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.

24 comments:

willytan1 said...

China will not buy the Su-35 basically because of the cost involved in maintaining the aircraft. Parts have to be imported from Russia and the 117S engines have to be sent back to Russia for overhaul and servicing.
This makes it very expensive.

The technology on the Su-35 is also nothing new. Passive phased array radar etc.

People have suggested that China may be interested in the 117S turbofan. However China is not interested. The critical factor in turbofan engines is not the actual design of the engine but the Metallurgy or the Alloys used in the engine parts. One could copy the engine entirely but if inferior Alloys are used there will be excess weight and poor Blade strength which would result in poor thrust and a short lifespan.

willytan1 said...

China will continue to develop more powerful upgrades to the existing WS-10A engine till the WS-15 comes into service.

China has access to the core engines of the latest American and European commercial turbofans which equip passenger jets.


treize said...

The Su-35 has several interesting features. In particular the TVC engine. The Chinese can quite likely do better in terms of electronics at this moment and soon they should have an AESA radar they can use in an airplane of this type. However they cannot beat the Russian engines and an airplane without a viable engine is essentially worthless. Just ask the Canadians, Japanese or the Israelis.

There is more to a modern jet engine than turbine blades. Without a good FADEC system your engine performance and range is going to be terrible.

I believe the reason the Su-30 MKK had such low end specs was because the Russians could get away with it. Put simply they weren't used to selling their latest technology to foreign nations during the later times of the Soviet Union. They always kept the best equipment for themselves. Even Warsow Pact nations had degraded export versions. In the case of India they had to add more features because otherwise the Indians could have bought airplanes from the French or elsewhere. In China's case the Tiananmen square derived export restrictions negate this possibility so the Russians didn't have to up their ante to get a deal so to speak.

The Russians have much diminished naval construction capability ever since they lost access to the Black Sea shipyards which are now in Ukrainian territory. Ukraine doesn't have the financial resources to manufacture large ships and the Russians are stuck in frozen seas.

The Chinese still need to prove they can build high quality airborne AESA radars, HMDs, high quality surface to surface missiles, reliable solid ICBMs, heavy bombers, modern main battle tanks, small arms, body armor, jet engines, air transport, etc. I have seen plenty of mockups of UAVs from China but none in actual use. Heck I still remember the MiG Skat from Russia which looked quite impressive at the time and it has gone nowhere since.

The Chinese need to to copy the GE CF6 or CFM56 engine as a first step to get a bomber/transport engine. The WS-10 was supposed to be it but it still doesn't seem to be working properly.
If the WS-10 was working properly you could do a lightweight fighter with one engine, a fighter bomber with two engines, and a heavy bomber or transport with four engines.

In my opinion the PLA Ground Force is the worse of the lot with mostly obsolete equipment which can't match that of regional powers like South Korea let alone the US. Type 99 vs K2? QBZ-95 vs K11? Blech.

It all goes well the Chinese should have leading edge military equipment in all areas in a decade or two tops. However they are still not there. Far from it. Some advances are impressive like in electronics, advanced airframe construction, or shipbuilding but much still needs to happen.

Supersensical said...

@treize, if you had been reading up on the progress of the WS series of turbofan engines, then you would have been able to understand willytan's comment in its correct context. To someone who knows a bit about the critical issue facing China's turbofan development, willytan clearly was referring to 'China's' critical factor in engine development, which is the quality control and manufacturing process of the alloys and blades. Everything else is not really a problem for their engine development.

Manufacturing issues are not unique to their turbofan engine program, as it has/had also been the bottleneck in other developments, such as nuclear warhead miniaturization, for example. Their miniature warheads would have been available much earlier had it not been for manufacturing limitations.

While much of what you wrote were opinions, as you had sometimes candidly admitted, what I wrote here are not opinions.

Meng-yuan said...

Willy was right. There is no way that China needs SU-35 at this point. All we are hearing is one-sided Russian leaks. These have proven highly unreliable in recent past.

My understanding is that China not only knows how to design modern engines but also is capable of manufacturing all the alloys, including the single-crystal high-temperature Ni-based blades, at least up to the second generation, which is adequate for the WS-10 class. Their problem is that the over-all quality control is not consistent yet.

Just like Feng wrote, China still needs to import large helicopters, transport airplanes and jet engines from Russia, mostly as stop-gap measures before their own products mature in the next few years. I wonder, however, how far behind China is in nuclear submarines. American military is quite dismissive about these boats, at least in public. Anyone with good insights?

Feng said...

treize, I think you are not reading here. The point of my article is to say that Su-30MKK narrative on internet forum back in 2004/2005 was wrong. China had J-11B on its drawing board and needed interim solutions. That's what Russia provided at that time, interim solutions. If they had got involved with a non-mature project like Su-30MKI, it really would've interfered with PLAAF plans. China will have as many J-11B/J-16 in service by the second half of this decade as IAF with Su-30MKI.

willytan1 said...

Here is what i know about the WS-15Turbofan engine.
The WS-15 uses the latest in engine design technology for eg: Blisks and Floating walls etc. So it is pretty much state of the art as far as the design is concerned.

It also uses China's second generation nickle based alloys in it's turbine blade construction. (The first generation was used in the WS-10A). This Alloy is lighter and stronger than the 1st generation and allows the turbine blades to be thinner,lighter,stronger and more resistant to heat. This will translate into more thrust and a longer lifespan. Also crucially a longer MTBO.

The prototype WS-15 engine already produces 16,500 kgs of thrust which is pretty good. This compares to the 14,300 kgs for the 117S and 15,300 kgs the Al-31f M3

I am pretty sure they are working on upgrades to the WS-10A which involves greater quality control which will improve the MTBO. The 2nd generation alloys may also be used to get greater thrust from the WS-10A in the future.

Jiang said...

@treize

In 1950 Korean war. China with stone aged army brought super power USA and its korean dog to their knees !!!

treize said...

Jiang, the Chinese troops in the Korean war were better equipped than you seem to believe. The Soviet Union had plenty of surplus hardware leftover after the end of WWII which they brought to the conflict. The conflict also saw the introduction of the Mig-15 fighter into front line service. Of course the result wouldn't have been the same without the large Chinese infantry presence in the theater. The heavily forested and mountainous terrain was highly favorable for infantry action.

Valbonne said...

Buying Su-35??

I Agreed with Feng in his article. Russia keep the best equipment for herself, next best be given to India, Vietnam & Malaysia. The third rated equipment to China. China have been buying out-of-date equipment but at least they were mature equipment.

Valbonne said...

Buying Su-35??

I Agreed with Feng in his article. Russia keep the best equipment for herself, next best be given to India, Vietnam & Malaysia. The third rated equipment to China. China have been buying out-of-date equipment but at least they were mature equipment.

Supersensical said...

@willytan1, I think your info is outdated. I read that a new type of alloy had been developed at least as early as 2007. It called a niobium-titanium-aluminum superalloy, which is half as dense as nickel-based alloys and exceeds the latter in other performance parameters as well. It's described in a research paper that was apparently publicly available.

This means that ensuing efforts in the years that follow probably revolve around perfecting the manufacturing process to mass produce such a type of alloy with consistent quality.

Jiang said...

@treize

Does it matter ?

Now China is so much more powerful than before, and you are telling me that South Korea has a chance going up against PLA.

You dumb FU@K !!

Taking cheap shot at China, why dont you start a war then ??

Jiang said...

@Valbonne

I dont think Russia sell third rated weapons to China.

China has gotten many advance stuffs from Russia !

1. S-300PMU2, China has more S-300 than Russia, and of course advanced ones as well.

2. Su-30MKK. China has a lot ore Su-30MKK than Russia and it is as good as SU-30S !

3. Varyag Carrier.
You dare to tell me that Varyag is russia's third rated carrier ?? LMFAO, Varyag is even better than Admiral Kuz !! Which is Russia's only carrier.

Stop taking cheap shots at China !!

Feng said...

Valbonne, I don't think that's my point there. Actually, China was the first country to get clearance to buy many weapons from Russia. The difference is that China went for the best mature solution it could get to instead of proposed weapons that are not ready yet. It's simply different approaches for China and India. India did eventually end up with the better aircraft, but China needed something like MKK back in 2001 and MKI did not have its ground attack capabilities until second half of that decade. Wait a couple of more years, China already has J-11B/S. So, it made no sense for China to pay for the development cost. If you didn't get that from what I wrote, you didn't read it carefully enough. Look at what Vietnam got, they were basically the same MK2s and kilos that China got in 2004 to 2006. Vietnam and Venezuela both got ripped off.

Meng-yuan said...

Sensical,

The niobium-titanium-aluminum superalloy is for the compressors. The turbine blades must endure temperatures around 1500K, and only Ni-based alloy will do.

willytan1 said...

I have read that the early versions of the WS-10A suffered from weight problems. Its compressor stages very quite heavy compared to that of the Al-31F.It also was slower to "spool up" which meant the compressors were too heavy. The weight problem probably has been solved with the superalloys that Sensical mentioned about. Anyway the goal also is to make the turbofan engine as light as possible as this will improve the thrust to weight ratio.
The Russians have been working to shave off the weight in their latest turbofans. Their latest engines are about 150kgs lighter than previous models.

It is all AMAZING said...

@ meng-yuan
The niobium-titanium-aluminum superalloy is for the compressors. The turbine blades must endure temperatures around 1500K, and only Ni-based alloy will do.
---------------------
That is not true.
Niobium-titanium-aluminium represents a breakthrough in superalloy and is patented by the Beijing University of Science and Technology.
It is described as high temperature,high performance alloy that will substitute the nickel based alloy used today by the Western nation. The article also says that with this critical superalloy will boost China as the future world leader in the aero-engine industry.

Western engine manufacturer all uses the nickel based alloy while China developed Niobium Titanium Aluminum is twice as good. According to reports, the new alloy revolutionized the industry as it is half the weight of the nickel based alloy.

It is all AMAZING said...

The early Taihang suffered from long MTO about 150 hours but that is still better than the AL31F of the 80's that had only an MTO of 60 hours.

Since China announced the breakthrough in 2010, many things is happening. One obvious things is the number of new aero-engines on display at Zhuhai 2012 China Airshow.
Now we used heard that the 220tons Y20 is taxiing with its DP30K2 or W18 engine.
The only problem with China today is that they are unable to mass produce the engine fast enough having producing approx 266 Taihang since 2010.

Off course Russia is ahead but their quality will suffered as their domestic air force demand increases. Russia has approx 15,000 machinists in the aero-engine production facilities.

China is trying hard to train these skilled technician and labor but that will takes another 2~5 years. After that you will seen China supersede even USA.

One thing is obvious the WS15 is already flying in the J20 prototype. Look at the size of the noozle, its heat signature or the sound of its engine. It is a sound of a high bypass engine and that's WS15. neither the WS10A nor AL31F sound like this engine. And it is amazing, the color of the external flaps of the exhaust remained unchanged despise the number of test flights.

One other thing, the 117 or type 30 was already fitted on the T50 and the flameout represented a setback for the program. That is why the T50 expected delivery is now 2020 onward.

It is all AMAZING said...

The only reason China is interested in the SU35 is to employ them in their own topgun and have a peek at the latest Russian progress in the 117S an upgrade AL31F or the latest avionics. China is ahead of Russia today in practically all aspect of the field but China has the advantage of its state-of-the-art manufacturing. The latest T50 has even bigger rivets. Wonder why? Airframe tearing apart!!! like the mechanical parts in the 117 installed on its T50. Maybe there will switched back to 117S as a safer alternative for the new 2020 deadline.

Russia like all Western aerospace leaders will never transfer their core-technology away. So if India thinks they are getting the better of China in their dealing with China, dream on. It is just a Russian deception.

It is all AMAZING said...

Dear Feng,
You are absolutely right.
China was the first to be offered the SU30 variant with the forward carnard and the VTC engine but China evaluation team rejected them.

1. The product is neither ready nor practical.
2. The VTC liespan is so short, it will be a nightmare to maintain them as the operator IAF or RMAF discovered up till today.

The Chinese approach to the problem threatened the Russia engine makers as they do not send their engine back to Russia for a 1~1 backup or replacement. They upgrade it and void the Russia guarantee.
India on the other hand is a mere subcontractor and that explained why half of its 900 MIG21 fleet had crashed up till today.

The Western mantra of China not being good at innovation being regurgitate eluded many including me.
Ezample Haier, Wanzing, Huawei, etc are today the biggest companies in their respective industries found on planet earth.
By copying... comeon!
Chinese innovation strategy aka UNCOMMON SENSE approoach to INNOVATION is a lesson that Western thinkers in denial will never understand.

It is all AMAZING said...

@ treize said...

Jiang, the Chinese troops in the Korean war were better equipped than you seem to believe. The Soviet Union had plenty of surplus hardware leftover after the end of WWII which they brought to the conflict. The conflict also saw the introduction of the Mig-15 fighter into front line service. Of course the result wouldn't have been the same without the large Chinese infantry presence in the theater. The heavily forested and mountainous terrain was highly favorable for infantry action.

SHOWS how little you understand about history or the Korean War which was basically a conspiracy by the USA under General MacArthur * to topple PRC which was just established in Oct, 1949. Mao was clever by sending PVA intead of regular army. So it means that there was no direct and real conflicts between PRC army and the USA military.

* General MacArthur was trying to seat the KMT Government in PRC to counter the Soviet influence.

Go and visited the war museum in PRC and see whether or not, your USA Army were using old Japanese WW2 rifles, spears, swords, bugles, etc like the Chinese Volunteer Army. Just the Soviet supplied those MiG15 fighters but did PRC had trained jet pilots to fly those machines. Most Chinese pilots took to the sky within hours of basic flying lessons.

That was why we heard of human waves tactics being used. Lack of firearms. A Western documentary claimed that each Chinese PVA were given only 3 bullet.

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Unknown said...

The Chinese are working on a new boost system which will hopefully put their thrust to weight ratio to between 15-20 in five to ten yrs. Look put if this is achieved, you can apply this technology to hypersonic planes, rockets, missiles, space launches, transport planes and commercial airliners. These super jet engines will appear on your generation six and 7th fighter planes. China's exascle computer will come online in 2018 then you will really see how advanced and progressive China is.