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Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Pakistan is to be the first country in the region to buy the Chinese AWACS system

ISLAMABAD: In an effort to help the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) boost its air defence capability, Islamabad has struck a $278 million deal with Beijing to purchase a modern Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), legislators were informed here on Wednesday.

Pakistan is said to be the first country in the region to buy the Chinese AWACS system, which Beijing started developing in 2004 after the Americans stopped the Israeli government from selling the system worth $1billion to Beijing.

Under mounting pressure from Washington, Tel Aviv scrapped the contract to the disappointment of the Chinese, who badly needed the system for possible use against Taiwan. The details of the contract between Pakistan and China were placed before the National Assembly on Wednesday by Minister for Defence Production Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi.

The documents placed before the National Assembly reveal that under the multi-million dollar deal, China will provide the system to Pakistan in the next four years. The most important thing from Pakistan’s perspective is that China has agreed to supply the system on “deferred” payment. The contract has been awarded to MS CETC China.

The story of China starting the development of its own airborne warning and control system is interesting. Until 2004, Beijing had not even thought of making its own AWACS system. Just like Pakistan, China was heavily dependent on foreign countries in improving the performance of its air force.

Information gathered from various sources revealed China launched work on its own system after the US blocked its move to develop radar surveillance aircraft. Washington even vetoed the sale of such systems China wanted to deploy in the Taiwan Strait. Military specialists said the Chinese system used domestically-produced advanced radar mounted on a Russian-made Il-76 transport aircraft.

Chinese military technicians have been struggling to acquire AWACS-type equipment ever since the United States coerced Israel in 2000 into backing out of a $1 billion agreement on selling to China four of its Phalcon phased-array radar systems.

The systems would have used Il-76 aircraft as a platform, but the main US concern in blocking the sale was that China would gain a military advantage over Taiwan. Moreover, under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the US government pledged to help Taiwan defend itself against a possible Chinese attack, meaning the US forces could become involved, should fighting erupt.

For the same reason, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air force leaders were determined to acquire such planes. After the 2000 Israeli fiasco, the PLA made it a matter of pride to prove to the Americans they could not be denied AWACS.

Initially, China turned to Russia, its traditional source of military equipment. Beijing concluded a deal to buy four Beriev A-50 Mainstay radar planes, which are roughly the Russian equivalent of the US Air Force’s E-3 Sentry AWACS. The purchase was believed to be the first phase of an agreement for eight Russian aircraft.

At the same time, Chinese scientists were working on their own radar equipment. It is not known whether the Russian aircraft were ever delivered, which would have provided a look at the technology, or whether the technicians obtained help from Israeli or Russian counterparts.

China readies J-10A fighter for export

By Andrei Chang and John Wu

China is aiming at a substantial share of the international market for third-generation fighter aircraft, with a particular eye on oil-rich third-world countries as part of its arms-for-oil strategy. This was evidenced by the high-profile display of its J-10A fighter at the 2008 Zhuhai Air Show last November.Chinese experts were observed giving exhaustive information on the J-10A to military delegations from Angola, Nigeria and Venezuela at the air show. Venezuela seemed most interested in the aircraft.The first foreign buyer of the J-10A will be Pakistan, a source from the Chinese aviation industry said. In March, Pakistan’s Air Chief Marshall Tanvir Mehmood Ahmed confirmed that a deal with China had been reached, and the aircraft would be delivered in 2014 and 2015. The version for Pakistan will be called the FC-20.However, there is an issue with the engine on this aircraft. The J-10A is currently equipped with Russian-made AL-31F aviation engines. It is unclear whether Russia will permit China to install these engines on its aircraft and then export them to Pakistan. Such a move would have not only economic but also political repercussions, considering that Pakistan’s rival, India, is a major purchaser of Russian arms.For this reason, the export version of the J-10A fighter is still under design. Both the engine and the weapon systems on board will be different from the domestic version, according to the source from the Chinese aviation industry.India has been using the Russian AL-31FP engine extensively in its fighter aircraft. If China exports large numbers of J-10P/FC-20 fighters outfitted with Russian engines to Pakistan, India will be much more concerned over this deal than with China’s earlier export of JF-17 fighters to Pakistan. As a third-generation combat aircraft, the J-10A will pose a real threat to the Indian Air Force.With this concern, India sent a strong delegation to the Zhuhai Air Show to expand its contacts with the Chinese, led by its air chief of staff. The Indian Air Force’s aerobatics demonstration team also put on a performance at this event.At the Singapore Air Show earlier last year, Indian Air Chief Marshall Fali Homi Major had already carefully inspected the simulation cockpit of the JF-17, which is being jointly developed by China and Pakistan. His trip to Zhuhai was to examine the J-10A/ FC-20 fighter.In contrast to India’s increased interest in engaging with China, Russia sent a much smaller delegation than usual to Zhuhai. For the first time, Russia did not exhibit any combat aircraft or radar systems at the air show. Some representatives of Russian enterprises even cancelled their planned trips to China at the last minute.One member of the Russian military delegation described China-Russian arms trade as being in a long and drawn-out “winter.” A representative of Rosoboronexport, the agency that handles exports of Russian defense equipment, declined to comment on China’s possible export of J-10A fighters equipped with Russian AL-31F engines.China did have its own indigenous engine on display at the show, the Taihang turbofan engine, with a thrust power of 13,200 kilograms – although some experts say it is only 12,800 kilograms. The Taihang’s exterior design and modular structure, as well as the processing and polishing technologies of the core machine and engine blades, seem to be an improvement over China’s previous aviation engines, but it is still far behind similar systems from Russia and Western countries.Representatives of China’s Liming Motor Corporation refused to answer questions about the engine’s performance features. It is unclear why China decided to introduce this engine to the international market when it has not elected to use it on its own J-10 fighters.A Chinese military source disclosed that China has been promoting the J-10A to Egypt, but it appears that no substantial negotiations have yet taken place. An authoritative source from the Russian military industry has said that Russia will not allow China to use its engines in exported planes if it perceives such sales as having a negative impact on Russia’s own export market. Egypt was once a major client of Russian arms, though it now buys little other than spare parts.Pakistan, on the other hand, is not a traditional client of Russian aircraft. Therefore Russia allowed its engines to be used on the JF-17 fighters China is developing with Pakistan. The same arrangement may therefore hold for the J-10A.The basic price for the J-10A is about US$29.3 million, according to the Chinese source. Considering that China aims to sell this fighter primarily to oil-producing countries – and is prepared to trade it for oil and other natural resources – it could be an attractive option for such countries.A general assessment of the export version of the J-10A fighter can conclude that its engine has less thrust than the F-16 Block 52, while its radar system is more or less on a par with the Zhuk-ME multifunction radar on the Russian MiG-28 SMT. This is because Russia’s Phazotron Design Bureau exported to China three sets of its Zemchung multirole radar systems after 2001, allowing China to come up with its own version of the Zhuk-ME radar. This radar has a detection range of 120 kilometers for 5m2 aerial targets and can attack four targets in the air simultaneously.In terms of the diversity and performance of its weapon systems, especially long-range attack weapons, the J-10A lags far behind the F-16 Block 52. The-air-to-air missiles loaded on the J-10A fighter at the Zhuhai exhibition were SD-10A AAMs with compound hardpoints. The SD-10A is a medium-range active radar-guided air-to-air missile upgraded from the SD-10, with its maximum range extended to 70 kilometers. Its length is 3.9 meters, diameter 203 millimeters, weight 198 kilograms, and maximum speed Mach 5.The PL-12 air-to-air missiles currently in service in the PLA Air Force have undergone similar upgrading. Short-range missiles include the new-generation PL-5EII and PL-9C. The PL-5EII is equipped with a multichannel infrared seeker, the latest laser proximity fuse, and a rocket motor with a non-smoke propellant.The air-to-ground weapons on the J-10A mainly include the LT-2 laser-guided bomb and the FT series of global positioning system-guided bombs. In recent years China has been imitating U.S. aviation combat weapons, a trend that is reflected in the weapon platforms on the J-10A, including its imitation U.S. joint direct attack munition serial bombs.At the most recent Zhuhai show, China put on open display its FT-5 GPS-guided bomb. The FT-1 and FT-3 500/250-kilogram-class GPS-guided bombs were on display at the previous show in 2006. China also showed off its 500-kilogram-class FT-2 with gliding fins added. The FT-2 has an effective range of 15-90 kilometers, a circular error probability of 20 meters and an air-dropping altitude of 3,000 to 12,000 meters.The FT-5 small-diameter bomb copies the latest design of the U.S. military. A designer of the system said that the FT-5’s warhead has a weight of 35 kilograms and a circular error probability of 15 meters. It was developed mainly for unmanned aerial vehicles. The effective range of the FT-5 is 2-5 kilometers when launched from a UAV and 3-35 kilometers when launched from a J-10A.China has also developed the LT-3 GPS+ terminal laser-guided air-to-ground missile for the J-10A, which is very similar in structure to the U.S. Army’s JDAM+ laser-guided bomb.These imitations provide evidence that the Chinese military has been tracking U.S. technology, viewing the United States as both a presumed enemy and a competitor in the arms export market. Of course China’s imitations are not limited to U.S. military equipment, but it is certainly learning from U.S. technology as well as military combat doctrines.China is now paying close attention to the development of anti-GPS-jamming multiple-guidance weapons. Its Sekong Company has developed a 570-kilogram-class guided bomb based on the Russian Krasnopole laser-guided projectile’s seeker technology. China plans to promote this guided bomb along with the J-10A. A designer says that this bomb has a circular error probability of 3.1 meters and an air-release altitude of 500-10,000 meters.It is not clear whether the LT-3 has ever been test-fired, as China did not show video footage of this guided bomb under test.As for anti-ship weapons, Chinese promoters of the J-10A claim that the fighter can carry 75-kilometer-range new-generation C-705 anti-ship missiles or C-802A anti-ship missiles with a range close to 250 kilometers. The C-705 was also on exhibit for the first time. The C-705 is a modified version of the C-704, with a turbojet engine and two flight fins. The weight of its warhead is 110 kilograms and it has a minimum flight altitude of 12 meters.The J-10A fighter has 11 hardpoints, two of which are of compound structure, making the total number of hardpoints 13.The PLA Navy seems to be assessing the possibility of acquiring J-10As for its combat ships. A Chinese source said that the navy liked its price and its aerial refuelling capability. This source also disclosed that the J-10A’s combat radius is 800 kilometers. In this regard, the technological standard of the materials used on the J-10A can be judged far inferior to those of the same-generation fighters of the United States and Europe.The J-10A is already fitted with an arresting hook imported from Russia for shipboard landing drills. However, the same source said no decision had as yet been made as to whether the PLA Navy will employ the J-10A as a ship-borne combat aircraft. (Andrei Chang is editor-in-chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto, Canada. John Wu is a reporter for the same magazine.)

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