Category Archives: China

China’s New Video of Their Naval Aviation Blows “Top Gun” Away

New Video Screams “All Your Bases Are Belong to Us” With Awesome Music, Images.

China Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the Chinese micro-blogging, social media outlet Sina Weibo are rocking the web with a new motivational video of Chinese naval air and sea power that is a pure adrenaline fix. You could say it’s the Chinese “Top Gun”, but even better. The soundtrack blows Kenny Loggins away and the choreography beats the beach volleyball scene. The only thing missing is a Chinese equivalent of Kelly McGillis, but there is still plenty here to take your breath away.

The video surfaced in mid-May on Chinese social media and made its way to Facebook via mostly the Chinese pages. Now it is trending across international social media aviation pages. It is sure to go big.

Shot on board the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (CV-16), the video is brilliantly choreographed and composed. It is set to the soundtrack song “Black Blade” from the (ironically) U.S. based soundtrack artists “Two Steps from Hell” featuring musicians and composers Thomas J. Bergersen (originally of Trondheim, Norway) and Nick Thomas of Los Angeles. The two musicians have scored over 1,000 soundtracks and film trailers. They have also produced music for video and computer games. If you’ve seen the Hollywood films, “The Dark Knight”, “Tron: Legacy” or “No Country for Old Men” then you’ve already heard their masterful soundtrack music.

The video was filmed during major naval exercises earlier this year off Hainan island in the South China Sea. The region is the scene of minor disputes between Taiwan, mainland China and even Vietnam over some small outlying islands. The recent Chinese emphasis on sea power centers on their emerging aircraft carrier program and is likely a bid to maintain and expand control in this area and project Chinese military influence around the globe.

At the same time the Chinese were shooting this killer video, spy satellites in orbit overhead were doing a little photography of their own. James Pearson and Greg Torode of Reuters news agency published satellite spy photos likely taken at the exact same time the Chinese video was being shot. Satellite imagery published by Reuters on March 27, 2018 and likely taken the day before on Monday, March 26, 2018 were obtained from Planet Labs, Inc. According to their website, Planet Labs, Inc. is a private intelligence gathering company that, “Started as a small team of physicists and engineers, and now operates the world’s largest constellation of Earth-imaging satellites.”

Satellite imagery of the Chinese carrier task force appear to have been taken at the exact time the new video was being shot. (Photo: Planet Labs via Reuters).

The aircraft seen most prominently on deck of the Liaoning in this video are the Chinese J-15B “Flying Shark” multi-role fighters. The Chinese also operate a variant known as the J-11BH and J-11BSH. Based on the Sukhoi Su-27 family of tactical aircraft, the Chinese have been vigorous in testing and development of the J-15 and its minor variants since their carrier program began in earnest during 2002. While a highly capable aircraft, the J-15 Shark is currently limited in gross take-off weight from the Chinese carrier Liaoning because of their reliance on the ski-jump style Short Take-Off but Arrested Landing (STOBAR) technology. Future Chinese carriers like the recently launched Type 001A, rumored to be named Shandong, will likely be adapted to Catapult Assisted Take-Off but Arrested Landing (CATOBAR). This catapult system can launch heavier aircraft than the ski-jump system. China has even been testing electromagnetic aircraft catapults at a land-based facility for likely inclusion on future aircraft carriers.

Other aircraft showcased in the video are the Chinese H-6DU aerial tanker. The H-6DU is based on the former-Soviet Tu-16 Badger. Other versions of the H-6 carry air-launched cruise missiles for the anti-shipping role. The H-6DU, possibly from China’s 23rd Regiment, 8th Naval Aviation Division assigned to the Southern Theater Command, is refueling a pair of J-10AHs possibly of the 4th Naval Aviation Division.

Helicopters seen in the video include the Changhe Aircraft Industrial Corporation (CHAIC)
Z-8 land and ship based ASW/SAR helicopter that is based on the French SA-321Ja Super Frelon.

Despite the ongoing debate about the emerging Chinese aircraft carrier force you have to admit the production quality of this video is very good, and it suggests China is enthusiastic about the expansion of their naval air and sea power. It’s also just plain cool to watch!

China Launches First Domestically Built Aircraft Carrier

New Carrier Continues Expansion of Chinese Expeditionary Capability.

China launched its first domestically produced aircraft carrier earlier for sea trials this week at the northeastern port of Dalian, in the south of Liaoning Province, China. The new ship has not been named yet and carries the temporary designation “Type 001A”.

The new Type 001A is a slightly larger vessel than China’s previous aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, that was purchased from Ukraine in 1999 and originally built in 1985 in the then-Soviet Union as a Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser. Liaoning has had three names: first christened as the Riga under Soviet use, then renamed the Varyag and finally the Liaoning after the Chinese purchase in 1999. Analysts report the primary role of the Liaoning has been a training vessel for the development of Chinese carrier doctrine and operations.

The new Type 001A is 315 meters long and 75 meters wide as compared to the slightly smaller Liaoning that is 304 meters long and 70 meters wide. Both ships displace roughly 50,000 tons, significantly less than the Nimitz-class carriers with a loaded displacement of between 100,000–104,000 tons. The U.S. Nimitz-class carriers are also longer at 333 meters.

Like the older Soviet-era carriers and the existing Russian Kuznetsov carrier along with the United Kingdom’s new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, the new Chinese Type 001A uses a ski-jump style launch ramp. India is also building a new ski-jump aircraft carrier, the Vikrant class carrier, formerly known as the “Project 71 Air Defense Ship” (ADS) or Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) program.

Unlike the other carriers however, the UK’s Queen Elizabeth class uses two superstructures and may have a provision for the removal of the ski-jump launch structure in favor of an electromagnetic catapult in the future.

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) is an emerging technology in new aircraft carriers. The U.S. has already demonstrated and installed the EMALS launch capability on the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carrier in service since 2017. China is considering the use of electromagnetic launch systems on their planned next generation aircraft carrier, the Type 002. China has reportedly already experimented with aircraft modified to be launched with an electromagnetic catapult in anticipation of the next-gen Type 002 development.

One reason China may be pursuing the EMALS launch system for future carriers could be an inherent limitation to their current launch system. According to intelligence outlet Southfront.org the Chinese are currently limited in launch weight with their existing Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system. That means China’s J-15 tactical aircraft already tested on the carrier Liaoning are limited in take-off weight. The aircraft must sacrifice fuel and/or weapons load to get airborne from the short take-off ski jump ramp. China will develop a new combat aircraft to fly from the decks of their planned Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) aircraft carrier.

China launched their first domestically produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, on Sunday. (Photo: AP/China)

Earlier this week an unnamed source told the Navy Times that the first trial of China’s new Type 001A, “May just involve turning a circle in Bohai Bay, making sure every deck under the water does not suffer leaks. Safety is still the top priority of the maiden trial. If no leaks are found, the carrier may sail farther to make it a longer voyage, probably two or three days.”

While China’s progress in aircraft carrier technology has been moving forward rapidly the testing protocols for the new Type 001A suggest a cautious approach to the program. One certainty is that China’s massive investment its aircraft carrier program confirms their ambitions to project security for its national interests and the interests of its allies well beyond its coastline.

Top image: China’s current flight operations onboard their carriers are limited in take-off weight by their deck design. (Photo: via Southfront.org)

Chinese Aircraft Enters South Korean Identification Zone, Seoul Scrambles ROKAF Fighters

South Korean F-15K Slam Eagles and KF-16s Reported to Have Responded.

It hasn’t taken long for things on the Korean peninsula to get interesting again following the brief lull in military drama during the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

News outlets from around Asia have reported an incident between Republic of Korea (ROK) aircraft and Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft. According to the Korea Herald, “On Tuesday [Feb. 27] a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) fighter entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone (Korea-ADIZ, or KADIZ) for more than four hours without notifying South Korean authorities.”

The Korea Herald story went on to quote the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying the Chinese aircraft, “…came close to South Korean territory, prompting the [Republic of Korea] Air Force to scramble fighter jets to monitor its activity.”

Additional reports from several Asian news outlets say that the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) responded by scrambling “more than 10 aircraft” (source: Korea Herald) that included South Korean F-15K Slam Eagles and KF-16 Fighting Falcons.

The type of Chinese “fighter” intercepted was not identified in reports we were able to access.

According to the South Korean Joint Chiefs, the Chinese fighter entered South Korea’s ADIZ at 9:34 am local time on Tuesday and approached South Korean territory northwest of Ulleungdo in the Sea of Japan, coming as close as 55.5 kilometers to South Korean territory. According to the report published in The Diplomat, after receiving warnings from the South Korean Air Force the Chinese fighter left the area at 2:01 pm. The Chinese fighter’s flight path required it to transit the Tsushima strait, between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. The report in The Diplomat went on to quote South Korean Joint Chiefs as saying, “Our military warned it [the Chinese aircraft] to stop the act of raising tensions that can trigger an accidental conflict through the South Korea-China [military] hotline and [pilot’s] radio communication”. The South Korean Joint Chiefs went on to describe the Chinese fighter’s flight path as “unusual” according to the report.

Chinese aircraft have previously violated South Korea’s ADIZ, but have usually done so on the western side of the Korean Peninsula or in the northern reaches of the East China Sea.

While various news outlets reported the Chinese aircraft in the most recent incident as being a “fighter”, one source, the South China Morning Post, published an article earlier this year on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 by reporter Kinling Lo that cited another incident of Chinese aircraft flying into the South Korean air defense identification zone (Korea-ADIZ or KADIZ) that identified that aircraft as a Chinese PLAAF Y-8 transport.

Kinling Lo’s report in the South China Morning Post is interesting because there are a number of electronic surveillance variants of the Shaanxi Y-8 also referred to regionally as the “Yunshuji-8”.

If reports of the type of aircraft detected in the late January incidents are accurate it is possible what the South Koreans may be seeing (but this is not verified) is an intelligence gathering variant of the Y-8 such as the Y-8J Mask, Y-8CB Cub/High New 1, Y-8JB Mace/High New 2 or Y-8G Cub/High New 3, although this latest variant is reported to be in use mostly along the Chinese/Indian border. According to several sources including the Modern Chinese Warplanes page on Facebook, one of these Y-8G aircraft, Y-8GX-3 (no. 30513) assigned to the 20th Division was reported as lost on Jan. 29, 2018.

One of the things we’ve learned from these incidents around the world along areas of controlled national airspace is that nations will try to construct an electronic order of battle by using flights in close proximity to a border. When their aircraft approach the border and the detecting country begins to interrogate the approaching aircraft a significant amount of intelligence about response times, tactics, electronic order of battle and other information can be collected. This is sometimes done by a surveillance aircraft itself making the flight or by sending another aircraft, such as a tactical aircraft as this most recent report suggests, to the border in question and then collecting data about the opposing country’s response by using some type of airborne surveillance platform such as the Chinese Y-8 ELINT aircraft previously mentioned.

Previous intercepts by South Korea of Chinese aircraft have included ELINT platforms such as the Shaanxi Y-8 family of aircraft. (Photo: Modern Chinese Warplanes/Facebook)

While these incidents are certainly noteworthy and interesting, an incursion into an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is not excessively ominous since these zones are considered sovereign or territorial air space and are unilaterally declared by states to monitor activity by foreign aircraft during an approach toward their own territorial airspace. It is worth noting these incidents since they often provide a fascinating insight into the air-to-air, air defense and electronic order of battle of both nations involved.

Top image credit: ROKAF

The Impressive Chinese AG600 Maritime Patrol Flying Boat Makes First Flight in Zhuhai, China.

It’s the second largest amphibious aircraft in the world after the Beriev A-40. Mission Includes Maritime Security, Search and Rescue and Firefighting.

The impressive AVIC AG600 long-range maritime security and patrol amphibious aircraf made its first flight from land at the Jinwan Civil Aviation Airport in Zhuhai, Guangdong, China on Dec. 24, 2017. The large, four-engine turboprop aircraft, with a wingspan of 127-feet, flew for about one-hour according to Chinese state media. It is comparable in size the jet-powered twin-engine P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft but adds the capability to land and take off in the open ocean, even in relatively heavy seas. The take-off was broadcast live on television in China. The aircraft returned to significant fanfare including planned celebrations to publicize the event.

The AG600 continues the long history of flying boats in the Asian region. (All photos: Xinhuanet)

Large, long range “flying boat” amphibious aircraft have a history of utility and success in the region, with Japan often leading the way with flying boat designs since WWII and continuing into modern aviation with their recent large, four-engine ShinMaywa US-2 and previous flying boat, the Shin Meiwa US-1A maritime patrol aircraft. Because of the region’s dependence on maritime trade and territorial disputes over small islands, the role of these aircraft has become particularly relevant. In civilian culture the aircraft and their crews take on mystic relevance because of their guardianship of sailors at sea and their ability to swoop down from the sky and save doomed men adrift in the open ocean.

China’s, Xinhua news agency broadcast that the aircraft was the “protector spirit of the sea, islands and reefs,” attesting to its security role along with an increasing environmental surveillance role to protect endangered reef areas from poaching of sharks and pollution.

The aircraft can also fill large onboard water tanks when floating on surface for fighting fires both onboard ships and on land. The aircraft can fill its onboard firefighting tanks with 12-tons of water in only 20 seconds.

The AG600’s chief designer, state aviation engineer Huang Lingcai, was quoted in the official China Daily earlier this month as saying the aircraft can make round trips without refueling from the southern island province of Hainan to James Shoal, a disputed area claimed by China but located close to Sarawak in Malaysia.

There are currently 17 outstanding orders for the AG600 from Chinese government departments and Chinese companies. Long un-refueled operating range and endurance is a key selling feature of the AG600, with a maximum flight range of 4,500 km (2,800 miles) and a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tons. It can carry a large passenger and crew compliment of up to 50 personnel.

Shopping for Fighters: Is the Chinese/Pakistani JF-17 Thunder the Real “Joint Strike Fighter”?

Cheap, Easy, Available: Asia’s JF-17 Thunder Contrasts U.S. and Russian Tactical Aircraft.

Develop it faster, build it cheaper and make it more available. From electronics to automobiles, the Asian doctrine of the 20th century. With the rush toward globalization and the blurring of borders in the internet age, manufactured products in every category move across borders and subvert political boundaries with impunity.

Tactical combat aircraft may be the next category.

Traditionally, high level defense and aerospace programs have been slow to move toward global distribution largely because of regional security concerns, partially because of technology concerns, and definitely because of economic concerns. But those concerns may be taking a back seat to the new priorities of updating old air forces as new political boundaries and alliances are drawn, and old ones are erased.

Enter the Chinese and Pakistani co-manufactured PAC JF-17 Thunder tactical aircraft, also referred to as the CAC FC-1 Xiaolong or “Fierce Dragon”. The JF-17 is a lightweight, single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft developed from a joint venture between the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) of China.

In the ethos of eastern imports competing with western aircraft like the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program, the JF-17 Thunder can be hawked as “better, cheaper, faster” to many end users who could not afford to participate in the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter program for political or financial reasons or both. While the “better” and “faster” are certainly doubtful, the “cheaper” is set in stone. For many countries, that is the single most important acquisition metric; affordability.

Global political change has mandated the need for new mass-market, non-western import/export multi-role tactical aircraft. When the former Soviet Warsaw Pact defense industry collapsed along with the Iron Curtain at the end of the Cold War it left huge inventories of largely Russian-built tactical aircraft in service with third world air forces.

The Russian-built MiGs and Sukhois in African and Arab service were sturdy, easy to maintain and designed to operate in austere conditions. They were perfect for air forces in developing nations. When countries engaged in a greater or lesser degree of political alignment with the former Soviet Union, the price of the Russian-built tactical aircraft went down, sometimes to zero in lend-lease or other political machinations.

But those old Eastern Bloc, Cold War Russian planes supplied to banana republic countries and oil nations with shifting global agendas are wearing out, and many of the lines that separated the countries who use them have been erased and redrawn in the Arab Spring and the new Africa. These changes have created a market for a new, affordable, regionally capable fighter plane. The Chinese and Pakistani JF-17 may fill that need.

The JF-17 many fill a low-cost, more available niche for many nations (Photo: PAC/CAC)

The generic looking, “no-brand” JF-17 is what most people would sketch on a napkin to show what jet fighters look like. It is quite unremarkable by 5th generation combat aircraft standards. If U.S. wholesale retailers Costco or Sam’s Club sold fighter planes, they would sell the JF-17. The JF-17 probably may have more in common with the 1950’s F-100 Super Saber than the current F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

In numbers, a JF-17 Thunder costs (approximately) between $25 million USD-$32 million USD, depending on the tranche and avionics version. Contrast that with the $94 million to $134 million USD price tag of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If you are a sales agent for the Chinese/Pakistan consortium building the JF-17 one of the first lines in your pitch at the Paris or Dubai Air Show will be, “For the price of one F-35 you can fly almost four JF-17s!” Then you open your slick PowerPoint (in one of 6 languages) and back up your sales pitch with shorter training cycles for air crew, lower maintenance cost, easier and faster acquisition, and on and on.

New upgrade proposals and capability expansion for the JF-17 program make a versatile and affordable option. (Photo: PAC/CAC)

If you are selling the JF-17 Thunder it is unlikely you will be courting the same prospective market as F-35 program participants. And you will certainly do well to also stay away from comparisons about capability, because comparing an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in any version to the JF-17 Thunder is like comparing a Bomar Brain pocket calculator from the 1970’s to a new MacBook Pro computer. They are completely different products.

But the JF-17 is still a capable aircraft that is well-engineered for a burgeoning market of basic tactical aircraft consumer nations. To date, operators include Myanmar, Nigeria and Pakistan. Countries that have indicated, at some point, an interest in the project include Argentina, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Qatar, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Uruguay.

Given the dynamic nature of global politics and fluid changes in alliances the JF-17 fills a niche for many countries. That alone is reason to be familiar with it.

Top image credit: Shimin Gu

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