Monday, October 27, 2008

The RAND study on PLAAF vs USAF in 2020

I recently read the RAND analysis on possible encounters between China and Taiwan/USA in 2020. You can find it here. I have to say that after some initial prejudice toward their analysis, I became fairly impressed by the different scenarios they talked about. I think one must look at this as a good starting point rather than a realistic study. I've always found Taiwan scenario to be too complicated to be discussed on a military forum, so I try not to get into such debate. So the following is an attempt to ask more questions, trying to think of more possibilities rather than answering what is and is not going to be successful.

I think an interesting part that they went over are the number of air bases available to both side in this scenario. The important part is pointing out that Kadena is basically the only USAF base close enough to Taiwan strait and Anderson is the only other base close to there. It also showed the possible and the number of other possible air bases available to America in the area from Japan and South Korea + give some thoughts into areas that would be considered safe for the US carrier and would that would mean to this scenario. So, I think the important questions they raised include the following:

1. Can China take Kadena out of the picture with missile strike and if so how long can they keep it out of commission? In order to answer this question, I would have to know the kind of air defense available at the beginning of the conflict (assuming that USN cannot get there in time to support with its Aegis umbrella). If it is taken out, how fast can it be repaired? If it's repaired, how fast can it be re-supplied? If does have USN protection after being repaired/re-supplied, will it be taken out again by further strikes of ballistic missile, KD-88s and PGMs? So basically, will USAF be able keep this air base open and maintain adequate sortie rate? Even if this can be accomplished, will USAF risk placing any advanced units there?

2. In any Taiwan/China scenario, with South Korea and/or Japan get involved? I think South Korea would unlikely be involved, but will Japan help out Taiwan by sending its navy? Or will it let USAF use its air bases? I certainly the latter case is likely, because Japan has been very vocal about its commitment to USA alliance and its problems with China. There will obviously be some logistical issues of USAF using Japanese bases, so the question would be how long it would take for these bases to be useful? And if Japan allows its bases to be used by USA, will China also be targeting those bases? And if China does target those bases, we are looking at a much larger conflict.

3. The Andersen air base is the only other air base that's within operational range of Taiwan strait. Will this air base remain unscathed in possible conflicts. One thing that has been brought up is that we will likely see B-2 going into Chinese territory to attack Chinese air bases and SAM sites. On the flip side, what about Chinese bombers carrying LACMs against Andersen air base? It is certainly within the range of a H-6K carrying 6 long range LACMs. The report states that 34 missiles would in effect cripple Kadena air base? How many tomahawk LACMs would put Andersen out of commission? And even if Andersen is not taken out, can they significantly reduce the number of sorties launched from there? Similar to point 1, would the risk of getting hit in the hangar prevent USAF from placing a valued asset like F-22 there?

4. What about air bases in China? It's certainly inconceivable that USAF would leave these air bases and SAMs alone in any kind of war scenario. I could imagine that B-2s would be sent in to hit bases that are close to Taiwan and also field elite units. And when USN carrier groups get in there, you can guarantee that many Tomahawk missiles will be sent to Chinese SAMs, GCI sites, long range radar stations and air bases to reduce PLAAF's readiness and sorties. Even if we believe in the invincibility of B-2 and conjecture it can come, drop off the bombs and leave unscathed, how many of its bombs/missiles and Tomahawks from USN ships will not be intercepted? If the air bases get damaged, oil depots get hit, how long will it take for these bases to be fixed and re-supplied? And if China's inland bases are hit, what kind of retaliation can be expected? One would imagine all US military bases in surrounding regions could possibly be targeted. The most vulnerable one would be in Afghanistan due to the number of troops there and relatively lack of air defense against terrain hugging cruise missiles. Consider that Chinese missiles can Afghanistan flying through Kashmir and Pakistan, I don't think it would get any serious objections to such an attack And if we consider Iraq, it is another possible hit location, although the Chinese missiles might not have the range to go that far.

5. What about the general logistics for PLA? We can assume that USAF and USN would not have any problem with all of its experiences recently. Can PLA keep all of its bases supplied? More importantly, can it ensure that its fighters will get jet fuel needed in an extended conflict? With USN guaranteed of choking China's supply lines (either by itself or through its allies), how long can China keep on going? It has 30 days of strategic supply right now. Even if we assume increased domestic production + increased supply from Russia and Iran in the event of a war, how long can it really last? It's no wonder that Chinese plans all involve quick victory over Taiwan.

The next question is what kind of forces will be available on both side. Seeing how there will be a maximum of 183 F-22s overall, it will hard to see USAF being able to commit more than 4 squadrons (96 aircrafts) in the theatre (Andersen and Kadena air bases). And let's use the number 72 + 90 = 162 F-35A from Kadena and Japan air bases (I think we can rule out F-35A from Andersen due to its range). So, I'm guessing we will see a maximum of 96 F-22s and 160 F-35s at the disposal of USAF. If we take Kadena totally out of the picture, we might be looking at 48 F-22s and 72 F-35As. Remember, these are just hypothetical number I'm throwing out, without actually knowing the full capacity of the two air bases and also the number of tankers supporting them. If we use the commonly accepted figure of 2 USN Carrier groups in action and the air wing as described by Galrahn here:
24 super hornets, 24 hornets, 4 EA-6B, 4 E-2C, 6 SH-60.
Replacing them with planes we are likely to see in 2020, we will likely see a total of:
48 JSF, 48 super hornets, 8 E-2D, 8-12 EA-18G? and 12 SH-60

USAF/USN will also be supported by possibly 200 F-16s + a good number of M2Ks and IDF from ROCAF. The problem with Taiwan is the same with Kadena air base and Chinese air bases. Taiwan will likely see a steady bombardment from DF-11/15s, LACMs, WS-2, ASM and PGMs in the initial part of the conflict. The aim is obviously to take out the SAM sites, air bases and radar/communication sites. At this point, it's hard to say how this would affect ROCAF's sortie rate. I don't really have any data on the strategic jet fuel supply for Taiwan, the pace of repair work, the ability to keep foreign planes flying during high intensity situations or alternative lift-off options (flying off highways?). So, it's really hard to say how much ROCAF will be able to help US in the air after the first couple of days.

As for PLA, it's just as cloudy what kind of forces it will have at that time. One thing I can say is that RAND's vision of PLA fighters is really off base. I cannot imagine under the current scenario that Chinese flankers will be like su-35, but rather something domestic (as I have talked about in the past). And even aside from that, one would imagine that in 2020, PLAAF will be a force with mainly J-10 of different variants, about 300 JH-7 series fighters, about 300-400 flankers of different variants and a small number of 5th generation fighters. And one can imagine that plenty of buffer planes in the mode of JF-17 and J-8F in action also. We've seen from RAND example of all the air bases around Taiwan. We certainly can't expect all of their fighters to be used in this theatre. We also can expect a portion of the air bases to be out of commission from US missile strikes. Knowing that, it's also hard to know which air bases are equipped to handle the more "advanced" fighters. For example, would an air base usually accommodating JF-17 be able to handle J-10B fighters operating from there? How well would they handle small non-military air strips? If their air base is destroyed or too far away, would they be able to use remote civilian air strips? And for the elite units that are stationed further away from Taiwan, they would need tankers to get there. At the moment, China only has a limited number of H-6U and not much experience with them. In 12 years, how much would the Chinese refueling capability increase and how would that affect the number of sorties performed by these units? There are far too many unknowns to figure out the amount of sorties generated by PLAAF over Taiwan. And I don't expect each sortie to have the same airplanes. That will obviously change with different missions.

Also, the aerial warfare is only part of the overall battle. With the numerical advantage of ROC army over the invading PLA, one could argue that PLA would need absolute air dominance over all of its missions. And it would need to maintain air supremacy to accomplish any of its missions. In that case, all USAF would need is to prevent that to keep PLA from accomplishing its goals. However, that's outside of the scope of this discussion and I am really not knowledgeable enough to go there. So, this piece is just to raise some interesting questions on the RAND analysis.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The new naval ship for China

The type 920 medical ship was given the number 866 a while back and officially joined the navy on the 23rd. You can find articles about it on Sinodefence and on Global Security.

This is the article that talked about its entry into PLAN.
本报讯 (记者/陶达嫔通讯员/陈佳楠)由我国自行研制的全球首艘专门设计的海上医院船,23日在广州完工交船。
  据悉,这艘海上医院船由广州造船企业、广船国际研发制造。该船的交付使用,将使我国成为世界上少数具有 远海医疗救护能力的国家之一。
  据介绍,这艘排水量超万吨的医院船配有数百张病床和先进的医疗保障系统及消防、救生设施,每个病房舱室 都设有一个护士站,诊疗条件达到三甲医院的水平。

It said that China's first indigenously designed global medical ship has been handed from Guangzhou shipyard to the navy on the 23rd of this month.

This is designed and built by the Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Limited and makes China one of the very few countries in the world to far long range medical rescue capability. This ship's displacements is in tens of thousands and has hundreds of bed, advanced disinfectant and life saving instruments. Each sick room has a nursing station, it reaches level 3A hospital standard. Large hospital ship is an important sign of modern navy. US and many advanced world's hospital ships are converted from civilian ship. This is the largest ship of its class in Asia. It says that in wartime, ship ship provides early medical treatment for injuries on sea and part of the specified treatment, can also support other ships. In peace time, it can be used for medical training on sea and can provide medical treatment for the fleet and distant islands.

Aside from their commentary, we can probably add humanitarian missions to the list of its duties also. Galrahn actually commented on this ship a while back on its humanitarian values. I think this ship will probably end up in SSF, so it can serve in Taiwan scenario, helping those islands in South China Sea and be part of the growing sea-projection part of SSF.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jiangwei and F-22P

F-22P in many ways are based on Jiangwei. Of course, it took bits and pieces from 054 series, but its basic hulls and weaponry are more similar to Jiangwei than anything else in PLAN. I thought I'd do a little comparison between the two class of ships.
The first sample is 527, which is one of the 2 ships that were built after the first pair of 054. In a way, they are the final and best installment of the Jiangweis. The pictures below show the ship operating with a Z-9C helicopter.

The next photo shows 524, an earlier Jiangwei completed in 1999, operating in the sea.

Comparing the two, their weapons fit is exactly the same. They both use HH-7, type 79 main gun, YJ-83 and four 37 mm AA gun. The sensors are mostly the same, except that the FCR for the 37mm is clearly different on 527. You can see that with the one installed on top of the hangar. And the FCR for the Type 79 is also different, if you look at the foremast. It appears that 527 is using the one we see on 054 series (Type 344?).
And finally, how does it compare to the F-22P? The final photos show 251, the first of the F-22P class, sitting in HD shipyard getting fitted out.

Obviously, the hulls are different, with F-22P showing more of a stealthy design (adopting some concept from 054A). At the same time, the main gun and AA guns for it are completely different from the Jiangweis. You can also see that the sensors used for them are upgraded due to the newer guns being used. There is one additional search radar and possibly an ELOP tracker to guide the 30 mm. A lot of this is hard to tell until we get more detailed photos with the covers on the sensors taken off. The SAM and the SSM fit is mirror images of what you saw on Jiangwei. I would say that a hull with F-22P's size probably can't handle any other kind of missile system. The changes seen on F-22P are basically changes that can be quickly applied from a Jiangwei ship without dramatic changes. These things are relatively safe and would not require the much added sea worthy test for a new hull.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Recently, CAC is celebrating its 50th anniversary by displaying the J-10S prototype 02 outside. Generally speaking the second prototypes for any Chinese airplane project is used for static testing. It is also the case with this J-10 two-seater.

What I find interesting about this display is that they put all the export items on it. Instead of PL-12, you see the MRAAM saying "AMRAAM-10" (I guess that's the name they are using for SD-10). Instead of PL-8B, you see PL-9C on the launch rail. Instead of LS-500J, you see LT-2 as the name of the LGB. It also hangs the Blue Sky pod, which is used for low altitude navigation and targeting, and another pod that looks like the pod used to provide targeting for LT-2. With a live model like this outside with full weapons load + IFR, it would be interesting if someone can finally measure it accurately. I can't imagine these numbers will be withheld for much longer.

We also have an article about the export deals for K-8/JF-17. I think what's interesting to note about this article is that it basically says that PLAAF with be ordering JF-17. K-8 continues to be the export star of China's aerospace industry. Just this past week, we received news that the 100th K-8E was delivered to the Egyptian Air Force.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Latest Updates from PLA

Probably the biggest news to come out this week is the appearance of the Chinese Global hawk UAV. It's developed by CAC and has the name Sky Wing according to Huitong. This is the UAV in one of the airshows.

And you can find the video of the high speed taxing of this UAV here. Generally speaking, this seems like the second Global Hawk-like UAV that China has developed. WZ-2000, by Guizhou, is already in service with PLA Department of Chief Staff according to a recent PLA article. So, is this CAC version supposed to be more advanced and designed for PLAAF's use? I guess we will see more of this plane. It's almost surprising that we saw it unveiled so early (before even its first flight). Normally, this would suggest that the project is not very high in priority.

Also, it seems that there was a crash involving 2 J-8IIs this past week (I don't know the exact details). According to some sources, all of the J-8F planes in service have been grounded for now.

Onto PLAN, I have some image from 525 (a 054 class Frigate) and 138 (a 956EM class destroyer) from ESF visiting the port of Vladivostok. The Russians get a look at the military hardware that they exported to China.

I'm surprised that they didn't post news of this visit anywhere on the English news sites. Now, only 052C, 054A and 051C have not visited other countries making port calls.

Edit: I just got some fresh photos out of HP shipyard of the latest 054A. You can see the front mast forming now. And if you look carefully, you can actually see the aft-mast also.

And also, we got a picture of 2 more 022s in the HP shipyard. I'm sure there are more parked around the corner. We lost count of these little guys a long time ago.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

J-8H stats and latest from the shipyards

So, the eyes have shifted away from the Olympics to the Shenzhou-7 mission recently. Even as this is happening, the shipyard construction in JiangNan and Huangpu shipyards. Here is a new photo from JN shipyard making waves.

With the new photo that we are seeing from JN shipyard, it's quite apparent that we will see a huge PLAN shipbuilding boom in this area. And for all the PLA followers out there, I don't think there can be a more exciting time. Just recently, we already saw at least 4 finished Type 022 FACs in the 3rd line of the Changxin shpyard (where all the military ships are built). Now, people are pointing at different sections trying to say which section is for what kind of ship. Of course, the speculation in the picture below is that it is the first section of China's first aircraft carrier to be built. I can't verify the validity of the statement, but I figure the work must have started already, since a lot of the parts are already supplied there. Give it a couple of years, we should see the ship really taking shape in this yard. The only question is whether we will see 1 or 2 carrier getting built at the same time. I suspect 1, since China likes to test out its design before continuing production. Other possible large ships would be the Type 081 LPH and Type 071 LPD, although it seems LPD construction is left to HuDong and Dalian shipyard. People are also speculating which large section is for the newly planned DDGs. Unfortunately, we only get aerial views of this shipyard, so we don't get those really nice up-close photo of the newly built ships anymore. For those of us that have been following 054A and 071 construction, it really is quite a disappointment. In many ways, this year hasn't been the building boom I predicted. Most of the large ship built have been medical ships, YuanWang ships and large tug ships. With JN finally seeing light of the day, we could well be seeing aircraft carrier, 071, 052D, 054A, Yuan and 022 being built at the same time.

Here are some photos from HD shipyard showing the sensors fit on the first F-22P. The pictures are for the front mast and the sensors supporting CIWS on top of the hangar

And this is a very good recent full view photo of the 3rd 054A being built in HP shipyard. It's showing the bow mounted sonar getting installed and the little platform for the AK-176M FCR getting installed. The platform for AK-176M was installed a few days ago. The windows are still nice and tiny.

Finally, I read some other interesting stuff on China's ASBM doctrine since the last post. It seems that PLAN placed heavy emphasis on the seeker of the ASBM. It expects to use land based OTH radar (I know, sounds crazy) and SAR satellites (I'm guessing the Yaogan series here) to track the location of the ship. Then, it will fire off a DF-15 or DF-21 to that location with not much mid-course updates. For a ballistic missile with a maximum speed of mach 6 (7400 km/h) , it will reach a target 2000 km away in less than 30 minutes. In 30 minutes, a carrier group can move at most 15 nm (< 30 km). In 10 to 20 minutes, a carrier group can move at most 10 to 20 km. The Chinese believe that the seeker on ASBM at really high altitude will be able to seek ships in a much large circumference. I would think finding the ship while traveling at such high speed would pose the largest technology barrier, since a seeker of something that fits a ballistic missile would be able to easily find a large ship within a 40 km radius if it's moving at much slower speed(an advanced multi-function fighter radar can detect ships at 300 km range). We know that fast AShM like Onix can find ships from that far out traveling at mach 3. The seeker for the BM would have to scan faster and have a really fast processor to process all the information. In the end of the day, all of the Chinese sources I have read express pretty firm belief that this ASBM doctrine is ready to be executed, while Western sources seem to believe that this is still being developed. I would tend to side with Chinese sources when I see this kind of conflicting views.

Interestingly from this list post, we saw what is probably the most detailed description of PLAAF tactic and J-8H performance. I don't ever recall seeing something so exact I guess. The source seems to be good, but it's hard to imagine how he was allowed to post something this specific. Anyway, for your convenient I have translated it.
出动能力:出动率,团百分之80以上,飞机18架以上。昼间出动强度3次以上。完成再次出动所需准备时间, 团转

至新机场后1小时20分可再次起飞转场。完成起飞所需时间,大队2分33秒。中队33秒。中队与中队起飞间 隔16秒。完




飞行速度:最大时速高空17000米,2337千米。低空200米,1010千米。攻击目标时速攻击地面目 标700---880千






攻击地面目标:团每次出动兵力通常1个大队,飞机8架。加入战斗航线距离目标15千米左右。进入俯冲角度通 常


分钟。发射导弹高度500米,时速900千米时,发射距离大于50千米,高度6000米时,发射距离大于1 00千米。

截击空中目标:攻击方式在中高空通常采用90度,180度转弯低位对头攻击,或90度,180度转弯低位尾 追攻击。



100千米。发现目标距离中 高空通常为75---90千米,最远110千米。截获目标距离在中高空通常为45---70千米。最远 80千米。低空通常为35---55千米。攻击目标距离在中高空通常单机进入一次实施两次攻击,首次攻击距目标40---65千米,最远80千米第二次攻击距目标20---33千米,最近4千米。攻击间隔5---11秒。低空通常为3---8千米。气象条件:可遂行战斗任务时目标区云底高600米,云量3---4个。机场区云高400米,云量6---8个,能见度5000米。

It says that J-8H can operate over 80% of time, with over 18 aircrafts (each regiment has 24). It takes 1 hour and 20 minutes to prepare the plane to fly again from a new airbase after arriiving there from another. It takes a "Dadui" 2 minutes and 33 seconds to fly out and a "ZhongDui" 33 seconds to fly out. There are 16 seconds between the takeoff of 2 consecutive "Zhongdui". Zhongdui means a medium team and Dadui means a large team. I'm not sure what is the size of large team and medium team. It takes large team 9 minutes to land and a medium team 1 minute 44 seconds to land.

Combat format, combat flights normally operate in 2 to 4 4-plane formation making a large team. When intercepting aerial targets, normally operate in a 4-plane formation. Going after ground targets, normally operates in 2-plane formation. The optimum distance between 2 2-plane formation is 1000 to 1500 m. The planes in the 2-plane formation are 110 m apart.

Flight speed - It flies fastest at 17 km altitude, flies at 2337 km/h = 646 m/s = mach 1.9. At 200 m altitutde, it flies at 1010 km/h = 280 m/s = mach 0.82. It does ground attack missions at speed of mach 0.57 to mach 0.71. It intercepts planes at mach 0.65 to mach 1.6.

Flight altitude - the maximum flight altitute is 18 km. In ground attack missions, when doing A2A combat, operates at 2000 to 4000 m. When cruising, operates at 800 to 3000 m. The maximum altitutude is 12 km. Ground attack planes returns at 1200 to 4500 m, maximum altittude is 9000 m. When actually doing ground attack, typical altitude is 700 to 1600 m. Leaving bombing mode, the altitude is normally 500 to 2100 m. When abandonning diving in attacks, the altitude is normally 350 to 400 m. It will rise to 1000 m+ to shrug off target.

Ground attacking normally operates at 500 to 1500 m, lowest is 200 m, highest is 3000 m. When attacking aerial targets, operating altitude is 3000 to 15000 m, lowest is 600 m.

When doing ground attack, a regiment normally sends out 1 large team, which is 8 plane (explains the first part I guess), Joins the combat navigation route when about 15 km from target. Typically dives down at 10 to 20 degrees to attack, sometimes 30 to 45 degree. Everytime, a single team can attack 2 to 4 times, maximum 6 times. A single plane can operate in the target area for 6 to 17 minutes. When firing off missiles at 500 m in altitude, at 900 km/h, the launch distance is over 50 km. At 6000 m in alttutde, the firing distance is over 100 km.

Interception of targe - Attack method - At medium to high altitude, it typically uses 90 and 180 degree turns to point toward the direction of attack or use 90 and 180 degree turns to shrug off tailing attacks. Altitude difference is typically around 800 to 2500 m, minimum is 200 m, largest is 5000 m. In low altutde, use a lot of tailing and attacking from high altitutde, altitude difference is 500 to 2000 m. Entering attack at angle of normally 10 to 30 degrees, minimum is 0 degree, maximum is 70 degrees.

Radar is turned on normally 45 to 80 km from target, maximum of over 100 km (there might be some lost in translation here). First detect the target in medium to high altitude at 75 to 90 km, maximum of 110 km. Tracks the target in medium to high altitude at 45 to 70 km, maximum 80 km. In low altitutde, this happens at 35 to 55 km. When attacking target in medium to high altitutde, enters into 2 attacks per encounter. The first attack happens at 40 to 65 km away, maximum range is 80 km. The second attack happens at 20 to 33 km, minimum 4 km. Attacks happen 3 to 8 km apart. low altituude encounters happens at 3 to 8 km. And then it talks about operating with clouds around.