Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CAC + 5th generation

Over the past couple of weeks, the world got a chance to see China's new found wealth and power. As a burgeoning superpower, it's often believed that China's military prowess does not match its political and economical strength. One large part of the future of warfare is the so called "5th generation fighter". I think we all know about the tremendous advantage that America enjoys with F-22. As far as most of us knows, the only other 5th generation fighters being worked on F-35, PAK-FA and MCA. Since DRDO has yet to finish developing LCA, so I will ignore MCA for the scope of this discussion.

Clearly, America is so far head of the curves in 5th generation fighter. 100 F-22s are already delivered, and 20 more are joining every year until the 183 (or possibly more) is reached. F-35 has received quite a bit of bad press in the past couple of years (due to the cost going up), but the A & B variants have already made the first flight. They are expected to join service by 2012. At the same time, the air force is ordering more prototypes every year. Due to the number of partners and other export clients for this project, the number of expected orders is huge. So, most of the 3rd tier probably would not get the aircraft until much later. At this point, the engine technology, stealth technology and radar technology are already mature from the F-22 project. So, we can safely say that F-35 (especially the A variant) is a plane that will reach/exceed its requirements and also be delivered on time. The B and the C variant require more work and I think that's where much of the cost escalation might have come from.

Russia and India are working together in the PAK-FA project. Although, I think the real name when it comes out would not be called that. Compared to F-35, there is really not that much technology developed right now. The Russians claim that Su-35 will contain a lot of the technology to be used on their 5th generation aircraft. Realistically, I think they are only referring to the Irbis radar and the 117S engine. Even those two are likely to be only used for the initial prototype or first batch of the aircraft. I have read articles saying that the planned AL-41F engine is currently being delayed until they get more funding from the government. I would think that the Russians would like to have a true 5th generation turbofan engine rather than an upgraded 4th generation engine like 117S. There is only so much future upgrade potential for something that was originally designed for a lower generation of fighter jets. We have also heard about all the new missiles (like K-172) that the Russians are developing, but none of that has actually reached service. I do presume that these missiles will be ready by the time su-35 is exported. And I have not really seen the next generation of short range and medium range AAM from the Russians. Recent results have come out that the project with cost 14 to 16 billion USD and that India hopes the first test flight with happen at around 2015-16. Although, I'm not too clear whether that's just the Indian variant (obviously India would have different requirements from Russia) or the project overall. While this is cheaper than the 40 or 60 billion USD (I'm not sure exactly how much is spent on the JSF RnD), it certainly isn't as cheap as some of the earlier figures I saw. And I don't think this cost includes the cost of developing the engine and the associated weapons either. On top of these cost, there is also the cost of modifying the Russian version so that it will fit India's requirements. Consider the fact that India uses some Western/Indian avionics + missiles, that would be additional develpment cost. I'm sure that the Russians will get this fighter developed, but it probably will suffer delays and cost overruns as we have seen with other recent Russian projects.

As for the Chinese 5th generation fighter (or 4th generation as they call it), it has always been a battle between SAC and CAC. We've received a lot of mixed/contradictory news over the so called J-XX in the past few years. People first speculated that it will be developed by SAC due to the model they saw in Zhuhai 2002. By 2007, we started to receive news that CAC's design was actually awarded the contract. At the same time, many people also certainly speculated that China was going to join this project for the longest time, but that never happened. I think that China knew what was at the stake in such a cooperation. They would likely get an offer from the Russians for ToT and some development work. Although, the Russians would freeze the design according to their needs and keep some of the trade secrets to themselves. The Indians have certainly found out first hand what you get out of such a partnership. Having said that, the Indians will still get more out of this than the JSF partners get from the Americans. We also speculated for the longest time that China would develop the 5th generation engine in cooperation with the Russians. That has also turned out to be false.

So, why did China not cooperate with the Russians. I think China realizes that it has enough aerospace technology base to be able to develop a true 5th generation fighter. At the same time, the Russians would always be the primary partner in such a project. It would be hard to imagine China wanting to act second-fiddle and be locked out of a large part of the development process and some of the advanced technologies. By working with the Russians, China would not only pay a majority of the development but also continuously pay Russians for certain parts of the frame, maintenance/repairs, extra supplies of the engine and maybe even missile/avionics cost. In the end, China has enough faith in AVIC1 to be able to develop this fighter.

Recently, we've received two pieces of news. The first one is an enthusiastic report on WS-15. The article just got really excited about using digital design for developing WS-15, but it did not really explain how well the project really is doing. According to some online sources, the engine should be ready in the middle to later part of next decade. The thrust performance is designed toward matching F-119, but it's hard to think that WS-15 would be as reliable and stealthy as F-119. We also got one final confirmation from CAC that they got the main design work for the 5th generation fighter. Now, the production facility of SAC may still be used to produce a large part of the 5th generation fighter, but PLAAF clearly likes CAC's design better. SAC will be saddled with the design for the naval fighter, future J-11 variants and UAV/UCAVs. CAC now has the upgraded J-10, the 5th generation fighter, the global hawk-like UAV and the JF-17 projects to work on. After SAC is done with J-8IIs (hopefully soon), SAC basically only has J-11 variants and UAVs to work on. Also, what does XAC have after JH-7A? I presume bomber or fighter-bomber projects, but there really isn't a good report verifying much of anything. Also, it's interesting that PLAAF selected CAC's design over SAC despite neither firm having built a prototype. CAC will now be in charge of getting some built soon that will use 2 WS-15 engine (or maybe WS-10 series in the beginning), radar (by probably 14th institute) and integrating different avionics together. CAC is already getting a lot of experience developing a new generation of avionics on the upgraded J-10. The 5th generation plane should take that up a notch to be able to fighter in the new environment. A new generation of missiles are also being developed for future fighters. We've seen/heard a 5th generation SRAAM, a successor MRAAM to PL-12 and a Metor-like ramjet powered LRAAM. CAC has shown that it can integrate all of this in the J-10 project. So, I think PLAAF is making the right decision to pick it ahead of SAC for the 5th generation design work. At current time, I've been reading 2015 as the year that this plane will join service. I think this is kind of optimistic, because they are not expecting first flight until 2012. I guess we will see how it turns out.

Monday, August 4, 2008

F-22P + Thoughts on the 1500 ton class

Before we start, I'd like to just post a few photos I saw recently with F-22P. The first couple of photos are for the first launched ship and the third one is the photo of the second in the class.

So, we've been discussing this possible class on PLA forum for a while. It's commonly acknowledged, that a ship in the class of around 1500 ton displacement is needed to complement the 200+ ton 022 and the 4000+ ton 054 series. I guess it will be classified as an OPV or a Corvette. A while back, I found a couple of online sources that somewhat verified the existence of this program. We still don't know when it will come out, but I think it might be fun to discuss it a little bit. To begin, much of my motivation comes from a recent thread on Chinese bbs regarding this topic.

Just to give you an idea of what the author was proposing, here is a picture of it.

In order to determine what this class will be used for, one should start by looking at comparable ships currently in PLAN. I guess the most obvious one would be the Jianghu class. One can also look at equivalent classes around the world like K-130, Milgem, SAAR 5 and Project 28. The new OPV/Corvette ships are replacing the need for FACs. In many ways, FACs are a concept of the old days. The OPVs and Corvettes can be used for more types of missions in sea areas further off from the shore. The 022 class seems to be well suited for the asymmetrical warfare that PLAN is preparing for the Taiwan Strait, but is probably not useful in too many other places. PLAN simply cannot be considered a true modern navy without a ship of this class.

The obvious missions for this class would be to patrol the South China Sea and East China Sea. The Jianghu class patrolling South China Sea has an endurance of 15 days and range of 4000 nm. K-130 has an endurance of 7-10 days and range of 4000 nm at 15 knots. Milgem has an endurance of 10 days with a range of 3500 nm. The Project 28 class also has an endurance of 15 days and range of 4000 nm. Even the 1200 ton Saar 5 claims to have a range of 4000 nm and 24 days of endurance! These are all supposedly figures for operating alone. I personally doubt Saar 5 are measured under the same condition as K-130/Milgem. Project 28 is larger than the other ships mentioned here, so it should have greater range/endurance. Either way, I'd expect this new OPV to have an endurance of around 7 to 10 days and range of 3500-4000 nm at 15 knots. In many ways, this ship would be replace Type 037 and Jianghu class ships. It would have to take over the ASuW and ASW capabilities of these ships. It might even be expected to have some limited AAW capability.

So, what do I think it will look like. The first question is where it will be a Catamaran design like the diagram, a SWATH design like the new 991 ELINT ship or a traditional V shaped hull. Even though they've been experimenting with 022, 991 and 074A classes, I think they would go with the traditional V shaped hull in this case. I personally like K-130 class quite a bit and hope that they go with something looking like K-130 or Meko A100. I would expect the new OPV to have 2 quad launcher for YJ-83 for ASuW. Similar to 022, it would have some kind of datalink built in to support OTH engagement with targeting provided by aerial assets. It would probably have a hangar that supports a Z-9 to Z-15 sized naval helicopter. The helicopter would provide longer ranged ASW effort. It should also be fitted with a Towed Array sonar system, hull mounted sonar and the associated ASW combat system. I'm not sure if it will have the space to also fit anti-submarine rocket launchers and torpedo launchers. Finally, AAW is an area of mystery for me. I think I can be sure that an AK-176M will be in the front for anti-surface engagements and close-in air defense. However, I'm not sure if the ship will have space for much else. If one of the sources is correct, this ship will have HH-16 for self-defense. In that case, I would expect a 16 cell VLS, 2 FCRs (1 in front/1 in back) and a Sea Eagle search radar to be installed. In that case, the search radar might be a smaller version of the radar installed on 054A, since the OPV may not have the power or the structure to support the one on 054A. If HH-16 cannot be supported, I would guess TY-90 and/or AK-630M would be installed on the OPV for close-in defense. It's too bad that China does not have something a scompact as RAM or Barak VLS. In both cases, an OFC-3/LR-66 (the sensors on Type 730) is likely added to help track sea-skimmers to assist in the air defense. In addition to all of this, the OPV should be installed with decoy launchers and countermeasure systems similar to other ships of this class. The ship will probably be powered by diesel engines from MTU or SEMT Pielstick.

Once this OPV gets developed, China will also be able to market a similar boat for export. As seen with the Malaysians, Indonesians, South African, Vietnamese and Turks, this is quite a growing market. China has already built 2 OPVs for the Royal Thai navy. Designing a successful OPV for PLAN will create a good basis for export plans.

August 1st photos

So, they finally posted some new photos this weekend as part of the August 1st celebration. I got some really nice photos of 054/As serving for ESF. Especially the first one with all 4 054s from ESF together, it's really quite a beaut.

A nice portrait of 167 with Hu Jintao overlooking

And a couple of shots of 170

And the sovs now

And a couple of MCM shots.

And the medical ship, I'm always confused by this one, I was under the impression they put the pennant number on it as 920 a long time ago.

Finally, a few pictures showing 403 before and after the refitting. It gives you an idea of the changes done to 091s.
The first one was taken when 401 was still in service. I think only 403 to 405 went through the refitting.

It's kind of interesting comparing to the old 403 to the new 403. From just my untrained eyes comparing them, I get the following differences:
  • the new one has the flank array sonar (from the markings)
  • the old limber line has now become a series of dotted lines of limber holes (in line with their newer submarines)
  • The vertical fin on the sail looks much smaller in size in the new 403
  • They seem to have put a new layer of anechoic tile over 403, because its surface looks similar to Yuan and 093. Whereas the surface on the old 403 picture looks like it's almost peeling off.
  • The vertical "part" next to the bow sonar line on old 403 picture has been replaced with just a couple of sensors sticking out in the new 403 picture.