Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 in Review

2012 was an interesting year to look back on for PLAN and PLAAF. We saw the commissioning of No. 16 Liaoning carrier, the launching of the new 052D class destroyers, the first flight of J-31 fighter jet and what appears to be taxi-run and impending first flight of Y-20 strategic transport. Here are what I think are the 10 biggest story of 2012.

1. The Aircraft Carrier project:
Many of the PLAN followers have waited for the commissioning and the first flight off Liaoning for over 7 years. Since 2005 when ex-Varyag was first moved into Dalian shipyard dry docks for extensive work and painting of PLAN colours, internet forums have been buzzing with questions about when/if this ship will ever join service. The negotiation for 50 Su-33 and the application of the non-skid layer in 2006 further moved us to think that this ship will join service. However, what appeared to be extensive period of inaction in 2007 and 2008 made us question some of those thoughts. When it was moved to dry docks again in 2009, it appeared just a matter of time before this ship will enter service. Much of the outfitting of sensors and self-defense weapons were installed in 2010 to 2011. We even saw a replica of Liaoning in Wuhan. The sea trials for Liaoning started in August of 2011 and it officially joined service on September 24th of this year after 10 sea trials. We did not find out until later, but numerous touch-n-go had already been completed on this ship by that point. The monumental first take-off and landing with J-15 naval aircraft off Liaoning was completed by Nov 20th. More of the photographed take-off and landings of multiple J-15s were accomplished on Nov 23rd. All in all, this marked the completion of the first stage of the carrier project. Now, China begins the long process of developing a fully operational carrier group with its own naval aviation doctrines.

2. Emergence of type 052D class DDG:
While the wait for this was not nearly as long, many PLAN followers have been waiting since at least 2008 for an improved surface combatant to the 052C class. The relocation of JiangNan shipyard and indigenization of DA80/DN80 gas turbine (QC-280) delayed the production of follow-on units for several years. By late 2010, the 3rd unit of the 052C class was launched at the new JN shipyard. Many PLAN followers were disappointed over the fact that the new 052C had no visible external changes compared to the first two 052C. Over the next year or so, 3 more 052Cs were launched in JN shipyard. They are all in various stages of sea trials and fitting out at the moment. By August of this year, we had the long awaited launching of the much anticipated 052D class. As discussed in previous blog entries, 052D class is fitted with an entirely new generation of air defence and combat system. In addition, we saw the introduction of the Chinese version of MK-41 VLS that can launch different types of missiles and fit multiple missiles per launch cell. When we compared the overhead shot of 052D vs 052C, it appears that the size of the ships did not change much, but the new VLS and other weaponry have allowed more capabilities to be packed in the same hull. It appears that at least 4 052D are planned at the moment. Whether or not we will see more of this class depends on the development of PLAN's next generation of large surface combatants. 052D class is not only important in its much improved combat power versus the 052C class, but it's also very important in testing out this new generation of sensors and weapon systems that will likely be used by future surface combatants of different sizes. One thing to look forward to is the different missiles that will be developed and fitted into the new VLS. Another thing to look forward to is whether this will just be an interim class of 4 ships before a new series of surface combatant comes along or will this be part of a much larger part of PLAN's future.

3. Appearance of Y-20 transport:
This is still a very recent story, so its importance has not really been explored much. One only has to look at all the delayed PLAAF programs to see how important this project is. The strategic lift has been so lacking that China have recently been forced to purchase refurbished second hand IL-76s from Russia. At this point, the IL-76 imported in the early 90s may not have much service life left. At the same time, PLAAF currently only operated 4 KJ-2000 AEWC&C, because PLAAF does not have enough remaining IL-76 units. Other projects that would need something like Y-20 include aerial refueling tanker, ABL, next generation AEWC&C and various other special missions project. The successful induction and mass production of this aircraft would provide a huge leap in PLAAF's force projection capabilities. I put this ahead of J-31, because Y-20 would contribute more to PLAAF's desires to transform from an air denial force to air dominance more than any other project. From this point on, it will be interesting to see how fast Y-20 can join services. As shown with other projects like A400M and C-2, a lot of delays can happen in the development of large military transport.

4. Appearance and first flight of J-31 fighter jet:
The appearance of China's second 5th generation project caused a lot of uproar back in September. It had been speculated for a long time that SAC might have a competing project to CAC's J-20. As mentioned in previous blog entries, it's still not clear exactly what will happen to this aircraft. It looks to be offered in the export market. It is probably going to be inducted into PLAAF as a compliment to the larger and more expensive J-20. There might be a naval version that gets developed to replace J-15 as PLAN's second generation of naval aircraft. With its experience from developing J-15, a naval version of J-31 should be well within SAC's capability. As we move forward, it will be interesting to see the installation of a domestic engine option that J-31 was designed for. Clearly, the gap between RD-93 and the exhaust indicates that RD-93 isn't the permanent solution to J-31. There will be sometimes before J-31 is ready.

5. Introduction of Z-10 and Z-19 to the world:
The development for Z-10 started in 1998 and was known to the world by the early 2000s, but was kept almost completely confidential for the past 10 years. It first flew in 2003, but was delayed when the PT6C-76C engines embargo was imposed by the Canadian government. The project was delayed until 2009 when a lighter version was developed using the less powerful WZ-9 engine. Z-19 development started probably late last decade and first flew in 2010. It was not kept to the same level of secrecy as Z-10. In this past year's Zhuhai air show, both Z-10 and Z-19 were unveiled to the world. We saw much TV coverage in addition to flight displays from Z-10 and Z-19 units. The most interesting find of this past year was that Z-10 and Z-19 are far wider deployed than we previously estimated, since both only officially achieved operational clearance in the past 2 years. With pictures of different serial numbers, we are able to identify the existence of Z-10 in 5 different PLA LH brigades and Z-19 in 4 different PLA LH brigades. At the present time, each brigade that has Z-10 and/or Z-19 have 12 of each helicopter. Moving forward, it's likely that Z-10 and Z-19 will be deployed to all of the army aviation brigades in the next couple of years. That would represent quite a jump in the capabilities of PLA LH, which had been relying mostly upon Z-9s and Mi-17s up to this point.

6. The continued high tide of PLAN:
2011 was the start of a new wave of shipbuilding for PLAN. This trend only accelerated into this year. Most of the major Chinese naval shipyards have been very busy with naval and civilian maritime ministry orders in the past year. Part of this could be the downturn in the world's shipbuilding market, but an even larger part is that the time has come for this second wave of PLAN modernization (the first being from 2003 to 2006). JiangNan shipyard has been leading the way with 8 052C/D ships in various stages of completion before commissioning along with construction of 039B submarines and Minesweepers. HuDong shipyard has continued its work with at least 3 054A frigates along with Type 903 AOR and multiple 056 patrol ships. Huangpu shipyard is finishing up on its 054A orders, but is building numerous 056 patrol ships, small specialty naval ships and cutters for different maritime agencies. One of the prominent sightings at HP shipyard is the number of rescue ships and CMS ships that are in various stages of completion. Wuchang shipyard also has its shares of cutters along with 039B submarines and 056 patrol ships. Even the smaller shipyards around the country have been getting many orders for auxiliary ships, smaller combat ships and rescue ship/cutters for civilian ministry. The only one that seems to not be getting much work right now is Dalian shipyard. Going forward, this heavy construction activity should continue into next year with JN, HD and HP shipyard continue being the largest naval shipyards in the country.

7. The 056 program:
This interim class between 022 FACs and 054A FFGs has been speculated since 2007. As we saw large number of cutters entering service with the civilian maritime agencies, the demand for this interim class for patroling nearby waters by the navy seem to no longer be there. But by late 2010, it was quite clear that PLAN intends to build this new class of ships. It is expected to replace the roles of 037s and Jianghu class FFGs to conduct naval patrol in South China Sea and provide littoral defense. I think what surprised me was the huge ramp up in the production of 056s. Back in 2010, I was expecting something similar to 054A with production of a couple of early unit, some testing period and then large scale production. The 056 program seems to follow an even more aggressive production schedule than 022 FACs. We are seeing four shipyards (HuDong, HuangPu, WuChang and LiaoNan) producing 056s simultaneously before the first 056 was ever launched. In fact, the first 056 launched from both HP and HD shipyard had their funnels and the bow section reworked after they were already launched. Even with HP shipyard slowing down a little bit recently, there have been at least 7 056s launched in the past 8 months. One 056 from both HP and HD shipyards have already gone out for sea trials. Going forward, it looks like 056 could easily see a production run of over 30 units. It would represent a huge leap over the performance of 037s and Jianghu ships that it will be replacing. As higher priority projects fall in the hands of HD and HP shipyard, we may see some smaller shipyards (in addition to LiaoNan) get orders for 056.

8. Success of Shenyang AC:
It has been a really good year for Shenyang AC. For the past few years, SAC was loosing out to its little brother CAC, who have been successful with J-10 and J-20 project along with export successes with JF-17 and F-7. The J-11B program was delayed for long periods by production failures of FWS-10. Since 2011, FWS-10 has been put on the right track and J-11B/S can now be considered to be successful. On top of that, the successful take-off and landing of J-15 fighter jet along with the first flight of the two-seated version J-15S show that Shenyang has successfully navalized J-11B/S. The unveiling and first flights of J-31,J-16 (China's Su-30 equivalent) and J-15S this year are all great success stories for SAC. SAC is also reported very active with UAV and UCAV projects, so there is a lot to look forward to out of SAC next year.

9. The expansion of civilian maritime agency: Back in 2010, China announced that it will build 30 marine law enforcement vessels over 5 years. I think this is just the plans for Chinese Maritime Surveillance rather than all 5 of the civilian agencies. We can see this massive expansion just by seeing all of the new cutters that are produced at HuangPu and WuChang shipyard. What we often don't see is the smaller shipyards that are also building smaller cutters (of 600 ton class) for CMS. The smaller shipyards have also been busy building smaller cutters (300 to 600 ton class) for FLEC and Maritime Police. On top of the new ships, numerous naval ships that were decommissioned recently have been sent to shipyards to get refurbished for use by CMS and FLEC. Some of the new cutters are used to patrol the disputed waters with Japan and ASEAN. Other cutters are been delivered to coastal provinces to provide security. So, it's wrong to just think this ramp up is purely targeting Japan and Vietnam. Other than the maritime police, the cutters for other agencies are completely unarmed. So while they can look menacing, they are not military ships.

10. Increased transparency:
While PLA is still less transparent than what Western countries would like to see, it has made a lot of effort in increasing transparency. Online military blogs such as this one are more in touch with PLA programs than ever before. Part of that is due to the amount of photos we get on programs that were previously seen as classified. We see pictures of new aircraft projects well before the first flight. Outside of nuclear submarines, I really can't think of any PLAAF or PLAN project that is hidden anymore. At the same time, the Chinese government is putting more effort out there to explain its defence programs like the carrier project and most recently with the Y-20 project. None of this is done accidentally. PLA has increased confidence over the weapon systems that are being developed and deployed. And it also wants to show that to address concerns from other countries.

There are also stories that haven't been mentioned much, but are very important in my opinion. Below are the top 5 under rated stories of 2012:

1. Production of more 052C and 054A ships:
With all of the new ships coming into service, the continued production of 052C and 054A get overlooked a little bit. The production of 054A is going beyond 16, because PLAN has been so pleased with the cost and capability of this ship. 054A is already the work horse of PLAN in major exercises, missions to Gulf of Aden, and other blue water deployment. By the end of its production run, 054A would effectively have replaced all of the old Jianghu ships while pushing the Jiangwei ships to secondary duties. At the same time, the induction of 052C into East Sea Fleet will make the fleet fully modernized by 2014 (all of the old Ludas, Jianghus and Ming class submarines would be replaced). PLAN is no longer in a phase of discovering new capabilities, but mass deploying these new capabilities.

2. Continued expansion of MCM ships:
Another area where PLAN is continuing to modernize is in mine warfare. Unknown to a lot of observers, 3 new Type 081 minesweepers were launched this year bringing the total to 8. Along with the 2 more advanced Type 082II MCM ships, PLAN's MCM operation is continuing to see quantum leap over the old Soviet era T-43 class minesweepers.

3. Ever increasing complexity of PLAAF exercises:
Along with the impreovement in hardware, it seems like the software part of PLA is also improving. The PLAAF version of red flag exercise at Dingxin is getting more and more complex every year. PLAAF has also introduced it's own Top Gun system with awarding of "Golden helmet" to pilots who perform well in the different combat scenarios.

4. The appearance of Y-8 High New 6 maritime patrol aircraft
ASW has long been PLAN's greatest weakness. A large part of that is the lack of a dedicated maritime patrol aircraft designed for ASW missions like P-3C. Although it has to join service with PLANAF, Y-8 High New 6 should eventually fill that role. Knowing that Shaanxi AC can only produce so many platforms every year, PLANAF will really have to battle out with PLAAF for Category III platforms to be installed for this mission.

5. Increase exports of naval and civilian patrol ships
In this past year, an increased sighting amongst Chinese shipyard are military or patrol ships built for export. Most recently, we have seen patrol ships built for Bangladesh, Namibia and Pakistan and refurbished Jianghu ships for Burma and Bangladesh. On top of that, Pakistan has just signed a contract for 4 more F-22P. Since China doesn't report on its naval exports, we really don't know about those deals until we see them taking shape in one of the numerous naval shipyards around the country.

So, that concludes an extremely eventful year for PLAN and PLAAF. There is certainly a lot to look forward to in 2013. It has also been a big year for me personally and I hope we all have a good end of the year.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

J-15 vs Su-33 vs Mig-29K

This past week, there was an article on People's daily called China's J-15 fighter superior to Russian Su-33

I had a couple of thoughts reading through it. My first thought was that finally China is actually defending itself against some of these Western and Russian accusations. It drove me crazy back in the days to see Russian media quoting different people blasting China for copying its weaponry and for making excuses for not fulfilling contracts like the one for IL-76/78. Through all of that, there was nobody from AVIC1 or PLA that spoke against some of those claims. The only times I heard official denials were regarding claims of China selling J-10s to Iran and purchasing Su-35s from Russia. Those were clearly crazy rumours that spread because China did not step in earlier to deny these things. Going forward, I hope CMC/PLA puts a stronger PR effort out there to defend itself against some of the Russian claims.

My second thought was that while it was good to see China defending against Russian claims that a copy can never be better than the original, it should be obvious to everyone that J-15 is a superior fighter jet to the original Su-33. However, it's really not saying much, because J-15 is being compared against something that was developed in the late 80s. If after 20+ years, J-15 is not better than Su-33, then SAC should stop developing and producing aircraft. Compared to the original Su-33, J-15 include:
  • Having multi-role capability and can fire wide range of AAM, AShM, ARM and ground attack weapons
  • Having a more powerful and multi-role fire control system (probably using an AESA radar)
  • Having more powerful IRST/FLIR system, EW suite, RWR and MAWs
  • Having more modern avionics with modern data bus, mission computers, holographic HUDs, modern MMI and fiber optic wiring.
  • Using more composite material and lighter electronics to give better T/W ratio

Now, if the Russians had invested in modernizing Su-33, it could do all of the above. Although, we could argue whether it has the same wide range of ground attack weapons as China or if the sensors/avionics is as advanced or more advanced. It has chosen not to, because it has picked Mig-29K has the future naval fighter.

There are many reasons why it made more sense for the Russians to go with a modern Mig-29K instead of Su-33. My opinion is that India had already paid for the development of a modern Mig-29K as part of its effort to develop a 3 carrier fleet. At the same time, China had rejected Russia's 3 step proposal of first taking the original Su-33s, then upgrading to a multi-role version with Su-30MK2 sensor/weapon suite and eventually upgrading to a final version with PESA radar. As a result, it made more sense for Russia to go with the already developed naval aircraft with production lines rather than re-opening the production lines and pay for the development cost of a modern Su-33. At the same time, Mikoyan needed these orders a lot more than Sukhoi (which has a long backlog of domestic and export orders).

Looking back, I think that China obviously made the right decision to develop J-15 on its own with some help from the purchase of T-10K-3. The experience from developing naval version of J-11B will help SAC develop next generation of naval aircraft like a naval version of J-31. At the same time, there was no reason for China to pay the Russians to develop modern version of Su-33 if it could develop a modern version of J-15 by itself. It's similar to my last post about China's choice of purchasing MKK rather than getting involved in a long running project like MKI. Imports from Russia are always considered interim solutions. If domestic options can be developed in time, there really is no reason to get involved in a foreign project and pay for the development cost.

Looking ahead, I think China is also better off with a J-15 class fighter than a Mig-29K class fighter. There was a competition between SAC and CAC over the first generation of a naval fighter jet. Flanker variant won over the J-10 variant because it was considered to have better multi-role capabilities. The current version of J-15 is already a multi-role aircraft. In the future, we could see different versions of J-15 like a single-seat buddy-to-buddy refueling, a two-seat EW version like Growler or a two-seated mini AEWC&C version. These are not things you can do with a lighter naval aircraft.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

How things have changed

Recently, we’ve been hearing from Russians about a proposed sale of 24 Su-35s to China. As with every other time, a lively debate re-ignited on Sinodefenceforum on whether or not this will/should happen. I got to be so annoyed with the endless debate on this topic that I stopped the thread until confirmation of actual sale happening.

Thinking back to the early days of joining sinodefenceforum (around 2005), it’s really interesting how much things have changed and how much my perspectives have changed over the times. Back then, J-10 had just joined services and Su-30MKK was considered the most powerful fighter jet in PLAAF. There was much discussion started by Indian posters online regarding the superiority of MKI over MKK. I bugged me a lot back then that Russians are restricting their export of advanced technologies to China. A big deal was made out of the advanced Israeli avionics, TVC nozzle and BARS radar on MKI that were not offered for MKK. Even Su-30MKK3s that were offered to China at that time were using Zhuk-MSE radar instead of phased array radar like Bars. Indians were convinced that their friendship with Russia and European embargo ensures that Russia would never be offering their best stuff to China. I still remember thinking to myself and wondering why the only phased array radar offered to China was the Pero antenna on top of N-0001VE radar. I remember being extremely excited when hearing that China was testing out Irbis radar. Finally, I thought China was getting something better than what India received. I was somewhat confused that China never opted for it. That was just one the many cases where it seemed like the Russians were denying their best stuff to Chinese requests. Others included a leasing of Akula nuclear submarine, outfitting of Admiral Gorshkov carrier and even Amur submarine.

It’s funny looking at how my perception of these situations have changed over the past 7 to 8 years as I have seen how things played out and found out more about what went on behind the scenes. Even as recent as 2008, I thought it made sense for China to get a couple of regiments of Su-35s as an interim option until the next generation of fighter jet comes into service. I was also in favour of import of Su-33s for a long time just in case that J-15 program hits some kind of snag. Probably the program that caused the biggest delays to PLAAF was the import of IL-76/78. When the original order of 38 of these aircraft were nullified due to the inability of Tashkent plant, we heard that Kazakhstan actually were offering to sell almost everything needed for IL-76 (with the exception of engine probably) to China, since the Russians were planning to move production back to Russia. For whatever reason, either Chinese hesitancy (due to domestic interests) scuttled the deal. These days, China is purchasing revamped/upgraded IL-76s that were in Russian storage as the interim option. Other than this, it seems like China knew exactly what was going on all along. It took what’s immediately available from the Russians and did not buy into any of the plans and development programs that they were offering.

In most of the naval program, it has become apparent in the recent years that Russian shipyards are in a bad condition, whereas Chinese shipyards are capable of cranking out modern war ships. I remember when the Ukrayina (an unfinished Slava class cruiser) was offered to China and it seemed to make a lot of sense at the time for China to purchase it, since they already have 051C using the same air defense system. Now, having looked at the development of 052C/052D while also seeing the problems that Sov have experienced with PLAN, it has certainly become inconceivable for China to go for this option. At the same time, China’s success in the Liaoning project along with the Russian struggles in INS Vikramaditya has shown that they made the right choice to go alone. The troubles experienced in the development of Amur submarine have forced Russia into procuring kilo submarines again. While at the same time, China has been mass producing 039B while building a mysterious new diesel submarine that is supposedly replacing the old Gulf class test sub. China has taken pretty much all it needed from Russia in its current generation of surface combatants and moved on to a newer generation of ships. It would make more sense now for the Russians to purchase ships from China rather than vice versa.

In aerospace world, much of the myths from back in 2005 have also been rejected. All along, it seemed like China looked at Su-30MKK as an interim solution in developing an offensive platform with mature technology while indigenously developing domestic options like J-11B. While the Chinese flanker program has suffered setbacks such as the delays in FWS-10 project, SAC has now turned it into a success with the recent progress in J-15, J-15S and J-16. As time goes on, it makes less and less sense for China to purchase Su-35 or other Russian options. It seems to me that China realized very early on to not fall for Russian sale pitches and only go for systems that are already mature. In the long term, it relied on its own defense industry for developing new weapon systems rather than Indian method of relying on co-production of imported technology. Even though we do not hear about it, PLAAF always had a plan of how it was good to develop a strong domestic military aviation industry. Its goal in original dealings with Russians was to use foreign technology to develop domestic industry rather than just getting finished products. China’s fourth generation aircraft programs no longer need any Russian assistance. In areas such as UAV and ground attack weaponry, China has already surpassed Russia. In the race to next generation fighter jet, China is at least on par with Russia in the development process. The only major areas it remains to be behind Russia are engine production, transport helicopters and military transport. And as we can see, those are pretty much the only items that China still purchases from the Russians.

Since 2005, China has experienced generational improvements in different defense areas. It is hard to see same level of improvement in the next 7 years. I have learnt to not speculate too much about the future, because I end up looking quite foolish in the process.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

First flight of J-15 off Liaoning

It has finally happened. We finally have news confirmation from Xinhua and also have pictures of J-15's first take/off and landing from Xinhua. The news of first landing came a couple of days ago, but this is the first time we have seen the photos.

Here is a timeline of China's naval flanker program just to give you an idea:
  • 2001, Assemble the T-10K-3 prototype that PLAN purchased from Ukraine. Use this for long term technical study.
  • January 2007, AVIC1 and PLAN’s major program (J-15) research work started.
  • July 2007, AVIC1 SAC had a large program tackling meeting
  • January 2008, blueprint work finished, start prototype research & production stage
  • August 31st 2009, J15-0001 had maiden flight
  • May 6th 2010, maiden take-off flight from the simulated jet-ski at CFTE. Continued production of single digit number of prototypes for future testing
  • August 10th, 2011, China’s first aircraft carrier went out for sea trials. J-15-0005/CFTE-554 and J15-0008/CFTE-556 prototypes made numerous fly-overs, low altitude touch and go landing along the way.
  • July 2012, Finished certification test flights, given permission to product single digit number of batch 0 J-15s for initial testing/trials works
  • September 25th, 2012, PLAN first aircraft carrier was named Liaoning and had its first sailing after commissioning in October
  • November 3rd, 2012, J-15S-0001 had maiden flight
  • Early November, 2012, Liaoning had second sailing after commissioning
  • November 20th, 2012, a PLANAF pilot made the first carrier landing trial.
  • November 23rd, 2012, Two PLANAF pilots flying 2 J-15s finished carrier op controlled first official takeoff and landing trials. This marks successful completion of first stage of the Carrier aviation project.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thoughts from Zhuhai Air Show

As we get to another year’s thanksgiving holiday, there are many interesting things in Chinese military development to be thankful for. The one thing that I look at from this month is the Zhuhai Air Show. Every two years, we get to see the best that China has to offer in the export market for civilian aircraft, fighter jet, UAVs, missiles, air defence weapons and engines. In the 2010 air show, we saw an expansion of UAVs. In the 2008 air show, we saw a whole new display of PGMs and ground attack weapons. In this year’s air show, I think the helicopters (especially Z-10 and Z-19) stole the show.

Prior to the air show, we had just found out about the existence of a second Z-10 and a second Z-19 regiment. It appears both helicopters had achieved operational clearance with PLA aviation. We saw a whole host of up close pictures of Z-10 and Z-19 (including cockpit of pilots with HMDS) from the air show. TV news officially reported that both of these helicopters have achieved combat capability.

We saw flight display from both Z-10 and Z-19 throughout this past week. From this and other photos, we now see 2 other regiments with Z-10. At the moment, it seems like each of the 4 brigades that have Z-10 have 12 or less Z-10s. That's the size of a dadui in PLA aviation rather a full regiment (which can be over 30 helos). I wonder if the goal is to have at least one dadui in Z-10 before increasing the number of Z-10s in each of the brigdaes. We might see some mixed regiments with Z-10s and Z-19s. These are just my speculations and other speculations from on line. Regardless, it appears that both Z-10 and WZ-9 turboshaft engine have reached a point of mass production. It would not surprise me if the production rate is already in the 30s per year. As more photos come out, we will get more information on their alignment.

At the same time, we are getting more information on other Chinese helicopter projects. According to deputy GM of AVICopter, Sun Qingmin, Z-15 equipped with WZ-16 engine will start trial flight next year and expected to be certified by 2014. Using a co-developed engine will allow Z-15 to join the army and the navy. The long delayed 10 ton helicopter project appears to be moving forward to. The picture below shows two proposals for this project. The first flight is set to be in 2014 and production to start by 2017. These two proposals look like Chinese versions of black hawk and NH-90. The engine is expected to either be WZ-10 turboshaft or WZ-16 from the Z-15 project.

There is also another conceptual project XQ-01 displayed in the air show as shown below that seems to be a high speed helicopter like Eurocopter X3 or Sikorsky X2.

They also displayed a whole range of air defence weaponry that are quite impressive. Along side models that we already know about like LD-2000 (land version of Type 730), FD-2000 (export version of HQ-9), LY-80 (export version of HQ-16) and FL-3000 (export version of HQ-10), we also saw the following new models:

DK-10 and DK-9C supposedly originates from the AAMs SD-10 and PL-9C. Although in DK-10's case, it seems to be quite different from SD-10. It also seems to be a prime candidate to be quad-packed in PLAN's new VLS with its active seeker, slim size, and engagement range of up to 50 km.

FK-1000 combines the KS-1000 missile with two dual guns and on board fire control system. It seems very similar to Russia's Pantsir-S1 air defence system.
TD-2000B is another Gun/missile air defence system which may already have been displayed previously.
And finally, we have CS/SA-1 type vehicle carrying Type PG-99 dual35 mm gun.

We saw the usual FT and LS series of PGMs along with a new TG series of LGBs. But there were also interesting new missiles from this show:

The one making the biggest noise is the CM-400AKG missile. It is advertised as a standoff missile for JF-17. It can go Mach 5.5 in terminal phase and has maximum range of 240 km.

They also have two different variants of TL-500 missile which looks like SCALP by MBDA.

We saw a couple of more CM series air to ground missile. The CM-506KG missile looks like the NLOS missile.

Finally, there was an anti-radiation version of SD-10 missile appearing as LD-10.

There were also other interesting things on display such as a model of the J-31 project, a full scale dispaly of Wing Loong UAV and a model of CH-4 UAV. All in all, it was a very interesting air show.

There were also a couple of interesting things we saw in PLAN world. J-15 apparently made its first successful landing on Liaoning this past week. We had an overhead shot of 052C and 052D which showed the two destroyers to be the same length. Although, it seems like 052D is about 0.5 to 1 m wider. Either way, 052D is basically the same size as 052C. The new VLS installations on 052D also look to be a lot smaller than the ones on 052C. And finally, the first 056s have gone on sea trials from both HP and HD shipyard.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What does J-31 tell us about China?

There have been many articles written about the recent first flight of J-31. If you go to sinodefenceforum where I moderate, you can see pages and pages of analysis by amateurs like myself over what we think the roles of this aircraft is along with its capabilities. If you read enough online articles, they will start repeating themselves over how close J-31 resembles to F-22 and F-35. And while this fighter looks to have stealth shaping, there are much more to achieving stealth than just resemblance to shaping of F-35. As usual, the one article that did peak my interest was the one by Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins. They looked at the growing Chinese aerospace industry and its increasing threat to Russia’s export markets.

I think that should be the general take away from this. In this year alone, Shenyang Aircraft Corporation has done first flights of J-31, J-16 (a fighter bomber along the lines of Su-34/F-15E) and J-15S (twin seat variant of J-15). In this past 2 years, China has flight tested 2 different 5th generation aircraft. The rumour is that the Y-20 heavy transport project will also make maiden flight this year. I personally consider Y-20 project and the associated WS-18 and WS-20 (or maybe WS-118) turbofan engine to be PLAAF’s most important projects because of its use in force multiplication and power projection. China desperately needs a platform like Y-20 that can be used for strategic lift, aerial refueling, AEW C&C, other C4ISR missions and as ABL platform. Regardless of how one would view Y-20s importance vs J-20/J-31, these are definitely the 3 most important PLAAF projects over the next few years. The short duration of 2 years between the maiden flights of these projects shows how much China’s aviation industry is growing. Each of these projects is also worked on by one of AVIC 1’s three largest aircraft companies (Shenyang, Chengdu and Shaanxi/Xi’an AC). In their civilian business, each of these companies is involved in the production of parts for numerous airliners for COMAC and Western aircraft manufacturers. When we include their military projects, we can see the amount of R&D that these companies are doing.

A while ago, I read about how Chengdu AC is now employing a whole new generation of engineers that learnt the entire fighter development process from J-10 project. This group of engineers has since developed JF-17 and J-10B. They are now the brains behind J-20, numerous new J-10 variants and UAV projects. I think they have also recruited foreign engineers (especially from Russia and Ukraine) that have really contributed in all the military projects. These companies are paying increasingly competitive wages to recruit capable engineers and employing modern Western design practices. 20 years ago, one would question whether or not China can actually develop a 4th generation fighter jet let alone a 5th generation fighter jet even if they received all of the necessary funding. With the experience from J-10 project, JH-7A project and indigenization of J-11 project, they now have the capability to develop modern fighter jet if given time and money. In comparison, Russia will be increasingly facing the question of whether or not it can develop modern aircraft due to a dwindling and aging engineering force from 20 years of brain drain. In the export market, Russia is still reliant on upgraded versions of flanker and fulcrum series of aircraft for most of revenues. With T-50 still years away from being available for export outside of India, Su-35 and Mig-35 are what Russia will be able to offer for its traditional markets. Once J-10 finally starts using domestic engine, China will be able to offer J-10 and JF-17 to compete against Russia in those markets. From the recent test flights, it looks J-31 will be available for export as F-60 not that far after T-50 becomes available. Until then, J-10B, future JF-17s and Chinese UAVs will be competitive against Russian exports. By the time J-31 becomes available, China will have something capable of taking serious market shares in the very lucrative fighter jet market. This has already happened to a degree in the naval export market, where the rapidly improving quality of PLAN ships have let to more capable ships available for exports. Chinese shipyards have been quite busy building smaller battle ships, FACs and OPVs for countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and African countries.

There are still many lingering questions about China’s aerospace engine industry. As we saw, J-31 made its first flight with RD-93 engines which are clearly not intended to fit the production versions of J-31. All of J-10A and JF-17 production aircraft are equipped with Russian engines. The first batch of Y-20 and H-6K will be equipped D-30KP2. However, it looks like FWS-10/A mass production has finally reached reliable stage. All of the recent batches of J-11B/S have been using FWS-10. J-15, J-15S, J-16 and J-20 prototypes have also been using FWS-10. In a recent photo, it looks like the first production J-10B may also be using FWS-10A. If that is the case, the majority of front line Chinese aircraft will soon be using Chinese engines instead of Russian ones.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

First flight of J-31

Shenyang Aircraft Corporation's stealth aircraft project J-31's prototype made its first flight yesterday. Here are some of the better photos that I saw online:

This is probably the best photo I've seen of J-31

This one has J-31 prototype with J-11BS chase aircraft

At this point, I'm not sure what the exact plan for this project is. That's something we will find out further down the road, but speculations include a future naval fighter jet or form part of hi-lo combo with J-20 or as a aircraft that will eventually be up for exports.

I've read numerous people who believe that this is result of China hacking into Lockmart computers. This is due to the fact that J-31 resembles F-35 from front profile and F-22 from side profile. I think that's complete nonsense. I've seen the struggles of SAC trying to indigenize flankers (which they received full blue prints + production line in the license production deal). It's very hard for me to believe that SAC can reproduce F-35 from stolen files without access to the same engines or the material or the complicated computer code that controls the whole aircraft.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Status of J-10

Recently, we've seen what appears to be the last batch of J-10A fighter jets making their test flights. The 6th batch of J-10As number all the way up to 637 were seeing making test flights. That indicates there are at least 37 J-10As in this 6th batch. There were also at least 37 J-10As in the 6th batch. One of the commonly asked questions now that J-10A is drawing to a close is how many of these planes are there. If we assume that each of 6 J-10A and 2 J-10S batches have around 37 aircraft, then theer would be 8 * 37 = 296 J-10s. Based on the number of actual regiments we've seen, this seems to be quite unlikely. While the 2nd j-10S batch and the last 2 J-10A batch have produced between 35 to 40 J-10s, the earlier batches probably had smaller number of aircraft.

As far as we can tell, there are 7 PLAAF regiments of J-10 (in 44, 3, 2, 1, 24, 9, 15th division) and 1 PLANAF regiment. In addition, there are also 12 J-10s serving at the August first flight demonstration team and somewhere betwen 15 and 20 J-10s serving with FTTC as aggressor squad. There should be 24 J-10s serving in the PLANAF regiment and 28 J-10s serving in most PLAAF regiments (although we may have 36 serving in the 24th division regiment). Assuming that the last batch of J-10s will be used to fully form the 15th division regiment, we should have at most 24 + 12 + 20 + 28 * 6 + 36 = 260 J-10s in service at that time. If we factor in a few crashed and replaced J-10s, we are only around 30 off that first calculation of 296 J-10s.

The next question is whether or not the number of engines adds up. Based on some help from fellow SDF member asif iqbal, it seems like the delivery of AL-31FN from Russia have been the following.

54 ordered in 2000 delivered between 2001-2005
100 ordered in 2005 delivered between 2005-2008
122 ordered in 2009 delivered between 2010-2011
123 ordered in 2011 delivery’s due between 2011-2013

That would represent 399 AL-31FNs delivered by sometimes next year. A couple of those have probably been used for the J-10B program while a good number of them will be used as spare engines for J-10s. An estimate of 250 J-10A and J-10S by the end of J-10A production run does not seem too crazy. The question of power plant for J-10 is kind of puzzling. It seems like the first batch of J-10B will also be using the base version of AL-31FN. While I do expect J-10B to eventually use WS-10A, it doesn't seem like that will be the case yet. At the same time, if PLAAF does place another order for AL-31FN, I think it would be quite disappointing if it will not be for a higher thrusted version.

At this point, the J-10B project has already been flying for close to 4 years. I had expected to already see the first batch of J-10B to come out by now, but it looks like we will have to wait until next year for that. It does seem like CAC has lost some of its shine recently to the number of new aircraft showing up at SAC. There could be many reasons for the amount of time they have been testing out the J-10B project. A lot of resources are used up for the J-20 projects while production for J-10A remains quite strong. But in the end, I think the change from J-10A to J-10B is quite a large change. CAC is testing out a lot of new technologies that will also be used for other projects.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The white elephants of PLAN

With the induction of Liaoning into PLAN this past week, PLAN has reached a milestone in its drive to modernize and becoming blue water navy. We can see now that China has gone through deliberate process of going from a fleet of Luda and Jianghu surface ships to one that will have a carrier escorted by 052D and 054A/B. It has mostly been a step by step process where they often had small production runs and incremental changes. While this has been a fairly successful strategy, it has also left some white elephants in the fleet. I want to look at why these ship were ordered and why they are “white elephants”.

I regard the Sovremenny class destroyer, the 051C destroyers and the Kilo class submarine. You may have noticed that these represent two of the three mentioned here are high profile import from Russia while the third one largely depended on the import of Rif-M air defence system from Russia. This is not a coincidence.

Focusing most of my attention on the Sovremenny class, it was by far the most powerful and modern battleships in PLAN when the first two were imported 12 years ago. Sovremenny class are equipped with medium ranged SAM, supersonic anti-ship missiles, 2 powerful AK-130 main gun, Ka-28 helicopters and advanced sensors. Compared to the most advanced PLAN ship at that time, 051B, it was stronger in AAW, ASW, ASuW and ground support. The two improved Sovremenny class that were ordered in 2002 came with upgraded versions of the same systems in addition to the Kashtan CIWS. If we just compare the weapon systems on Sovremenny class with that of 052B, it may appear that these ships are very comparable. Even now, some derivatives of subsystem from Sovremenny class can be found in many new PLAN surface combatants.

So, why would I consider 052B to still be an important part of PLAN, whereas I look at Sovremenny class as “white elephants”? The main reason is that PLAN has developed its own data link standard, combat and control system and communication system. Now, Sovremenny class is still powerful compared to most PLAN destroyers by themselves, but they have a hard time communicating with the newer PLAN surface combatants. Whenever one of the Sovremenny ships is used to be the command ship of a flotilla, it will have to install a lot of domestic communication and control systems to be able to give directions to other ships. Even using that and PLAN’s data link systems, there is only so much information that Sovremenny ships can take in and process at the moment. Compare them to the new 054A class ships that joined ESF in the past couple years, the additional firepower is outweighed by the modern combat systems and electronics. In PLAN exercises, 054A was used to lead a flotilla of 3 Sovremenny ships against threats of sea-skimming target drones. 054A’s combat system was able to develop a combat plan for its missile, gun and ECM systems using data processed from data link network to destroy all the targets. That’s just one of the problems with Sovremenny class right now. They can’t be used to lead a fleet, their steam boilers are not suitable for blue water deployments, their combat systems are too old, their firing rates is too slow and their air defense systems don’t react fast enough to counter multiple sea-skimming threats. PLAN has improved so much in the past decade, that their decision in 2002 to purchase 2 additional Sovremenny class now look like a panic decision to counter Taiwan’s purchase of Kidd class destroyers. It would be hard for PLAN to refit Sovremenny ships using domestic systems without some Russian help. If China can’t put modern combat and communication systems on Sovremenny ships, these ships will simply have more and more diminished roles in the future.

Although 051C class was built in China, it suffers through some of the same issues that Sovremenny class faces. Now, the two 051C class ships were built as insurance for the 052C program. Since 051C was making use of the existing 051B hull with a mature long ranged SAM (Rif-M), it was considered safer than 052C. As it turns out, 051C actually joined service after 052C did. The decision to basically shove Rif-M air defence system on the 051B hull compromised the hull design of 051C. As a result, 051C does not have a hangar and still uses steam turbines propulsion. Also, Russians have publicly stated that 051C carries a version of Rif that cannot engage anti-ship missiles. Due to the design of the Rif system, each 051C would only be able to engage targets from one direction. While 051C still has area defence capabilities due to the long range of S-300 missiles, their utility is pretty much restricted to provide air cover to the North Sea Fleet. It would be hard to imagine them as escorts to an aircraft carrier, because they provide marginal ASW capabilities and cannot provide the same level of air defense as 052C/D class. If you place two 052Ds together, they not only have those powerful MFR panels, but can also share radar data with each other and also with other ships and aerial assets. If two 051Cs were to provide area defence, they would have to be facing each other just to provide 360 degree air defense coverage and would still need 054As to provide fleet defence. On top of that, they don’t have the same level of data sharing and sensor tracking capabilities as 052C/D ships. As with Sovremenny class, 051C ships are also victims of the rapid advancement of domestic naval weapon systems.

Finally, the kilo class is still quite useful for PLAN. The problem is that their capabilities were over hyped by the Western media. As a follower of PLAN, I see photos of different conventional submarines serving in different bases. The problem is that while I see photos of Song and Yuan submarines out in the sea and at the bases, the only pictures of Kilo class show them either at the bases or at the shipyards under repairs. It seems like China is constantly making changes to these ships to put their own subsystems on there. For the longest time after China first received the newer kilo submarines, it could not complete successful firing of the much hyped Club missiles. Only after some modifications, were they able to finally use these missiles. The problem now is that Kilo submarines are still spending way too much time at the bases instead of making deployments. It’s not entirely clear to me why PLAN has so much trouble utilizing Kilo class, but their importance is diminishing by the day as newer diesel submarines are joining service.

Now, all of the above may sound like I’m overly critical toward China’s purchase of Russian systems. In the case of 2002 purchase of Sov and kilo, they seemed to be panic moves by China toward the Bush's effort to sell more advanced weapons to Taiwan. The earlier purchases of Sov and kilo were very necessary in strengthen PLAN at the time and bringing the technologies that China needed to assist in the building of its own fleet. The building of 051C also made sense, although I think the political influence of Dalian Shipyard also had much to do with it. There are also domestic ships like 051B and 052A which used to be capital ships in PLAN, but have become outdated with the induction of the new wave of warships. They are still relative young and more advanced than Luda and Jianghu class ships, so they will be kept around for a while in diminished role. However, they were not as costly or over-hyped as the Russian import, so it's hard to think of them as "white elephants".

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Liaoning and future Carriers

As I’m sure you all know by now, the formerly known Varyag Aircraft Carrier was commissioned into PLAN as Liaoning and given the Type 001 class AC with pennant number of 16. I haven’t spent as much time looking into this development, but it’s quite clear that there is a lot of excitement on Chinese military forum over Liaoning class. This news has already eclipsed the exciting unveiling of Shenyang AC’s 4th generation fighter jet (I’m using generation by Chinese standard) and the unveiling of the 052D class destroyers. The only news that has caused more stir in the recent years is the unveiling of J-20. On the English forum that I moderate, some of the fellow members have been waiting for 7 to 8 years for this moment. A few years ago, I had all but given up on Liaoning ever becoming a big part of PLAN’s blue water plans. This was even after Liaoning had been painted with PLAN colours in 2006. Now, it appears that Liaoning has a bigger role in PLAN than many people have expected.

For me, I haven’t been as excited about this development. I was quite excited when 054A and 056 came out. I was also excited when we saw that new mysterious large diesel submarine from WuChang shipyard in 2010. I was really excited when 052D came out. I couldn’t stop looking for more photos on it. I suppose I have already spent too much time looking at Liaoning from when it was first dragged to Dalian to when it was first painted to when it got the non-skid layers to when it was taken to dry docks to when work started on Island to when it made its first sea trials. The more exciting moments will still come in the future when we see J-15s take off and land on it. And after that, it will be interesting to see how PLAN intends to use this training carrier. I read a really great article by Andrew Erickson today, where he talked about how Liaoning will not be that useful in the immediate time facing US or Japan, but could be quite useful in South China Sea. When Liu Huaqing first envisioned a carrier in PLAN, he wanted a medium sized carrier that PLAN can use to dominate South China Sea rather than a super carrier to compete against USN. Of course, this was also back in the late 80s when PLAN had those skirmishes with Vietnam where it had no air cover against Vietnam’s Su-22s. Even as PLAN is still learning carrier op in these early years, Liaoning could make quite a difference in any South China Sea scenarios.

When I was going through articles on the commissioning of Liaoning, I think one of the more interesting parts is where someone from PLAN stated that this shows China can build a carrier. While he conceded the hull was built in Russia, he stated strongly that everything inside the ship and on the ship was designed and built in China. I would imagine that whatever the Russians are doing for the INS Vikramaditya is what China had to do for the former Varyag. It certainly explains why they took this many years to finally launch the ship. Thinking about that, it’s interested that China has managed to restore and modernize a larger ship faster than the Russians despite having to learn the entire structure of the ship from scratch. Reading an interviewed piece from the ship, it certainly sounded like the interior of the ship has been completely changed to the modern PLAN standards. It was stated to have a 24 hours cafeteria with two bars (one loud and one quiet). It was has a supermarket, a post office, a gym (probably also basketball court), a laundromart and a garbage treatment station. Sailors can communicate with family at home through computers and can even use their cell phones. I would imagine the condition to be similar to those pictures we’ve seen of the interiors of the No. 88 life style ship and the Type 071 LPD. PLAN has made a serious effort in the recent years to improve the living conditions of these newer ships as they strive to become blue water navy. So far, we’ve already seen the latest of Chinese sensors and close in weapon systems installed on Liaoning. We’ve also seen the living quarters of the sailors revamped and modernized to be similar to other new PLAN ships. I can only imagine that the navigation control, command area and carrier operations control rooms will also be upgraded to the latest and best PLAN could offer. Liaoning should have much more modern weapon systems on board than any previously Russia/Soviet built carriers. It should also be much more powerful than the refitted and modernized Vikramaditya. Once J-15 joins service, it should also theoretically be much more advanced and capable than any previous naval aircraft that operated off a Russia/Soviet built carrier. Now that they have the hardware that the Soviet navy never had, the much longer process of developing the software (training people and pilots for carrier ops) is about to start.

A while ago, I was asked about when I think a Chinese carrier will enter Persian Gulf. And I think this is a good place to put what I thought at that time. Eventually, a China carrier will leave the safety of the South China Sea and then the second chain of islands. It will move past Malacca straits to protect its energy routes from Africa and the Persian Gulf. I have the following thoughts for when that will happen:

First, we have to think about economics and political situation in China. If we have a serious political or economic problem in China, that would slow down all military procurement. So, let's for the sake of argument, assume that this will not be an issue; and the navy will continue to see 10% increase in its budget every year.

Secondly, China doesn't currently have any real oversea base. And I think they would need oversea base close to the Persian Gulf first before they can really enter into Persian Gulf. They already have some supply points or network of places to support their current operations in the Gulf of Aden. Good article to read is here. In order for China to enter the Persian Gulf, I'd imagine it would need an oversea base close to the Persian Gulf. The location talked about so far are Pakistan, Seychelles, Burma, Sri Lanka and any number of African countries friendly to China. This won't happen right away, but I think it will eventually happen by the end of this decade. I think that Gwadar, Pakistan and somewhere in Burma probably make the most sense. In the former case, that base could be protected by Pakistan army and air force. In the latter case, Burma would also be within range of Chinese air force (with refueling).

Third, what would be the carrier entering into the Persian Gulf? I can't imagine it will be Liaoning, which should serve in the role I mentioned up top. Aside from that, Liaoning is still using steam turbines. If we look at all of the recent PLAN deployments, there have been very few long range ones using steam turbines. Even now, none of the Sov destroyers have been to Gulf of Aden. So, that means it would have to be a domestically built carrier. If the first carrier is under construction in JN shipyard right now as I've been led to believe, the earliest it would enter service is toward the end of this decade.

After that, we have to look at the rest of the carrier group. The current generation of AAW and ASW ships (052C/D and 054A) is sufficient to escort something like Liaoning. The first domestic carriers will be expected to make longer deployments, which would require the next generation of escorts. They would also need something like 095, because the current nuclear subs are way too noisy. Even 095 is still expected to be at least one generation behind Virginia class, so they would probably need something that’s a generation better (like a 097 class). They would need larger AAW and ASW ships that have the propulsion to keep up with the carrier. Aside from the 097 class, everything else (including a new generation of AORs) should already be commissioned by the time the first domestic carrier is ready, so escorts will not be a limiting factor.

The part that will slow things down is the development of the air wing and learning of carrier operations. The first generation of air wing will probably achieve IOC by 2015. By then, the J-15 fighter jet, JJ-9 trainer and Z-8 helicopters should have had some experience on takeoff and landing on Liaoning. For PLAN to feel comfortable sending its carrier into the Persian Gulf and keep it there, it will probably want the second generation of naval air wing. It will probably comprise of a naval version of the new SAC fighter jet, Z-8/Z-15 helicopters for ASW/SAR and other missions, different variants of naval flanker playing the role of E/FA-18E/F/G/H, Y-7 AEW and next generation of naval trainer. Now, most of this is already in development, so optimistically speaking they will probably achieve IOC by 2025. And then, PLAN would probably like to operate it a couple of years before giving it an extensive deployment to Persian Gulf. So, I think it would take until the end of the next decade before PLAN can make a meaningful entrance. By then, they would have almost 2 decades of carrier operations and multiple aircraft carriers.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The appearance of a second Chinese 5th gen project

On Saturday afternoon, I saw murky pictures of this new aircraft appearing on Chinese bbs that were supposedly SAC (Shenyang Aircraft Corporation)'s 5th generation fighter jet project. Originally, the picture looked fishy to me and I thought it might be photo shopped from F-35. Since then, we've gotten clearer photos and it does look real.
It's been long speculated that SAC has also been working on a 5th generation design despite loosing the main 5th generation project to CAC (Chengdu Aircraft Corporation). While CAC has been getting all the funding from PLAAF for the J-20 project, SAC's design was more of a self funded project that may or may not have received a PLAAF designation. The Chinese forums have been referring to this project as J-31 after seeing the serial number 31001 on the plane (and 2001/2002 for J-20 project). Regardless, the following of this project has been gathering steam over the past year. The first significant sighting was the unveiling of an export version at the first International UAV Innovation Grand Prix commonly referred to as F-60 as shown below.

A few months ago, we saw this covered up aircraft moved around which many people speculated to be SAC's 5th generation project.

And by Sunday, we've gotten this much clearer photo of the so called "J-31". At this point, there is still plenty of mystery regarding this aircraft. It looks to be much smaller than J-20. If PLA decides to order it at some point, it could form a hi-lo combination with J-20. There has been a lot of speculation that this aircraft will get navalized at some point due to the appearance of twin front landing gear and PLAN's stated desire for a next generation naval fighter jet. It also appears that 2 RD-93s have been fitted for this aircraft initially until the engine designed for this aircraft becomes available (so there won't be the gap with the exhaust).

This aircraft could end up as China's F-35 or it could be a privately funded project that will be competing against something from CAC as the lo part of PLAAF's hi-lo combination or it could be an export project. There is a lot that we certainly don't know yet.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How a slowdown of Chinese economy may effect PLA

If you have not been following Asia news recently, you may have missed out on the dramatic slow down recently in the Chinese economy. There are many reasons for this slow down. The most obvious of which has been the extreme unbalanced growth model that China has been on in recent year to exports and investments. With Europe, China's biggest export market, in an economic free fall and America also getting into a recession, China's export is unlikely to pick up in the near future. At the same time, we are seeing a collapse in the real estate caused by the bursting of housing bubble. Local governments are saddled with debts from all of the infrastructure projects, so the investment part of Chinese economy is seeing a collapse and this is confirmed by all of the PMI numbers that have come out recently. While Chinese government may push for more stimulus and infrastructure projects to kick start the economy, this is really a great time to start the de-leveraging process and come to a more balanced growth model with increased consumption making up the growth. I'm not sure how long this period will last, but this is all part of the capitalism. You have the boom and bust period. During bust period, the government will hopefully cut back on some programs and reduce the spending. When it comes to PLA, that should point to a lower growth in the defense budget. This happened in 2009 when the defense budget grew at the slowest pace in a long time. And Chinese government has shown in the past that it is willing to divert money from defense to help economic development. The question is how PLA will adjust to smaller increases in its budget. Which programs will it cut? Or which programs should be cut or reduced?

If we look back in the 80s, when PLA saw its budget cut pretty much every year, most of the programs it embarked on were cut or abandoned very early on. When Su-27s were purchased in the early 90s, there were even many who called for abandoning the J-10 program. That's quite amazing considering that J-10 has been described as China's Apollo project by some. At the same time, many naval projects like 052 and nuclear submarines were delayed while the shipyards continue to build low technology ships due to lack of funding, lack of technical expertise and arms embargo. Of course, the PLA build up of the past 20 years were the results of increased funding, technology transfer from Russia and improved civilian industries.

First of all, what should PLA look into slowing down, reducing or cutting if the procurement and RnD budgets are cut by 10 to 20% vs PLA's current projection levels. Suppose the four services of air force, navy, army and second artillery all get cut around that level, I will look at the two areas I'm more familiar with: air force and navy. I will talk about training and personnel cost later.

In the air force, there are programs that must go on like J-20, Y-20, KJ-2000 (or some future variants of it) and Y-8 special missions aircraft. They will receive proper funding for the foreseeable future. There are ongoing programs like J-10 and flankers series that may see cut in funding resulting in early termination of some variants and shelving of some variants. For example, J-10B has been stuck in the test stage for seemingly a long time and looks to finally be ready for induction. If J-20 becomes successful early, PLAAF may choose to shelve future "semi-stealthy" variants of J-10 to save on development cost and continue to produce J-10B while upgrading J-10A with more advanced electronics and weaponry. In the case of the flanker series, PLAAF may terminate J-11B project early due to its bad performances in the recent red flag/blue flag aerial exercises at Dingxin. The J-16 project could also be cut if SAC continues to have problem actually developing new flanker variants to serve PLAAF. And SAC's 5th generation project may loose PLAAF funding if SAC continues to struggle. There are also many UAV and UCAV projects that are under way in China as we've seen in the recent Zhuhai air shows. Many of these projects are privately funded or for export purposes, but we know PLAAF also has requirements of different types of UAVs and UCAVs. PLAAF may delay the purchase of some of the UAVs while going with more mature and less advanced designs. Of course, these are just my personal speculation and the success of many programs depend not only on their performance but also on the political connection of the people involved in the projects. On top of these core PLAAF projects, there are also the less essential ones that may not get chosen or delayed. JF-17 has long been talked about as a project that may provide the lo-end of China's fighter force and I've long advocated PLAAF purchase a variant of it. However, if PLAAF is in a cash crunch and deems JF-17 to be too expensive, it may continue to purchase J-8IIs or cut some of the regiments and restart J-10A production to lower the logistical cost of having another type of fighter jet in service. In the area of advanced jet trainer, PLAAF may completely give up on purchasing the more expensive L-15 project and only purchase the less advanced JJ-9 project. Future variants of JH-7 will probably be left on the drawing board while JH-7A replaces all remaining Q-5 regiments as the workhorse attacking aircraft of PLAAF. Future bomber projects will get pushed back even more while XAC continues to churn out newer variants of the 50s era H-6 bombers. The Y-9 project will probably get enough funding by then to already be in service, but the speculated jet engine powered version of medium transport will probably be abandoned.

In the navy, most of the programs are amazingly efficient due to China's very competitive civilian shipbuilding industry and advancing electronics industry. Off the top my head, I really cannot think of any ship class currently under production that's really badly managed and deserve to get cut. In the beginning part of PLAN's modernization, it was forced to make large leaps in technology and had numerous classes with limited production to eventually get modern warships. You can see that from 052 to 051B to 052B to 052C. In cases where it did make huge leap like from 052/051B to 052B/C, PLAN waited 7 years before the problems are all sorted out and it can start mass production at much lower cost. At this point, it is no longer forced to make as large leaps in technology, so I think cost escalations have not been major issues with PLAN. As seen in recently in new surface ships, PLAN chooses to either create a new ship class with the same hull but new weapon system or the same weapon systems but the same hull. You can see this in the transition from 053H3 (Jiangwei II) class transition to 054 and then from 054 to 054A. If PLAN had jumped directly from 053H3 to 054A, that would have carried a lot of risks in terms of having a entirely new hull and propulsion system on top of a wholly new air defense system. We've also seen this with 052C to 052D to the speculated 055 class. The new major item weapon systems eventually intended for 055 class will get tested out on 052D. So when 055 program starts, the risk of the project lies only with the new hull and propulsion system and not with the weapon system. The air defense suite, VLS, new naval LACM, main gun, and CIWS would already have been tested on 052D. So after complimenting PLAN for this long, what can they do to lower cost. I think one answer would be to reduce the production level of each ship class that's been mass produced. For example, 022 class could've stopped at 64 instead of whatever the total is now. 054A production run could've stopped at 12 instead of the 16 that's been planned. Yuan class submarine could've been stopped at 8 instead of 12 or 16 that's been planned. I would also advocate for the earlier retirement of some ships that have run out of use like most of the Luda class "destroyers" and Jianghu class "frigates". Recently, we've seen many new warships coming into service, but PLAN has shown an utter reluctance to decommission older ships. PLAN needs to retire some of the older ships or else it will have too many personnel to maintain. Above all, I think if PLAN is really facing a cash crunch, it could always delay the production of a carrier and planned escorts to cut costs. Naval air projects could also be delayed to cut down cost. If the choice for funding of blue water navy was between nuclear submarine or a carrier force, I think it's more important for PLAN to continue to fully fund its nuclear submarine research and development rather than aircraft carriers. There is nothing wrong with spending more time training and learning to operate on one domestic aircraft carrier (+ Liaoning, formerly known as Varyag) before speeding up aircraft production.

I think when it comes to training, large scale exercises and oversea missions, PLA should not cut back its funding in these areas at all. China is finally learning to devote more resources into more advanced training method and improving the quality of its sailors and pilots. Both PLAAF and PLAN have received a lot of new toys recently and I have always wondered whether improvement in software can keep up with improvements in hardware. So even if the procurement budget goes down, the training budget should continue at current pace to bridge the back between China and better trained military forces around the world. Finally, I think personnel cost is not going to be an issue. A large part of the recent climb in PLA budget has been to accommodate the increased quality of life around China. Food and fuel cost in additional to cost of goods have all been going up due to the economic boom. At the same time, better living quarters using more expensive construction material and increased wages have to be allotted to recruit more intelligent young people around the country to have a career in the increasingly less attractive profession of serving in the military. In the bust portion of the economic cycle, these costs will all be turned upside down with inflation likely to completely disappear and worker wage increases falling to flat.

So in the face of increasingly gloomy economic situation in China, PLA will be forced to make some choices in cutting back some of its projected increases. I think that both procurement and personnel cost will see reduction from projected levels. I'm sure the conversation within PLA will be no different than some of the conversations going on in the Pentagon right now

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The emergence of 052D

PLAN followers such as myself are always excited to see new class of ship to come out and to speculate on new classes. In a recent blog entry, I wrote about the 052C program and afterwards. I speculated that the destroyers under construction in the docks are are 052D. It turned out that my speculations were correct and one of them was launched this past week. We have been seeing a steady stream of photos coming out as people are getting a closer look at the changes on 052D. The first thing we saw was that 052D has relatively the same hull as 052C, which is understandable, since they are using the same propulsion technology. The question has always been what kind of different weapon systems they will fit on this new class. The first set of photos we saw showed new Phased Array radar panels installed on 052D. It's the same type of radar we recently saw installed on the test ship. From the third picture, you can see that it's quite a bit larger than the ones on 052C. The sides of the bridge (especially the ones holding the radar panels) are slightly to noticeably more sloped for possible signature reduction. A new 130 mm main gun is installed in the front replacing the older 100 mm main gun. The CIWS up front remains as Type 730. We see a FCR installed on the foremast for the main gun. However, the rest of the foremast looks to be quite different than 052C. We no longer see the OTH targeting radar commonly found on 054A and 052B/C ships. Then, we got a set of photos showing over the top view of this ship compared to 052C. The second picture shows 052D holding a new type of VLS structure up at front that's more similar to MK-41 and the HHQ-16 VLS than the circular ones on 052C. This is possibly the multi-missile VLS that was reported to have been under development. Compared to 052C, we are seeing a modified funnel design that buries funnels for signature reduction. The base that holds the Type 517M radar is moved forward compared to 052C. We will have to wait to see what's around that. The hangar was moved from the left side to the center. It seems like Type 730 will not be installed here, since it requires deck penetration and the hangar for 052C had to move off center because They placed the aft VLS installations and Type 730 along center. Rather, the non-deck penetrating version of HQ-10 will probably be installed here. I suppose the targeting radar for HQ-10 will either be installed alongside it or next to the Type 517M. The area that used to hold the YJ-62 launchers and the multipurpose rocket launchers have been replaced with the aft VLS installations. The rocket launchers have been moved to the two sides of the platform on top of the hangar. I'm not sure where the anti-ship missiles will be installed. So, we do see quite dramatic changes to the weapon systems employed on 052D. The hull is similar but appears to have some modifications to fit the weapon systems and have reduction in signature. The beam of the ship appears to greater than 052C from the comparisons, but that's probably just based on the angle of the shot. A more powerful multi-functional radar has been installed, which could only point toward greater AAW potential. The biggest question on most people's mind are the number of VLS cells. From people that have been there, the word is that the front VLS installation and aft VLS installation are both holding 32 VLS cells. That's compared to 36 and 12 on 052C. Another question has been whether these cells can quad pack or dual pack one of the shorter ranged missiles. The other question is whether they can hold LACMs or AShM or ASW missiles. We will find out in the coming months and years, but that's still a mystery at this point. Either way, it's a definite improvement over the combat capabilities of 052C. While holding 64 VLS cells may not satisfy some PLAN fans (compared to 96 MK-41 on Flights II Arleigh Burke class), one has to remember that this ship is most likely around 7000 to 8000 ton in displacement fully loaded. Until the next generation of AAW warship comes out with greater propulsion, there is a limitation to how much 052 series of ships can hold.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Type 056 Class

I've talked about the Type 056 class before, but this is a more in depth look at it now that we are seeing mass production across numerous shipyards. Ever since we first saw 022 and 054 class in the middle 2000s, we've speculated about a new class of ship between 1000 and 1500 ton to fill in the middle and replace the patrolling duties of the Type 037 class and Jianghu class light frigates. As early as 2008, I put an entry where I talked about this. In the recent years, we've seen the expansion of China's civilian maritime surveillance force with the induction of many new cutters. A lot of the cutters built for CMS and FLEC fleet are already taking up the role of patrolling South China Sea and East China Sea in the disputed regions. It certainly raises tension when warships are patrolling the disputed regions. When we saw a Type 056 model presented by the deputy commander of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison in late 2010, discussions about the number, the role and the capabilities of this new Type 056 class started again. It seemed like at least four of the first batch 056 will be replacing the 6 Type 037 currently assigned to protecting Hong Kong. Outside of that, I saw heated discussions in forum over whether these ships are needed when the cutters are already such a big part of China's near shore security force. But the recent grounding of Jianghu class 560 shows that PLAN is still a very large part of the patrolling effort in China's surrounding waters. In fact, 6 Jianghu class frigate (558 to 563) were upgraded in 2010 for the very purpose of patrolling South China Sea so that the more advanced Type 054A and 052C class ships can be used for blue water operations. After all, these civilian ships (with maximum speed of 18 to 20 knots) aren't likely to be too useful if a real conflict breaks out with Vietnam. Over the few months, we've seen the Type 056 program exploding in four different shipyards around the country. We've seen at least 2 056s in HD shipyard, which also produces 054A and 071 amongst many other naval ships. We've also seen at least 2 056s in HP shipyard, which also produces 054A, cutters and rescue ships. We've also seen one 056 launched in WuChang shipyard with possibly more under construction. WC typically produces conventional submarines and large cutters. Most surprisingly, we've also seen one 056 launched recently in LiaoNan shipyard in Dalian. This is not the Dalian shipyard that has done all the works with Varyag and 051C, but a smaller shipyard more known for repairing ships. Although, it did build some Type 022 class FACs. The 056 class itself is probably most comparable to the K130 class of Germany (although smaller and probably has less endurance). It features a rather stealthy hull like most modern ships of its class. At front, it carries 1 AK-176M main gun and two of the new 30 mm CIWS on each side of the foremast. It uses Type 360 radar for volume search and type TR47 FCR for the CIWS. At back, it carries a 8-cell HQ-10 SAM with its accompanying FCR. In the middle, it carries 2 dual-pack YJ-83 launchers for ASuW. I was one of those that thought Type 056 would carry S-100 UAVs in its small hangars like the K130 class. As it turned out, the space that I thought were hangars are actually carrying torpedo tubes. Along with its sonar suite (including bow mounted sonar) and possible helicopters for short patrols, these ships should provide for ASW with conventional submarines in near water. The first launched Type 056 ships are not equipped with Tow Array Sonar. My guess is that the torpedo tubes can easily be removed to provide for hangar space for UAVs for the variant of Type 056 built more for SAR, patrolling and ASuW in mind. I think we are already seeing some minor differences between different 056s hulls, which could point to different variants of 056s.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

052C and beyond

In 2003, the first two 052C class destroyers were launched in JiangNan shipyard. These two ships (170 and 171) were commissioned into the South Sea Fleet in 2004 and 2005. Since then, they have been the most advanced and powerful warships in service with PLAN. After these ships joined service, we have been waiting for the next evolution of destroyers to join PLAN. Russia delivered a couple of Type 956 EM battleships shortly afterward, but they really are not as advanced as 052C. After that, 2 051C destroyers were launched in Dalian and commissioned into North Sea Fleet, but they do not have the advanced combat system, multifunctional radar, long range anti-ship missile and more streamlined hull of 052C. As a result of Shanghai World Expo in 2010, JiangNan shipyard was moved to ChangXing Island. We were waiting to see new photos from ChangXing Island to see new DDGs to come out. Finally in 2010, we started seeing photo of a new 052C at the JiangNan shipyard at ChangXing. The third 052C was finally launched in late 2010. We looked carefully at the pictures and did not see any major external change compared to the first two.

After almost 2 years, the third 052C is finally ready to join East Sea Fleet as 150. We see a photo below of what appears to be its last sea trial. The number has yet to be painted, but everything should be set. These will be using the new QC280 gas turbines as opposed to the GT-25000 on the first two 052C.

We also had a boatload of pictures coming out of JiangNan shipyard over a week ago. First, we can see the current status of the 4th and 5th 052C. The 4th 052C might have had its first sea trial already, but it still has plenty of scaffolding, indicating the additional work needed. Both of these ships should join East Sea Fleet in the same flotilla as 150 before end of 2013 (as 151 and 152).

The 6th 052C also launched recently at the shipyard. It looks much further away and launched without much installations. I think it was only launched because newer warships had to be moved into the dry docks (which can only handle two warships of 052C size at the same time). This will probably join ESF as 153 by early 2014. We will have to wait a little bit to see if 5th and 6th 052C have any external differences from the earlier ones.

A little less further along, we have 3 more destroyers under construction in JN shipyard. There are two destroyers in the dry docks as shown below. We can also see the modules of a third one outside. At this point, we don't know if these ships will be like 052Cs or of a new class. It could be the 052D class or a whole new designation.

We have a seen a couple of development on experiment ships that may carry forward for the newer ships. First, we have this new type of multifunctional radar being tested on 891. It looks like an improvement over the current type on 052C.

Another interesting development are these launchers for what appears to be the naval version of CJ-10 LACM. It's quite possible that 052D and future variants will be using tube launched LACM. There have been words on Chinese version of MK-41 in development, but it might not be able to launch something the size of a LACM.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

China's foreign policy under Deng

This is the second part of my blog entries on Deng Xiaoping based on the book by Ezra Vogel. Next time, I will explore Deng and June 4th student movement, but this entry will look over his foreign policy works. Ezra Vogel did a great job exploring the major foreign policy decisions faced with Deng at the time of his reign. They included the normalization of relations with USA, Japan, USSR, war with Vietnam and negotiations with Taiwan and Tibetan exile government.

When looking at the normalization of relationship with USA and Japan in the late 70s, it's really interesting to see how weak China's negotiation positions were. At that point, China needed the west for investments, technology, education and support against USSR. In fact, Mao decided to approach US only after he realized China badly needed America to help fend off the Soviet threat. It's probably hard for someone from Deng's generation to imagine the West needing China for money to bail out.

When Deng came back to power in the late 70s, China was facing not only overwhelming Soviet threat to the north and West (the backfires could bomb Beijing and fly back to their bases without escort), but also a superior trained and equipped Vietnamese side to the south. Even North Korean support was not guaranteed. China was faced with a full encirclement and was weak economically and militarily. First, Deng made sure to firm up China's relationship with the North Koreans to reduce threat from East. Then, Deng decided China had to break the encirclement by attacking Vietnam. Of course, China was facing the threat of Soviet retaliation, so it worked hard to speed up the normalization of relations with both USA and Japan. America and its allies feared USSR hegemony over continental Asia, so both USA and Japan were willing to extend hand to China for cooperation against USSR. Deng recognized a window of opportunity to show a new and stable China to the rest of the world and normalize relations with Western powers. In 1972, China had already officially normalized relations with Japan, but a more comprehensive treaty needed to be signed and China wanted an anti-hegemony clause for support against USSR, Before Deng visited Japan in October 1978, Japan had been reluctant to accept such a clause that was so blatantly pointed at USSR. China was limited by time constraint of its impending invasion into Vietnam, so eventually gave in by allowing a mitigation clause saying the anti-hegemony was not aimed at anyone. When Deng visited Japan, he put a lot of Japanese at ease about Chinese intentions and focused on future cooperations rather than the past. By not bombarding Japan with past guilt, Deng won a lot of support from Japanese business in investment and modernization. When I read this, I think that the current generation of Chinese leaders also have better options in negotiations with Japan than only trying to push forward with hard power. They can have less aggressive foreign policy toward Japan without appearing to be weak at home.

By the late 70s, high level discussions were under way for normalization of relations between China and USA. Deng realized that he not only needed US to counter Soviet threat, but also to modernize and invest. Deng's biggest pitch to USA was the threat of Soviet ambitions and hegemony in Asia. He labeled the Americans as too soft on USSR. There was the one major problem of Taiwan. Deng would not normalize relations with US unless US broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan, ended US/Taiwan Mutual Defense Treaty and withdrew its military from Taiwan. Deng expected Taiwan to be forced to reunify with China once this happens. Deng would allow Taiwan to still have its own autonomy and even keep its army, but take down its flag. US basically agreed with all the conditions, but insisted that it reserves the right to sell Taiwan selected weapons of defensive nature. Deng eventually gave in to that demand allowed normalization to continue. i think Deng realized that China did not have enough leverage on Washington to stop all weapon sales. They had a narrow window of opportunity to negotiate the normalization of relation due to the political climate in Washington and the Taiwan lobby. Deng and the US negotiators at that time believed that weapon sales would eventually stop completely as American public accept mainland as the only China, which would pressure Taiwan into reunifiction talks. I think Deng held out hope that Taiwan would cave and reunify with China during his life time, but that obviously did not happen. Two important events happened to stop this. Taiwan ended martial law and human right abuses and adopted democracy. The June 4th student movement was crushed in Beijing and stopped China's move toward greater political reform. After that, Mainland became the evil dictatorship and Taiwan became the democratic underdog seeking liberty. It would be hard to imagine American public supporting ending weapon sales at this point. At the same time, the Chinese leadership have not given up the hope that America would stop weapon sales to Taiwan over time due to these early discussions. So if you wonder why China makes a big deal out of each weapon sales to Taiwan, it is because China expected USA to stop selling weapons to Taiwan several years after the normalization. We've seen many change of leadership in America since 1979, but the Chinese leadership still adopts the same position taken by Deng over 30 years ago. Of course, the normalization has helped China far more than USA, so Deng was correct to conceed on the weapon sales even if he was accused by some as too soft in negotiations. More importantly, Deng impressed his American counterparts with his directness and provided a look of reason to the American public during his visit. He did not appear as a hated communist but rather someone looking to improve the lives of his people. That's someone the Western world can sympathize in. He managed to have a successful trip even though he told Carter that China is about to attack Vietnam. The current generation of Chinese leaders are a bunch of lifeless technocrats who always stick by the script. I don't think any of them could have pulled that off without widespread condemnation.

Once Deng came back from America, China launched its war against Vietnam. The elite PLA troops were left along the Soviet border for possible retaliations, so only secondary tier of troops were attacking Vietnam. The conflict concluded in less than 30 days without Soviet intervention and PLA claimed to have achieved its primary goals before withdrawing with a "Scorch Earth" policy. However, PLA suffered serious casualty, because it was still recovering from the Cultural Revolution and was simply not ready to fight. Looking broadly, Deng did achieve his goal of reducing Vietnamese power in ASEAN region and enhancing China's standing amongst countries fearing Vietnam/USSR hegemony. The Scorch Earth policy seriously damaged infrastructure/countryside in North Vietnam and severely reduce the offensive capability of Vietnam along the border. By demonstrating to Vietnam that it is willing to attack, Vietnam was forced to keep more than half a million soldier to protect itself from China. Vietnam eventually could not afford to keep that many soldiers along Chinese border while also occupying Cambodia, so it had to give up its dream of regional hegemony. This conflict basically removed the Soviet encirclement allowing China to have peace and fully pursue economic development. Even so, I tend to think the last part could have been achieved without attacking Vietnam. Not only did China suffer 20,000 to 60,000 causalities, it also diverted precious resources that should have gone toward improving the economy. Unlike the current American model of financing war on debt, China had to run a relatively balanced budget at that time. On top of that, the invasion and earth scorching policies have left deep distrust and resentment toward China from Vietnam. And after Soviet Union got bogged down in Afghanistan in the 80s, China no longer faced the same level of encirclement dangers from the Soviets. We will never know if the Soviet encirclement threat was so great that China had to loose so many young lives and money to ensure peace and stability.

Deng's approach toward USSR as a whole was quite effective. By the 70s, the security threat facing China from USSR was so strong that even Mao decided to turn to the much hated Americans for support. PLA combat capabilities significantly weakened during the Cultural Revolution as it focused on class struggle and political thoughts rather than training and improvement. And America was receptive toward Chinese overtures because it was concerned that USSR would take over China and dominate all of Asia. Deng faced the same threat when he took over, which is why he made such a strong presentation to Japan and America about the threat of Soviet hegemony in Europe and Asia. He repeatedly pointed out American weakness and labeled SALT II as American appeasement toward Soviets. Deng himself took a very hard stance toward Russians. He attacked Vietnam to show that Russia was not prepared to be drawn into a land war in East Asia. This was an extremely gusty and risky move, because PLA really would have a hard time stopping Soviet advances had a retaliation come. Deng felt that Soviet concerns in Europe and China's new found friendship with USA and Japan would prevent Soviet retaliation to the north. He turned out to be right. After he felt the encirclement threat was gone, he reached out to USSR again for normalization of relations. He felt that USSR would eventually exhaust from arms race with America and its war in Afghanistan, so he gave them three conditions for normalizing relations. He demanded that the Soviets had to pull out of Afghanistan, remove troops from China's northern border area and the Vietnamese had to leave Cambodia. He stuck by those conditions all through the 80s until the Soviet leadership gave in to normalize relations. Gorbachev came in 1989 on Deng's terms and even offered to sell China its most advanced Su-27 fighter jets.

Deng, like Mao and Zhou before him, had hoped that Taiwan would reunite with China during their lifetime. In 1683, 22 years after remnants of Ming troops fled to Taiwan, their leaders agreed that Taiwan would again become part of China. Deng hoped that Chiang Ching-Kuo would also rejoin Taiwan to China. He proposed that Taiwan could keep its own social system for 1000 years and even keep its own army, but have to take down its flag. Chiang was defiant and maintained that the Republic of China represented all of China. Deng wanted to isolate Taiwan in the international stage to pressure them into voluntarily rejoining China, but the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act provided all the support that Taiwan needed. It was a huge blow for Deng, who felt that that the conditions of normalization would lead to reduction of arms sales to Taiwan. Deng believed at that time that US would eventually stop selling all weapons to Taiwan, which would pressure Taiwan to rejoin China at some point down the road. 15 years after Deng's death, US and China still have the same position toward Taiwan. On one hand, Taiwan has drawn closer to China with business integration, increased trades, direct flights and increased tourism. On the other hand, the majority of Taiwanese now consider themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese. Deng had said that China is willing to wait a century and even a millennium to reunify with Taiwan. You can see that the current Chinese leadership is still trying to slowly increase its leverage over Taiwan until Taiwan takes down its flag. The negotiations over Hong Kong was also quite interesting. Britain was coming off the highs of Falkland Islands victory and Thatcher came into the negotiations thinking that Deng's positions were negotiation tactics. Thatcher came out of the meeting with Deng so shaken by Deng's tough stance that she slipped and fell to her knees. Over the next year, Deng made it clear that China is not Argentina and would send in the troops to take control of Hong Kong if needed. China's forceful position eventually persuaded the British to sign the declaration for handing over Hong Kong in 1997.

Deng's positions toward Tibet was not as inflexible as some may think. Back in the 1950s, Mao had achieved relatively good relations with the Tibetans by allowing Dalai Lama to have relative autonomy over the Tibetan Autonomous Regions (TAR). Tibetans accepted Chinese sovereignty, but was granted the right to administer TAR, keep their own currency and even maintain their own army. China would be in charge of foreign affairs, military affairs and border controls. The problem happened due to the communist reforms in areas outside of TAR, where half of the Tibetans lived. The Tibetans in Sichuan rioted and then fled to Tibet after they were beaten. Of course, we had more conflicts on TAR in 1959, which led to Dalai Lama moving the Tibetan exile government to India. When Deng came to power, he had to reconcile with Tibetans who had suffered the wrath of Cultural Revolution when the red guard destroyed a lot of Tibetan culture. Deng really tried to make amend when he first came to power, but he also was unaware of the true alienation of Tibetans against the Han population. When Tibetan exile delegation visited TAR, they became more critical of Chinese treatment of Tibetans. Hu Yaobang and Deng tried to take a much softer approach in TAR to satisfy the Tibetans. However, their position was still not good enough for Dalai Lama and also increased Tibetan belief that they can become independent. The two sides did try to reconcile their positions, but at least one Tibetan condition is too much even for the most reasonable and leniant Chinese negotiator. Tibetan exiles wanted the boundaries of Tibet to be extended to include the Tibetan minority areas in other provinces including Sichuan, Ginghai, Gansu and Yunnan. Now, Tibetans are the minorities in these area (and have been so for quite some time), so I think this is probably the most unreasonable condition. Now, the softer approach toward Tibetan led to to Tibetan revolts for full independence in the late 1980s, which were crushed. Since then, China has practiced a much more heavy handed approach in Tibet while trying to promote economic growth to stabilize the region. Through the negotiations in the 80s, I think Chinese leadership concluded that although Dalai Lama himself may accept autonomy and return to rule in Tibet, the rest of the Tibetan exile movement are more extreme and would not allow Dalai Lama to take a middle approach. I think the Chinese leadership would've been okay with granting Dalai Lama the same level of autonomy that he had in the 1950s (if not more) for TAR, but there have been too much bad blood built up in the recent years for Tibetans to accept that. The positions from both side have not really changed since the 80s. Unless Chinese leadership is willing to apologize to the Tibetans and push local officials to be more lenient in TAR, I don't really see things moving for the better. On the overall scheme of things, Deng never regarded Tibet as important as Taiwan, Hong Kong and foreign relations.

I think the most impressive part is that Deng knew what he could extract from each country that he dealt with. He knew which countries he needed to visit to build up support for his agenda. He also had a clear understanding of the geopolitical situation around the world and waited for the right time to strike. He also appealed to other world leaders with his directness and honesty. During normalization of relations with USSR, he told American counterparts that negotiations were going on and assured them that relations with America would remain strong. Deng formulated the theory that China should "adopt a low profile and never take the lead". Simply put, Deng knew how to reduce tension and build relationships without caving into foreign demands. After Deng, I think the Jiang Zemin + Zhu Rongji administration also did a good job, but the current Hu Jintao administrations just seem to bundle one situation after another. The other interesting thing he did was allowing large numbers of Chinese students to travel abroad to study (compared to Soviet fears of brain drain). He thought that those who go abroad would help China even if they did not return to China right away. That's one assessment that he had great foresight in. An ever increasing number of former students that settled abroad have now brought back their knowledge and expertise to improving China. I see this in my parents' generation. Many of them are living comfortable lives in the Western world, but still talk of doing something to help their home land. Overall, I think Deng should not have attack Vietnam. Other than that, I think his policies were spot on.