Sunday, April 27, 2008

J-11B vs Russians

So, as mentioned in the last post, there is news coming out regarding Russia being upset over China's imitation of flankers. Of course, the great PLA expert Andrei Chang decided to weigh in on this. Keep in mind, he has great relations with a lot of the Russian exporters, so he sides with the Russians a lot in this debate.

The article can be found here. It says the following.

HONG KONG, China, China's production of J-11B fighters using Russian technology has become the latest bone of contention in the military cooperation between the two countries, following prolonged problems over an IL-76 transport aircraft deal.

An authoritative source from the Russian military industry says that Russia has officially notified China that the latter's production of J-11B fighters is a violation of the original agreement between the two sides. If Russia cannot get a satisfactory response from China, it reserves the right to take legal action to protect its property rights, the source said.

Many sources from the Russian military industry are upset over China's production of J-11B fighters. According to the Su-27SK Fighter Technology Transfer Agreement reached between China and Russia in 1995, Russia would supply to China first 95 then an additional 105 sets of parts to assemble Su-27 fighters. The domestic production of the Su-27SKs was to proceed with assistance from the Russian side through the transfer of technology.

The agreement explicitly outlined the specific areas of technology transfer and the corresponding schedule. In the course of assembling the planned 200 Su-27SKs, all the core component parts including the engines, radar systems and avionics equipment was to be supplied by the Russian company. Russia had already made preparations in 2004 for the delivery of 105 sets of parts for assembly and all the related equipment had been put in place.

Right from the start, the Russians noticed that China's practices were very different from those of India, with whom they were also conducting military technology transfers.

In the first place, the Chinese were very sensitive, and exhibited a strong distrust for their Russian counterparts. Russians were not allowed in the production workshops of the J-11 fighters.

Later in 2004, the Chinese abruptly notified the Russians that they no longer needed the 105 sets of Su-27 components. They complained that the fighter's radar technology was out of date. The Russians therefore upgraded 70 Su-27SKs and a small number of J-11s with RVV-AE active radar guided air-to-air missiles. The Russians proposed the same upgrade for the remaining batch of 105 sets of parts, but China did not respond.

Around the same time, a series of incidents occurred in which Chinese nationals attempted to acquire Su-27SK component parts and production blueprints through illegal means. They were caught in the Russian Far East by the Federal Anti-espionage Agency, according to one Russian source.

From 2005, China imported a number of AL-31F engines and some other parts, saying they needed them for repairs on the fighters. Soon after that, the Russians discovered that the Shenyang Aircraft Company was manufacturing a fighter called the J-11B. Though the Chinese claimed it was a newly designed aircraft, Russian experts believed the J-11B was an exact imitation of the Su-27SK. The Chinese had violated the terms of the technology transfer agreement by creating their own indigenous version of the Russian aircraft.

This is similar to what occurred with regard to the Z-10 combat helicopter China built after importing engines from Canada, claiming they were to be used for civilian helicopters.

The Russian military industry has not made clear what legal action it will take if it is convinced that China violated Russian intellectual property rights. However, a civil aviation technology analyst based in Moscow says that the J-11B incident will surely have a major impact on cooperation between China and Russia in the aviation industry.

Russia is now conducting a full assessment of the importance of the Chinese arms market to the Russian military industry. Some analysts believe that Russia is already switching its priority to other markets because of China's failure to fulfill its commitments. Under this circumstance, the likelihood that Russia will export Su-35 and Su-33 fighters to China is growing smaller. New obstacles may also interrupt the export of additional AL-31F engines and Su-27SK component parts to China.

Russia's economic recovery in the past few years means that money is no longer the only consideration in deciding where to export its military technology.

Even if Russia imposes sanctions against China over the production of the J-11B fighters, production of the aircraft is unlikely to be affected. China has already imported what it needs from Russia, including 180 AL-31F engines that will arrive later this year. Also, since beginning the J-11B production, China has reinforced its cooperation with the Ukrainian and Belarus aviation industries.

An upgrade of the Su-27SK's avionics equipment was assisted by technology from the Minsk No. 558 Factory, while the Ukrainian Migremont Factory helped China in the repair and maintenance of fuselages. A chart showing the production of the J-11B on open display at the 2006 Zhuhai Air Show revealed that already 80 percent of its parts were manufactured domestically.

A source from the Chinese aviation industry said the Shenyang Aircraft Company suffers from low production efficiency, unlike the Chengdu Aircraft Company, which has received a series of domestic awards. The Chengdu company has already manufactured 120 J-10A fighters. It had been building J-7Es until 2007, but that production line will be officially closed within this year so as to put full attention to the manufacture of additional J-10As. A second J-10A production line is expected.

The above information suggests that due to low production efficiency, the first phase production of J-11Bs is intended mainly to meet the demand of the PLA Air Force. The possibility that China will export the aircraft is very slim. This is what concerns Russia. Under the original Su-27SK production transfer agreement, the 200 J-11 fighters should not be exported to any third country. Yet Russia suspects that China's intention in suspending the J-11 production agreement ahead of time is to develop the J-11B export market independently.

First, I'd like to address the issue of the AL-31F engine. There is no doubt in my mind that most if not all of those engines are going to the existing fleet of Russian flankers. The fact is that AL-31F have really short service life, so it shouldn't be a surprise that China needs a large order of this engine as replacements for the ones on the existing aircrafts. The other issue is that production rate of WS-10A has reached the point where China simply doesn't need to buy AL-31F for new J-11Bs. If the flanker production rate is 17 per year as Pinkov previously stated, then having mass production of WS-10A should more than cover that + a portion of J-10s. And it's no secret that the Russians have been following the progress of J-11B development as much as they can. Earlier this year, one of the big shrimps stated that Russians accidentally saw the J-11B production lines and were surprised by the tooling and quality of the fighters. It was to the point that they decided to cut off on the supply of parts to China. This did not actually cripple J-11B program, but simply helped the domestic industry which was previously denied due to the powerful middlemen who were making money off the export transactions.

So, why now? Of course, the official explanation is that China is violating the terms of the agreement and that they are going to export to other countries. But in reality, it doesn't appear that China has any intention exporting a fighter that they can't get enough of. In fact, one of the problems of PLA is that SAC can't produce enough to supply both the navy and the air force. I'm not sure if this is a problem with SAC as mentioned by Pinkov or a problem with the suppliers. Either way, with China's need for strike fighters and naval fighters, SAC won't be looking at any export orders for a while. Even the big shrimps on Chinese bbs have mentioned that China can't even export the original su-27sk without Russian approval. As for the other violation, it's clear at this point that China has yet to even reach the original goal of 200 flankers. They produced 95 J-11s with various degrees of Russian contents. We've probably had at most 20 J-11Bs so far. So, the Russians are simply complaining because they are not getting the money from China ordering their parts for the aircraft. This is really ridiculous, since what Russians are willing to offer to China (N-001VE) is so outdated. Of course, they are not willing to offer the more advanced Irbis radar, because they want China to buy su-35 straight up. So, if they are not willing to offer avionics and engines that are up to par (compared to indigenous production), what right do they have to complain that China is using their own (and more advanced) avionics? The Russians must know all of this. Why are they still complaining? Well, they know they are not going to get any more orders for su-33/35 from China (despite what they are claiming to Pinkov) after seeing the success of J-11 program, so they are simply trying to get any money they can from China at this point. The threat of discontinuing military cooperations is certainly not going to scare that many people in PLA. In fact, it has been China that has canceled those annual meetings due to the problems with the IL-76 contract.

The other interesting news I got today is about Bangladesh's military cooperation with China. They talked about increasing the cooperation in military and nuclear field. However, a previous deal between the two sides caught my attention today. This is regarding to the deal where Bangladesh bought C-802A and FM-90n. It's well known that C-802 series is one of the best selling military export items for China. The list of countries getting C-802 or ToT for C-802 includes Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Algeria, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar. The range of C-802 has increased with each evolution. When it came out, it was at 120 km. A couple of years ago, they came out with C-802A, which had a range of 180 km. Then a few months later, the Iranian C-802 mods were said to have a range of 200 km. And this article actually puts the range of C-802 at 120 to 140 NM, which is close to the MTCR limit. For a light weight missile like C-802, it's quite an accomplishment to be able to go that far. One can use this to gage the range of YJ-83 and KD-88. Of course, there are more important requirements than just range, but this certainly casts a good light on the Chinese Military Industry. And as more navies around the world start to use C-802 and FM-90N, we will probably see more of them also buying ships from China. The article is as follows:

Text of report headlined "Navy to test-fire new missile next week"
published by Bangladeshi newspaper Prothom Alo on 28 April

Bangladesh Navy is to test-fire the C-802 missile imported from China
next week. The missile will be launched from the naval frigate "BNS
Osman" on 4 May to a target 140 nautical miles in the sea. For this
the navy has taken all cautionary measures and instructed all to
follow its instructions. A meeting with all other relevant government
agencies and departments was held on Thursday [24 April].

According to sources, this is the first such test-fire of missiles in
Bangladesh. Instructions have been given to relevant authorities to
keep away ships coming from Singapore, Colombo (Sri Lanka) and
Malaysia from the route where the test-fire will take place. And it
has asked for anchoring arrangements of those ships in the outer
anchorage area.

According to naval sources, among the six frigates of Bangladesh Navy,
BNS Osman and BNS Khalid Bin Walid (formerly known as BNS Bangabandhu)
have facilities to launch missiles. Till now BNS Osman, collected from
China in 1989, was equipped with SY-1 Alpha type missile. This missile
of 1988 model can hit targets at a distance of 35 nautical miles.

C-802 and FM-90 types of missiles have been imported from China by
Bangladesh Navy as part of its modernization. These missiles can hit
targets at a distance of 120 nautical miles. Missile launching
technology of BNS Osman has been upgraded. FM-90 missiles have been
imported for BNS Khalid Bin Walid.

More developments

I guess there is not as much developments this week. We saw the export version of a Y-8 special missions plane.

Also from the recent times, someone made some nice photo comparisons of the radar + guns used on F-22P vs LD-2000. I'm guessing Type 730 at current time is not available for export, so the exported ships will be using a combination of gun + sensor systems like we've seen.

compares the search radar used on F-22P between the placement on the model and on the ship. Looks like the SR-64 on those export brochures.

Also, there has been a lot of rumbling out of Chinese bbs recently that they are developing a successor to Type 730. Looks like China is going with the gun route for close-in weapon system rather than missile like RAM. I guess one of the problem is that they just haven't been able to come up with a compact and accurate short range SAM like RAM. It's kind of interesting that USN is going with the 57 mm gun as their primary CIWS now. Even though the successor to Type 730 is probably going to look more like 730 than 57 mm, I would think they eventually have to go with something like 57mm to replace the need of having both 76 mm and 30 mm on the same ship.

There are also some news coming out of the aerospace side. According to AVIC1, JF-17 production will be moved from CAC to GAIC. What is unknown at the present time is whether or not CAC will still do any production of JF-17. As we've seen, CAC didn't seem to set up any kind of mass production line for JF-17, so it took a long time to even get the first batch of 8 JF-17s delivered to PAF. It looks like CAC must have really been concentrating on J-10. The interesting part is that GAIC is already producing JJ/FT-7 and JL-9, so I wonder what kind of production rate they can get to with JF-17.

Also according to AVIC1, it seems like the mini-turbofan engines for cruise missiles and UAV are proceeding well in development. Although it is unclear from reading the article where exactly these engines are in development.

And finally, we heard that the Russians want to sue China for J-11B. It's interesting that they are doing this now, because we've known about J-11B for quite a while already. The next post will look at Pinkov's article on this and critique it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Urgent: New Developments

Alright, so I've finally got the necessary time to post these pictures that I've seen recently. Basically, two sets of new photos came out in the past two days which are kind of exciting.

First, we've seen a new series of Y-8 Surveillance planes (High New 7?). This is kind of amazing, because it has some unique looking radar. I guess I'm just waiting for expert analysis on what the plane is for. Anyhow, here are the photos:

Second, I'm posting a link to the 3rd Yuan that is currently under sea test. Note, this one is not the new 039 variant, but just another hull of the 039A variant. Edited: now I'm going to post the pictures for the new Yuan below.

Also, pictures of Songs operating together from Modern Ship magazine.

Also, some photos of 810 in service. Nice shot of Type 76F

Thursday, April 10, 2008

054A and F-22P

As some of you may know, this blog was referenced by Ronald O'Rourke on a congressional research service report on PLAN modernization. While I'm flattered that this blog is referenced, I still would like to look through some parts of the report that I believe is slightly outdated. Since a part of it is reliant on SIPRI report from 2005. As I have said many times, 2-3 years is a long time in PLAN land. But this would come at a later entry.

So, we've finally seen some new photos out of HD shipyard in the past week. Quite extraordinary actually. We saw photos of the second 054A going to SSF, the discovery of the third 054A and the launching of the first F-22P.

So, this is the picture of the 2nd 054A before it leaves for SSF. It's interesting that unlike the HP ships, this one doesn't get the number painted before it goes there. This maybe a difference in practice between HP and HD.

Probably the bigger news is this photo. Now, the guy posting this claimed it to be the 3rd 054A. I have to say that he has never been wrong before (that I know of) and it does look a 054A. So, I guess we can finally officially say that HD is building its third one.

And finally, DDG-82 meets 568. On their port call to Shanghai, the American sailors got a nice look at China's new ship. I bet it's a fascinating thing for both sides.

And the F-22P has been launched. Well, the first one still needs a lot of fitting, but it's in the waters on schedule. And, the keel for the second one was laid down. As we can see with this next two photos, much of the sensors/weapons on the outside have not been installed yet. They probably launched it in a rush to meet the schedule of Pakistanis coming in.

And of course, there are also a bunch of saying how close the two sides are and how great the relationship has become. I think it's kind of interesting that the hull and some of the sensors/guns seem to be more advanced than most of us expected them to be. It definitely seems like they are upgrades over what Jiangwei II has. If you took a look at the gun, it looks more like the Type 730 than the AK-630s (that I originally expected) or the guns on Jiangwei II. I guess a lot more will be revealed in the coming days. What's even more fascinating will be PN's next frigate RFP. I'm quite confident China will win this with 054A. Clearly, it's a generation better than F-22P and would be an upgrade in every way. But, it would be interesting to see what the Europeans offer. Then, we can see what China offers to counter that. Of course now, I wouldn't expect China to be building 054As for PN until after the last F-22P is finished, but the contract should be signed much earlier than that. If F-22P is any indication, what China offers to PN will be different from 054A and unique to their requirements. At the same time, it would be hard to gage on what will appear on the ship at this point, because we simply don't even know what the 2nd batch of 054As look like. Most likely, a future variant of 054 (not sure when) will be switching to CODOG propulsion. If Richard Fisher's article is any indication, it will be 6 more 054As using the current CODAD propulsion before the switch to the CODOG. I'm guessing the newer variant will be larger and more oriented to ASW duties (rather than being the AAW ship it is right now). By that time, QC-185 should also be ready for warships. My guess is that PN would also be opting for a latter variant of the 054 series.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Effects of European embargo lifting

So, I've received some requests recently on what would happen if the European arms embargo gets lifted. Now, this is a really complicated question, because I certainly can't factor in what each country is willing to export to China. I can only say what China would be interested in that is also being exported by European countries. And I also have to apologize in advance for not knowing enough about the technologies in each country and not knowing anything about army related systems. So, I would have to concentrate on the naval/air force related systems in this piece.

First, let's go back and examine what they are currently importing or need to import:
They got a bunch of AAMs and gas turbines from the Ukrainians. And they are certainly looking to Ukraine for help on different transport related projects. They also import a bunch of small subsystems from both the Ukraine and Belarus. And in the future, the most important help they get from the non-Russia former Soviet Republics are the gas turbines and large transport help.

As I stated previously, I think the main systems that China is still trying to get from the Russians include IL-76/78, S-400, turbofan engines of different sizes, transport helicopters like Mi-17/26/38, Ka-28/31, Be-200, subsystems for naval fighter/carrier and more missiles for existing platforms bought from Russia. The turbofan part is referring to AL-31FN series, RD-93 series and AI-222-25F. Although I think the major part of the first two engine series will be for replacement rather than for new fighter jets. In general, a lot of the stuff that China buys from Russians in the future will be to maintain and support existing Russian systems. After the next big order of Be-200 and Helix (which was supposedly signed in 2006), the only thing left will really be the completion of IL-76/78, S-400 and the Mi series transport helicopters.

We also know that China has sort of been getting around the embargo for years and they are still likely to get some systems from the Europeans even if the embargo is not lifted. The biggest project that they have going is probably the Z-15 project. This will certainly provide China with probably the most advanced helicopter of this class. And it will provide the basis for a future naval and possibly utility version in PLA. EC-120 will continuously join PLA in a training role. Z-10 will probably eventually be all indigenous, but it will have to import parts that are developed by Agusta and Eurocopter until then. I'm also under the impression that more classes from Western helicopter makers may appear in PLA in the near future due to the dual use nature of helicopters. For example, the recent unmanned helicopter is clearly derived from Sikorsky's S-300. The other notable exports from Europe to China are the diesel engines used in 054 series, 071 series and 039 series. In fact, all of the advanced diesel engines used in PLAN are pretty much local assemblies of MTU or SEMT Pielstick. I guess diesel engines also have enough dual use applications to pass through the embargo. The other major ones are probably the sonar/combat system on 039s. According to Gary, these are French based.

So, what will China be interested in once the embargo is finished? Well, let's start with the big systems. A400M and KC-30 would definitely be on top of the list, because they badly need the medium sized transport and the tanker. They are certainly generations ahead of IL-76 in range, fuel efficiency, reliability and such. An MPA based on A319 would also be welcomed, because it should have far better performance than the Y-7 MPA that China is working on. EH-101 would be a great addition as a transport helo, although China might still prefer Russian helicopters here. NH-90 is something that I've always advocated for. I think it would be perfect in the ASW/SAR role. I can't really see them interested in fighter jets or ships. Although they would certainly be interested in subsystems used for carrier operation.

The other question would be then what kind of subsystems they will be the interested in that they can't get right now. Well, gas turbines would certainly be one thing that China would need. Although they are developing their own line of QC series gas turbines, I can't imagine they would not be interested in WR-12 or something like that. They are already getting all the engines they need for helicopters under the dual use guise, but aerospace engines is another area that they could get help in. Any of the M88 series or EJ-200/230 series would be an upgrade over RD-93. I'm sure their transport fleet can also find an ideal engine from the Europeans.

Another area that they would be interested in are the missiles. Aster 15 would certainly be an upgrade over HH-7 right now. I think they might be interested in copying something like that. RAM would be an even better upgrade, but I'm not sure if Germany would be able to export something like that. I can see them possibly be interested in SCALP, although they already have their own line of ship launched cruise missile available. The technology for common VLS that can launch different SAMs, CMs and ASROC would certainly be high on their agenda. A light weight torpedo like Mu-90 would be an upgrade over the Yu-7/A244 that they are using right now. In terms of aerial weapons, European missiles like Iris-t, ASRAAM, Meteor, storm shadow, mistral and other MBDA products would all be of interest to China. However, China is developing its own line of these missiles and the results haven't been that bad. I see them possibly asking for cooperations from MBDA or maybe even small quantity some of these missiles for studying, but nothing more than that. They could even be interested in the naval guns by Oto Melara and the munitions used in these guns.

In terms of sensors, I think something like S1850M would be very interesting to China. I'm sure Herakles, Sampson and EMPAR would be interesting items for China to study, but they already have enough MFRs in service/under test to actually buy them. Different types of sonars by Thales would be another area of interest, because we all recognize ASW as the weakest point of PLAN. I'm sure there are also different naval subsystems like combat systems, data fusion technology, E/O sensors, guidance technology, ESM that they would be interested in. However, it's really impossible to guess which ones they would be up for exactly. In terms of aerial sensors, I really can't think of anything that China would be interested in right now. They are certainly not that impressed with the fighter radars or special missions radars. In terms of other avionics, I don't really see any interest in that direction either.

I guess the other areas that China would be interested in are the materials and tooling. They would certainly be keen to access EADS' composite and RAM technology. They would also be interested in the sonar absorption technology used on submarines. But an even more important proposition would be accessing all the latest machineries and tools used by the Europeans in hi-tech manufacturing.

An interesting study by SIPRI recently mentioned that there was a 63% drop in the value of Russian exports to China in the past year. I think all of us expect a similar drop in 2008. The era of import from the Russians is over. A lifting of the embargo would certainly lead to an increase in import, but that would also be a temporary rather than a permanent situation. It would be done in a way to speed up China's own development rather than anything else. I truly believe China when they say that their main opposition to the embargo is the political humiliation of being listed with rogue countries rather than the weapons themselves.