Thursday, July 26, 2007

Revelations from 80th anniversary of PLA

Over the recent days, we have seen some new weapon systems getting unveiled and declassified by the Chinese government in the recent 80 years PLA anniversary celebration and other events. In the missiles side, we have seen pictures of DF-15 and the mysterious DF-25. There have been quite a lot of speculations on numerous Chinese bbs regarding to DF-25. The most outrageous of which is that DF-25 is the first medium ballistic missile with 3 MIRVs. I find this kind of troubling, since we do not yet know how many MIRVs DF-31/JL-2 can hold (if more than 1). Richard Fisher in his recent article mentioned that DF-21 was tested with multiple dummy heads a while back. I don't follow the 2nd Artillery enough to gain more insights, so I guess it's one of those things where you just have to wait for more pictures to come out.

With the new pictures of DF-15 coming out. There has been quite a lot of speculation that this is an ASBM version due to the small fins added to the missile. If we put aside ASBM argument for a while, one of the more interesting part in the recent years is the increased accuracy of Chinese ballistic missiles. This new variant of DF-15 is certainly more accurate than previous generations. I remember reading a newspaper article posted in June of 2002 on Chinese Youth Daily that the 80s test firing of DF-5 travelled 9000 km and still managed to achieve a CEP of 250 m. This figure is far smaller than the commonly accepted CEP of DF-5. I think this may apply to other Chinese ballistic missiles. Of the recent export missiles such as B-611 and P-12, the often given figure for CEP is 50 m and 30 m with GPS adjustment. Now, the domestic versions of these missiles can only be more accurate than these. For example, a domestic version of B-611 using Beidou guidance may achieve 25 m in CEP. This is still not exceedingly accurate, but approaches that of satellite guided bombs (original JDAM has CEP of 13 m with satellite guidance and 30 m without). Here is the even more interesting part. XAC is reportedly developing an upgraded version of JH-7 series that will be able to carry B-611. I'm assuming only 1, since B-611 weights more than 4 time of YJ-83K or any of the other usual attack weapons that JH-7A currently carries. And with the accuracy of something like KD-88 and YJ-91, it really doesn't make a lot of sense for JH-7A to carry 1 B-611when it could carry 4 KD-88 (which are far more accurate/cheaper) + more fuel. I don't think the destruction against an intended fixed target (unless a heavy bunker) will actually improve with B-611. So, this points to a possible anti-ship version of B-611. DF-15 and DF-21 have also been mentioned as possible ASBM by not only the ONI/JDW reports, but also by certain big shrimps on Chinese bbs (including ones that served for PLAN). However, I don't think these two have the same accuracy as a domestic version of B-611. Out of all the speculated ASBMs, the evidence for B-611 seem to be by far the most persuasive. Do I believe that China has ASBM? It's hard to say, because the obstacles against such weapons are great, but so are the voices from the people that believe in their existence. If I do see an air launched version of B-611 serving in PLANAF with JH-7A, I think I will believe it.

Speaking of Beidou, the recent PLA celebration displayed different types of Beidou equipments. Another interesting development is seeing TV programs showing command centers using software programs that are using Beidou coordinates. Clearly, Beidou is already a large part of PLA despite only having 3 satellites until this year. An even more interesting development on Beidou is a recent article on its development which claimed that it will have a 0.5 m accuracy. This is quite an improvement from 20 m for Beidou 1 and 10 m for non-authorized user for Beidou 2. It was never revealed what the accuracy for the paid users or the military users are, but going from 10 m to 0.5 m seems to be an awfully large jump. I'm a little speculative of the source (posted in a local newspaper), but like all things related to PLA, one must be patient for more sources.

Probably the biggest surprise from the recent military display is the unveiling of 093 class. The photo I think surprised a lot of people, because it does seem to be different from the previous speculated 093 photos (one of which had horizontal planes). There was also the mention of the so called 091G class. It's a little unclear right now to me whether they actually built new SSNs to that standard or they are just upgraded from the original 5 Hans. I would lean to the latter, since it is hard to think that ONI would miss something like launching of a new Han class sub. One of the more discussed topics is the kind of propeller used by 093. It is not a surprise that none of the photos showed the propeller, but you can see from the photos that there seems to be no wave caused by the propeller. The splashes around the sub itself seemed to be all caused by other parts of the hull. Whether or not this indicates 093 is using pump jet propeller is debatable, but it does seem like the propeller is far more advanced than that of any other PLAN subs. The other debates around 093 is around its reactor -> whether or not it is using pebble bed reactor. There has not been any indications either way on that. And finally, what weapons does 093 use? The main torpedo of choice for modern PLAN subs is Yu-6. I believe Yu-6 was developed to match or exceed the performance of MK-48 mod 5. One of the specs I read was 50 knots for 27 nm. I guess this figure may shock many people, because PLAN has never had any kind of torpedo at this level. But as we saw with PL-12, China is capable of developing very advanced missiles/torpedoes from much lower base. Just as PL-12 was developed to be able to engage 4th and 5th generation fighters in BVR situations, Yu-6 was developed to chase down Nimitz carriers and Seawolf SSN. As we've seen more pictures recently with PL-12 equipping all the latest fighters and Yu-6 equipping the Song class, it's quite clear that they are fully developed and PLA are happy with their performance. As for anti-ship missile and LACMs, it's not too clear at the moment what 093 will use. We know that YJ-82 is widely deployed on Chinese subs, but a submarine version of YJ-83 should also be under development if not already deployed. And finally, we recently saw on a CCTV report that the latest indigenous submarines are equipped with air defense missiles (the missiles look to be from QW series). The explanation for this is that Chinese submarines can't count on being protected by aerial assets against aerial ASW assets.

Finally, 094 was mentionned as one of the 3 major military projects in a government page along with KJ-2000 and J-10. Interestingly enough, this page was taken down soon afterward by the host (which is one of the government agencies). It seems like 093 and 094 have both achieved a level of operating capability for China to unveil them to the public. They may be one of two generations behind the latest Western nuclear subs, but will be significant upgrade over existing platforms before the more capable 095/096 come along (probably somewhere in the middle of the next decade).

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