Category Archives: China

China Debuts New Indigenous Attack Helicopter for Export Market in First Flight

New Z-19E Black Whirlwind Flies for First Time in Harbin, China.

Chinese aircraft company AVIC Harbin Aircraft Industry Group debuted its new Z-19E “Black Whirlwind” attack helicopter during its first flight at Harbin Airport in Harbin, Heilongjiang, northeastern China.

The first flight of the Z-19E Black Whirlwind, also referred to as the AH-19E in Chinese media, was a basic lift-off to hover and then several basic low-speed flight maneuvers over the airfield. The aircraft was carrying eight large, white missiles that bear resemblance to the U.S. designed Hellfire guided missile along with what may have been a gun pod and a launch canister for high-velocity aircraft rockets (HVARs) possibly analogous to the U.S. 2.75” folding fin aircraft rocket (FFAR).

The crew arrangement seems to be similar to that of the U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopters where the pilot sits in the rear and the weapons operator sits in the front of the helicopter.

A noteworthy feature of the Z-19E is the “Fenestron” protected, shaft-driven tail rotor assembly. This is different from many attack helicopters such as the U.S. AH-64 Apache, European Tiger and Russian Mi-28 that use conventional, exposed tail rotors mounted outside the fuselage tail boom. The Fenestron enclosed tail rotor reduces lost thrust by ducting the drive forces generated by the rotating blades, reduces audible signature (quieter) and is safer in ground operations.

Fenestron is also noticeably quieter than a conventional external tail rotor improving audible stealth. The most common Fenestron equipped helicopter in use today is the U.S. Coast Guard’s HH-65C Dolphin. Fenestron is also seen on the Russian Kamov Ka-60- and the Kawasaki OH-1 light observation/attack helicopter. Fenestron tail rotors are generally more expensive to manufacture and heavier than a conventional external tail rotor however.

This is China’s first attempt at a locally produced, advanced attack helicopter intended for the export market. Their current primary attack helicopter is the CAIC Z-10 or WZ-10, an indigenously produced attack helicopter of primarily Russian design. It is an older looking helicopter with external tail rotor and cockpit arrangement that resembles the European Tiger attack helicopters. It was originally developed under a secret contract with famous Russian helicopter builder Kamov. The program for the Z-10 began in the early 2000s; an unusually late arrival for China to attack helicopter development compared to the U.S. and Russia who have been building dedicated attack helicopters since the 1960’s.

Depending on cost, capabilities and import/export restrictions the new Chinese Z-19E Black Whirlwind could have interested export clients in African and Middle-eastern/Asian countries where there is no locally built, advanced, fully capable attack helicopter.



Top image credit: Reuters

 

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Chinese Su-30 Flanker Jet Flies Inverted Over U.S. Nuclear Sniffer Plane Over The East China Sea

A Chinese fighter pilot performed a Top Gun stunt over a U.S. Air Force WC-135.

On May 17, a Chinese Su-30 Flanker rolled over the top of a U.S. Air Force WC-135C Constant Phoenix aircraft which was flying in international airspace above the East China Sea.

According to the CNN the Flanker belonged to a formation of two Chinese Su-30s that intercepted the WC-135 nuclear sniffer aircraft involved in a a routine mission in Northeast Asia.

The aircraft came within 150 feet of the WC-135 with one of the Su-30s flying inverted, directly above the American “nuke hunter” plane, in a stunt that was made famous by Top Gun movie.

“While we are still investigating the incident, initial reports from the U.S. aircrew characterized the intercept as unprofessional, ” said Air Force Lt. Col. Hodge in a statement.

The WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft is a Boeing C-135 transport and support plane derivative belonging to the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron from Offutt Air Force Base (with mission crews staffed by Detachment 1 from the Air Force Technical Applications Center) that is able to collect and analyze the fallout residue in real-time, helping to confirm the presence of nuclear fallout and possibly determine the characteristics of the warhead involved.

The aircraft has recently deployed to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, close to the Korean peninsula, to monitor North Korea’s nuke weapons tests.

Throughout the afternoon, an WC-135W Constant Phoenix aircraft performs touch ‘n go landing exercises Feb. 12 at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. (U.S. Air Force photo/Josh Plueger)

Not the first time

This is not the first time a Chinese or Russian fighter pilot performs a Top Gun-like stunt or aggressively maneuvers close to a U.S. aircraft.

In February 2017, a People’s Liberation Army Air Force KJ-200 and a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion aircraft were involved in what was defined by U.S. officials as an “unsafe” close encounter over the South China Sea.

Last year, on Apr. 29, 2016, a Russian Su-27 Flanker barrel rolled over the top of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft operating in the Baltic Sea. The Russian jet came within 25 feet of the U.S. intelligence gathering aircraft.

Another Su-27 had carried out the same dangerous maneuver on another US Rivet Joint over the Baltic on Apr. 14, 2016.

Previously, on Jan. 25, 2016 another U.S. RC-135 intelligence gathering jet was intercepted over the Black Sea by a Russian Su-27 Flanker that made an aggressive turn that disturbed the controllability of the RC-135.

On Apr. 7, 2015 another Su-27 flew within 20 feet of an RC-135U over the Baltic Sea.

On Apr. 23, 2015 a U.S. Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent performing a routine surveillance mission in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan, some 60 miles off eastern Russia was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker that crossed the route of the U.S. aircraft putting itself within 100 feet of the Combat Sent.

In 2014, a Chinese Flanker made a barrel roll over a U.S. Navy P-8 maritime surveillance plane 135 miles east of Hainan Island, a spot where a dangerous close encounter of another U.S. electronic surveillance plane with the Chinese Navy took place back in 2001: on Apr. 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E with the VQ-1, flying an ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) mission in international airspace 64 miles southeast of the island of Hainan was intercepted by two PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) J-8 fighters. One of the J-8s piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3 before colliding with the spyplane on the third pass. As a consequence, the J-8 broke into two pieces and crashed into the sea causing the death of the pilot, whereas the EP-3, severely damaged, performed an unauthorized landing at China’s Lingshui airfield.

The 24 crew members (21 men and three women), that destroyed all (or at least most of ) the sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, were detained by Chinese authorities until Apr. 11.

PLAAF Sukhoi Su-30MKK at Lipetsk-2 on Jul. 27, 2014 (Image credit: Dmitriy Pichugin)

 

U.S. B-1B performs simulated attack mission on South Korean range. China issues radio warning as the bomber flies over East China Sea

A B-1 Lancer performing a mock attack on a range in South Korea amid raising tensions with North Korea caused the China’s Air Defense to radio a warning message as the bomber flew close to the Chinese airspace.

On Mar. 22, hours after the latest (failed) missile test by Pyongyang, a U.S. Air Force B-1 “Lancer” deployed to Guam flew a simulated attack run on the U.S. Force Korea’s bombing range on the island of Jikdo in the West Sea.

During part of the sortie the American heavy bomber was escorted by two South Korea’s F-15K and two KF-16 fighter jets as shown in the photo posted above.

Noteworthy, along with sending a deterrence message to North Korea amid raising tensions caused by the latest ballistic missile launches, the B-1 bomber caused some concern to the Chinese military that tracked the American as it flew over the East China Sea in bound to the Korean peninsula: Fox News reported that the “Bone” bomber (as the B-1 is dubbed by its aircrews) was issued a radio warning on the Guard Channel (the international U/VHF emergency frequency) because it was flying inside Chinese airspace according to the Chinese.

However, U.S. officials who spoke to Fox News said that the bomber was flying in international airspace 70 miles southwest of the South Korean island of Jeju.

Such incidents are not infrequent in that region.

U.S. B-52 and B-2 bombers routinely fly nuclear deterrence missions in the Asia-Pacific theater from both CONUS bases and Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. In November 2013, a flight of two U.S. B-52 bombers departed from Guam airbase entered the new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over East China Sea close to the disputed islands without complying with any of the rules set by Beijing for the ADIZ. In that case, the mission intentionally skirted the disputed Diaoyu Islands (known as Senkaku islands in Japan).

Image credit: ROKAF

 

U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth jets to fly out of northern Australia amid South China Sea tensions

Starting in 2017, Australia will host U.S. military aircraft, including F-22 Raptors, to maintain a “credible combat power” in the region and send a convincing message to potential aggressors.

The Royal Australian Air Force will start joint training with U.S. F-22 Raptor aircraft over Australian territory next year.

This is one of the effects of the agreement signed by Adm. Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Australian defense head Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin.

Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Harris said that the U.S. and Australia “are exploring greater integration of fifth generation fighter deployments to Australia and plan to see significant activities in 2017.”

The RAAF is acquiring knowledge on 5th gen. aircraft thanks to the involvement in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II program, but the Joint Strike Fighter won’t enter active service with the Royal Australian Air Force until next decade: the first F-35A will arrive in Australia in 2018 and the first squadron, No 3 Squadron, will be operational in 2021.  All 72 aircraft are expected to be fully operational by 2023.

Since the F-22 is the only fifth generation fighter already in service in good numbers, the U.S. Air Force has a plan “to bring down some F-22s to work with Australia to demonstrate the airplane and some of the unique maintenance and other aspects of fifth generation airframes,” Harris said.

Although Raptors have already visited Australia in the past to attend airshows, the announced deployment of the world’s most advanced multi-role aircraft in the north of the country would also have a deterrence purpose: according to Harris, maintaining a “credible combat power” in the region will send a convincing message to potential aggressors.

Like China, whose island-building in the South China Sea poses a threat to the freedom of navigation and overflight.

The presence of F-22s in northern Australia follows similar deployments to Japan: the USAF has started rotating fighters to Pacific Command bases in March 2004 “to maintain a prudent deterrent against threats to regional security and stability” and in January 2016 a dozen Raptors were deployed to Yokota, near Tokyo, to “promote” stability following North Korea’s nuclear test.

The deployment of a handful of stealth jets some 2,000 nautical miles from the South China Sea is rather symbolic unless it is considered as the part of a wider military build-up around the troubled waters of the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater.

On Aug. 9, 2016 three B-2 Spirit bombers with the 509th Bomb Wing, have deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, in Guam, to conduct extended deterrence operations in the region. B-1B Lancers (“Bones” in accordance with the nickname used by their aircrews) have also been deployed to Guam to support the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers regularly conduct dual carrier strike group operations in the Western Pacific and sometimes also in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Philippine Sea. Last June, two nuclear-powered flattops operated simultaneously in the area, working also alongside two U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress (bombers launched from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam in a maritime attack training sortie. In the same period, Washington also deployed to the Philippines the first temporary detachment of Navy EA-18G Growlers with the ability to perform both electronic escort missions on U.S. ships and spyplanes frequently shadowed by Chinese spyplanes or intelligence gathering ships and Electronic Attack missions against Chinese radars on the disputed islands.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

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China’s new J-20 “Mighty Dragon” stealth fighter officially unveiled and ready to enter active service

The PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force) has eventually unveiled its long-awaited J-20 stealth fighter to the public during the Zhuhai Air Show’s opening ceremony. Is it possible to compare it with the F-22?

Two LRIP (Low-rate Initial Production) J-20A stealth jets did a brief 60-second fly-past at the Zhuhai Air Show 2016 in Guangdong province on the Show’s first day on Nov. 1, 2016, marking the first public appearance of the “Mighty Dragon” fighter that performed its maiden flight back in 2011.

Even though the J-20s did not fly a dramatic flight demo, the two fighters thundered above hundreds of spectators as well as political and industrial dignitaries and executives, made a few climbs, turns and formation fly-bys and then disappeared again.

The public appearance was far from being unannounced, due to the preparation at CAC earlier this month.

Four days ago even the PLAAF itself announced in an official statement, that it would demonstrate its latest J-20 stealth fighter jet at the Zhuai Air Show: Senior Colonel Shen Jinke, PLAAF- spokesman noted, that “the J-20 was designed by our aircraft researchers for future aerial combat. Test pilots from the Air Force will use it to perform at the 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition.”

The Chinese Chengdu J-20 is a fifth generation stealth aircraft developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).

We still know little of about this aircraft even though it bears a loose resemblance to at least three (if not more) other types of aircraft: the F-22 Raptor; the Mig 1.42 prototype; and the the Mig-31 “Firefox”, a fictional aircraft appearing in “Firefox”, a 1982 action film produced and directed by, and starring, Clint Eastwood based on a 1977 novel written by Craig Thomas.

j-20a-lrip-yellow-30-9-16-12

The aircraft is believed to be equipped with IRST (Infra-Red Search and Tracking), AESA radar and several other interesting stuff, but its ability to match the most advanced western “hardware” is still much debated.

What follows is an analysis of the latest J-20’s achievements.

2016 milestones

With the arrival of the first LRIP aircraft in December 2015 and further new aircraft since then, all “older” prototypes (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017) were transferred in the meantime to the CFTE at Xi’an-Yanliang for further ongoing tests with regular detachments for alleged weapons testing at the PLAAF’S Flight Test and Training Base (FTTC) at Dingxin. These tests so far included captive tests with four large drop-tanks and reportedly included firings of both the new PL-15 long-range AAM as well as the new PL-10 short-range AAM. Besides that, it was reported that the WS-15 has just finished ground testing (with a thrust of about 160kN reached), and it is ready to begin the test on an IL-76LL platform.

In retrospect the year 2016 so far was an extremely successful year for CAC: reports assume that at least seven LRIP J-20As were flown; and most interesting, not only in yellow primer or standard PLAAF-grey with toned-down national markings, but apparently at least one spotting an all-new splinter scheme [similar to that used by West’s Aggressors]. Other reports assume that a few J-20A have already left Chengdu to a first OPEVAL unit, which is most likely established at the flight test center (FTTC) at Dingxin air base, where 12 new hangars were erected since 2015.

Otherwise most spectators, enthusiast and analysts still have to be patient and it is surely too early to judge to what extent the J-20 can match the stealth properties of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II or how far its avionics are comparable. So far not even its external dimensions, specifications on its KLJ-5 AESA-radar –that is also under test on a special Tu-204C testbed – nor its type of engine were officially revealed, however following the latest reports it is not unlikely a special custom-tailored version based on the Salut AL-31FM2.

j-20a-lrip-grey-splinter-camo-17-10-16-2-xl

Conclusion

Since its maiden flight in January 2011 ten prototypes were manufactured (Note: the two demonstrators 2001, 2002 = now 2004, + the prototypes 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and two static test specimen) and that this type is to be the third stealth fighter jet to enter operational service following the United States’ F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. In retrospect the J-20A has indeed reached the LRIP-phase with the J-20’s design being frozen. If the PLAAF follows now the usual procedures, a first unit equipped with these LRIP J-20As of the current interim standard will enter service within the PLAAF at around the year’s end or early 2017; much earlier than expected. As such it seems to be confirmed that even if limited in its capabilities due to the missing WS-15, the PLAAF will bring that type to service as soon as possible to exploit and explore operational tactics and procedures for this new fighter.

Concluding, the J-20 is a giant leap for the PLAAF both capability-wise and technology-wise alike. Did anyone of us expect a Chinese stealth fighter to be operational before 2020 when asked in, let’s say, 2010?

As such even if probably no match in terms of stealth to the latest F-fighters (due to no stealthy-nozzle, open chaff-and-flare boxes and other details…) it is surely much more stealthy than any other type operational in that area. Even if its engines are not the top ones desired – aka the future WS-15 – they are surely comparable (if my theory is correct and I’m quite confident!) – they give that type already a performance surely not worse than the latest J-11B … as such it is a huge step even if it might be well below the F-22’s capabilities.

Andreas Rupprecht is an aviation journalist. He has written several books on China’s military aviation, including “Flashpoint China” and “Modern Chinese Warplanes”.

Image credit: Weibo/Chinese Internet via Rupprecht

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