Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Latest from PLAN

First, we have some updated photos of Varyag. You can see that they are getting ready to install the AESA radar panels that you see on 052C. You can also see that they are setting up a mast to install the Sea Eagle Volume Search radar that you see on 054A.

Here are some other photos we see from a recent magazine.

We also got some news recently. It was said that 998, China's only 071 LPD, will be in the next flotilla sent to Gulf of Aden. It looks like PLAN is intent on testing out all of its new goodies in an extended deployment.

We also got some news regarding to HQ-16 SAM that is found on 054A. The original article is as follows:
1999年7月,某新型舰空导弹项目正式立项,明确采用新的发射技术。有趣的是,新型导弹的命名,是把当年 周总理命名的那型导弹后面的两个阿拉伯数字颠倒了。
2007年底,某试验海区。该新型舰空导弹首次进行舰上实导射击试验。2008年某月,定型试验,7天打7 发,全部命中。创造了中国海军舰空导弹第一次成功拦掠海飞行小目标,第一次成功拦截多目标,第一次成功拦截 超音速火箭靶弹的记录。
2009年10月-11月,570舰搭载该型导弹到海上靶场,发射多枚导弹。这是该型导弹首次在海军作战舰 艇由舰员操作进行实弹射击。

If we ignore some of the exaggerations about first, we can get the following:
  • Project started in July of 1999
  • Started conducting shipborne live firing testing for the first time at end of 2007
  • In 2008, they conducted 7 tests in 7 days and hit all the targets
  • Successfully intercepted small sea-skimming target. Successfully intercepted multiple targets at the same time and intercepted supersonic target
  • From October to November of 2009, 570 carrying HQ-16 returned to the test ground to fire off more missiles.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New J-10 regiments

Today, I saw on Scramble's plaaf orbat that a new J-10 regiment is getting formed in the 7th division replacing an old J-7 unit. A while ago, we saw this comment left by a "big shrimp" type of poster on Chinese forums.
Basically, he listed 4 groups of plaaf divisions. the first group of 1,2,3,18,29 are considered to be the elite divisions. It's a little confusing, because I've never considered 29th to be that way. The second group of 9,14,19,33,44 are considered to be the second level of plaaf division and they all already have a 3rd generation fighter jet of flanker or J-10s. The third group of 6, 7, 12, 21, 24 can be described as "crouching tiger, hidden dragon". They are starting to equip 3rd generation fighters. The final group of 15, 30, 37 may also get 3rd generation fighters.

Before we go on, I think it's important to point out several important facts:
  • J-6s are retired from PLAAF
  • The J-7 production finished in 2008 and the final batch was delivered to PLAAF in early 2009
  • J-10s have been replacing J-7 regiments and J-11s have mostly been replacing J-8 regiments and older J-11 regiments
  • J-7s don't have long service life, so a lot of J-7 regiments will be retired in the next 10 years. I think the last of J-7s will pretty much be retired from PLAAF by 2025.
  • As J-7s continue to retire in the next 10 years, their old regiments will either be replaced by J-10s or disbanded.
  • The story may change if another fighter type like JF-17 comes into picture

Let's look at which regiments are currently J-10:
1st division, 2nd regiment replaced J7E 12x2x
24th division, 70th regiment replaced J7E 30x5x
7th division, 18/19th regiment replaced J7 11x8x
3rd division, 8th regiment replaced J7II 10x4x
9th division, 25th regiment replaced J7H 21x0x
2nd division, 5th regiment replaced 10x3x
44th division, 131st regiment replaced 50x5x
From the first group, 1,2,3 have already received J-10s. From the second group, 9 and 44 have received J-10s. From the third group, 7 and 24 have received J-10s.

Now, let's look at the regiments that are currently J-7 as taken from Scramble's plaaf orbat. Remember, these are not followed as closely, so their numbers and regiments numbers may not be accurate. These J-7 regiments may or may not still be there. I also saw some J-7 regiments on that orbat that look to no longer exist, so I didn't list them here.
30th division, 88th regiment J7E 40x1x
21st division, 63rd regiment J7 3xx2x
15th division, 43rd regiment J7C/D 20x6x
17th division, J7II 20x8x
15th division, J7 2xx6x
12th division, 34th regiment J7G 20x3x
31st division, 91th regiment J7II 40x2x
19th division, 56th regiment J7II 31x0x
3rd division, 7th regiment J7E 11x4x
14th division, 40th regiment J7E 21x5x
18th division, 52nd regiment J7II 21x9x
9th division, 24th regiment J7E 20x0x
42nd division, 125th regiment J7 55x3x
27th division, J7 3xx8x
33rd division, J7II 40x4x
44th division, 130th regiment J7 50x5x
6th division, 16th regiment J7 10x7x
37th division, 111th regiment J7I 4xx8x

According to Huitong, here are the regiments still using J-7C/D. 20x6x, 41x1x (so basically 15th and 30th division). We can ignore the second digit in the number, because that could represent the importance of these regiment in the division. Therefore, that digit could easily change upon new conversions.

These are the regiments that received J-7E. 10x2x, 10x4x, 10x5x, 20x0x, 20x5x, 21x5x, 30x2x, 40x1x, 41x8x. (1st, 3rd, 4th, 9th, 14th, 21st, 30th, 37th division) Now, some of these regiments have already been replaced with J-10s. I think J-7Es then get transferred to regiments that are even lower in the pecking order.

These are the regiments that received J-7G. 10x8x, 20x3x, 40x8x, 7th regiment, 12th regiment, 37th regiment. Again, if these regiments get J-10s, their J-7s will likely be transferred to regiments that are lower in the pecking order.

So, who are likely to get the next J-10 regiments?
We've already seen pictures from 18th division air base showing J-10s. Now, that most likely implies J-10s were there to exercise with Su-30s. At the same time, we've also noticed J-10s arriving at the 9th division base early last year, before the first official transfer of the first batch of 4 J-10s to that division. I read that at least one 9th division pilot actually flew and got trained with J-10 throughout 2009. What that could indicate is that a regiment preparing to receiving J-10s will first get some J-10s from another J-10 regiment so that the top pilots can start training. And then, they can take the lessons from those classes to the rest of the pilots in the regiments. At least that is my assessment from reading some of the official articles and posts from big shrimps regarding J-10 conversion process. If that's the case then, I think 18th division is close to getting J-10s, because those J-10s are possibly there for that reason. It would also follow the path of other elite plaaf divisions of having both a flanker and J-10 regiment (with the J-10 regiment replacing the old J-7 regiment).

14th, 19th, 33rd all have J-7 regiments that could be converted to J-10 regiments over the next few years. We can say the same about 6th, 12th and 21st division. 15th, 30th and 37th all have J-7 regiments too.

A while ago, I think Rick Kramer had satellite photos indicating 30th division is about to receive a J-10 regiment, so I think that's high up the list. It's hard to say exactly which regiments with get J-10s next. PLAAF would probably spread out the assignments so that each military region get their share of 3rd generation fighters. Currently, Shenyang MR has 1 J-10 regiment, Beijing MR will have 2 J-10 regiments (3 if we also include FTTC regiment), Jinan MR has none, Nanjing MR has 1 J-10 regiment, Guangzhou MR has 2 J-10 regiments, Chengdu MR has one and Lanzhou MR has none.

My guess is that since Beijing MR will not get a J-10 regiment for a bit since it just got J-10s for 24th and 7th regiment + August 1st flight demonstration team. That would probably eliminate 15th regiment for now. In Shenyang, 30th and 21st division are both possibility, but I think 30th might have better chance due to Rick's photos. I think Jinan MR will get a J-10 regiment soon, so that would suggest either 12th or 19th division is getting J-10. Due to their proximity to Taiwan, Guangzhou and Nanjing will probably get quite a few J-10 regiments. Since Guangzhou is in the process of getting its second with 9th division, I think Nanjing is next. That would bring in the possibility of 14th division. Chengdu MR might get more J-10s to counter threats from Vietnam and India. 33rd division already have flanker, so it's unlikely to get J-10s. That means 6th will be the next division to get it from Chengdu MR. If they follow what they did with 44th division and J-10A, it's possible that the first J-10B regiments will also be placed in Chengdu MR. Which means, the first J-10B regiment will be in 6th division or 44th division. Finally, Lanzhou MR may or may not get one due to its geographic insignificance. If it does get one, I think it's more likely to get the longer ranged flanker because of the area that Lanzhou MR covers.

To sum up, we've seen three new regiments converted to or in the middle of converting to J-10 recently. I think this is partly due to the order for 122 AL-31FN signed early last year and partly due to FWS-10A's improved reliability. I think that J-10s will be used to replace most of the J-7 regiments in PLAAF in the next 10 years (unless PLAAF finally decides to purchase JF-17s). These are the regiments I think we need to focus on in the next few years that will receive J-10s.
18th division, 52nd regiment J7II 21x9x
30th division, 88th regiment J7E 40x1x
12th division, 34th regiment J7G 20x3x
14th division, 40th regiment J7E 21x5x
6th division, 16th regiment J7 10x7x

Monday, January 11, 2010

China Tests Midcourse Missile Interception

Well, the Chinese military bbs is abuzz today with the news that China has tested mid-course missile interception system. It was conducted within China's borders and achieved expected objectives. This test is ground based and the Chinese military fans are now waiting for the sea-based system.

I don't know what missile was used to conduct the test or what the target is. We do know that China had conducted some anti-ballistic missile tests earlier and that ASAT test in 2007. This test seems to be another milestone in establishing a national missile defense system.

Here is an article on this:
BEIJING — China has successfully intercepted a missile in mid-flight, state media said on Tuesday, in a test of its advanced air defence capabilities amid tensions over US arms sales to Taiwan.

"China conducted a test on ground-based midcourse missile interception technology within its territory. The test has achieved the expected objective," Xinhua news agency said of Monday's test.

"The test is defensive in nature and is not targeted at any country," it added.

The news comes shortly after a US official in Taipei said the Pentagon had approved the sale of Patriot missile equipment to Taiwan as part of a package passed by Congress more than a year ago.

Beijing -- which considers Taiwan part of its territory and has vowed to take the island back, by force if necessary -- has repeatedly voiced its protest over the sales and urged Washington to cancel the deal.

China's defence ministry had warned at the weekend that it reserved the right to take unspecified action if Washington followed through with the sale, which it called a "severe obstacle" to China-US military ties.

The United States is the leading arms supplier to Taiwan, even though it switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

The Chinese government has poured money into its military in recent years as part of a major modernisation drive.

China's military spending rose 15.3 percent in 2009 to 69 billion dollars, according to a budget submitted to parliament in March, the latest in a string of double-digit increases.

Amid growing concern overseas about China's military intentions, Beijing stresses the defensive nature of its armed forces.

The Global Times quoted senior military strategist Yang Chengjun as saying that the test had "ushered China into a new phase in terms of missile interception technologies".

"China needs an improved capability and more means of military defence as the country faces increasing security threats," Yang was quoted as saying.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Review of Chinese aviation industry in 2009

In my 3rd review, we are going to look at the progress of Chinese aviation industry in 2009. In many ways, this year has been the most eventful year in the recent history. I'm going to look at what happened this year in civilian aviation, helicopter industry and military aviation.

This was a huge year for Chinese civilian aviation, because it was the year in which C-919 (aka the big plane project) was officially started by COMAC. In this past year, they have launched the project, chosen Leap-X1C as the engine for it, started work on domestic engine SF-A for C-919, picked other suppliers (like Shenyang, Hongdu, Xi'an, Chengdu, Baosteel and Alcoa), shown its basic dimensions, started construction of the nose section of the plane and started building of final assembly plants in Shanghai. The ARJ-21 project is continuing with the first flight of the 2nd + 3rd prototype, completion of the long distance test flight from Shanghai to Xi'an and will start delivery to domestic airlines in late 2010. AVIC1 firms have also been doing really as suppliers for international aviation firms. The first production Cessna 162 Skycatcher made its first flight in Shenyang this year after final assembly by SAC. SAC also became a tier-one supplier for the C-Series project and delivered a fuselage test barrell to Bombardier this July. SAC is also continuing it's work for Bombardier in the Q400 program. A big milestone was also achieved this year in Tianjin's A320 final assembly line. The first A320 assembled there was delivered in June and 11 were delivered in total (meeting Airbus's target for 2009).

The helicopter industry also had a lot of encouraging news this year. The Z-11 project's civilian version had its first flight recently. The Z-15/EC-175 recently had its first flight and seems to be on schedule to be in service by 2011. I would think that China is actively working on ways to develop naval version of the helicopter for PLAN. The Z-10 project has hit the road blocks recently due to delays in WZ-9 turboshaft project, but I think the improved Z-10A variant using WZ-9 gives PLA watchers a lot of hope. We have not seen much movement on the 10-ton helo project. In the 13-ton class, Z-8 looks to be finally proliferating in different arms of PLA from the photos we've seen in the 60th anniversary air show. We saw anywhere from 20 to 30 Z-8K/KAs in some photos. We've also seen an order for 18 Z-8FA for firefighting. We saw many new Z-8J/JHs for large warships like 071 LPD and 866 hospital ship. We've also seen pictures of Z-8 AEW variant in preparation for the carrier project. If Z-8s were not so large, they'd probably be used on 054As and 052B/Cs. Finally, AC-313, a new civilian variant of Z-8, made its first flight and had already accumulated a large order in last year's Zhuhai airshow. Regardless, it looks like all of the production bottleneck for Z-8 have finally been resolved. I find it puzzling that they are not building more transport variants of Z-8s for the army, but it looks like PLA favours Mi-17 series. Recently, we have finally seen Mi-171s assembled in China undergoing flight testing. I think that we will see more Mi-171s assembled by Sichuan Lantian factory joining PLA next year. Finally, we have seen the first set of photos for the heavy lift project that China is co-developing with Russia. That project might take a few more years to complete, but that will finally give China a heavy lift equivalent to CH-53E. I think that the news above shows some improvements but also gaps that still exist in China's civilian helo industry. All the major new developments like Z-15 and the heavy lift project still require cooperation with foreign companies. All of the new domestic developments are done on platforms that were developed by or based upon Eurocopter designs. The only new domestic design without foreign help has unknown development status. Once China completes all of these projects, they will finally have a helicopter each all the relevant weight class. Due to the dual use nature of helicopters, they've managed to cooperate with advanced helicopter companies around the world on critical projects (bypassing arms embargo). However, the Chinese helicopter industry still has quite a bit to go before catching the likes of Sikorsky, Eurocopter and Agustawestland.

After a rather uneventful 2008, 2009 was quite the banner year for PLAAF. J-10B had it's first flight in December of 2008, but we did not see pictures of it until March of this year. We also saw the first photo of J-11BS and hear that J-15, the naval flanker, had its first flight. On top of that, we saw KJ-200 finally joining service after its Category III platform fixed the problems that caused the crash. Production for J-10 finally started up again in late 2008 after China and Russia signed a deal for an additional 122 AL-31FNs. We saw new regiments at 9th division, 24th division and possibly at 18th division. On top of that, some of the figures for J-10 were finally released after it replaced J-7 in the August First flight demonstration team. Just recently, we've finally seen a batch of J-11Bs using FWS-10 engine. It looks like Taihang's mass production problems have finally been fixed and J-11B is ready to join service. JF-17 has finally joined PAF, but we do not know when or if it will join PLAAF. Overall, it looks like PLAAF is continuing the trend of replacing J-7 regiments with J-10s. As more and more J-7s retire, PLAAF would have to either increase the number of J-10s it orders, order some JF-17s or decrease in number. With Taihang's production problems fixed, maybe we will finally see J-10s equipped with FWS-10A engines in the future. One of the major questions is which engine will equip J-10B. It looks to be a competition between FWS-10A and AL-31FN-M2/3. One of the themes to follow in 2010 is the progression of J-10B as CAC will probably switch the production from J-10A to J-10B by 2011. As J-10s are replacing J-7 regiments, J-11B and following variants should be replacing J-8 or older flanker regiments, although J-11B production rate still remains low. JH-7A, the final part of China's 3rd generation fleet, had one new regiment this year in the 11th division. JH-7As have been replacing mostly Q-5 regiments to the tune of 4 regiments in PLANAF and 3 regiments in PLAAF. Of course, The deputy commander of PLAAF shocked a lot of people in an interview by stating that 4th generation plane will fly soon and join service in 2017 to 2019. I do not think we will see anything concret regarding to the 4th gen fighter in 2010, but I'm expecting to see more transparent revelations like that around the Zhuhai air show. Over all, several new variants made their first appearances in 2009, while the existing variants joined PLAAF in great numbers. In 2010, I'd expect to see the maturation of these new variants and more conversion from 2nd to 3rd generation fighters. Aside from fighter jets, we found a lot about PLAAF's C4ISR fleet around the time of 60th anniversary parade. We found out that 10 Y-8 Category II and III platforms are produced each year for the high new series. As a result of that, I would expect to continue to see more KJ-200 and other High New series aircrafts joining service in 2010. Although KJ-2000 has now matured with PLAAF, we are probably not going to see any new units in a while due to the lack of platforms. They have restarted the discussions with Russians for IL-76s, but the Russians have raised the asking price of the new IL-476 variant to $50 million from $18 million, so I'm not sure if a deal is ever going to get worked out. In the mean time, SAC/XAC is working hard at developing the new large transport project and a new medium turbofan powered transport. A lot of their successes will depend on the success of the WS-18 project and the WS-10-118 project. Either way, PLAAF has a huge shortage in air lift capability. It has in fact placed its largest ever order for Y-8C transport to alleviate some of these shortage problems. It looks like SAC will be busy building a lot of Y-8s next year for both the high new series and the airlift fleet in 2010. Finally, we have also seen other new entrance into PLAAF like the JJ-9 trainer, BZK-005 UAV and BZK-006 UAV.

In conclusion, 2009 was a great year in China's civilian and military aviation sector. In fact, 2009 may have been the most eventful year since I have started to cover the Chinese aviation industry. We have seen a lot of new toys and will see them inch closer into joining service in 2010. I'm really excited about seeing the progression of J-10B, J-15, C-919, the large transport, Z-15 and numerous new UAV projects.