Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top PLA stories of the decade

As this extremely eventful decade winds down, I'd like to give a list of the top PLA related stories from the past 10 years in no particular order. I started off by wanting to create an order but it simply became to difficult for me to justify some of them over other ones.

1. Heated relationship with US military (Taiwan, naval confrontations and PLA growth)
I put this as number 1, because I really do think that this is the most relevant story for us. US military obviously lacked an adversary at the end of the cold war. Early this decade, some people like Richard Fisher and Bill Gertz started to really track PLA advancements as the most obvious adversary to US. In the last couple of years, China was classified by as such by the Pentagon in the Quadcentennial report. Obviously, there are many points of contention. Before KMT took power last year, China and US were always a stupid action away from fighting in the Taiwan Strait. More recently, China's quest for greatness and securing shipping lanes for its natural resources has resulted in a military build-up that puts it directly in conflict with US. There are many in America who fear the rise of China and what that will mean for US's standing in this world. There are many in China who feel that US is unfairly trying to contain the rise of China. Similar to Japan's rise in the 80s, America's rise after world war I and Germany's rise prior to world war I, the rise of China has caused conflicts with the existing super power. In the first two cases, the mutual values and trade relationships between the existing super power and the ascending nation eventually faded. Obviously, we fear for a Germany/Britain scenario playing out if China continues to grow economically and the 2 countries get provoked into a war by Taiwan or something in South China Sea. I think the relationship between China and US is clearly different from any of those 3 cases. The two countries are so closely linked economically that they could cause each other tremendous harm without ever having to fire a shot. Fundamentally speaking, I think China and US can develop a even more cooperative relationship than now. In the long run, China is probably far more likely to have conflicts with neigbhours like India or Russia. Until then, we will see more nervousness by DoD over PLAN's shipbuilding program and PLAAF's next generation fighter program. We will likely see more incidents like Song surfacing next to Kitty Hawk or fish trawlers tangling with SURTASS ship in South China Sea, but I think both sides are calm enough to get by those.

China and Taiwan
Until KMT got voted into power last year, the Taiwan strait was one of the most combustible points in the world. With Taiwan's DPP constantly pushing for greater recognition of its independence and PRC's resistant efforts, the two sides were always a couple of moves away from getting into a major war. This hot point obviously brings a whole new level of risk, because of the probably involvement of the US military. The Anti-Secession Law passed in 2005 only affirmed that China would attack Taiwan if Taiwan ever declares formal independence. In the early past of the century, Taiwan was in the upper hand, because George Bush gave approval for a major weapons package. As time went on, this package was watered down due Taiwan's domestic bickering and the more pragamatic dealings by Bush toward China. To counter the possible sales to Taiwan, China put in some orders to Russians in 2002 to improve the navy and air force. As time went on, China developed more accurate ballistic missiles, LACM, ground attack munitions, surface to surface missiles, amphibious armoured vehicles, amphibious ships and increased airlift to prepare for a possible invasion. After a decade of building up in all services, the power balance across the strait has shifted permanently in PRC's favour. The gap between the 2 parties will only increase over time. Just as concerning to Taiwan, China has continue to build up more missiles facing them. KMT has put removing missiles as a prelude to peace talks, but PLA has the ability to aim them back at Taiwan at anytime. Realistically speaking, most of the damage against important targets in any conflict would be caused by ground strikes with PGMs and cruise missiles rather than those short ranged ballistic missiles. As we speak, tension along the strait is at a 10-year low. In the long run, PLAN would have a problem with its blue water dreams if it has a hostile naval opposition that close to its borders, so the current status quo is not really acceptable for China. By that time, I hope that some kind of agreement would have been worked out between the two parties.

Moving from relying on Russians for military hardware to becoming self sustaining
At the start of this decade, China was basically relying exclusively on Russia for all of its main weapons. J-10 was still in testing stage, so PLAAF relied on buying Su-30s from Russia and building Su-27s locally for air defense. After the nervousness over the proposed sale to Taiwan in 2002, PLAN ordered 2 additional Sovs and 8 improved Kilo submarines from Russia. The air defense still relied on importing different versions of S-300 to protect critical areas like Beijing, Shanghai, Three Gorges Dam and Pearl River Delta. I think all of that pretty much changed by 2006. negotiations for new purchases stopped in the wake of the IL-76 fiasco, but China pretty much ordered all it needed from the Russians by then. Even after that freeze was over, the large orders of Russian hardware of early 2000s never restarted. The truth is that Russia simply did not have anything to offer to China that was better than what China could produce. The Sovs and Kilo submarines have pretty much become white elephants with the commissioning of 052C, 054A and 039A class. The need for Su-30s and S-300 have also disappeared with the induction of J-10, J-11B and HQ-9. As this decade concludes, China is capable of pretty much producing and developing everything that it needs, so its military industrail complex has reached the self-sustainig level.

Varyag and China's carrier program
Ever since that holding company from Macau bought Varyag in 1999, China watchers have wondered when China will get its first aircraft carrier. I think by now, we have all seen the works done to Varyag recently and the Carrier replica in Wuhan. I have writtne in the past on this blog about why China needs a carrier and will not repeat myself again. However, I think it's important to look at how methodical China have been in this process. In the past 10 years, it studied Varyag thoroughly, developed partnerships with other countries to train its pilots, built larger warships like 071 LPD, invested in developing naval fighter and in developing an escort fleet. The interesting part is that current ships like 052C, 054A and 093 are not meant for the future carrier group even though they would do well in that rule, because China has newer destroyers, frigates, supply ships and submarines designed for the escort fleet. I think they were probably ready to start building a carrier 5 years ago, but they waited until everything is ready (which took an entire decade) before starting work on it. Once China's first domestically built carrier is ready, it will be part of a true carrier group rather than a white elephant like the one for Thailand.

Advances in China's space program and ASAT
By nature, space technology had dual use, so the advances in China's space program is also a major story for PLA. The successful ASAT test in January 2007 caused many people to panic over what that might mean for US space dominance in the event of a war. I think this threat was overblown due to the great redundancy in US space netowrk and possible retaliatory strikes. However, other advancements in China's space program have far more profound effects on PLA. The deployment of Beidou network is probably the most important contributor. Even though Beidou 1 is not that accurate, Beidou 2 will be just as accurate for PLA as GPS is for the US military. We have already seen from many pictures that Beidou is pretty much deployed on all PLA assets. Since Beidou guidance was also incorporated on all of China's missiles and satellite guided bombs, it has significantly improved the ground strike capability of PLA. For strategic missiles like CJ-10, Beidou allows them to be as accurate over long range as equivalent US weapons. In addition, the launching of recon satellites like the Yaogan series and Ziyuan series are all extremely important in identifying incoming carrier groups for the ASBM program. The launching of data relay satellites like the Tianlian, ShenTong 1 and FengHuo are important in secured digital communication of data and voice for a theatre-level C3I network. We can see SatCom antennas on the new PLAAF aircrafts and all of the recently launched naval ships for PLAN. Clearly, there were many satellites launched this decade which could help different weapon platforms of PLA. In addition, non-military projects like the moon mission and Shenzhou missions have yielded technologies that could be used on future military satellites.

The emerging submarine threat
This was a much bigger story back in 2005. Back then, China had just launched Yuan, was in the midst of a massive buildup of Song class (3 per year) and also getting those 8 Kilo submarines ordered in 2002. The much vaunted "Sizzler" missiles were mentioned on every article to highlight the threats posed by PLAN. The surfacing of Song submarine next to Kitty Hawk in 2006 only raised the level of alarm over the danger of these quiet diesel submarines. I think some of that fervour has died down in the last couple of years. We have seen Kilo submarines spending most of its time either in one of the Shanghai shipyards (getting repairs or upgraded, not sure which) or resting peacefully beside the dock. They were only able to successfully fire Club missiles in the past year, but it's definitely still not used operationally as much as the Song series. In the recent years, the nuclear submarine threat of 093 and 094 were raised due to the latter's second strike capability. Just looking at the numbers published in open sources, I don't think USN has a good handle on the quantiy and quality of this second generation of PLAN nuclear submarine, but their classified setion is probably far more accurate. One of the most important development recently is that PLAN submarines are making more patrols. That number is released every year and we've covered how this number has risen in the recent years. This increase coincides with the increased number of PLAN deployments in port calls and their anti-piracy missions. I think this threat was overhyped back in its day, because Kilo submarines really never turned out to be as lethal as the China threat group made them out to be. The Yuan submarine was also not generationally better than Song as Westerners originally thought, because it really was still considered by PLAN as part of the Song series. Even so, I think that this is becoming more of a threat now that these platforms have matured in PLAN through more patrols and training exercises.

In many ways, ASBM has replaced submarine threat as the main PLAN assymetric, anti-access threat topic listed by Western China watchers. I'm proud to say that this blog helped bring the ASBM threat into forefront. The Annual DoD report, Bloomberg, China Maritime Studies Institute and others have weighed in on this issue in the past year, because it could be a "game-changer" as Admiral Roughead stated. We've certainly had our share of entries on this issue throughout 2009. From following this issue on Western and Chinese sources in the last couple of years, I think that the Chinese military establishment believes this system is ready for action. Certainly, many parts in the system like tracking and identifying the carrier group will be improved and perfected in the next decade, but they believe ASBM can be used right now.

Lifting European Arms Embargo
This was another story that really peaked in early 2005. At that time, China was still dependent on Russia for most of its military hardware. Just as it was about to be lifted, American and Japanese pressure on Europe + initial reluctance by several EU countries over the embargo thwarted the process. The American argument was that imports from Europe would significantly improve the capabilities of PLA and be harmful to US interests in a possible conflict with Taiwan. At this point, I don't think lifting the arms embargo would really mean that much, because PLA is unlikely to have access to too many systems that it needs and can't already obtain. That's probably why this issue has not been at the top of China's requests in its recent discussions with Europe. Even with the arms embargo on, China was still able to get key systems like Spey engine for JH-7 fighter bomber, key subsystems for Z-10 project, co-development of Z-15 helicopter, engines for Z-9G helicopter, Sky master surveillance radar, diesel engines for different ships, LR7 rescue submarine and key subsystems for diesel submarines. I think that lifting EU arms embargo at this point can still help China in different areas. I've always listed NH-90 helicopter, A330 tanker, advanced quiet technology for submarines, aerospace engines, Aster missiles and naval radar as things that PLA would be interested in from Europe that they can't already get. However, I'm not sure how eager European firms would be at supplying these systems. So I think that even if the EU embargo gets dropped, it's really not going to be a game changer. US and Japan will still protest this move, but it really isn't that significant militarily. There are obviously still certain subsystems that China would be interested, but they would be able to develop a less capable but still adequate version of that on their own. I think the most important gains from Europeans are from the civilian sector. China gained a lot from cooperating in hi-tech industry through joint ventures with Western companies. They gained quality control, production method and management skills that are just as important as the technology themselves.

Phalcon + KJ-2000
This was a huge story back in 2000. At that time, Israel and China negotiated a deal for 4 Phalcon AWACS on A-50 platform. The US goverment forced Israel to renege on the deal with the argument that Phalcon is comparable in performance to E-3C. Jiang Zemin was humiliated, because he was told that China would get those AWACS. In 2004, Israel was also forced by US to back out of doing upgrades on Chinese Harpy drones. Those two incidents pretty much stopped the China-Israeli military cooperation that dated back to license production of Python-3 missiles. As the story goes, KJ-2000 AWACS based on A-50 platform made its first flight in 2003 and the first regiment of KJ-2000s were formed in 2005 or 2006. A lot of people were shocked by the pace at which China developed its own AWACS. At the time, people speculated that Israel had provided China with a lot of assistance on the project. As revealed in 2009, China had cooperated extensively with Israel in the Phalcon project. It provided Israel with much of the solutions in fitting the Phalcon system on A-50. In some ways, India reaped the reward of that project in its Phalcon contract. At the same time, Israel really taught China on how to produce and QC the modules for the AESA radar. It also taught China the command & control part of AEWC&C. As such, even though the Phalcon project did not work out, China received the necessary know-hows to produce KJ-2000. China put in extra resource into the KJ-2000 project and accelerated its development. Similar to the entire European Arms Embargo story, this is another case where US intervention really did not help anyone but China.

Third Generation fighter jets
China designates Su-27, F-16 and other Western 4th generation fighter jets as third generation. This decade saw China changing from a nation that imported the production line and know-how of a 3rd generation fighter jet to a nation that exports the production line and know-how of a 3rd generation fighter jet. Two decades after USAF converted much of its fleet with F-15s and F-16s, PLAAF did the same with J-10s and Flankers. By 2006, J-6s (Chinese version of Mig-19) were finally phased out of PLAAF. A year later, production for J-7s finally stopped at CAC, which means J-7s will probably also be phased out in 10 years (they have rather short service lives). Of course, J-10 project was the most important part of this movement. Although it received a lot of help from the Israelis and the Russians, but J-10 project led to the development of many subsystems that would be used in other fighter jets. People have called J-10 the Apollo project of China and I would agree to that in many ways. At this moment, China have pushed out J-10B and J-11B as the improved variants of J-10 and flanker series. CAC has also successfully finished the development of JF-17 and have helped PAC to set up local production. JF-17 will probably allow China to be competitive in the export market against used F-16s/M2Ks/Mig-29s. J-11B will not be exported. Once J-10 is allowed to be exported, it will probably be thrown in foreign fighter jet competitions against other late 4th generation fighters like super hornets, the eurocanards and su-35. Either way, this was the decade that PLAAF moved from a 2nd generation air force to a 3rd generation air force.

PLAN surface shipbuilding program
Before this decade started, China's best ships were 2 Sovs, 1 051B, 2 052 and a few Jiangweis. We've talked about it many times before, but it's pretty amazing how much PLAN surface fleet has improved in the past decade. I've written several entries on this before, so I will keep this short. The improved quality and quantity of PLAN shipbuilding program can attribute to the improvements in the civilian shipbuilding industry and development of a entire generation of naval subsystems (some of which were copied off Russians). As seen recently with submarine tender, hospital ship, ELINT ship and replenishment ships, the building program is taking care of the entire fleet rather than just destroyers and frigates. Not only are the new ships more capable, they are also designed to operate further away from the shores. Basically, this decade represents the start of China's effort to move from a brown water navy to a blue water navy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

China in 2009

As we look back on everything that happened this year, I decided to look at more than just naval shipbuilding and military/civilian aviation, but also the financial and economical engine that is China. Many people waited for the Beijing Olympics to be China's crowing moment or coming out party. In many ways, 2008 was a milestone year when one considers the major snow storm that crippled the country, the Tibet riot, the Sichuan Earthquake and the Beijing Olympics. However, this year has turned out to be the true coming out party for China. Due to the fall of Western financial institutions (especially in New York and London) and our current economic downturn, the world has been increasingly relying on China to be the knight in shining armour. In many ways, the increased power and expectations have come way too much and way too fast for China.

The Obama administration has basically annointed China as its equal this past year and the idea of G-2 have been raised everywhere. China has been asked to be a responsible stakeholder in issues like climate change, fighting global imbalances, Iran, North Korea and currency manipulation. In many of these cases, China has reacted and handled itself in ways that counter the views of Western countries. For years, China had followed the strategy laid out by Deng Xiaoping in growing quietly and minding its own business. There were a few bumps along the way, but China basically stayed out of major international affairs all the way through Jiang Zemin's run as the paramount leader. Their foreign and domestic policy could be summed up as: make a lot of money for Chinese people, being ambivalent about everyone else, advance the country scientifically/technologically and do this with as little noise as possible. By the time, Hu came to power, China had just joined WTO and started to run large trading surplus against USA. Hu moved away from a US-centric foreign policy and started this process of securing natural resources all around the developing world (even in the Americas). By 2005-2006, it was clear that China had expanded (and was on such a trajectory) so much in political influence that it could no longer hide in international affairs as just another developing nation. Starting from George Bush's second term, you really started to see US engagement in trying to make China into a "responsible stakeholder". Armed with this new attention and expectations, China really was unprepared for the extra responsibility. It was still trying to just remain in the background and become stronger economically. Even though China has opened up a little bit in the recent year and tried to take on more responsibility, it still values its own priorities above all else. In one sense, it still wants to be treated with the same leniency that other developing countries are treated with. At the same time, it also wants to be respected as a country with long history, rich culture and prospering society. But more than anything, China still does not look at itself as a superpower (it ranked itself 7th in national strength in a recent study), even though most people around the world think that way. I think that most Chinese people still do not comprehend the kind of impact that their country and its growth is having on the rest of the world. I will just try to go through some points on how this year has really seen the emergence of China.

Politically, this was a huge breakout year for China. Hilary Clinton made a visit to China in February and basically pleaded to the Chinese gov't to buy more treasury bonds. When they had the strategic dialog in the middle of the year, Obama stated clearly that all of the issues that we are facing need both countries to work together to resolve. And finally when he visited last month, it also appeared that he was bowing down to the Chinese. Because Obama has somewhat of a reputation of being soft amongst foreign policy hawks, I'd like to say that he gave the elevated status due to the practical situation rather than "the left being weak to the commies". During Bush's second term, he grew to become more and more friendly toward the Chinese administration. In many ways, George Bush was possibly the most China-friendly president in the US history and Obama has carried on that trend. I think both presidents did the most pragmatic approach possible. They realized that China was influential in way too many places around the world (especially pariah nations) to not cooperate over the major geopolitical issues. They also realized that China is America's banker and believe that America needs China's savings to get out of this financial mess. They have lamented that China has not acted to its responsibility on issues like Iran, Sudan and North Korea. I think they would be find it hard to get cooperation from China. When China was still clear the weaker partner in the relationship, it could claim that it was not influential enough and did not have the luxury as a developing country to influence other developing countries. Now that China is more of an equal in the relationship, it could afford to resist US pressure to press further on these troubled states. China still does not feel like enough of a world leader to take positions that are more positive for all of humanity. It would like to continue policies that will help feed natural resources to its rapidly growing economy. By now, everyone can see the kind of influence that China has over African countries, several South American countries, ASEAN countries and the countries along the String of Pearls. G-7 is no longer the policy making organization that it used to be, because China is not in there. Even so, China is trying really hard to stop the idea of G-2 while promoting G-20 + BRIC, because it really does not want the responsibility/pressure of being a super power.

This was the year that China really became the financial power of the world. Jim Rogers has repeatedly said in the past that power moves to where money is. If that's the case, then the growing accumulation of China's foreign reserve point to a lot of good days ahead. We have seen USA asking China to continue to buy Treasury Bonds. We have seen IMF selling bonds to China. We have seen countries all around the world asking China for money. G-20 replaced G-8 in determining policies to get out of this worldwide economic downturn, because it needed China's deep pockets. For its domestic economy, China was able to put in a more effective stimulus program without adding much public sector debts (although some would argue for the hidden bank debts). We have seen China buying up resources around the world. After all, why would anyone want to sit on fiat currencies when the central bankers around the world cannot control themselves from printing more money? China dramatically expanded its holding of gold bullion and will probably continue to buy. It continued to acquire mines across the world including the much talked about attempt by Chinalco to increase its stakes in Rio Tinto. When the prices of oil, iron ore, copper, silver and other natural resources dropped, China moved in to buy them at rock bottom prices to creater larger strategic reserves. Australia basically avoided a major recession due to the continued China demand for its iron ore and other resources. Perhaps the most interesting part of China's buying spree is that it has moved beyond foreign debts and natural resources. As companies around the world started to collapse under the tough economic conditions, Chinese companies have started to acquire foreign companies, their branding and their production process. In this past year, the successful bids by Chinese companies for Hummer, Volvo and Saab made headlines. However, there are also many other stories of Chinese companies acquiring Western know-hows + branding at rock bottom prices. More than anything, this economic downturn has shown the importantce of being financially sound. As this downturn continues in the next couple of years, I think Jim Rogers' prediction will show to be really accurate.

For the past 25 years, people have talked about the potential of 1.4 billion people and the huge market created by the growing middle class in the country. Due to the increased savings and declining purchasing power around the world, consumption was down in most other countries causing a collapse in world trade. After a slow 4th quarter in 2008 and early 2009, consumption in China really took off this year with the help of some stimulus policies by the government. The Chinese market finally exceeded the US market in several industry and somewhat feeled the void left by export markets for domestic manufacturers. 2009 could also be remembered as the first year that China's auto market exceeded that of US. While most automakers around the world were suffering due to declining sales in most countries, Chinese automakers were really thriving. BYD, Chery and Geely all had massive growth in sales due in large part to the lower tax for small cars. As a result of this, these automakers now have the capital to really acquire oversea assets, expand capacity, develop newer models and produce higher quality cars for the more mature EU and US markets. In a sign of times, SAIC became the majority stakeholder in its joint venture with GM and will also be producing their joint venture car Wuling for export in India. BYD has made a lot of news for its plans to bring affordable hybrid/electric car models to America and also supplying batteries for Volkswagon. The improved fortune for domestic automakers is part of China's progression of moving up in value chain and becoming an even stronger manufacturing engine. 2009 was a terrible year for shipbuilders around the world, but China managed to move past South Korea for the first time in terms of orders taken and order backlog. In a few years, China will officially become the world's largest shipbuilder. Green industry is another area that recent government policy has really helped. The Chinese solar module industry have became the largest in the world (accounting for 1/3 of photovoltaic cells production). It is now exporting 99% of its production and is causing huge fall in solar module prices by basically swamping the market. China's wind turbine industry is also now the largest producer in the world thanks to the huge wind power expansion in the country + exporting to foreign markets (like the recent A-Power deal in Texas). Even in fields like civilian aviation, trains and nuclear power, you can see that China is slowly entering these markets and moving up the value chain. Due to the fact that China is the only country in the world that is actually having this massive nuclear power expansio and high speed rail expansion, advanced multi-national corporations are forced to provide more know-hows + local manufacturing in order to win those contracts. In the long run, China will probably end up becoming a competitor to them in this area. In the mean time, Airbus, Westinghouse, Alstom and Bombardier can remain highly profitable despite the declining orders around the world. In some ways, you can already see that China is moving up in this field with their nuclear power, airliner and railway exports to developing countries while still buying the latest technology from the west. And really, we can go through a bunch of other domestic industries, but I see a very methodical approach in using domestic market to extract technology and developing local industries. China is getting wealthier, so it can no longer rely on selling cheap clothing, toys and furnitures to walmart to expand. It is moving up in the value chain in manufacturing for both its domestic market and export markets.

I will have a separate ntry on the military growth, since that is the area that I follow the most. Needless to say, there were a lot of headlines this year with the carrier program, the next generation fighter program, the large transport program and the ASBM program.

As I review all that has happened in this past year, I can say for certainty that this was one of the most significant years since the market reforms started. After a revision of its 2008 GDP numbers, it looks like China became the 2nd largest economy in the world this past year. In terms of purchasing power, it reached the position quite a while ago. The financial crisis has only shown the world how influential China has become in the recent years. If 2009 was any indication, China has officially risen to super power status on the world stage. There are a lot of anger toward China around the world, because it's manufacturing strength has crippled many economies around the world. At the same time, it also remains important, because it has now become the largest market in the world for many industries. Regardless, China's emergence has changed the dynamics of the world. Policies are no longer determined by 7 large Western economies, but need the inclusion of the other countries in G-20. The question is how will China react in the coming years as it is expected to do more for the international community.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why we should cheer for Copenhagen and fight to protect Earth

As many of you have heard by now, there was an eleventh hour deal between US and the major emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and South Africa when I was looking bleak. Before going through the merits of this deal, I will first explain why this issue is so important to me. I grew up in possibly the most polluted place in the world. CNN ran a story about Linfen, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/12/15/china.pollution/index.html, which is right next to my hometown. I know there are a lot of questions, especially from the Republicans in America, regarding whether or not global warming is really valid. I think that if ever lived in my hometown, you would think that global warming is a reality. In the span of the 26 years of my life time, the average high temperature of a summer time has gone from mid 20s to mid 30s. The kind of environment degradation in my hometown is truly extraordinary. The water level dropped so much that what used to be a shallow river no longer exists. They had to fill that area with tap water to give the illusion that it's still a river. When it's really hot and dry in summer time, you can see dry land with huge cracks. Even the famous yellow river is completely dried up in the summer time around where I came from. The air quality is so bad that I catch some form of respiratory sickness every time I go back there and can never get well until leaving the country. I can go on talking about how the sinful nature of men have destroyed this amazing world that we live in, but I would be spending the next 4 pages talking about all the bad things i have seen in China alone. I think that the change in climate is partly due to the natural climate change, but mostly due to the damage done by us. If the temperature continues to go up the way it does, there will be increased drought problems around the world. Water will become more and more scarce for certain countries. In other countries, they'd have the opposite effect of too much precipitation leading to hurricanes and tsunamis. And with polar ice caps melting, the international water level would rise to the point where millions of people will be displaced. The sad part is that the developing countries that contribute the least to carbon emissions and can afford the least to help out on emissions cut will end up suffering the most from climate change. There have already been talks about many Pacific islands getting swallowed up by the Ocean in the next 50 years. I'm more concerned about areas like Bangladesh where over 100 billion people could be displaced due to elevation in water level. And what about New York? Manhattan would be swallowed up if water level is elevated as much as the projection.

But what if all of the scientific theories are wrong and all the global warming in the past 20 years are occurring naturally? Even if that's case, the world would become a much less polluted and environmentally damaging place by using less fossil fuel, have more stringent emission standards and use more efficient plants. Who would really complain about breathing in air with less toxin? During the elections, everyone complained about how America is overly reliant on the Middle East for energy usage. At the same time, many of the major oil fields (like Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia, Cantarell Field in Mexico and Daqing in China) around the world have all hit the so called peak oil and are not declining in production. There are still oil sands in Canada and deep water oil deposits off Florida and the Green River Formation oil shale around Colorado. However, you start running into the problem where the amount of energy used to extract is actually greater than the oil extracted. For example, the core of Earth has the highest grade of untapped iron deposits, but is anyone actually stupid enough to try to extract those iron ore? As a result of the oil/natural gas production decline and the increase need for them around the world, America will be fighting for that shrinking share of oil production with China and India. By necessity, the entire world would have to eventually switch to using renewable or re-usable source of energy.

Because of all the above, I was really nervous leading up to Copenhagen. I knew of the great divide between the developing countries and developed countries, so was really worried that nothing would get worked out. As it stands, the agreement was regarded by numerous European countries as not enough. I think that view is way too pessimistic. Even though China and India have not given a specific year when their emissions would peak, they have agreed to at least set some kind of firm target and have agreed to some form of international verification. When it comes to China, face is an extremely important part of the culture and the communist leaders don't like to look bad in front of others. Under international scrutiny, I really don't see China backing off on the commitments that it made this week to the world. I really think Obama did a great job in emphasizing the idea that this is the first step in concluding something that is truly worthwhile and effective over the long run. I believe that by the UN conference in Mexico City next year, this deal would have moved further along. It would take a while for the last minute concessions by China, India, Brazil and South Africa to really put in a legally binding agreement. I don't think China will stop at 40-45% energy intensity cut. Having seen their past efforts, they will most likely achieve a larger cut through their current efforts in nuclear/wind/solar power expansion and more stringent fuel efficiency/emissions standards. Of course, it's also important for Europeans to achieve their stated goal of 25% emission cut from 1990 levels. It is also important for US to actually offer something better than a 1.3% emission cut from 1990 levels. Compared to EU and Japan, US and Canada are really not doing that much to help the global efforts. Having lived in these 2 countries for the better parts of my life, I'm quite ashamed of that. In the midst of the great economic downturn in the past 70 years, it's really hard for any country to make sacrifices while others stand pat. I'm just glad that we have finally started the process of really trying to cooperate on this globally. Even if what we have now is not perfect, we can hope for greater international pressure to yield more firm targets and a legally binding agreement that could save our planet.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The state of China/Russia military cooperation

Today, I read this article by a Russian paper regarding the military cooperation between China and Russia. I think it really does a great job of explaining why there haven't been a major deal recently and why it probably would not happen anytime soon. The important point is that this article didn't dwell on the so called pirating efforts of China against Russian hardware, so it was able to explore some of the major reasons why nothing is going on. It clearly identifies IL-76 and S-400 as the 2 major items that China would most likely want from Russia at the current time and why they are not coming through.

With respect to the last paragraph, I think the idea of pirating will be a problem for a while, because the two sides really can't agree on what constitute pirating. The copyright laws in the two countries are actually not the same. So even though they signed an agreement, I'm not sure it will work out as the Russians want.

The crisis in the Russian defence industry is hindering the
development of military-technical cooperation with the Middle Kingdom.

Military cooperation between Russia and China in the weapons business
sphere, it appears, is experiencing a severe crisis. This is shown by
the results of the visit to Russia by the Chinese government
delegation headed by Colonel General Guo Boxiong, deputy chairman of
the PRC's Central Military Commission, that concluded last Friday [27

General Guo Boxiong (on the left) rubbed shoulders with Dmitriy
Medvedev but apparently left Moscow empty handed.

The military leader from China came to discuss prospects for military-
technical cooperation (VTS) between the two countries. President
Vladimir Medvedev received Gou Boxiong. He noted that "a firm
partnership is developing between the two countries, and it is based
upon a coincidence of our basic interests." The day before, in the
presence of Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and Federal Service
for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) Director Mikhail Dmitriyev,
Russia's leader met for a long time behind closed doors in Barvikha
with the Chinese guests. On 24 November the delegation from China was
at the Kapustin Yar proving ground in Astrakhan Oblast where new
developments in prospective armament models were demonstrated for it.
And the next day [25 November] the 14th session of the Russian-Chinese
Joint Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation (SMK) was held in
Moscow under the chairmanship of Anatoliy Serdyukov. According to
Irina Kovalchuk, the defence minister's press secretary, at the
session "the sides expressed satisfaction with the state of bilateral
military-technical cooperation."

Nevertheless, it is striking that neither the Russian nor the Chinese
sides expected the present meeting to end in the signing of any sort
of documents about weapons purchases. Foreshadowing the SMK session,
Mikhail Dmitriyev stated that all areas of bilateral collaboration
"will be examined" at it: aircraft building, engines, ships, PVO [air
defence] systems, and armoured equipment. Although "the adoption of
any breakthrough decisions or the signing of any contracts is not
expected." Why it is "not expected" is completely understandable.
Beijing already has bought everything that is possible in Moscow, and
it will produce the greater share of weapons by itself. And all of the
new types of weapons that the PRC needs are only at the development
stage in Russia, or else there are problems in producing them.

For example, the last "breakthrough contract" between Moscow and
Beijing was concluded as far back as 2005 in Sochi. At issue were
deliveries to the PRC by 2010 of 34 Il-76 military-transport airplanes
and four Il-78 refueling airplanes, at a total cost of more than one
billion dollars. But, as is well known, the Chkalov Tashkent Aircraft
Production Association (TAPOiCH, Uzbekistan), where the airplanes
mentioned are produced, defaulted and the contract was broken. As
sources in the FSVTS reported to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the question of
buying heavy military transport airplanes also was raised during the
present round of Russian- Chinese contracts, but Moscow was not able
to make the Chinese comrades happy in any way.

We would note that during the time of Guo Boxiong's visit to the
Russian Federation President Medvedev visited Ulyanovsk. The media
paid attention to the dressing down that the president gave to the
military in that city in connection with the explosions at the Navy's
No 31 Arsenal. Meanwhile, having arrived in Ulyanovsk Dmitriy Medvedev
immediately left the airport and headed first of all to the Aviatstar
SP [joint venture] aircraft-building plant, to which the production of
the Il-76 will be transferred from Tashkent. Together with others of
the aviation enterprise's innovations, they also showed him the plans
for a new aircraft (Il-476) based on the Il-76 airplane, where the
newest aviation navigation and control systems are used and where in
addition to everything the configuration of the wing is changed.

On the same day in Ulyanovsk, in addition to a session of the State
Council for Nanoinnovation [Gossovet po nanonovatsiyam: According to
the Kremlin website, Medvedev participated in a session of the State
Committee for Questions of Innovative Development of Russia's
Transportation System in Ulyanovsk on 24 November], a session of the
board of directors of the Amalgamated Aircraft Manufacturing
Corporation (OAK) was held under the chairmanship of Deputy Premier
Sergey Ivanov to determine plans for Russian aviation. Notable among
these is a plan for "the programme for producing the Il-476 to be set
in motion at the Ulyanovsk aircraft plant: the airplane is expected to
be rolled out in 2010 and will be tested in 2011." Thus it was
demonstrated to the PRC that Russia is developing modern aviation
technology, but the Chinese still will not see the new military
transport airplane very soon. Judging from present Russian experience,
testing the airplane will take a long time.

Besides this, the Russian Air Force is in great need of these
airplanes. The same thing could be said about other new Russian
defence industry developments. Let us say that on 24 November at the
Russian Air Force's Kapustin Yar proving ground the Chinese admired
the S-400 surface-to-air missile (ZRS) system. But it was hinted to
them that they are unlikely to that soon either. In the first place,
the Russian armed forces will have to be equipped with it, and in the
second place - and perhaps this is the most essential point - the
shortcomings that the S-400 has must be eliminated. Air Force
Commander in Chief Colonel General Aleksandr Zelin unambiguously
hinted at this on 26 November. According to him, the tactical-
technical characteristics that are set for this surface-to-air missile
system "still have not been completely obtained". Therefore, the
general says, together with the PVO Almaz-Antey concern it is still
necessary to carry out a great deal of work in order for "the
necessary results to be achieved".

The Chinese were shown other new types of weapons, but Russia does not
want to sell them "simply for the sake of selling them". From all
accounts, Moscow wants to establish gentlemen's agreements with
Beijing in the area of military-technical cooperation in order to
avoid pirate copying of our technology. In this connection one can
recall the scandal fanned by the media about the fact that Moscow is
thinking about refusing to sell Beijing a major part of the SU-33
fighter out of fears that the Chinese will illegally copy this
airplane as they had done earlier with the Su-27. Vyacheslav Dzirkaln,
deputy director of Russia's Federal Service for Military- Technical
Cooperation, thinks that the problem is a real one: "Last year we
signed an agreement on the protection of intellectual property, and I
hope that it will help us solve problems in disputes connected with
the illegal copying of our weapons."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Discussions through Google Wave

Hey guys, I'd be willing to have a discussion on PLA related topics through Google wave, so if anyone is interested, you can email me your Google wave account (my email is tphuang@gmail.com) or reply to this note and then I will try to answer any questions you may have. Please be respectful and not spam me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

US/China relations + PLA transparency

I just have some random thoughts from the last couple of days with Obama's visit to Asia and all the news releases with PLAAF’s 60th anniversary. There have been a lot of new articles recently about the deterioration of the US-Japan relationships with the DPJ sweeping into power. One of the bigger issues we hear recently is the relocation of the Futenma air bases in Okinawa. And I’m sure that many others know the issue better than I do on this, but it seems like the Okinawans are calling for all US troops to leave the island. I know it’s a very unlikely scenario, but how would loosing an air base like Kadena affect USAF operations in the PacRIM (especially in Taiwan scenario)?
Of course, President Obama also visited China on this trip to discuss a series of issues. Climate change and currency valuation are probably the two biggest items on Obama’s agenda. I think for the former, China will continue to accept more responsibility, because it really is in its national interest to do so. We have basically seen the Chinese green energy industry explode in the last couple of years. Even though it has not made any firm promises on targets, it is actually making a lot of progress in every area. I think the Politburo will soon realize that they are already on pace to achieve targets that Western countries expect of them and actually accept some kind of commitment. Even so, I’m not sure if they will figure this out before the all important Copenhagen talks. In the area of currency valuation, I think Chinese leadership will totally miss the ball on this one. Even though it’s probably for their own good to let RMB appreciate, they will probably stubbornly tie their currency to USD longer than they should. With all of the public and private sector debts, it’s hard to imagine USD having anywhere to go but down. If China wants RMB to have some kind of role in a future world reserve currency, it would be much better if it can speed of the process of becoming a floating currency. On the flip side, if China let their currency rise, then it would not have to purchase as much treasury, which will force more purchase by the FED and accelerate the decline of USD. So while US wants China to let its currency rise, it also might not like the resulting affect. The right thing for China to do is probably let its currency rise. And the right thing for USA to do is to get its spending in order, cut down its debt and raise interest rate. However, neither side looks like they are willing to do the right thing.

On the security side, I think we all know by now what the biggest issues are on both side. I have always found the Chinese complaints over F-16 sale to be kind of funny. I am not entirely sure what the order backlog is like for F-16s, but I believe the following countries are still in the midst of receiving their F-16s: Turkey, Pakistan, Greece, Poland, Iraq and Morocco. Even if the F-16 deal gets approved and signed by next year, it will probably take until 2014 before the F-16s get all delivered. We recently heard that the next generation Chinese fighter will be ready in 8 to 10 years. I really don’t think this F-16 deal will help ROCAF as much as most people think it will. The concern I’ve always read from the Chinese military insiders is that they consider F-16 to be an offensive platform. If that’s the case, a deal can still be done without the latest multi-role weapons like JDAM and SLAM-ER.

The major US complaint over China is obviously the issue of transparency. In the past week, PLAAF made some announcements that were surprising to many people in both the transparency and the content. The deputy commander of PLAAF said that China's 4th generation fighter (5 generation for America) is expected to test flight shortly and also take about 8 to 10 years to enter service. In comparison, J-10 first flied in 1998, delivered to the PLAAF Flight Test & Training Base for evaluation in 2003, had first regiment regiment established in 2004, but still was not considered by Chinese media to have entered service until 2006 when they had already established 2 active regiments. F-22's production version first flew in 1997, commenced Initial Operational Test and Evaluation in 2003 and achieved FOC in 2007. If China's 4th generation fighter has a similar time line to J-10 and F-22, it would take about 8 years to go from first flight to service entrance. The first flight would have to happen in the next 2 years to achieve that 8 to 10 years promise. The interesting part is that Kanwa, which is well known for its flawed coverage on PLA, claimed that the 4th generation program had no chance of making its first flight in the near future. The funny part was that an expert from Chinese Air Force Command College replied by saying that PLA would never make an open announcement without believing that it will happen. I personally agree with latter, because it really is very unusual for PLA to make such an early announcement on a project that is so strategically important. Also, I have also read enough rumbling through my Chinese sources to believe that 2018 is probably when the 4th generation plane enters service.

I actually even found a US newspaper covering this story. That article picked up this story from a recent Aviation Week entry. I guess the big question now is why Pentagon was so wrong in its predictions, because it actually said China will not have any 5th generation fighter by 2020. As I read this article, I even myself shaking my head reading these parts.

In April, Adm. Wu Shengli, the navy chief, listed supercruising fighters among equipment that his service needed. Notably, all the other equipment on his wish list looked quite achievable by the end of the next decade, matching the timing that the air force now suggests for the fighter.

-----big gap-----

When Wu raised the prospect of a supercruising fighter, an easy answer seemed to be an advanced version of the J-10. That looks less likely now that He describes the future concept as a full generation ahead of the J-10.

“I believe the Chinese have a difficult road if their design is tied to the J-10,” says a U.S. Air Force officer involved in the development of the F-35. “Significantly reduced signature requires more than coatings. It requires an integrated design philosophy with the right shaping, the right structure and the right surface coatings.”

It's pretty well known in China that CAC is not only working on the J-10B project, but also is the main contractor for the next generation project. When the admiral made his statement, I find it hard to believe that the US military actually thought he was talking about an improved version of J-10 or J-11. Much of information on existing PLAAF projects are available online and Huitong's site even does a great job of putting everything together in place. If someone from the Pentagon bothered to check out his section on J-10B, which I can verify to be fairly accurate, they'd know that J-10B has already flied and would be in service years before the end of next decade. They are separate projects. In fact, J-10B must happen before the next generation project, because many of the subsystems will first be tested on J-10B. Here is another part that reflects pretty badly on the US intelligence community:

In his July 16 speech, Gates said that even in 2025 China would have but a handful of fifth-generation aircraft.

The Pentagon seems to have no clue on the progress of China's next generation project or its induction size. I've personally read enough sources to believe that this CAC design will have a small production run like F-22. There will be another next generation design that will form the lo-end of a hi-lo combination (like USAF is doing with F-22 and F-35), but that will come later. I've always found it interesting that the Pentagon seems to have trouble identify the number of each type of aircraft in service with PLA, because they have access to all open sources, secrets sources and the most comprehensive satellite images. I personally commend Scramble for doing a great job in identifying all of the Chinese air bases, order of battle and the plane type in each of the bases. In many cases, Scramble ORBAT is updated before even the most enthusiastic Chinese military forums catch hold of a new regiment conversion.

On a similar note, I saw that the ASBM story has landed on Bloomberg this morning. The most interesting part is here:

China’s ballistic missile “portends the sophistication of the threats that we’re going to see,” Roughead said in an interview earlier this year.

China has ground-tested the missile three times since 2006 and conducted no flight tests yet, Navy officials said.

‘Limited Capability’

General Xu Caihou, China’s No. 2 military official, played down the weapon’s significance.

“It is a limited capability” to meet “the minimum requirement of” China’s national security, Xu, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, said in response to a question following an Oct. 26 speech in Washington.

The fact that General Xu basically confirmed this weapon should tell you how far along it is. I think this is another development that took way too long to be identified and should've been taken more seriously when everyone was focused on the submarine threat. And with the ASBM story making rounds, the just as important story of the long range LACM deployment is almost totally disregarded.

In conclusion, I think that a lot of transparency complaints that the Pentagon throws at PLA are valid, but it is also unacceptable that the Pentagon would be caught off guard in so many cases. There are enough resources out there that can be researched to form much better conclusion on the progress of the Chinese military.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Latest 054A and Carrier model pictures

This week has been pretty much been dominated by news about the air force. On top of the pictures and news I have already shown above, there have also been a lot of pictures coming out showing the latest toys of the air force. However, I think it's important to show the progress of the navy since that is still going on.

The first set below shows the the status of the island on both Varyag and the Aircraft Carrier model. It looks like they are about to put an APAR like the one on 052C on Varyag (or maybe they will put multiple face to give complete coverage). It's actually kind of strange for them to MFR on a carrier, because I really don't expect it to carry a long range SAM like HHQ-9 on there. I was more expecting HQ-16 with associated sensors like a Sea Eagle volume search radar with several Orekh FCRs to illuminate targets. It's possible that the data from APAR would be used to provide additional volume search and targeting data for escorts as well as for itself. If that was true, it could confirm CEC already existing with PLAN.

The pictures below are both from HuangPu shipyard. The first two shows the 4th 054A to be built in HuangPu shipyard. The last two shows the 3rd 054A from HP shipyard and it has just finished its sea trials. It has received the number 571, which means it will join the South Sea Fleet. The 3rd 054A from HD shipyard will then receive the number 569 and also join the South Sea Fleet (if we go by the standard PLAN procedure in commissioning new ships). That means 4 054A will be in South Sea Fleet, 2 054A + 2 054 will bein East Sea Fleet and no 054A will be in North Sea Fleet. It does make sense for the 4th pair of 054A to go to NSF, but we will have to wait and see. It is the neglected fleet in PLAN.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

J-10 and 4th Generation news

As part of the 60th anniversary of PLAAF, we have received a lot of new recently on the latest additions to PLAAF. Most of our information basically comes from 2 videos here and here.

A lot of interesting things were brought up here regarding J-10 and the 4th generation fighter jet project. If you don't already know, 3rd generation in China is 4th generation in the West and 4th generation in China is 5th generation in the West. In the videos, J-10 was mentioned as transforming China from cloning aircraft to developing its own aircraft. The emphasis was on finally being able to produce a home grown 3rd generation fighter for PLAAF. Some basic stats of J-10 included take-off distance of 350 m, having 11 hard points and payload of 6 tonnes. The pictures introducing J-10 to the August 1st flight demonstration team is as follows:

It had additional stats like length of 16.43 m, width of 9.75 m, height of 5.43 m, normal take-off weight of 12.4 ton (not really sure what the configuration is), maximum speed of mach 2.0 and operation ceiling of 18000 m. I think the maximum speed is probably higher than that from previous articles, but we probably will need to wait longer for complete information to come out.

In the videos, they said that J-10, J-11 and J-8 are the main force of PLAAF for the time being. 3rd generation fighter is already the main force of PLAAF. They also said that 4th generation fighter will make its first flight soon. After the first flight, it will begin test flight program. It can join service in 8 to 10 years. 4th generation fighter jet program have already been in development for a while, many parts have already achieved breakthrough like large turbofan engine, stealth technology and electronics. The goal of this plane is to reach the level of F-22. The videos say that J-10 is on par with the best of 3rd generation fighter jets, so China's 4th gen plane should also be expected to be on par with the best of 4th generation fighter jets world wide. The news of 4th generation fighter jets came from the deputy commander of PLAAF, so it should be considered pretty solid.

Below are photos from the TV shows showing possible look of the 4th generation fighter.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Missile pictures with PLAN

With the PLAAF's 60th founding anniversary coming up, a bunch of TV programs have been showcasing newer portions of the air force. There is also a new museum showing different types of missiles in service with PLA. As part of the recent unveiling, we saw some pictures of the RIF long range SAM with 051C. These are probably the best pictures we've seen so far of the naval S-300 missiles purchased from the Russians.

The ones below showcase China's new shored based anti-ship missile YJ-62. The first 3 pictures show the command truck that comes with YJ-62 missile launchers. The operators in there get targeting data from reconnaissance targets and then launch the missiles to them. According to some sources in China, this was deployed along the shorelines as early as May of 2005. YJ-62's ship launched version can be deployed on the 052C class. I think this system is often overlooked in the face of the ASBM talk, because this missile actually has a 400 km range. The export version has a range of 280 km, because of the MTCR restrictions. Due to this range, it certainly poses a threat to possible USN ships in the theater and also all of the ROCN ships. And I think this is where the ASBM system would really help. By deploying a reconnaissance and data relay system capable of tracking ships from beyond the visual range, such a system could be used in both ASBM system and for your typical long ranged anti-ship cruise missiles. YJ-62's advantage over ASBM is its much lower cost, higher accuracy and rate of production. It obviously have major disadvantage to ASBM like shorter ranger and much higher chance of being intercepted. I certainly think that this missile along with the newly deployed long range LACM CJ-2000 are 2 systems that are totally overlooked due to the ASBM development.

Friday, October 30, 2009

New Chinese naval flotilla to Aden

It's set, they are sending another Flotilla to Aden to replace 529 and 530 according to this article. This is the 4th task force to Aden.

ZHOUSHAN, Zhejiang Province, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) -- A new Chinese naval flotilla was deployed to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the coast of Somalia on Friday to protect merchant vessels against rampant pirates that still hold a Chinese ship for ransom.

The flotilla of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has been the fourth task force of its kind that China has sent to the region since the end of last year.

Missile frigates FFG-525 Ma'anshan and FFG-526 Wenzhou will relieve the FFG-529 Zhoushan and FFG-530 Xuzhou from the PLA Navy's third flotilla which have patrolled the area since June.

The new warships will join Qiandaohu, a supply ship, which has been on duty in the region for about three months. The fourth flotilla will have a crew of more than 700, including a special force unit and two ship-borne helicopters.

They would actively take part in international humanitarian rescue missions, said Liu Xiaojiang, the Navy's political commissar.

A Chinese coal-carrying vessel "De Xin Hai" with 25 crew members on board was kidnapped by pirates about 1,000 sea miles away from the patrolling area of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean.

So far all the 25 crew members have been identified as Chinese citizens by the shipping company they worked for. The Ministry of Transport is working on the release of the ship.

It is not immediately known whether the new naval task force will bear a rescue mission for "De Xin Hai", but the two Chinese frigates currently patrolling the area have intensified the frequency of surveillance by shipborne helicopters, skiffs and the special force unit for merchant vessels passing by.

China made an unprecedented move by sending three warships to the Gulf on Dec. 26 last year in the first overseas escort mission for merchant vessels.

The PLA Navy warships have escorted hundreds of domestic and foreign vessels since the first flotilla arrived in the region.

I guess they really have no choice but to keep on sending after the major hijacking news. 525 and 526 are the only frigates of the 054 class and they are from the East Sea Fleet. The same replenishment ship will be there since the last flotilla was also from the East Sea Fleet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New J-10 regiment

This will be a quick post. We've been waiting a while for the new J-10 regiment to be unveiled. So far, we've seen J-10s at FTTC, 44th division, 1st division, 2nd division and 3rd division. There were some talk recently about J-10 becoming part of the August 1 Aerobatic Demonstration Team with a picture below showing a J-10S in August 1 colours.

This demonstration team is based out of Yangcun Air Force Base, home to the 24th Fighter Division. There were some speculations that J-10 will also replace the 70th regiment J-8B/E, which are really old. Interestingly enough, we saw this today.

It shows 30651 in the numbering, which would be a number used by the 70th regiment (30x5x). If this is a valid picture (and it seems that way), then that means 24th division will have a new J-10 regiment and also J-10 for the August 1 Aerobatic Demonstration Team.

There is also talk with GE photos that a new regiment is being formed at the 9th division. At this point, it's still not conclusive.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trainer projects for PLA

Recently, there have been a bunch of news coming out regarding trainer projects for PLA. So, I thought I'd take a look at what they already have and the projects that they are working on.

In the basic trainer class, PLAAF's current workhorse and the workhorse of the past 4 decades is CJ-6. Over 10,000 samples of this basic trainer have been produced in its lifetime. Even now, some air forces (Burma ordered 20 recently) and civil aviation schools still order CJ-6. However, it does provide some problems in the flight training process for PLAAF, because it's flight performance, cockpit and safety standard is so much lower than that of the intermediate trainer K-8. It could be a huge jump for pilots to go directly from CJ-6 to K-8. It can't be too easy to go from a plane with a maximum speed of 280 km/h to a plane with a maximum speed of 800 km/h at sea level. From the numerous sources I read, it appears that Hongdu and PLAAF completed some evaluation on the requirements of the next generation basic trainer in 2003. After that, Hongdu started this CJ-7 project. As early as 2004, Hongdu approached Yakovlev to evaluate Yak-152 and was satisfied with its performance. They decided on starting co-development/production project for Yak-152K and finished design sometimes in 2006 to 2007. The first flight is probably due to happen sometimes in 2010. There is no question that this plane far exceeds the performance of CJ-6, but the question is why Hongdu needs to approach the Russians about developing something as simple as a basic trainer. I understand that it's far simpler/less costly to just build upon a proven existing design. However, it shouldn't be that difficult for Hongdu to develop something that's not drastically revolutionary with modern cockpit. CJ-6 is dirt cheap (costs around 260,000 RMB = $40,000) to purchase and operate, whereas CJ-7 is significantly more costly (estimated around 1.8 million RMB = $265,000) to purchase and also to operate. I've read conflicting report on this. Some say that CJ-7 will use the 360 hp piston engine of Yak-152, while others say that CJ-7 will actually use the propulsion system of N-5B. If the combination of M601F turboprop engine + V508E 3-blade propeller of N-5B is used, that would provide additional cost associated with trying to localize the production of a new set of propulsion (since PLA is paranoid about relying on foreign engine). If you add the cost of engine on top of the cost of development cost + sharing profits with Yakovlev, it probably would've made more sense if they just developed it by themselves with engine that's already available in China. So, I think that even though CJ-7 will represent a tremendous improvement over CJ-6 in basic trainer, Hongdu could have done a much better job at developing this. It's also important that they they CJ-7 appealing to not only the military, but also civilian users, so that it can be exported worldwide like CJ-6.

China is probably in the best shape in the intermediate trainer class, because K-8 (aka JL-8) pretty much become the trainer of choice for third world air forces. Of course, K-8s development has not been without its own problems. The military embargo forced China to switch to non-Western options for ejection seating, avionics and engines. The domestic license production of the Ukrainian engine AI-25TLK became WS-11. It took from the mid-90s to 2003's production certification to fully address all of the problems in fully indigenizing its production and correcting all the small problems. Even now, the performance of WS-11 still trails that of AI-25TLK (which itself is not that modern). Aside from the engine problems, everything has been smooth sailing for K-8. It has over 400 on order from PLAAF and PLANAF, with over half of that already delivered. It not only scored that infamous local production deal for 120 K-8E with Egypt, but also scored export deals with Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Ghana. By the end of 2008, over 250 K-8s had already been exported. I also read last year that the 500th K-8 was produced. This year, we saw further export deals to Venezuela for 18, Bolivia for 6, a mysterious African country for 10 (possibly Sudan) and a mysterious Asian country for the licensed production of 60. So, they've basically landed almost 100 orders in the past year. Personally, I think they still have a lot of export potentials in the future. I think Pakistan would need even more K-8s than it had already ordered. PLAAF and PLANAF could possibly order a few more once everything is delivered. It certainly looks like the total production of K-8s will go over 1000.

The lead in flight trainer (LIFT) class is the most heavily contested class. The unassuming JJ-9 by Guizhou (GAIG) is pitted against the glamorous L-15 by Hongdu. There might be another entrant to this class by CAC, but let's ignore that for this discussion. Right from the start, everyone expected L-15 to be the LIFT of choice for PLAAF due to what appears to be higher performance specifications in flight performance, avionics, airframe material and service life. Just looking at the performance, L-15 would've been comparable to the latest over-hyped LIFTs around the world like Yak-130, M-346 and T/A-50 that are more being marketed as attack aircraft than just trainers. However, L-15 has been marred by similar issues to CJ-7 like slow development process, a foreign engine which was not available at the first flight and over reliance on Yakovlev. The prototype 05 made its first flight a while ago. It is made up of 25% composite material, has structural life of 10,000 hours/30 years and uses the recently developed AI-222-25. I think it will eventually be equipped with the afterburner version AI-222-25F and be able to fly supersonic, but this engine has suffered through slow progress in development. Factory 331 got a final assembly line/licensed production for this engine from Ukraine, but the question is how long it will take for them to actually be able to finally produce it locally. If it took them 9 years to obtain production certification for WS-11, how long would it take for the more advanced and less mature AI-222-25F? On the other hand, GAIG went with a more conservative route for JL-9 and developed it in about much 4 years (2001 to 2005). When it was found to not completely satisfy PLAAF's requirements after CFTE testing, GAIG got the new PLAAF requirements and improvement suggestions from test pilots in 2006, and finished the redesign in 2 months. This project was officially adopted by PLAAF in 2007 and received the JJ-9 designation. First batch of 5 were delivered for evaluation by the end of 2008. Just in the past month, it passed the technology certification and is entering series production for PLAAF and PLANAF. L-15 on the other hand is not officially adopted by PLAAF. If it were, it would have a name starting with JJ. A recent report suggests that one of the suppliers (supplying tails for JJ-9) delivered 5 sets this month. If that represents 5 JJ-9s are produced per month, then it's currently on pace for 60 a year. In that case, it would replace much of the existing JJ-7 LIFTs very fast. I don't know what PLA's exact numerical requirement is, but I think it's probably going to be comparable to JJ-7. Including possible newer variants like a naval trainer or an attack aircraft, it's probably going to be comparable to K-8. For the record, I don't think JJ-9 is being produced at 60 per year already, but rather they are just ramp up the production for the first regiment of JJ-9s. The question is whether or not L-15 can be developed fast enough to grab a large portion of the pie. Both trainers are said to satisfy PLAAF's requirements for future (4th and 5th generation fighter jets). Right now, L-15 is much more expensive to purchase than JJ-9 ($15 million to less than $10 million for JJ-9) and also said to be more expensive to operate. L-15 does theoretically have the advantage of longer structural life and also longer service life for its engines. So even though JJ-9 is much cheaper than L-15's, you might need to buy 2-3 JJ-9s to last the same period as 1 L-15. However, as of now, it's pretty easy for PLAAF and PLANAF to choose between a production-ready trainer with no engine issues and a still developing trainer with serious engine issues.

For all of the jabs that Hongdu has taken over CJ-7/L-15 projects, K-8 actually gives me some hope that these projects might get turned around eventually. After all, it took over 10 years after the first flight before they really localized the engine and became really popular with PLA.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Work on Varyag + full scale mock up in Wuhan

In the past day, the Chinese military forums have been buzzing over what appears to be a full scale mock up at the Wuhan ship design institute (also known as 711 institute of China Ship Design Institute). Pictures of it can be shown below. From the look of it, the island is going to contain all of the radar and electronics on the real carrier. I find it hard to believe that the building itself can take the pounding of the helicopter or the naval fighter taking off and landing. I also question that the ski jump is strong enough to support a naval fighter taking off. I'm not sure if this facility has any aircraft elevators, but I can't really spot one. So, I think this will definitely be used to test the radar and electronics that will be on a real carrier (in this case, it looks to be what Varyag's island construction is to become). They replicated surroundings to make the testing more realistic. And I think there are other carrier operations that they can prepare for. Although, it's hard to tell what they will be just looking at these pictures.

We see a picture of Z-8 and something that looks to be a flanker on top of the roof. From this, I think it indicates that naval flanker and Z-8 are likely to be form the air wing for the first generation of carriers. Now, if we look at the pictures, the Chinese naval fighter looks to be slightly different from your typical flanker. In the pictures below, it looks this fighter might have canards. Now, many people have commented that the naval flanker here (I believe J-15 is designation given in PLA) is a mock up. I've seen some of the helicopter mock ups they've put on ships during the testing phase and at least Z-8 isn't a mock up. I also don't think the naval flanker is a mock up. Although, it also doesn't make sense for them to put a prototype on there when they are not likely to conduct flight testing.

Finally, we also have a bunch of pictures showing the recent modification efforts of the island on the Varyag. Although the pictures are kind of murky, it appears that they have several faces ready to be installed something like the APAR radar from 052C (aka HLJG346)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Aerospace Engine situation with the big transport

As you guys all know, the biggest problem that PLAAF have always had is the lack of high performing engine series. J-10 still relies on AL-31FN. We didn't see any new J-10s for a while, because they used up all of the AL-31FNs. J-11B used WS-10A for a while, but had so much problems that many of them are also using AL-31F. H-6K project was basically stopped, because the suspension of the contract for 240 D-30KP2. J-10 and H-6K production basically only restarted recently because China started to purchase engines from the Russians again. Similarly, the L-15 project has been delayed and Z-10 project has been delayed. Of all the project, I think the one that is the most important for PLAAF and has suffered the most is the large transport project. It's quite apparent that PLAAF needs something in the class of D-30KP2 to equip not only the large transport but also H-6K, newer variants of H-6 and possible future bomber projects. We all know about the tremendous need for large transport in PLAAF. They basically can't build newer KJ-2000 units, because they are running so low on IL-76 airframes.

Having said all of this. It appears that the prototypes and first batch of the large transport will be using D-30KP2 or the domestic version WS-18. WS-18 is being produced by ChengFa group (Website). Chengdu engine group (aka Factory 420) is also tasked with license production of L-15's engine AI-222-25F. People will ask why they are depending on something so old (China has had access to it since the 80s when they imported Tu-154). The truth is that PLAAF just needs something that works. D-30KP3 at this point is still not ready for mass production, so they have to go with KP2. PS-90A is a possibility, but PLAAF is going for the cheaper option for purchase and license production (or possibly unlicensed production). Therefore, WS-18 is pretty much just going to be the domestic version of D-30KP2, although maybe slightly improved in fuel efficiency and such. This engine was said to have had its first flight in January of 2007, so it should be ready for the large transport when it makes its first flight in 2012. It will probably ready even earlier for H-6K, H-6U and other variants of H-6.

On top of WS-18, there is also a high bypass turbofan engine under development with its core based on WS-10A. It will eventually be the engine used to power the large transport. I think a variant of it will probably also be pitched as the engine for C919. Now, we all thought that Shenyang Liming (606 Institute) was going to be developing it, but we found out recently that the work has been given to Xi'an AeroEngine (410 Institute). In many ways, it does make sense for XAEC to develop/produce this engine, because Xi'an is also the home of XAC/SAC, which is in charge the large transport project. However, Shenyang Liming is the developer of WS-10A and follow-up variants, so it's unusual for the large bypass variant of the engine to be given to someone else. At this point, Liming still has WP-14 Kunlun series, WS-10A Taihang series, a bunch of domestic gas turbines (QC-70, QC-128, QC-168, QC-185 and QC-260). We all know about the troubles in the WS-10A, but I've read that the Kunlun series also have had a lot of problems. Amongst all the major gas turbine projects, only QC-70 and QC-128 are ready for production. XAEC is now working on WS-9, WS-15, 1/3 of the production work for WS-10A, the large bypass turbofan engine for large transport and most of the production for QC-280. As the result of this, XAEC will be responsible for the future power plant of JH-7A, 5th gen fighter, large transport/special mission aircraft and major warships and also be very instrumental in the power plant of J-10 and J-11. A few years ago, it seemed that Liming was becoming the dominant engine maker in China due to its role in Kunlun and Taihang series, which were the 2 most important aerospace engine projects at that time (and possibly still are). However, due to its failure in those 2 projects and delays in the gas turbine projects, it has really lost out to XAEC, which performed well with WS-9 and QC-280. I think the shift of this extremely high profile project is a sign that PLA is really unhappy with Liming.

Anyhow, there is a really good article written by SAERI (Shenyang AeroEngine Research Institute). It talks about the 2 engine possibilities (WS-18 and the one based on WS-10) that could be used to power a domestic large transport. The engines are designed to be comparable to D-30KP2 in size/dimension. China has two previous attempts at medium to large turbofan engine. WS-5 from the 60s had a bypass ratio of 1.49 and WS-6 had a bypass ratio of 1.85. Comparatively speaking, D-30KP2 has a bypass ratio of 2.42 while a modern airliner engine like CFM-56-5A has a ratio of 6 and PS-90A has a ratio of 4.6. In this article, SAERI put out to proposals:
  1. WS-Y1 (I guess WS-18 here) that has the same dimension as D-30KP2, with the same thrust, but slight improvement in the bypass ratio
  2. WS-Y2 (the one based on WS-10) that has slightly different ratio, with the same thrust, but bigger improvement in the bypass ratio

In the analysis, they believe that the air consumption of Y1 would be 285 kg/s and of Y2 would be 380 kg/s. That will produce bypass ratio of around 3 for Y1 and 5 to 6 for Y2. The fan diameter of Y1 would be 1460mm like it is for D-30KP2 and 1700 mm for Y2. The thrust at takeoff mode would be the same for Y1 and Y2 as it is for D-30KP2 (12000 kgf). At an altitude of 11000 m and speed of mach 0.8, the fuel consumption rates would be 0.67-0.68 for Y1 and 0.6-0.62 for Y2 compared to 0.7 for D-30KP2 and 0.595 for PS-90A. And the takeoff fuel consumption rates would be 0.45-0.48 for Y1 and 0.35-0.38 for Y2 compared to 0.51 for D-30KP2.

Unfortunately, it's hard to verify how close these figures would be to the engines that get developed. However, due to the fact that this was written by SAERI which basically developed the engines that are now being produced by Shenyang Liming, I think the published numbers should not be that far from the truth. It looks like they have achieved much better fuel consumption numbers than D-30KP2, but still trails PS-90A and obviously the latest variants of CFM-56. Something along the line of Y2 is more than enough for China's large transport needs. However, I find it curious that they think they can develop a domestic engine option that can compete against next generation Western options (like PW's GTF series), when it would likely be inferior to CFM-56-7 series.

The order for 240 D-30KP2 made in 2005 is finally getting carried out this year. These engines might all be delivered by 2012. I think China chose this ahead of KP3 and PS-90A due to maturity of the engine, its lower cost and not wanting to support two lines of high-bypass Russian turbofan engines. By that time, WS-18 should be more than ready to be equipped. WS-10-118 (which is the code name for the large bypass engine prototype based on WS-10A) will probably be ready 3 or 4 years later for the domestic large transport project. WS-18 will still be produced at that point to service the existing fleet using D-30KP2 engines.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More from the 60th anniversary parade

As part of the 60th anniversary, we really saw a lot of high quality photo and story coming out. Here are some of the really high quality pictures we've seen this week.










529 - 054A with East Sea Fleet

530 - 054A with East Sea Fleet

3rd 054A from HD shipyard

115 - 051C

HLJG346 - the APAR of 052C

a computer model of HLJG346

170 launching HH-9 missile



H-6U tanker


2 J-10s


We saw a lot of really interesting pieces coming out unveiling about the new operational weapon systems. It was really interesting to find out that the radar system of KJ-2000 alone costs around 1.4 billion RMB (over $200 million). It was also good to see the passive waves of CJ-10 and YJ-62 missiles. It shows that these missiles are really entering services and bring an element of long range strike that people often seem to ignore (while concentrating more on ballistic missile threat). One of the more interesting pieces was this article.











新型舰空导弹可垂直发射 能拦截各种空中目标




















It unveils numerous things including the following:

  • Type 05 AAAV (aka ZBD/ZTS-04 or the Chinese EFV) contains advanced fire control system, satellite navigation system, night vision system and communication system. It says that this AAAV is world class.

  • HQ-16 and HHQ-9 were shown in this year's celebration. It says that the new missile systems use modular design and can be launched from VLS. They have all-weather, all-direction, multi-wave, multi-directional interception of aerial targets. It has strong interception capability against multiple targets (including sea-skimming missile and low flying targets). It has fast reaction speed, strong ECM capability and high interception rate.

  • It mentions a new AShM (I think it's talking about YJ-83) have a ship-to-ship variant and an air-to-ship variant. This missile is small, light, long-ranged, digital, intelligent and can plan the full length of attack path. It says that in the recent exercises, YJ-83 has remained very accurate even under heavy electronic warfare.

  • It mentions YJ-62 as the new shore based AShM. The missile has long range, strong potency, sea-skimming flight profile and can be part of a multi-directional attack.

  • Finally, it mentions the new JH-7A, which is said to have much improved fire control, weapon load and precision strike capability. It is capable of firing Anti-ship missile, A2A missile, Land attack missile, anti-radiation missile, LGBs, rockets and "dumb bombs". It has done a lot training in long range low altitude penetration strikes, far beyond visual sighting strikes in complex ECM environment.