Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yuan submarines are in service

The Yuan class submarines, also known as 039A, have been described as an important part of China's growing submarine threat. The first Yuan's photos started popping out in 2004 and it joined service in probably 2005 or 2006. The second Yuan's photos started coming out in 2007 and we saw a slew of photos in 2007 and early 2008. But just as we started to see a new variant, 039B, we stopped seeing pictures again. So, now we get a photo of what appears to be 3 Yuan and 1 039G in a flotilla. Each submarine flotilla has 4 submarines (I think). So, it appears that a fourth 039A hasn't joined service yet, because it would make sense for the first 4 039A to be in the same flotilla. Here is the photo.

It appears that this is a variant of 039G rather than 039G1 from the arrangement of the limber holes. Consider that all 3 039G was in East Sea Fleet, it makes sense that this flotilla is in 039A.

So, it definitely seems that 039As are in service and would be playing a big role in any kind of Taiwan scenario.

Monday, January 19, 2009

China and NATO military cooperation

Recently, the Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov made a week long visit to China. They talked a lot about military cooperation during this time. If you haven't noticed yet, Ukraine is one of China's most important partners in military cooperation. Two of the highest priority projects right now (naval aviation training and large transport) are getting a lot of help from the Ukrainians. On top of that, China also relies on Ukrainians for many of the engines used on air planes, helicopters and ships. It also has bought missiles for Russian built flankers from the Ukrainians and worked with the Ukrainians to upgrade weaponry bought from Russia. On this trip, the Ukrainians also indicated that Ukraine might purchase L-15 and seek for shipbuilding help from China. Clearly, this military cooperation relationship will continue for sometime. We also know that there are many in Ukraine and US calling for including Ukraine in NATO. So, exactly how will joining NATO affect China's military cooperation with Ukraine?

It was speculated that after the orange revolution in Ukraine, US pressured Ukraine to limit its military cooperation with China. Although, that doesn't seem to have been true. Turkey is another NATO country that have had some military cooperation with China. We know that it entered into joint development relationships with China for WS-1B and B-611. However in both cases, China was in effect exporting them to Turkey (I don't think Turkey contributed that much), so the Bush Administration didn't really object to them. Of course, there have also been export of minor systems from EU countries to China like Spey Engine, Skymaster radar, ship propellers, diesel engines and some other items. Due to American pressure and the improvement of Chinese hardware, dual use exports have pretty much reduced diesel engines and a possible future Z-15 military version. And due to American pressure, the support around lifting European arm embargo in 2005 basically faded. Even if the embargo gets lifted in the next 2 or 3 years, it's hard to see how much lifting embargo will even help China. Canada has also had some cooperation with China in supplying initial batch of engines for Z-10, Z-8F and Y-8. Even though there is no explicit embargo by Canada on China, it's hard to see any significant military cooperation between the two countries with US around the corner.

Generally, US pressure will force most NATO countries from exporting sensitive technology or assisting the development of advanced weaponry to China. At the same time, the availability of US weapon means that these NATO countries will likely not import anything from China either. And if Ukraine ever joins NATO, that problem would mean the end or near the end of future military cooperation between the two countries.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A visit around the HD shipyard

Recently, I found some new pictures from the HD shipyard showing F-22P's 2nd unit, 3rd unit and also the 3rd unit of 054A. It's rather interesting, It's kind of interesting looking at these ships. F-22P is basically an improved version of Jiangwei-II class using export versions of certain systems from 054A. It looks like China will be trying to export 054 series in the future (we've already seen F-16U as one such model). The 053 series achieved a couple of nice export contracts with the current F-22P contract and the Thai contract in the late 90s. In many ways, China learnt a lot about ship design from the F-25T. Many of the flaws in Chinese naval ship design was broadcast to the world. In fact, I still read such reservations today from numerous posters who examined F-22P to look for similar issues. The question is whether or not 054A can compete in the very crowded market of surface ship of 3000 to 5000 tonne weight class. 054A has in fact been compared to variants of La Fayette class like the Formidable class. In the future, it would have to also compete against export versions of LCS, FREMM, Project 22350 and MEKO series. In most cases, I can imagine that it has quite an advantage in terms of prices, although there is still a general reservation out there regarding Chinese shipbuilding and weaponry. It also doesn't help that China tends to put export versions of sensors/weapons on these ships. It really is hard to say at this point who would buy 054 series ships from China, but PN is the first name that comes out of my head. Maybe in 5 years, we will see something like this again, but F-22P will be replaced by 054A, whereas 054A gets replaced by a later variant.

Anyway, the pictures are shown below. The first 3 are 054A and the ones after that are the 2nd and 3rd units of F-22P. The first one is already doing sea trials and the second one might be ready soon.