Tag Archives: China

Chinese Stealth Goes Operational, Carrier Program and Export Initiatives Accelerate

China Has Emerged as a Preeminent Global Strategic Super Power: What Does It Mean?

During the past five years China’s defense programs have not accelerated, they have increased by multiples into segments the Chinese had not previously been involved in. The introduction of a developmental aircraft carrier program, the fielding of an operational stealth fighter, the deployment of the world’s longest range ICBM and several new state-sponsored defense programs including tactical aircraft and helicopters intended specifically for export sale signal a parallel emergence of China’s global defense doctrine along with their dominant economic influence.

But what are China’s strategic and tactical air capabilities and, more importantly, what can we theorize about their intentions not only in Asia, but around the world?

China’s new defense and aerospace initiatives are a strategic necessity to provide foundational security for their rising economic influence globally.

Two years ago, in 2015 The International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranked China as the number one economic superpower in the world. That year China surpassed the United States based upon the purchasing power parity of GDP indicator (gross domestic product). The IMF reported that China produced 17% of the world gross domestic product in 2014 passing the U.S. GDP of 16%. China’s increased global influence has inspired low and middle income countries to emulate China’s approach. These Chinese allies now engage in partially state-sponsored rapid economic growth including the Latin American countries, Brazil, Argentina and Columbia as it emerges from a protracted drug war. India and Pakistan are now also aligned with China on several significant defense and economic initiatives.

While the subject of China’s emerging military is vast, there are several standout defense aerospace programs that provide an insight into China’s global motives.

China’s Operational Stealth Fighter: The J-20

China’s Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter has just officially entered active service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF): “China’s latest J-20 stealth fighter has been officially commissioned into military service, Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Wu Qian told global media in a September 28, 2017 press release on the Xinhua.net and the official state defense media website.

Analysts suggest the J-20 is likely a medium-long range interceptor roughly analogous to the interceptor role of legacy aircraft like Russia’s older MiG-25 Foxbat, albeit much more sophisticated, and comparable to a Gen. 5 fighter.

There have also been comparisons to the U.S. F-22 Raptor, although the F-22 has emerged in combat in Syria as a precision strike low-observable aircraft in addition to its air superiority role. Western observers have suggested the primary low-observable capability of the J-20 is from the front of the aircraft, but perhaps not at other aspects, suggesting the J-20 is optimized for the interceptor role at least initially.

At different times, both in 2016 and 2017, there were unconfirmed reports that China may sell the J-20 to Pakistan in what would be the first-ever sale of a stealth air superiority specific Gen 5 aircraft in the export market (the multinational F-35 is described as a multirole Joint Strike Fighter, not exclusively as an air superiority interceptor like the J-20 or the U.S. F-22, which has not been exported outside the U.S.

Given this and more information about the J-20 it can be reasonably suggested that this aircraft is intended primarily for defense of Chinese air space and, if exported, some of its border allies. Sharing air defense with friendly border countries makes sense since China shares a border with a staggering 14 different countries. The U.S. only borders 2.

Flypast of the Chengdu J-20 during the opening of Airshow China in Zhuhai (Imate credit: Alert5/Wiki)

China’s DF-41 ICBM: Global Strike Capability in World’s Longest Range ICBM.

Contrasting China’s regional defense initiative with its J-20 aircraft is the global nuclear strike capability of the Dongfeng-41 solid-fuel, portable launch platform Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

The Dongfeng-41 or DF-41 is an impressive and menacing missile system. It has the longest range of any ICBM in the world, surpassing the U.S. LGM-30 Minuteman III by a significant margin. Various sources quote the U.S. LGM-30 as having an approximate strike range of nearly 8,000 miles. But the Chinese and external analysts suggest the range of the DF-41 exceeds 9,000 miles.

The DF-41 ICBM, developed beginning in late July, 2012, takes a page from Israeli ICBM development on their Jericho 3 ICBM by being so fast it is likely impossible to intercept. The DF-41 flies at Mach 25 or 19,000+ M.P.H. enabling it to strike nearly every target in the world in less than an hour.

Another advantage to the DF-41 ICBM system is its launch platform. As with many Russian systems, it is launched from a wheeled, mobile vehicle platform making its launchers difficult to track and target.

Finally, the DF-41 carries up to 12 large nuclear Multiple, Independently targeted Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) warheads, increasing its effectiveness against multiple large, hardened targets and decreasing the ability to intercept it after re-entry into the atmosphere during its terminal attack phase.

By any measure the DF-41 ICBM with its stealthy, mobile launch platform, extremely long range, massive payload and very high speed position China as a preeminent global nuclear force with the attendant diplomatic might that capability wields.

China’s massive DF-41 ICBM has the longest range of any nuclear missile. (Photo: RT)

The Shenyang J-31 Gyrfalcon: China’s Joint Strike Fighter?

The Shenyang J-31 Falcon Eagle or Gyrfalcon (or “FC-31 fifth Generation Multi-Purpose Medium Fighter”), is China’s second stealth fighter jet.

The first prototype of the aircraft performed its maiden flight on Oct 31, 2012, and made a public appearance on Nov. 12, 2014 at Zhuhai Airshow.

Gyrfalcon is China’s multirole, (claimed) low-observable tactical aircraft roughly analogous, in mission if not in capability, to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It is intended for export to partner nations, it boasts a supposed low-observable configuration, is slated to be built in a naval/aircraft carrier (although not STOVL) and is claimed to be able to perform both the precision strike and air-to-air role.

The aircraft may have had some teething problems in early development.

The vertical stabilizer configuration was completely reworked from early versions that seemed to mimic the twin tails of an F-22. The J-31 has since been seen in its newest version with a swept-back twin tail.

The latest version of the J-31 was seen last year on December 26, 2016, during its first flight: it was significantly re-worked, heavier (three tons more) and at least 20-inches longer than the early prototypes according to most sources.

The latest J-31 variant appears to be a more completely developed tactical aircraft with an Infra-red search and track ball passive sensor (IRST ball).

The wings have been re-worked into a claimed lower radar cross-section shape and new engines have been installed that provide greater thrust to compensate for the additional weight. The new engines are also smokeless, a significant tactical necessity. There are also claimed improvements to its search and targeting radar. Chinese officials and media have hinted at some sensor-fusion capability to hand-off targets to other aircraft and perhaps weapons assets, as with the F-35s capability to direct weapons. Perhaps the most significant claimed future capability project for 2019 is re-engining the J-31 with indigenous WS-19 turbofan engines, providing supercruise capability without afterburner. The U.S. F-22 has supercruise but the F-35 does not.

Finally, the J-31 Gyrfalcon is a twin-engine aircraft to the F-35s single engine.

A new carrier-based variant of the developmental J-31 may be in the works. (Photo: O+Nil)

The Chinese Aircraft Carrier Program: From Buying Used to Building at Home.

That China has even embarked on an aircraft carrier program speaks volumes about their future role in global security. Aircraft carriers are about power projection. They operate beyond a country’s borders to secure its interests around the world. While the idea of having a U.S. aircraft carrier on station anywhere in the world is normal, the deployment of Russia’s only carrier in support of operations in Syria made headlines. When Chinese carriers visit India, Africa and South America the impact will be significant.

China is not new to an aircraft carrier development program. Their research into aircraft carriers dates back to at least 1985. In November of 2016 the Chinese declared their completely refitted 67,500 ton ex-Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag, a Kuznetsov class aircraft carrier built in Russia, as fully operational. It was re-commissioned the Liaoning (CV-16) type 001 aircraft carrier.

Most recently they have installed a new Z-8JH heavy rescue helicopter on board Liaoning expanding its role from power projection to humanitarian aid.

The Liaoning carries eight Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark multi-role tactical aircraft on board. They bear a strong resemblance to the Russian SU-27 aircraft family. Currently the J-15 launches using a ski-jump arrangement as with Russian and soon UK aircraft but at least one modified J-15 was photographed with a catapult bridle on its nose wheel for land-based testing of a new magnetic catapult system likely to be used on the next Chinese aircraft carrier, the yet-to-be-named CV-18, Type 002 aircraft carrier of entirely Chinese indigenous design to be built by the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.

Chinese Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark aircraft on board the carrier Liaoning (CV-16). (Photo: Xinhua)

Chinese Gunships: A New Category for A New World Order.

On May 18, 2017 China’s new Z-19E attack helicopter built by the state-owned AVIC Harbin Aircraft Industry factory made its first public flight. State news agency Xinhua said the Z-19E is built for both the domestic and export market.

The Z-19E is the first modern helicopter gunship for the Chinese. It features the usual gunship mix of helmet-sight cued cannon mounted in winglet pods, missiles and rockets.

The aircraft uses a covered Fenestron-style internal tail rotor borrowed from the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin helicopter. The cockpit is armored and the crew seats are energy-absorbing for enhanced survivability.

The Z-19E will likely be an affordable alternative for countries not shopping from the United States or Russia for an import attack helicopter solution. This likely includes several potential customers on the African continent as well as Asia and South America.

The Z-19E is a cost-effective attack helicopter solution for export. (Photo: Reuters)

Chinese RPA’s, Already an Export Success with New Models Coming.

China has already sold remotely piloted aircraft, RPAs, to Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Their newest RPA, the CH-5 CaiHong (Rainbow) flew for the first time this summer on July 14 in Hebei Province.

Jane’s Defense quoted Shi Wen, chief engineer of the CH series RPAs, as saying that the CH-5 outperforms all Chinese RPAs when it comes to endurance and payload. “The UAV is as good as the US-made General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper: a hunter-killer drone often deemed by Western analysts as the best of its kind,” Wen claimed.

Also aiming for export buyers, China has boasted that the new CH-5 is “Less than half the cost” of the U.S. built General Atomics MQ-9 according to journalist Stephan Chin of the South China Morning Post. China claims the CH-5 can stay aloft for “up to two days” and is configured to carry up to 16 guided air-to-ground weapons.

Not for export is China’s secretive “Sharp Sword” stealth drone. The advanced jet-powered RPA is designed to carry a heavy weapons load of over two tons. It is 33-feet long with a wingspan of 44-feet.

The Sharp Sword has more than a passing resemblance to the U.S. X-47B drone and the British Taranis UAV. Initially, analysts suggest the Sharp Sword will be used in the reconnaissance role over dense air defense networks along with maritime surveillance. Follow-on versions will be configured as first-strike weapons against heavily defended targets for a “first day of war” scenario. As with the U.S. jet-powered stealth drones there is planning for a carrier launched version also.

The secretive Chinese Sharp Sword jet powered long range stealth drone is not for export. (Photo: Xinhua)

This is just a brief overview of some of China’s vast expansion in modern defense and aerospace projects for its domestic and newly expanding export market. Given China’s industrial capacity and new global economic dominance we are likely to see many more.

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.