Monday, June 23, 2008

Update on PLA

So, I guess I haven't done any update for a while. The truth is that not much news have come out in the past 2 weeks. So, this will be my obligatory update.
First of all, one of the big rumours that came out speculated Varyag has left Dalian. This rumour was initiated by someone who apparently saw it disappearing on a flight to/from Shanghai. This caused quite a stir on Chinese online forum and SDF. After all, we've been wondering about what PLA was going to do with Varyag. The photographs for Varyag haven't come out as frequently as some of the other major projects. One could guess this indicates the importance of the carrier project or the inconvenient location of Dalian shipyard or the lack of exterior progress. In fact, many of my non-Chinese friends on SDF became interested in PLAN due to Varyag. So, the lack of progress and transparency on this issue has caused much frustration in the past 3 years. This week's speculations brought out some new energy on this. Jeff Head attached a recent photo that seemed to suggest that the island is painted. Some other photos came out later showed Varyag is still in the shipyard, but the island is not painted. So, that would indicate those photos were not taken recently. Either way, the original story that you can spot aircraft carrier with your own eyes from an airliner seemed to be outlandish. And, there hasn't been any photographic evidence to support it since. So at this point, I can only assume that this is a bad rumour.

The other big news that came out recently is the first flight of Prototype 03 of L-15. When 01 first flied, Hongdu said at that time 03 would be the final prototype due to budgetary constraints. We all know I'm not a big fan of L-15, so I'm not exactly as excited about this news as many people are. Here are some pictures:

Due to its lack of importance to PLAAF, the first flight of 03 has received as much transparency as 01 and JF-17 04. Basically, when a product like this do not get interest from PLAAF, the news media tend to have more photo opportunities and more official interviews. It's exciting because we get an unaltered look at these new planes. With the new engine AI-225K-25 and possible requirements of prospective customers, they made some changes from 01 to 03. Here are some pictures that show the differences between 01 and 03

After 03 flied, another interview was done with Hongdu, and I have provided a rough summary below of this article:

  • Engine changed from DV-2X to EAI-222, providing a total of 42 kN in thrust with afterburner. The engine with afterburner is still under test, so 03 uses one without afterburner. Prototype 04 and 05 should have afterburners.
  • They signed an agreement to assemble the engine in China. Engine availability shouldn't be a major issue.
  • Major improvement in quality between 03 and 01. 03's finishing is much better, has less rough edges. It should help with aerodynamics.
  • Compared to JL-9, L-15 is in a different generation, it uses turbofan engine with FADEC, has much longer service life, quadriplex FBW and glass cockpit. It gives feel closer to that of a 4th generation fighter jet.
  • Much lower cost for flying L-15 than su-27, over 3 times the service life of su-27, so cheaper maintenance cost, lower operating cost (maybe 1/10 that of flankers)
  • Talks about possibly using L-15/Yak-130 as attack aircraft to replace A-10/Su-25
  • Also talks about converting L-15 into UAV, saying that the FBW of L-15 makes it a possibility. It's always easier to do something based on an existing product rather than a brand new product.
  • Talks about making L-15 more stealthy, changes like having a V shaped vertical stabilizers instead of the straight one right now.

That's about it. I'm not really too impressed by it still. I guess L-15 would only prove itself after getting an order from PLAAF.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More on China & Russia military relationship

So, we dealt a little bit with the naval problems in the relationship. Now, we also got some more ammunition on the aerial part of the relationship. But to start of, we will go for a little lighter piece of news.

MOSCOW. June 6 (Interfax-AVN) - A plan is being developed for the
Chinese aircraft manufacturing industry to invest in a project to
develop a training aircraft on the basis of the Yakovlev Yak-152, a
Russian defense industry source said.
An agreement with China to that effect "is expected within the next
few months," the source told Interfax-AVN.
The plane would be fitted with a piston engine.

So, as you guys might have figured out from my past post, I'm not the biggest fan of Hongdu. This is another reason why I just cannot respect this company in spite of its success with K-8 exports. We know that L-15 has turned into a total failure up to this point. In some degree, it's excusable to struggle in developing an advanced trainer. However, they can't even get a basic trainer developed. They have to basically pay the Russians to develop an aircraft for them. That is just so sad. Even after all of China's recent success in aircraft development, they can't develop this simple aircraft.

Now, let's turn our attention back to J-11B and IL-76. It appears that Sukhoi's General Director has announced J-11B is not an illegal copy of su-27. You can find the video report of the news report in Chinese here. There is probably also some Russian reports on this. I'm sure it will soon propogate to more prominent news sources. From the beginning, I thought the Russians were just trying to get some money out of this. From sources I read so far, it seems like the Russians probably got some concessions (other contracts) from China in exchange for dropping this complaint. I think at the end of the day, it's better for both side to achieve some level of satisfaction and put this behind them. The bilateral relationship is way too important to be marred by this argument.

IL-76 issue is also getting close to being resolved according to this PKF Article. Now, this is a Kanwa article, so you will have to take it at its face value. It's easy to see the bias in this article. When Indians are considered to do the normal and reasonable thing to bend to the Russian blackmail over the entire Gorshkov fiasco, the author looses all credibility. There is no question that China got a good deal when the original IL-76 contract was signed, but that doesn't excuse the Russians. As a basic business practice, you must fulfill a contract regardless of how bad it may look to you. The Southwest airline got a deal where it's buying oil at $55 a barrel for 3 years. I suppose if it signed that deal with the Russians, the contract would be torn up by now. Normally, when a side cannot complete the contract in time, it will be penalized under the terms of the agreement. Not only do the Russians not offer compensation for violating the agreement, they expect extra compensation?

I wonder what the chances are for China to buy IL-76 if they anticipate the domestic copy will be ready in 5 years and this new factory is clearly not ready for production yet. If it takes 3 years to get the contract signed and equipments purchased. And then the first IL-76 come off the production line will already be around 2011-2012, would this deal be worth it? Pinkov certainly assumed right from the beginning that PLAAF can only get the plane from the Russians. I'm sure the Russians did the same way, so they expected China to eventually bend on this issue. It has probably caught them by surprise that China has held out this long over this issue. I think this deal has a chance of being revived if the Russians can offer a transport with better price/performance ratio than what SAC is capable of. PLAAF may still order 20 of the so called IL-476 if the price does not get out of hand. Either way, this is one deal that will forever harm the Chinese/Russian military relationship.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Replying to a recent Signal Magazine article

So, I just read an
article on AFCEA
regarding China copying technologies from 956. So, I think I will address this again.

First, let's address the myth that Russia is no longer willing to sell China advanced weapons, because China is copying off them. James tried to make the point that the Russians are willing to sell products to India that are not available to China. One of his main arguments are the Akulas. The argument doesn't work in too many ways. Nuclear submarines are not allowed to be exported, so the Indians are only leasing the submarines. Since China already has the capability of designing and building its own nuclear submarines, it makes no sense for the country to lease the submarine for 10 years, pay a fortune and then have to return the submarine. It makes a lot more sense to use that money to continue indigenous development while getting help from outsiders. That's exactly what China has been doing. With the speed at which 093 and 094 are joining PLAN, it's clear that China is going down that path. With 095 getting launched in a couple of years, why would China be interested in Akulas? And previous entries have already cut into the notion that China is not getting the military hardware that it wants from the Russians, so I absolutely disagree with this statement.
The Soviet/Russian exporting of modern offensive systems to nations other than China has been obvious over several decades.

Secondly, the entire idea of China copying off the Russians has been overstated. James begin with this quote.
The answer to the question of why China produced only one or two of four recent new guided missile destroyer designs could be that China is trying to gain the capability of producing a 956-type ship so that no more expensive Russian imports would be needed.

I guess 052B could be considered a Chinese version of Sov in someways, but China still has not tried to gain the capability of producing a 956 type ship. The reason why they are only producing 2 of each class is because they are trying to reach the most advanced shipbuilding level in the world. An old design like Sov, that is overrated in every aspect, certainly does not fill that criteria. Anyone who follows PLAN should realize that 052C is a far newer design with a more stealthy hull, CODOG propulsion, a modern AEGIS like air defense system, long range SAMs and a more flexible missile launcher. In fact, the next generation of Chinese DDGs will likely feature more compact systems carrying more missiles in the same load.

Now, let's move to the part where he claims China is copying all the subsystems off Sov. The first mistake he makes is assuming that anything that have similar exterior are illegal copies. What people seem to always forget is the Sea Eagle radar on 051B. When we first got up-close photos of Sea Eagle on 054A, we noticed that it had different rotating base from Top Plate and had more rows of antenna. Later on, we saw an export poster that showed different versions of Volume search radar. From that poster, it appeared that Sea Eagle on 054A operates on a different band than Top Plate. We also know from past articles that the latest Sea Eagle radar went through the most intensive testing program in PLAN history. Would a cloned radar really need such extensive testing? And with the most recent Sea Eagle being tested on 891, it's clear that radar is different from Top Plate just by looking at the external appearance. The bandstand looking radar on 054A have also appeared on 052B/C and 051C. Coincidentally, they have also appeared on 891. We know that bandstand is used to support Sunburn on a Russian combat system. Whereas the Sea Soul radar is used to support YJ-83/62 on the Chinese ships. If they are copying something like this, would it be able to work with another combat system and different set of missiles like this? This is also something that they have tested extensively on 891 back when it was still 970. Would they really need to do extensive testing for a cloned system. The FCRs on 054A have also sparked suspicions of cloning from MR-90s. We don't know what's inside the cover, but we know the external cover looks similar and that having some sort of FCRs on 054A makes sense. They are suspected to be copied due to their external appearance. I certainly think that cloning is a possible scenario for the FCRs, but there is no proof for this. In fact, he even admitted that the MR-90 like FCR tested on 891 is a domestic version. And we've seen more MR-90s on 891 recently being tested with the newest radars. Why would a year long testing period be needed, if it's already a mature product like MR-90. And if they can develop their own radars, why would they have such a hard time developing FCRs that look like MR-90s. And finally, the claim that 054A uses MGK-335 is also very confounding for me. All we know about 054A is that it has hull mounted sonar with bow mounted dome. There is no evidence right now (other than guesses) that 054A has any kind of towed sonar array. How would anyone outside of China know the origins of the sonar in that dome if it's not imported from anywhere. As we've seen with the sonar suites on the latest Chinese submarines, PLAN certainly doesn't fancy Russian sonar over its own indigenous developments. There is no evidence at all that 054A's ASW suite got any Russian help.

And James also conveniently forgets to mention that China received ToT/production rights for AK-176 and AK-630. They also modified these gun systems for domestic use. If they are willing to pay for the guns, why would they not be willing to pay them for the radars? Another point he brought up also counters to his own external shape argument. The VLS cells on 054A look lie MK-41 on Aegis ships and also use hot launch. Does anyone really think that China would have access to MK-41? In spite of this, we still hear claims that HH-16 is a copy of Shtil VLU. Clearly, China is willing to create radar, weapons and launch modules that have similar exterior appearance to existing systems around the world. Due to its familiarity with Russian systems, it certainly makes sense that many such systems look similar to Russian ones. China has certainly shown a willingness to get ToT and license production for things like the diesel engines, gas turbines, guns, torpedoes and sonars. Why then would everything else they develop be copyright infringement suspects? They certainly are used to studying existing systems and developing domestic versions based on lessons learnt from those systems. Would those be classified as illegal copies though?

And even examining some of its accusations toward the Western subsystems is kind of interesting. We've already went through the HH-16 VLS. We've also noted that the diesel engines and gas turbine are all legally produced under ToT in China. Otherwise, I don't see why MTU and SEMT would bother doing business with China anymore. The SS-12 sonar and Z-9 definitely got full ToT and licensed production rights from the French. That's also why China still cooperates with Eurocopter and gets help from the French on sonar. The A244S torpedoes were certainly purchased legally from the Italians and that probably aided in the Yu-7 development. We've already discussed in previous post that Type 730 is a combination of ideas from multiple CIWS. To say that it is a copy of Goalkeeper would be ignoring the sensor difference, munition difference and the physical difference of the two naval gun systems. I guess the most blatant violation toward Western countries is the development of the HQ-7/FCR/Type 360 radar combination. Outside of that, I would say China has respected the subsystems that it bought from the Western countries.

At this point, it seems like any new Chinese platform that has physical resemblance to Russian ones will be called stolen copies by the Russians. The Yuan submarine, 054A radar suite, WS-10A, J-11B and a bunch of other systems all got such labels. There is no question that China gained a lot from the Soviet breakup. It got access and ToT to technologies it never had before. It simply could not have gotten the same ToT deals from Western companies, who are probably much better at protecting their own IP. So, China's military complex benefited greatly from cooperation with the Russians. However, that doesn't mean it should have to keep on buying Russian products why they are not making the cut. No amount of Russian complaining will change that. Since I don't see this complaining stopping, this will likely be a major topic on future posts for this blog.