Saturday, November 24, 2012

First flight of J-15 off Liaoning

It has finally happened. We finally have news confirmation from Xinhua and also have pictures of J-15's first take/off and landing from Xinhua. The news of first landing came a couple of days ago, but this is the first time we have seen the photos.

Here is a timeline of China's naval flanker program just to give you an idea:
  • 2001, Assemble the T-10K-3 prototype that PLAN purchased from Ukraine. Use this for long term technical study.
  • January 2007, AVIC1 and PLAN’s major program (J-15) research work started.
  • July 2007, AVIC1 SAC had a large program tackling meeting
  • January 2008, blueprint work finished, start prototype research & production stage
  • August 31st 2009, J15-0001 had maiden flight
  • May 6th 2010, maiden take-off flight from the simulated jet-ski at CFTE. Continued production of single digit number of prototypes for future testing
  • August 10th, 2011, China’s first aircraft carrier went out for sea trials. J-15-0005/CFTE-554 and J15-0008/CFTE-556 prototypes made numerous fly-overs, low altitude touch and go landing along the way.
  • July 2012, Finished certification test flights, given permission to product single digit number of batch 0 J-15s for initial testing/trials works
  • September 25th, 2012, PLAN first aircraft carrier was named Liaoning and had its first sailing after commissioning in October
  • November 3rd, 2012, J-15S-0001 had maiden flight
  • Early November, 2012, Liaoning had second sailing after commissioning
  • November 20th, 2012, a PLANAF pilot made the first carrier landing trial.
  • November 23rd, 2012, Two PLANAF pilots flying 2 J-15s finished carrier op controlled first official takeoff and landing trials. This marks successful completion of first stage of the Carrier aviation project.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thoughts from Zhuhai Air Show

As we get to another year’s thanksgiving holiday, there are many interesting things in Chinese military development to be thankful for. The one thing that I look at from this month is the Zhuhai Air Show. Every two years, we get to see the best that China has to offer in the export market for civilian aircraft, fighter jet, UAVs, missiles, air defence weapons and engines. In the 2010 air show, we saw an expansion of UAVs. In the 2008 air show, we saw a whole new display of PGMs and ground attack weapons. In this year’s air show, I think the helicopters (especially Z-10 and Z-19) stole the show.

Prior to the air show, we had just found out about the existence of a second Z-10 and a second Z-19 regiment. It appears both helicopters had achieved operational clearance with PLA aviation. We saw a whole host of up close pictures of Z-10 and Z-19 (including cockpit of pilots with HMDS) from the air show. TV news officially reported that both of these helicopters have achieved combat capability.

We saw flight display from both Z-10 and Z-19 throughout this past week. From this and other photos, we now see 2 other regiments with Z-10. At the moment, it seems like each of the 4 brigades that have Z-10 have 12 or less Z-10s. That's the size of a dadui in PLA aviation rather a full regiment (which can be over 30 helos). I wonder if the goal is to have at least one dadui in Z-10 before increasing the number of Z-10s in each of the brigdaes. We might see some mixed regiments with Z-10s and Z-19s. These are just my speculations and other speculations from on line. Regardless, it appears that both Z-10 and WZ-9 turboshaft engine have reached a point of mass production. It would not surprise me if the production rate is already in the 30s per year. As more photos come out, we will get more information on their alignment.

At the same time, we are getting more information on other Chinese helicopter projects. According to deputy GM of AVICopter, Sun Qingmin, Z-15 equipped with WZ-16 engine will start trial flight next year and expected to be certified by 2014. Using a co-developed engine will allow Z-15 to join the army and the navy. The long delayed 10 ton helicopter project appears to be moving forward to. The picture below shows two proposals for this project. The first flight is set to be in 2014 and production to start by 2017. These two proposals look like Chinese versions of black hawk and NH-90. The engine is expected to either be WZ-10 turboshaft or WZ-16 from the Z-15 project.

There is also another conceptual project XQ-01 displayed in the air show as shown below that seems to be a high speed helicopter like Eurocopter X3 or Sikorsky X2.

They also displayed a whole range of air defence weaponry that are quite impressive. Along side models that we already know about like LD-2000 (land version of Type 730), FD-2000 (export version of HQ-9), LY-80 (export version of HQ-16) and FL-3000 (export version of HQ-10), we also saw the following new models:

DK-10 and DK-9C supposedly originates from the AAMs SD-10 and PL-9C. Although in DK-10's case, it seems to be quite different from SD-10. It also seems to be a prime candidate to be quad-packed in PLAN's new VLS with its active seeker, slim size, and engagement range of up to 50 km.

FK-1000 combines the KS-1000 missile with two dual guns and on board fire control system. It seems very similar to Russia's Pantsir-S1 air defence system.
TD-2000B is another Gun/missile air defence system which may already have been displayed previously.
And finally, we have CS/SA-1 type vehicle carrying Type PG-99 dual35 mm gun.

We saw the usual FT and LS series of PGMs along with a new TG series of LGBs. But there were also interesting new missiles from this show:

The one making the biggest noise is the CM-400AKG missile. It is advertised as a standoff missile for JF-17. It can go Mach 5.5 in terminal phase and has maximum range of 240 km.

They also have two different variants of TL-500 missile which looks like SCALP by MBDA.

We saw a couple of more CM series air to ground missile. The CM-506KG missile looks like the NLOS missile.

Finally, there was an anti-radiation version of SD-10 missile appearing as LD-10.

There were also other interesting things on display such as a model of the J-31 project, a full scale dispaly of Wing Loong UAV and a model of CH-4 UAV. All in all, it was a very interesting air show.

There were also a couple of interesting things we saw in PLAN world. J-15 apparently made its first successful landing on Liaoning this past week. We had an overhead shot of 052C and 052D which showed the two destroyers to be the same length. Although, it seems like 052D is about 0.5 to 1 m wider. Either way, 052D is basically the same size as 052C. The new VLS installations on 052D also look to be a lot smaller than the ones on 052C. And finally, the first 056s have gone on sea trials from both HP and HD shipyard.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What does J-31 tell us about China?

There have been many articles written about the recent first flight of J-31. If you go to sinodefenceforum where I moderate, you can see pages and pages of analysis by amateurs like myself over what we think the roles of this aircraft is along with its capabilities. If you read enough online articles, they will start repeating themselves over how close J-31 resembles to F-22 and F-35. And while this fighter looks to have stealth shaping, there are much more to achieving stealth than just resemblance to shaping of F-35. As usual, the one article that did peak my interest was the one by Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins. They looked at the growing Chinese aerospace industry and its increasing threat to Russia’s export markets.

I think that should be the general take away from this. In this year alone, Shenyang Aircraft Corporation has done first flights of J-31, J-16 (a fighter bomber along the lines of Su-34/F-15E) and J-15S (twin seat variant of J-15). In this past 2 years, China has flight tested 2 different 5th generation aircraft. The rumour is that the Y-20 heavy transport project will also make maiden flight this year. I personally consider Y-20 project and the associated WS-18 and WS-20 (or maybe WS-118) turbofan engine to be PLAAF’s most important projects because of its use in force multiplication and power projection. China desperately needs a platform like Y-20 that can be used for strategic lift, aerial refueling, AEW C&C, other C4ISR missions and as ABL platform. Regardless of how one would view Y-20s importance vs J-20/J-31, these are definitely the 3 most important PLAAF projects over the next few years. The short duration of 2 years between the maiden flights of these projects shows how much China’s aviation industry is growing. Each of these projects is also worked on by one of AVIC 1’s three largest aircraft companies (Shenyang, Chengdu and Shaanxi/Xi’an AC). In their civilian business, each of these companies is involved in the production of parts for numerous airliners for COMAC and Western aircraft manufacturers. When we include their military projects, we can see the amount of R&D that these companies are doing.

A while ago, I read about how Chengdu AC is now employing a whole new generation of engineers that learnt the entire fighter development process from J-10 project. This group of engineers has since developed JF-17 and J-10B. They are now the brains behind J-20, numerous new J-10 variants and UAV projects. I think they have also recruited foreign engineers (especially from Russia and Ukraine) that have really contributed in all the military projects. These companies are paying increasingly competitive wages to recruit capable engineers and employing modern Western design practices. 20 years ago, one would question whether or not China can actually develop a 4th generation fighter jet let alone a 5th generation fighter jet even if they received all of the necessary funding. With the experience from J-10 project, JH-7A project and indigenization of J-11 project, they now have the capability to develop modern fighter jet if given time and money. In comparison, Russia will be increasingly facing the question of whether or not it can develop modern aircraft due to a dwindling and aging engineering force from 20 years of brain drain. In the export market, Russia is still reliant on upgraded versions of flanker and fulcrum series of aircraft for most of revenues. With T-50 still years away from being available for export outside of India, Su-35 and Mig-35 are what Russia will be able to offer for its traditional markets. Once J-10 finally starts using domestic engine, China will be able to offer J-10 and JF-17 to compete against Russia in those markets. From the recent test flights, it looks J-31 will be available for export as F-60 not that far after T-50 becomes available. Until then, J-10B, future JF-17s and Chinese UAVs will be competitive against Russian exports. By the time J-31 becomes available, China will have something capable of taking serious market shares in the very lucrative fighter jet market. This has already happened to a degree in the naval export market, where the rapidly improving quality of PLAN ships have let to more capable ships available for exports. Chinese shipyards have been quite busy building smaller battle ships, FACs and OPVs for countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and African countries.

There are still many lingering questions about China’s aerospace engine industry. As we saw, J-31 made its first flight with RD-93 engines which are clearly not intended to fit the production versions of J-31. All of J-10A and JF-17 production aircraft are equipped with Russian engines. The first batch of Y-20 and H-6K will be equipped D-30KP2. However, it looks like FWS-10/A mass production has finally reached reliable stage. All of the recent batches of J-11B/S have been using FWS-10. J-15, J-15S, J-16 and J-20 prototypes have also been using FWS-10. In a recent photo, it looks like the first production J-10B may also be using FWS-10A. If that is the case, the majority of front line Chinese aircraft will soon be using Chinese engines instead of Russian ones.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

First flight of J-31

Shenyang Aircraft Corporation's stealth aircraft project J-31's prototype made its first flight yesterday. Here are some of the better photos that I saw online:

This is probably the best photo I've seen of J-31

This one has J-31 prototype with J-11BS chase aircraft

At this point, I'm not sure what the exact plan for this project is. That's something we will find out further down the road, but speculations include a future naval fighter jet or form part of hi-lo combo with J-20 or as a aircraft that will eventually be up for exports.

I've read numerous people who believe that this is result of China hacking into Lockmart computers. This is due to the fact that J-31 resembles F-35 from front profile and F-22 from side profile. I think that's complete nonsense. I've seen the struggles of SAC trying to indigenize flankers (which they received full blue prints + production line in the license production deal). It's very hard for me to believe that SAC can reproduce F-35 from stolen files without access to the same engines or the material or the complicated computer code that controls the whole aircraft.