Tag Archives: China

Commercial Pilot Catches Remarkable Photos of Alleged Secret Chinese Anti-Missile Test

Alleged Chinese ABM Test Coincides with North Korean Ballistic Missile Test.

A commercial pilot flying a Cargolux 747 from Hong Kong to Baku has shot photos of what is believed to be a secret Chinese anti-ballistic missile test.

Flying over the Himalayas on July 22nd the flight crew saw a series of unusual lights and vapor trails climb into the night sky. Photographer, blogger and commercial pilot Christiaan van Heijst of the Netherlands shot the photos seen here. They were posted to his own blog, JPCVANHEIJST.COM

The alleged Chinese test is noteworthy because it is so close to the North Korean ballistic missile test over the Pacific confirmed by the United States today. China has not commented on the photos or verified any testing operations.

“What started unexpectedly with an unusual bright spot on the horizon quickly changed into a droplet-shaped bubble that rapidly grew in size and altitude.” First Officer Van Heijst wrote on his own personal blog published today.

Normally missile tests and space launches are well documented in international NOTAMs or “Notices To Airmen” via a number of media outlets used by commercial and military flight crews and air traffic control. It is important information since it not only avoids the extremely remote possibility that an aircraft may be hit by part of a vehicle used in a launch test

“It came as a total surprise for us and the only thing we found in the NOTAMs for our route was a ‘temporarily restricted airspace’ with a 100km radius somewhere south of Urumqi in north-west China with no mention of the nature of the closure, let alone a possible rocket/missile launch.”

One French language media outlet, EastPendulum.com, reported that the launch photographed by First Officer Van Heijst may have been a test of the Chinese Dong-Feng-21 or DF-21, an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM).

One Chinese website, “liuqiankktt.blog.163.com”, showed additional photos of the event from the ground. The images are consistent with the appearance of a launch vehicle test.

This photo of the test was shot by a Chinese blogger from the ground. (Photo: liuqiankktt.com)

Until China confirms the specifics of the launch or other intelligence outlets provide more detailed analysis it will difficult to understand exactly what happened over China and what its purpose was.

First Officer Christiaan Van Heijst went on to write on his blog:

“The entire event took no more than 12 minutes, from first spotting the bright light to the last dissipating glowing spots in the sky. My knowledge of hypersonic shock waves and the behavior of exhaust gasses in the upper atmosphere is extremely limited, but looking at the photos it seems to me that there have been two rocket stages burning after each other in succession. Taking into account that the Chinese suffered a catastrophic launch of a Long March 5 exactly 3 weeks earlier, it might be logical to assume this was a test-flight of another rocket in a relatively remote area of China with little to no witnesses. Except a Dutch pilot and a camera that they might not have counted on.”

We do know that Cargolux First Officer Christiaan Van Heijst’s photos of the event are truly remarkable and his reporting on the event is greatly appreciated.

Top image credit: Christiaan Van Heijst

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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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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

 

As U.S. F-35s deploy to Japan, China Increases Naval Pressure Near Taiwan provoking a reaction.

Chinese Carrier Liaoning Crosses Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone: Provokes Taiwanese Response.

Media and intelligence sources report the Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning has crossed the politically sensitive Taiwanese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) along with several escort ships. The Liaoning sailed up the west side of the median line of the strait separating the Chinese mainland from Taiwan.

The Chinese government issued a release stating the Liaoning and her support vessels were conducting drills to test weapons and equipment in the disputed South China Sea and that these operations are in compliance with international law.

In response, Taiwan dispatched patrol and fighter aircraft to monitor the passage of the Liaoning group. The Taipei Times reported a similar incident on Tuesday, Dec. 27th, 2016. During that incident people in the city of Hualien photographed Taiwanese F-16 and RF-16 aircraft taking off in response to the sighting of the Liaoning in monitored waters. Reports also indicate that Taiwan’s E-2K Hawkeye and P-3 Orion aircraft were dispatched to the area to maintain patrol and surveillance. These same aircraft likely responded to this passage of the Liaoning.

In unrelated activity in the western Pacific region, on Jan. 9, 2017 the U.S. Marines deployed ten F-35B Lightening II STOVL aircraft from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), the “Green Knights” to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on Honshu Island in Japan. The squadron is part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma.

Although the deployment to Iwakuni is not a direct U.S. response to escalating tensions in the region as it represents a planned phase of the normal operational integration of the F-35B force for the U.S. Marine, the deployment of the most advanced American aircraft to the region has also a symbolic value.

MCAS Iwakuni is approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,079 nautical miles) northeast of central Taiwan. Range of the F-35 is generically reported as 1,200 nautical miles (2,200 kilometers) with a stated combat radius of 625 nautical miles (1,158 km) unrefueled.

The F-35B STOVL variant is intended for shipboard operations however, and was recently tested on board the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) that is currently operating from the west coast of the United States for deployment in the Pacific theatre. USS America is one of three amphibious assault ships in this class that also includes the USS Tripoli (LHA 7) and USS Bougainville (LHA 6).

The Liaoning (Chinese CV-16) has a complex history.

It started life as a Russian (then Soviet) Navy Kuznetsov class carrier christened the Riga and launched in late 1988. It was the largest Russian naval ship ever built. The ship was re-named the Varyag in 1990 after nearly being commandeered by Ukraine. The Chinese initially had a plan to repurpose the ship as a floating casino, but China eventually elected to use the vessel as a training aircraft carrier and presumably a full-scale feasibility study for the operation and development of new Chinese aircraft carriers.

China is well underway in construction of their second aircraft carrier, the Type 001A now designated the Chinese CV-17. The new carrier is an indigenous Chinese design that does still use the ski-jump style aircraft launch technique as opposed to a steam or magnetic driven catapult as with U.S. carriers. That only one of these new Chinese-engineered carrier class vessels is under construction suggests that China may be developing another, more advanced carrier class. Additionally, intelligence indicates the Chinese are developing an indigenous magnetic catapult launch system.

Reports in Chinese media indicate that the Liaoning has an onboard compliment of 36 aircraft total. They include up to 24 Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark fighters that are reported to be restricted from carrying heavy strike weapons by take-off performance on board the ship according to Russian media. If accurate, this limits these aircraft to the air superiority role while flying from Liaoning. The J-15 Flying Shark is analogous to the Russian Su-33, sharing a plan form similar to the entire Su-27 series of Sukhoi aircraft.

The remainder of the ship’s compliment is limited to rotary wing aircraft including the Changhe Z-18F anti-submarine patrol helicopter and the “J” variant of the Z-18 helicopter configured for airborne early warning. The ship also reportedly carries two smaller Harbin Z-9C helicopters for rescue operations, an important role given the experience of the Russian carrier in anti-ISIL operations off Syria.

Given the aircraft onboard Liaoning currently the ship’s role is limited, in an operational sense, to air security patrol. The ship’s aircraft have no strike or even heavy anti-ship capability beyond its ASW helicopters.

 

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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