yu-7 and pictures of the Yu-7 seeker. It would make sense for Yu-7 to be more transparent since it's unlikely to be very helpful against nuclear submarine and more likely to be used to counter conventional submarines. At the same time, its kinetic performance can be estimated based on that of MK-46 and A244-S. Basically, the Chinese navy don't have as much to loose by giving Yu-7 greater transparency. It will be interesting to see if the next generation of light torpedo will be given the same level of transparency. It certainly seems like they are not investing as much in them. Heavy torpedo on the other hand have been extremely secretive. In the past 5 years, we've seen photos of Yu-6 and Yu-3A loaded onto conventional submarines. There have been no export versions of 533 mm torpedoes anywhere. There have been little to no articles on the usage and test firings of 533 mm torpedoes. Even the status and performance of a rather old torpedo like Yu-3A is completely off limits. I do suspect that they should have the necessary kinetic performance to sink conventional submarines and most surface combatants provided that the Chinese submarine can reliably track them. Based on that, it seems like these torpedoes will remain in service at least with the conventional submarines.

Since the wide introduction of Yu-6 is the past decade, there have apparently been 2 new heavy torpedoes in development that are either in service of close to service Yu-9 and Yu-10. In case you are wondering, I just read them off reasonably reliable Chinese bbs sources that these torpedo programs do exist and have gone through test firings. These were probably done in China's underwater weapon test range in South China Sea. It's no wonder why China is so concerned about American spy aircraft and ships around that area. Considering that there have not been any photos of them anywhere, I certainly don't have any details on their kinetic performance. So, the question is why there are so much secrecy toward these 533 mm torpedoes. I think China has correctly identified USN nuclear submarines as their biggest threat. After all, Chinese submarines cannot leave their naval bases without getting tracked by USN subs. Even though the top speed and operating depth of USN subs are classified, I would imagine that China needs something like MK-48 ADCAP that can sustain high speed over long range to chase down a modern USN submarine. The actual performance of something like the MK-48 mod 7 CBASS is classified (as is its advanced processing capability), but i would imagine it's capable of chasing down and destroying Russian and Chinese nuclear submarines that are within certain range. So I do think these new torpedoes will take over from Yu-3A/6 as the primary weapons on the Chinese nuclear submarines. On top of that, USN aircraft carriers are extremely fast and well protected against strikes for anti-ship missiles. A heavy torpedo is sure to do much greater damage than even multiple hits from anti-ship missiles. Therefore, new heavy torpedo development would also have double strategic value in usage against carriers. Now, I'm not saying the Chinese nuclear submarines are quiet enough to get within torpedo launching distance of a USN carrier, but numerous ambushing conventional submarines equipped with new torpedoes would be credible threats. So, I think these usage cases against strategic platforms explain their classified nature.

Another torpedo system that we have very little information on is China's version of ASROC. Since 054As have joined service, there have been many photos, articles and TV interviews revealing the many capabilities of this class of ships. We knew very early on that 054A's VLS could launch HQ-16 missiles and have seen many photos of live firing of HQ-16. However, it was only recently confirmed on Chinese online sources that these VLS could also fire anti-submarine missile (given possible designation Yu-8). We first heard on a TV interview of PLAN commander that such ability does exist, but I did not know at the time whether this Yu-8 was fired from the VLS or some other launcher. I just have not seen any photos of Yu-8 at this point. Based on articles regarding the new VLS on 052D, it seems like that VLS will also be capable of firing some types of anti-submarine missile. There are certain advantages to VL anti-submarine missile vs normal shipborne torpedo launchers, since it gives surface combatants additional quick reaction, standoff ASW capability on top of shipborne helicopters. As I mentioned, we are still waiting for first public photo of such missile.

On top of the classified nature of torpedoes, information on the new sonar system that China has developed for its surface combatants and submarines are also classified, but not to the same degree. I think it's clear that the Chinese Navy sees ASW as its biggest weakness. They have spent a lot of money in developing sensors to track advanced submarines, but more resources is spent on the weapons against them. Even as they show more transparency, torpedo programs are still very secretive.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Type 093/094 updates

Recently, there was an article from Taiwanese magazine talking about newly launched hulls of the improved Type 093 program. Since I don't normally trust sources that I have not vetted, I decided to take a deeper look into my notes from the past year and also look through some satellite imagery.

My most recent update on Chinese nuclear submarines was posted here in Oct 2013. That update was the result of reading a 2013 report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission that China began building first of 4 improved 093 SSN in 2012. I've since used the designation 093B on this improved variant. Based on my investigation at the time, it looked like the actual work probably started a few years earlier, but the sub first showed up on satellite images bye 2012. That's probably what they were referring to although I do not really know how they arrived at 4 as the projected number of builds. By the time the report came out, the public available satellite imagery already showed the first of the improved 093 SSNs launched at Huludao shipyard, so I was able to confirm it in my blog entry. Since nuclear submarine imagery is harder to come by than other Chinese naval ships due to their strategic nature, I find these DoD/Naval/US governmental reports to be very helpful as guidance since they have sources that I simply don't have access to.

From 2013 satellite images after the report came out, it appeared that 093B may have a hump and look to slightly wider than early 093s. Since that report came out, a 2014 update to the satellite photos showed the new 093B had left Huludao shipyard for sea trials. There was also a really blurry photo of 093B next to a pier that again showed it may have the hump. That Taiwanese magazine (and numerous people on internet forums) speculated that 093B will have a VLS installation, but I think that is very unlikely even if 093B design has a hump due to space limitations. If 093B is actually wider than 093, I would imagine they want to use that space for noise reduction technology. If 094 is up to 30 m longer than 093 with its 12 SLBM launchers, why would adding a 16 cell VLS to 093 not require a visibly longer hull? I think the biggest step from 091 to 093 was creating a submarine that had reliable reactor capable of sustaining top speed of 30 knots. Type 093 is still very loud so the biggest improvement would be reducing the noise level to a more acceptable level. It's possible that Type 095 will carry VLS, but I think it makes more sense to put that on a larger SSGN design.

The past couple of days, I've looked around the usual nuclear submarine locations in China to look for current states of nuclear attack subs. It appears that the Taiwanese photos of 2 side by side 093B submarine to be accurate and they are beside each other at the piers of Huludao shipyard. It's harder to determine with the newer pictures if 093B do indeed have the hump. Moreover, there is another 093B in advanced stage of construction in the dry dock. It is possible the first 093B has returned to the piers after sea trials in various underwater test center or maybe both of the launched ones are new 093Bs. The main support for returning 093B would be the unlikelihood of Huludao launching 2 093Bs so soon after the previous GE photos showing no submarines at the piers of Huludao shipyard. I think the latter case is more likely because sea trials for new attack subs normally take longer and they normally don't seem to return to Huludao after a year. Also, the 2 boats both look more surfaced vs active attack sub, which seems to me means that not all of the stuff inside have been installed yet.

If we go by US-China Economic and Security Review Commission report of 4 093B submarines, then all of the submarines will likely be launched by 2016. It looks like 5 094s have been launched already, so Huludao would be focusing on attack subs at this point. So, what do we know about this improved variant of 093? Based on satellite photos of the most surfaced 091 submarine, the first generation of Chinese attack sub is likely around 93 m in length and 9.5 to 10 m in beam. Of the first two 093s I spotted at Yulin submarine base, they are both around 101 m in length and 8.5 to 9 m in beam. Now, if we use the premise that these 093s are more submerged than the 091s, it's likely the 093s are about the same (or maybe slightly less than) in beam as 091, but up to 10 m longer. It would be hard for me to imagine that 093 would be 1 m less in beam than 091, since that would definitely result in smaller inner hull width. The newer 093Bs look to be around 106 m in length and 10.8 to 11 m in beam. Consider that one of them is in dry docks and the other 2 are more surfaced than the in service attack subs, these are likely to be accurate measurement of the boat's dimensions. So I think this improved variant of 093 submarine is wider and slightly longer than the early 093s. My guess is that with the larger submarine and newer technology becoming available, there is probably going to be real changes inside the submarine with newer reactor, engines and reduction gears in addition to more noise reduction gears. It looks like they are at least comfortable enough with the design to mass produce it since 3 or 4 093Bs are launched or close to launching. Until then, the only attack subs in service will be the 3 091s at JiangGeZhuang and 2 093s at Yulin submarine base.

The next part to look at is China's ballistic missile submarines. There is still the one 092 SSBN at Jianggezhuang submarine base which I think should be converted to SSGN at some point, since it cannot carry JL-2 SLBMs. On top of that, there is the old Type 031 Golf class that appears to still be at Jianggezhuang base even though it has retired already. The lone Type 032 submarine, which was built to replace Golf Class, is now at Xiaopingdao submarine base. It does make sense for Type 032 to be there, since Xiaopingdao is a naval testing center for submarines (and possibly other ships) rather than an active submarine flotilla. That's why no attack submarines are found in that base. It is also close enough within China's Bohai Sea where it would be more dangerous for foreign subs to follow. At the moment, there are 2 094s at Yulin submarine base and 1 094 at at Xiaopingdao. Last year, we had a photo of 3 094s at Yulin submarine base, but photos since have shown 2 there. At the same time, there were 2 094s at the piers of Huludao shipyard based on satellite photos. That would indicate a total of 5 094s have been launched. Based on previous ONI projections of 5 094s, it seems like all of the 094s have alredy been produced. This would corroborate the current satellite photos where the launched and under construction boats are all attack subs. So why do we only see 3 094s on the satellite photos at the moment. My guess is that the 2 094s currently at Yulin are both officially in service. The other 094 that was at Yulin base in 2014 could either be in service or not. If it is in service, then it could be out on a patrol. Otherwise, it is likely to be in Chinese navy's deep water testing center in South China Sea going through deep dive and long endurance testing. It seems like at least 3 094s will be operating out of the Yulin submarine base. The one in Xiaopingdao was probably launched in 2013 at Huludao along with the first 093B. It has likely finished the initial sea trials and is now going through more advanced weapon/sonar/combat system testing at Xiaopingdao. The other 094 that was at Huludao in 2014 is probably going through sea trials right now. There was a gap of about 3 to 4 years (2004 to 2007/8) from the launching of first 094 to the next 2. All 3 of them probably went through testing at Xiaopingdao around 2007 to 2009 range. I think it's likely that all 3 are commissioned by this point. Since there is a gap of about 5 years from the time the 3rd 094 to 4th 094, I think it's quite possible the last two have made some changes vs the earlier ones based on problems found in testing. Satellite photos show that even though the length of submarine are the same, the location of launch tubes may have moved. Overall, the changes in the newer 094s seem to be less than the change in the newer 093s, which would explain the longer time gap between the first 2 093s and the improved 093B submarines. That seems to indicate the flaws in the earlier Type 093s required more time and effort to overcome. It is also possible that greater urgency was placed on Type 094 program due to the need of having a true long range underwater nuclear deterrent.

At current time, the ratio of attack submarines to boomers in Chinese Navy is currently 5 (3 091s + 2 093s) to 4 (1 092 + 3 094s). If we factor in the the submarines that are under construction and in sea trials, it will become 9 (3 091s + 6 093s) to 6 (1 092 + 5 094s). That seems to insufficient number of attack subs protecting boomers. Moreover, the 3 091s are likely to be retired in the coming years, since they have already been in service for 25 to 30 years. The lone 092 seems to be more likely to be converted to a SSGN rather than be decomissioned with the 091s. So it seems like the first Type 095 submarine would needs to launch soon after the conclusion of Type 093B program in order to eventually establish a 2 to 1 ratio between attack subs and boomers. Based on everything I have seen, Huludao does seem to have started work on Type 095 program already.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Around Chinese shipyards

Recently, there was an overhead shot of the JiangNan shipyard showing all of the activity going on. From that picture, it became apparent that there were 2 new Type 726 LCAC that were under construction that we were previously unaware of. With that in mind, the following is a best effort attempt to show the building activities around the major naval shipbuilding yards.

First start off with JiangNan shipyard, which is known for building most of PLAN's destroyers and some MCM ships and diesel submarines.
The recent overhead photos shows 5 launched 052C/D around the ship. No. 151 has returned to the shipyard for maintenance and is currently parked next to No. 153, which has yet to be commissioned. It looks like the latter is ready to be commissioned any day now. Amongst the 052D, another one has just went on sea trials leaving 3 052Ds that are launched still in shipyard. At current time, there is one 052D that joined service last year with 2 other ones in sea trials. A 4th 052D looks to be ready for sea trials soon and the remaining 2 are probably 6 month to a year away from being ready for sea trial. There is at least 2 more 052Ds that are scheduled to be built at this shipyard. Works for 052D series has also started at Dalian shipyard, but the production there is limited compared to JN shipyard. The other notable ship is the 2nd 12000 ton cutter. This one is given the number Haijing-3901 (first one had Haijing-2901). Based on prior reports, only these 2 units should be built for this class of coast guard ships. They should be the 2 largest cutters in service with the Chinese Coast Guard. Now that the numerous civilian ministries have joined coast guard, many of the cutters are getting armed with naval guns (some even with 76 mm). I still have yet to see such gun on the 12000 ton, so it would be interesting to see if it will be armed. Finally, 2 new Type 726 LCAC appears to be under construction at JN shipyard. So far, 3 have been built for Type 071 LPDs. Since each LPD can fit 4 of them, I think more Type 726s are expected for the future. However, there are currently only gaps in PLAN's numbering system for 2 more Type 726s (3323 and 3324), so I wonder what kind of plans they have for this series. With the induction of Zubr hovercraft, they do not need Type 726 for solo missions to nearby islands. Do they intend to fit more Type 726s into Type 071's well deck in the future or do they intend to use it to hold amphibious vehicles? That could tell us about how PLA conducts amphibious assaults in the future.

Secondly, HuDong shipyard is as busy as it usually is. There are currently 3 larger ships launched and parked at the shipyard. One of which is the 4th Type 071 and the 2 others are both Type 815A AGI ship. Interestingly enough, there was a 3rd Type 815A which recently just departed the shipyard and entered NSF with pennant number 854. The first 2 Type 815s (one of which is Type 815A) both entered service with ESF. Given the overwhelming presence of JMSDF and USN nearby, it makes sense for these ships to first join ESF and NSF. It would be interesting to see if SSF will get any of the two that are under construction. The ships themselves are large enough to go past the immediate South China Sea area for longer ranged missions. I have already talked about Type 071 project in previous posts, so I will leave it alone here. The smaller surface combatants consist of 2 Type 054A(10th and 11th from HD) and 2 Type 056 (6th and 7th from HD), One of the 054As look ready to join service soon and the other one was just launched recently. One of the Type 056 should be going on sea trials soon if it has not already. There are definitely more 056 to be built here, but not sure if that applies to Type 054A. Finally, there are also 2 C28A frigates for the Algerian navy that are parked closely to the 2 Type 056s. The second one was just launched this past week and the modules for the 3rd one can also be seen. These 2800 ton ships are the largest export ships that the Chinese shipyards are currently building. Most of the export surface ships have been OPVs, FACs and smaller patrol boats. Since HD shipyard builds mostly frigates and larger ships, the next export contract it will likely work on is when Pakistan orders a follow-on to the F-22P series. At this point, I don't believe China has received any export orders based on Type 054A, which is a real shame considering how well it has served the Chinese Navy.

Next up, HuangPu shipyard also has a lot of activities for both naval and coast guard ships. It currently has 2 Type 056s (6th and 7th from HP) and 1 Type 054A (10th) parked outside. The 11th Type 054A is still in the construction hall and a few months away from launching. As usual, HP shipyard is swamped with ships for coast guard and other civilian ministries. In the past year, HP shipyard has built 1500, 3000 and 4000 ton cutters for different ministries. Even though they all fall under coast guard now, the cutters are still needed for the pre-merger ministries like CMS, FLEC and Customs. As mentioned earlier, one of the notable things is that these newer cutters now come with naval guns. HP and WC shipyard have both gotten similar orders for Type 056 and cutters, but HP have generally been building them much quicker. I think this just reflects the reality of Chinese shipbuilding industry where shipyards around Shanghai and Guangzhou simply are higher quality than the ones up north and further inland.

Right beside HuangPu shipyard is the GSI shipyard. Currently, there is one Type 904A and one Type 903A parked outside with a second Type 904A under construction. Another Type 903A AOR just went on sea trials a few days ago and these are the 5th and 6th ships of this class. Type 903/A AORs have been instrumental in all of China's recent Gulf of Aden flotillas and other blue water missions. Aside from the UNREP ships, each Type 903A also have hangar and helipad for one Z-8 helicopter for re-supplying other ships. The 2 new Type 904A with probably join No. 888 in supplying the islands of South China Sea. It is possible these ships are replacing No. 883 and 884 which are serving the same role. It is also possible that more are needed due to China's many reef reclamation and building projects down there.

Going further inland, we have the WC shipyard which has one launched Type 056 and another Type 072A LST, but also many export ships. Most recently, F91, which is the first P18N, was delivered to Nigeria. F92, the second P18N, is launched at WC shipyard and will also be delivered this year according to Nigerian Navy. The P18N OPVs are probably designed based on Type 056 class, but is slightly longer and displaces more at 1800 ton. They only cost $42 million each, so are not as heavily armed as Type 056s and also have lower speed requirement. We also heard recently that Argentina has agreed to buy 5 OPVs from China similar to P18N class with 2 built in China and 3 more in Argentina. Each ship is said to cost $50 million, so will probably be similar to Nigeria in armament. They will most likely be built at WC shipyard. WC shipyard also has launched 2 Type 056s for Bangladesh Navy numbered F111 and F112. Based on the recent photos, they look to have similar armament to the Chinese ones. More of these Type 056s will likely be built in Bangladesh. There are also discussions for exporting Type 056 to Pakistan and Kazakhstan, which may increase WC shipyard's export portofolio.

Aside from these more active ones, Dalian is building Type 052D right now and will likely also get orders for Type 055 program, but was previously mostly working on CV-16. From recent Google Earth photos, there looks to be no new submarines launched outside of Huludao shipyard. That could mean PLAN is evaluating the acoustic performance of the launched ones from 2013 GE photos, since they also don't appear to be at the nuclear sub naval bases. This wraps up the activities at the major shipyards. The smaller ones are tasked of building Type 056 (in the case of LiaoNan), patrol boats and cutters (in the case of Guijiang). They are harder to track due to lack of interest, but we do get photos of export versions of FACs and patrol boats. It's quite apparent that China is getting a lot more of these export contracts for building patrol boats, FACs, OPVs and frigates. Unlike 5 years ago, they are now beating out European and Russian competitions for export contracts. China has unveiled more advanced export designs the last couple of years. The next step up for them would be to win more lucrative contracts in submarines, large amphbious docking ships and 4000+ ton warships.

Friday, January 30, 2015

China's Advanced Trainers

Recently, a flurry of articles of come out about JL-9 series of GAIC and L-15 (JL-10) series of HAIG. With all of the progress that's made in China's military aviation industry, the progress amongst advanced trainers have been rather slow, with Hongdu's products L-15/JL-10 and CJ-7 being the slowest and most frustrating.

Guizhou and Hongdu both unveiled their AJT projects and had maiden flight around the middle of last decade. At the time, GAIC started the JL-9 project earlier and also had a simpler design, so was expected to finish quickly. Hongdu was the sexier project with more advanced layout, higher specs and turbofan engine. After 10 years, the question is where does that leave us with the future of China's AJT fleet?

Recently, I've found news from Guizhou that they are producing 3 types of AJTs: JJ-7A, JJ-9 and JL-9G. Now, I find it quite interesting they are still producing JJ-7A, but that may just indicate JL-9 series itself has taken longer than expected to be produced. I remember as early as 2005, JL-9 was already undergoing testing in CFTE, but had to undergo some changes after. It seemed like JJ-9 was delivered to FTTC for evaluation by the end of last decade. It seemed to have taken another 4 years after that for the first regiment to be delivered with JJ-9 in 2013 even after achieving design certification in 2011. It's quite possible that more changes were made during this time based on issues found by FTTC. This past year, more JJ-9 was delivered to both PLAAF and PLANAF, which would indicate the program is finally on track and have satisfied PLA requirements. At the same time, moire articles have come out praising GAIC for the various types of JL-9 that have been developed. At around the time CV-16 project was picking up speed, work for a naval trainer also started with JL-9G. It's unclear to me at this point if this variant is only aimed for naval aviation since tail hook is no longer installed. Several improvements were made to allow JL-9G to handle the greater stress and higher takeoff/landing requirements of naval aviation. At the moment, it has only entered service with PLANAF. Based on the greater payload of JL-9G vs JJ-9, it seems like an aircraft that could also be adapted for light attack roles. It is a very low cost platform ($8.5 million each based on recent Chinese reports) and also extremely cheap to operate even compared to other AJTs. I would imagine the proposed FTC-2000G design could bring in sales in numerous countries that are currently using J-7s and K-8s. So while I would place GAIC below other major AVIC1 design bureaus like CAC and SAC, it has managed to develop an effective aircraft.

Hongdu is a different story. It has been over 10 years since L-15 was displayed in the 2004 Zhuhai air show and almost 9 years since it made its maiden flight in March 2006. To this day, it still has yet to join service with PLAAF. Through much of this time, only 4 flying prototypes were produced. If it was not for the steady cash flow of K-8 series, it would be hard to see how this company could really survive the lack of progress in its next major project. The interesting part is that Hongdu did get order for 6 L-15s from Zambia in 2012 and 3 L-15s recently did test flights since the turn of new year. it's quite possible that they will all be delivered to Zambia in the first half of this year. There were also reports that Venezuela ordered 24 L-15s. Similar to the K-8 project, L-15 will most likely be delivered for export before even getting evaluated by PLA. JL-10, which is the Chinese version of L-15 AJT, had its maiden flight in 2013. Apparently, a small batch of JL-10 will be produced and delivered to FTTC this year for trial and evaluation. Only after that and possible more modifications will JL-10 join service with Also, there is always the question of engine. JL-8 did not join service with PLA until the domestic WS-11 engine available. It's quite possible that will also be the case with JL-10. As shown in the JJ-9 project, it took several year of trial and evaluation + changes before it went into production. If that happens, one can expect JL-10 to join service after the first J-20 regiment gets formed. By then, the domestic Minshan engine might be ready for JL-10 project. I think it speaks for Hongdu's ability as a design bureau that an AJT takes this long to get developed for PLAAF, but they do seem to be really good at selling their product. The K-8 project is still selling well after 300 export and 400 domestic order. L-15/JL-10 program can certainly follow K-8's path, because it is a fairly advanced AJT design that could also be adapted for other roles.

So in summary, China has finally moved on from JJ-7 series of advanced jet trainers. Even so, JL-10 project is still a couple of years away from really joining service. By that point, it will serve as a good LIFT for the 5th generation fighter jet that China is developing.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

More information on Type 071 class and the new 054A

Most recently, China's 18th Flotilla to Aden visited Portsmouth UK for 5 days visit. This flotilla consisted of a Type 054A, a Type 071 and a Type 903A AOR.

There were some photos released, but I think the most interesting part for me was how large Type 071 really is. Here are a couple of photos of its hangar and flight deck.

Based on a picture of the description of the ship, it's said to be able to carry 6 Z-8 helicopters in the hangar, which is 2 more than what i previously thought. Based on these photos, I think that's probably do-able once they are folded. The flight deck can easily launch multiple Z-8/9s. The same description also says that this ship can hold 4 Type 726 hovercraft in the well deck and carry a maximum of 65 amphibious assault vehicles. Now in practice, we've never seen more than 1 Type 726 hovercraft in the well deck, since they only have 3 of them in service. We've also never seen more than 2 Z-8s and 1 Z-9 on a Type 071, since naval helicopters are also in short supply with Chinese navy at the moment. I would imagine the maximum capacity of 65 AAVs is in a configuration where all of the well deck space and compartments in front of it are used to hold the AAVs. This also compares favorably to the number of vehicles that can be carried on a San Antonio class. No mention was made of how many troops could be carried, but it did mention a crew size of 156 people with 23 officers. That seems to be a pretty small number when one considers how many crew members are on each Type 056 ship (which is 1/10 the size). It did mention that helicopters can be used within 200 km of the ship. Hovercraft can be launched 60 km out from target and AAVs can be launched 20 km out from target. Other than that, it's similar in dimension to San Antonio class.

Also, a new variant of Type 054A joined Chinese navy recently with the East Sea Fleet. It's interesting that this new Type 054A took probably 8 months longer than usual to join service because of the changes incorporated in the shape including the new variable depth sonar and the new Type 1130 (11 barrel) CIWS, which should really improve the ASW and close-in air defense of this ship. It was speculated that the longer commissioning period is due to delays in the variable depth sonar development. Either way, this improved variant has now joined service and the next 3 units of this variant should also join service sometimes this year. After that, it's likely that we will need to wait sometimes before the next class of frigates to come out. In many ways, I think Type 054A class exceeded Chinese Naval requirements and the class has been wildly successful in modernizing Chinese navy. All of the major flotilla would have at least 2 Type 054A series ships by the end of its production run. I think it doesn't make sense to build next class after Type 054A for a few years. There are still many Type 053 ships that will need to be retired or transferred to coast guard. With all the Type 056 ships joining service, there really isn't any reason to keep any Jianghu class ships around. Even the earliest Jiangwei class should be decommissioned in the next few years.