Friday, October 30, 2009

New Chinese naval flotilla to Aden

It's set, they are sending another Flotilla to Aden to replace 529 and 530 according to this article. This is the 4th task force to Aden.

ZHOUSHAN, Zhejiang Province, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) -- A new Chinese naval flotilla was deployed to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the coast of Somalia on Friday to protect merchant vessels against rampant pirates that still hold a Chinese ship for ransom.

The flotilla of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has been the fourth task force of its kind that China has sent to the region since the end of last year.

Missile frigates FFG-525 Ma'anshan and FFG-526 Wenzhou will relieve the FFG-529 Zhoushan and FFG-530 Xuzhou from the PLA Navy's third flotilla which have patrolled the area since June.

The new warships will join Qiandaohu, a supply ship, which has been on duty in the region for about three months. The fourth flotilla will have a crew of more than 700, including a special force unit and two ship-borne helicopters.

They would actively take part in international humanitarian rescue missions, said Liu Xiaojiang, the Navy's political commissar.

A Chinese coal-carrying vessel "De Xin Hai" with 25 crew members on board was kidnapped by pirates about 1,000 sea miles away from the patrolling area of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean.

So far all the 25 crew members have been identified as Chinese citizens by the shipping company they worked for. The Ministry of Transport is working on the release of the ship.

It is not immediately known whether the new naval task force will bear a rescue mission for "De Xin Hai", but the two Chinese frigates currently patrolling the area have intensified the frequency of surveillance by shipborne helicopters, skiffs and the special force unit for merchant vessels passing by.

China made an unprecedented move by sending three warships to the Gulf on Dec. 26 last year in the first overseas escort mission for merchant vessels.

The PLA Navy warships have escorted hundreds of domestic and foreign vessels since the first flotilla arrived in the region.

I guess they really have no choice but to keep on sending after the major hijacking news. 525 and 526 are the only frigates of the 054 class and they are from the East Sea Fleet. The same replenishment ship will be there since the last flotilla was also from the East Sea Fleet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New J-10 regiment

This will be a quick post. We've been waiting a while for the new J-10 regiment to be unveiled. So far, we've seen J-10s at FTTC, 44th division, 1st division, 2nd division and 3rd division. There were some talk recently about J-10 becoming part of the August 1 Aerobatic Demonstration Team with a picture below showing a J-10S in August 1 colours.

This demonstration team is based out of Yangcun Air Force Base, home to the 24th Fighter Division. There were some speculations that J-10 will also replace the 70th regiment J-8B/E, which are really old. Interestingly enough, we saw this today.

It shows 30651 in the numbering, which would be a number used by the 70th regiment (30x5x). If this is a valid picture (and it seems that way), then that means 24th division will have a new J-10 regiment and also J-10 for the August 1 Aerobatic Demonstration Team.

There is also talk with GE photos that a new regiment is being formed at the 9th division. At this point, it's still not conclusive.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trainer projects for PLA

Recently, there have been a bunch of news coming out regarding trainer projects for PLA. So, I thought I'd take a look at what they already have and the projects that they are working on.

In the basic trainer class, PLAAF's current workhorse and the workhorse of the past 4 decades is CJ-6. Over 10,000 samples of this basic trainer have been produced in its lifetime. Even now, some air forces (Burma ordered 20 recently) and civil aviation schools still order CJ-6. However, it does provide some problems in the flight training process for PLAAF, because it's flight performance, cockpit and safety standard is so much lower than that of the intermediate trainer K-8. It could be a huge jump for pilots to go directly from CJ-6 to K-8. It can't be too easy to go from a plane with a maximum speed of 280 km/h to a plane with a maximum speed of 800 km/h at sea level. From the numerous sources I read, it appears that Hongdu and PLAAF completed some evaluation on the requirements of the next generation basic trainer in 2003. After that, Hongdu started this CJ-7 project. As early as 2004, Hongdu approached Yakovlev to evaluate Yak-152 and was satisfied with its performance. They decided on starting co-development/production project for Yak-152K and finished design sometimes in 2006 to 2007. The first flight is probably due to happen sometimes in 2010. There is no question that this plane far exceeds the performance of CJ-6, but the question is why Hongdu needs to approach the Russians about developing something as simple as a basic trainer. I understand that it's far simpler/less costly to just build upon a proven existing design. However, it shouldn't be that difficult for Hongdu to develop something that's not drastically revolutionary with modern cockpit. CJ-6 is dirt cheap (costs around 260,000 RMB = $40,000) to purchase and operate, whereas CJ-7 is significantly more costly (estimated around 1.8 million RMB = $265,000) to purchase and also to operate. I've read conflicting report on this. Some say that CJ-7 will use the 360 hp piston engine of Yak-152, while others say that CJ-7 will actually use the propulsion system of N-5B. If the combination of M601F turboprop engine + V508E 3-blade propeller of N-5B is used, that would provide additional cost associated with trying to localize the production of a new set of propulsion (since PLA is paranoid about relying on foreign engine). If you add the cost of engine on top of the cost of development cost + sharing profits with Yakovlev, it probably would've made more sense if they just developed it by themselves with engine that's already available in China. So, I think that even though CJ-7 will represent a tremendous improvement over CJ-6 in basic trainer, Hongdu could have done a much better job at developing this. It's also important that they they CJ-7 appealing to not only the military, but also civilian users, so that it can be exported worldwide like CJ-6.

China is probably in the best shape in the intermediate trainer class, because K-8 (aka JL-8) pretty much become the trainer of choice for third world air forces. Of course, K-8s development has not been without its own problems. The military embargo forced China to switch to non-Western options for ejection seating, avionics and engines. The domestic license production of the Ukrainian engine AI-25TLK became WS-11. It took from the mid-90s to 2003's production certification to fully address all of the problems in fully indigenizing its production and correcting all the small problems. Even now, the performance of WS-11 still trails that of AI-25TLK (which itself is not that modern). Aside from the engine problems, everything has been smooth sailing for K-8. It has over 400 on order from PLAAF and PLANAF, with over half of that already delivered. It not only scored that infamous local production deal for 120 K-8E with Egypt, but also scored export deals with Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Ghana. By the end of 2008, over 250 K-8s had already been exported. I also read last year that the 500th K-8 was produced. This year, we saw further export deals to Venezuela for 18, Bolivia for 6, a mysterious African country for 10 (possibly Sudan) and a mysterious Asian country for the licensed production of 60. So, they've basically landed almost 100 orders in the past year. Personally, I think they still have a lot of export potentials in the future. I think Pakistan would need even more K-8s than it had already ordered. PLAAF and PLANAF could possibly order a few more once everything is delivered. It certainly looks like the total production of K-8s will go over 1000.

The lead in flight trainer (LIFT) class is the most heavily contested class. The unassuming JJ-9 by Guizhou (GAIG) is pitted against the glamorous L-15 by Hongdu. There might be another entrant to this class by CAC, but let's ignore that for this discussion. Right from the start, everyone expected L-15 to be the LIFT of choice for PLAAF due to what appears to be higher performance specifications in flight performance, avionics, airframe material and service life. Just looking at the performance, L-15 would've been comparable to the latest over-hyped LIFTs around the world like Yak-130, M-346 and T/A-50 that are more being marketed as attack aircraft than just trainers. However, L-15 has been marred by similar issues to CJ-7 like slow development process, a foreign engine which was not available at the first flight and over reliance on Yakovlev. The prototype 05 made its first flight a while ago. It is made up of 25% composite material, has structural life of 10,000 hours/30 years and uses the recently developed AI-222-25. I think it will eventually be equipped with the afterburner version AI-222-25F and be able to fly supersonic, but this engine has suffered through slow progress in development. Factory 331 got a final assembly line/licensed production for this engine from Ukraine, but the question is how long it will take for them to actually be able to finally produce it locally. If it took them 9 years to obtain production certification for WS-11, how long would it take for the more advanced and less mature AI-222-25F? On the other hand, GAIG went with a more conservative route for JL-9 and developed it in about much 4 years (2001 to 2005). When it was found to not completely satisfy PLAAF's requirements after CFTE testing, GAIG got the new PLAAF requirements and improvement suggestions from test pilots in 2006, and finished the redesign in 2 months. This project was officially adopted by PLAAF in 2007 and received the JJ-9 designation. First batch of 5 were delivered for evaluation by the end of 2008. Just in the past month, it passed the technology certification and is entering series production for PLAAF and PLANAF. L-15 on the other hand is not officially adopted by PLAAF. If it were, it would have a name starting with JJ. A recent report suggests that one of the suppliers (supplying tails for JJ-9) delivered 5 sets this month. If that represents 5 JJ-9s are produced per month, then it's currently on pace for 60 a year. In that case, it would replace much of the existing JJ-7 LIFTs very fast. I don't know what PLA's exact numerical requirement is, but I think it's probably going to be comparable to JJ-7. Including possible newer variants like a naval trainer or an attack aircraft, it's probably going to be comparable to K-8. For the record, I don't think JJ-9 is being produced at 60 per year already, but rather they are just ramp up the production for the first regiment of JJ-9s. The question is whether or not L-15 can be developed fast enough to grab a large portion of the pie. Both trainers are said to satisfy PLAAF's requirements for future (4th and 5th generation fighter jets). Right now, L-15 is much more expensive to purchase than JJ-9 ($15 million to less than $10 million for JJ-9) and also said to be more expensive to operate. L-15 does theoretically have the advantage of longer structural life and also longer service life for its engines. So even though JJ-9 is much cheaper than L-15's, you might need to buy 2-3 JJ-9s to last the same period as 1 L-15. However, as of now, it's pretty easy for PLAAF and PLANAF to choose between a production-ready trainer with no engine issues and a still developing trainer with serious engine issues.

For all of the jabs that Hongdu has taken over CJ-7/L-15 projects, K-8 actually gives me some hope that these projects might get turned around eventually. After all, it took over 10 years after the first flight before they really localized the engine and became really popular with PLA.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Work on Varyag + full scale mock up in Wuhan

In the past day, the Chinese military forums have been buzzing over what appears to be a full scale mock up at the Wuhan ship design institute (also known as 711 institute of China Ship Design Institute). Pictures of it can be shown below. From the look of it, the island is going to contain all of the radar and electronics on the real carrier. I find it hard to believe that the building itself can take the pounding of the helicopter or the naval fighter taking off and landing. I also question that the ski jump is strong enough to support a naval fighter taking off. I'm not sure if this facility has any aircraft elevators, but I can't really spot one. So, I think this will definitely be used to test the radar and electronics that will be on a real carrier (in this case, it looks to be what Varyag's island construction is to become). They replicated surroundings to make the testing more realistic. And I think there are other carrier operations that they can prepare for. Although, it's hard to tell what they will be just looking at these pictures.

We see a picture of Z-8 and something that looks to be a flanker on top of the roof. From this, I think it indicates that naval flanker and Z-8 are likely to be form the air wing for the first generation of carriers. Now, if we look at the pictures, the Chinese naval fighter looks to be slightly different from your typical flanker. In the pictures below, it looks this fighter might have canards. Now, many people have commented that the naval flanker here (I believe J-15 is designation given in PLA) is a mock up. I've seen some of the helicopter mock ups they've put on ships during the testing phase and at least Z-8 isn't a mock up. I also don't think the naval flanker is a mock up. Although, it also doesn't make sense for them to put a prototype on there when they are not likely to conduct flight testing.

Finally, we also have a bunch of pictures showing the recent modification efforts of the island on the Varyag. Although the pictures are kind of murky, it appears that they have several faces ready to be installed something like the APAR radar from 052C (aka HLJG346)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Aerospace Engine situation with the big transport

As you guys all know, the biggest problem that PLAAF have always had is the lack of high performing engine series. J-10 still relies on AL-31FN. We didn't see any new J-10s for a while, because they used up all of the AL-31FNs. J-11B used WS-10A for a while, but had so much problems that many of them are also using AL-31F. H-6K project was basically stopped, because the suspension of the contract for 240 D-30KP2. J-10 and H-6K production basically only restarted recently because China started to purchase engines from the Russians again. Similarly, the L-15 project has been delayed and Z-10 project has been delayed. Of all the project, I think the one that is the most important for PLAAF and has suffered the most is the large transport project. It's quite apparent that PLAAF needs something in the class of D-30KP2 to equip not only the large transport but also H-6K, newer variants of H-6 and possible future bomber projects. We all know about the tremendous need for large transport in PLAAF. They basically can't build newer KJ-2000 units, because they are running so low on IL-76 airframes.

Having said all of this. It appears that the prototypes and first batch of the large transport will be using D-30KP2 or the domestic version WS-18. WS-18 is being produced by ChengFa group (Website). Chengdu engine group (aka Factory 420) is also tasked with license production of L-15's engine AI-222-25F. People will ask why they are depending on something so old (China has had access to it since the 80s when they imported Tu-154). The truth is that PLAAF just needs something that works. D-30KP3 at this point is still not ready for mass production, so they have to go with KP2. PS-90A is a possibility, but PLAAF is going for the cheaper option for purchase and license production (or possibly unlicensed production). Therefore, WS-18 is pretty much just going to be the domestic version of D-30KP2, although maybe slightly improved in fuel efficiency and such. This engine was said to have had its first flight in January of 2007, so it should be ready for the large transport when it makes its first flight in 2012. It will probably ready even earlier for H-6K, H-6U and other variants of H-6.

On top of WS-18, there is also a high bypass turbofan engine under development with its core based on WS-10A. It will eventually be the engine used to power the large transport. I think a variant of it will probably also be pitched as the engine for C919. Now, we all thought that Shenyang Liming (606 Institute) was going to be developing it, but we found out recently that the work has been given to Xi'an AeroEngine (410 Institute). In many ways, it does make sense for XAEC to develop/produce this engine, because Xi'an is also the home of XAC/SAC, which is in charge the large transport project. However, Shenyang Liming is the developer of WS-10A and follow-up variants, so it's unusual for the large bypass variant of the engine to be given to someone else. At this point, Liming still has WP-14 Kunlun series, WS-10A Taihang series, a bunch of domestic gas turbines (QC-70, QC-128, QC-168, QC-185 and QC-260). We all know about the troubles in the WS-10A, but I've read that the Kunlun series also have had a lot of problems. Amongst all the major gas turbine projects, only QC-70 and QC-128 are ready for production. XAEC is now working on WS-9, WS-15, 1/3 of the production work for WS-10A, the large bypass turbofan engine for large transport and most of the production for QC-280. As the result of this, XAEC will be responsible for the future power plant of JH-7A, 5th gen fighter, large transport/special mission aircraft and major warships and also be very instrumental in the power plant of J-10 and J-11. A few years ago, it seemed that Liming was becoming the dominant engine maker in China due to its role in Kunlun and Taihang series, which were the 2 most important aerospace engine projects at that time (and possibly still are). However, due to its failure in those 2 projects and delays in the gas turbine projects, it has really lost out to XAEC, which performed well with WS-9 and QC-280. I think the shift of this extremely high profile project is a sign that PLA is really unhappy with Liming.

Anyhow, there is a really good article written by SAERI (Shenyang AeroEngine Research Institute). It talks about the 2 engine possibilities (WS-18 and the one based on WS-10) that could be used to power a domestic large transport. The engines are designed to be comparable to D-30KP2 in size/dimension. China has two previous attempts at medium to large turbofan engine. WS-5 from the 60s had a bypass ratio of 1.49 and WS-6 had a bypass ratio of 1.85. Comparatively speaking, D-30KP2 has a bypass ratio of 2.42 while a modern airliner engine like CFM-56-5A has a ratio of 6 and PS-90A has a ratio of 4.6. In this article, SAERI put out to proposals:
  1. WS-Y1 (I guess WS-18 here) that has the same dimension as D-30KP2, with the same thrust, but slight improvement in the bypass ratio
  2. WS-Y2 (the one based on WS-10) that has slightly different ratio, with the same thrust, but bigger improvement in the bypass ratio

In the analysis, they believe that the air consumption of Y1 would be 285 kg/s and of Y2 would be 380 kg/s. That will produce bypass ratio of around 3 for Y1 and 5 to 6 for Y2. The fan diameter of Y1 would be 1460mm like it is for D-30KP2 and 1700 mm for Y2. The thrust at takeoff mode would be the same for Y1 and Y2 as it is for D-30KP2 (12000 kgf). At an altitude of 11000 m and speed of mach 0.8, the fuel consumption rates would be 0.67-0.68 for Y1 and 0.6-0.62 for Y2 compared to 0.7 for D-30KP2 and 0.595 for PS-90A. And the takeoff fuel consumption rates would be 0.45-0.48 for Y1 and 0.35-0.38 for Y2 compared to 0.51 for D-30KP2.

Unfortunately, it's hard to verify how close these figures would be to the engines that get developed. However, due to the fact that this was written by SAERI which basically developed the engines that are now being produced by Shenyang Liming, I think the published numbers should not be that far from the truth. It looks like they have achieved much better fuel consumption numbers than D-30KP2, but still trails PS-90A and obviously the latest variants of CFM-56. Something along the line of Y2 is more than enough for China's large transport needs. However, I find it curious that they think they can develop a domestic engine option that can compete against next generation Western options (like PW's GTF series), when it would likely be inferior to CFM-56-7 series.

The order for 240 D-30KP2 made in 2005 is finally getting carried out this year. These engines might all be delivered by 2012. I think China chose this ahead of KP3 and PS-90A due to maturity of the engine, its lower cost and not wanting to support two lines of high-bypass Russian turbofan engines. By that time, WS-18 should be more than ready to be equipped. WS-10-118 (which is the code name for the large bypass engine prototype based on WS-10A) will probably be ready 3 or 4 years later for the domestic large transport project. WS-18 will still be produced at that point to service the existing fleet using D-30KP2 engines.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More from the 60th anniversary parade

As part of the 60th anniversary, we really saw a lot of high quality photo and story coming out. Here are some of the really high quality pictures we've seen this week.










529 - 054A with East Sea Fleet

530 - 054A with East Sea Fleet

3rd 054A from HD shipyard

115 - 051C

HLJG346 - the APAR of 052C

a computer model of HLJG346

170 launching HH-9 missile



H-6U tanker


2 J-10s


We saw a lot of really interesting pieces coming out unveiling about the new operational weapon systems. It was really interesting to find out that the radar system of KJ-2000 alone costs around 1.4 billion RMB (over $200 million). It was also good to see the passive waves of CJ-10 and YJ-62 missiles. It shows that these missiles are really entering services and bring an element of long range strike that people often seem to ignore (while concentrating more on ballistic missile threat). One of the more interesting pieces was this article.











新型舰空导弹可垂直发射 能拦截各种空中目标




















It unveils numerous things including the following:

  • Type 05 AAAV (aka ZBD/ZTS-04 or the Chinese EFV) contains advanced fire control system, satellite navigation system, night vision system and communication system. It says that this AAAV is world class.

  • HQ-16 and HHQ-9 were shown in this year's celebration. It says that the new missile systems use modular design and can be launched from VLS. They have all-weather, all-direction, multi-wave, multi-directional interception of aerial targets. It has strong interception capability against multiple targets (including sea-skimming missile and low flying targets). It has fast reaction speed, strong ECM capability and high interception rate.

  • It mentions a new AShM (I think it's talking about YJ-83) have a ship-to-ship variant and an air-to-ship variant. This missile is small, light, long-ranged, digital, intelligent and can plan the full length of attack path. It says that in the recent exercises, YJ-83 has remained very accurate even under heavy electronic warfare.

  • It mentions YJ-62 as the new shore based AShM. The missile has long range, strong potency, sea-skimming flight profile and can be part of a multi-directional attack.

  • Finally, it mentions the new JH-7A, which is said to have much improved fire control, weapon load and precision strike capability. It is capable of firing Anti-ship missile, A2A missile, Land attack missile, anti-radiation missile, LGBs, rockets and "dumb bombs". It has done a lot training in long range low altitude penetration strikes, far beyond visual sighting strikes in complex ECM environment.