Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Year in Review

As the end of 2015 draw near, I’d like to take a look at all the important PLA stories of 2015. There are both numerous air force and naval stories. Compared to previous years, there were more news coming out of air force than navy this year as J-20, J-10, flankers and C-919 project all had significant progress.

The major focus of this past few months have been the progress of J-20 project. After 4 new prototypes came out last year with significant changes from the J-20 demonstrators, there was not much happening this year until September of this year when prototypes No. 2016 came out followed by prototype No. 2017 in November. The latest prototype showed slightly reshaped canopy and a new ejection seat, but is generally the same as the earlier prototypes. With these 2 prototypes, there are rumours of 2 more prototypes No. 2018 and 2019 coming out to speed up the testing phase. That has yet to happen, but we have seen what appears to be the first Low Rate Initial Production J-20 showing up most recently with the appearance of No. 2101. Unlike the prototype ones, it is painted entirely in yellow primers. The prototypes are typically sent to CFTE for flight-testing. If No. 2101 is the first LRIP model, then it will probably get sent with the rest of its batch to FTTC for expanding the flight envelope, testing out usage of new systems, developing combat tactics and training manual for J-20 pilots. The first J-10 squad was also established in FTTC before the 44th regiment received J-10. At the current pace, it’s definitely possible for J-20 to achieve IOC or some level of combat capability by 2017. Compared to PAK-FA, I think J-20 is now actually quite a bit ahead. The only major concern for this program is that WS-15 engine is still several years from entering service, so will be quite underpowered for the first few years. At the current time, J-20 is probably testing with AL-31FN Cep 3 engine (that are used for J-10C). Some of the missiles being developed for weapon bay may not be ready yet, but other programs like PL-10, miniature PGMs should be. Not much seemed to have happened with FC-31 project this year, but it has appeared in numerous air shows. For 2016, I will be watching out to see how many LRIP J-20s come out and the expanded test program for the J-20 prototypes. It will also be interested to see if a second FC-31 prototype comes out next year.

At the same time that J-20 has been moving forward, the production of J-10 series have started to pick up again. J-10B development has in my opinion been delays due to CAC focusing on J-20 project, but production level has been pretty good since 2014. There were about 53 J-10Bs produced in block 1 and they have all joined service. Block 2 production has since started and reached at least in the mid 20s. They are supposedly built to the J-10C standard with AESA radar (instead of PESA like J-10B) and numerous other electronic improvements. We are still unsure of all the regiments that have received J-10B/C, because photos normally have their numbers blurred out. Huitong’s blog currently has listed FTTC, 2nd division, 19th division and 21st division as having J-10B/C regiments. From what I have seen, FTTC received J-10Bs first and the old J-10A 2nd division regiment has been receiving J-10Bs. Also, it’s interesting that we have been seeing numerous J-10Bs (without the J-10C improvements) flying with Taihang engine. So I think it is possible that we will see both J-10B with Taihang and J-10C with AL-31FN Series 3 engine produced next year. Based on the recent production numbers, China probably needs to place another AL-31FN order soon.

China also had some more movements with its larger aircraft programs. It received the second refurbished IL-78s from Ukraine (out of 3 on order) and more of the refurbished IL-76s. We also continue to hear more on development of Y-20 and its engines (WS-18 and WS-20). The development of Y-20 will probably complete by 2017 based on its current progress. As I wrote about many times before, PLAAF has large requirement of Y-20 for transport, tankers and special missions platform. I’m sure the LRIP for Y-20 will begin next year, but it’s hard to say when they would be able to ramp up its production to the point where it no longer needs to import IL-76/78s. At the same time, China unveiled the first C919 airliner this year and also finally completed flight certification of ARJ-21. At this point, it seems like C919 is already a great improvement in almost every aspect over ARJ-21. However, it’s going into the market against an extremely capable A320NEO series and B737 MAX series. It does not seem to have any real advantage over those 2 series and will not enter service earlier. In most of China’s domestic routes, it should be competitive with those 2, so I would expect it to capture a good number of orders once it completes flight certification. The big challenges ahead will be to obtain FAA/EASA certification, achieve export orders, ramping up production and completing all of this with minimal delays. This is a tremendous undertaking, but COMAC would be getting a lot of valuable experiences if it can achieve all of that.

Another area of aviation that China has done well on this year is in the field of UAVs. The CH-3/4 UCAVs have been exported to numerous countries (at least Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia). It has already been used in conflicts against ISIS and Yemen rebels. China had been displaying numerous miniature (50 kg) PGMs and ground attack missiles in weapon shows along with CH-4 UAVs and these have now been tested in real war action. So from these action, it’s likely that CH-4 will get more export orders in the coming years. The WingLoong series has also achieved export orders with UAE and with PLA. Along with these MQ-1 like UCAV program, China is also developing numerous larger UAVs and UCAVs. Those programs are likely developed just for domestic usage and not marketed for exports. It’s unclear how many of these programs will actually see production.

For the Chinese navy, the major ticket item is its aircraft carrier program. Throughout this year, more and more photos came out from Dalian rumoured to be modules of the first domestic aircraft carriers. At this point, I think most Chinese navy watchers would agree that this is the first domestic carrier (aka Project 001A). Over 2016, one of the main areas to follow would be the progress of this first carrier. Over the past year, the intensity of CV-16 exercises seemed to be picking up. Over this past year, Shenyang AC has been producing more production versions of J-15s. There are at least 15 of them now from 100 to 114 and all of them probably have flown off CV-16. In the most recent exercise, at least 6 of them were shown on deck at the same time and as many as 10 were probably on CV-16 in this exercise. That’s a definite step forward in carrier operations from earlier this year and previous years. On top of having more J-15s on board, having more types of combat aircraft and helicopter on board operating at different weather conditions and at nighttime are the next steps in improving carrier operation. Chinese naval aviation has a long way to go in developing its combat capability, so will be sure to continue to see its progress next year. I think it’s also interesting that we have yet to see photos of CV-16 leading a large flotilla with numerous escorts like 052C/D and 054A, so that’s also something to look to see in 2016. The Chinese navy has to do all of this with very little help from other carrier operating navies around the world, so it has been deliberately ramping up operation for the past 3 years. It may take several more years to see the things I’ve listed here.

The rest of the surface fleet programs have also been progressing well like previous years. The 4 new 052C ships have now all joined service as No. 150 to 153. Two more 052Ds (No. 173 and No. 174) have also joined service. The main gun PJ-38 has also recently did a comprehensive round of firing tests. The 052Ds are equipped with the latest VLS, multi functional radar, variable depth sonar and PJ-38s, so they represent quite a major improvement in capabilities over 052C despite sharing the same hull. There are probably at least 5 more 052Ds from JN shipyard and 2 more from Dalian shipyard that are under construction. We will probably also start seeing progress of 055 in one of these shipyards next year. Amongst the 054As, a couple of more joined service this year and more modules have also appeared. They are also installed with the new VDS. The production of 054As has already exceeded what was expected originally, allowing the older Jianghu ships and the 4 Jiangwei ships to be decommissioned. It will be interesting to see how many more 054As ships are built when many have expected PLAN to move production to a newer 054 variant. Similarly, Type 056 corvettes have also continued to be produced in large numbers this year and they are expected to replace the roles of Type 037s in patrol, sub chasers and ASuW. And finally, the 4th Type 071 recently joined service as No. 988. Aside from the surface combatants, the replenishment fleet has also seen a huge boom this year. Most recently, the 40K+ ton displacement Type 901 AOR was launched. This type of shape is significant, because it’s expected to be the primary AOR for China’s future carrier fleet. It is much larger than China’s existing Type 903 class of AORs. Also, it is powered by gas turbines instead of diesel engines on the Type 903 AORS, allowing for much higher speed to keep up with the rest of carrier fleet. It also has more resupply gantries located in the middle of the ship than Type 903, which allows for underway refueling with more ships. At the same time, both HD and GSI shipyard have continued to build and commissioned Type 903A ships. There were 3 Type 903A (No. 960, 966 and 963) have joined service this year. There are at least 2 other one launched and another building. The Type 904 large store ships also had a lot of activity this year. There were 2 Type 904B ships (No. 961 and 962) that joined service year. These additional ships are probably there to supply the increasing amount of activity that China has in South China Sea and East China Sea. So overall, this was a really active year for China’s replenishment fleet. A couple of the older replenishment ships will probably retire over the next couple of years, but the increasing number of large ships joining into service will allow for greater power projection capabilities and also supplying near by islands. Finally, China’s coast guard fleet construction activity has continued this year with some of the largest cutters joining service. There were 12000-ton class, 5000-ton class, 4000-ton class and numerous 3000-ton class cutters getting launched and commissioned. A lot of ships seem to have conflicting roles, but they were originally created for different agencies and for provincial bureaus. I think that most of the programs are nearing conclusion at the moment. Until the next 5-year plan gets developed with similar number of projects, we probably will not see this same level of expansion for a while. As a whole, an interesting year with news from both the navy and air force. I will be looking to follow up on most of these programs next year.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

ASBM program and Su-35 export

I came across a really well down book by Andrew Erickson on China's ASBM development. The book can be found here. It was written by 2013, but most of the content is still very up to date. It does a good job of talking about ASBM development, motivation, capability and China's satellite system. Since then, I think the only major update is the unveiling of both DF-21D and the previously unknown DF-26 in China's Victory parade in September. That shows a much greater potential usage than just Taiwan scenario or even around disputed islands in South and East China Sea.

At the same time, the other news that came out this past week is the finalization of Su-35 export. The discussion seemed to have started way back in 2008 and really picked up since 2012. I think Su-35 is an interim solution to provide advanced capability to PLAAF beyond their existing flanker fleet while CAC is completing the development of J-20. I see it as any improvement over China's domestic J-11s, but not something that will be a legitimate solution to F-35 and other 5th generation aircraft.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

China's first oversea base

I will keep this short. We have report that China has signed a ten year deal with Djibouti for its first oversea naval base. Andrew Erickson provided a good analysis of today's development in this article. The location makes a lot of sense since China has been making port calls there as part of its missions in Gulf of Aden. This 2010 Jamestown article did a good job of exploring what had been an expanding support network for PLAN up until that point. Certainly, as Chinese naval influence grows in this region with more port calls, patrols and joint exercises, I think there will be more arrangements where China establishes what looks like oversea base (even if they are not called that).

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My thoughts on COMAC C919

Most recently, COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China) rolled out the first C919 off the assembly line to eagerly awaiting media. The question as we go forward is how successful will C919 be or how successful can it be? It has already pushed back it maiden flight from 2014 to 2016 (which is not too uncommon in aerospace industry) and first delivery to 2018.

AVIC1 has had a long history of supplying parts to both Boeing and Airbus airliners. China's large domestic market has even resulted in final assembly lines inside the country for A320 (and also A330 and B737 going forward). Even so, building a successful modern airliner require building up and maintaining a complicated supplier network, production systems, assembly lines, marketing network and after sales service centers. On top of this, the process of getting FAA certification for airliner is a tremendous undertaking. China had very little experience before it started ARJ-21, which resulted in significant delays while trying to get CAAC certification. Now 8 years after the initial planned service entry, the first ARJ-21 is finally about to enter service later this year without FAA certification. China certainly learnt a lot from ARJ-21 project from all I have read and is unlikely to have the sam delays getting CAAC certification in the C919 project. However, the thorny issue of have FAA recognizing CAAC certification still needs to be resolved before both aircraft can be sold to the wider markets. If they cannot be resolved, then C919 simply would not be able to land in large part of the world which requires on FAA or EASA certification. So until then, C919 is restricted to the domestic and surrounding markets. Based on COMAC's ARJ-21 delays, it's reasonable to assume that most airlines would prefer to wait until closer to certification before making decision on purchasing C919.

From all of this, I think it's quite clear the tremendous undertaking to go straight into C919 without even achieving a successful production cycle in the less competitive regional airliner segment which is currently dominated by Bombardier and Embraer. Up to now, C919 has been able to get large amount of orders (about 500) based purely on the size of its domestic market. As seen in the Russian project of MS-21 and Superjet-100, it is far easier to get export deals in the regional jet segment than the A320/B737 segment. Even an experienced aircraft maker like Bombardier has struggled with breaking into this segment and is loosing a lot of money and facing long delays in the CSeries project. Bombardier made the entry into this segment trying to take advantage of the generation gap between A320/B737 and next generation of regional jet by utilizing the next generation engine to achieve about 15% improvement in operation cost over A320. However, Airbus quickly countered CSeries and C919/MS-21 threat by coming out with the A320NEO upgrade by offering the same new engine options, new sharklets and some other smaller upgrades. That has more of less crushed CSeries sales prospects and given it a lead over the improve B737MAX upgrades. At this point, both C919 and MS-21 are going up against the two entrenched players with significant resource advantage. Unlike the CSeries, C919 (and MS-21) can at least secure large quantities of domestic orders and also have significant government support. COMAC does not have the marketing, production, certification and sales experience that Airbus and Boeing do. It is always hard to knock off established players without advantage in product quality. Both airbus and Boeing have significant backlogs, so C919 maybe able to get more orders in both domestic and export market if it is able to have fewer future delays and obtaining FAA certification. I think if it can get FAA certification and several hundreds export orders, this would be considered a successful project. After all, Airbus's first project A300 only achieved 500+ sales.

More importantly, I think China sees this a significant initiative in lifting its civilian aviation industry. I've talking many times in the past about how China's shipbuilding industry allows it to quickly and cheaply build up China's naval force. China's aerospace industry simply doesn't have close to the same production capacity as Lockheed Martin and Boeing. I read that COMAC aims to lift C919 annual production rate eventually to 150 aircraft a year. Even though that's rather small compared to A320 production of 60 a month, it would still be a huge undertaking for COMAC and AVIC1. That kind of huge leap in production quality and capability would be transferable to military aviation projects. In the end, I think China is willing to loose money on both ARJ-21 and C919 project for these reasons.

After C919, COMAC and Russia UAC is said to be joining forces in the C929 project. It seems like the technology used in this project may be behind that of B787 and A350. Both of which represent the cutting edge of modern civil aviation. So, it's hard for me to see how they could compete for much outside of domestic project. In choosing to partner up with UAC, COMAC is signaling it does not think it's capable of developing a commercially viable C929 project on its own. All of which leads to me think it would be best for China followers to temper expectations on the C919 project.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

J-20 and more thoughts on 5th generation projects

Most recently, a 7th prototype of J-20 project (No. 2016) appeared and made its maiden flight on September 18th. It’s been 9 months since the last prototype had come out, so this new prototype is a sign that the program has not hit any major stumbling block and was just going through the next iteration in its development. As a refresher, 2 prototypes (No. 2001 and No. 2002) came out and flew in 2011. They were probably the demonstrators of this program. Over 2 and half years later, the 3rd J-20 prototype (No. 2011) came out and was followed by 3 more prototypes (No. 2012, 2013 and 2015). They had some major redesign and changes compared to the demonstrators. So they should be considered the first pre-production prototypes and were probably produced in the same batch. CAC and CFTE have been testing them since that time. I expect that more J-20 prototypes will be coming out in the next few months, since they seem to be building them in batches on this and past CAC project. Compared to the last batch of J-20s, the most noticeable changes have been on the DSI bump and the engine nacelle. The DSI bump looks to be a little larger and people have speculated that some EW equipment may be installed inside. From the relatively few changes between the batches, one can surmise that the J-20 design is more or less frozen.

Indeed, there have already been speculations that the first production J-20s will come out next year to be tested and evaluated by FTTC. While I think that is certainly possible, I think it is also best to tamper one’s expectations and expect some problems along the way. Every 5th generation projects so far have experienced some bumps along the way. The PAK-FA project had fire on one of its prototypes and still has not flown a new prototype since. IAF have continually complained recent years about the technology and progress of PAK-FA. The F-22 and F-35 projects are far more open, so there were many reports of issues along the way. One would expect J-20 to encounter similar issues along the way even if those reports only come out in the rumour mills of Chinese military forums.

With everything that we can see, I think that CAC has been doing a great job with the J-20 project. At this point, I already consider J-20 project to be ahead of PAK-FA in both the design and timelines. In terms of design and technology, J-20 looks to be better configured for stealth from most profiles vs PAK-FA. The next generation AESA radar and the rest of electronic suite are already been deployed J-10B/C and J-16 compared to lack of such Russians platforms. Even the next generation missiles (like PL-10 and PL-15) seem to be further along in development and deployment than similar Russian systems. PAK-FA only seems to be using a more advanced engine at this phase of testing. Considering that the Russians started to research on 5th gen fighter jet in the 80s and first flew PAK-FA a year earlier than J-20, this does not speak very well of Russia’s aerospace industry.

For the past year or two, I’ve read numerous articles coming out of India that complained about the technology, cost and lack of their work share in the PAK-FA project. Since then, there was a fire on one of the PAK-FA prototypes when they were giving a flight demonstration to Indian delegation and have not shown a new prototype since. There have also been numerous online posts about the build problems and quality issues with those prototypes. Now most recently, I’ve also seen a report where India is thinking of pulling out participation in the development of PAK-FA and just buying them straight out of Russia. They probably realized Russia was unwilling to share its most sensitive secrets so they needed to devote more of their R&D resources on their domestic project MCA. At the same time, it also appears that some in IAF is favouring for purchase of more Rafael and less PAK-FA. There are numerous components of PAK-FA project like stealth and propulsion, which are not up to par with the standard established by F-22. If the leap in technology over Rafael is not big, then it makes all the sense to buy the more of the mature platform. Of course, that could also create a disastrous scenario for IAF if J-20 and FC-31 turn out to be much better than Rafael.

If all goes well, J-20 looks to join service in a couple of years. This version of J-20 will be quite underpowered and have to wait a few years before getting WS-15 engine. That would be the next major change for J-20. It looks like the second demonstrator or first pre-production prototype of FC-31 may be coming out soon. I think most people expect some significant changes vs the first demonstrator. In the recent years, CAC has devoted most of its resources on J-20, whereas other projects like J-10B/C have been a little slow in development. SAC is tasked with the development of numerous flanker variants and UAVs. It may not be able to devote the same amount of resource on FC-31 project, so I would expect the progress on FC-31 to be slower than J-20. Even if FC-31 becomes ready several years after J-20, it may still become available to export market at the same time as PAK-FA (after Russian and Indian orders). So I think FC-31 could capture a good chunk of the non F-35 market.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

More on Yuan submarine.

Recently, I saw a good article that Chris Carlson posted on USNI regarding Yuan Submarine. Although I have not attempted to do any GE measurement of Yuan that I had done with 093 class, I find his assessment on the size of the Yuan submarine to be well done. I previously would have estimated the ratio of Yuan's beam to that of Song at higher than 8.4 to 7.5 based on photos, but he uses a very thorough approach, so I will accept his numbers until anything else comes up.

On the topic of China using Yuan as an anti-ship cruise missile platform, I think he is also on the money here vs the other USNI author. At this point, China has put a lot of investment into different types of torpedoes whereas much less noise have been made about submarine launched anti-ship missiles, so I think their preferred method of attack on surface ships is going to be through blowing a whole underneath rather than hitting something on the midsection. There have not been any sighting of submarine launched anti-ship subsonic missile that's newer than YJ-82. On top of that, it's highly unlikely YJ-18 is designed to be launched from torpedo tube. With the specs of Chinese navy's new CCL VLS system, I think the diameter of YJ-18 is likely to be larger than 53 cm which is the requirement to fit inside the torpedo tube.

And I'm waiting for his article with Andrew Erickson regarding Chinese supersonic ASCMs to come out.

Victory Parade and Chinese politics

Most recently, China had a Victory parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of war against Japan. As part of this parade, China rolled out its latest ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, armored vehicles, UAVs, helicopters, fighter jets and special missions aircraft. All of the displayed weapon systems are believed to be in service. For the first time, China publicly displayed DF-21D and DF-26, which are the ballistic missiles designed for attacking moving targets like a carrier. Certainly, I have posted numerous blog entries in the past regarding China’s ASBM program and the challenges around it, so this has always been an area of interest for PLA followers. We have now seen these ASBM missiles on display and know that it is in active service. What we don’t know is how good China is at finding a fast moving carrier group in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, tracking it and then engaging it. Certainly for a missile DF-26 which will have longer range and higher re-entry speed than DF-21D, the engineering challenge of finding carrier upon re-entry and maneuvering to hit something that can move at greater than 30 knots is very daunting task. They also displayed DF-5B, which is China’s first public display of an ICBM with multiple nuclear warheads. The parade also displayed the DF-10A LACM (land based version of KD-20 LACM) and various other short and medium ranged ballistic missiles. The second artillery certainly had a field day at this military parade. Comparing this to the pictures from China’s military parade in 1984, it was quite interesting how backward they were back then. It still had the same nationalistic tone and show of strength from all the Chinese leaders.

Behind all of this, it’s a time of uncertainty and worry for the current Chinese leadership. China’s major leaders of past and present were all there (even ones I didn’t realize was still alive) to present a united front. By this point, most people have seen the crash of Chinese stock market. The Chinese economy has also slowed down a lot by this point. Nobody can predicate what will happen there or anywhere else, but these parades are used to show the power and accomplishments of the communist party and distract people from the worries of economic and other problems. I’ve read numerous articles on the politics of recent events. While I’m not sure about their accuracy, it does paint a picture where the younger generation of leaders is still battling the older generation in their efforts to carry out reforms. China’s previous paramount leader Hu Jintao was quite limited in his power due to the continued influence of his predecessor Jiang Zemin. It seemed like the leadership of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang would get more freedom in their efforts to bring a more market based economy to China since taking control 2 years ago. Reading about their pilot free trade zone in Shanghai, the attempted deleveraging of the credit bubble and wider trading band of RMB, I have gotten the feeling that Li Keqiang has some pretty good ideas about resolving some of the problems in the Chinese economy. In the past couple of month with the worsening stock market and rapidly slowing economy, you can really see a lot of his moves getting reversed. (If you listened to any of Donald Trump’s speech recently, you would hear about the greatest one-day devaluation of RMB of 2%.) To clear up certain misconceptions before we continue: China does have its own foreign exchange market similar to EBS, which allows RMB to be freely traded within the 2% daily band for entities inside China. It just has capital control preventing money from easily flowing outside the country (like Brazil, Korea, India and numerous other nations), so does not appear free-floating to outsiders.

Throughout PRC’s history, elderly members of the politburo have been more reluctant toward reform efforts. Even when the all-powerful Deng Xiaoping was pushing his reforms in the 80s, other party elders like Chen Yun and Li Xiannian limited Deng’s efforts as soon as troubles started. The most reform minded Chinese leaders of their day Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were pushed out and humiliated after the student protests of 1987 and then the infamous 1989 TianAnMen Square protests. In a functional economy, we have the boom and bust cycle where credit expand during the boom and contract during bust causing problems in the economy. The bust part of cycle allows the inefficiencies and ailments of the economy to be removed. It is natural for any reform and deleveraging economic efforts to cause a period of economic and social problems. The last time China really allowed the bust to happen is during the Asian economic crisis of 1997 and 1998 when the inefficient state owned enterprises were allowed to fail. At the time, unemployment rate, early retirement and crime rate skyrocketed in the country. The FaLanGong movement arose during this period. Since then, China enjoyed 10 years of good economic growth, a slowdown in 2008 and another 6 years of economic growth. While this was happening, it has been accumulating unsustainable amount of debt and credit creation.

In May of 1989, Zhao Ziyang, who was nominally China’s president at the time, told the visiting Soviet leader Gorbachev that he was not really in charge of China in real decision-making. After taking over in 1987 from Hu, Zhao needed to survive 10 years against the pressures of the conservatives inside the politburo, but lasted less than 2 years after refusing to participate in crushing the student movement. Since then, most of the reform efforts have been economically related and is badly needed in China right now. If reform minded leaders inside the day-to-day leadership get pushed every time there is a setback and become blamed by the elders for economic problems, it’s hard for me to see how this new generation of leaders can get anything done while Jiang Zemin and Li Peng are alive and functioning. Looking beyond China’s display of military power in this parade, China’s biggest threat to the world is an economic crash that slows down its major trade partners and vacation destinations.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Update on Chinese Navy: MLP and Zubr

Most recently, a new amphibious type of ship entered service with Chinese navy that looks to be similar to US’s Mobile Landing Platform. You can see it from the picture below.

As shown int he pictures, the most obvious usage of this ship (Given the number 868) has already been shown in photos where a Zubr class hovercraft boarded it. Based on the current photos, only one Zubr class hovercraft can fit in the platform area although it could also possibly also hold a Type 726 hovercraft (Chinese version of LCAC). PLAN had previously signed contract to purchase 4 Zubrs from Ukraine with 2 produced in Ukraine and the other 2 in China. The 2 from Ukraine were both delivered prior to Russia’s takeover of Crimea, but future dealings for Zubrs will most likely be with the Russians. At the time of purchase, it looked like they could be used in any Taiwan conflict scenarios or any amphibious operations in South China Sea. More blue water amphibious marine expeditions required the Type 071 class. The induction of No. 868 certainly allows more expanded operational scenario for Zubr, but the scale of its usage is really limited by the number of such MLPs that PLAN will likely induct in the future.

This looks to be a vote of confidence for Zubr class in China. I think that China will be building more Zubr with Russian help (especially on propulsions) after the first batch of 4 joins service. This huge commitment for Zubr comes after PLAN had already inducted the smaller Type 726 into service. That would indicate Zubr is bringing some unique capabilities that Type 726 launched from Type 071 simply cannot provide. As with No. 868, we will have to wait to see its other usage cases, since PLAN is unlikely to have ordered such a ship just to carry 1 Zubr around.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Export of Yuan Submarine

Very recently, an article from Bangkok Post broke the news that China has own the competition to supply 3 submarines to Bangkok Navy. While this is China's third export deal of conventional submarine in the past year, this is the most significant one in terms of the competitiveness of the competition. Since China and Thailand has a history of military transactions, this deal is unlikely to encounter the kind of scrutiny like the Turkey long range SAM contract.

At present time, there are at least 12 Yuan submarines of different variants (4 039As and 8+ 039Bs) in service with PLAN across 2 flotillas. They and the Type 039 Song submarines are the work horses of PLAN. After a rapid production run the last couple of years, the production has slowed in the past year. While this is the most capable of China's mass produced conventional submarine, it is not considered to be as classified as when it first came out. In the past year, Admiral Greenert, Chief of US naval operation, was allowed to go inside one of the Type 039B. While this generally reflect PLAN's effort to be show greater transparency with its USN counterpart, it also indicates 039B is not held with the same level of secrecy as Type 093 nuclear submarine. Since late 2013, a model of S-20 was displayed in various arms exhibitions. From one of the exhibitions, the S-20 is shown to have submerged displacement 2300 ton with maximum dive of 300 m. I was always under the impression that 039B was larger than this, so S-20 may turn out to be a smaller version of 039B.

In late 2013, It was reported that China had received order for 2 Ming class submarines (Type 035B) from Bangladesh. This was certainly surprising news since Chinese shipyard have not produced such submarines since early 2000s. Rather than selling 2 from its existing fleet, these were to be new builds. It's not clear which shipyard is building these submarines, since I have yet to see any pictures. While the type of submarine was surprising, the fact that China was selling to one of its traditional clients was not. Then in early this year, Pakistan announced that it will purchase 8 submarines from China along with 4 frigates. None of this was surprising, since reports of export of 6 to 8 Yuan submarines (S-20P for Pakistan?) had been rumoured for several years after Pakistan's U-214 deal failed due to funding issues. Since Pakistani Navy had always been purchasing advanced European submarines up to this point, it was significant that Pakistani Navy found Yuan submarine as suitable purchase. Even so, China's traditionally strong relationship with Pakistan was important in this deal.

While, the order from Thailand is not as large as Pakistan, it involved more competitors based on the various articles on this sale. With offers from Germany, South Korea, Russia, Sweden and France, S-20T won against some quality competition. None of this means Yuan submarine is the most advanced or the quietest conventional submarine out there. The article was very clear in that Yuan was picked because it the best value for money. In other articles, they also mentioned China's willing to transfer technology and provide training. I would think that other nations are willing to provide training and ToT also, so I think the bigger draw is China's cost advantage. The article also mentioned Chinese submarines can stay in the water longer and had superior weaponry and technology. That could mean Yuan submarine's AIP engine showed good performance in trials. The superior weaponry probably points to the torpedoes and submarine launched anti-ship cruise missiles that China has developed in the recent years. Traditionally, the Chinese submarines have been more noisy than western submarines. While this export variant of Yuan submarine is unlikely to the quietest in the competition, its cost advantage along with comparable performance in other areas won over Thailand. It's worth noting that China's 054A had lost out to South Korea in Thailand's frigate competition despite similar cost advantage. So this shows Thailand would not pick S-20 if it did not believe in its performance.

Conventional submarine is one of the most lucrative sector of defense industry. West European and Russian submarine makers had been winning most of the export competitions in the past, so it bodes well that S-20 could win one of such competitions on more than just cost advantage.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Update to the Chinese carrier project

I have not made much updates recently due to travel and busy work schedule, but I did see this picture today which was really interesting. Edited: It turns out the original photo I posted was a CG, so only the one below is real. This one shows 4 10x J-15s on board. We also have photo of 5 J-15s flying together.
106 Apr26
There are various conflicting reports on this particular training exercise, but it seems like CV-16 and escort fleet left early April for the first training exercise of the year and may have spent time in South China Sea before coming back. The J-15s on board CV-16 are from the first production batch numbered 10x. We've seen up to No. 109 in J-15s, so they do have up to 10 production J-15s available to be deployed. The most important part to note here is that they have moved past flight testing with the same 2 or 3 J-15 prototypes.

Again, it took two and half year for PLAN to get to this point with CV-16, so this is still a very deliberate project for them. Based on recent interviews, it looks like they are trying to move forward at a measured pace to avoid any major accidents. As more J-15s are produced, it is interesting to see CV-16 with increasingly crowded flight deck.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Cutter progress in Chinese shipyards

I last wrote about China's expansion of civilian maritime force here. Due to recent requests, I'm doing an update. Please note that as with all else Chinese shipbuilding related, the various programs do change and some new builds may have been mixed. This is my best attempt at summarizing what has happened in the past 2 years.

In the first part of that last post, I wrote about the expansion of CMS (Chinese Maritime Surveillance) provincial branches. From the table in that section, 36 cutters of 1500 ton, 1000 ton and 600 ton class were built for various provincial flotilla of CMS. Much of the building and launching activities happened in 2013 and 2014. HP shipyard, which builds most of the larger cutters, have delivered all of the cutters that they were contracted to build by middle of 2014. WC shipyard seems to have completed its share too. Even the smaller shipyards seem to have finished most if not all of their ships. So at this point, it looks like the provincial expansion have completed.

After this first expansion of provincial fleet, the Chinese Maritime Surveillance, now under the Coast guard, is undergoing a further expansion as mentioned in the second part of that post. That program consists of 2 12000 ton cutters to be built by JN shipyard, 4 5000 ton cutters to be built by WC shipyard, 4 4000 ton cutters to be built by HP shipyard and 10 more 3000 ton cutters to be built by HP and WC shipyard. Most likely, RFPs were sent out to the various shipyards around the country, but only a few shipyards in China are capable of building these larger cutters. The 2 12000 ton cutters were launched at JN shipyard this past few months and they are probably the first major cutter projects that JN shipyard has worked on. They are given the designations Haijing-2901 and 3901. It's unclear if more of this class will be built. The 4000 ton class cutters have been all delivered by HP shipyard as Haijing-1401, 2401, 3401 and 3402. It looks like those 3000 ton class cutters have now all been launched and commissioned into service with Coast guard. 3 of them are with the North Sea Flotilla, 4 with East Sea Flotilla and remaining 3 with South Sea Flotilla. In addition, works have been under way for the 5000+ ton class ships cutters with 3 of them (Haijing-1501, 2501, 3501) launched in the past few months at WC shipyard.

All of the work by HP shipyard were completed by the end of 2014, whereas WC is still in the middle of completing the 5000 ton class cutters and just most recently completed work for 3000 ton class cutters. All of this is somewhat surprising, because WC shipyard had taken the lion share of cutter constructions in the past, while HP is new to the game. I think the experience that HP gained from the 054A and 056 class projects really improved their ability in delivering ships on time. They are now rewarded with large orders for both naval ships and cutters. Back in 2013, CMS had joined the coast guard along with FLEC and customs as part of a consolidation of China's large maritime surveillance programs. Before that point, only the coast guard ships were allowed to be installed with naval gun. As part of this consolidation, all the newer large cutters for various arms of the consolidated Coast Guard are installed with naval gun. With all the maritime issues that China has with its neighbours, I think the ability to install naval and machine guns on these cutters is definitely a reason that pushed for the consolidation of the 4 agencies.

On top of the work for CMS, FLEC also had money to expand its fleet with 3000 ton and 1000 ton cutters. Since FLEC also merged into the coast guard, I found it hard to hard to determine which of the newer cutters are for its orders. There are a couple of new 3000 ton class cutters launched at both HP/WC shipyards like 3301 and 2301 that seem to fit the profile.

Of the 2 smaller agencies that consolidated, HaiGuan (Chinese customs) had an order for 3 1500-ton class cutter with electric propulsion and 9 600 ton class cutters. The 1500 ton class cutters are to be built by HP shipyard. The first of which was launched last year and has now been painted with Haijing-44104. The 600 ton cutters are built by Guijiang shipyard. Guijiang shipyard handles a large quantity of Coast guard's 600 ton class cutters. They were the first to built Type 618 and improved versions of Type 618 cutters for the old Chinese coast guard. They have continued to built Type 618B cutters for the new consolidated coast guard.

Since the last update, the majority of the programs have been completed or well under way. The old CMS agency has been delivered with most of the ships it had ordered, whereas FLEC still seems to be waiting for all of its ships. The new consolidated Coast guard agency have since started new programs. A year ago, they started projects for Type 818 patrol vessels (3000 ton class) and Type 718 cutters (2000 ton class), HP shipyard signed for 4 of the Type 818 and 5 of Type 718. It sounds like Hudong, guijiang and Zhejiang are also participating in these 2 programs. WC shipyard's involvement was not clear, although my guess is that it will be building them too. So, the Chinese coast guard build up is continuing over the next few years, but probably at a slower pace than the past 2 years.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Myanmar and Kokang

In this past month, Myanmar air force has apparently waded into Chinese territory 3 times as part of its ongoing struggles with Kokang rebels. In the most recent time, bombs were dropped which killed 5 Chinese citizens. Due to the fact that the vast majorities of Kokang population are ethnically Han Chinese and use RMB as their currency, there is understandably a lot of sympathy in China toward the plight of Kokang. Many people have compared this to Russia and Crimea and others wonder if China should do more in this conflict.

As usual, China keeps to its official stance of not interfering with another country’s internal affairs while building up air defense capabilities in the border area. China painstakingly makes it clear that it’s not supporting Kokang rebels causes, because it has relatively good relationship with Myanmar and does a lot of business in the country. In the future, it is also possible that China would want to set up base in Myanmar to access Indian Ocean. So it should be quite understandable that PLA does not devote much resource in this area. There is 2 regiments stationed in the area, but they are quite a distance away from where the bombings took place. A lot of people were wondering about the readiness of PLAAF to respond to intrusions, but it seems like they really didn’t have that much time based on where the intrusions happened.

The interesting part is that Myanmar first reacted to these bombings by putting the blames on the rebels and absolving itself of all responsibility. They have since toned down their accusations and may have even offered compensations to the victim’s families, but I think they really looked quite foolish in the process. A swift apology and some kind of pledge to investigate the matters would have done a lot to pacify the anger in China right now. As it is, the Chineses gov’t is under pressure to do something.

So far, it looks like they have told Myanmar that this kind of action is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. And I think that if China wants to be the leader in this region, it certainly cannot allow repeated incursion of its airspace and bombing of its citizens. The way to do that is by building up more air defense weapon systems and installing more early warning radar in the range. If China’s radar cannot reliable track Myanmar’s Mig-29s, then they need to improve those radar systems. And if another deadly bombing does occur, then they probably need to launch strikes against certain Myanmar military targets. Other than that, it is in China's interest to keep this as low-key as possible.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What's most shrouded in secrecy

The Chinese navy has long been accused of not showing enough transparency. While that has certainly really improved in the recent year, there are still plenty of areas that's hard for a blogger like myself to follow. Certainly, most of the surface combatants are easy to track, since many photos are released of them. Most of the subsystems and weapon systems on these ships are also quite transparent with some version of them offered for exports. There are some many news reports giving even more information on various naval ships and their subsystems. So which programs are noticeably absent from all these photos and news releases?

The most obvious answers would be their strategic platforms. Certainly, CV-16 is a strategic platform, but it also happens to be one of the more transparent programs due to how it has captured the imagination of the ordinary people. At this point, I don't see them introducing any significant secrecy to CV-16 or aircraft carriers in general due to the excitement it has generated. Certainly, the nuclear submarine programs are probably the most secretive platforms amongst all of the naval ships. We very rarely see pictures of under construction nuclear submarines, but we do get some pictures of them at the naval bases and out on patrols. Also, 093 was officially declassified a few years ago, which allowed for some more pictures to come out. As shown in my previous blog entry, we get enough information about 093 and 094 from China themselves and Google Earth photos in addition to ONI reports to make some educated guesses on where they are at.

So, what else are really hard to get any kind of useful information on? The first would be the ASBM project. I've written numerous articles on it back in 2009. Such articles were written based on work already done by Chinese bloggers on the same topic. Even though numerous articles were written by people like myself, Andrew Erickson and numerous other PLA followers, much of what we gathered were based on our observations of various support systems that were developed. Certainly, we get more information on China's satellite programs, ELINT programs and UAV programs than DF-21D missile itself. We know that it is an active program, but the actual operational status is unknown at this point. It certainly makes sense that such secrecy is given to this program because of its strategic nature against US aircraft carriers. Due to the amount of attention I've seen USN given to this program, it seems like China would be wise to continue the secrecy here.

Secondly, What caused me to write this blog is the secrecy in China's torpedo programs. First thing to note is the different levels of transparency given to light and heavy torpedoes. We have not only seen many photos of Yu-7 carried by helicopters and launched by naval ships, but we've also seen export versions (ET-52) of Yu-7 and pictures of the Yu-7 seeker. It would make sense for Yu-7 to be more transparent since it's unlikely to be very helpful against nuclear submarine and more likely to be used to counter conventional submarines. At the same time, its kinetic performance can be estimated based on that of MK-46 and A244-S. Basically, the Chinese navy don't have as much to loose by giving Yu-7 greater transparency. It will be interesting to see if the next generation of light torpedo will be given the same level of transparency. It certainly seems like they are not investing as much in them. Heavy torpedo on the other hand have been extremely secretive. In the past 5 years, we've seen photos of Yu-6 and Yu-3A loaded onto conventional submarines. There have been no export versions of 533 mm torpedoes anywhere. There have been little to no articles on the usage and test firings of 533 mm torpedoes. Even the status and performance of a rather old torpedo like Yu-3A is completely off limits. I do suspect that they should have the necessary kinetic performance to sink conventional submarines and most surface combatants provided that the Chinese submarine can reliably track them. Based on that, it seems like these torpedoes will remain in service at least with the conventional submarines.

Since the wide introduction of Yu-6 is the past decade, there have apparently been 2 new heavy torpedoes in development that are either in service of close to service Yu-9 and Yu-10. In case you are wondering, I just read them off reasonably reliable Chinese bbs sources that these torpedo programs do exist and have gone through test firings. These were probably done in China's underwater weapon test range in South China Sea. It's no wonder why China is so concerned about American spy aircraft and ships around that area. Considering that there have not been any photos of them anywhere, I certainly don't have any details on their kinetic performance. So, the question is why there are so much secrecy toward these 533 mm torpedoes. I think China has correctly identified USN nuclear submarines as their biggest threat. After all, Chinese submarines cannot leave their naval bases without getting tracked by USN subs. Even though the top speed and operating depth of USN subs are classified, I would imagine that China needs something like MK-48 ADCAP that can sustain high speed over long range to chase down a modern USN submarine. The actual performance of something like the MK-48 mod 7 CBASS is classified (as is its advanced processing capability), but i would imagine it's capable of chasing down and destroying Russian and Chinese nuclear submarines that are within certain range. So I do think these new torpedoes will take over from Yu-3A/6 as the primary weapons on the Chinese nuclear submarines. On top of that, USN aircraft carriers are extremely fast and well protected against strikes for anti-ship missiles. A heavy torpedo is sure to do much greater damage than even multiple hits from anti-ship missiles. Therefore, new heavy torpedo development would also have double strategic value in usage against carriers. Now, I'm not saying the Chinese nuclear submarines are quiet enough to get within torpedo launching distance of a USN carrier, but numerous ambushing conventional submarines equipped with new torpedoes would be credible threats. So, I think these usage cases against strategic platforms explain their classified nature.

Another torpedo system that we have very little information on is China's version of ASROC. Since 054As have joined service, there have been many photos, articles and TV interviews revealing the many capabilities of this class of ships. We knew very early on that 054A's VLS could launch HQ-16 missiles and have seen many photos of live firing of HQ-16. However, it was only recently confirmed on Chinese online sources that these VLS could also fire anti-submarine missile (given possible designation Yu-8). We first heard on a TV interview of PLAN commander that such ability does exist, but I did not know at the time whether this Yu-8 was fired from the VLS or some other launcher. I just have not seen any photos of Yu-8 at this point. Based on articles regarding the new VLS on 052D, it seems like that VLS will also be capable of firing some types of anti-submarine missile. There are certain advantages to VL anti-submarine missile vs normal shipborne torpedo launchers, since it gives surface combatants additional quick reaction, standoff ASW capability on top of shipborne helicopters. As I mentioned, we are still waiting for first public photo of such missile.

On top of the classified nature of torpedoes, information on the new sonar system that China has developed for its surface combatants and submarines are also classified, but not to the same degree. I think it's clear that the Chinese Navy sees ASW as its biggest weakness. They have spent a lot of money in developing sensors to track advanced submarines, but more resources is spent on the weapons against them. Even as they show more transparency, torpedo programs are still very secretive.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Type 093/094 updates

Recently, there was an article from Taiwanese magazine talking about newly launched hulls of the improved Type 093 program. Since I don't normally trust sources that I have not vetted, I decided to take a deeper look into my notes from the past year and also look through some satellite imagery.

My most recent update on Chinese nuclear submarines was posted here in Oct 2013. That update was the result of reading a 2013 report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission that China began building first of 4 improved 093 SSN in 2012. I've since used the designation 093B on this improved variant. Based on my investigation at the time, it looked like the actual work probably started a few years earlier, but the sub first showed up on satellite images bye 2012. That's probably what they were referring to although I do not really know how they arrived at 4 as the projected number of builds. By the time the report came out, the public available satellite imagery already showed the first of the improved 093 SSNs launched at Huludao shipyard, so I was able to confirm it in my blog entry. Since nuclear submarine imagery is harder to come by than other Chinese naval ships due to their strategic nature, I find these DoD/Naval/US governmental reports to be very helpful as guidance since they have sources that I simply don't have access to.

From 2013 satellite images after the report came out, it appeared that 093B may have a hump and look to slightly wider than early 093s. Since that report came out, a 2014 update to the satellite photos showed the new 093B had left Huludao shipyard for sea trials. There was also a really blurry photo of 093B next to a pier that again showed it may have the hump. That Taiwanese magazine (and numerous people on internet forums) speculated that 093B will have a VLS installation, but I think that is very unlikely even if 093B design has a hump due to space limitations. If 093B is actually wider than 093, I would imagine they want to use that space for noise reduction technology. If 094 is up to 30 m longer than 093 with its 12 SLBM launchers, why would adding a 16 cell VLS to 093 not require a visibly longer hull? I think the biggest step from 091 to 093 was creating a submarine that had reliable reactor capable of sustaining top speed of 30 knots. Type 093 is still very loud so the biggest improvement would be reducing the noise level to a more acceptable level. It's possible that Type 095 will carry VLS, but I think it makes more sense to put that on a larger SSGN design.

The past couple of days, I've looked around the usual nuclear submarine locations in China to look for current states of nuclear attack subs. It appears that the Taiwanese photos of 2 side by side 093B submarine to be accurate and they are beside each other at the piers of Huludao shipyard. It's harder to determine with the newer pictures if 093B do indeed have the hump. Moreover, there is another 093B in advanced stage of construction in the dry dock. It is possible the first 093B has returned to the piers after sea trials in various underwater test center or maybe both of the launched ones are new 093Bs. The main support for returning 093B would be the unlikelihood of Huludao launching 2 093Bs so soon after the previous GE photos showing no submarines at the piers of Huludao shipyard. I think the latter case is more likely because sea trials for new attack subs normally take longer and they normally don't seem to return to Huludao after a year. Also, the 2 boats both look more surfaced vs active attack sub, which seems to me means that not all of the stuff inside have been installed yet.

If we go by US-China Economic and Security Review Commission report of 4 093B submarines, then all of the submarines will likely be launched by 2016. It looks like 5 094s have been launched already, so Huludao would be focusing on attack subs at this point. So, what do we know about this improved variant of 093? Based on satellite photos of the most surfaced 091 submarine, the first generation of Chinese attack sub is likely around 93 m in length and 9.5 to 10 m in beam. Of the first two 093s I spotted at Yulin submarine base, they are both around 101 m in length and 8.5 to 9 m in beam. Now, if we use the premise that these 093s are more submerged than the 091s, it's likely the 093s are about the same (or maybe slightly less than) in beam as 091, but up to 10 m longer. It would be hard for me to imagine that 093 would be 1 m less in beam than 091, since that would definitely result in smaller inner hull width. The newer 093Bs look to be around 106 m in length and 10.8 to 11 m in beam. Consider that one of them is in dry docks and the other 2 are more surfaced than the in service attack subs, these are likely to be accurate measurement of the boat's dimensions. So I think this improved variant of 093 submarine is wider and slightly longer than the early 093s. My guess is that with the larger submarine and newer technology becoming available, there is probably going to be real changes inside the submarine with newer reactor, engines and reduction gears in addition to more noise reduction gears. It looks like they are at least comfortable enough with the design to mass produce it since 3 or 4 093Bs are launched or close to launching. Until then, the only attack subs in service will be the 3 091s at JiangGeZhuang and 2 093s at Yulin submarine base.

The next part to look at is China's ballistic missile submarines. There is still the one 092 SSBN at Jianggezhuang submarine base which I think should be converted to SSGN at some point, since it cannot carry JL-2 SLBMs. On top of that, there is the old Type 031 Golf class that appears to still be at Jianggezhuang base even though it has retired already. The lone Type 032 submarine, which was built to replace Golf Class, is now at Xiaopingdao submarine base. It does make sense for Type 032 to be there, since Xiaopingdao is a naval testing center for submarines (and possibly other ships) rather than an active submarine flotilla. That's why no attack submarines are found in that base. It is also close enough within China's Bohai Sea where it would be more dangerous for foreign subs to follow. At the moment, there are 2 094s at Yulin submarine base and 1 094 at at Xiaopingdao. Last year, we had a photo of 3 094s at Yulin submarine base, but photos since have shown 2 there. At the same time, there were 2 094s at the piers of Huludao shipyard based on satellite photos. That would indicate a total of 5 094s have been launched. Based on previous ONI projections of 5 094s, it seems like all of the 094s have alredy been produced. This would corroborate the current satellite photos where the launched and under construction boats are all attack subs. So why do we only see 3 094s on the satellite photos at the moment. My guess is that the 2 094s currently at Yulin are both officially in service. The other 094 that was at Yulin base in 2014 could either be in service or not. If it is in service, then it could be out on a patrol. Otherwise, it is likely to be in Chinese navy's deep water testing center in South China Sea going through deep dive and long endurance testing. It seems like at least 3 094s will be operating out of the Yulin submarine base. The one in Xiaopingdao was probably launched in 2013 at Huludao along with the first 093B. It has likely finished the initial sea trials and is now going through more advanced weapon/sonar/combat system testing at Xiaopingdao. The other 094 that was at Huludao in 2014 is probably going through sea trials right now. There was a gap of about 3 to 4 years (2004 to 2007/8) from the launching of first 094 to the next 2. All 3 of them probably went through testing at Xiaopingdao around 2007 to 2009 range. I think it's likely that all 3 are commissioned by this point. Since there is a gap of about 5 years from the time the 3rd 094 to 4th 094, I think it's quite possible the last two have made some changes vs the earlier ones based on problems found in testing. Satellite photos show that even though the length of submarine are the same, the location of launch tubes may have moved. Overall, the changes in the newer 094s seem to be less than the change in the newer 093s, which would explain the longer time gap between the first 2 093s and the improved 093B submarines. That seems to indicate the flaws in the earlier Type 093s required more time and effort to overcome. It is also possible that greater urgency was placed on Type 094 program due to the need of having a true long range underwater nuclear deterrent.

At current time, the ratio of attack submarines to boomers in Chinese Navy is currently 5 (3 091s + 2 093s) to 4 (1 092 + 3 094s). If we factor in the the submarines that are under construction and in sea trials, it will become 9 (3 091s + 6 093s) to 6 (1 092 + 5 094s). That seems to insufficient number of attack subs protecting boomers. Moreover, the 3 091s are likely to be retired in the coming years, since they have already been in service for 25 to 30 years. The lone 092 seems to be more likely to be converted to a SSGN rather than be decomissioned with the 091s. So it seems like the first Type 095 submarine would needs to launch soon after the conclusion of Type 093B program in order to eventually establish a 2 to 1 ratio between attack subs and boomers. Based on everything I have seen, Huludao does seem to have started work on Type 095 program already.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Around Chinese shipyards

Recently, there was an overhead shot of the JiangNan shipyard showing all of the activity going on. From that picture, it became apparent that there were 2 new Type 726 LCAC that were under construction that we were previously unaware of. With that in mind, the following is a best effort attempt to show the building activities around the major naval shipbuilding yards.

First start off with JiangNan shipyard, which is known for building most of PLAN's destroyers and some MCM ships and diesel submarines.
The recent overhead photos shows 5 launched 052C/D around the ship. No. 151 has returned to the shipyard for maintenance and is currently parked next to No. 153, which has yet to be commissioned. It looks like the latter is ready to be commissioned any day now. Amongst the 052D, another one has just went on sea trials leaving 3 052Ds that are launched still in shipyard. At current time, there is one 052D that joined service last year with 2 other ones in sea trials. A 4th 052D looks to be ready for sea trials soon and the remaining 2 are probably 6 month to a year away from being ready for sea trial. There is at least 2 more 052Ds that are scheduled to be built at this shipyard. Works for 052D series has also started at Dalian shipyard, but the production there is limited compared to JN shipyard. The other notable ship is the 2nd 12000 ton cutter. This one is given the number Haijing-3901 (first one had Haijing-2901). Based on prior reports, only these 2 units should be built for this class of coast guard ships. They should be the 2 largest cutters in service with the Chinese Coast Guard. Now that the numerous civilian ministries have joined coast guard, many of the cutters are getting armed with naval guns (some even with 76 mm). I still have yet to see such gun on the 12000 ton, so it would be interesting to see if it will be armed. Finally, 2 new Type 726 LCAC appears to be under construction at JN shipyard. So far, 3 have been built for Type 071 LPDs. Since each LPD can fit 4 of them, I think more Type 726s are expected for the future. However, there are currently only gaps in PLAN's numbering system for 2 more Type 726s (3323 and 3324), so I wonder what kind of plans they have for this series. With the induction of Zubr hovercraft, they do not need Type 726 for solo missions to nearby islands. Do they intend to fit more Type 726s into Type 071's well deck in the future or do they intend to use it to hold amphibious vehicles? That could tell us about how PLA conducts amphibious assaults in the future.

Secondly, HuDong shipyard is as busy as it usually is. There are currently 3 larger ships launched and parked at the shipyard. One of which is the 4th Type 071 and the 2 others are both Type 815A AGI ship. Interestingly enough, there was a 3rd Type 815A which recently just departed the shipyard and entered NSF with pennant number 854. The first 2 Type 815s (one of which is Type 815A) both entered service with ESF. Given the overwhelming presence of JMSDF and USN nearby, it makes sense for these ships to first join ESF and NSF. It would be interesting to see if SSF will get any of the two that are under construction. The ships themselves are large enough to go past the immediate South China Sea area for longer ranged missions. I have already talked about Type 071 project in previous posts, so I will leave it alone here. The smaller surface combatants consist of 2 Type 054A(10th and 11th from HD) and 2 Type 056 (6th and 7th from HD), One of the 054As look ready to join service soon and the other one was just launched recently. One of the Type 056 should be going on sea trials soon if it has not already. There are definitely more 056 to be built here, but not sure if that applies to Type 054A. Finally, there are also 2 C28A frigates for the Algerian navy that are parked closely to the 2 Type 056s. The second one was just launched this past week and the modules for the 3rd one can also be seen. These 2800 ton ships are the largest export ships that the Chinese shipyards are currently building. Most of the export surface ships have been OPVs, FACs and smaller patrol boats. Since HD shipyard builds mostly frigates and larger ships, the next export contract it will likely work on is when Pakistan orders a follow-on to the F-22P series. At this point, I don't believe China has received any export orders based on Type 054A, which is a real shame considering how well it has served the Chinese Navy.

Next up, HuangPu shipyard also has a lot of activities for both naval and coast guard ships. It currently has 2 Type 056s (6th and 7th from HP) and 1 Type 054A (10th) parked outside. The 11th Type 054A is still in the construction hall and a few months away from launching. As usual, HP shipyard is swamped with ships for coast guard and other civilian ministries. In the past year, HP shipyard has built 1500, 3000 and 4000 ton cutters for different ministries. Even though they all fall under coast guard now, the cutters are still needed for the pre-merger ministries like CMS, FLEC and Customs. As mentioned earlier, one of the notable things is that these newer cutters now come with naval guns. HP and WC shipyard have both gotten similar orders for Type 056 and cutters, but HP have generally been building them much quicker. I think this just reflects the reality of Chinese shipbuilding industry where shipyards around Shanghai and Guangzhou simply are higher quality than the ones up north and further inland.

Right beside HuangPu shipyard is the GSI shipyard. Currently, there is one Type 904A and one Type 903A parked outside with a second Type 904A under construction. Another Type 903A AOR just went on sea trials a few days ago and these are the 5th and 6th ships of this class. Type 903/A AORs have been instrumental in all of China's recent Gulf of Aden flotillas and other blue water missions. Aside from the UNREP ships, each Type 903A also have hangar and helipad for one Z-8 helicopter for re-supplying other ships. The 2 new Type 904A with probably join No. 888 in supplying the islands of South China Sea. It is possible these ships are replacing No. 883 and 884 which are serving the same role. It is also possible that more are needed due to China's many reef reclamation and building projects down there.

Going further inland, we have the WC shipyard which has one launched Type 056 and another Type 072A LST, but also many export ships. Most recently, F91, which is the first P18N, was delivered to Nigeria. F92, the second P18N, is launched at WC shipyard and will also be delivered this year according to Nigerian Navy. The P18N OPVs are probably designed based on Type 056 class, but is slightly longer and displaces more at 1800 ton. They only cost $42 million each, so are not as heavily armed as Type 056s and also have lower speed requirement. We also heard recently that Argentina has agreed to buy 5 OPVs from China similar to P18N class with 2 built in China and 3 more in Argentina. Each ship is said to cost $50 million, so will probably be similar to Nigeria in armament. They will most likely be built at WC shipyard. WC shipyard also has launched 2 Type 056s for Bangladesh Navy numbered F111 and F112. Based on the recent photos, they look to have similar armament to the Chinese ones. More of these Type 056s will likely be built in Bangladesh. There are also discussions for exporting Type 056 to Pakistan and Kazakhstan, which may increase WC shipyard's export portofolio.

Aside from these more active ones, Dalian is building Type 052D right now and will likely also get orders for Type 055 program, but was previously mostly working on CV-16. From recent Google Earth photos, there looks to be no new submarines launched outside of Huludao shipyard. That could mean PLAN is evaluating the acoustic performance of the launched ones from 2013 GE photos, since they also don't appear to be at the nuclear sub naval bases. This wraps up the activities at the major shipyards. The smaller ones are tasked of building Type 056 (in the case of LiaoNan), patrol boats and cutters (in the case of Guijiang). They are harder to track due to lack of interest, but we do get photos of export versions of FACs and patrol boats. It's quite apparent that China is getting a lot more of these export contracts for building patrol boats, FACs, OPVs and frigates. Unlike 5 years ago, they are now beating out European and Russian competitions for export contracts. China has unveiled more advanced export designs the last couple of years. The next step up for them would be to win more lucrative contracts in submarines, large amphbious docking ships and 4000+ ton warships.

Friday, January 30, 2015

China's Advanced Trainers

Recently, a flurry of articles of come out about JL-9 series of GAIC and L-15 (JL-10) series of HAIG. With all of the progress that's made in China's military aviation industry, the progress amongst advanced trainers have been rather slow, with Hongdu's products L-15/JL-10 and CJ-7 being the slowest and most frustrating.

Guizhou and Hongdu both unveiled their AJT projects and had maiden flight around the middle of last decade. At the time, GAIC started the JL-9 project earlier and also had a simpler design, so was expected to finish quickly. Hongdu was the sexier project with more advanced layout, higher specs and turbofan engine. After 10 years, the question is where does that leave us with the future of China's AJT fleet?

Recently, I've found news from Guizhou that they are producing 3 types of AJTs: JJ-7A, JJ-9 and JL-9G. Now, I find it quite interesting they are still producing JJ-7A, but that may just indicate JL-9 series itself has taken longer than expected to be produced. I remember as early as 2005, JL-9 was already undergoing testing in CFTE, but had to undergo some changes after. It seemed like JJ-9 was delivered to FTTC for evaluation by the end of last decade. It seemed to have taken another 4 years after that for the first regiment to be delivered with JJ-9 in 2013 even after achieving design certification in 2011. It's quite possible that more changes were made during this time based on issues found by FTTC. This past year, more JJ-9 was delivered to both PLAAF and PLANAF, which would indicate the program is finally on track and have satisfied PLA requirements. At the same time, moire articles have come out praising GAIC for the various types of JL-9 that have been developed. At around the time CV-16 project was picking up speed, work for a naval trainer also started with JL-9G. It's unclear to me at this point if this variant is only aimed for naval aviation since tail hook is no longer installed. Several improvements were made to allow JL-9G to handle the greater stress and higher takeoff/landing requirements of naval aviation. At the moment, it has only entered service with PLANAF. Based on the greater payload of JL-9G vs JJ-9, it seems like an aircraft that could also be adapted for light attack roles. It is a very low cost platform ($8.5 million each based on recent Chinese reports) and also extremely cheap to operate even compared to other AJTs. I would imagine the proposed FTC-2000G design could bring in sales in numerous countries that are currently using J-7s and K-8s. So while I would place GAIC below other major AVIC1 design bureaus like CAC and SAC, it has managed to develop an effective aircraft.

Hongdu is a different story. It has been over 10 years since L-15 was displayed in the 2004 Zhuhai air show and almost 9 years since it made its maiden flight in March 2006. To this day, it still has yet to join service with PLAAF. Through much of this time, only 4 flying prototypes were produced. If it was not for the steady cash flow of K-8 series, it would be hard to see how this company could really survive the lack of progress in its next major project. The interesting part is that Hongdu did get order for 6 L-15s from Zambia in 2012 and 3 L-15s recently did test flights since the turn of new year. it's quite possible that they will all be delivered to Zambia in the first half of this year. There were also reports that Venezuela ordered 24 L-15s. Similar to the K-8 project, L-15 will most likely be delivered for export before even getting evaluated by PLA. JL-10, which is the Chinese version of L-15 AJT, had its maiden flight in 2013. Apparently, a small batch of JL-10 will be produced and delivered to FTTC this year for trial and evaluation. Only after that and possible more modifications will JL-10 join service with Also, there is always the question of engine. JL-8 did not join service with PLA until the domestic WS-11 engine available. It's quite possible that will also be the case with JL-10. As shown in the JJ-9 project, it took several year of trial and evaluation + changes before it went into production. If that happens, one can expect JL-10 to join service after the first J-20 regiment gets formed. By then, the domestic Minshan engine might be ready for JL-10 project. I think it speaks for Hongdu's ability as a design bureau that an AJT takes this long to get developed for PLAAF, but they do seem to be really good at selling their product. The K-8 project is still selling well after 300 export and 400 domestic order. L-15/JL-10 program can certainly follow K-8's path, because it is a fairly advanced AJT design that could also be adapted for other roles.

So in summary, China has finally moved on from JJ-7 series of advanced jet trainers. Even so, JL-10 project is still a couple of years away from really joining service. By that point, it will serve as a good LIFT for the 5th generation fighter jet that China is developing.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

More information on Type 071 class and the new 054A

Most recently, China's 18th Flotilla to Aden visited Portsmouth UK for 5 days visit. This flotilla consisted of a Type 054A, a Type 071 and a Type 903A AOR.

There were some photos released, but I think the most interesting part for me was how large Type 071 really is. Here are a couple of photos of its hangar and flight deck.

Based on a picture of the description of the ship, it's said to be able to carry 6 Z-8 helicopters in the hangar, which is 2 more than what i previously thought. Based on these photos, I think that's probably do-able once they are folded. The flight deck can easily launch multiple Z-8/9s. The same description also says that this ship can hold 4 Type 726 hovercraft in the well deck and carry a maximum of 65 amphibious assault vehicles. Now in practice, we've never seen more than 1 Type 726 hovercraft in the well deck, since they only have 3 of them in service. We've also never seen more than 2 Z-8s and 1 Z-9 on a Type 071, since naval helicopters are also in short supply with Chinese navy at the moment. I would imagine the maximum capacity of 65 AAVs is in a configuration where all of the well deck space and compartments in front of it are used to hold the AAVs. This also compares favorably to the number of vehicles that can be carried on a San Antonio class. No mention was made of how many troops could be carried, but it did mention a crew size of 156 people with 23 officers. That seems to be a pretty small number when one considers how many crew members are on each Type 056 ship (which is 1/10 the size). It did mention that helicopters can be used within 200 km of the ship. Hovercraft can be launched 60 km out from target and AAVs can be launched 20 km out from target. Other than that, it's similar in dimension to San Antonio class.

Also, a new variant of Type 054A joined Chinese navy recently with the East Sea Fleet. It's interesting that this new Type 054A took probably 8 months longer than usual to join service because of the changes incorporated in the shape including the new variable depth sonar and the new Type 1130 (11 barrel) CIWS, which should really improve the ASW and close-in air defense of this ship. It was speculated that the longer commissioning period is due to delays in the variable depth sonar development. Either way, this improved variant has now joined service and the next 3 units of this variant should also join service sometimes this year. After that, it's likely that we will need to wait sometimes before the next class of frigates to come out. In many ways, I think Type 054A class exceeded Chinese Naval requirements and the class has been wildly successful in modernizing Chinese navy. All of the major flotilla would have at least 2 Type 054A series ships by the end of its production run. I think it doesn't make sense to build next class after Type 054A for a few years. There are still many Type 053 ships that will need to be retired or transferred to coast guard. With all the Type 056 ships joining service, there really isn't any reason to keep any Jianghu class ships around. Even the earliest Jiangwei class should be decommissioned in the next few years.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

State of Aerospace Engine for PLA

The issue of finding adequate and reliable engine has always been an issue for PLA. The navy seems to be getting by with license building advanced diesel engines, which are not under embargo, for most of its ships and some copied or home developed gas turbines for shipping class that need them. The air force has always seen delays due to problems in local production of engines for a series or waiting for Russian engine options. Shenyang AC has been quite unfortunate in having 2 of its recent aircraft programs (J-8F and J-11B) delayed due to issues with production of a new class domestic engine. I've talked in the past about the state of engine production in China, but was overly optimistic over the program in those cases. So, this entry will attempt to look at some of the domestic engine programs and their import programs.

First, the FWS-10 program is probably the most relevant to the current well being of PLA. We are at a point where all the recent J-11Bs have been produced with FWS-10 along with J-15S and J-16. I'm sure they are still working through problems with a new engine like FWS-10, but it's no longer problematic like early 2011, when SAC had many J-11Bs without engine seating out in its airfields. At that time, the Chinese air force simply refused to take those aircraft because issues with FWS-10. By this point, Russians were more careful about making sure their AL-31F did not end up on J-11B, so the project was basically on hold after that first regiment of J-11B join service with AL-31F. By now, we have seen 4 more J-11B regiments with PLAAF and 3 more J-11B regiments with PLANAF. Assuming that all of these regiments become full at some point this year, that would be approximately 7 x 24 = 168 J-11B/BS in service with FWS-10. Including the J-15/16 prototypes that SAC is building every year, I would guess easily 30 to 40 flankers are produced every year using FWS-10 as power plant. Assuming that a spare is produced for every 2 engines, the yearly production of FWS-10 could be over 100 at this point. So the question is why they are still using AL-31FN on J-10B and AL-31F on J-15. I think at this point they are developing a naval version of FWS-10 to last through the wear and tear of naval operation. At the same time, a higher thrust version is required to support the added take-off weight on J-16. Future flankers will continue to use WS-10 series. A J-10B prototype with FWS-10A is probably still being tested, but it would probably have to match the performance of AL-31FN series 3 (1000 ton more thrust than base layer) in order to be equipped on J-10B production batches. Also, the current J-20 prototypes are also most likely using AL-31FN series 3 engines. As we move forward, this version of AL-31FN is certainly not a viable option for production version of J-20. China can choose a later AL-31FN series that would be equivalent to AL-31FM2 or FM3, which would have comparable or more power than 117S engine that are used on Su-35 right now. If the upgraded variant of FWS-10 goes into production, that could be used in both J-20 or future batches of J-10B. So I would think the first few years of J-20 production (maybe 2 regiments) will be using underpowered engines (140 to 150 kN range with afterburner) and then WS-15 will go into production. Back in 2010, one of the few good Chinese sources on engines mentioned that WS-15 was probably 10 years from mass production based on where the program was at. Articles on WS-15 are hard to come by, but my guess is that they will start to test it out on fighter jet in a couple of years. After that, it will be a waiting game for certification.

The other major question is the status of the WS-13 program. Speculations over this program has been ongoing since JF-17 first went into production. Recently, a second batch of 100 RD-93 was signed with Russia. That would indicate continuing delays in the WS-13 program. At the same time, there was news in the middle of 2014 that Guizhou Liyang was putting significant investment into building a production line for WS-13. We know that RD-93 has been used on FC-31 technology demonstrator and also the Lijian UCAV technology demonstrator, but the vast majority of second batch of RD-93s are still allocated for JF-17. At some point, they will have to test out WS-13 with a batch of production JF-17s. It's possible that a portion of this second order will be used as spares/replacement, but the size of the RD-93 is confusing given the report of WS-13 production line. Going forward, I've talked about how FC-31 does not currently have a viable option for engine. It looks like an improved variant of RD-93, RD-93MA, is under development. When they do choose to move forward with the FC-31 project, I think the current solution of baseline RD-93 (or even WS-13) is too underpowered for even the pre-production batch. So in order to really go forward in FC-31, they have to use RD-93MA before the new 9500 kgf engine under development becomes ready sometimes in the next decade. WS-15 project has higher priority, so that will become ready first.

For the Y-20 project, the early prototypes are all using D-30KP2. D-30 is also used on the 2 regiment of H-6K (about 40 in total) that have recently joined service. A few years ago, it was speculated that a domestic variant of D-30KP2 (WS-18) was getting developed for Y-20 while the more advanced WS-20 engine was still getting ready. China's IL-76 engine testbed has been doing flight testing of WS-20 since 2013. Most recently, they just started doing flight testing of WS-18 on a separate IL-76 testbed. It seems strange rather the older WS-18 begins flight testing over a year after WS-20, but maybe this is aimed for H-6K bombers. Production version of Y-20 is likely to appear sometimes this year or the next, so they will be using the rather old D-30KP2 engine. It doesn't look like PLA is interested in the more advanced PS-90A or even D-30KP3, so Y-20 will be underpowered for a while. At this point, even a D-30KP2 powered Y-20 would be a force multiplier for PLAAF.

Turboshaft engines are not very heavily followed by PLA followers. As late as 10 years ago, issues with producing engine and other subsystems prevented mass production of the domestic helicopters. More recently, helicopter production has been increasing for both PLA and civilian ministries. Since upgraded variant of WZ-6 became available for the Z-8 series, Z-8 production has really taken off for all 3 arms. More recently, Z-18, military version of AC313, using WZ-6C engine is now in mass production for the navy and also the army. We have seen the new Z-18A used in the high altitude of Tibet, which shows how much improvement have been made for WZ-6C. If Huitong's figure of 1300 kw is accurate (and it seems to understated based on other sources), WZ-6C is competitive with PT6B-67A (around 1400 kw) slated for AC313. At the same time, production of Z-10 and Z-19 project have both been going pretty well and look to be sufficiently powered. It seems like production and usage of WZ-9 engine for Z-10 project has been going well. WZ-8 production for Z-9/Z-19 helicopters have been going well too. WZ-16 engine is been developed with France to power Z-15. It may or may not be usable in the future for other Chinese helicopters like Z-10. It seems like they have been able to develop upgraded variants of existing engines either by themselves or with the help of European companies. The only major remaining project that depends on the development of a new engine is Z-20. That is quite a huge improvement for China's engine industry.

Finally, there are some other engines been developed (either new project or copying Russian/Ukrainian engines) for UAVs, missiles and trainer projects. They get much less news, but we do see their appearance sometimes in Zhuhai air show. Very recently, we saw Chengfa finish development on one of those projects. So, this is a rundown on China's engine developments. Similar to 5 years ago, this area remains the achilles heel for the Chinese military industrial complex.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Things to watch out for in 2015 for PLAN

I did a review of PLAN in 2014 a few weeks ago. Since then, a couple of more surface combatants have launched at various PLAN shipyards. It was certainly an active year for them, but this entry will take a look at active naval building programs for 2015 and beyond.

I want to first take a look at Aircraft Carrier project. In 2014, CV-16 went on a couple of patrols, but also spent a large period of time at dock going through maintenance and repairs. These patrols were probably more like sea trial and training opportunities for CV-16 crew member. I think there was some pictures earlier in 2014 of a large exercise that CV-16 took part with the several major surface combatants, but that maybe the only real exercise it has participated in so far. Also, the flight program off CV-16 has not really moved forward in 2014. We have basically seen the same 3 or 4 J-15 prototypes taking off and landing from CV-16. On top of that, while the first batch of production version of J-15s started in 2013, we have seen only up to 8 produced so far in over a year. PLAN may be choosing to produce the production J-15s slowly as they are working through any of the issues found in testing, since they don't need that many J-15s for operation off CV-16 and their naval aviation training center. Also, it goes to show that the process of developing and training a naval air wing is a long and deliberate process. In 2015, it will be interesting to see if more J-15s start to operate off CV-16, since 2014 has been quite slow in that aspect. Also, while the production of domestic carrier may have started or will start this year, I don't expect to see anything meaningful until probably 2016. I expect it to be delivered by 2019 to 2020.

Amphibious ships - I've talked about the resumption of Type 071 and Type 072 production a little bit in the previous entries. For the latter, WC shipyard has taken over production and have been launching them pretty quickly. We may see 8 Type 072s produced at WC shipyard for replacing older Type 072 or for expanding PLAN capabilities in South China Sea. For the Type 071, HD shipyard has resumed their production after a 3 year layoff. This most current batch of Type 071s is probably similar in external appearance to the original Type 071 even if the internal subsystems may have all been upgraded. In the original Type 071, PLAN lowered the production cost (to around $200 million) by using very light self defense systems and older generation of combat system. Each Type 071 is only equipped with a 76 mm main gun + 4 AK-630 CIWS with 2 pairs of fire channel, so it will have to rely on escort. Even HHQ-7 SAM, which is an older SAM found on older ships, was not installed even though space was left for short ranged SAM to be installed at a later point. Based on what I've read, it seems like this new batch of Type 071s are still using the same light self defense system (probably due to cost reasons again) even though earlier designs had added more advanced weaponry like HQ-10 SAM and Type 1130 CIWS. Once these new systems become cheaper and more mature, we may see an upgraded variant Type 071A with them. At the same time, there is talk of a Type 075 amphibious assault ship (LPH) coming out, but that is probably also something that will appear in a couple of years. Aside from the landing ships, the landing crafts have been a little confusing. The status of the Zubr program is unknown after Crimea came under Russian control. It looks like China has continued domestic production of Zubr, but not sure whether Russians or Ukrainians are assisting the project right now. Type 726 hovercraft production does not seem to pick up, so it's unclear if PLAN plans to have more than one of them per Type 071.

Surface combatants - This is probably the area that's easiest to see the progress of PLAN modernization, since all of the shipyards around the country are building them in open. Type 052C production should come to close this year when the 6th ship of the class, which already has number painted, joins service. Type 052D production is fully under way after the lead ship joined service in April. Four other 052Ds from JN are already launched with the remaining 3 likely to all launch this year. Out of these 7 ships, two of them will probably join service this year. Dalian shipyard also received order for 4 052Ds and the first one will probably launch this year. After Type 052D, it appears that work for the Type 055 cruiser has started at JN shipyard. Although, I think we are unlikely to see modules for it this year. In the next few years, both JN and Dalian shipyard should be producing them. In the 054 series, the final 4 Type 054A with upgraded CIWS and sonar suite are all likely to be commissioned in 2015. Type 054B may appear later this year. Due to the size of existing hull and propulsion, I think there is a limit on how much it can change from 054A. Finally, 18 Type 056 light frigates have already joined service and at least 6 other ones have been launched. I would that all 6 of the launched ones should join service by the end of this year with more new hulls launching. The production run of Type 056 is already quite significant, so all of the ordered ships maybe launched by the end of this year. Type 056 series has already received export orders from Bangladeshi Navy. It seems like a good design to receive more export deals going forward.

There are numerous other important programs that are ongoing obviously. The conventional and nuclear submarine programs are both ongoing, but harder than surface combatants to verify their current status or service status. Numerous large AORs, replenishment ships and AGI ships were launched this year and should join service the next 2 years. The project to look out for is a new class of large AORs in the 40000+ ton range designed to support carrier group. The existing AORs are sufficient for missions like Gulf of Aden with smaller number of surface combatants, but a larger one would be sufficient for PLAN's blue water goals.