Saturday, September 29, 2007

Continued cooperation with Russians on helicopters

First, I must say the previous post wasn't as complete as I would like. When I get time, I wish to expand on the platforms I mentionned.

From the recent transactions, it looks like China's military cooperations with the Russians is strongest in the medium to large transport helicopter area. Clearly, despite the superior technical performance of Z-8F, its cost and slow production speed has forced China to continue purchase Mi-17s. Probably the biggest bomb shell that came recently is this poster from the recent Beijing airshow.

I basically says that Mi-17 is now getting built in China. We haven't heard about any Mi-17 purchases for a while, so we thought maybe Mi-17 are no longer getting imported. Now, it looks like the cheapness and ruggedness of Mi-17 has really won over PLA. Huitong mentionned on his site that the version being produced is Mi-17V5, but that contradicts with the poster. It looks more like Mi-171 is produced, because the cooperation is with Ulan Ude rather than Kazan (which is the producer of Mi-17V5/7). This is also agreed upon by Kanwa in the recent article, which calls this the largest cooperation since su-27 co-production agreement. Mi-171 is sold to China under the civilian flag, so this is not affected by the recent Il-76 caused military stalemate between China and Russia. Each Mi-171 only costs 30 million Yuan, so that is extremely cheap. Kanwa also stated that Ulan Ude provided one kit for assembly in May. Chengdu finished assembling it in the same month and will assemble more kits. If China chooses, it can do complete local production in the future. It looks like China has now made the decision to go from assembly to local production.

At the same time, Mi-26 is also getting a lot of face time. Apparently, the current version can do even more lifting than C-130. That is quite amazing for a helicopter. Anyhow, a couple of pictures of Mi-26 at work.

Finally, it looks like China will finally get a heavy lift in the class of Chinook.

This is from ARMS-TASS:
Russian Manufacturers Proposing Chinese Companies Participate in Creation of New Mi-46 Transport Helicopter

The Moscow Mil’ Helicopter Plant is proposing foreign companies, including Chinese, cooperation for the creation and production of the Mi-46 intermediate class heavy transport helicopter, a representative of the Russia company, Viktor Egorov, reported at the Aviation Expo China 2007 international aviation exhibition which is taking place in Beijing.

According to him, it is planned to use the experience of the development and tests of the Mi-38 and Mi-26 in the construction of the new aircraft. The new helicopter is intended for the transport of cargos over 10 – 12 tonnes.

The Moscow plant is cooperating closely with China, where more than 100 vehicles have been delivered over the past 3 years. Recently there was a demonstration in Harbin (the administrative center of the Heilongjiang province) of the largest series produced helicopters in the world, the Mi-26T. Last year, a contract was signed for the leasing transfer to the PRC of this helicopter for 3 years.

Currently, Mi-17 and Z-8F are both at around the 5000 kg payload range. Mi-26C is at around 20 tonne in payload. The old Mi-6 and CH-47 are both around the 10 to 12 tonne mark. So, Mi-46 definitely represents a class that China needs, but do not have right now.

Finally, I think this is just the saddest news.
Shaanxi Aircraft has again delayed the roll-out of its Y-9 medium transport as a result of ongoing design changes, but expects to deliver its first production example to the Chinese military in 2009, says company vice-president Liu Bin.

"We have slowed down the development speed of this aircraft to redesign a lot of new things," said Liu during the 19-22 September Aviation Expo in Beijing. Improved avionics and an "integrated display panel" are among the new technologies being incorporated with the Y-9, he said, adding: "we want to make sure the aircraft is perfect."

Shaanxi originally planned to fly the Y-9 - a stretched development of its Y-8F commercial freighter - in 2006, but late last year extended its development schedule into 2007 due to what it described as "small changes" to the aircraft's design (Flight International, 14-20 November 2006).

Liu said the Y-9's first flight is now set to take place during 2008, and revealed that Beijing has already agreed to order the type for delivery from 2009. He declined to reveal how many of the aircraft will be acquired, however, noting that negotiations are continuing.

To be powered by four Chinese-built Wojiang FWJ-6C engines driving six-bladed JL-4 composite propellers, the tail ramp-equipped Y-9 will be capable of carrying a 20t cargo, including land vehicles and other equipment. The transport can also be configured with 106 troop seats, 72 stretchers or to deploy paratroopers, says Shaanxi.

Even after this time, they still can't get a C-130 class transport developed. "Making aircraft perfect" excuse sounds like something they want to use to not look really bad. Frankly with so many PLAAF project reliant on the Y-8/9 platform, they have no choice but to purchase it. I really hope this large aircraft project goes well, because clearly China's transport aircraft industry needs an "apollo" project like CAC had with J-10. Frankly, even with all of this changes, Y-9 is still not as good as C-130J.
Y-9's range with 15 t payload is 2200 km accordng to Huitong. It looks semi-credible if we look at Y-8 figures from SAC website.
For Y-8F400,
Range at maximum payload of 15t is given as 2150 km. Ferry flight range is 4500 km.
For Y-8F600
Range at maximum payload of 20t is given as 1700 km. Ferry flight range is 4800 km.

So, we could do an estimate on 15t range of Y-8F600 by 2150 x (4800/4500) = 2293 km. If Y-8F600 is more efficient relative to Y-8F400 at higher payload, then maybe that range can be increased to 2400 km.

Y-9 maximum is 5800 km according to its Chinese designers in this flightglobal article. So, if we do our previous calculation, 2150 x (5800/4500) = 2770 km. So, around 2800 km for 15 t, better than 2200 km claimed by Huitong, but still pales to C-130J

Range with 35,000 pounds of Payload: (15.9 t)
C-130E, 1,438 miles (1,250 nautical miles) -> (2314 km)
C-130H, 1,496 miles (1,300 nautical miles) -> (2407 km)
C-130J, 1,841 miles (1,600 nautical miles) -> (2962 km)
C-130J-30, 2,417 miles (2,100 nautical miles) -> (3889 km)

Anyhow, this is very disappointing news from SAC. Clearly at the moment, China lacks the ability to produce efficient large transport and helicopter. Until it can correct that situation, it will have to rely on the Russians and Ukrainians.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

2018 - deadline for Taiwan invasion?

Recently, I've noticed some "big shrimps" on Chinese bbs mention that China is likely to invade Taiwan by 2018. We can all guess the reasonings, but will China be able to improve enough by then to make this possible?

I will just go through a list of projects related air force and navy that should be ready by 2018.

Aircraft Carrier - The symbol of super power status. According to all reports, it seems China will start with Varyag as the training carrier (and possibly attack helo carrier in the future) and then build 2 CATOBAR carrier by 2018. These 2 will be the first generation of Chinese carriers. From all reports, the suppliers have already supplied most of the parts. They are just waiting for the construction to start in the new Changxin shipyard. By 2015, we might see these carriers being launched and conducting sea tests. So, the next question is what kind of aerial fleet will support them.

J-11 Naval - Currently, China is working a twin-seated version of flankers based on su-30mkk called J-11BS. So, converting J-11B into a multi-role strike platform like F-15E. Needless to say, this flanker will have higher payload and longer range than the existing J-11B. The radar will be more multi-roled. It might get a powerful AESA radar when it is ready. The weapons on this plane will include all of the latest Chinese weapons like PL-12, PL-8B, KD-88, YJ-91, YJ-83K, LS-500, LS-6, FT series and next generation weapons like more SGBs, new SRAAM and LRAAM. This was chosen as the naval fighter ahead of J-10 due to PLAN's requirements for more multirole capability + longer range. With the help they are getting from the Ukrainian. This might be ready to go by early next decade and fly off the Varyag.

Twin-Engined "J-10" - This possibility has been discussed for a long time and maybe J-10 is not a good name for it. But it seems that CAC has a project (that will sort of compete with 5th generation fighter) that will build a heavy fighter (although smaller than flankers) based on a lot of aerodynamic lessons from J-10. This fighter is supposed to be very stealthy, be able to supercruise without afterburners, have the latest avionics like AESA radar, built in IRST, more advanced EW suite and such. There are some talk that this might end up as the second generation of naval fighters, but that's still a long time from now. The air force version should be ready by around 2012 (the upgraded Taihang engine should be available by then), but a possible naval version would come at a later date (possibly ready for the first indigenous carriers, > 2015).

Y-7 AEW - We have also seen pictures of Y-7 AEW. Knowing the success of Y-8 surveillence projects, I think the hardest part might be getting Y-7s to be able to fly off the indigenous CATOBAR carriers. This is another project that doesn't need to be fielded before 2015.

Now, for the rest of the fleet.

095 - We've seen 093 pictures coming out and it has surprised many with more Western similarities than Russian features. 095's reactor vessel is supposed to be finished by 2010. So, the construction of 095 should start by early 2010s and be finished and commissioned between 2016-2018 (using 093's path). I think the goal of this submarine is to match Virginia, but whether that can be achieved is another story. Of course in the mean time, I would expect more 093s to be built to possibly 8?

096 - A new generation SSBN - not much details have come out, I'd suspect 094s would still handle majority of the action for the next decade. The number that I've typically seen speculated for 094 is 4 to 6.

SSGN - There has been some talk of SSGN development, but the progress of this is unknown.

052D/... - It looks like 052C was stopped for a few years due to JiangNan relocation + sorting out all the issues on 052B/C. But the new generation 052D is suppose to start construction in early 2008 in Changxin. We could easily see production of 2 or more per year until there are enough to replace the Ludas. Of course, each iteration will be slightly better than the previous one.

054 series - This is the lo-end of the combination. Future 054s should be using CODOG rather than CODAD propulsion according to what Richard Fisher's article talked about. Whether the number of air defense missiles and ASW suite will change or not is not known at this point. We know that once they decide on producing 054s, they can build them very fast (more than 4 per year). So, it's quite possible we will have 30 054s by 2018.

Conventional Submarines - The mass production of Yuan (039A) has recently started. It's hard to see that this will continue more than the mass production run of 3rd variants of Song. So, we might see 10 Yuan at most. Although, I think China will soon be developing a class of conventional submarine to match U-214, Scorpene and Amur. I'm guessing Oyashio and Collins are still in a league of their own. Either way, this new class will most likely endure a long initial production process like Song did before mass production. Although judging from Song's production of 4 per year (at its height), it shouldn't be long before Yuan or this new diesel class replace all the Mings plus earlier Song class submarines.

071 and helo carriers - The first 071 is already in sea test. It looks like the displacement of 071 is over 20K tonnes and can carry about 2 Z-8s in the hangar + 2 or 3 on the helipad. A lot of people have been disappointed by what they view as inadequate air defense. But realistically speaking, LPDs really don't need that much air defense. Also, it's likely that future 071s will have some SAM launchers. Once they've sorted out all the problems in the design, we will probably see 1 being built per year. And we will likely see 5 to 10 071s by 2018 and they will probably be instrumental in any invasion attempt. At the same time, a helo carrier design is definitely being worked on. From PLA's fascination with Western systems, I would guess it would go for something similar around the displacement of the WASP class. It would most likely field a combination of Z-8, helix, new 10 tonne helo, Z-15 naval and Z-10 naval. Although, I think it would be interesting to see whether China develops something like V-22 and/or VSTOL aircraft. I've definitely seen plans for this. As for numbers, I guess 2 or 3 by 2018? With 071 and aircraft carrier already in the work, PLAN don't have that much resource left.

022 - We have seen these FACs come out at an extremely fast rate. By my calculation, their production should be finished in the next 5 years and form the basis of coastal defense for years to come. The number can go anywhere from 60 to 100.

Corvette- Although we haven't seen any ships of this class come out, it's clear that China will need something like this for ASW duties and such. In between 022 and 054 series, there exists a need for something that is between 1500 and 2000 tonnes in displacement. We've seen a SWATH ship coming out recently possibly as an intelligence ship and equipping with a Chinese equivalent of SURTASS, but that should not eliminate this requirement.

Supporting fleet - We've seen other ships coming out recently like Medical ship, replenishment ships, new MCM ships (like 804, 805), Yuanwang and such. These are not noticed, but they would definitely support any long distance expedition or invasion against Taiwan. It seems from these past development that China is not neglecting these supporting units.

For the remaining air force related ones:
J-XX - This is the code word given in the west on the 5th generation PLAAF jet. The project is believed to be carried out by SAC. Although, it probably is a combined effort between SAC and CAC. The twin-engined J-10 is supposed to be developed to counter F-35 and be able to defend on home soil against F-22. Whereas the aim of J-XX is to be on par with F-22. So when will this be ready? With the recent work on avionics, I don't think developing a word class avionics system will be the most difficult part. So, the two biggest problem are stealth and engine. Can China develop the necessary stealth technology to make J-XX as invisible as F-22. That remains to be seen, but work on the recent PLAN ships and even up close pictures of J-10's intake provide confidence for J-XX. The engine will most likely start off with an upgraded version of Taihang with a T/W ratio of 9 to 10 (The version with 9 is suppose to come out with twin-engined J-10) and then switch over to the much talked about WS-15. WS-15 seems to be ready by 2015-2018, so I would say that J-XX will probably join service at around that time.

J-11BS/J-10 mod - The remaining influential part of the air force will probably consist of J-11BS (China's Su-34/F-15E) and the "stealthy" J-10. The stealthy J-10 supposedly has just test flied recently. It will have much better avionics, lower RCS and eventually use better engine than the current J-10. It will definitely be holding down the fort until twin-engined J-10 comes along. I suspect that due to its cheaper cost as a single engined fighter, it will be procured even when J-XX and twin-engined "J-10" are established in the force.

AAMs/Engines - Timelines for engines seem to be 2008 for WS-13 (since it already is in the midst of long duration testing), 2010 or earlier for the higher thrusted WS-12 (which unlike WS-13 is apparently not a copy of RD-93), 2010 for the T/W ratio = 9 WS-10, 2014 for T/W ratio > 10 WS-10 and 2017 for WS-15. As for AAM, there seems to be a need for a 5th generation SRAAM, a modern LRAAM in the mode of KS-172 and continuous upgrade to PL-12. Past interviews have mentionned that these projects are well under way.

Large Transport - The demise of the IL-76 has untold number of consequences for PLA. The most notable ones are lack of airframes for KJ-2000 and large transport. There are other ones too. PLA at the moment is forced to use Y-8 as the platform to test out all of its new surveillence platforms. Some of which may make more sense on a large transport like the proposed 60 tonne aircraft under development. Other than large AWACS, other uses for the large transport includes refueller, ABL platform and E-8 Jstars like surveillence aircraft. Even with Antonov's help, it probably won't be ready until the middle of next decade. Even then, production will be slow. So, it looks like PLA will have a tonne of trouble with IL-76 situation until then. I would put this as one of the biggest trouble spot for any invasion attempt.

Attack Helicopter - It looks like Z-10 is almost ready to join service. Even domestic engines for Z-10 are close to being ready. Although due to the cost, Z-10 may not be fielded in large numbers.

Support Helicopter - Right now, Z-8F and Z-9 are the other two main helicopters in service with PLA. HC-120 seems to have cornered the trainer helo market. Mi-26 will be inducted in some numbers to offer its 20 tonne of payload. Mi-17 will be continuously purchased due to its low cost and good performance/reliability (better cost/performance ratio than Z-8F). The 10 tonne helicopter and Z-15 should both be ready by the beginning of the next decade. The 10 tonne helicopter would be an idea naval helicopter platform to replace helix, whereas Z-15 naval could be used for frigates. By 2018, I would expect both of these platforms to be equipped in sufficient numbers to resolve China's problems with transport and naval helicopter.

In general, many of the major ticket items we know about are finishing from 2012 to 2016. It's part of China's drive to further close its gap with US military. Whether or not the platforms will be developed on time and the performance/training on these platforms will decide the future conflict.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Updates on PLA

First, to make a correction on the previous post. 75 km for JF-17 is the range for lookup mode and 45 km is for look down mode.

It is similar in performance to that of F-8IIM that is being offered for export. That one had the same A2A range, 100 km vs 50 M^2 sea target using one A2S mode and 80 km using a second A2S mode. The track/engagement numbers are 10/2. Also of note, this export version uses 2 Kunlun I engine for a T/W ratio of 0.94 + the standard 1 HUD + 3 MFD setting seen with JF-17. It is also offered with MRAAM, AShM and LGBs.

It seems the export radars seem to place more emphasis on multi-role capability, which could explain partially why their detection range in different modes seem to be much inferior to that of J-10. J-10 at the current time is strictly geared for A2A engagement.

To continue, we have some new pictures coming out, the first one is what appears to be a new construction of Yuan submarine. If you look carefully, you should be able to see in the left bottom quarter. You can see the diving plane and the Kilo style hump.

By many count, this is probably the 3rd in the series. So far, the modern SSK in PLAN consists of 12-16 Songs, 12 Kilos and 2 Yuans.

The other one is an article regarding the captain for the first 093. It mentionned that Hu Jintao went to see it in the end of 2006. It seems like it must be commissioned and ready to be unveiled by then. Here is an article describing this captain.

The other major unveiling today is the first photo of Z-10 in a while. I must say it blows my mind since it seem to be carrying 8 ATGMs in 1 pylon. That means it should be able to carry at least 16 ATGMs. Quite the powerful attack helo if you ask me. Considering the power of its engines, that would still give it a very good power to weight ratio.

And finally, there seems to be a bunch of news coming out of the Beijing airshow:
  • ARJ-21 got it's first export order to Laos and will probably have 80 orders by the end of the year
  • AVIC-II is working with Antonov in a JV to develop the "large freighter" -> most likely also talking about the transport based on An-70
  • The venture seems to also involve other plane classes like MA-700
  • A new order of 50 AL-31FN for J-10. This seems to be of the FM1 variant with increased thrust + 3D TVC. If the previous whispers are correct, then Shenyang Liming should be producing these locally.
  • A new aerospace company (possibly AVIC-III?) is being formed to just develop the new civilian aircraft
  • AVIC-II is investing 3 Billion RMB (400 million USD) on developing/manufacturing new helicopters. I'm not sure if they are talking about CMH or the 10 tonne helicopter here.

And finally, photos mentionned in yesterday's post.
First, a photo of 991

Secondly, a photo of the new medical ship

Finally, 022 with the new launch tubes

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Radar specs on PLAAF fighters

Since, the specs are so hard to come by, I've made a list of the following information:
1. As mentionned in the last article, J-10's radar has a 150 km detection range
2. I read that when China was trailing Irbis, it found the detection range vs 0.1 m^2 targets to be around 100 km. The same source went on to say that J-11B's radar performance (the one in service) is comparable to this.
3. JF-17's radar had a baseline requirement of 75 km detection range in front hemisphere and 45 km in the rear hemisphere. (and the export version to PAF has supposedly exceeded that). The actual performance is still under trial.
4. JH-7A was said to be able to detect bridge on yellow river from 370 km away.

Now, if we use the above source. We get the following:
1. 150 km vs 3m^2 targets is equivalent to around 170 km vs 5m^2 using the quadric root formula.
2. J-11B's antenna should be around 1/3 greater than that of J-10 (96-100 cm vs 70-74 cm). Using that and assuming similar generation of radar (in terms of software + hardware), then you are looking at around 230 km vs 5m^2 targets. If we work on the basis that J-11B is newer -> slightly better than J-10's radar, then maybe that range increases to 240-250 km?
3. 100 km vs 0.1m^2 target is around 265 km vs 5m^2 targets. That seems to be comparable to J-11B's radar.
4. The export radar with JF-17 was supposedly developed by 607th institute (below 14th and 38th institute in the pecking order) and also not exactly their top of the line stuff. So it's quite possible that the exported radar for JF-17 is better than the 75 km vs 3m^2, but less than the 130 km that it should be if using the same family of radar as J-10 (the 149x series)
5. That report on JH-7A could very well be true if one looks at the performance of Zhuk-MSE.

I will get to more, we've seen a lot of new pictures coming out recently. If you have the time, I'd really suggest the readers to check the following:
1. Pictures of the new medical ship + intelligence ship they are building, especially the latter (991) which is a SWATH design (never before seen with PLA). Also, the medical ship appears to be much larger than previous Chinese medical ships.
2. Google Earth photo of 071 sort of shows that it is larger than what a lot of people originally thought, probably looking at over 20,000 tonne in displacement, comparable to the San Antonio class in size.
3. Crobato's comparison of different classes of Song. He really did a good job noticing all the small changes in the different variants.
4. Photos of the interior of 168 while visiting UK. A lot of nice photos that we've never seen before.

I hope to post some more photos, but this is all my time will allow for at the moment.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Latest from the land of PLA

Recently, a lot of news have been coming out revealing the performance of J-10. We know that an upgraded J-10 is being worked out and might even have a prototype out next month and fly before the end of the year. One of the more revealing interviews came out recently through an interview with someone involved pretty deeply in J-10's avionics development. You can see the part one of the interview here and the part two of the interview here. It's in Chinese and really slow, so you might have problem viewing it, here is a recap of what I heard regarding to J-10:
- he said that avionics are very import, but are also very expensive
- J-10 cost 200 million Yuan each, export to Pakistan would probably be 300 million each
- out of that, 100 million is spent on the avionics, takes 10 years to develop
- one is DCFS (Digital Flight Control Systems), which allows pilot to control the plane with displayed information
- talks about the FBW computer, which does 500 K calculation per second (that's not even 1 MHz!, what?)
- other is mission computer, you just plug in the mission and the fighter will tell you what to do
- then talks about INS (inertial navigational system), you can go from Beijing to Shenzhen with this and only be off by 500 m
- and the other is CADC (central air data computer), it is used to detect the temperature, dew point, wind direction/speed and stuff like that.
- other is SMS (store management system), this is the system controlling the launching of missiles and bombs (it has to calculate how high you are launching certain weapons and your speed to achieve optimize results)
- radar - can detect up to 150 km (here is interesting part, he mentions that F-22 can only do 170 km, but that is vs 1 m^2 target, I doubt J-10 is facing that size to get to 150 km, maybe 3 m^2 or 5 M^2?)
- CNI - communication/navigation/identification, plane has wide band, narrow band (different types of waves that it's sending and receiving), didn't really talk about datalink or IFF, but I'm guessing that's part of this
- EMS - (electronic counter measure system?) - not much said
talks about a fighter jet is like a networked computer system with many sub parts, each has a computer that can do half to 1 million calculations per second. Also, they take up very little space.

The other major project for plaaf is KJ-2000. That appears to be going well in spite of the problem with IL-76, because we've seen a new regiment of 4 KJ-2000 number 30071 to 30074 in the 26th division. We've also seen a picture of some factory workers building a 6 blade propeller for Y-8. Since only Y-8F600 uses 6-blade propeller, it appears that they are preparing for a new Y-8F600 for KJ-200 (the other Y-8 surveillance aircrafts are still using Y-8F200/400). Other than that, we've seen a new Y-8 Elint plane numbered 9527.

For the navy, we've seen 071 finally starting to conduct sea tests, here are a couple of pictures of it taken recently: