Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Russian exports to China in deep decline

So, Nezavisimaya Gazeta has apparently come out with an article today saying that Russian exports to China is nearing collapse unless more advanced weaponry are offered. By going through the following articles,
and a bloomberg news article
Which are not the original, but apparently took important parts of the original, the problem reside in Russia not offering China hardware such as su-33, fast attack nuclear submarine, multiple launch system, Ka-50 and license to build several weapons under license.

I think we already know that su-33 have been ordered and a couple of them probably have been delivered to China already. Fast attack nuclear submarines are not really allowed to be exported and I don't think China would be interested in loaning Akula with the more advanced 095 SSN project ongoing. As for Ka-50, kamov mentionned a while back to Kanwa that China was not interested it, that's why it cooperated with the Europeans on the WZ-10 project. And as for building weapons under license, I think China is already getting all they want in terms of su-27 and Mi-171 (one of which got assembled in China contrary to Richard Fisher's Russian sources). I'm not denying that there are weapons that Russians are denying China. Tu-160 is one good example of such. However, it seems that China has access to pretty much everything it needs. And currently, the problem is that the IL-76 issue is not resolved. Russia obviously believes that it can get away with this due to the European arms embargo, but China has so far stood firm on the issue. And when this stalemate does end, China will still have a shopping list of Russian hardware that it will purchase. After all, Russian systems are still relatively cheap and more mature than their Chinese counterparts. China does have a philosophy of going for the good-enough, ready made and not necessarily state of the art systems. Anyhow, it would be interesting to see how this plays out.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Responding to some recent PLA articles

I haven't posted much lately due to the fact that there really hasn't been that many ground breaking news coming out. There has been a lot of articles coming out on engine development in the past year. It seems that WS-9 achieved production certification. I think that they probably made some improvement in terms of thrust vs Spey, because it makes no sense why else they had to go through this 3 year certification process for WS-9 after the original design certification. Even now, the MTBO of WS-9 is probably still less than that of Spey. The other good news is that production of Spey and Kunlun were finished ahead of schedule. WS-10A has also apparently finished the scheduled production for 2007. Also, there was a huge ramp up in production in October and they can now finally really mass produce this engine. In a related note, the new LCAC could be using Chinese gas turbine QC-70 in the future. These are all news released on avic1 website. The other interesting thing is that I saw on two separate sources that a new corvette in the Saar V class is coming out (so I guess 1000 to 1500 ton displacement). Now, the construction for this class will probably not begin until 022 finishes (which should happen pretty soon). We've all been expecting this class to fill the void between 022 and 054 series. It's just a matter of seeing this class now.

Now, onto the matter of looking over some of the recent articles. Richard Fisher finally posted a newly researched on strategycenter after a long break. First, regarding the AL-31FN, what he wrote seems to agree with what we have observed from Chinese sources, which suggests that all the FN supplied to J-10 are still the previous variant. The TVC version of FM1 has yet to be supplied. Although, there is no question this engine is being tested out by CAC for possibly upgraded version of J-10. It's also interesting that the Russians have finally figured out that China's reliance on their engine is likely to be finished soon. The 5th generation of Chinese fighters will certainly depend on WS-15 rather than FM3 or upgraded WS-10. He also mentionned 5th generation engine in China and Russia. I certain expect the Chinese one to fly by 2012, but I don't think the Russian one will fly by 2010. After all, the first flight date for PAK-FA seemed to have been pushed back multiple times and I don't expect that to change. The news on JF-17 and L-15 are kind of interesting. As I posted before on SDF, they are confirming that twin-seat and attack version of JF-17s are coming out. The order for L-15's engine is also a lot less than expected. Again, the real reason is that PLAAF simply hasn't liked this trainer enough to put in orders yet. If they can keep JF-17's cost down, it can certainly take some of the roles originally envisioned for L-15. Of course, JL-9's fact induction into PLAAF has also helped. As for EC-175, I don't think it's a secret that PLAN wants this as soon as possible. As for Mi-171, I totally disagree with Richard's Russian source. We've already seen a Mi-171 assembled in China and this has been verified by Kanwa's Russian sources + Chinese bbs sources. I think Richard is making Russians sound like they are being nice by giving more technology to China. I find it hard to believe that anyone can still believe this after Russian hardball with the Indians and China (over IL-76). The reality is that China is quickly loosing interest in Russian products. Russians are given a lot more credit in PLA modernization than they really deserve. These advanced weaponry they sold to China aren't that advanced at all. I read some speculations recently that China might be purchasing more 956s because the Russians owe China a lot of money. It's shocking that they would still want to purchase this outdated ship. It makes absolutely zero sense to me. Either way, no new major purchase will happen until the IL-76 situation is resolved.

I also read some articles recently from Yomiuri Shimbun on PLAN and their modernization and how it threatens Taiwan. You can find them in these links.
There is also another one on the same site stating that Japan is improving its cruise missile defense against the increased Chinese threat. I can't dispute against that. In the interview with Taiwan's vice defense minister, Ko Chen-heng, he seemed to still believe that Taiwan has military advantage over China. I'm really trying to figure out what it is. If Taiwan really believes that it has advantage over China in military or that it's newly develop HF-2E will cause that much problems for China (and can counter the Chinese missile threat), it needs a serious reality check. That's not to say China has enough advantage to overcome the American intervention or the vast numerical advantage Taiwan would have after PLA landings. And it's hard to say how many years will pass before the cross-strait imbalance will reach that point. And Taiwan certainly has a lot more to be concerned about than aircraft carrier. Anyone can see that a PLAN carrier's main purpose is not for Taiwan.

And finally, PKF posted another article on UPI. This one compares the militaries of China, Singapore and Taiwan. The interesting part is that he basically said Singapore had more striking power than China. I could say more, but I think I will just let PKF's illusion continue.

Monday, January 14, 2008

More updates + rumours on Varyag

To follow up on the SRAAM + Yuan from the last post, we've received some updates since the last post. For the new SRAAM, we received news that the 607 institute (China Air-to-Air Missile Research Academy) has given a second level award to a project that involves the testing validation another project. It talks about lifting China from third to fourth generation, decreasing the gap with leading countries and the IIR requirement reached a world leading position. From all indication, I think this is describing the new SRAAM that is about to enter service soon. We've seen a photo that called this missile PL-10 (looking kind of like ASRAAM and A-darter) that is supposed to be in series production by 2010 at the latest. Although much of it is believable, it seems to contract the previous picture and report that this SRAAM is supposed to look more like Iris-t. Anyhow, I think it's something we will see more of later on this year. I'm also waiting for the new Chinese Meteor.

Yuan production has also seemed to have increased a lot recently. Outside of the original Yuan, we've seen a second Yuan that is supposed to be in the midst of sea tests (although all photos have it docked). You can see from all the MCM ships that it is in Shanghai. Many of the latest picture of the second Yuan can be found here. Someone did a nice comparison of the differences between the lead Yuan boat and the second one. This is a good picture of it:

We've also seen a new variant of 039 in Wuhan + an additional Yuan hull. So, we can say they have at least 3 Yuans and 1 Yuan modified at least reaching the launch status. Aside from this, we've probably seen anywhere from 12 to 16 Songs (314 to 329). So, the 039 series is definitely pulling quite the mileage for PLAN. With all the bad news surrounding the klub missile, I just can't see China ever purchasing any submarine or major surface ship or AShM or torpedoes from the Russians. As PLAN continues to modernize its underwater fleet, it will have to rely on the continuous advancement of its indigenous designs, heavy torpedoes + SLCM.

The other thing that has been bothering me lately is this report that Varyag is getting renamed and is joining PLAN. If anyone has seen the pictures of Varyag lately, it is clearly not ready to join service. What's more important to follow is the naval flanker situation. Contrary to most people's beliefs, China is not going to buy anymore su-33s from the Russians. I find it almost laughable to people are comparing super hornet to the Russian su-33s and saying China has no chance in these encounters. PLAN has different requirements than RuN, so it really makes no sense that they would want su-33s from the Russians for any reason other than studying. It's not entirely clear what the Chinese naval flankers will look like, but a careful study can yield some reasonable deductions. Please note that these are my sentiments at the moment. As we've seen with PLA, new evidences bring changes to one's mindset. So, please do not hold me guilty or something like that if this doesn't turn out to be true.

We've read an official news about a new plane in SAC starting the final assembly starting from late August. At the time, it was speculated to either be J-11BS (the striker plane) or the naval flanker. According to a big shrimp, the naval flanker is in final assembly right now and will be given the designation J-15. Now, it's also believed that this plane is required to be superior to super hornet in almost every area. If it makes the first flight in 2008, take 2 or 3 years to test in CFTE and then 3 to 5 years to practice on a carrier to reach some basic level of operation. The plane will then be ready by about 2015. So, I guess they are looking at building and achieving IOC on the first indigenous carrier by that time. The 5th generation fighter will almost be ready by then, so it makes sense that this plane is given this kind of requirement. I think the reason they chose flankers ahead of J-10 was due to its better multi-role capability and range/payload. I would imagine that it can also service PLANAF as a EW plane and buddy-to-buddy tanker like the super hornet. These are all concepts that have been tried or talked about on JH-7A. By 2015, flankers would have the same status in PLAN as JH-7A does right now, so naval flanker will be the jack of all trade by that time. Despite the cheaper cost + superior flight performance of J-10, it certainly does not have the ability to serve in these roles. This would also reduce the types of aircrafts that would be operated on the indigenous carrier, so it would help with logistics. From what I read with big shrimps on Chinese bbs, we can probably expect a conventionally powered CATOBAR carrier of around Kuznetsov size that carries 30-40 flankers of different variants, 3 Y-7 AEW and a bunch of their future naval helicopters (either Z-15 or the new 10 tonne helicopter)

Also, the naval flankers might not last that long with PLANAF. The 5th generation fighter will most likely have naval variants, so it won't be too long before that fighter will start equipping PLAN instead. I guess you will have the 5th/4th generation mix like USN has with F-35 and super hornets.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

More rebuttal toward Andrei Pinkov

Pinkov has recently became a writer for UPI on the issues of Chinese military. I must say that his Kanwa magazine credentials are carrying him pretty far. It's unimaginable how he is allowed to continually write flawed articles for a fairly legitimate news site. As I have seen with his latest article. Pinkov's knowledge of PLA doesn't seem to be increasing. If you haven't read it yet, it goes like:

Should a conflict break out across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwanese forces would face a grave shortage of ammunition after just seven days of fighting. Even though China has a much greater stockpile of ammunition than Taiwan, it would also encounter similar problems in a sustained conflict.

The PLA Air Force fleet of third generation fighters comprises 281 Su-30s, Su-27 SKs, J-11A/Bs and 64 J-10As, whereas its bomber fleet includes approximately 48 JH-7As and 117 H-6s. In full-scale warfare across the Taiwan Strait, suppose there were a loss of 20-30 combat aircraft each day, the current fleet of 344 third generation fighters in effective service in the PLAAF could sustain combat operations for only 11-17 days.

Unlike the United States and Russia, China does not yet have the capability to independently manufacture third generation fighters. For instance, in order to produce J-11B fighters, China has to rely on imports from Russia for critical subsystems including engines and infra-red search and track systems.

Furthermore, the manufacturer of J-11 serial fighters, the Shenyang Aircraft Company, has had a production capacity limited to roughly 17 aircraft each year. As for the J-10, it is widely known that production of this fighter aircraft relies heavily on the outside world, as the J-10's AL-31FN engines are imported from Russia, and other large parts are forged following the designs of a certain Western country.

As a consequence, if a conflict broke out and a military embargo was imposed, the PLA Air Force would immediately face difficulties with its insufficient number of third generation fighters.

Taiwan's depleted ammunition could be immediately resupplied from U.S stocks, because most of the Taiwanese ammunition is the same as that used by U.S. and Japanese forces. However, such Chinese equipment imported from Russia as the Su-30 MKK multi-role fighters, Kilo 636M submarines and S-300 PMU-2 surface-to-air missiles are not in service in Russia. Even the quantity of RVV-AE air-to-air missiles in service is quite limited in the Russian Air Force.

In terms of the production of naval battleships, almost all of China's large-tonnage and new surface combatants rely on Russian and Ukrainian technologies, particularly the power plant systems from Ukraine.

Similar to the situation of the combat platforms, the replenishment of ammunition faces the same problems. Indeed, the PLA's capability to resupply its ammunition, is much greater than that of Taiwan. However, under highly intense assault operations, the attrition of ammunition would also be much greater than that of the defending side.

Another problem China would face is that the PLA must rely on foreign imports for its high-performance ammunition, and a substantial portion of the critical components of China's indigenous high-performance ammunition also has to be purchased from other countries. Moreover, as the combat platforms are mostly not standardized, once these platforms are depleted during combat operations and become quantitatively insufficient, the ammunition intended specifically for them won't be of much use. For instance, except for the J-11Bs, all the other Su serial fighters cannot carry China-made PL-12 AAMs, while the output of J-11Bs is very limited so far.

On the other hand, the J-10A cannot be fitted with Russian-made AAMs and air-to-ground weapons. The PLA Air Force has imported at least 1,000 units of RVV-AE (R77) AAMs, which means each of the 330 third generation fighters of the Taiwanese Air Force would face attack from three R77 missiles on average.

During the Ethiopia-Eritrea air conflict from 1999 to 2000, the Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters of the two countries fired the same R-27 AAMs in large numbers, but none of them hit their targets! In the air battles, the loss of MiG-29s was mainly because they were struck by the short-range R-73 AAMs.

In 1999, when the U.S. Air Force's F-14D fighters chased the Iraqi MiG-25s that entered the no-fly zone, the U.S. fighters fired a total of eight AIM-54C AAMs, but none of them hit their targets either. During another U.S.-Iraq air confrontation in January 1991, F-15 fighters fired a total of seven Sparrow semi-active radar guided air-to-air missiles, and once again, none of them hit their targets.

China has imported more than 1,000 H-29T ASMs and H-59T ASMs. Are these too many? Not at all. In modern air battles, the basic concept is to involve a few 10,000 air-to-ground weapons, and the effect could still be quite limited. In the case of Taiwan, mountains cover a large portion of the landscape. Moreover, in time of conflict, the problems of cover-up and camouflage have to be taken into consideration.

During the Kosovo War, large-scale air raids lasted 78 days, a total of more than 23,000 rounds of various types of ammunition were dropped, but only 3 percent of them hit the designated tank targets, according to the former Yugoslavia regime after the war.

As for the PLA Navy, it has only 14 real battleships with the capability to engage in modern maritime combat operations. Its other battleships are all useless metal scrap. These 14 ships include two 051Cs, one 051B, two 052Bs, two 052Cs, three 054As, and four 956E/EMs. During a conflict, these 14 battleships would inevitably become the prime targets of Taiwan's air and naval firepower.

A possible outcome could be as follows: in a lasting war of attrition when the above third generation combat platforms and ammunition supplies become a serious problem, the older equipment of the Chinese military, including J-8Fs, J-7Gs and the obsolete vessels of the PLA Navy would be put to use; hence a 1970s war would be played out on a 21st century battlefield.

This proves the practicality of the Chinese military's concept of "fighting a quick battle." Obviously the Chinese military is well aware of the hard reality that the current international political dynamics, China's own limited strategic oil reserves and its limited supply of advanced ammunition will not allow it to engage in a prolonged war across the Taiwan Strait.

His biggest problem is turning this into a numbers game. It's about how many planes I have and how many planes you have. And how long I can afford to loose my planes and how long you can afford to loose yours. Now as we know, there is a lot more to war than just how many guns I have vs how many guns you have. Having said that, let's just look through some of his point.

The first thing that jumps out to me is his underestimation of these so called older plans like J-8F and J-7G. J-8F is believed to be more capable than su-27s in PLA with it's more advanced radar, ability to fire multiple PL-12s and good supersonic performance. It may not be the most agile platform out there, but the current upgrades makes it a relatively effective BVR platform. In a scenario like Taiwan, even the J-7Gs can have its uses due to the small cross-strait air space.

The second thing jumping out is underestimating China's 4th generation air force. While the flanker force in PLAAF is well known, the number of J-10s and JH-7As in service are far more that what he stated. We've seen 6 regiments of JH-7/A and probably 5 regiments of J-10. And there is probably even more of each type than what we've seen. The statement that J-10 depends on the foreign world is purely ignorance. Despite what Pinkov says, WS-10A has been equipping J-10 and has fully reached satisfactory performance for PLAAF. As for the "other large parts are forged following the designs of a certain Western country", let's just say that statement is neither correct nor problematic if it is correct. J-11B certainly does not rely on the import of Russian items anymore. A while back, the Russians cut supplies to all the subsystems of J-11B, but this project has just continued by using all domestic components. In case of emergency, CAC's production line is said to have the capability to reach a rate of 400 J-10s per year. Right now, China has neither the money or the need to reach that level of production. Wartime will however be different. I'm guessing it's a similar scenario with SAC. The real critical issue to examine is whether China will have enough skilled pilots left in a sustained war.

Pinkov also brought up the interesting point of China only having imported 1000 R-77s and 1000 H-29/59. While this is true, China does not rely on su-30s for it's A2A and A2G missions. I would say that having 4 R-77 + about 10+ R-27s + large numbers of R-73s for each of the imported flankers is enough. The chance of an aircraft having the opportunity to fire off 15 to 20 times and still survive is not too great. The far more important part is China's production rate for PL-12, PL-8B, the new SRAAM, KD-88, YJ-91 and YJ-83K. There is no indication at the moment that China would not have enough of these type of ammunitions. And with the induction of LS-500J, LS-6, FT series PGMs, China certainly has the ability to produce a lot of cheap smart bombs. The LACMs and SRBMs will be used for more important targets. I'm not saying that China has enough ground attack weapons for the Taiwan scenario, but that it's certainly not as bleak as some people would say. As for S-300PMU2, China certainly did not purchase enough of its missile, but China also certainly has plenty of HQ-9 missiles. And the performance of HQ-9 has certainly pleased PLA enough for wide deployment.

And his analysis of the naval situation is more puzzling. I just don't understand why it matters that some of the subsystems on the modern PLAN ships are licensed production of Russian/Ukrainian systems, when there is no way China can possibly produce those large ships during the war or the time leading up to the war. The only thing that Chinese shipyards can build during these periods are the 022s. Those certainly don't need to worry about not getting the necessary imports from the Russians. His entire arguments about China not having enough surface fleet is true, but that's not a problem against Taiwanese. It will be a problem vs JMSDF and USN, but ROCN might not even survive long enough against PLAN missile strikes to form any kind of useful retaliation. His entire dismissal of 022s and the sub force really ignores the reality of the war scenario.

Either way, Pinkov continues to write articles that appeal to the anti-Chinese crowd while failing to really examine PLA doctrines and deployment. It's certainly easier to convince readers that don't follow PLA that much. He conveniently ignores certain truth to try to enhance his points. However, a long-time PLA watcher will probably see the folly of his arguments.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New submarine?

I really thought about waiting a bit and collect a few pictures before posting again until I saw this. And then I saw this tonight and I was quite shocked. Apparently, this is from the Wuhan shipyard. We were seeing pictures of a 039A Yuan class sub under construction in Wuhan for a while. (so we thought) And now, we are seeing two subs (one that is already in the water and the other that will be launched soon) in this photo and the one that is not in the water looks different from 039A to my untrained eyes. Again, if this is from Wuhan shipyard, then it could represent the evolution of the Song series to the next variant (039B?). Anyhow, I will stop embarrassing myself with what little I know about submarines here. Enjoy the picture.

And also, we saw what appears to be a new SRAAM on a magazine that is carried under the wings of a J-11B. Again, I will let the picture do the talking. You might want to right click on this picture and select view image (or something like that) to get a closer look at the missile.

Due to the feedback that the submarine picture is not visible, I'm posting another copy here