Friday, March 27, 2009

PLAN ASBM development

I was contacted by Galrahn to read over a Chinese blog entry on PLAN's ASBM development (found here) and post my thoughts on it.
I think that before you look further, there are some other good reads on this topic. Sean O'Connor has posted one of the better summaries on this regarding to OTH radar and ASBM threat. I have also written an entry in the past regarding ASBM threat, but it's really not that well researched. That one was based on an article that stated China has solved the difficulties surrounding hitting a moving target with a ballistic missile.

I think that the blog entry I read was definitely the best researched work on PLAN's ASBM plans. It listed many research papers that were written in Chinese and published years ago. As a result of that, I cannot possibly confirm that some of the things I've read are actually accurate. The sources that I can confirm on the Internet do seem to conform to what he was stating. I think in order to continue, it would be beneficial to read some of the resources that he mentioned. The include:
Sinodefence's Space Page
Sinodefence's Missile Page
Xianglong UAV Page
Yilong UAV page
The first one is important, because you can look through the current and future development in China's space industry. It's important to look through the communication, IMINT and EO satellites that China will use in this system.
In the second link, the important missiles to look for are DF-21 and possibly DF-15. In the third link, it lists China's probably most recent venture into HALE UAV. It's about 2/3 the size of Global Hawk or maybe even smaller. We don't have any figure on its endurance, but one would guess it's much less than that of Global Hawk due to the smaller size and less efficient engine. Although at this point, I would think that PLAN would be fine with an Asian Hawk. And the final link is an entry with information on China's version of Predator MALE UAV. The stats listed on that page were actually from its ddescription in the Zhuhai airshow, so I can verify that they are accurate. The two UAVs are both developed by Chengdu AC (the developer of J-10), so my guess is that Xianglong's endurance is comparable to Yilong (around 20 hours).

Reading through those links + Sean's blog entry are important in appreciating the rest of the ASBM system. I will try to make this out in Q&A format:

1. What caused China to start develop this system?
There are two main causes that drove this project. The first one is USA's Pershing II project. I guess this showed PLA the accuracy that can be achieved through MaRV warhead and active radar guidance. The second one is the Taiwan incident in 1996 when PLA's powerlessness against USN carrier group was on full display.

2. When did the project start and where is it now?
China probably started researching on MaRV right after Pershing II was deployed in 1984. By 1991, China had finished research on MaRV. According to the blog, there was a famous research paper in 1994 about attacking fixed target using MaRV technology. In 1999's national pride parade, they showed a missile with all the basic technology needed for the missile part of the ASBM system. If we look at the current status of the satellite constellations and reconnaissance platforms, we could probably say that the system has achieved some operational capability. The entire system needed for ASBM probably will not get set up until all the space assets and UAVs are online next decade.

3. Which missile are they using and what kind of improvements are they putting in?
It looks like DF-21 is the missile that ASBM is based on. It uses a solid propellant, is road-mobile, widely deployed and also have recently been improved to DF-21C. It's range of around 2000 km would perfectly cover the areas where future conflict is likely to be fought. Its range also would cover most of the areas that China's OTH-B radar would cover. It is also large enough to carry a large warhead needed to inflict damage on carrier while also holding a more complex guidance/seeker. They have put a MaRV warhead on DF-21 for maneuverability. In order to improve the penetration capability, they have added a third stage to it to provide unpredictable movement (I think the blog described it as some kind of oscillation). They have apparently made modifications to the warhead in order to lower its radar signature. They have also added a new multi-mode seeker that apparently has an active, passive radar and infrared seeker (I'm not sure how that works). It didn't mention how the missile would counter ESM of the fleet except for improving the seeker and getting more updated info from the sources that provided it initial targeting data.

4. What are the sources that provide targeting data for this ASBM system?
The blog basically listed 5 sources and they are:
  • Reconnaissance Satellites - I think you can look at the Ziyuan and Yaogan series of satellites that have EO, CCD and SAR sensors as possibilities here. They could also be talking about the FY series, which is actually expected to be a constellation of Earth Observation satellites. I think it's important that in the 18th Committee on Earth Observation Satellites plenary and workshop in 2004, they announced they would launch over 100 Earth Observation satellites. I don't know enough about this to comment on which specific satellites I think will be used for scanning ships, but the blog did mention that China has used FY-2 series of satellites to track movement of targets. Another possibility is launching many short duration, micro-Earth Observation satellites in times of conflict. It mentioned that China can launch a 100 kg satellite on 12 hours notice. In peace mission 05. They launched an experimental satellite on August 2nd for detection/science experiment work. This operated for 27 days and returned to earth on August 29th after the conclusion of the exercise.
  • Elint satellites - It mentioned something like USN's White Cloud Spaceborne ELINT System. The problem I have with this is that I can't find any mention of China having similar system anywhere.
  • OTH Radar - Has a range of 800 to 3000 km. The accuracy in targetting is around 20 to 30 km. This can be improved to 2 to 3 km with improved algorithm. OTH radar can work with the recon satellites to provide more accurate targeting info.
  • UAV - As mentioned above, China does have a robust UAV program going right now including the aforementioned XiangLong program. As we've seen in the Zhuhai airshow, they have numerous HALE and MALE UAV projects going. The major problem currently with Chinese UAV programs is that they simply don't have many small turbojet/turbofan engine series. As a result of having to work with what they have, the major design institute in AVIC-1 can't come up with the most optimal UAVs. I think that this will change in the next 10 years, so this part of the targeting system is behind recon satellites and OTH radar.
  • Radio post - This is problem the most confusing one for me. The blog talked about working with elint satellites (which I don't think they have) to get the location of the carrier group through communications between ships and satellites/aerial assets.

5. How does the launching/attacking process work?
I think that in times of war, they would launch many micro-EO satellites that have short duration to increase reconnaissance in the area approaching Taiwan. Similar to US, they would have HALE UAVs to do advanced scouting in front of the war zone. The OTH radar will give the base initial idea of incoming fleet. This information would be combined with data of the recon satellites to provide a more precise and more accurate targeting data. The missile would be launched to the estimated position based on initial position + velocity, but this would obviously be off. Although, I think the movement of the carrier group will not be overwhelming. If the target is 2000 km away and the missile is traveling at mach 10 (343 * 3.6 * 10 = 10,000+ km/h) , it would get there in less than 12 minutes. During that time, if the fleet moves at 30 knots, it would move at most 6 knots or around 11 km from the original location. Still, if we add this to the initial precision problems of OTH radar + EO satellite, this could still cause the fleet to be outside the scanning area of the ASBM. In the cruising process, the missile would have to continuously communicate with the base through those new Data relay satellites (like TianLian-1 that they launched recently) to get more improve the precision. The ASBM will also likely veer off the path at this time, so it would need communication with Beidou-2 constellation in order to keep it on track. When it gets close to the target, the blog talked about 3 phases in its attack: high altitude guidance, high altitude gliding and low altitude guidance. I'm really not sure how accurate is the blog's description of the process. Its general theme is slowing down the speed of the missile as it gets closer to the target to maybe give the seeker more time to lock on to target and make unpredictable movements to penetrate defense.

6. What is the operational status of this system?
From all the past sources I've read, it seems like PLAN already considers this system to have achieved IOC. Normally, I don't read about a certain capability developed in a Chinese military magazine until after it is attained. From reading through different sources, it looks like IOC was probably in 2007 or 2008. As mentioned before, more elements in the system like UAV and satellites are getting added as time goes on, so I look at this as a continuously evolutionary process.

7. How beneficial is this system?
That I really would have no idea. I wouldn't even know how much damage would 1 missile cause on a carrier. I would think that if this system can even temporarily put one carrier out of commission and/or keep carrier groups further out from the mainland, it would've achieved its purpose.

8. Are there other launch platforms to this system?
I always thought that an-air launched version of ASBM from JH-7A is possible. There are certainly a large variety of short range ballistic missiles that JH-7A would be able to carry and provide updates for. I have not thought about launching ASBM from a SSBN, since that could easily be mistaken for a nuclear missile.

That's about it. I think a lot of resources on this are available to form an opinion.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is J-10B finally revealing itself?

Back in December, we heard about J-10B taking off for the first time. So in the past week, we apparently got the first set of images for this plane. I've delayed posting these pictures, because it is very unclear and many people thought it looked to be PSed from previous photos. But I think these pictures have lasted long enough to have validity. And in many ways, I think the picture actually was pretty much what I expected it to be. You can see J-10B in the photos:

Now, we also see a comparison someone made between J-10 and J-10B

The differences look to be:
  1. A long nose probe, although this is probably just for this development stage
  2. The nose is now oval shape rather than round shape, this leads to speculation that this is built for an AESA radar, which I would agree with. It's pretty obvious that AESA radar is intended for this plane, although I'm not sure where NRIET is on mass production of T/R modules
  3. DSI Intake instead of the old variable inlet
  4. IRST in front of the canopy
  5. Holographic HUD
  6. Longer vertical stabilizer
  7. A little ECM housing on top of the vertical stabilizer
  8. The removal of the blade antenna on the spine
  9. The two rear ventral fins are extended
  10. The exhaust looks slightly different

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Some thoughts on China's recent military budget and carrier announcements

In case you guys have missed it, two of the big announcements out of the National People's Congress this past week are the call for Aircraft Carrier by Admiral Hu Yanlin and the 14.9% increase in military budget.
I'd first like to address the aircraft carrier issue, since we've been talking about this for a while now. I think China's aircraft carrier ambition can go all the way back in the 80s and you can read about it in Scott Cooper's work on this. Just to list some of the very reasons for China wanting carriers:
  • Prestige - It's humiliating to a lot of Chinese people that countries like Thailand, India and Brazil have carriers and China does not. It also doesn't help that Japan and South Korea are both basically completing attack helos that can operate STOL aircraft.
  • National Power - This point is very similar to prestige. At current time, China is part of the permanent 5 in UNSC, the world's 3rd largest economy and the world's largest creditor nation. It is already a superpower in economical and political terms, but its military still lags behind the other two. It really needs a few carriers to show its military strength. India, the other growing Asian power, is looking to have 3 carriers by the end of the next decade, shouldn't China be looking for something greater than that?
  • Maritime/Energy Interest - China is very dependent on the shipping line from Africa/Middle East to its ports. If these shipping lines get cut off, the Chinese economy will be in deep trouble. At the moment, China doesn't have the projection capability to even protect its commercial fleet from countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. The Chinese navy would have no way of winning a conflict around the Malacca Straits against any of these countries. In addition, Indian navy can probably cut off Chinese shipping lines at the moment. That really is an extremely scary proposition for Chinese military planners if we think about how easily their ally Pakistan is to get in a conflict with India.
  • Future strategic needs - China is not likely to have an aircraft carrier commissioned with an air wing until at least late next decade. Even if it fast track through building carriers, building a naval air wing and learning about carrier operations, it still probably would not establish any kind of competence until 2030. For a country that is already dependent on global maritime trade and have commercial interest in all corners of the world, I think it's very likely China will have even more urgent needs for aircraft carriers in the next 20 years.

Having mentioned all of that, I think it has become clear in the last 2 years that China is definitely going to start work on a carrier. As early as 2005, they had discussions with Russians about Su-33 after Peace Mission 2005. There were also rumours in 2006 that they bought 50 Su-33s, although that has turned out to be a premature announcement. A couple of years ago, they basically unofficially told Admiral Keatings that they are going to build carriers. We have also seen a model of an aircraft carrier in the model for the new JiangNan shipyard. There have been other evidences here and there in the past few years. I think at this point, the work for the carrier has already started for a couple of years and we will start seeing pictures of it in the JiangNan shipyard by 2010-2011. The decision had already been made when they first brought up the possibility of aircraft carrier. All the announcement since have been to prepare the world for the inevitability.

As for what the carrier group will look like, I found this photo yesterday which contained basically the crown jewel of the South Sea Fleet (with 052B, 052C, 054A, 094 and 071).

I would imagine when the first aircraft carrier gets commissioned, it will join the South Sea Fleet with these ships as the escorts. It provides a nice snapshot of what a future carrier group would look like. Without a question, SSF is being prepared as the first fleet to have an aircraft carrier amongst the 3 major fleets. It has 5 of the 8 major replenishment ships, 4 of the most modern destroyers (168-171), 2 054A (will become 4 in probably a year and half), a nuclear submarine flotilla with 093s and 094s, the 071 LPD and many modern diesel submarines too. A lot of the recently added ships into the fleet seemed to be part of this planned escort group for a force projection fleet. In addition, it seems that the newly constructed Sanya base will be the home base for a new Ocean going fleet that will be sprung out of South Sea Fleet and operate to protect Chinese commercial interest in the shipping line, South Asia, Middle East and Africa.

For the second part, there was an interview a while back that addressed this. This is probably the most important part.
SPIEGEL: Many experts believe that the official budget figures are vastly understated. Do they include the costs of military research and of the People's Armed Police and the space program?

Chen: They do include the costs of research, but not for the People's Armed Police. Only the military portion of our space program is paid for under the defense budget.

Western governments have long expressed doubt about the accuracy of the officially announced budget and the pace of increase. The Pentagon often states it to be 2 or 3 times the official figure. I think a lot of that is based on past figures when imports from Russia constituted a much larger portion of the real military spending. Back then, they might import $3 billion from Russia in just the hardware and probably more on servicing/training when the official military budget was less than $20 billion. Now, they barely import anything from Russia and the official budget is $70 billion. I would think that the real military budget is higher if they include PAP and some other stuff, but there is no way that it would be even twice as much as the official one. RAND did a report on this in 2005 and I think the figure they came up with was somewhere between 1.5 to 2 times the official budget. With the current condition as I mentioned, the ratio of real to official budget must have dropped further. The other big issue that many countries have raised recently is in dramatic increase in military budget. In fact, South Korea and Australia sort of made a joint call for concern and greater transparency after the budget was announced. Now, I can see that a lot of governments like South Korea and Japan, that are traditional competitors in East Asia, would feel this way in this economical depression. But even through this tough time, the Chinese economy still grew 9% last year and is probably going to grow somewhere between 7 and 8% this year. The % of gov't budget spent on the military actually decreased this year from last year. Last year's increase was very high at 17%, but it was supported by a 13% GDP growth from the year before. It really isn't like China is increasing military expenditures excessively when it's citizens are starving. Back in the 80s when the economic liberalization first started, they had consecutive years of double digit cuts in military budget even when the economy was growing at over 10%. So, I think these complaints about increased military expenditures from numerous countries to be very hypocritical. One of the common notions that I heard is that Chinese military budget should increase at the pace of the economic growth. In the Bush years, the American military budget went up by an average of 7% a year even as its economic growth was much less than that. Instead of balancing its budget, its excessive spending for different gov't programs including military expenditure helped cause the current economic depression. Even this year, when the 4th quarter GDP dropped by 6%, they are still increasing the military budget by 4%. If we compare that to China, they have a very low budget deficit and public sector debt even with the increases in gov't size and military expenditure. Of course, China needs to be more transparent about how its money is spent, but I think it is slowly moving toward that direction. The recent white paper is part of that process.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Some Recent Thoughts

o start off, I want to announce that I might be posting less in the future, because during the recent time, I have become less interested in military aviation and naval shipbuilding. I have never posted as passionately as some other bloggers and I do apologize if the quality of my posts go down as a result of this.

There are just a lot of things politically these days that I think we could explore here. I think it's important to talk about some of the implications of the new Obama administration in China & US relationships. I'm sure most of you caught the fact that Hilary Clinton went to East Asia and made the all important China stop in her first oversea stop as the Secretary of the State. In many ways, it was amazing the transformation in the relationship between the two countries from the 90s when she was the first lady to now. The visit showed the growth of China's economic, political power and national strength during this period. I don't think I'm only speaking for myself when I say that it looked like Hilary basically got on her two knees and begged China to give USA more money. All the human rights associations were outraged by what they perceived to be a retreat by this administration toward China's human right violations. What they don't seem to see is that the fundamentals of China's relation with the West has changed with the latest economic troubles. For the first time since opening up in 1978, the West needs China more than China needs the West. In the past, Chinese gov't generally listened to Western lectures on trade practices, democracy, raw of law and free market principles. With the latest change, the West has lost its moral and economical authority over China. Despite the speculations by numerous Western economists that Chinese society is having growing unrest over its own economic problems, I really think it could not be further away from truth. From talking to everyone back at home and those who recent just came out, the general population still supports the totalitarian regime, which has become more of a populist regime in the recent years. From its coverage of the Tibetan unrest, it's clear that the Politburo is far more concerned about domestic support than international opinion. China falling apart is about as likely as Alberta leaving Canada or Alaska leaving USA.

Having established Chinese gov't's stability at home and strength abroad, will it take up the offer of a much weakened US gov't for a partnership in coming out of this depression that we are just falling into? First of all, the Chinese central bank knows what's going to happen with the Obama administration passing more bail outs, running up larger budget deficit and generally going deeper into debt. With so much extra liquidity injected into the system, we will start seeing inflation in the coming years and it will only lead to the destruction of the US dollar. The return that China gets on all those treasury bonds and agency bonds really can't cover the drop in the purchasing power of USD in the coming years. The problem is that if China stops adding to their treasury portfolio, the treasury will be forced to issue more debt and sell that to the Feds (which they have already started doing) or increase the yield to attract more buyers. I don't profess to be an economist, so much of what I say are thoughts based on what I read and hear. In the former case, you are using borrowed money to artificially keep up the price of treasury. But the problem is that this will simply deplete the money that the Feds has in its reserves in the long run. So, you are forced to go with the second option of increasing the yield to attract more buyers. Unlike Japan in the 90s, Americans don't have enough savings to buy all those treasury bonds. So, they would have to issue higher coupons or sell them at a bigger discount to attract foreign buyers and the more high risk domestic investors. The higher yield would increase the national debt over the long run. All of this would lead to a further destruction of the US dollar and decrease the economic strength of America. If you look at the Weimar Republic in the 20s or Zimbabwe right now, those are two extreme cases of what such reckless economic policy can lead to. With that in mind, should China really help the current administration to continue financing this huge budget. Think about it this way, would the US defense budget be increasing every year if they don't have foreign buyers investing in the treasury? Right wing hawks often talk about China using the money it got from trade surpluses for its military expansion, but it's actually the other way around. Without China buying Treasury bonds, would America be able to invest as much money in all these expensive defense projects? So, I think what China should do is to stop buying as much treasury bonds (which you are already seeing from the Japanese), buy more gold, silver, oil and natural resources around the world. And hope that US will learn to swallow the hard pill, start cutting down the size of the gov't and reduce these huge deficit.

The other part which I think is really interesting is China's recent shopping trip to Europe. Much was made out of the orders the Chinese delegation signed in Germany, Britain and Switzerland. I think China needs to show to the world that it's committed to free trade and not protectionist policies at such uncertain times. The Chinese economy have basically depended on selling goods to other countries for a long time and it will need to continue to trade with other countries to get out of the "recession" that it is in. I would expect such a trip to also be made to North America to ease the possible protectionist measures of the current administration.