Saturday, May 30, 2009

A trip around HD Shipyard + Xi'an AeroEngine PLC

Recently, a bunch of new photos have been released from the HuDong shipyard. There have been a lot of activities for Pakistani Navy, because F-22P hulls are making great process. 252 looks like it will be ready for sea trial soon. 253 have been launched. You can see them below:
First, 252 and the closed-up look to sensors + weapons on it.

Second, pictures of the newly launched 253.

We also saw new photos of the 3rd 054A from HD Shipyard. Not much to say, probably has a while to go until sea trials.

On a side note, we've seen a video of a CCTV's broadcast on 054A (since it's on the Somalia mission right now). It was actually pretty extensive. They showed the ship under construction, photos taken from top and also inside the ship. They interviewed the person in charge of the Huangpu shipyard. It was quite obvious that they spent a lot of money buying the tools and machinery needed to ensure quality of 054A.

The other thing that was interesting from today is when I read the securities report of the Xi'an AeroEngine PLC (You can find a copy of it here). In case you don't know, XAE is in charge of producing WS-9 for JH-7A and also developing the new generation WS-15 engine. The interesting part is that the report discussed the WS-10A and QC-280 projects (not something we really expected out of XAE). In an interview with XAE, we find that about 1/3 of the parts for WS-10A are produced in XAE (even though the assembly is done at Shenyang Liming). It was interesting to find that the parts produced by XAE for the WS-10A is said to be doubling this year (so maybe WS-10A production is doubling?). The report also said that this is done to allow engine conversion on front line fighter jets (like J-10/11), which was a little unexpected.

I'm guessing nobody has ever heard of the QC/D-280 project before. Well, it is supposed to the fully localized version of UGT-25000 (aka DN-80). Back when 8 UGT-25000 was first exported to China in 1990s, China also got the license for manufacturing. Now, it appears that China has fully mastered the technology for it and can build gas turbine without Ukrainian help. It was already tested on 169. Now, it seems that QC-280 has successfully passed the tests, so it is declared ready for mass production. The report says that 20 QC/D-280 will be produced every year. That does not mean China will be building 5 destroyers or 10 (depending on the propulsion configuration). In fact, I'd think QD-280 (the electricity generator version) will take up the bulk of that. However, it is clear that QC-280 will be the gas turbine used for future Chinese destroyers.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Latest pictures from Dalian

I've actually had these photos for a few days, but have been too busy to post them. They've been posted in other places already, but I thought I could offer some of my thoughts. Here are the photos (The final one is a rough blueprint of Varyag):

The first thing I noticed was that there are 3 large cranes around Varyag, which means a lot of resources could be devoted to do the intended work. We also see some scaffolding around the island, which should allow workers to access the flight deck and do their work. The entire right side of the flight deck seem to be open. That's where the VLS for shipwreck missiles used to be located. Looks like a lot of work is going to be done there. One of the past theories is that an engine could lowered through there to provide for its propulsion. I guess we will just have to wait and see what they intend to do with it. In the first picture, you can see a circled block there. A lot of people are speculating that it could be a catapult, I think its dimensions don't seem to fit that theory. Again, another thing to watch out for. The other interesting thing is that the huge containers on the flight deck of the Varyag from the move have all been removed now. Maybe all of that stuff have already been installed. If that's the case, then they really have been working pretty fast on it.

That's about all from Varyag front, I'm sure we will get more photos soon.

We also some new photos of the submarine tenders out of the Guangzhou shipyard this week and they are as follows:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The story behind the stories for Varyag

A couple of weeks ago, we saw Varyag move from its old location to dry dock for some works. From all of the stuff that we've seen on the flight deck of Varyag in the recent photo, it's clear that they are going to do a lot of work on it. This move was supposed to happen sometimes last year, but China did not want to scare the world with such a show a military ambition (especially when it was so close to the Olympics). It has for the past year prepared the rest of the world for a Chinese aircraft carrier by telling various countries around the world that China should be allowed one. My personal opinion is that China should just tell the rest of the world "I have the 3rd largest economy, I'm one of the Permanent 5 on UNSC, I have the largest population and I need a couple of carriers". Instead, it's doing the same thing that it did before sending fleet over to Somalia. Does anyone think that countries that felt threatening about Chinese naval power would feel any safer after listening to the way it explained itself?

Having mentioned that, the next part that I want to address is Ukraine's role in Varyag. For many years, I've read people talking about how Ukraine got duped and tricked by China in the entire Varyag affair. I really think that's just nonsense. I think Ukraine knew exactly what was going to happen to Varyag when it was purchased. That is why it hasn't lodged any kind of complaints to China about this ship. Ukraine did want to receive heat from other countries for its role in China's aircraft carrier program, so it went along with the entire floating casino story line. Ukraine for the past few years have been in a competition with Russia for military exports to the Chinese market. In the past year, Ukraine just signed a new defense cooperation agreement with China, so the military cooperation between the two countries is growing. It is beating Russia in many contracts by offering lower rates and better services. It's kind of interesting to compare China's dealings with Ukraine and India's dealings with Russia. Both Russia and Ukraine had a rotting aircraft carrier that it had no real use for (Varyag and Admiral Gorshkov). Russia offered Admiral Gorshkov to India for free, but also forced India to buy its naval fighters and the continuing escalation cost of refitting the ship. Ukraine offered Varyag to China for $20 million, let China do its own refurbishing, is assisting China in its naval fighter development and also offering to help China train its pilots. You may be trying to figure out what I'm talking about, so I will go through with my theory. We know that Ukraine does not have the capability to produce naval fighters that it can sell to China for carrier. So, it is helping China and snubbing the Russians by selling China its T-10K prototype, an earlier prototype for Su-33. We know from Kanwa interviews that Ukraine is very much involved with China's flanker fleet through the sales of missiles like R-27, helping PLAAF with maintenance and overhaul of flankers. If China is working on its own naval flanker, then Ukraine is likely standing to gain through the sales of certain naval fighter specific subsystems, missiles and servicing agreements (although whether this actually happens remains to be seen). Ukraine also has Nikita, which is the only aircraft carrier training center from the Soviet times. As we know, the Russians are not really spending that much time training and operating its su-33 fleet and is also looking to build its own aircraft carrier training center. As it currently stands, the Ukrainians are not getting a lot of business at Nikita. On the other hand, PLAN is really looking to actively train enough pilots for 2 air wings. The latest news from Russia indicates that Ukraine has signed an agreement with China to lease this facility for its naval aviation school. I can imagine Ukraine will also be selling other naval training software/tools to China. There are also other areas that I think Ukraine can profit from cooperating with China on aircraft carrier. It can possibly sell the propulsion system for Varyag or future aircraft carrier (latest Chinese DDGs already use Zorya gas turbines). And since China is building escort ships for the carrier fleet, these ships will also need to purchase gas turbines from Ukraine. Aside from propulsion system, China could also be interested in other carrier subsystems that Ukraine produced for aircraft carriers in Soviet time. And finally, Ukraine is also supplying engines for the L-15 trainer and possibly supplying engines for China's new 10 ton helicopter. These two may become part of the air wing on future aircraft carriers, so Ukraine is potentially expanding markets for its aerospace engine factories. I think that this is a very beneficial relationship overall. Ukraine has certain aircraft carrier related technology and experience that it would otherwise have no customers for. China has the need for these technology and experience, but do not have access to many other sellers (actually, Russia is its only other choice). So generally, I think this deal is a win-win for both side, whereas the Admiral Gorshkov fiasco has really only benefited the Russians. The Russians managed to get rid of their rotting hunk of steel, received a lot of work for a shipyard that is not getting much business elsewhere, found a market for its Mig-29K fighters + Ka-31 helicopters and got paid by India to rebuild its carrier suppliers base/work force. The last two point are very important since these suppliers and fighters/heicopters will be needed for future aircraft carriers for Russian Navy and even India's indigenous carriers. The Ukrainians really needed to sell their rotting hunk of steel, didn't have the naval shipbuilding ambitions of Russia and also needed to sell whatever carrier technology/service that it still has before their shelf life runs its course. Therefore, it didn't mind that China is doing its own refurbishing/upgrades and assisting China in naval aviation. China probably benefited even more, because it got all the technology and carrier building experience it needed without having to deal with or rely on the Russians. Of course,

As an aside, the entire IL-76 saga was similar to this. China and Russia got into a huge disagreement over the pricing and Russia claimed that the plant in Tashkent is not able to produce the IL-76s needed. After Uzbekistan realized that Russia is taking away all remaining business by building a plant in Russia, it decided to negotiate directly with China to try to sell the blueprints, the technology and the assembly line to China. As it turned out, due to certain special interest groups, China overplayed its hand in the entire matter (maybe due to confidence from Varyag deal) and blew the negotiation with Uzbekistan. Now, it is forced to renegotiate with the Russians for the upgraded IL-476. I thought it's interesting how you can use the competition between Russia and other former Soviet Republics to get the best deal. Obviously, a lot of what I said here are my opinion, but I feel a lot of it is pretty close to the truth.

Monday, May 4, 2009

More 054A in HP

I kind of dropped the ball recently by not posting the 054A that just got launched at the HuDong shipyard. I will post a few pictures below, but I just got hold of the first picture of the 4th 054A from HP shipyard. Remember, the 3rd one only got launched a couple of months ago, so this is really pretty good progress.

Since this one is under construction, we can conjecture that HD shipyard also has another one also under construction. Which means, we are basically getting our 2nd batch of 4 054As this year. It has slight modifications to the first 4, but all the major sensors and weapon systems look the same. Which makes sense, because I think 054A pretty much satisfies all of the requirements of PLAN right now. It can obviously be improved, but China finally has a ship that is amongst the elites in the world in its class (Probably, the most comparable ship to it would be the Formidable class).

Anyhow, some pictures of 054A that just got launched a few days ago at HD shipyard. It was actually pretty impressive how fast it got launched. Most of the Chinese forums speculate that the 3rd 054A from HD and HP shipyard will get the numbers 569 and 571, which means they will be joining the SSF. I guess NSF is not exactly on top of the priority list these days.