Monday, December 31, 2007

New Chinese LCAC

This is probably the best photos I've seen coming out for a while. We are seeing the completion of the first Chinese LCAC. Using my measurement on one of the photos, it looks to be around 27 m in length, 13.5 to 16 m in beam and 3.5 m in height. Now, that's incredibly similar to the dimension of the USN LCAC. Which makes me think that it would also have similar displacement and payload to USN LCAC. Which means, it should be able to carry ZTZ-99 and ZTZ-96. We finally see what's going to be used in Type 071 LPD. An interesting part for me would be how many of these fit in Type 071. If we go by LPD-17 with LCAC, then we are looking at probably 2. The other interesting part is that this is much smaller than Zubr class hovercraft which China apparently bought (but we have never seen). Now, it looks like China just bought the engines of Zubr and put them on this Chinese LCAC. According to Kanwa, China bought UGT-6000 from Zorya. I don't know whether this is being used or a domestic power plant is being used for this LCAC.

Here are some of the pictures:

There are more such photos at SDF's Type 071 LPD thread.

There are also some other photos coming out. They are nothing new, but good shots of 805 and 530.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

PLAAF - 2007

Having reviewed the progress of PLAN in the past year, I thought I would get into the progress of PLAAF now. As mentioned in the previous blogs, the air force has not seen the level of modernization witnessed in navy in the past 5 years. However, that does not mean plaaf has not made amazing improvement in the recent years. If we look back at the past few years, 2002-3 were the years that China finally received fighters capable of launching actively guided MRAAM and precision guided missiles with mkk and upgraded J-11. 2004 was the year that J-10 stormed onto the scene and proven itself as the most advanced fighter in service with PLAAF. 2005 was the year that China finally developed its own portfolio of different surveillance aircrafts with KJ-2000, Y-8J and the high new programs. 2006 was the year that China finally joined the world's elite club after displaying J-10 with its indigenous engine (WS-10A), indigenous avionics and indigenous missiles (PL-12 + PL-8B). It also marked the first time that China displayed its homegrown arsenal of precision guided missiles. When we look back at 2007, we see a year where PLAAF reached a new level of transparency when it finally really unveiled J-10, J-11B, JH-7A, engine progress, strike weapons and strategic platforms.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the past year is the unveiling of different PGMs and other ground attack weapons. After a really good display at Peace Mission 2007, JH-7A has finally shown its worth in PLA. And the main reason for its success are the new strike weapons and JH-7A's ability to use them. We have seen the deployment of a stand-off ground attack weapon in KD-88. In terms of capabilities, it's roughly comparable to SLAM-ER. We have seen the deployment of high speed anti-radiation missile in YJ-91. Although it's based on KH-31, it has improved indigenous seekers and possibly propellent. When it comes to air launched AShM, YJ-83K have become a regular fixture on JH-7As. We have also seen satellite guided bombs in LS-6, FT-1, FT-3. Although they are not still widely deployed (due to the infancy of Beidou), they seem to be inexpensive and relatively accurate like Western satellite guided bombs. We have also seen widespread deployment of laser guided bombs like LS-500J and LS-250J. Along with Russian strike weapons like KH-29, KH-59 and PGMs, China finally has true modern multi-role capability. With the full unveiling of JH-7A, we see a platform that is capable of striking targets at long range away with high precision. JH-7A has shown enough versatility to become the super hornets of PLA. It is asked to do many missions from ground strike, ground support, ASuW, SEAD and even EW. That is probably why we have already seen 6 regiments of JH-7/A series in service and probably will see 2 or 3 more. We have also seen the unveiling of H-6K bomber with new long range LACMs. Many people have questioned the usefulness of a 40s era bomber in 21st century, but we have seen enough improvement in the airframe, engine, weapons and avionics to indicate a fairly effective bomb truck.

We have also seen the continual upgrade of fighter force with continual deployment of J-10, introduction of J-11B and conversion programs of J-8II to J-8F standard. The results of J-10 against flankers in numerous exercises were finally published in official papers this year. We have seen more information on J-10 coming out like some radar specs, informal sources on its flight performance and it's switch to using more WS-10A engine. More importantly, we've been hearing about a major upgrade to J-10 coming out next year. We have also been hearing about continual improvement in the WS-10 series engine that was design to equip it. J-11B also made a dramatic appearance into the public eye right after the official declassification of J-10. I guess SAC was trying to steal some thunder from CAC. More importantly, it seems that the next generation PLAAF fighter must be making some progress for these declassification to happen. And with the news of more J-8II being converted to J-8F through Kunlun-2 engine upgrades and other upgrades, we can expect J-8F to be an important part of PLAAF plan for a while. JF-17 development is finally close to finished. Although it is unlikely to join the hi/lo combination of J-10 and J-11 for the future, it seems to have a future in PLAAF as a ground attacker to replace Q-5 or maybe as a two-seated trainer.

The interesting part about trainer is that Chinese trainer development seemed to have hit a wall. Su-27UBK and J-10S certainly do their job to train new pilots for the respective single seaters and serve other purpose in combat. However, the future pilots obviously cannot do all of their advanced training on these planes(due to many reasons). Let's take a look at the trainer developments. In the primary training category, Hongdu has failed to develop such a trainer and will now have to do licensed production of Yak-152K. In the intermediate training category, K-8 has established itself as a success both domestically and in the export market. In the LIFT category, GAIC was able to develop a relatively modern trainer (JL-9) very quickly based on existing technologies. Although it is still using turbojet engine and is based on JJ-7, it's cost + quick delivery have won a lot of orders from PLAAF. However, the much hyped L-15 project is apparently turning out to be a failure in PLAAF. It has yet to attract any kind of orders from the air force as a trainer or an attacker. This development has come as a huge shock for me. Hongdu in the recent years seemed to have been abysmal at turning out quality products for PLAAF. Their reliance on Yakolev has angered decision makers in PLA. It would be interesting to see if PLAAF has any change of heart in the coming year.

Military transport is another area that has been a disappointment for PLAAF. The much talked about IL-76 deal has pretty much fell to the gutters. The Russians aren't willing to build the transports at the current cost, but the Chinese aren't willing to renegotiate. It's kind of interesting that PLAAF has taken such a strong stance, because they really need this plane. They need it not only for air transport, but also as the platform for KJ-2000 and ABL development. It's true that this is a really bad contract for the Russians. However, China has signed numerous rip off contracts with the Russians like the 2nd batch of Sovs, 2nd batch of mkks, the 8 kilo sub package. Despite the fact that China no longer needed those deals after they were signed (and firing accidents), they still continued to take them in. It's good to know that they are finally developing a C-17 class transports, but that might not be ready until at least 2015. The question is what will China do until that time? Where is it going to find the necessary IL-76 platforms to convert to KJ-2000s? We know that they converted another 4 KJ-2000s this year. It's still unknown at this time whether this was taken from their fleet of 20 IL-76s or frames they got off the former Soviet republics. Either way, there is a reason that China is not holding any more talks with the Russians regarding military cooperations. Finally, there are the Y-8/9 developments. We've seen more KJ-200 coming out on the Y-8F600 platforms this year, which is a good sight after the tragic crash class year. We have also seen other high new platforms being converted from other Y-8 series transports. A very critical project that is being worked on is Y-9. As I mentionned in a previous blog, it is quite unbelievable that Y-9 has taken this long to develop. And then the header developer had the audacity to say that the delay is to make the plane perfect. When in fact the only reason PLAAF has made orders to this transport is because they desperately need something in this class for improved air transport + conversion to the high new series.

We have seen some mixed results in the helicopter area. In terms of attack helo, we were surprised to see the unveiling of the stealthy looking Z-10. It definitely looks like China has finally developed a world class attack helicopter. Even seeing the performance of Z-9G in Peace Mission 2007, I really have the feeling that attack helicopter is one area that China has made tremendous progress one. They've even managed to develop WZ-9 turboshaft for serial production rather than relying on P&W engine. Helicopter is one area that China has been able to cooperate with the West and learn from. We have already seen results in HC-120 and the future Z-15 project. However, the Z-15 project and the 10 tonne transport project are still years from completion. They've had to continue purchase from the Russians in Mi-17, Mi-26 and possibly Mi-38 to have a respectable transport fleet. They are still missing a respectable naval helicopter and have to rely on Ka-28. Z-9 series is simply too small to handle many of the tasks. Although Z-8F/K have finally reached the requirements of PLA, its production rate is still too low and cost is still too high to fully fulfill the needs of PLA. Until then, China has to rely on the Russians for naval and transport helicopters. Mi-17 offers a good cost/capability ratio, but Ka-28 is just not as good as SH-60 and NH-90.

Finally, the progress of engine has been really encouraging this past year. It appears that WS-10A has reached mass production and is equipping both J-10 and J-11B. WS-13 was in the long duration test this year and should be ready to start mass production next year. Although, it might be a while longer before it can become mature enough to equip all JF-17s. The upgraded version WS-10 with a T/W ratio of close to 9 achieved some level of milestone this past September and maybe ready in 2 or 3 years. According to some big shrimps, even WS-15's progress has been great and will probably be ready by 2015. Other engines like WS-500, WZ-9 and Kunlun series are all proceeding well and will soon be ready for their respective platforms. Engine has long been a sour point for Chinese defense industry, but the progress in the the last couple of years means that China will no longer be reliant on the Russians in a few years.

In general, the results of major projects have been mixed. In fact, I would say that the progress in trainers and transports is embarrassing and slow compared to what we've seen in the naval industry. We've seen China gaining in project management and production quality through work with aerospace giants like Airbus, Boeing and Bombardier. We've seen plenty of experience working with helicopter giants like Eurocopter and Sikorsky. However, these success have not transferred into the kind of success we have seen in the navy. Outside of CAC and SAC, the progress of other major aircraft companies have been disappointing. Even SAC has suffered a lot of delays in J-11B. A project that was suppose to be complete last year is only ready to join service now. We've seen a lot of gains in the strike weapons and continuous development of A2A missiles as well. The increased multi-role capabilities in PLAAF is definitely the bright spot this year.

So, what can we really expect next year? I've read just today about a new flanker variant that SAC has assembled and handed over to the flight test center (CFTE). I'm think this is either J-11BS or naval J-11 (some have used J-15 for its designation). So, this is definitely one fighter that I'd expect to hear more from over 2008. The other major project is the modified J-10. I've talked about it in my previous blog entries and it should also be doing flight tests next year. Although, the IOC for both fighters is probably still a couple of years away. JF-17 should be ready next year. I'm definitely expecting some firm export orders outside of the Pakistani ones. It would be interesting to see how successful this plane will be. It will also be interesting to see when twin-seater and ground attack versions will turn out. I've also heard about JH-7B coming out. Although for this one, I think the change will not be as radical as J-10 modified. Either way, I'm expecting plenty more news about JH-7 series next year for the EW variant, the continued deployment of current variant and the upgraded variant. Also, H-6K should be more of a fixture in the coming year. I also expect next year to be a banner year for Chinese AAMs. I think the long talked about next generation SRAAM and LRAAM will finally come out next year. The other big development that I'm looking for is the appearance of anti-air UCAV. As I have discussed in numerous places, SAC is apparently in advanced stage of development in this project. If it is developed, it will certainly represent a potent part of PLAAF's future. I'm sure that development of other UAVs and long ranged LACMs may also become more visible next year. I also expect continued appearance of Z-10 photos, but am not looking for any kind of miracles in the naval or transport category. The Y-9 project should finally have a liftoff next year, so we might see Y-9 based high new planes in the next few years. More Y-7 based surveillance planes like the carrier AEW and ASW platform might also make more appearnce. Everyone is focused on the news making programs like J-10, JF-17 and flanker series, but other programs are just as critical. I hope that other firms in AVIC1 and AVIC2 can become more competent and start finishing projects on time like CAC. After reviewing both PLAAF and PLAN, I think it's quite clear why I'm more excited about the navy at the moment.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

PLAN looking forward to 2008

As mentionned in the last post, there are a lot of big things expected in 2008. With the 3rd shipyard (the military one) in JN's new Changxin location going online, we are looking at a new wave of building this year for destroyers and diesel subs. So, what am I expecting to see this year exactly?

The one that is probably most anticipated is the aircraft carrier. Most people suspect that we will see this in JiangNan shipyard. I don't have a problem with that, but will we actually see any meaningful pictures of this indigenous carrier this coming year? I do believe that many of the suppliers have already delivered the necessary components. I also believe that the ship will start construction in 2008, but we might not see anything useful for another 2 years. What about Varyag? We've been waiting for progress ever since the second half of 2005 when the ship was first painted in PLAN colour. Since then, we've seen some progress, but this year hasn't brought about that much changes. The conventional wisdom is that China bought Varyag for study and for training/preparing a future naval air wing. As time goes by, I have more and more doubts toward latter. I almost feel like Varyag is being displayed as a decoy of some sort. It is there to grab people's attention on this old ship, and away from works on China's first indigenous carrier. Obviously, I'm not expecting much progress in Varyag in 2008.

What about Destroyers? All signs are pointing to laying down of the successor to 052C in the beginning of next year. There is a lot of speculations on what would be size and armament on this ship. Many people have also speculated it to be the first class of massed produced Destroyers after Luda. While I can make guesses on how many missiles I will see on this 052D class, it probably isn't all that important. I guess we will definitely seem more VLS cells, more stealthy hull and possibly more advanced ASW parts. I think what we can safely guess is that 2 052Ds will be under work next year at JN. If we use 052C guideline, we might see 1 of the 052D be launched by the end of the year (if work starts at the beginning of the year). Questions that I have right now includes:
1. What kind of propulsion will be used? Still CODOG and COGAG? Still using licensed production of DA-80 or QC-185 or QC-260?
2. Will it have VLS for LACM/AShM? I'm thinking no, but it will be kind of interesting to see what kind of LACM and AShM it will carry and how many it can carry.
3. Will it carry shorter ranged AShM? Outside of Type 730 CIWS, will we see additional short range defense like HH-7?
4. How many VLS cells to expect and will they use common VLS? I'm guessing 64 or 72 and they probably will still be the same VLS as on 052C.
5. Upgraded sensors? What kind of changes will we see in the electronics? It will be interesting to see whether we just get the same sensors (upgraded inside) or completely new sensors. Whether or not some of the newly tested sensors on 891 will go on there.

What about frigates? This year, we have seen that all 4 initial 054A have been launched and commissioned. Sadly, we did not see a second batch of 054A. Although it's not as talked about, Huangpu shipyard also had a huge expansion this past year. While the dock was being used for 022s and the ocean tugging ship, 054A was put on the back burners. I guess that showed the important of these auxiliary ships, but also that PLAN wanted to test these new ships out before building the second batch. With the Huangpu expansion, we might see more 054 series coming out in the future in HP than HD. I would imagine that 054A will begin construction again at both HD and HP next year. We might see another 4 built next year. Although, it will be interesting to see what kind of modifications they make. Here are some of my questions:
1. What kind of propulsion? Still using CODAD and change to CODOG? We know that they've already approached the Russians on UGT-15000 and got a new generation of MTU diesel engines. Will this CODOG combination be on the next batch of 054A or a later batch? Certainly, they can continue to use the previous configuration. In fact, the kind of propulsion used could very well tell us the purpose of the ship. CODAD would indicate the AAW focused 054A. CODOG would indicate a more general focus later variant with more ASW capability built in.
2. Change in sensors? Are we going to continue to see the existing set of sensors or the new set that is currently undergoing tests on 891. Certainly, the new MFR on 891 would add cost + capability to 054A.
3. Upgrades in ASW? Are we going to see TAS finally on 054 series? It's surprising that they haven't put it on 054A yet.
4. Changes to VLS? the current configuration works pretty well and seems to be quite compact, but are we going to see possibly 48 in the future or maybe common VLS?

What about 022s? We've seen an astonishing number of 022s come out this year. I originally estimated that the 022s will stop production by 2011. However, it seems like 022 production will finish as early as next year if this production rate continues. The production almost confuses me, because PLAN has not shown this kind of urgency with any of its other recent platforms. It brings us to the next point. It looks like 022 is replacing 021/024/037 in the FAC/patrol kind of role. How many does PLAN really need. I mentionned 100 as the number a year ago and was laughed at by certain people. It now appears China might get even more than that if the production like this continues until 2010. Will 022 also be used in the sub-chaser kind of role like 037 is? We've already seen target ships based on 022. Will we see some kind of sub-chaser using catamaran hull? Or will we see ASW corvette like in Project 20380 by the Russians or Project 28 by the Indians? It seems like something like that is needed between 022 and 054A class. But will it come out now as we expect? That could certainly be used to replace Jiangwei/Jianghu class.

What about amphibious platform? Production of 072 and 073 class seem to have stopped now. According to Richard Fisher, there are going to be 150 of the 074A Yubai class. That will certainly be important in replacing the 079s. The most visible new class is obviously the 071 LPD. We've seen the first one joining service in SSF as 998. We've yet to see work on a second unit. We know that Dalian and HD shipyard both competed for the first 071 contract with HD winning. It kind of made sense, because HD generally builds ships faster. I believe we will see another unit of 071 being built next year and that will be done at Dalian. At the same time, HD will probably start construction of China's first LHD. We've talked about the challenges surrounding a Chinese LHD in the past, but there does seem to be enough political and military will at this point for a unit of this class. And I do hope that we will finally see the LCACs for 071 coming out next year.

What about submarines? We will most likely continue to see more 093s and 094s coming out. But we probably won't see the actual numbers until GE updates. Conventional subs is also likely to see more units this year, because JN shipyard will be available for it again. We were seeing 3 to 4 039s launched per year when it was finally in mass production. We have seen either the 2nd or the 3rd unit of 039A Yuan class under construction recently. It looks like PLAN has finally sorted out enough issues in Yuan to mass produce it. I'm guessing we will see 3-6 039As coming out a year for the next couple of years. And after that, we will see the successor to the 039 class. Probably something in the league of U-214/Scorpene. 039A to me is still something that is sort of an experimental class for technology to be used in that next generation Diesel sub.

As for the remaining part of the fleet, I'm looking for the following:
1. more MCM units in the 804 and 805 class
2. Yuanwang 2, 5 and 6 joining service -> 2, 3, 5 and 6 as the Yuanwang ships
3. More ELINT ship in the mode of 991
4. 1 more regiment of JH-7A to give 5 naval regiments of JH-7A
5. H-6K coming into service
6. Y-7 ASW variant (I guess it will do the same job as P-3C)
7. more units of different Y-8 variants
8. New supersonic ramjet missile in the class of Onyx/HF-3, except faster/better range (supposedly ready, we just haven't seen yet). Also other missiles getting finally unveiled like the LACM that was tested on 052C recently and more advanced submarine launched missiles.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

PLAN in 2007

I haven't been able to post for a while due to my personal schedule. But as the Christmas approach us, I finally have a little bit of time to sit down and write something. The two major areas of Chinese military that I look at are the navy and the air force. I will try to start by looking at the year that was and the year that is to come.

PLAN seemed to have moved to a new level of transparency (although still not transparent by Western standard) over the past year. We have finally seen the unveiling previously hidden platforms in 093 and 094 nuclear submarines. China has also stopped refuting reports that it is looking to build a carrier. They all but admitted to Admiral Mullen a while back that they will be building carriers.. So, what can we say about the advancement of PLAN in the past year? If I had to make some summaries on PLAN, they would consist of the following:
1. Of the 4 major services, PLAN is the one that has benefited and improved the most from the recent PLA modernization.
2. The civilian shipbuilding has allowed PLAN to build a massive amount of new ships of relatively high capability at low cost.
3. We have seen more signs of force projection with the unveiling of 071 LPD, 888 replenishment ship, 804 mine hunter, 093, 094 and 054A frigates.
4. We have also seen the modernization in every area of PLAN with the mass production of 022 class, 801 and 805 class minesweepers, Yuanwang 2/5, 851 ELINT ship and new classes of medical ships.
5. We have seen deployment of new sensors/weapons and development/testing of even newer sensors/weapons.

Now, to look examine each of the 5 points:
First, while all 4 services have received mass amount of upgrade in the recent years, the improvement in navy have been the noticeable. If we look at 5 years ago, China's surface ships basically consisted of 2 Sovs, 1 051B, 2 052s and a bunch of obsolete Ludas, Jiangweis and Jianghus. Only 136 and 137 had SAMs that have more than point defense range. Outside of that only 051B and 052 had reliable point defense in the form of HH-7. Clearly, multiple concurrent engagements against sea-skimmers were pretty much non-existent. The ability to engage supersonic missiles was also extremely limited. In terms of ASuW, 136/137 were the pride and joy of PLAN with the much hyped sunburn missiles. In terms of ASW, China relied on subchasers, its more modern submarines in Song and Kilo. The PLANAF had some Y-8 MPAs, H-6s and a regiment of JH-7. As much as PLAAF have improved in the recent years, it was not in this kind of pathetic shape in 2002. It at least already received 74 su-27s, 38 su-30 and some J-8Hs. The order for 2 956EM and 8 636M were looked at as a saviour for PLAN. As we move forward 5 years, the change is almost startling over the past 5 years. They have added 2 052B, 2 052C, 2 051Cs, 2 054, 4 054As, 2 956EM, 1 071, 8 636M, almost 10 039/A, 5 093s, 3 094s, 50+ 022s, 4 more regiments of JH-7/A and a regiment of su-30MK2. We've even seen a total revamp of the auxiliary ships. With the assistance of KJ-200, one 022 has about the same striking power as any ship back in 2002 (yes, I believe YJ-83 is better than the overhyped Sunburn). The strike power in these newly acquired platforms exceed 2002 levels by many folds. They finally have true fleet defense ships in 052C and 051C. They finally have a multi-layer air defense system in place with HH-9/S-300 as the outer layer, HH-16/shtil as the medium layer and Type 730 + HH-7 for close in air defense. They have the capability to engage multiple supersonic missiles as a fleet. Even the seemingly ignored area of ASW have received massive improvement with the induction 093s, 039/As, Kilo and Ka-28s. MCM capability have improved from the complete WWII area fleet to 90s European level with the induction of 804, 805 and 801 class. The induction of 138/139 and the kilos barely met any excitement in PLAN world. In fact, we've heard more complaints about them with 3M80MBE and Club missiles than satisfaction. The only thing that seems to lack behind is the training of sailors for these new ships. 5 years ago, PLAN was struggling as a weakling to in the 4 services. It was barely enough to provide coastal defense. Forward to today, PLAN is just as strong as the other services. It finally is capable of launching real blue water operations without embarrassing itself.

Secondly, this improvement in PLAN has taken place while many other navies in the world have stayed put or regressed. Although ROKN and JMSDF have also improved a lot during this time, China's other main rival in ROCN really hasn't improved that much. With the exception of the 4 Kidd class destroyers and the possible induction of HF-3, ROCN has basically stayed the same. We hear more talk than action during this time. Russian navy has continued its decline with only a limited surface ship actually in operation. Other major navies around the world are all shrinking number like USN, RN and French navy. Everyday, we hear news of delays, budget overruns in various projects like LCS, LPD-17, Gorshkov, Astute class and Type 45. Whereas in PLAN has built the ships on time and seemingly on budget. Can any other navy get a frigate like 054A for 200 million US and Type 22 for less than 15 million US? This improvement can clearly be attributed to the improving domestic shipbuilding capabilities. With the 2nd largest shipbuilding industry in the world (and growing to number 1), the major domestic shipyards like JN, HD, HP and Dalian have certainly made good use of the improved technology, better project management and more skillful work force from the civilian side. Even a military only shipyard like Huludao have managed to crank out nuclear subs like there is no tomorrow. Coincidentally, South Korea and Japan have also used their competitive civilian shipbuilding industry to build highly advanced ships on time and budget.

Thirdly, the new ships we've seen in 2007 have strong elements of force projection. China launched 071, it's largest non-replenishment military ship, at the end of 2006. Many of us were anticipating HH-16 or HH-7 on 071, but that didn't happen. Having said that, 071 is indicating a change in PLAN's doctrine. While 072s are good enough for Taiwan strait, 071 will be important in any long distance amphibious operation. From the pictures, GE photos, it looks like 071 is in the 20,000 t range in terms of full displacement. Its almost as long as LPD-17 and can carry probably 3-4 Z-8F on the helipad + 2 Z-8F or 3 Helix in the hangar. For short range missions, having both the helipad and hangar can provide extra assault helos to support the amphibious operations. 071 also represents the first step toward building an helo carrier (which will probably start building soon). The first 071 has already joined SSF and we will probably see more of this class in the coming years. The second one should be refined from the first one. The other big ticket item from this year is the construction of the 4 054As at HP and HD shipyard. I have already chronicled 054A, so I don't think I will need to state its capabilities again. 054A definitely represents a change in PLAN frigate from corvette size to frigate size (although the Europeans have increased that). They definitely have the size/endurance to be escorts for a carrier group, which is something we can't say for Jiangweis. With the unveiling 093 and 094, these are also clearly power projection tools. The new 093s may not be the most advanced attack subs out there, but PLAN has finally received a sub that has a reliable reactor, good set of sensors and reached reasonable level in terms of speed/quietness. The photos from GE clearly shows that they are actively building more and more 093s. And with 095 supposedly under works already, 093s will provide Chinese sailors with more blue water operations until the more capable sub is ready. And finally, even the launching of 888 and 804 continues to indicate more willingness to move out of first chain. 888 is an evolution from the recent 886/887 replenishment ships. 804 represents the first MCM asset in PLAN that is intended to operate outside of the coastlines. It's equipped with modern imaging sonar and remote operated vehicles to hunt down and dispose mines. Although I did not mention in the points, the addition of more JH-7A regiments, possible inclusion of H-6K regiment and different new Y-8 surveillance ships all point to capabilities further away from the coastline. Of course, PLANAF will not provide true blue water capabilities until PLAN gets a carrier group.

Fourthly, the non-blue water elements in PLAN have also all received important upgrades in the past year. The most obvious one is the mass production of Type 22 FACs. PLAN is clearly in love with these new FACs. In terms of speed, survivability and firepower, they are clearly generations ahead of the FACs that they are replacing. And in any Taiwan scenario, they will be crucial in providing additional firepower. We've seen them already in large scale exercises. If I was to guess, they probably have anywhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 75 of these either commissioned or launched. We will be seeing 022s fully replacing 021/024/037s in the next few years. We've already seen target ships based on the catamaran hull of 022. We've even heard about more of the catamaran LCUs are produced from Richard Fisher. They will definitely be guarding China's coastline for the next 20 years. Outside of 804, we've basically seen at least 2 classes of new minesweeper coming out. The 805 class (also with 328, 438 and 840) seems larger and more capable. Presumably this class of minesweeper can also be oceangoing vessels. 801-803 and 811-814 seems to be the other class that is also an improvement over T-43 class, but is not as advanced. Either way, China is finally getting its first major MCM upgrade since those early days. We've seen China promoting more or more mines in the export market. It's good to see that they are also investing a lot more in the MCM field. We've also seen the new Yuanwang 2 and Yuanwang 5 getting launched this year. You can read about it's purpose on sinodefence. And finally, the elint and medical ships are also getting upgrades with the induction of the 991 SWATH ship, the upgrade of the existing 851 ELINT ship, the induction of 920 medical ship and conversion of another to a medical ship. We've seen a new ocean tugging ship just launched from HP shipyard(sort of caused delay of the construction of more 054A class). The importance is that China is clearly upgrading all parts of its fleets rather than just the eye-catching ones like nuclear subs and surface ships.

Finally, we've seen HH-16 + it's FCR, AK-176M + its FCR, new Sea Eagle radar, AK-630M, ROV, ship launched LACM, Yu-6, H/SQG-207 flank array sonar and JL-2 coming into service on the new platforms. AK-176, ROV and the LACM are certainly systems that we were not expecting to see this year. Especially LACM, we were really surprised to see that 052C's launchers were capable of launching LACM as well as advanced AShM. In the coming year, things that might get deployed are the new Sea Eagle radar and MFR on 891, ASROC and towed linear array radar that are supposed to be in development, gun/missile CIWS, a Chinese AGS and a supersonic AShM like Onyx. I will certainly be expecting some surprises in the coming years. The next post will talk about what kind of systems I'd expect to see next year.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

China's 5th generation fighter

In the last few weeks, a Chinese general said in public TV the following






徐光裕将军 解放军防化学院原院长 解放军总参谋部退役军官、中国军控裁军协会理事 北京三略管理科学研究院高级顾问 著书[核战略纵横]国防大学出版社

This got famous because he mentionned that China has been researching on this plane for many years and have made a lot of progress. This project has been on going for over 10 years. This includes on the engine with T/W ratio of over 10. Other than stealth technology, avionics technology have also advanced a lot. He expects that China's 5th generation plane to be in service in 5 to 8 years. It's kind of interesting, because he also mentionned that J-14 will appear in 5 years.

Clearly, China did not participate in the 5th generation project with the Russians because it felt that it could develop it on its own. We had expected for a long time that China would work with the Russians with the 5th generation engine, but it turns out that WS-15 is progressing well enough that they feel an indigenous solution is good enough. If WS-15 is not ready, an upgraded WS-10 could be used first. I know that turbofan has always been a sore point with China. But now, it seems like WS-13 is progressing faster than a lot of people estimated and might even go in production next year.

As mentionned in the past, it seems that CAC is getting much of the design work for the 5th generation project. Now, it's encouraging, because a lot of technologies on 5th generation could be tested on upgraded J-10 first. So, one can expect the so called upgraded J-10 to be holding down the fort until the 5th generation plane gets developed. It's interesting, 2015 has often been noted as the date that this plane will come out. However, another really important project in the form of anti-air UCAV is probably just as important, but is less publicized. From Anjian's appearance in recent air shows, it's quite clear that China is working on anti-air UCAV a lot earlier than Western air forces. There are some obvious advantage and disadvantages to UCAVs in this role. Whether China can make a cost effective and useful UCAV is a huge question. There is no doubt that such a weapon could be huge in a possible conflict with Taiwan.

Recently, We've seen the Indians sign the 5th generation contract with the Russians. Clearly, China would've participated in the project somehow, if they felt their own product would come out quite a bit after the Russians. Some may say that China is doing because they want to protect their own industry. The reality is that China is so desperate for something to counter F-22/35, that waiting an extra 5 years for a 5th generation jet is a price that I don't think they are willing to pay. So, the Chinese jet will probably come out at around the same time as the Russian one. One thing is for sure. China will not have any kind of money problem.