While the PLA has created a very large missile and space technology and manufacturing sector since the mid-1950s, it has also sought to improve its nuclear warhead, ballistic missile, cruise missile, surface-to-air missile, manned space and satellite capabilities with foreign technology. It has done so through espionage and through commerce in dual use or military technologies. Through the 1990s and early in this decade, access to foreign technology has increased PLA missile and space capabilities by helping the PLA to:
Deploy new small nuclear warheads.
Deploy new liquid fuel and solid fuel ICBMs capable of reaching the United States.
Develop new long-range cruise missiles expected to be deployed by mid-decade.
Achieve a manned space capability in about a decade, which is now being used for military purposes.
Develop a modern space reconnaissance and surveillance capability.
Quickly upgraded the PLAs air defense capabilities.
Modern Small Nuclear Warheads
Before reviewing the debate over how the PLA was able to develop modern small thermonuclear warheads for ballistic missiles, it is necessary to establish one fact: the PLA does have new and smaller nuclear warheads for ballistic missiles. This known because the PLA has produced a new solid-fueled ICBM, the DF-31, which can only use a small nuclear warhead. The DF-31s TEL was first displayed during an October 1999 military parade in Beijing. This DF-31 missile itself has only been displayed publicly in the form of a model of its space-launch vehicle version at the 2002 Zhuhai Airshow. But this model also indicates that it can only carry new small warhead. The Pentagon has assessed that the DF-31 will be deployed before mid-decade and The Military Balance contends one Brigade has been deployed. This new warhead will likely arm other missiles expected to follow, the DF-31A, JL-2 SLBM and maybe even a possible multiple warhead version of the DF-5 Mod 2 ICBM.
How the PLA was able to develop its new family of small nuclear warheads is a matter of some, but not a great deal of ongoing debate. On one side of the debate are two U.S. investigative bodies, one from the Congress and one largely led by Director of Central Intelligence. They both concluded that the PRC was able to use information from U.S. nuclear warheads to benefit the development of new PLA nuclear warheads, but differ slightly over where that information came from. A special Select Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, active from mid-1998 to mid-1999 and led by Congressmen Christopher Cox (R-CA) and Norm Dicks (D-WA), reviewed copious data provided by U.S. officials and organizations, and concluded that espionage was a major, but not the only way the PLA obtained data about modern U.S. nuclear warheads. A special Damage Assessment team led by then and still DCI George Tenet also stated that the PRC obtained information about U.S. nuclear warheads from classified information but also gave emphasis to contact with US and other countries' scientists, conferences and publications, unauthorized media disclosures, declassified US weapons information, and Chinese indigenous development. 
While there is also debate within the government over these matters, others, mainly outside the government, give much more credit to the PRCs own abilities to overcome the many technical hurdles in miniaturizing thermonuclear weapons. A key element in this debate, however, was the contribution of a walk-in, or agent later determined to be controlled by PRC Intelligence, who in 1995 provided alarming data about their knowledge of U.S. nuclear warheads, including the most modern W-88. According to one U.S. official, the Chinese text cited five key attributes of the warhead, including two measurements accurate to within four-hundredths of an inch. It is contended that this degree of detail could not have been determined simply by the PRCs own means and that this intimate data on the W-88 served to help make possible the current generation of PLA small thermonuclear warheads.
Foreign technology has also been critical in the PLAs modernization of its missile force. Foreign source technology has very likely aided the development on new liquid fueled ICBMs, and a range of solid-fuel missiles to include ICBMs, SLBMs, IRBMs and SRBMs. Some foreign technology has also been acquired to improve PLA cruise missile design. Such assistance is important to consider due to the very high importance the PLA has placed on its missile forces to advance its political-military objectives. An assured nuclear retaliatory capability is valued to order to deter other nuclear armed powers. But an assured strike capability is also valued to enhance PRC political deterrence of the United States should it decide to oppose a PLA attack on Taiwan.
DF-5 Mod 2. For much of the 1990s civilian analysts assumed that the PLA was to replace its ponderous and vulnerable liquid-fueled ICBMs with a series of mobile solid-fueled ICBMs then under development. This assessment was sharply altered in 2002 when the Pentagons annual report on the PLA stated that China is replacing CSS-4 Mod 1 ICBMs with longer range CSS-4 Mod 2s. The replacement of all the approximately 20 CSS-4 Mod 1s will be completed by mid-decade. The CSS-4, or DF-5 was first deployed in 1981. While some were reported to be deployed in silos, more were thought deployed in caves, to be taken out an erected and fired, a time-consuming exercise that could make them vulnerable to attack. A new version of this missile is very likely being deployed for two reasons. The first is that it serves to sustain production line activity and expertise for a class of missile that still forms the basis for the main PLA space-launch vehicle.
The second and more important reason for deploying the DF-5 Mod 2 is that the PLA can incorporate improvements gained form interaction with foreign sources of knowledge and technology to improve its Long March 2 and 3 SLVs, which are direct derivations of the DF-5. And by doing so the PLA will have an ICBM in place that can better penetrate U.S. missile defenses planned for deployment in 2004. The DF-5 Mod 2 may better able to penetrate these defenses because, as the Pentagon noted in 2002, it may be the first PLA ICBM armed with multiple warheads. The PLA has long been researching a multiple-warhead capability and demonstrated the launching of three satellites in 1981. But the PLA was judged by a U.S. Air Force report to have built a technological bridge to modern multiple warhead capability when it created a two-satellite launching Smart Dispenser in cooperation with Lockheed and Motorola to launch IRIDIUM communication satellites. And in 1998 a former PRC engineer with knowledge of this system stated that interaction with U.S. industry officials allowed them to complete the Smart Dispenser. The DF-5 Mod 2 very likely has also benefited from interactions with U.S. satellite manufactures who are accused of having helped the PRC to improve the reliability of the Long March launcher in the wake of some expensive launch failures. It is also possible that the DF-5 Mod 2 has benefited from more direct purchases of missile technology and interactions with missile engineers from Russian and the Ukraine.
New Solid Fuel Missiles. The PLA is likely to have sought access to Russian and Ukrainian technology for solid-fuel rocket technology as well. But one verified source of technology that is known to have improved one, and possibly all subsequent PLA solid fuel rockets came from the United States. Again as part of the IRIDIUM effort, the former Martin Marietta Company, now under Lockheed, helped the PLA improve its solid-fuel rocket engines by improving a satellite EPKM kick motor. According to a PRC engineer who was working on solid rocket engines at the time, the new data from Martin Marietta help them to end failures with the engine on the DF-21 IRBM. Presumably this data also served to help improve all subsequent PLA solid fuel missiles, including the 8,000km range DF-31, now entering service, the 12,000km range DF-31A, expected later in this decade, the 8,000+km range JL-2 SLBM, expected by the end of the decade, and new solid fuel SLVs based on the DF-21 (KT-1), DF-31 (KT-2) and DF-31A (KT-2A).
Cruise Missiles. While it has a large domestic cruise missile development sector, the PLA has sought foreign technology to accelerate development and deployment. The Pentagon has noted that development of land-attack cruise missiles for theater and strategic missions has a relatively high development priority  and Taiwanese sources expect new land attack cruise missiles (LACMs) will be deployed by 2005. Unlike ballistic missiles, which are controlled by the Second Artillery and the Army, cruise missiles could be employed by all the major services. Cruise missiles are attractive to the PLA because they can be built at one-third the cost of a ballistic missiles, meaning the PLA can afford to build more of them. In addition, PRC analysts believe that defending against cruise missiles costs nine times more than the cruise missile. Their entry into the PLA this decade will add a new and powerful strike capability. And when employed on new nuclear submarines they will give the PLA a limited non-nuclear global power projection capability.
Cruise missiles are designed and built by the Third Academy of the CASC, which employs about 14,500 technicians and workers in ten research institutes and two major factories. Key cruise missile related development programs include new ramjet engines for supersonic cruise missiles, and new efficient turbofan motors to extend the range of subsonic cruise missiles. Third Academy officials say that their cruise missile will use multiple guidance systems. These could include terrain-contour-matching (TERCOM), inertial-gyros, and satellite-navigation. In addition, Chinese engineers estimate that an accuracy of 1-3 meters is possible with terminal homing systems based on CO2 laser, millimeter wave, and infrared imaging. Future PLA LACMs may also incorporate stealth coatings or stealth shaping to inhibit detection.
While the PLA has aggressively sought out foreign technology in order to build modern LACMs. Russia is believed to have marketed in the PRC its Raduga Kh-65SE, a 300km range version of the Kh-55 (AS-15 Kent) 3,000km range cruise missile. In addition, the PRC is reported to have invested in the development of Israels Delilah anti-radar drone into a longer range air-launched cruise missile. The implication is that the PLA may already have Russian and Israeli cruise missile technology to assist their own program. The PRC is also believed to have acquired some U.S. TOMAHAWK cruise missile components from Serbia or Afghanistan.
Foreign technology is also serving to expand the usefulness of PLA IRBMs and SLBMs and cruise missiles. For the next several years, PLA IRBMs and SRBMs will constitute the main strike force for an initial PLA assault on Taiwan. In December 2003 the President of Taiwan stated that the PLA had 498 SRBMs alone, all directed at Taiwan. Previous U.S. estimates have noted the PLA could have 650 of these by 2005. With continued production and adding expected cruise missiles, the PLA could have about 1,000 or more missiles to use against Taiwan by the end of the decade. All of these systems are turned into more precise weapons by the PLAs building of a greater military space capabilities, made possible in large part by foreign technology and assistance.
Greater Use of Military Space
The PLA controls all PRC space activities. To enable the implementation of new joint doctrines and to fully exploit new missile, air and naval weapon systems, the PLA has had to devote great effort to modernizing its communication, command, control, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) network. In particular the PLA has developed a new generation of radar and optical reconnaissance satellites, plus associated communication and navigation satellites, to enable precision targeting for a range of weapon systems, to include ballistic and cruise missiles. When its new space information complex is in place, it can be expected that the PRC will share strategic information with its clients who may wish to use it against the interests of democracies like the United States and India.
Reconnaissance satellites At the November 2002 Zhuhai Airshow the DFH Satellite Co. revealed the PRC's first radar satellite, the HJ-1C. Radar satellites are critical in that they can penetrate cloud cover and are especially useful for finding ships at sea. DFH officials acknowledged that in 1997 cooperation began with Russia's NPO Machinostroyenia to produce a radar satellite. The HJ-1C incorporates the antenna from NPO Mash's "Korsar" radarsat, which has a less than 1 meter resolution. DFH will launch its first HJ-1C by 2005 and three more by 2010. While the HJ-1C weighs 700kgs, DFH officials note that future radarsats will only weigh 100kg.
The new radarsats will be pared with two and then four new HJ-1A/B optical satellites for a total network of eight satellites by 2010. The resolution of the new HJ-1A/B optical satellites is not known. However, it will likely be an improvement on the ZY-2, which is said to have at least a 5 meter resolution. In addition the PLA is a good customer of commercial imaging satellite companies. When full, the network of DHF satellites will give PLA planners a twice-daily revisit rate for both optical and radarsats, which could support a 12-hour campaign cycle. NPO Mashinostroyenia officials has stated that they are also negotiating to sell the PLA their new KORNET-E small electro-optical imaging satellite based on the same bus as the KORSAR.  This satellite may also be basis of the HJ-1A/B.
In addition, the PRC launched its FY-1C polar-orbit weather satellite in May 1999. This will provide weather data over foreign countries like the United States. PRC engineers point out that accurate weather information is necessary because new smaller warheads need to avoid rain or other harsh conditions that might reduce warhead accuracy.  It is possible that these satellites benefited from access to radiation-hardened computer chips made in the United States.
Comsats Full utilization of the information from new reconnaissance satellites will depend on new communication and navigation satellites. Since at least 1996, according to U.S. officials, the PLA has used a Hughes HS-376 communications satellite, called Apstar-1A, owned by the Hong Kong company Asia Pacific Telecommunications (APT) Satellite Holdings Ltd. The China Aerospace Co. is a prominent investor in APT. The PLA has used Apstar-1A to transmit coded messages. The PRCs DFH-3 communications satellite has 24 transponders, can handle six color TV channels and 8,000 telephone calls at a time. The future 3.5 ton DFH-4 that can generate three times the power of its predecessor and also handle high-speed data links. The DHF-4 will carry 52 transponders; 38 C-band and 14 Ku-band. The French satellite company Alcatel is to provide the communications payload for this satellite. The DFH-3 satellite bus is believed to be the basis for the new 2,300 kg ZHONGXING-22 communication satellite, two of which are now in orbit.
In addition the PLA is developing at least two new types of tracking and data-relay satellites (TDRS). Information released at the 2002 Zhuhai Airshow indicates that two TDRS are bases on the DFH-3 and DFH-4 satellite busses. These would be useful in facilitating real-time transmission of reconnaissance and communication information over long distances without relying on ground-based data relay sites. For the PLA, TDRS would real-time control of distant military operations such as the targeting of cruise missiles launched by future Project 093 nuclear attack submarines.
Navsats In addition to using the U.S. Global Positioning System and Russian GLONASS navigation satellite system, the PLA will also eventually launch its own navsat system. In 2000 it launched its two-satellite BEIDOU limited capability satellite location system. While BEIDOU may be increased to four satellites, it is also expected that later this decade the PLA may launch a larger number of its own full capability navigation satellites. These will help all mobile missile units to determine their exact location; a critical requirement for accurate guidance. In the future navigation satellites will also provide mid-course guidance data to ballistic and cruise missiles, enabling greater accuracy.
The PRC has invested heavily in the development of counter-space and anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons to deny space exploitation to potential adversaries. The U.S. is particularly vulnerable to PLA anti-satellite weapons, due to its very high reliance on satellite information systems. They also threaten the current and future military satellites of Japan, India and Taiwan.
The former China Aerospace Company was a chief proponent of ASATs if only to deter attack on PRC satellites. Active ASAT measures under consideration by the PLA include ground-based lasers, kinetic kill vehicles and jamming. Kinetic kill vehicles could be based on future micro or nanosatellite systems. These could be launched covertly, piggybacking on commercial launch vehicles and parked in strategic orbits for later use. These would be more useful than large ground-based lasers inasmuch a they could be launched on Chinas future mobile space launchers, which are not tied to fixed sites. In early 2001 reports indicated China was testing a parasitic nanosatellite that could attach itself to a hostile satellite like a limpet mine. To wit, Tsinghua stated it would piggyback launch a nanosat on a Long March rocket toward the end of 2001.
Mobile SLV A further indicator that the PRCs micro satellite program is linked to a possible ASAT effort is the simultaneous development of a mobile space launch vehicle. Unlike fixed launch sites that must wait for an enemy satellites orbit to coincide with an intercept path, a mobile SLV can be pre-positioned to allow greater flexibility for an anti-satellite attack. In May 2000 the China Aerospace Solid-propellant Lunch Vehicle Co. Ltd. (ASLV) was formed to build a solid fueled mobile space launch vehicle. This companys close relationship to the PLA was illustrated in that its establishment ceremony was attended by former CMC Vice Chairman General Liu Huaqing, and then Vice Commander of the Second Artillery General Huang Cisheng.
At the 2002 Zhuhai Airshow, the ASLV Co. revealed three new mobile SLVs based on missiles used by the Second Artillery. ASLV company officials state that Katzouie-1 (Pioneer-1), or KT-1, is a 4-stage SLV based on the DF-21 MRBM. It was tested for the first time, but failed, on September 15, 2002. However, ASLV Company representatives expect it will be operational by 2005. It is intended to launch one 100kg payload into low earth orbit. The KT-2 is based on the DF-31 ICBM. It is expected to lift one 300kg payload into geostationary transfer orbit or to a polar orbit. Finally, the KT-2A SLV is a larger KT-2 that is very likely analogous to the DF-31A ICBM. With two solid-fuel strap-on boosters, this SLV is capable of carrying three 100kg payloads or one 400kg payload. According to ASLV Co. brochures, both the KT-2 and KT-2A are to be ready by 2005. All three SLVs can be launched from a truck-based TEL, or possibly from a transport aircraft.
Russia is a possible source of ASAT technology for the PRC, having tested kinetic-kill ASAT devices in the 1970s and 1980s. Russia also developed an air-launched ASAT for a Mig-31 fighter. If purchased from Russia, such an ASAT could be configured for PLAAF Sukhoi Su-27 or Su-30MKK fighters.
Micro Satellites Micro satellites are viewed as an important tool for future warfare in that they offer the advantages of greater stealth and they lower the cost of putting a variety of satellites into space. Multiple satellites can be lofted on one launcher. The U.S. envisions reconnaissance and communication missions now concentrated in a few large satellites in the future being distributed to scores of microsatellites that are less than 200 lbs. Even smaller are nanosatellites that weigh 25 lbs or less are envisioned for reconnaissance and communication missions. China jumped into the forefront of microsatellite technology in October 1998, when Tsinghua University entered into a contract with Britains Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., perhaps the worlds leading microsat firm, to co-develop microsatellites. At the 2000 Zhuhai Airshow Hangtian officials said six Tsinghua-1 size communications satellites could sustain communication links between Beijing and Southern China. Along with the Tsinghua-1 was launched Surreys 6.7 kg (14 lb) Snap-1 nanosatellite, which photographed the Tsinghua-1. Surrey markets the Snap as the basis for a new family of nanosats. It is likely that technology from the Snap-1 was obtained by the PRC.
Likewise, Hangtian plans its own family of 10 kg (25 lb) nano-satellites for communication and imaging missions. Early experiments will be carried out in communication between nanosatellites. This capability is critical in order to loft swarms of nanosats that would perform reconnaissance, communication, or interception missions. It is likely that the PRC is again being aided by Britains Surrey in this regard. The PRC is part of the Surrey-led Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) which links eight nations which will each build a micro satellite with multi-spectral imaging resolution of 32 meters and a panchromatic resolution of 4 meters.
Manned Military Space. The PLA also controls the PRCs manned space program. To accelerate its manned space program the PLA turned to Russia in the early 1990s. Russia, for its part, was eager to expand cooperation in space technologies from the earliest stages of the late 1980s, early 1990s rapprochement. For the PRC it manned space program serves important political purposes, strengthens nationalism and provides an example of the accomplishments of Communist Party rule. But it is now known that all of the first flights of its new manned space ship were used to support military missions. The first four unmanned missions of the SHENZHOU manned space capsule tested ELINT and Earth electro-optical imaging payloads. The first manned flight in October 2003 also carried electro-optical imaging systems as its main payload. The SHENZHOU is essentially an enlarged and improved Russian SOYUZ space ship. Russia sold the PLA technical data, if not a whole Soyuz capsule in the mid-1990s. The PLA ship differs in that the orbital module is equipped to persist and maneuver in space after the manned capsule has returned to Earth. On all five SHENZHOU flights this module has remained in space to carry to either test new military surveillance equipment or to conduct military surveillance missions.
Russian docking technology has also been sold to the PLA and will allow initial multi-SHENZHOU missions that will help the PLA develop larger manned space stations later in the decade. The Europeans are eager to sell the PLA space station technology as they to have the PRC participate in the International Space Station. Given the military orientation of the SHENZHOU is its possible that future PLA space stations will also be equipped for passive or active military missions. This could mean either larger surveillance systems, or that it will carry some degree of armament. Even if PLA space stations are only equipped for defense, that will still give them some inherit abilities to undertake offensive missions to attack other satellites.
New Air and Missile Defense Capabilities
Foreign technology has been critical to the upgrade of the PLA air defense, and very likely, developing missile defense capabilities. The most numerous SAM in the PLAAF inventory are several models of the Hongqi (Red Flag) HQ-2, a much modified version of the old Russian Almaz S-75 (SA-2 GUIDELINE) SAM. The HQ-2B has much improved electronic systems and an improved fragmentation warhead. When used with the ZD-2 (GUN-SLING B) radar station, it can only engage one target. However, this radar unit also uses TV-camera guidance, which can negate guidance radar jamming. CPMIEC has also developed the SJ-202 system, which uses a new phased array radar and a separate command vehicle. This radar can allow an HQ-2 unit to engage two targets simultaneously.
The PLA significantly improved its air defense capabilities in the 1990s with the purchase of large numbers of Russian Almaz/Fakel S-300 SAMs. Reports are not consistent, but the PLA is reported to have purchased up to 12 battalions of S-300s, which might mean at least 576 missiles, not counting spares. When purchased in the 1990s they were first placed around Beijing. S-300s were also featured in the 1996 exercises to intimidate Taiwan. Beginning in 1999 the PLA began basing S-300 units in at least three sites along the Taiwan Strait. The S-300 is one of the most effective anti-aircraft missiles in the world and their guidance system is very difficult to jam. Their very high speed also makes them difficult to evade. As a consequence, they pose a major threat to Taiwanese aircraft that would be first line of defense against attacking PLAAF aircraft. Unconfirmed reports note that the PLA may already have the Russian S-400 SAM, which boasts a 250mi range.
In 1998 the PLA revealed its FT-2000 SAM, which uses a passive guidance system targeted against U.S. EW aircraft like the EA-6B PROWLER. Similar in size to the S-300, the FT-2000 is thought to draws from Russian SAM technology, and from U.S. PATRIOT SAM technology alleged to have been supplied by Israel. In 1998 Chinese officials noted that an active-guided version of the FT-2000 was in development, which would eventually have an anti-missile capability. A 2001 report noted this new version could be in PLAAF service, and may be more capable than the 1998 anti-radar version of the FT-2000.
It is probable that other PLA SAMs will be developed with Russian assistance. These are reported to include the HQ-16, a development of the BUK-M1 (SA-11 GADFLY) with a range of 80km (48mi) and a program to reverse engineer the TOR-M1 (SA-15 GAUNTLET). The PLA has purchased about 29 TOR-M1 SAM systems. The TOR was designed to defend S-300s and other high-value targets and is fast enough to intercept laser-guided bombs. But it is likely that PLA Army units have the TOR-M1, not the PLAAF.
The PLA has also continued to develop anti-aircraft guns, in contrast to the U.S. Its copy of the Swiss SKYGUARD 35mm radar/TV-camera directed gun system is now in production. It fires shells that fragment in unison so as to create a hail of shrapnel that can destroy incoming missiles or bombs. The PLA is also building the PGZ-95 tracked quad-25mm gun system for Army air defense units.
Missile Defenses. The PRC loudly protests U.S. Theater and National anti-missile plans but says almost nothing about its own anti-missile or anti-satellite programs. However, until the disruptions of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, the PRC did have an anti-missile program. A mid-2001 report in the PRC magazine Hang Tien noted that the PLAs ABM program included the construction of two anti-missile systems: the FAN JI 1 (Counter-attack 1) and the FAN JI 2. The later was tested five times. A FAN JI 3 was also designed but the FAN JI program reportedly did not survive the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.
PRC aerospace engineering reports from the mid-1990s, thought to be co-authored by the head of the China Aero Space Corporations 2nd Academy, which manufactures surface-to-air missiles, may indicate that the PRC developing anti-missile or anti-satellite systems. Another report notes the heat signature characteristics of tactical ballistic missiles and the requirements for infrared anti-missile seekers.
New imported PLA air defense missiles and their technology are at least giving the PLA a limited ATBM capability. According to Chinese officials interviewed at the 1998 Zhuhai Airshow, China was planning to develop a new version of the FT2000 surface-to-air missile (SAM) that could have an anti-tactical ballistic missile (ATBM) capability. S-300PMU-2 SAMs being purchased from Russia can also intercept TBMs.
Russia is also a possible source for more sophisticated anti-missile defenses. Since at least 1952 the Russian have been working to create the radar, missiles and other technologies needed for a national missile defense system. For most of the Cold War Moscow was protected by progressively improved missile defense systems. In 2001 Russia offered to cooperate with Europe and the U.S. to build a new missile defenses and the Pentagon has reported that the PLA and Russia may be cooperating on missile defenses.
FOREIGN IMPACT ON PLA AIR FORCE MODERNIZATION
Access to foreign weapons and technology has had, and will continue to have a profound impact on PLA Air Force Modernization. Through the incorporation of foreign weapons, and increasingly, foreign technology, the PLA Air Force will be able to:
Amass a fleet of about 400 4th generation attack-capable Russian Sukhoi fighters by about 2006.
Better implement evolving offensive joint-warfare doctrines.
Develop and produce its first 4th generation combat fighters and lay the groundwork for 5th generation combat aircraft programs.
Undertake all-weather counter-air, ground-attack and naval-attack missions on or around Taiwan, and against U.S. forces that may seek to repel such an attack.
Arm both foreign-made and indigenous fighters and fighter-attack aircraft with new and capable air-to-air, ground-attack and long-range naval attack weapons.
Support combat missions around Taiwan with new space and airborne information platforms and aerial refueling aircraft.
Significantly advance the PLAs goal of creating a modern and innovating combat aircraft industry sector.
Transforming Effect of Large Numbers of Russian Sukhois
Though the PLAs purchase of Sukhoi fighters in the early 1990s was viewed as an admission of incapacity to produce modern combat aircraft, and its initial absorption presented significant challenges to the PLAAF, after nearly fifteen year it is clear that the PLAAF is mastering its early difficulties and is on the way to amassing the largest fleet of Sukhoi fighters in the world. By 2005 to 2006 the PLA could have about 400 Sukhoi fighters of the Su-27SK, Su-27UBK, Su-30MKK, Su-30MKK2 and J-11 versions. With this Sukhoi fleet as the tip of the spear, in combination with PLA missile forces and other air forces, the PLAAF will soon be able to contest air superiority over the Taiwan Strait and maybe over Taiwan itself, perhaps for the first time since the founding of the PRC. And when combined with missile, space and airborne information systems, and new submarines, PLA Air Force and Naval Air Forces will pose a level threat to U.S. Navy aircraft carrier battle groups not seen since the height of the Cold War. And though foreign sourced, it appears that the PLA is taking steps to ensure these fighters can be sustained, including co-production of the Su-27 and perhaps critical components, and setting up a depot-style maintenance system for its Saturn AL-31 engines.
Rising inventory. It appears that given the lack of an indigenous 4th generation combat aircraft or aircraft program with prospects for near term success, by the early 1990s the PLA decided the fastest way to build up its modern air combat capability was to purchase and then co-produce Russian Sukhoi fighters. Through 1996 the PLAAF had only taken delivery of about 50 Su-27SK fighters and Su-27UBK twin-seat fighter/trainers. These were placed into two PLAAF regiments which then had the initial responsibility for absorbing what at the time was the most modern aircraft in the PLAAF. This task was fraught with difficulty and it does not appear that the PLAAF began to exercise their fighters to their full potential until the later 1990s. However, these initial Sukhois did lay the foundation for greater knowledge for the PLAAF. These two regiments of Su-27s did play a role in PLA intimidation exercises directed at Taiwan exercise of democracy in March 1996 and during the summer of 1999.
By 1998-1999 the PLAs direct purchase of Sukhois switched from single seat to twin-seat fighters. First the PLA ordered 38 twin-seat Su-30MKK strike fighters, either in late 1998 or early 1999. In 1999 the PLA also ordered 28 Su-27UBKs from the Irkutsk their only large batch order from this factory. This order was done to increase the PLAAFs growing need for training aircraft. In 2000 the PLA ordered a second batch of 38 Su-30MKKs. Then in 2002 the PLA ordered 24-28 of an upgraded Su-30, the Su-30MKK2. In contrast to previous Su-30 orders, this batch was destined for the PLA Navy. Russian sources note this order could increase by 12-16 for a total of 40.
A second major source of Sukhoi fighters was secured in 1996, when the PLA was able to obtain a co-production contract for 200 Su-27SK fighters to be made by the Shenyang Aircraft Company. The goal was to produce the fighters from kits fabricated by KNAAPO, with progressively increasing PRC content over time. Known as J-11s because they were made in the PRC, the first two kit-made fighters were produced in late 1998. However, their shoddy construction required substantial rebuilding by KNAAPO engineers. By 2002, however, Russian sources were reporting that both the rate of J-11 production and the quality of the resulting aircraft were increasing substantially. By late 2002 Shenyang was said to have produced several dozen J-11s and their production finish was better than Su-27s produced at KNAAPO. This may mean that Shenyang could have made up to 48 J-11s by that date. By August 2003 another Russian source noted that the same number had been made from 2002-2003.
This rate of production, if sustained, raises the prospect of the 1996 co-production contract for 200 fighters being fulfilled by 2005-2006. But it is clear that the PLA is already planning for the future. At the 2003 Moscow Airshow a Russian source noted that there would be a second co-production contract for the J-11. The final number for the new co-production contract was not revealed. Should the PLA chose to sustain the current rate of production, it is at least possible that a second group of 200 J-11s could be completed by 2010. However, the PLA may elect to devote this co-production contract to a new J-11 version that reportedly will use a new indigenous PLA made radar and new PLA engines. Should this be the main goal of the second co-production contract then the number produced by 2010 may be less than 200.
After nearly fifteen years of buying and co-producing Sukhoi fighters it can now be determined that the PLA is on its way to creating the largest fleet of Sukhoi Su-27/30 fighters in the world. By 2006 it at least possible that the PLAAF will have about 50 Su-27SKs, 42 Su-27UBKs, about 116 Su30MKK/MKK2s, and as many as 200 J-11s. This estimate would add up to 408 Sukhoi fighters. Expected accident attrition may mean this number is slightly less. But when considering a second co-production contract, by 2010 the total number of Sukhois in the PLA could grow by another one to two hundred. This compares to about 400 credited to the Russian Air Force, of which a much smaller number could be considered operational. In addition, this number will handily exceed the number of comparable fighters in the Taiwan Air Force, 148 F-16A/Bs and 59 Mirage-2000-5T.
New Advanced Capabilities and Weapons. Through its acquisition of a large fleet of Sukhoi combat aircraft, the PLA has essentially bought its way into a modern offensive/defensive air combat capability. In the early 1990s the PLAAFs combat capability was largely defensive, reflected in its large numbers of short-range single-role J-6 (MiG-19) and J-7 (MiG-21F) interceptors. Attack capability was relegated to hundreds of clear-weather capable A-5 attack fighters, based on the J-6, and a smaller number of obsolete H-6 (Tu-16) bombers. In its Sukhoi fleet the PLAAF obtained fighters comparable to, if not superior in some respects to contemporary U.S. fighters like the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18. As the PLAAFs learning curve advanced, it realized relatively quickly that its early single mission Su-27SKs were insufficient for the requirement of modern warfare. So by the end of the 1990s the PLA emphasized the acquisition of much more capable multi-role fighter and attack Sukhois.
But even its early single-role Su-27SK fighters gave the PLA some margins of superiority over early 1990s U.S. fighters. On at least two occasions during the 1990s Russian Su-27s and U.S. F-15 fighters met in mock combat. On both occasions the U.S. F-15 lost the fighter-maneuvering contest. With its larger wing and lower wing-loading, and slightly higher thrust-to-weight ratio, the Sukhoi out turned and out accelerated the U.S. fighter. But the Sukhois advantages in this arena were only compounded by the Vympel R-73 (AA-11), the first operational helmet-sighted AAM. The Sukhoi pilot now had an even better chance of firing the first AAMthe decisive goal in aerial combat--as the R-73 could be sighted merely by turning his head, not having to wait until he could turn the aircraft to the best firing position. This advantage had been proven in mock combat between U.S. F-16s and former East German Air Force MiG-29 fighters armed with the R-73. Until the operational debut of the new helmet display sighted AIM-9X AAM in 2004 to 2005, the U.S. has lacked a comparable close-in aerial combat capability.
Due to it inability to produce a reliable MRAAM, the acquisition of new Russian MRAAMs has allowed the PLA both to obtain and practice with this new capability over most of the last decade. During the 1990s the U.S. relied on the advantage conferred by its active-guided medium-range AIM-120 AMRAAM AAM. With this missile the U.S. fighter did not have to maintain radar-lock to guide the AAM during its entire flight, but could break radar lock as the AIM-120 could by itself complete the interception. This allowed the fighter to commence defensive maneuvers or set up for its next attack. However, the PLAAF began to match this capability in 2002 when it started taking delivery of the Vympel R-77 active guided AAM to be used on its Su-30MKK fighters. By late 2003 a reported 200 R-77s had been delivered to the PLA. But even with its earlier semi-active radar-guided R-27 AAMs the Su-30 could wrest advantages. When combined with its very high maneuverability, the Su-30 is able to fire two R-27 shotsone an infrared-guided versiona tactic that overwhelms the U.S. fighter and which has proven decisive over U.S. F-15s during U.S. computer simulations.
But the most important contribution of the multi-role Su-30MKK was to give the PLAAF its first all-weather fighter capable of delivering advanced attack missiles and precision-guided munitions (PGMs). These fighters were also acquired at about the same time the PLA was beginning to implement a new offensive oriented joint-forces doctrine. To help fulfill new PLA requirements, the Su-30MKK is equipped with a more capable radar, plus the targeting pods and avionics to allow usage of the Kh-31P anti-radar missile and PGMs like the Kh-29 attack missile, Kh-59ME TV-guided long-range attack missile plus the KAB-500 and KAB-1500 bombs, which can be guided by lasers or by an image-correlation seeker. The KAB-1500, three of which can be carried by the Su-30MKK, is a unique 3,200lb guided bomb that can be outfitted with a high-explosive, deep-penetrating or thermobaric warhead. The PLA began purchasing this bomb in 2002 and is reported to have purchased 2,000 of the smaller Kh-29. For the first time, the PLAAF could rival the Second Artillery with a strike platform that had greater accuracy than the new short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). In some respects Su-30MKKs are more valuable than SRBMs as they can undertake many missions; a missile only makes one. With its long range the Su-30MKK could easily attack targets on Taiwans protected Eastern half or undertake missions as far away as U.S. bases on Okinawa. Equipped for aerial refueling, the Su-30MKK could in the future strike U.S. bases at Guam. And also equipped with R-77 and R-73 AAMs, the Su-30MKK has a respectable self-defense capability that enables greater assurance of reaching the target.
Critical Impact of Sukhoi Upgrades. Taking to heart the lesson of the limitations of its initial single-role Sukhois, the PLA has embarked on an effort that could shortly turn all of its Suhkois into multi-role fighters also capable of naval attack missionsa 3-4x expansion. Very likely at about the same time its acquired the Su-30MKK the PLA decided to begin supporting a program by Sukhoi to produce a series of near-term capability upgrades for the fighters sold to the PLA. Sukhoi had proposed its Su-27 SMK upgrade in the mid-1990s, which enabled the fighter to use advanced weapons like the R-77, but there was not enough Russian government funding to see the program through. In mid-2002 there appeared Internet-source pictures from a Shenyang display depicting a model of a J-11 armed with R-77s and Kh-31 missiles, indicating a clear upgrade in its capability. The model had the date 2001 painted on the fuselage, perhaps indicated the date the decision was made to proceed with this upgrade. By late 2003 Russian sources noted they had sold the PLA about 100 kits to upgrade the avionics and radar of PLA Sukhois. The upgrades initially involve changes to the cockpit and mission computers that enable increased capability for the existing Tikomirov NIIP N001 radar. But this upgrade will enable former air superiority-only capable Su-27s and J-11s to fire the R-77, Kh-31P anti-radar missile and the Kh-31A anti-ship missiles.
Just as important, the PLA may also be upgrading all of its Su-30MKKs to the MKK2 level of capability. Like the Su-27/J-11 this upgrade initially involves new mission computers that increases the capability of existing radar to better perform in a naval environment, and to fire Kh-31A missiles for naval attack missions. The MKK2 upgrade will also enable some Su-30s to carry the M400 side-looking synthetic aperture radar (SAR) pod. This pod will give a mini-AWACS capability to a group of attacking Sukhois in that so equipped a command Su-30MKK2 could control up to 10 other fighters.
Russia is also proposing a third level of upgrade for the Su-30MKK, or Su-30MKK3. But it appears that this programs parameters have not been set and there are some indications from Russian sources that the PLA may not be totally committed to this upgrade. If it does happen, the MKK3 will likely incorporate a new radar, either a new Tikomirov active phased array called the Panda, or a Phazotron Bureau radar called the Zhuk-M-S. The MKK3 may also incorporate an upgraded Saturn AL-31 engine.
What also makes this upgrade problematic is that it appears the PLA seeks to control future upgrades for its Sukhoi fighters. This would be consistent with PLA desires to shift its arms relationship with Russia from purchasing hardware to purchasing underlying technology. According to Russian sources the PLA seeks to develop an indigenized version of the J-11 that will incorporate a new PLA-developed radar, new PLA-developed engines and use PLA-developed weapons like the Project 129/SD-10 active-guided AAM. Although Russian sources suggest that the PLA may take ten years to produce an indigenized J-11, it is also possible that the PLA could do so much sooner. When it does, Russian sources expect that the PLA will market this fighter. This version of the J-11 would also be a candidate fighter for a future PLA Navy aircraft carrier.
Sustaining the Sukhoi fleet. One area of concern, and a source of criticism in the West, for the PLAs decision to rely on a foreign source for its new main fighter, has been the issue of sustainability. As has happened many times in the past, would it be possible for Russia to halt the supply of fighters, critical components, or maintenance support to the detriment of this new fighter fleet? There do not appear to be any political issues on the horizon between Beijing and Moscow that would cause such a cut-off. In 2004, at least, Sukhoi is a full partner with the PLA in the production, maintenance and upgrade of its Sukhoi fleet. But it is also clear that the PLA is taking steps to ensure that it has an increasing capability to sustain its Sukhoi fleet. Perhaps the most important step was the 1996 decision to initiate co-production. While such co-production may still rely on kits of large components assembled by KnAAPO, it may also be the case that Shenyang could be moving to assume more of this work. The intention to indigenize the J-11 suggests as much. Regarding the Sukhoi fleets large numbers of AL-31F engines, there were reports that Russia had refused to transfer critical information to allow self-maintenance, and that the PLA had by 2001 gone to the Ukraine to obtain maintenance information. It is no surprise that Saturn then reported its intention to open a maintenance and overhaul depot in the PRC in 2002. Reports that radar maker NRIET is co-producing the J-11s Tikomirov N001 radar also improves domestic sustainability.
New Information Capabilities
PLA air power growth is being assisted by foreign-sourced space, air and ground-based information technologies. The PLAs offensive air power will depend greatly on new Russian radar and optical satellite imaging systems. Radar satellites will be particularly useful in detecting targets through heavy cloud cover and at sea. Distant operations for combat aircraft will also increasingly rely on satellite communications, which also rely heavily on foreign technology.
In addition, the PLA has placed great emphasis on acquiring and developing its technology base to manufacture modern radar aircraft. Likely observing their development in the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s, airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) became instrumental air combat support assets, the PLA could see how they gave the U.S. a decisive advantage for offensive and defensive air operations. In the 1970s the PLA built a prototype AWACS based on a Tu-2 (Boeing B-29 copy) bomber. Internet source images also indicate the PLA considered turning its Shanghai Y-10 transport, an attempt to copy the Boeing 707, into an AWACS platform very similar to the U.S. E-3 SENTRY. It is possible that in the 1990s the PLA had a program to place a radar dome atop the fuselage of a Shaanxi Y-8 transport, but this cannot be confirmed. To be sure, obtaining an effective AWACS capability will challenge the PLAs capacity to develop appropriate doctrine and training regimes. The PLA is apparently purchasing some help in these areas from Russia, but will have to devote considerable amounts of its own technical and intellectual resources.
The next major technical assist came in 1996, when the PLA managed to purchase 6 to 8 examples of the British Racal (now Thales) SKYMASTER airborne radar. Originally developed as the SEARCHWATER to operate from SEA KING helicopters to give small Royal Navy carriers an airborne radar, a better version equips Royal Navy NIMROD ASW patrol aircraft. Racal would then outfit the SEARCHWATER to several Y-8 transports for the PLA Navy. Ostensibly sold to the PLA to assist with coastal patrol duties, in 2000 a SKYMASTER-equipped Y-8 was reported operating with PLA Navy LUDA-class destroyers assisting long-range targeting.
The PLA would then explore and seek three foreign options for AWACS aircraft before reportedly settling on the Russian Beriev A-50 in 2000. By the early to mid-1990s the PLA was considering three candidates all based on Ilyushin Il-76 airframes: the Beriev A-50; an A-50 outfitted with the Israeli Elta PHALCON active phased array radar; and an upgraded version of the British GEC-Marconi ARGUS radar. In the mid-1990s Russia delayed the transfer of Il-76 airframes to Israel and Britain to increase the prospects for the Beriev offering, a tactic that likely displeased the PLA. It is not clear whether GEC-Marconi ever got their airframe and their ARGUS radar, which lost a 1980s competition to the E-2 to equip the Royal Air Force. By 1999 negotiations between GEC and the PLA reportedly reached an impasse, but over the course of the 1990s the PLA likely learned a great deal about ARGUS radar technology.
Israel was to meet with greater success, only to lose its sale after intense pressure from Washington. In March 1997 Israel overcame Russian objections to the sale of airframes, but at a price: the sale of the AWACS to the PLA would be a partnership. Israel had to purchase the Beriev A-50 airframe in order to outfit the aircraft in Israel with the PHALCON radar, then to known as the A-50I. By mid-1997 the deal was set and the first airframe was delivered in late 1999. The PLA made an informed decision to insist on the PHALCON over its rivals. The Elta PHALCON was perhaps the most advanced AEW system of the mid-1990s. With an active phased array radar it had the ability to concentrate search energy into a spot search function with a range of nearly 400km, and the speed of the search function far out performed rotating arrays such as those carried by the E-2 and A-50. Perhaps more important, the PHALCONs phased array allowed the combining of ELINT, SIGINT and COMINT to allow passive search and the assembling of a more complete target inventory. But this sale was not to happen, cancelled in July 2000 after intense pressure from Washington. That Beijing was reportedly seeking to reverse Washingtons decision in 2001 is a further testament to the advanced capabilities of the PHALCON.
Soon after the PHALCONs cancellation, the PLA was forced to turn back to the twice-refused A-50, which by 2000 was also being upgraded with a new radar system. In a deal that was reportedly settled between late 2000 and early 2001, the PLA would train crews on two A-50s in Russia, and then buy another four upgraded A-50Es. It is possible that the upgraded A-50s will feature a significant improvement in detection capability. The Shmel-2 radar currently offered for the A-50 can track 50-60 targets and detect fighter-size targets out to about 240km. At the 2001 Moscow Airshow, the maker of the radar for the A-50 revealed a new system that can track up to 300 airborne targets and detect fighter-size targets out to 300km.
In 2002 another PLA AWACS program was revealed in fuzzy Internet source image of a Y-8 transport with a long phased array antenna on the top of the fuselage. The PLA apparently is developing another phased array AEW radar that resembles Swedens Ericsson PS-860 ERIEYE active phased array radar. This is reported to be an active program for the PLA. While there is apparently no other open reporting to suggest that Sweden has sold ERIEYE technology to the PLA, the fact that Sweden has sold other military systems to the PLA in recent years at least makes it possible that the ERIEYE radar has been sold as well. With a maximum range of 450km, the ERIEYE would constitute a better choice for the PLA than the Racal/Thales SKYMASTER. While it is not clear that the ERIEYE incorporates other intelligence gathering functions as does the PHALCON, future upgrades could hold this prospect. It may also be possible to upgrade this radar emphasize ground mapping functions, thereby allowing it to contribute to Army operations. This radars small size makes it less expensive than the A-50E and thus more can be purchased. Deploying it on a Y-8 platform, however, limits the radar to its 33,000ft altitude capability. The ERIEYE is also marketed on the Brazilian Embraer EM-145 regional transport jet, which in 2003 started co-production in the PRC. This jets 37,000 ft altitude capability would be an improvement. A final future option for this radar would be AVIC-1s new AJR-21 regional transport.
New Transport and Support Capabilities
In the early 1990s the PLA turned to foreign suppliers, particularly Russia, to purchase new heavy transports, which introduced heavy transport capabilities to the PLAAF. Until this time the largest transport was the Shaanxi Y-8, a copy of the Antonov An-12 CUB that can carry 20 metric tons of cargo. According to one source, starting in 1991 the PLA started taking deliveries of 20 Ilyushin Il-76MD transports. These have often been shown participating in PLA Airborne troop exercises. There have been numerous reports since the late 1990s that the PLA would purchase more Il-76s, the latest occurring in late 2003 which note the PLA will buy another 20 Il-76 transports. These reports note this second batch of 20 transports will support a new division of Airborne troops. While such a heavy airlift capability is modest compared to that of the U.S., it constitutes the largest such capability in East Asia. The Il-76MD can carry a maximum of 47-50 metric tons of cargo, or up to three BMD-3 air-droppable light-tanks. The type of Ilyushin for the most recently reported second batch has not been revealed. It could be the Il-76MF, which has more powerful turbofan engines, a longer cargo hold, and can carry a maximum of 60 tons, or four BMD-3 light tanks.
Potentially the most important contributor to the PLAs future heavy airlift capabilities may be the Ukraines Antonov aircraft company. In late 2003 there were reports that Antonov was seeking PRC investment to begin production of a new version of the An-124 RUSLAN, that might even see co-production of this true heavylift aircraft in the PRC. Large-scale production of this aircraft stopped in 1991, and a proposed new An-124-300 would be able to lift 150 metric tons, compared to 118 tons for the Lockheed-Martin C-5B. Though expensive and complex to operate, even a small number of An-124s would give the PLA a new level of mobility and power projection that would exceed all of its neighbors save Russia. In the late 1990s Antonov revived a relationship with the Shaanxi Aircraft Company over the latters desire to build improved versions of the Y-8 medium transport. Both are now developing the Y-8F-600, which will feature Canadian Pratt-Whitney turboprop engines. Both are also cooperating on a new project called the Y-8X, which is essentially a new turboprop-powered transport capable of lifting 30 metric tons, and which is intended to compete with the Lockheed-Martin C-130J medium transport.
It must also be acknowledged that inasmuch as the PLA controls the PRCs civil air transport system, the PLA would have theoretical access to most civil airliners in the event of an emergency. Civil airliners are already used to rotate troops around the PRC. If needed, the PLA would have access to over 500 Boeing and Airbus-made airliners now operated by Mainland airlines to support emergency deployments. Use of such aircraft, however, would require that PLA Airborne and Special Forces take complete control of target airfields and that there be sufficient specialized equipment to unload civil aircraft.
Foreign sources may also help the PLA Air Forces to improve their ability to conduct aerial refueling. While the U.S. began experimenting with aerial refueling in the 1920s, it did not perfect this practice until the 1950s. Today aerial refueling underpins the U.S. Air Forces global power projection capabilities. A very exacting skill, the PLA has devoted considerable resources to its accomplishment. The PLAAF and PLA Navy now operate a small number of H-6 bombers converted to aerial refuelers. These are dedicated to supporting J-8IID and other J-8II fighters equipped with refueling probes. To refuel Sukhoi Su-30 attack fighters, which all have refueling probes, the PLA will need Russias Ilyushin Il-78M tanker aircraft. In 2000 and again in 2003 there were reports that the PLA would indeed buy the Il-78M, and Ilyushin has taken this aircraft to the 1996, 1998 and 2000 Zhuhai shows. With this tanker, and after a period of considerable practice, the PLAs Su-30 fleet would be able to strike as far away as Guam and undertake extended duration patrols over the South China Sea.
Upgrading the PLAs Indigenous Combat Aircraft Sector
While the PLA seeks to directly purchase a new level of offensive combat capability by acquiring large numbers of Sukhoi fighters, the PLA also seeks to use foreign technology to modernize its indigenous combat aircraft sector. The main combat aircraft producing companies, Chengdu, Shenyang, Xian, Nanchang and Hongdu all seek to benefit from foreign technology. For some, access to foreign technology has been the critical factor enabling the design, development and production of a new generation of combat aircraft. Just as important, foreign technology has enabled the PLA to finally begin to produce indigenously many critical subsystems for combat aircraft, such as advanced capability turbofan engines and multi-mode fighter radar.
Upgrading Second and Third Generation Fighters. The PLA has engaged Russia and Israel, and to a lesser extent Britain, Italy and the U.S., to upgrade second and third generation fighters like the Chengdu J-7 and Shenyang J-8II. In the late 1980s the U.S. won a competition to upgrade both these fighters and the former Grumman Corporation was selected to do so under the Peace Pearl program. This program was cancelled following the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre and then Israel and Russia stepped in. Along with technical assistance it was providing Chengdus J-10 program, it appear that some components, such as the Elta EL/M 2035 radar, was also supplied to Shenyang to support an upgraded version of the J-8II, sometimes called the J-8C. At the same time Russias Phazotron radar bureau was hired to re-equip the J-8II with its Zhuk-8 radar, resulting in the J-8IIM. But Shenyang was not to put either the Israeli or Russian modified J-8 into production for the PLAAF. Instead, it now appears that both technology sources helped Shenyang to develop new versions of the J-8II, like the J-8H, which will have a multi-role capability and be made in small numbers.
Chengdus J-7 has undergone a similar path, but with Russian, British, Italian and Israeli technology. The basic J-7II was modified by Chengdu in the early 1990s to produce the J-7E with a new double-delta wing to increase maneuverability. By the 1996 Zhuhai Show it had joined with Britains GEC Marconi to outfit a new radar and produce the J-7MG. Pakistan purchased this version, but with a better performing Italian Grifo-7PG radar. In 2002 Chengdu revealed its J-7G, which incorporates a new radar called the FALCON, which may be a copy of the Grifo, or a new indigenous radar based on the same. It also uses helmet-sighted missiles for the first time in this variant.
Chengdus FC-1 fighter which flew for the first time in August 2003 actually began as a Grumman proposal under the Peace Pearl program to radically modify the J-7 into the Super-7. Grumman proposed replacing the annular engine intake with conventional side mounted intakes, so the nose could carry a larger and better radar. Following Tiananmen, Russias Mikoyan Bureau succeeded Grumman and the main design consultant, and the result was the FC-1. This fighter is touted as having 75 percent of the capability of the F-16 at only half the cost. It will be multi-role capable, armed with active-guided AAMs and PGMs. So far 150 are planned for Pakistan but despite lengthy marketing, the PLA does not appear to be ready to buy the FC-1.
Fourth Generation Fighters. The impact of Sukhoi and Shenyangs cooperation on the fourth-generation Su-27SK/J-11 has already been explored. Access to Russian and Israeli technology has also had a profound impact on Chengdus ability to design its 4th generation fighter program, the J-10. While the survival of the J-10 program has often been doubted due to the PLAs preference for the Sukhoi fighter, it appears that Chengdus fighter may survive. One Russian source has suggested that lifetime production may reach 1,200 to 1,500 aircraft. Shrouded in secrecy for the 1990s, details of Israels early contribution of technologies from its cancelled LAVI fighter program were leaked to Western media during that same period. Most reports of Israeli assistance mention the areas of radar, most likely the Elta EL/M 2035, and assistance with design, avionics and fly-by-wire systems. Russia is also said to have offered design assistance, its Saturn AL-31FN engine and the Phazotron Zemchug (Pearl) fighter radar. When the veil of secrecy was lifted in 2001 the J-10 exhibited some similarity to the J-10 but also was powered by the AL-31FN in the absence of an indigenous engine. But as with Shenyangs experience, where ever possible the J-10 uses new PLA systems that have benefited from Israeli and Russian technology. The radar may well be a new PLA designed system and the J-10s weapons will eventually all be PLA-designed as well. In late December 2003 Chengdu tested the two-seat version of the J-10, which would support both training and dedicated attack variants of this fighter. Late 2003 reports also note that the PLA has decided to accelerate the J-10 production, hoping to make 80 by 2005, perhaps enough to fill four PLAAF regiments.
Another 4th generation aircraft that has benefited substantially from foreign technology has been Xians JH-7 fighter bomber. This aircraft is about the same size as the U.S. F-4 PHANTOM but more resembles the British/French JAGUAR fighter-bomber. Since this program began in 1975 its success has been controlled by PLAs problematic relationship with its engines maker, Britains Rolls Royce. The PLA purchased 50 Rolls Royce Spey-202 engines in the late 1970s to support this fighter, but then sought unsuccessfully for the next 20 years to copy it. The JH-7 first flew in 1988 but was not made a priority program for the PLA until the mid-1990s, when it sought to build up its numbers of all-weather attack fighters for possible conflict over Taiwan. A small number were made using the original batch of Speys, but by the late 1990s, the PLA was ready to go back to Rolls Royce. By 2001 the PLA purchased a second batch of used Spey engines and apparently purchased the technology that would allow for co-production of this engine, which emerged as the QinLing in mid-2003. This engine will equip a new version, the JH-7A, which will be equipped with new radar and carry Russian Kh-31 missiles and Russian-assisted laser guided bombs. It has been suggested that the PLA may purchase 150 of this new version JH-7A. While less capable than the Su-30MKK, the JH-7A will be an indigenous all-weather multi-role fighter that the PLA will support to compliment the Sukhoi.
Fifth Generation Fighters. By early 2003 it emerged that the PLA had not one, but two 5th generation fighter programs. One program very likely benefits from substantial Russian inputs, but the other probably does as well. The first to be identified by U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence in the mid-1990s was referred to as the J-12, but is more recently referred to as the Shenyang Aircraft Company proposal. A brief glimpse of a wind-tunnel test model of this fighter in an AVIC-1 video shown at the 2002 Zhuhai Airshow confirmed that ONIs projection was not too far off the mark. Shenyang is making a F-15 sized twin-engine fighter with stealth shaping, an active phased-array radar, internal weapon carriage and thrust-vectored engines. These are all features of the new Lockheed-Martin F/A-22A, which the U.S. Air Force hopes will sustain its ability to secure uncontested air superiority.
Regarding possible foreign assistance, it is noteworthy that Shenyangs wind tunnel model resembles a concept 5th generation fighter produced by Russias 2nd Central Scientific Research Institute (TsNII), which for 30 years has led Soviet/Russian research on low-observable technology. It would also seem likely that given their deep relationship, Shenyang would have sought to benefit from Sukhois 5th generation fight that Russia cannot afford, the S-37 BERKUT. This fighter uses a novel swept-forward wing and canards to achieve super maneuverability. To achieve high stealth it uses internal weapon carriage and, reportedly, a plasma generator to achieve stealth without have to radically modify the airframe. While it is possible that Russian technical design bureaus have been approached by Shenyang for advice, it is most likely that the PLAs goal is to make this as much an indigenous fighter as possible.
A more likely direct beneficiary of substantial Russian assistance is Chengdus 5th generation fighter proposal, called the J-10A. A Chengdu-generated projection of this fighter bears an uncanny resemblance to the now defunct Mikoyan Article 1.44 5th generation fighter program. The 1.44/J-10A is much larger than the Shenyang proposal and the F/A-22. It will use a large canard configuration, stealth technology, and a new phased array radar and thrust vectored engines. There are also reports it may use Russian-developed plasma stealth technology. Given its size it may very likely use the Russian AL-41 engines designed for the 1.44. While it is not known whether the PLA supports Chengdus program, it clearly exists as an option should Shenyangs program falter, or if the PLA decided to exceed the U.S. and produce two 5th generation fighters.
New Aircraft Weapons. Russian and to a lesser degree, Israeli aircraft weapon technology has aided the PLAs development of new aerial weapons. In the late 1980s the PLA secured a co-production contract for the Israeli Python-3 infrared-guided short-range AAM. At the time the Python-3 was an advanced missile and its PLA version, called the PL-8, is widely used by J-7 and J-8 fighters. The Louyang Company later produced a modified copy of this missile called the PL-9, a new version of which, the PL-9C, was revealed in early 2002. In 1996 the Louyang revealed that it had combined the PL-9 with the Ukranian Arsenel helmet-sight to give this missile added capability. Louyang is now developing a new short range AAM that will use a better helmet-display sighting system. When describing this new missile Louyang officials appear to be describing a missile similar to the British ASRAAM, a small but maneuverable AAM with advanced infrared imaging guidance. While there is not open reporting to suggest this possibility, it should not be discounted that South Africa may be contributing to this program. South Africa heavily promotes its products to the PLA and its DARTER short-range AAM is also similar to the missile described by Louyang.
Russia is proving instrumental in helping the PLA to make its first successful active-guided medium range AAM. Considering that the PLA has yet to make a successful semi-active guided AAM, this is an impressive accomplishment. Due to enter service in 2004, the PL-12, or known by its SD-10 export designation, is reported to combine active radar seeker and data-link technology from Russias Agat bureau with a PLA-designed missile motor. The Agat bureau also produces the radar for the Vympel R-77 active guided AAM. As the missile motor is capable of a lofted trajectory which confers greater range, the PL-12 is though to be better than the R-77. The PL-12 reportedly will fist arm J-8 fighters and then equip J-10 and J-11 fighters as they are able.
The PLA has for some time sought to make Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) like laser-guided bombs, but it is not known to have produced a successful systems. It is now likely that the PLA has imported laser-guidance technology from the Russias Region Bureau to enable the production of new laser guided bombs (LGBs). The PLA will likely use Russian-made LGBs to arm Sukhoi fighters. Indigenously-made LGBs will likely arm JH-7s, and some specially modified older Nanchang Q-5 fighter-bombers. For the later, LGBs could save this attack aircraft from its current obsolescence. There have been reports that the PLA is co-producing the Zvezda Kh-31 ramjet powered attack missile, but these cannot be confirmed.
Engines. The inability to develop and manufacture advanced turbofan fighter engines has long been a key weakness for the PLAs combat aircraft sector. Turbofans are superior to turbojet engines in that they allow high power and better fuel efficiency for longer range. Lack of such engines has been a key factors inhibiting the PLAs development of an entirely indigenous 4th generation fighter. PLA engine makers have notuntil very recently--been able to crack the code of being able to combine new metallurgical methods to produce engine fan blades and engine hot sections able to withstand new extremes of heat, plus design new digital controls that fine tune all htmects of engine operation to achieve higher levels of power and fuel efficiency. As a consequence, new fighters like Chengdus J-10 and FC-1 fighters rely on Russian Saturn and Klimov turbofans. And the PLA still uses turbojets to power new versions of the J-7, J-8II and new trainers like the JL-9/FTC-2000.
One level of success apparently has been achieved after accepting some humility. In 1975 the PLA purchased about 50 British Rolls Royce Spey-202 turbofans that were used to power the Xian JH-7 fighter bomber. Throughout the 1980s the PLA had the option to purchase a full co-production capability but instead chose to try to copy the Spey without success, delaying the JH-7 program. But with a growing need to revive this program in the late 1990s the PLA swallowed its pride and returned to Rolls Royce to purchase more Spey engines and to finally pay for the technology needed to enable co-production. By 2001 a reported 80-90 more Speys had been sold to the PLA. And in mid-2003 the new QinLing turbofan engine emerged. This engine is very likely the product of the revived cooperation with Rolls Royce and will power the new JH-7A fighter bomber. While the Spey-202 constitutes 1960s technology, it is possible that Rolls Royce has helped the PLA update this engine with new materials and new digital control technology. The PLA would then have the option of applying this engine to future combat aircraft programs.
In 2002, however, details began to emerge of a PLA breakthrough, called the WS-10A turbofan. Long in development, the WS-10A apparently is the first indigenous high-power fighter turbofan. With a reported maximum thrust of 13,200kg it is slightly more powerful than the Saturn AL-31F. If true such reports would constitute a remarkable achievement for the PLA. At the 2003 Moscow Airshow a Russian engineer who had been advising PLA engine makers for most of the 1990s noted that it was possible for the PLA to perfect the WS-10A in five years. This may also indicate that his advice was instrumental in helping the PLA perfect this engine. One such engine was apparently tested in a J-11 in 2002. When it becomes available it is likely that the WS-10A will power future versions of the J-10 and J-11 fighters.
In addition, an AVIC-1 video shown during the 2002 Zhuhai show has clip in which former President Jiang Zemin was manipulating thrust-vectoring nozzle for a new engine. It is possible that Russia may be a source for this technology, which the PLA may apply to future versions of the J-10 and to its 5th generation fighters.
Fighter radar. It is increasingly likely that foreign technology has aided the PLAs quest to develop modern world-class multi-mode fighter radar, capable of conducting anti-air, ground-attack and naval-attack missions. In the early 1990s PLA fighter radar were based mainly on Soviet short-range fighter radar. They were only capable of aiding air intercept missions and fixed in a single position, thus, had only a narrow field of view. But at about this time the PLA gained access to more modern Israeli and Russian fighter radar, as part of Chengdus and Shenyangs fighter programs. From Israel the PLA very likely obtained the Elta EL/M 2035, a very respectable multi-mode radar that also combined ECM and jamming functions. This radar was apparently considered for the J-10 and used for the Shenyang J-8IIC, which never went into production. At about the same period Shenyang also entered into a relationship with the Phazotron radar design bureau, the main competitor to the Tikomirov Bureau. Phazotrons especially designed Zhuk-8 outfitted the Shenyang J-8IIM, which never went into production. The NRIET radar maker is also reported to have entered into a co-production relationship with Tikomirov, to at least assemble a version of the N001 radar for the J-11 program. The goal is to gradually increase Chinese content of the radar. In addition to Israeli and Russian technology, the PLA has had access to fighter radar from Britains GEC Marconi and Italys Grifo companies in conjunction with Chengdu programs to upgrade its J-7 fighter.
This broad access to Western fighter radar technology has very likely resulted in the PLAs recent ability to produce new multi-mode radar. While Israel, Russia and to a lesser degree Britain and Italy heavily marketed their radar for various PLA fighter programs, it appears that at the end of the 1990s the PLA had shopped for technologies and knowledge to more rapidly enable its own radar design groups to produce respectable new systems. At the 1996 Zhuhai Airshow the PLA revealed its CLETRI JL-10 multi-mode radar which was at that time associated with the JH-7 fighter bomber program. Further evidence of progress appeared at the 2000 Zhuhai Airshow when Chengdu advertised a 80km range Pulse Doppler radar for its proposed new F-7MF fighter. By 2002 reports began to emerge from Mainland sources that NRIET company had produced a new multi-mode radar for the Chengdu J-10, identified as the Type 1473. One report from late 2003, while not identifying the radar, says the J-10s radar has a range of 150km and can track 20 targets while attacking four. If true, such a radar would have nearly twice the performance of the Russian N001 on the Su-27. This would also indicate that at least for planar array style radar, the PLA is now capable of producing radar matching mid-1990s levels of performance. It is very likely that the PLA is now developing more advanced phased array-based fighter radar systems for further upgrades of current fighters and for its future 5th generation fighter programs.
FOREIGN IMPACT ON PLA NAVY MODERNIZATION
The PLA Navy (PLAN) has also benefited significantly from its ability to acquire foreign made weapons and military technologies. The PLANs new submarines, surface warships, attack aircraft, supersonic anti-ship missiles, anti-missile ship defenses, modern torpedoes and modern anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters are either foreign sourced or are comprised mainly of foreign components. Foreign technology has the potential to enable the PLA Navy to:
Combine new information systems and new long-range strike platforms to enable offensive and defensive missions at far greater distances.
Build new generations of modern and capable nuclear and conventional submarine and support them with an increasingly credible Naval Air Force and Air Force strike combine.
Better enable future naval attack and blockade operations against Taiwan later in this decade, if the PRC chooses to do so.
Begin to gather the air and submarine capabilities needed to credibly threaten possible U.S. Navy intervention in support of Taiwan.
Gain increasing naval strength needed to enforce territorial claims, especially in the South China Sea.
Increase the PLA Navys ability to protect naval access in the Indian Ocean and begin to employ a limited naval power projection capability based on sub-launched LACMs.
Gain increasing understanding of aircraft carrier construction and operations to better prepare for eventual aircraft carrier construction.
The PLANs ability to conduct sustained military operations around Taiwan, and at increasing distance from the PRC, is in large part made possible by the adoption of new information technologies, many of which come from foreign sources. Foreign technology will also figure prominently in the PLANs ability to find and track targets at sea. First it can be expected that the new PLA radar satellites based on Russian NPO Machinostroyenia Korsar satellite technology will be used to assist PLAN targeting and tracking. In 1996 the PLAN began to acquire its first airborne surveillance system by purchasing British Racal (now Thales) SKYMASTER radar and fitting them on to Shaanxi Y-8 transports. At least two are operational and have been used in PLA naval exercises. At the 2003 Moscow Airshow, Sukhoi introduced the M400 radar pod, which is destined for the PLA. This radar system could allow the Su-30MKK2 to act as a mini-AWACS and control up to 10 other fighters. This would allow a group of Su-30MKKs to conduct a multi-axis attack in passive mode, increasing their chance of getting into missile launch range. In addition, it is possible that the PLANAF will benefit from other AWACS systems being purchased or developed by the PLAAF, such as Russian Beriev A-50E AWACS.
Foreign communication technology is also allowing the PLAN to better control and coordinate naval activities. Most modern PLA warships now have twin satellite communication antennae, which can access PLA-controlled or other commercial satellites. Such satellite communication allows for better coordination of submarine, air and surface ship combat operations. Russian data links enable new Su-30MKK2s to conduct coordinated attacks. Fishing ships have been issued satellite telephones by PLA provincial military authorities. These could be from the U.S. company Iridium, or from the British company INMARSAT. These phones hold the prospect of turning even small fishing ships into a reconnaissance and surveillance network.
New Nuclear Submarines
For the PLA Navy submarines have been their most important combat platform, best suited to defensive doctrines that stressed, essentially, sea denial strategies and tactics. In the current period submarines remain the PLANs most important combat platform, and will play a critical role in any future military action against Taiwan. Pride of place has gone to the PLANs nuclear submarine fleet, which was developed beginning in the late 1950s with considerable effort and expense by the government of Mao Tse Tung. The first indigenously designed Type 091 HAN nuclear attack submarine (SSN) did not enter service until 1974, and five were in service by 1990. The first PLAN nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), the Type 094 XIA, which was a 091 lengthened to accept 12 JL-1 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), did not enter service until 1988. Both types have had their troubles, particularly with their nuclear-steam turbine power plants, and the 094 in particular has suffered from excessive noise generation, making it vulnerable to modern U.S. and Japanese submarines. In 2002 the XIA rejoined the fleet after a lengthy period of repair and upgrade. Indicating its new operational status, in 2003 the Pentagon reported, China is expected to deploy the JL-1 medium-range SLBM aboard the XIA SSBN in 2003.  But due to the increasing obsolescence of the 091 and 094 the PLA has placed a high priority on building its second generation of nuclear submarines.
According to the Department of Defense the PLA Navy launched the first of its second generation nuclear attack submarine in 2002. In 1987 the Office of Naval Intelligence estimated that three would be complete by 2010. Known as the Type 093-class, the Pentagon noted that it will compare to the technology of the Russian VICTOR III SSN and will carry wire-guided and wake-homing torpedoes, as well as cruise missiles. This assessment conforms with several previous reports of Russian assistance to the PLAs SSN development program and the comparison to the Russian VICTOR III. If this is the baseline for the Type 093s performance, then it would constitute a considerable achievement for the PLA.
The VICTOR III was designed to hunt older U.S. nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), possessing a considerable sonar capability and a level of quieting that approached that of early U.S. LOS ANGELES class SSNs. The VICTOR III also is equipped with the unique Russian 650mm torpedo tubes, and if the Type 093 follows suit, it too could carry Russias class of very large torpedoes designed to sink aircraft carriers. It is likely, however, that the PLA would insist on technology from Russia that would improve on the VICTOR III level of performance for the Type 093. This could mean the latter could dive deeper than the 600 meter depth for the VICTOR III and be even quieter.
Russian technology may also help the PRC, for the first time, to achieve a truly reliable nuclear second-strike capability. Inasmuch as the new Type 094 SSBN will be an elongated version of the Type 093 SSN, it follows that the 094 will also benefit from Russian technology. This year the Pentagon noted, The Type 094-class SSBN will be similar to the Type 093-class, but with a missile bay to carry the JL-2 SLBM. The Pentagon estimates that the Type 094 will enter service toward the end of the decade. Regarding the final number of Type 094s to be built, estimates range from 3 to 6. If the later, it is possible that the PLA may build a second SSN/SSBN base to compliment the Northern Fleet base near Qingdao. Were this base to be built for the South Sea Fleet, then the PLA would be seeking an assured second strike capability against India. Deep Southern patrols by Type 094 SSBNs might also allow the PLA to consider South Polar SLBM strike avenues that would avoid planned U.S. missile defenses.
New Conventional Submarines
Foreign conventional submarines and submarine technology is also rapidly improving the PLANs non-nuclear submarine fleet and helping the PLA to build more capable indigenous non-nuclear submarines. Before the end of the decade the PLAN could have 12 Russian KILO submarines and more than 10 Type 039 SONG modern conventional submarines, in addition to about 20 older but still useful Type 035 MING class submarines. In comparison, the 2001 U.S. decision to sell Taiwan 8 new conventional submarines is mired in political and financial controversy in Taipei, meaning that delivery may not even begin until the end of the decadeif the program survives at all.
Foreign technology will benefit the PLAN in that 8 new advanced Kilo 636 submarines ordered in early 2002 will perhaps be the best armed conventional submarines in any Asian navy. Reportedly they will carry the Russian Novator CLUB-S anti-ship missile. The CLUB-S combines a 220km subsonic cruise missile first stage with a Mach 3-speed second stage which is designed to overcome ship-based missile defenses. These new KILOs will also feature improved quieting over the already impressively quiet KILO 636 class plus improved combat systems. In addition, the 8 new KILOs, plus four other purchased during the 1990s, will carry advanced Russian wake-homing torpedoes, which are very difficult for ships to detect.
The new indigenous Type 039 SONG also incorporates Russian, European and possibly Israeli assistance. The first Type 039 launched in 1994 encountered significant problems, especially with the powerplant. While it cannot be verified, one European industry source blamed the failure of Israeli technicians to properly integrate disparate foreign technologies on the ship. However these problems, perhaps with Russian help, apparently were solved and the SONG is now in series production. About 5 or 6 have been built so far. The SONG bears a close resemblance to the French AGOSTA class submarine and likely uses a French designed sonar system and German-designed MTU diesel engines. The SONG may also in the future incorporate an air-independent propulsion system based on German fuel-cell technology, though Russian fuel cell technology being developed for the KILO could be used as well. Both offer the potential for a SONG-sized submarine to remain underwater for at least 15 days, which greatly increases its tactical flexibility.
For conventional diesel-electric submarines like the SONG, the PLAN is also developing Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems. AIP systems extend the time a conventional sub can remain submerged, decreasing its vulnerability to detection. AIP systems are also less expensive than nuclear powerplants. According to U.S. sources the PLAN has been investigating European and Russian AIP systems. The PLAN may favor fuel cells for its future AIP systems, which convert liquid hydrogen and oxygen into electricity. The Dalian Thermodynamics Institute has produced a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell that can produce 30kw of power. This comparable to the 34kw PEM fuel cells used in the Germanys new Type 212 conventional submarine. There is apparently growing cooperation between the Dalian Institute and German companies in the area of fuel cells. A fuel cell-based AIP may allow a SONG-sized submarine to remain submerged for one to two week, greatly enhancing its tactical flexibility. One Project 035 MING class submarine has reportedly been fitted with an experimental AIP system. 
Noise reduction is a key goal for the PLANs new nuclear and conventional submarines and foreign technology is very likely assisting the PLA. The SONG class features an advanced 7-blade skewed propeller that serves to cancel the vibrations made by even-number bladed propellers. The drive shaft and engines also feature sound-absorbing mounts. It is likely that the PLAN has learned a great deal from its Russian KILO submarines in this area. Russia is also a possible future source for super-quiet propulsor technology, which uses multiple slow moving turbine blades in a shroud, as opposed to an open propeller. At least one Russian KILO has had its propeller replaced by a shrouded propulsor, which is now used by new U.S. and British nuclear submarines. It also appears that the SONG and the newly modified HAN and XIA nuclear submarines use a new black coating that is likely for the purpose of noise reduction.
Improved Surface Warships
To rapidly increase the combat potential of its surface navy the PLA has turned to Russia to purchase new warships. But it has also turned to Russia and Europe for weapons and technologies that are now enabling the PLA to produce its own modern warships. In 1996 the PLAN purchased two Russian SOVREMENNIY class destroyers in response to the U.S. deployment of two aircraft carrier groups, which in turn countered large scale PLA exercises intended to intimidate Taiwan. When delivered in 2000 and 2001, these became the most powerful warships in the PLAN, with advanced supersonic anti-ship missiles and long-range anti-aircraft missiles. Two more SOVREMENNIYs were purchased in early 2002. But in addition, the PLAN has been gathering weapons and technologies with which to build improved indigenous warships. The following reviews the impact of foreign technology in the areas of PLAN warship weapons, sensors, ship design and propulsion.
Advanced weapons Like the Soviet and Russian navies the PLAN has long made use of anti-ship missiles as it principle naval combat weapon. In the 1990s these were supplemented or replaced by the smaller 40km range rocket-powered YJ-81 and the 120km range turbojet-powered YJ-82 (C-801,C-802) series that was heavily influenced by the French EXOCET anti-ship missile. It is these missiles that now arm most PLAN warships. With the purchase of the SOVREMENNIY destroyers the PLAN also acquired advanced Russian supersonic anti-ship missiles like the 160km (108mi) range Raduga 3M-80E MOSKIT (or SS-N-22 SUNBURN), which uses very high Mach 2.3 speed to defeat most existing ship defenses. The PLA is also funding the development of a new 200km range version of this missile.
Inasmuch as new PLAN KILO submarines will be armed with the Novator CLUB-S anti-ship missile, it remains a possibility that PLAN surface ships could be armed with either the 220km range 3M-54 or the 300km range 3M-54E1 anti-ship missiles. In the future the PLAN may also purchase the Russian NPO Machinostroyenia YAKHONT, a vertical-launched Mach 2.5, 300km (180mi) range anti-ship missile. These are smaller than the MOSKIT, so more can be carried, and they have a land-attack capability. The PLA is also developing new indigenous supersonic anti-ship missiles as well. It can also be expected that PLAN ships will use naval versions of new long-range TOMAHAWK-class land attack cruise missiles being developed for the PLAs Second Artillery and Air Forces.
While slow in coming, the PLAN is also developing more modern ship defense systems. In the 1980s and 1990s indigenous PLAN ships featured the PRC developed HQ-61 SAM and the HQ-7, a short-range ship defense missile copied from the French CROTALE. The PLANs anti-aircraft defenses were greatly improved by the purchase of Russian (SA-N-7) SAMs on the SOVREMENNIY class destroyers. It is expected that the second batch of SOVREMENNIY destroyers to be delivered about 2006 will have longer-range SAMs guided by hard-to-jam phased array radar. The PLAN is also developing new a new vertical-launched naval SAM. In 2001 pictures emerged of the PLAN research ship No. 970 modified with a new Russian-style revolver-type vertical missile launch system.
Russia SAMs are also going to be used on new indigenous PLAN warships. In mid-2002 Russian sources disclosed that the PLAN would purchase two Russian Altair Bureau Rif SAM systems based on the S-300 land-based SAM. When put into service this 90km range SAM will greatly expand the PLANs air defense capabilities. In early 2003 the PLAN revealed that its new No. 168 class destroyers would use the Russian SA-N-7 or SA-N-17 SHTIL SAM. This missile has a 32km range and is capable of intercepting some anti-ship missiles.
Ship point defense Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS) are also becoming more capable. The PLAN now uses 37mm gun mounts based on the Italian Oto Breda DARDO CIWS acquired in the 1980s. This system is guided by a combined radar and optical-electronic seeker. Prior to the Tiananmen Massacre, the U.S. was ready to sell the PLAN the PHALANX radar-guided 20mm Gatling-gun CIWS. In 2002 Internet-sourced pictures emerged of the Type 730 CIWS, which uses a 30mm Gatling-gun guided by a combined optical and radar sensors, similar to the Thales GOALKEEPER. Later information indicates the Type 730 is actually based on the now defunct French SEAMOS ship defense system. This guidance system may also include a laser range-finder and is cued by a dedicated larger search radar. Such a CIWS would indicate a PLAN preference for the higher caliber Gatling-gun, which be more useful against faster supersonic anti-ship missiles. The Type 730 equips the new No. 169 and No. 170 class destroyers.
The PLANs SOVREMENNIY class destroyers use the Russian AK-630M 30mm Gatling-gun CIWS that can fire 4,000-5,000 rounds a minute. The Type 054 stealth frigate will also use this CIWS, indicating it is now being co-produced in the PRC. The PLAN reportedly will also purchase the Russian KASHTAN CIWS for its second batch of two SOVREMENNIY destroyers. The KASHTAN combines two 30mm Gatling guns, with a range of 4km, with the 8km range 9M311 Sosna-R (SA-N-11) missile, plus a Ku band radar and optical-electronic guidance system. The Kashtans maker claims a 99 percent hit probability against an incoming missile.
The PLAN has had some difficulties in developing modern torpedoes and has had to rely on the purchase of foreign torpedoes or copied foreign torpedoes. The PLANs first wire guided ASW and ASuW torpedo, the C43, entered service on the first SONG submarine. The Yu-7 torpedo that equips some submarines and the Z-9C helicopter, is believed to have been copied from a captured U.S. Mk 46 wire-guided torpedo. In the 1980s prior to the Tiananmen Massacre, the U.S. was ready to sell the PLAN the Mk 46 torpedo. In the 1980s the PLAN purchased the Italian Whitehead Alenia A-244 wire-guided torpedo. And along with its Russian KILO submarines the PLAN also purchased new Russian torpedoes to include the Type 53-65KE wake-homing torpedowhich is very difficult to defend against. The PLAN very likely also has two types of Russian rocket-propelled torpedoes. In 1998 it was reported to have purchased the revolutionary SHKVAL-E rocket-torpedo that is capable of 200 knot speed. Taiwanese sources indicate that the PLAN may already be testing its own rocket-propelled torpedoes. The PLAN is also said to have purchased the APR-3E rocket propelled anti-submarine torpedo used by the Ka-28 anti-submarine helicopters purchased along with the SOVREMENNIY destroyers. This torpedo can travel up to 120 km/h to a radius of 2km and to a depth of 800m.
Advanced sensors Though many years behind the West, the PLAN is beginning to develop advanced sensors and the digital computer infrastructure to support the integration of naval combat systems. In 2001 pictures emerged of the PLANs research ship No. 970 equipped with a new type phased array radar antennae. The phased array radar from this ship appear to form the basis of the 4x array radar system seen in early 2003 on the new No. 170 class air defense destroyer. Recent reports indicate that this radar may be a co-development program with the Ukraines Kvant-Radiolokatsiya company. This company builds the Mineral-ME passive targeting radar that equips the SOVREMENNIY class destroyer, guides its MOSKIT missiles, and has been purchased for the No. 168 and No. 170 class destroyers. It is not known whether the new phased array will be an active phased array, or a passive radar like the Mineral-ME. The fact that reports indicate the Ukrainian company is using the PLA investment on new technology may indicate it will be an active phased array. If so, then this will raise PLA Naval radar to a much higher level of capability, perhaps eventually able to guide ATBM capable SAMs.
The PLAN has purchased the Russian FREGATE-MAE (TOP PLATE) 3-D radar for its No. 168 class destroyers, and it also equips the PLANs SOVREMENNIY class destroyers. The most modern MAE-5 variant can detect a fighter size target out to 230km and detect a missile out to 50km. The most modern indigenous search radar the PLAN uses the Type 381, NATO code name RICE FIELD. It is a G-band 3-D phased array radar that rotates and steers its search beams electronically only in the vertical. It has a maximum range of 180km (108mi) but is not accurate enough to guide missiles on its own. The PLAN also continues to use several meter-wave radar, including on the new No. 170 class destroyer, providing these ships with a degree of counter-stealth capability. It is possible such radar have been improved with recently developed Russian digital technologies which some Russian sources claim was stolen by the PLA.
It is not clear that the PLAN possess a modern low-frequency sonar for its surface ships, which would be required for modern anti-submarine warfare. If the PLAN has succeed in either acquiring or developing them, they are likely to equip new 168 and 170-class destroyers. The two LUHU destroyers are reported to have low-frequency bow-mounted sonar but this cannot be confirmed from open sources. Only the LUHU and some LUDA class destroyers have a variable depth sonar that is towed behind the ship to find submarines below water temperature layers that reflect submarine noise. The most advanced PLAN submarine sonar would be carried by its Russian Type 636 KILO submarines, like the MGK-400 active/passive sonar and hull array. It appears that since the 1980s PRC-built submarines have also used a copy of the French DUUX-5 passive sonar, called the SQB-2, which is mounted on both sides of the hull. However, it is possible that new PLAN submarines may favor Russian sonar and electronics.
Ship design PLAN ship design relies heavily on foreign inputs, either the outright purchase of foreign combat ships or the employment of foreign design talent. Russias Rubin bureau may be helping the PLAN design its new class of nuclear attack submarines. Due their heavy use of Russian weapons, more detailed Russian design assistance cannot be discounted for the No. 168 and No. 170 class destroyers. It is reported that German engineers associated with their MEKO class warships helped the PRC to design the F-25 frigates sold to Thailand. As part of investigations over corruption regarding their sale to Taipei, the Taiwan government revealed that France leaked classified data to the PRC about the LAFAYETTE frigates sold to Taiwan. PLAN stealthy design capabilities were taken to new level in the concept F-16 export model frigate. The intention to make warships far more stealthy was confirmed in the new No. 168 and No. 170 destroyers, and Type 054 frigates, which utilize extensive stealth shaping and may make greater use of stealth coatings. The new Type 054 frigate bears a close resemblance to the LAFAYETTE class.
For future warships the PLAN may be considering advanced hull designs like the SWATH, which uses a submerged catamaran hull that allows a smaller ship to be stable in rougher seas. SWATH was developed in the U.S. and its usage was pioneered in the U.S. Navys T-AGOS underwater surveillance ships. In 2001 a PRC SWATH ship was launched. A PRC SWATH ship that has the potential to tow acoustic underwater surveillance arrays was also seen in Internet-sourced photos of Type 054 frigate No. 526.
It is noteworthy that the PLA used civilian high-speed ferries to transport troops to Hong Kong during the 1998 reversion to PRC sovereignty. By one count, about 160 high-speed ferries operate from Hong Kong and other PRC coastal cities. Most built in Australia or Europe, they can carry 100 to 500 passengers at speeds over 40kts. As the U.S. Army and Marines have started to exploit the potential of large high-speed ferry platforms, it is also possible that the PLAN is moving also to employ this technology. Advanced PRC shipbuilding firms like A Fai are capable of building very modern 460 ton ferries that can carry 700 passengers and up to 100 cars to 1,000nm at 60kts. Their larger WP40 design can carry 888 passengers and 238 cars up to 46kts. A large number of such ferries would allow the PLA to ship light armor, artillery, troops and supplies with considerable speed. Their great range would allow the PLA to embark from ports to the south and north of Taiwan, allowing the PLA to strategically disburse its mobilized invasion forces.
Propulsion For modern ship propulsion systems the PLA has been relying on foreign technology for many years. In the 1980s the PLA was able to purchase then modern U.S. General Electric LM-2500 gas turbines to power one LUHU destroyer. However, the post-Tiananmen embargo of these engines, plus the PRCs inability to produce its own, prompted the PLAN to purchase and co-produce the Ukrainian GTE-80 (DN-80) gas turbines for its most recent large warships, the No. 168 and No. 170 destroyers. In early 2003 it was reported that the PLA had mastered co-production of the DN-80 much faster than expected. Britains Rolls Royce has also marketed naval gas turbine engines to the PLAN, hoping to replace the General Electric engines. The PLAN also makes extensive use of license-produced French-designed, German-owned S.E.M.T.-Pielstick diesel engines for frigates and fast attack craft. Diesel engines from this company will be used in the new Type 054 stealth frigate and the new No. 886 class underway replenishment ships. German MTU diesel engines are used in the LUHAI destroyer and the SONG class submarines.
New Naval Air Strike Capabilities
As with its submarine and surface fleets, the PLA has also turned to foreign weapons and technology to modernize the PLA Naval Air Force. Until 2003 the main long-range air strike force for the PLANAF consisted of two regiments of Xian H-6 bombers, copies of the 1950s vintage Soviet era Tupolev Tu-16 subsonic medium bomber. While these have been updated to carry subsonic anti-ship cruise missiles, these have relatively short range and the H-6 is quite obsolete against U.S. and Japanese fighters. Given this situation, it is not surprising that Xinhua reported in 2002 about then President Jiang Zemins personal interest in upgrading the PLA Naval Air Force.
In early 2003 the PLA signed a contract for at least 24 Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKK2 fighter bombers. According to Russian sources they will go to PLANAF, which may eventually acquire 40 of these fighter-bombers, enough for at least two regiments. The Su-30MKK2 has an upgraded Tikomirov N011VE radar which enable them to fire the Zvezda Kh-31A supersonic anti-ship missile. And also armed with the Vympel R-77 active-guided air-to-air missile, these fighter bombers will be able to hold their own against current U.S. Navy and Air Force fighters. It is also reported that the PLA may upgrade all of the about 76 Su-30MKKs to the MKK2 standard, which raises the prospect of about 100 PLA Su-30s soon having a strong naval attack capability.
Sukhoi is also promoting a Su-30MKK3 to the PLA, which may have even greater naval attack capabilities. Some Russian sources, however, downplay this program in light of the MKK2 upgrade. Nevertheless, the Su-30MKK3 will feature a new more powerful radar, either the 300km range Phazotron M-S-E or the Tikomirov Panda, a new phased-array radar now in development. This version may also have a more powerful version of the Saturn AL-31 engine. The more powerful radar will enable the Su-30MKK3 to fire Radugas Kh-59MK, a 288km radar-guided subsonic anti-ship missile it began marketing at the 2001 Moscow Airshow.
Also slated for upgrade to a multi-role fighter and attack capability are about 78 Su-27 fighters purchased from Russia, and very likely, most of the 200 Su-27/J-11s now being co-produced by the Shenyang Aircraft Company. According to Russian sources a second co-production contract could follow and these Sukhoi fighters can be expected to feature better multi-role capabilities. Inasmuch as the PLA Air Force and Naval Air Force are beginning to cooperate, and the PLAAF is practicing naval attack missions, it remains possible that by the turn of the decade that the PLA could have over 500 Su-27 and Su-30 fighters capable of a range of naval attack missions.
A second naval strike aircraft benefiting from significant foreign input is the Xian JH-7A fighter bomber. While inferior in performance to the Su-30MKK2, the PLA very likely sustains this program as insurance against losing Russian sources, and due to the PLAs desire to rapidly build a force to use against Taiwan. The JH-7 program began in the late 1970s and remained essentially stalled until the late 1990s because the PLA could not come to terms with the maker of its engine, Britains Rolls Royce. After buying an initial batch of about 50 to 100 Spey 202 engines in the early 1980s, the PLA tried but could not copy it. But by 1998 the PLA swallowed its pride and approached the British again. By 1999 there was agreement to sell 80-90 more used Spey engines and finally to sell the technology needed to initiate co-production. This engine emerged in 2003 as the new Qinling engine. This new engine is very likely a more powerful version of the Spey, filling a longstanding JH-7 requirement for more power The Qinling will enable production of the second version of this attack aircraft, the JH-7A, which will also use Russian Kh-31A anti-ship missiles and be able to deliver laser-guided bombs. A 2000 report noted that if Spey co-production was revived, the PLA might produce up to 155 new JH-7s. This might support up to 6 new Regiments, or two per each of the PLANs three fleets.
Future Naval Power Projection
While so far their prohibitive cost has prevented the PLA from building large aircraft carrying combat ships, the PLA has pursued an aggressive aircraft carrier technology acquisition effort that has included the purchase of non-operating Russian conventional take-off (CTOL) and vertical take-off (VSTOL) carriers. It is very possible that the Russian CTOL carrier could serve as a template for a future PLA Navy carrier. Building one or more conventional take-off or landing (CTOL) aircraft carriers remains a burning ambition for the PLAN and even a general nationalist ambition for the PRC. In 1973 former Premier Zhou Enlai reportedly stated, I am not satisfied with the fact that China does not have its own aircraft carrier. Former PLAN commander Liu Huaqing is reported to have boasted, I will not die with my eyes closed if I do not see an aircraft carrier in front of me. A nationalist Hong Kong newspaper noted in early 2002, armed with no aircraft carrier-led battle group, China's navy is expected to face tremendous difficulties in ensuring air control in defensive operations in the future, waged in the East China Sea and the South China Sea in particular, where it is likely to face a grave and realistic challenge.
However, through the 1990s it became apparent that the PRC leadership had concluded that capabilities provided by carriers did not justify their expense, plus the added costs for their new bases, aircraft, and escort ships. Money spent on carriers would also deny funds to programs deemed more critical to obtain the objective of reunification with Taiwan. However, since the 1980s the PLA has undertaken a massive research and development effort devoted to a future aircraft carrier, that has seen the acquisition of four used Russian and Western aircraft carrier. If the PRC leadership does decide to acquire aircraft carriers, that will likely not happen until or after 2010, or after the Taiwan issue is resolved in the PRCs favor.
But when the decision is made to begin to make an aircraft carrier, the PLA will have the benefit of years of extensive research and development most of which stems from the PLAs expansive access to Russian and Western aircraft carrier technologies. An end to the European Union embargo on arms sales to the PLA would open the possibility of both British and French companies rushing to sell the PLA aircraft carrier technologies. But to date, Russia has been the main source. Since March 2002 the former Russian KUZNETSOV class CTOL carrier Tiblisi has rested at Dalian, home of a large PLAN base. While the cover story for the Tiblisis purchase is that it is to become a floating casino, the 60,000 ton carrier could also be turned into a fighting ship, albeit at great expense. In late 2003 there were no reports that this is happening.
But in early September 2003 the Harbin Technical University held its 50th anniversary celebration, lauded by Jiang Zemin. Founded soon after the Chinese Communist revolution, Harbin has been deeply involved in PLA military technical research, and for the celebration students produced a 1:100 scale model of a prospective aircraft carrier. From images viewed over the Internet it is clear the aircraft is based on the KUZNETSOV class.  Its main differences were in the placement of anti-ship missiles, and the usage of a new anti-aircraft missile similar to that on the new No. 170 air defense destroyer. Such a ship could eventually carry an air wing comprised either of navalized Shenyang J-11 or Chengdu J-10 fighters, plus Kamov helicopters for ASW or AEW missions. Such a carrier, if escorted by No. 170 destroyers and Type 093 SSNs, would give the PLA a naval power projection capability unrivaled by any other East Asia navy. The Harbin students could simply be showing their school spirit, or their aircraft carrier model could represent what the PLA could build in the near term, if it had the financial support.
Foreign technology is also available to the PLA to build smaller carriers that could be used for anti-submarine or to support amphibious operations. In 2000 and 2001 PRC companies acquired the former Russian KIEV class carriers Minsk and Kiev. While these ships were designed to defend SSBNs from the U.S. Navy, they could also form the basis for a more general purpose air support ship. The PLA reportedly has also had contact with Spanish and Italian shipyards which build small aircraft carriers. And in 1997 it launched the Shichang, a 10,000 ton ship for training helicopter pilots, which resembles the British air support ship Argus.
But it should also be considered that the PLAN does not need carriers in order to be able to project conventional military power on a global scale, if the PRC leadership so chooses. Toward the end of the decade, when the Type 093 SSN enters service, so will a new class of PLA land attack cruise missiles. One version very likely will be designed to be launched by the Type 093 and other PLAN submarines. Combined with satellite cueing and navigation, it is possible to consider that the PLA could use the Type 093-LACM combination to at least have the option of applying conventional precision striking power to pursue PRC interests in littoral areas of concern.
FOREIGN IMPACT ON PLA GROUND FORCE MODERNIZATION
For much of the 1990s foreign technology acquisitions tended to favor the PLA Air Force and the PLA Navy. The sheer numbers of weapons that would be required is likely one factor that prevents large-scale purchases of major foreign-source weapons for the PLA Army. This changed in the late 1990s very likely for a key reason: the need to build up select ground force capabilities as part of a larger strategy to compel unification with Taiwan. A credible threat of invasion is very likely viewed as necessary in the event Taiwanese leaders determine they could wait out a missile-air-naval campaign despite its damage to their island.
For PLA ground forces, the main trend is for specific foreign systems to be imported or co-produced as components for larger systems. The exception is in the area of helicopter technology, where there remains a substantial reliance on new foreign technology to enable the development of new indigenous helicopters. In addition, small numbers of new systems are being purchased to increase the capability of Airborne and Amphibious forces. That said, toward the end of the 1990s it has been clear that more foreign-source weapons and military technologies are benefiting PLA Army capabilities. These examples include:
Information is being turned into a more effective weapon by greater use of UAVs, radars and more profound fire and counter-fire capabilities that are being improved with foreign technologies.
Select foreign technologies are helping the PLA to build world-class main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers.
Russian tank gun-launched laser-guided missiles are giving several PLA tanks greater striking distance.
Foreign aircraft, helicopters, light tanks and light trucks are giving greater power to PLA Airborne Forces.
Foreign helicopters are expanding the PLAs vertical lift capability and European helicopter technology is driving growing indigenous helicopter development capability.
The PLA now stresses the informatization of the Army as a key modernization goalone that will serve as a force multiplier. In recent years the PLA Army has incorporated greater computerization, and communications that stress fiber optics and satellites. While the PLA has used civilian PRC satellites for many years, the PLAs now has at least two dedicated communications satellites, influenced by foreign technology. The Army has developed several types of VSAT communication vehicles and smaller individual sized VSAT receive/transmit units. These allow headquarters and moving units to remain connected by satellite links.
This kind of connectivity has allowed the Army to reorganize its communication, command, control and logistics processes. Headquarters can be equipped with interactive voice and video terminals and large-screen displays to manage a campaign. This has been done at the theater level in the Guangzhou MR and likely has been done elsewhere. Satellite links have allowed the Army to experiment with Digitized units that can constantly transmit combat, position, supply, and other logistic data back to commanders. For example, the 38th GAs 6th armored division is reported to have experimented with digitized tank and artillery units. Pictures from CCTV showing Army exercises in late 2002 show an increased use of laptop computers by commanding officers and technicians managing complex equipment. In the Shenyang MR, for example, mobile command posts feature new civilian digital projectors to enable visual and voice contact between field commanders and rear headquarters units. New nation-wide fiber optic networks allow the Army to expand its ability to conduct virtual exercises and to educate officers and troops.
In the future the PLA may try to follow U.S. Armys concepts in the Future Combat System program and bring digital connectivity down to the level of the soldier and small unit. During October 2000 military demonstrations the PLA Army unveiled new digital voice and image transmission systems tailored for individual soldiers. This exercise featured at least a squad of video-link equipped soldiers jumping from a Mi-17 helicopter. Although this was likely an experimental system being used with one Special Forces unit, some border guard units have video-voice digital communications equipment that allows commanders in Beijing to maintain contact with distant patrolling small units. At the 2002 Zhuhai Airshow the new WDT Corporation introduced an even smaller digital voice-video transmission system and stated that it was developing an eyepiece monitor as well.
Again, following foreign examples and using foreign technology, the PLA is using its communications technologies to channel greater and more precise data about the battlefield into users and weapons that strike with far greater precision. It is likely that the Army will make greater use networked data from Russian assisted space and airborne information systems, netted to tactical airborne and ELINT sources, which can more rapidly direct appropriate firepower. Tactical UAVs such as the W-50 and W-30 series revealed at the 2000 Zhuhai show a similarity to Israeli UAVs and likely perform as well. It is also possible that new attack helicopters, like the future European-assisted WZ-10 or the new WZ-11 will be able to patch their sensor data into networks as well. Foreign made counter-artillery radar like the British CYMBERLINE and the Ukrainian ZOOPARK-1 are likely influencing new PLA-designed counter-artillery radar. Foreign made or foreign assisted satellites will form an important link between high and mid command levels, but increasingly will reach into smaller units and Special Forces units as well. And should the U.S. GPS navigation satellite system be denied, PRC partnership in the future European GALILEO system will ensure weapons are aimed with precision.
When targets are determined, new foreign assisted systems will speed the Army ability to attack. While indigenous SRBMs and future LACMs extend the Armys fire zone, it will also be extended by the WZ-10 and WZ-11, a copy of the French AS350. Indirect fire capabilities will be expanded by the A-100 MLRS, a copy of the Russian SMERCH. The A-100s 100-120km range missiles may already out-range Russian missiles and these may soon have satellite navigation guidance. It is likely that the PLA will soon copy Russian fused-sensor munitions, which are fired from rocket or other artillery shells and then automatically home in on enemy armor. Increasingly detailed information about potential targets allows the PLA to better utilize new precision weapons like new Russian laser-guided artillery shells.
New Armor Capabilities
Access to Western technology has allowed the PLA to create a new generation of tanks which outclass Taiwans older U.S. tanks and compare very well with newer Japanese, Korean and even early models of the U.S. M-1 ABRAMS. Until the late 1990s most PLA tanks were developments of Soviet designs, starting with the Soviet T-55. From the late 1970s onward, from its Middle Eastern friends, the PLA probably had access to examples of then new Soviet designs like the T-72. In the 1980s the PLA was able to buy some Israeli gun and British tank engine technology. There was even a program with the U.S. General Motors to design a new tank. In 1991 the PLA revealed its Type-90 design with a British Perkins CV12-1200 diesel engine. But in the 1990s this technology access shifted to Russian and Ukrainian sources.
The PLA chose the large October 1999 Beijing military parade to reveal two new main battle tanks, the Type-98 ( T-98, ZTZ-98) and the T-96 (T-88C). While similar at first glance, they are quite different and now represent a high-low mix. The T-98 has generated the most interest in the West. The hull shows definite influences from that of the T-72 but is larger and has a more powerful 1,200hp diesel engine, perhaps based on British Perkins technology. The turret, however, departs from the more common Russian bowl design and is box which clearly is meant to store additional ammunition. The very critical front area of the turret has removable cheeks which presumably use advanced composite and metal combinations which can be updated, as per current trends in tank armor. The turret of the T-98Gai (Improved) uses more advanced arrowhead cheeks that resemble those of the German LEOPARD 2A5, and make greater use of explosive-reactive armor (ERA).
The T-98s main weapon is a development of the Russian 125mm smooth-bore gun. The gun is stabilized and the gunner can fire while on the move. However, the T-98s ammo autoloader appears to be a copy of the T-72, which is not viewed with favor, and some of the ammo is kept in the hull, which poses a danger to the crew. The T-98s ammo includes modern rounds like armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot (APFSDS) rounds, which are very hard tungsten arrows that use high kinetic energy to defeat modern ERA. The PLA very likely has depleted uranium APFSDS rounds that are harder and pack more punch. This tank is also armed with Russias REFLEX gun-launched laser-guided anti-tank missile. With a range of 5km it out-reaches most tank guns, but is expensive and vulnerable to laser countermeasures. A particular surprise on the T-98 was the appearance of a laser-based counter measure device that apparently can detect and fire a laser that blinds the optics of enemy tanks. It may also automatically direct counter-fire.
Few T-98s have been built, however, and production appears to be shifted in the last year or so to the newer T-98Gai. The Pentagon reports, however, that by 2005 PLA is going to build 1,500 of the less expensive T-96. This tank uses the same design philosophy of the T-98 but is smaller, has a less powerful engine and lacks the active laser defense device. It does have a 125mm gun and probably close to the same armor protection. It very likely can use gun-launched laser-guided missiles. This tank is more suited to the PLAs priority of building up its armor forces with an affordable but still capable tank which will still be superior to Taiwans U.S.-built tanks.
Russian technology will feature heavily on a new armored personnel carrier/armored infantry fighting vehicle that the PLA revealed in early 2003. Long awaited due to the obsolescence of existing PLA APCs, this new AIFVs designation has not been revealed. But it has clearly been influenced by the Russian BMP-3 AIFV to the extent of using this vehicles unique turret and 100mm plus 30mm gun complex. The 100mm gun fires conventional rounds and the ARKAN gun-launched missile, which is also capable of hitting helicopters. It is paired with a 30mm gun to dispatch thinly armored vehicles. The new AIVF is amphibious and enhances personnel protection by placing the engine in front. However, is also suffers the drawbacks of the BMP-3, mainly its expense and vulnerability if it encounters real enemy tanks. It is not yet known how many of these new AIFVs will be built, but troop carrying, command, ambulance and ELINT versions of this vehicle can also be expected.
With foreign help the PLA Army is developing advanced concept munitions. The PLA has also shown great interest in Russian and U.S. sensor-fused munitions. It is likely that Russia has sold this technology to the PLA. These are fired by artillery, rockets or cruise missiles and descend to find a target, and then fire a molten metal round that is shaped to best defeat the target. One bomb or missile loaded with these can automatically take out a column of armored vehicles. The U.S. used them successfully in Iraq in April 2003. Utilization of sensor-fused munitions, however, requires a constant real-time picture of the target that can only be obtained from layers of Army and Air Force ISR assets. The PLA has also obtained thermobaric shell technology from Russia and is developing thermobaric weapons for SRBMs, battlefield missiles and artillery. And to counter growing use of protective body armors, such as is done in the U.S., the PLA has developed a family of infantry guns around a unique 5.8mm bullet offers better penetrating capabilities than widely used Western calibers.
The Armys new Type-98 main battle tank quite possibly features a new laser weapon designed for both defensive and offensive missions. In the future the PLA Army can be expected to field lasers for anti-armor and anti-air missions. Russian laser-guided artillery and mortar rounds, like the 152mm KITOLOV, are now co-produced in the PRC. The PRC has also produced its own 155mm version of this shell. The PLA also produces gun-launched laser-guided anti-tank missiles in 125mm and 105mm sizes, to arm tanks including the Type-98, Type-96, Type-59D and Type-63A amphibious tanks. These laser guided missiles are either co-produced version of, or based on Russian designs like the 5km range 9M119 REFLEX and the 4km range 9M117 BASTION. While impressive, PLA use of laser guided anti-tank rounds would be limited by the lesser range of PLA tank sensors. In addition, obscurants like smoke could prevent accurate laser-guided missile and artillery round guidance. As a consequence, as is the trend in the U.S., the PLA Army will likely make greater use of navigation satellite guidance systems, especially for larger weapons like artillery rockets and shells.
Improving the Firepower of Airborne and Amphibious Forces
A Taiwanese assessment presents a view of PLA Airborne forces beginning to achieve a stature and size that is allowing them to move beyond an auxiliary, supporting arm, to that of a decisive arm, especially in a Taiwan invasion. In a Taiwan campaign Airborne forces alone would capture key targets in Taipei and cut off the capital city. Such an attack, when combined with massive electronic, missile and air attack, is viewed by some in the PLA as sufficient to force Taiwans capitulation. But for the PLA, such an operation would require intense preparation for its Airborne force that have had no modern combat experience. Nevertheless, it appears that PLA Airborne exercises are growing in size and complexity. The Soviet use of airborne forces in Hungary and the U.S. Airborne deployment to the Gulf are models receiving intense study by PLA Airborne forces. In early December 2000, the Commander of Russian Airborne forces visited China to meet with PLA Airborne leaders and to visit their units. He praised the training of PLA Airborne troops and called for closer Russian-PLA cooperation in Airborne unit training.
The 15th Airborne Army is said to have four subordinate divisions, with an estimated strength of about 46,000 troops. The 15th Airborne Army also has a new Special Forces unit. However, Taiwan sources note the secret formation of a new brigade and the pending formation two new divisions for a total of 6 divisions, with an eventual projected growth to 70,000 men. You Ji cites a Chinese General Li Yuliang as having proposed that the PLA have the ability to paradrop 100,000 troops at a time by early in this century. More recent reports from 2003 indicate note the formation of one additional Airborne division.
Foreign technology for the Airborne forces include the early 1990s purchase of Russian Il-76 transports, which provided Airborne forces with their first real heavy-lift capability. Purchases of additional Il-76s have been long rumored, including 2003 reports of an order for 20 more. Acquisition of the Il-76 was soon exploited by the purchase of Russian BMD AIFVs, unique in their combination of firepower and robustness in a light-weight package. The latest BMD-3M uses a lighter version of the BMP-3 turret and gun system, and may be purchased to outfit a new Airborne division reportedly to be formed. Airborne forces are also making increasing use of an Italian light military truck now being co-produced in the PRC. This truck has even been pictured with equipped with a HJ-9 anti-tank missile launchera missile that bears a close resemblance to the Israeli MAPATS missile.
The early years of this decade are witnessing a major modernization and expansion of PLA Army amphibious capabilities that are clearly intended for possible use against Taiwan. Unique in the worlds armed forces, the PLA Army now has larger amphibious forces than the PLA Navy Marine Corps. Known dedicated amphibious army units probably comprise about 30,000 personnel. These units would be responsible for breaking through Taiwans coastal defenses and securing beachheads to allow the landing of regular infantry, armor, artillery and air defense units. However, it is possible that in combination with massive airborne assaults, amphibious units could play a decisive role in a lightning ground assault designed to isolate Taipei and force the rapid capitulation of Taiwans leadership.
While the PLA Navy lacks a large number of large amphibious transport ships, it is possible that the PLA could instead rely on larger civilian Roll-On-Roll-Off cargo ships should PLA Airborne forces succeed in capturing a key port. A small number of PLA Navy amphibious ships could transport PLA Army and Marine units to conduct flanking attacks to better secure the port until a main group of regular Army forces arrives. The PLAs the new Type-63A or Type-99 amphibious tank is designed for Taiwan operations. With a more powerful engine it can better overcome Taiwans difficult coastline and armed with 105mm Russian designed gun-launched missiles it out-reaches all of Taiwans current U.S.-built tanks. The PLA is also equipping its Army amphibious units with a new type of amphibious APC based on the older Type-63 APC, which is intended to provide support for the T-63A. In 2002 a CCTV spot indicated that the PLA had also purchased the Russian PTS-2 or PTS-M open amphibious APC. The newer PTS-M can carry over 80 troops.
Helping Expand Helicopter Lift and Helicopter Industry
While the PLA is investing heavily in its domestic helicopter sector and is very interested in meeting what may be sharply growing domestic demand, it also remains dependent on foreign helicopter purchases and on foreign helicopter technology to drive new programs. Design and manufacturing of helicopters falls under the aegis of the Aviation Industries of China-II (AVIC-II) corporation. Design of all PRC helicopters is led by the Chinese Helicopter Research and Development Institute (CHRDI) in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province. In the same city is located one of the PRC two helicopter manufacturers, the Chang He Aircraft Industries Group (CHAIG). To the north in Heilongjiang Province is the Harbin Aircraft Industries Group (HAIG).
Though the PLA produced large numbers of Soviet Mi-4 HOUND (Z-5) helicopters in the 1960s, the industry was directed to develop Western helicopter technology in the 1980s. France sold the PRC the license to HAIG to produce the Aerospatile SA-365 DAUPHIN, which it has produced as the Z-9 and WZ-9 attack helicopter. CHAIG acquired the license to build the Aerospatiale Super Frelon, as the Z-8. While an obsolete helicopter, production has resumed for a small number of Z-8A transports helicopters for the Army. CHAIG also acquired a small number of Eurocopter SA-350B light helicopters in the mid-1990s which it reverse engineered as the Z-11.
However, the inability of this sector to meet PLA helicopter demands in the 1990s saw the PLA turn again to Russia. The PLA managed to obtain some Soviet Mi-8 medium and Mi-6 heavy helicopters during the late 1960s, and after Tiananmen, began to steadily purchase Mil Mi-17 helicopters. By 2003 deliveries and orders accounted for about 216 Mi-17, Mi-17I, Mi-17-V5 and Mi-17-V7 types. The Mi-17 is a proven workhorse that can carry 36 troops or 4-5 tons of cargo. The later two batches of Mi-17s are modified to carry unguided missiles to provide fire support, and the Mi-17V5 features a flat rear ramp for better access. In 2002 Russia also offered the PRC the license to co-produce helicopters, presumably the Mi-17. However, it is just as likely that the PLA will purchase further batches of Mi-17s.
Despite the Tiananmen arms embargoes, the PLA has had increasing access to Western helicopter technology and to Western helicopters. European manufacturers are making alliances with PLA companies and it is likely that U.S. helicopter makers want to follow suit. U.S. helicopter maker Sikorsky has included the Jingdazhen PRC helicopter consortium in the development of its S-92 advanced transport helicopter, most likely in hopes of promoting sales to the PRC market. The PRC consortium is responsible for building the tail fin but likely has gained much helicopter design knowledge from its partnership with Sikorsky. After 2000, the U.S. also relaxed export regulations so that civil organization in the PRC are now buying U.S. helicopters. But the PRC has had more success in obtaining European helicopter technology. The PRC, Singapore and Eurocopter formed a consortium to develop the EC-120 COLIBRI light helicopter.
Through the 1990s France and Italy have competed to sell helicopter technology to the PRC. Both are involved in the CHRDIs new medium helicopter program, sometimes called the Z-10. France has help to verify the rotor system while Italys Augusta has provided additional help with the dynamic system. The first PLA-released view of this helicopter shown at the 2002 Zhuhai show indicates a strong Italian influence; the dynamic system area looks almost identical to Agustas AB-139, recently selected by the U.S. Coast Guard as its new medium helicopter. The 5-ton medium helicopter will be made in military utility and commercial transport versions. The October 2003 decision by European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS) to by five percent of an IPO place by AVIC-II on the Hong Kong stock exchange will serve to deepen European-PLA cooperation in the helicopter sector.
The dynamic system of the new medium helicopter will also form the basis for the PLAs first indigenous attack helicopter, sometimes called the WZ-10. In development for most of the last decade, this helicopter is believed to have been test flown for the first time in early 2003. It is estimated that this new attack helicopter will resemble the Eurocopter TIGER in size and capability. This indicates it will be a two-seat tandem attack helicopter with advanced targeting and networking systems, and will be armed with a range of missiles and a cannon. It is not expected to enter service until later in the decade. Before that the PLA will likely take delivery of a larger number of attack variants of the Z-11, a copy of the French AS350. Though a light copter it will likely carry 4 anti-tank missile. Its near-term availability and the fact that more can be built cheaply may mean the WZ-11 may play a more important role in supporting any future PLA Airborne or amphibious campaign against Taiwan.
SPECIFIC THREATS TO US FORCES THAT CCOULD EMERGE FROM NEW FOREIGN ARMS TO THE PLA
The following two sections seek to identify new PLA capabilities which could threaten U.S. and Taiwan as a consequence of the PLAs access to foreign military technologies. To be sure, access to new weapons and technologies is only part of the equation. The PLA also needs to develop the appropriate doctrine, tactics, training and logistical support mechanisms to turn new weapons into military capabilities. It is not the main purpose of this report to assess in full these crucial software htmects of PLA modernization. For some emerging capabilities, like new nuclear missiles, their mere existence does create new levels of threat. But even absent a full assessment of PLA success in integrating new foreign weapons into its force, their existence also creates the potential for a new level of threat. It is unwise for U.S. military planners to assume any potential enemy is too stupid to use their known weapons to their full potential. This section therefore, seeks to assess the extent of the possible new threat to the U.S. caused by PLA access to modern foreign military hardware.
New Nuclear Missile Threats
PLA espionage, interactions with U.S. companies during commercial space activities during the 1990s, and probably deeper commercial access of Russian technology during the same period have enabled the PLA to modernize its primary and secondary long range nuclear missile strike capabilities. The PLAs goal is not to match the numbers of U.S. and Russian nuclear missiles but to ensure that PLA missiles remain a tool for deterrence and political coercion. New PLA nuclear missiles will place immediate burdens on U.S. missile defenses planned for deployment in 2004. The degree to which the PLA can surmount U.S. missile defenses will be the same degree with which it can use its nuclear missile forces for potential political blackmail against the United States and its friends and allies. The first fundamental foreign contribution, whether from espionage of classified U.S. data or by gathering of open sources, has been to enable the PLA to build modern small thermonuclear warheads. This achievement by the early 1990s was essential to the development of new mobile missiles and multiple warhead missiles.
At the beginning of the 1990s the PLA had some DF-5 ICBMs which could only lob one large and inaccurate warhead at the United States. Furthermore these DF-5s would have to be made vulnerable during the time needed to erect and fuel them, possibly enabling the U.S. to attack them. By the middle of this decade, 1-2 years, the PLA will have two new ICBMs that are more accurate and more survivable. The first will be the DF-5 Mod 2 which the Pentagon has reported may be the first PLA ICBM to have multiple warheads. As such it will be far more able to penetrate early U.S. missile defenses that are planned for deployment in 2004. It can be expected that the DF-5 Mod 2 will be continually upgraded with more capable penetration aids that allow its warheads to evade U.S. missile interceptors. At this point the Pentagon reports there may only be about 20 DF-5 Mod 2s. But if each can launch 5 warheads, a low estimate for this large missile, that adds up to a potential 100 warheads from DF-5s alone.
By the middle of the decade, if not already, the PLA will begin deploying three new types of solid-fueled ICBM. It is possible that these missiles were made possible in part by U.S. solid-fuel technology transferred by the U.S. Martin Marietta Company. The 8,000km range DF-31 ICBM may be deploying now and will be joined by the 12,000km range DF-31A later in this decade. The DF-31 may only carry one warhead but the DF-31A may carry up to three. Both will be road-mobile, meaning they can be hidden in numerous steep valleys and caves, hidden from U.S. satellites. As they are solid fueled they need very little time to prepare for launch. This complicates defense against these missiles as it also complicates estimation of their final number. The Pentagon expects overall ICBM numbers to increase to 30 by 2005 and 60 by 2010, meaning as many as 40 will be mobile ICBMs.
This overall number will jump by 16 nuclear missiles for each new Type 094 SSBN built for the PLA Navy. Its new JL-2 SLBM is also derived from the DF-31. Its range has not been disclosed by the Pentagon other than to say it is more than 8,000km. The 094, thanks to substantial Russian technology used to make the Type 093 nuclear attack submarine, will likely be the PLAs first modern and reliable second strike platform. The JL-2s range may permit the 094 to loiter in waters near the PRC, or it may have go to further into the First Island Chain in order to reach most of the United States. The 094 also offers other potential options for the PLA, such as being able to undertake patrols in the Southern hemisphere that would enable South Polar SLBM launches. This might be attractive to the PLA inasmuch as the U.S. does not, at this point, plan to defend its southern approaches with land-based missile defenses.
Emerging PLA Space Combat Capabilities
Foreign technologies are also be enabling the PLA to gather some early weapons capable at least of denying the U.S. its current unchallenged use of outer space to enable new levels of military capability on Earth. PLA commentators have noted that U.S. military capabilities are very dependent on space-based reconnaissance, surveillance, communication and navigation platforms. An ability to threaten or take out some of these satellites could severely diminish U.S. warfighting capabilities and may have profound political impact in Washington. It is reported that the PLA has long had access to Russian advanced laser technologies that may have already enabled an initial ground-based laser capable of damaging U.S. satellites. In addition, foreign technology is enabling the creation of new ground-launched direct-assent ASAT systems. First, the DF-31 and DF-31A will form the basis for new mobile solid fuel space-launch vehicles capable of placing micro-satellites in polar Earth orbits frequented by U.S. military satellites. Second, the PLAs ability to make interceptor micro-satellites received a great boost from a still ongoing micro-satellite joint venture with Britains Surry Space Systems.
Foreign technology has enabled the PLAs initial and possibly future manned military space capability. Russian technology from its SOYUZ space ship formed the basis for the PLAs SHENZHOU space ship. The manned SHENZHOU space capsule launched in October 2003 with great fanfare, had as its main mission military reconnaissance. The preceding four unmanned SHENZHOU missions also carried out ELINT and electro-optical reconnaissance missions. The PLAs usage of its first manned steps into outer space for military gain sets an ominous precedent; all future manned missions controlled by the PLA may also be configured for military missions. Europe hopes to sell technology to the PLA that will enable larger manned space stations, as Europe also campaigns for the PRC to be allowed to join the International Space Station. If this were to happen, would Europe, and then the U.S. and its ISS partners merely be enabling larger and more capable PLA military space stations? The PLAs willingness to use its first manned spaceships for military missions at least creates the possibility that future permanent manned space stations could be used for greater surveillance and even space combat missions.
Strategic Surveillance via Russian Satellite Technologies
Part of the current U.S. ability to give new destructive power to its conventional weapons is due to its ability to make ever greater use of satellites for surveillance, communication and navigation. By the 2007 the PLA may also have in space a smaller constellation of military satellites. While not as extensive as that of the U.S., it could give PRC officials and PLA commanders access to highly detailed image intelligence, a rudimentary space surveillance capability and greater abilities to expand communication networks and guide precision weapons. The PLA is gathering the tools to exploit space in this manner in large part thanks to access to Russian technology. The case of using the Russian SOYUZ derived SHENZHOU for military surveillance has been noted. But the PLA is using Russian radar satellite and, very likely, Russian electro-optical satellite technology to accelerate its build-up of a robust space surveillance network. These satellites will very likely have less than one meter resolutions, sufficient for most precision targeting requirements.
Networking and using specific targeting data will be make easier by increasing PLA use of new communication satellites. The PLA may now have two dedicated communication satellites in addition to several civilian satellites it uses. And while the PLA seeks to develop its own navigation satellites, it has also been accepted as a full partner into the future European GALILEO navigation satellite constellation. As the PLA makes greater use of navigation satellite signals to guide both platforms and weapons, its access to those signals will likely be assured by its involvement in the European navigation satellite system.
The importance of these military-space developments extends beyond the Taiwan Strait to potentially diminish the extent of U.S. influence in other regions. The PRC leadership will soon be more empowered in that it can use detailed imagery to assist clients against friends of the United States or to give advantages to favored factions in future distant conflicts. Space surveillance, communication and navigation capabilities will also allow new PLA SSNs to become limited non-nuclear power projection platforms, by allowing immediate targeting for their cruise missiles. This means that the PLA in the future could be able, if it chooses, to apply limited military force on behalf of those favored factions. Or, via satellite and computer linkages, the PLA can provide targeting and guidance data for precision weapons sold to client states.
Russian Air Strike, Air Force Upgrade Systems
Foreign aircraft and weapons sales to the PLA will enable it to field the largest force of offensive multi-role fighters in Asia well before the end of the decade. This development will challenge the U.S. ability to sustain deterrence on the Taiwan Strait and meet defense commitments in Asia, especially if the War on Terror persists thru the decade as well.
From Russia the PLA is purchasing the key building blocks for a modern offensive air force. By 2006 the PLAAF and PLANAF could have close to 500 modern multi-role fighters. These may include 300 Su-27SK/J-11 and over 100 Su-30MKK/MKK2 fightersmost of which will be multi-role capable due to recent radar and system upgrades sold by Russia. These will be armed with capable Russian weapons like the Vympel R-77 active-guided MRAAM, helmet-sighted R-73 short-range AAMs, and a bevy of Russian-made PGMs and long-range attack missiles. Also by 2006, to this Russian-origin force could be added about 50 Russian and Israeli influenced Chengdu J-10s and perhaps 40 Russian assisted Xian JH-7Asalso multi-role fighters. Some of the PLAAFs J-8 fleet will be made more capable by the addition of Russian-assisted PL-12 active-guided MRAAMs. And for short-range defense or patrols over the Taiwan Strait, newer J-7G fighters will be made more deadly by the addition of new helmet-sighted missiles, perhaps the Israeli-derived PL-9C. These fighter forces will be made more capable by the expected introduction of one or two new AWACS systems, a new version of the Russian Beriev A-50 and perhaps a new aircraft with an ERIEYE-like phased array radar.
Such a force is imposing in terms of its numbers. To properly deter a conflict on the Taiwan Strait the U.S. has to be able deploy many fighters and support aircraft to the Asian region very quickly. Today the U.S. only maintains two squadrons or 48 F-15C fighters at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, the closest such units to Taiwan. One squadron of 24 F-15Cs was withdrawn in November 1999. For air superiority missions, in the Pacific region the U.S. could also call on about 92 other F-15 fighters in Alaska and Hawaii and about 144 F-16Cs between South Korea, Japan and Alaska, though these are also tasked for ground attack missions. While about 285 fighters should give the PLA some pause, if it succeeds in achieving real surprise in a Taiwan campaign, the U.S. may only be able to immediately call on 48 F-15s and 48 F-16s based in Japan. During a Taiwan conflict, U.S. aircraft on Okinawa would be vulnerable to PLA missile and Special Forces attacks. Given current U.S. commitments to Iraq, Afghanistan and the need to deter an increasingly dangerous North Korea, in 2004 and 2005 U.S. air forces are going to be stretched thin.
Regarding combat aircraft performance comparisons, it is increasingly clear that only the U.S. Lockheed-Martin F/A-22 RAPTOR will have the stealth, aerodynamic and electronic systems advantages that confer clear superior to the PLAAFs Sukhoi products. Only the F/A-22 will be able to supercruise, or fly for extended periods and maneuver sharply at supersonic speeds, which gives its pilot a clear tactical edge, something the Su-27/30 cannot do. This capability can be exploited by the RAPTOR because it can obtain a total picture of its threat environment from its Sanders (now BAE Systems) ALR-94 passive detection system, which has a reported range of 250 nautical miles (463km), and its Northrop-Grumman APG-77 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar has a detection range of 125 nm (231km). If the radar does not use Low Probability of Intercept modes that mask detection by electronic counter measures, then this range could jump to 145 miles (268km). The APG-77 can also be used to jam enemy radar. The Russian detection systems on the PLAAF Sukhois cannot approach this performance. To exploit these advantage the U.S. is reportedly developing a 100 nm (185km) range version of the active-guided AIM-120 AMRAAM, better than current versions with about a 60nm (111km) range. At short ranges the F/A-22 would have extreme maneuver capability due to its thrust-vectored engines. However, the F/A-22 is not due to enter active service until 2004-2005 and the ultimate number of these fighters to be purchased is one of the most hotly contested defense issues in Washington. Originally programmed for 750 fighters, the Clinton Administration reduced this to 339 in 1997, and now the Air Force may only be able to afford 276, to enter service by 2013.
However, current U.S. Air Force F-15C, F-16 and Navy F/A-18C/E/F fighters will face an imposing challenge from the growing number of multi-role capable PLAAF Sukhois. In terms of maneuverability and close-in fighting, the Sukhoi has an advantage over the U.S. fighters in terms of higher thrust-to-weight ratio and lower wing loading, which give it better maneuverability. Even the newer F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as its main mission is ground attack, is expected to be a lag behind the Sukhoi. The Sukhois advantage over the F-15 has been proven in at least two friendly U.S.-Russian exercises in the early to mid 1990s. And since their acquisition in the early 1990s PLAAF Sukhois have been armed with the Vympel R-73 helmet-sighted missile, which could give a competent pilot the first-shot advantage. The PLAAF may also be arming their less capable J-7G fighters with equalizing helmet-sighted missiles. The U.S. is just now integrating helmet-display sighted AIM-9X short-range AAMs on to F-15C and F/A-18E/F fighters; F-16s will not be modified until 2007 or 2008.
For the last 25 years the U.S. has instead focused on dominating the long-range combat environment, having developed and integrated the F-15C with active-guided AIM-120 MRAAM and E-3 SENTRY AWACS. And the U.S. has successfully employed these integrated systems to dominate the skies over Iraq and the Balkans. It may take some more time for the PLA to integrate its new Sukhois, active-guided R-77 MRAAMs and future A-50 AWACS on a similar scale. But the PLAs gathering foreign systems can begin to deny the U.S. its chosen method for aerial dominance. First it is acquiring the means to attack the U.S. air-combine. With Kh-31P anti-radiation missiles it can attack U.S. E-2 and E-3 AWACS system at long ranges. In addition, the PLA may also have passive-guided long range AAMs like the R-27EP also designed to attack AWACS platforms. In addition the PLA is very likely interested in acquiring new Russian SAMs, like the 400km range S-400, which is intended to threaten AWACS aircraft. It can also be expected that the PLA will place heavy emphasis on attacking U.S. aerial refueling tankers, which will be essential for the U.S. fighters to maintain a presence over the Taiwan Strait.
Should U.S. AWACS fall then the PLA could use superior numbers of fighters armed with active-guided missiles to overwhelm U.S. aircraft. New F/A-18E/F fighter-bombers, when by 2005 and beyond, are equipped with the Raytheon AN/APG-79 185km range AESA radar, will have this advantage over PLAAF Sukhois. Older U.S. F-15C and F-16Cs may also have a better missile in the latest version of the AIM-120, but the capability of the Russian R-77 and the PLAs Russian-assisted PL-12 active-guided AAMs are too close for comfort. These will arm both Sukhoi fighters and increasingly, Shenyang J-8 and Chengdu J-10 fighters as well. As U.S. fighters get closer to the Taiwan Strait they will encounter increasing numbers of both Russian-made and PLA-made fighter armed with these deadly missiles.
Gathering Foreign-Purchased Anti-Carrier Forces
Thanks largely to the PLAs access to foreign technology, it will be able to gather the most serious threat to U.S. Navy carrier battle groups assembled since the Cold War. By gathering this imposing force the PLA hopes to deter U.S. naval intervention in support of Taiwan in the event of a PLA attack, or to quickly sink a U.S. carrier in hopes of precipitating a rapid U.S. withdrawal. But at a minimum, this gathering force will make it far more difficult for the U.S. Navy to intimidate the PLA as it did in 1996, which serves to undermine deterrence on the Taiwan Strait. As illustrated in the box below, by this authors estimates by 2010 the PLA could gather an imposing strike force: about 45 submarines and over 400 fighter-bombers capable of naval strike missions. These are conservative estimates; the PLA is capable of acquiring additional KILO and SONG submarines and a reported impending second Sukhoi co-production contract could significantly increase the number of multi-role fighters available for naval strike missions.
Potential PLA Anti-Carrier Forces by 2010*
12 or more Russian KILO; 8 w/ CLUB anti-ship missile
10 or more SONG w/ Russian torpedoes
3 Type 093 SSNs; possibly with CLUB, Russian torpedoes
20 or so older MING
Modern Ships defending submarine areas
2+ No. 170 air defense destroyers
2+ No. 168 air defense destroyers
4 Sovremenniy destroyers
8+ Type 054 stealth frigates
40+ Su-30MKK2; w/ Kh-31A anti-ship missile
70 or so Su-30MKK upgraded to MKK2 standard; w/ Kh-31A
50+ JH-7A; with Kh-31 and indigenous anti-ship missile
300+ J-11/Su-27SK w/ Kh-31A
*In most cases numbers are author estimates
To be sure the PLA will face significant challenges in creating in implementing new doctrine, tactics and in marrying its new strike platforms with new space, airborne and ship sensors in order to mount effective coordinated strikes against the U.S. Navy. That said, the PLA appear to be investing in solutions to all these challenges. Literature from China examining the weaknesses of U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups at least indicates that this challenge for the PLA is receiving some degree of attention. Necessary space-borne sensors, like radar satellites, and airborne sensors like AWACS are being procured. Whether the PLA will soon begin to exercise this capability, in the hopes of deterring leaders in Taipei and Washington, while also revealing methods and weaknesses, remains to be seen. But the fact that the pieces of this potential capability are gathering quickly, even if not assembled into a whole, places real pressure on Washingtons strategic position in Asia.
First, by 2005 and after U.S. Navy forces in Asia will much harder pressed to defend higher numbers of PLA Navy submarines armed with new Russian long range anti-ship missiles and heavy torpedoes. This threat is growing at a time when the U.S. Navy is reducing its anti-submarine assets needed to protect its fleet. By 2005 the Navy plans to retire one-third of its Lockheed-Martin P-3C ORION anti-submarine warfare aircraft, a reduction from the current 227 to 150. This reduction, due to age/fatigue and expense-related issues will only further stress this over-committed fleet. This comes on top of the 1999 ending of the anti-submarine mission for carrier-based Lockheed-Martin S-3 VIKING aircraft, with the intention that land-based P-3s would make up the difference. Slower P-3s, however, require air escort, which detracts from fighters needed to defend against PLA Su-30s and JH-7s. But P-3s are now sorely needed to extend the anti-submarine cordon of a carrier battle group, which is now limited to shorter-range Sikorsky SH-60 helicopters on carriers and escort vessels. The 220km range of PLA sub-launched anti-ship missiles like the CLUB-S greatly increases the chance that PLAN KILOs can penetrate these defenses. For any Taiwan contingency that could happen around 2005 or after, the U.S. would have to take away P-3s committed to other regions, a time consuming process that could cost the U.S. ships and lives.
The U.S. Navy also relies on its fleet of nuclear attack submarines to perform anti-submarine missions. It is often said by naval officers that the best anti-submarine weapon is another submarine. However, the PLANs increasing submarine numbers will place greater strain on the ability of the U.S. Navy to respond sufficiently to a surge PLA deployments around Taiwan. The U.S. fleet now has about 54 SSNs, a number that the top U.S. Navy submarine commander has stated, in 2002 and 2003, is inadequate to fulfill missions in support of recent U.S. military deployments and global commitments. This would especially be the case if the PLA succeeded in deploying over 40 nuclear and conventional submarines to support an attack on Taiwan. Home-porting two or three SSNs in Guam adds to the U.S. ability to rapidly reach the Taiwan area, but they may soon be overwhelmed by PLAN submarines.
Second, the rapidly increasing number of PLA Air Force and Navy Air Force multi-role fighters capable of naval strike missions places great stress on U.S. Navy carrier air wings. The U.S. carrier air wing consists of about 46 fighter and attack capable aircraft: 10 F-14 fighters and 36 F/A-18C/D fighter-bombers. Soon the carrier wing will be centered on two new fighters: the Boeing F/A-18E/F SUPER HORNET and the Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter. The F/A-18E/Fs first Pacific Fleet deployment will be to the 7th Fleet carrier Kitty Hawk, to replace the Grumman F-14 fighter. For some time U.S. carrier wings will use older F/A-18C multi-role fighters. The F-35C will not join the fleet until early in the next decade. As noted above, the Su-27/J-11/Su-30 family, save for stealth capabilities, may be too competitive for comfort in terms of counter-air capabilities with the U.S. F/A-18C/E/F and F-35C. So even before a consideration of the numbers of fighters the U.S. Navy may bring to a confrontation, the U.S. aircraft to carry the fight will not have a decisive level of superiority over the PLAs Sukhoi fighters.
If the PLA were able to achieve enough surprise in an attack on Taiwan, the U.S. may not be able to respond with any more than the one carrier assigned to the 7th Fleet in Japan. Even with expected air support from U.S. Air Force F-15C fighters based in Okinawa, the PLAs fleet of 300-400 Sukhoi fighters alone would handily overwhelm U.S. fighters and their AWACS and tanker support. Add another carrier and you only increase the U.S. numbers by 46 more combat aircraft. A go-for-broke 7th Fleet deployment, assuming it escaped PLA Special Forces attacks to keep it in port, might be able to close on Taiwan only with support from the Japanese Self Defense Air Forces. But Japan is only just beginning to purchase the AWACS and tankers that might conceivably support distant air support missions, and there is no assurance that Japanese leaders would commit their air forces against the PLA.
Russian SAMs and New Anti-Stealth/PGM Defenses
The PLA is purchasing foreign systems and technology which it is using to create more effective defenses against modern U.S. stealth and precision weapons, which serve to undermine the deterrent effect of these U.S. weapons developed at great expense and effort. While the exact number of advanced Russian S-300 SAMs sold to the PLA has not been reported publicly, there is enough informed reporting to indicate that many hundred possibly have been sold. SAMs sold likely include the S-300PMU, PMU-1 and PMU-2. This indicates that the PLA has used the last decade to gather a significant number of modern track-via-missile (TVM) SAMs, presenting a new level of threat to U.S. aircraft that may seek to defend Taiwan. While the U.S. may have classified systems which can do the job, it is known that it is extremely difficult to jam TVM capable missiles.
Commenting on the challenge of this technology after the 1999 Kosovo Air Campaign, noted Russian weapons and missile expert Steven Zaloga stated, The Kosovo air campaign would have been a far more painful experience for NATO had there been even a single battery of S-300PMU in operation. There have never been any air operations carried out against an opponent defended with a missile system using contemporary track-via-missile guidance.
The PLA has the associated phased array radar for the S-300 and is likely supplementing its detection and interception capabilities with passive radar systems like the Ukrainian KOLCHUGA. This highlights the PLAs growing capability to counter U.S. high technology stealth platforms like the F-177 and B-2 bomber. The PLA has also obtained recent Russian technologies used to upgrade first generation metric-wave radar into more capable anti-stealth systems. If the U.S. does not undertake appropriate responses the PLAs use and development of foreign anti-stealth technology could undermine a generation of U.S. investment in stealth technology.
There is also a growing possibility that foreign technology is either enabling or informing a growing PLA ability to defend against modern U.S. precision guided munitions. Russian laser or high-power microwave weapons could in the not-to-distant future give the PLA a more effective point-defense capability against PGMs. Conventional foreign systems like the Russian TOR-M1 and the Swiss SKYGUARD already have a demonstrated capability to intercept precision-guided bombs and missiles.
NEW PLA THREATS TO TAIWAN EMERGING FROM PLA ACCESS TO FOREIGN TECHNOLOGY
Foreign weapons and technology are helping to propel an historic shift in the military balance on the Taiwan Strait. In January 2004 Taiwan Deputy Minister of Defense Chong Pin Lin offered a sober assessment of the evolving military balance on the Taiwan Strait. Lin said, "The PLA may start to surpass what we have in 2005 or between 2005 and 2008," Lin offered the caveat that a crossover in the military balance did not mean the PRC leadership would feel 100 percent confident in winning a war," and predicted by 2010 to 2015 the PLA may have supremacy in both qualitative and quantitative comparison of forces that it may feel confident to move. The assessment of 2005 as a crossover date is also shared by many high Taiwan military officers. Foreign military systems are helping fuel the PLAs ability to lead this crossover.
Missile Balance. If current growth rates are sustained by 2006 the PLA may be closing in on 750 SRBMs, to which one could add 100-200 new long-range land-attack cruise missiles, which have benefited from Russian, Israeli and U.S. technology. Russian imaging satellites will help make them more accurate and more flexibly retargetable. If the PLA does loft an 8-satellite constellation after 2006, then it will be able to revisit all targets on Taiwan twice-daily by both types of satellites, with radarsats able to penetrate cloud cover. Even though there is enthusiasm in Taiwan to build retaliatory ballistic missiles, it is not clear that Washington will allow this necessary defensive measure. If used with strategic surprise and immediate follow-up air strikes, the PLAs missile force could have a devastating effect. Their improving accuracy makes these missiles much more than a terror weapon.
Air Balance. Taiwan has about 337 4th generation fighter, a number expected to be static in 2006, when the PLA will have received about 400 Sukhoi fighters, most being multi-role fighter and attack capable. To this number there may be 30-50 British-engined JH-7 fighter bombers and 30-40 J-10 multi-role fighters. All PLA multi-role fighters will carry new active-guided AAMs, helmet-sighted short-range AAMs, and be capable of delivering a range of PGMs. The PLAs KAB-1500 heavy PGMs could wreck havoc with Taiwans deep underground aircraft shelters. If surprise is achieved, PLA missile and air strikes could reduce the number of Taiwan fighters available for defensive missions. The PLA will also place a high priority on the destruction of Taiwans AWACS and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Taiwan is reportedly developing its own GPS-guided PGM but its short range exposes the Taiwan fighter to PLA S-300 SAMs.
Naval Balance. Taiwan only has two aging conventional submarines and the U.S. is not expected to make good on any intended deliveries before the end of the decade. In contrast, by 2006 to 2007 the PLA could have the 8 Club ASM-armed KILOs ordered in 2002, and as many as 7 or 8 new SONG class submarines, in addition to about 20 older but still useful MING class submarines. In terms of surface warships the PLA may have two or more new Russian-armed air defense destroyers, two or more new Aegis like air defense destroyers and 3-4 SOVREMENNIY destroyers. Taiwan may have taken delivery of 4 new respectable KIDD class air-defense destroyers.
Ground Force Balance. While it will take considerable effort for the PLA to transport its new T-98 and T-96 tanks to Taiwan, their superiority over Taiwans U.S. tanks spurs considerable fear in the still Army-centric Taiwan military leadership. While Taiwan may have new AH-1 APACHE helicopters to deal with this threat, the PLA will also have increasingly sophisticated light-weight air-defense systems it can bring to Taiwan, and may have a good number of light-weight WZ-11 attack helicopters armed with anti-air missiles. Russian Il-76s, Mi-17 helicopters and BMD Airborne light tanks are giving new mobility and firepower to PLA Airborne units. New T-63A amphibious tanks may be armed with BASTION gun-launched missile that can out-range Taiwan tank guns. If these units achieve surprise and manage to secure airfields and ports, then civilian foreign-made airliners and civilian ships and fast ferries can be expected to pour in tens of thousands of troops a day.
This balance deserves to be closely monitored by U.S. policy makers due to the PRC increasingly strident threats to attack Taiwan over its practice of democracy. Beijing views Taiwanese intentions to hold defensive referendums on the desirability of PLA missiles being pointed at Taiwan as evidence that Taiwan is seeking legal independence from the PRC, which it has long held has a justification for starting a war. In late 2003 credible PLA spokesmen threatened that the PRC was willing to pay a steep price going to war against Taiwan, to include boycotts of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, decreasing foreign investment, worsening foreign relations, economic recession, and "necessary" casualties of the PLA. Apparently over burdened by military commitments in Iraq, the War on Terror and the need to respond to a potential Korean conflict, President George Bush decided to join the PRC in opposing Taiwans democratic defensive referendum. Those who support the President strongly warn that the real threat of war justifies his decision.
Foreign technology will significantly enable any potential PRC near-term decision to go to war against Taiwan. The Pentagon states that Taiwan remains the focus of Chinas military modernization. The Pentagon has also made note of the PLAs interest in using its military forces for a coercive missions that need not entail a full out invasion of the island. Military coercive moves might include a naval blockade, the capture so some outlying islands or other brief demonstrations of violence up to a decapitation exercise that neutralize Taiwans political and military leadership assuming their successors would bow to Beijings dicta. The Pentagon notes that an all out D-Day style invasion would be a very complex undertaking and would require large scale use of civil air and naval transport assets. While it assess that the PLA would encounter great difficulty in mounting such an invasion for the remainder of the decade it does admit that an invasion might succeed if Beijing were willing to accept the political, economic, diplomatic, and military costs that such course would produce. It is the contention here that growing acquisition of foreign military hardware is strengthening specific military capabilities vis--vis Taiwan that in turn add to Beijings ability to chose between the coercive options that Pentagon outlines.
Blockade. An attempt to impose a naval blockade on Taiwan would require that that the PLA eliminate to the degree possible Taiwans Air Force and Navy, its main means for resisting a blockade. Even if it did not open a naval blockade with massive missile and air strikes on Taiwan air and naval bases there would be air battles over the Taiwan Strait that would quickly settle whether a blockade could be sustained. The PLA potential for success of in surprise missile attack and soon to follow air battle have improved in large part due to PLA foreign technology acquisitions mentioned above.
Should it lose control of the air Taiwan will have a far diminished chance of winning naval battles. The PLA Naval Air Forces Su-30MKK2s, British-engined JH-7s and JH-7As, and perhaps many more Kh-31A carrying upgraded Su-27s and J-11s will have a much easier time attacking Taiwanese ships that manage to leave port. Their numbers will serve to overwhelm the few Taiwanese ships with respectable air defenses, like the four KIDD class destroyers now being acquired. At longer distances large numbers of PLAN KILO or foreign assisted SONG class submarines will be pose serious threats to Taiwan naval combatants that manage to venture that far. Taiwans two 1970s vintage Dutch-made submarines are not sufficient to oppose the number of submarines the PLAN will bring to bear.
Decapitation. Foreign weapons and foreign influenced weapons would be essential to the success of a potential PLA attempt to decapitate Taiwans leadership. At one level this may be accomplished with in-country sleeper agents or infiltrated Special Forces that can capture or shoot enough top leaders to force a government to fall. But absent these assets then Special Forces will need to be lifted into Taiwan with speed. Most will be taken in by foreign made helicopters, mainly Russian Mi-17s. More violent decapitation methods, like missile or precision air strikes, will also depend heavily on foreign-made weapons, like Russian laser-guided bombs.
Invasion. All possible weapons would be brought into play in an invasion scenario but foreign weapons would play crucial roles. For Airborne forces heavy lift is provided by Russian Il-76s. The most important initial armor asset for the Airborne forces will be their Russian BMD airborne tanks, and possibly Italian Iveco trucks with HJ-9 anti-tank missiles likely derived from an Israeli design. Should an airfield be secured, then most follow up troops and weapons will likely be flown in on U.S. and European-built airliners. Critical Special Forces teams may be transported in either Russian built or European-designed helicopters. Initial amphibious assaults will make less use of foreign source systems. Otherwise, an invasion would also entail full use of space, missile, air and naval forces and their foreign content has been outlined above.
One important conclusion to make from this attempt to account for the impact of foreign weapons and technologies on the modernization of the PLA is that it is unwise to underestimate the PLAs potential to accumulate in the relative near term capabilities that can significantly impede or threaten American military power. While indeed the U.S. does have, from its investments during the Cold War and from the hard lessons learned during conflicts in the 1990s, both hardware and practical advantages other have not, it is simply unwise for the U.S. to assume this condition will be permanent. There is a temptation on the part of some commentators to take great comfort in current and future U.S. military superiority.
For example, writing about the superiority of U.S. precision weapons, in 2002 Washington Post reporter Vernon Loeb described a potential U.S. attack on Iraq, The opening salvo will be unprecedented, if not for its duration then for its lethality, as bombs, guided by sophisticated electronics, communicating directly with satellites, home in precisely on hundreds and hundreds of targets across the countryNo other nation even approaches this new American power. Not since 1945, when the United States had a brief monopoly on atomic weapons, has there been such a power gap between America and the rest of the world.
Many of those who contributed to a high profile May 2003 Council on Foreign Relations Task Force report on the PLA may also share this confidence in continuing U.S. military superiority. For example, then Council President Leslie Gelb spoke for the Task Force in the reports introduction, saying, the Task Force judges that if the United States continues to dedicate significant resources to improving its military forces, as expected, the balance between the United States and China, both globally and in Asia, is likely to remain decisively in Americas favor beyond the next twenty years. Reflecting a similar judgment, in his recent comprehensive review of PLA modernization, David Shambaugh notes, Most Western analysts place the PLAs conventional military capabilities at least twenty years behind the state of the art, with the gap widening.
Both of these reports make useful contributions to the ongoing debate over the direction, pace and challenges posed by the PLAs ongoing modernization. And in their own way both reports identify dangers that could emerge from specific PLA modernization trends. This report hopes to illustrate by looking at the range of PLA arms purchases and by assessing their importance, that it is possible for the PLA to accelerate its military modernization resulting in new capabilities that create greater risk and danger for the United States, Taiwan and other U.S. allies in Asia.
The PLAs ability to turn its access to modern hardware into real capabilities depends on the ability of its leadership to create appropriate doctrine, tactics and training for these new systems, as well as to build proper logistic support. A full accounting of these issues was not the primary focus of this report. However, it can be noted that after nearly 15 years of growing sustained purchases, foreign weapons and technology have made significant contributions to PLA abilities to build new nuclear missiles, exploit outer space, rapidly build up offensive air power, increase conventional and nuclear submarine striking power and improve select ground force capabilities. As noted above, today the U.S. may be the only country that can assemble a modern space-air-PGM non-nuclear power projection capability. However, albeit on a smaller scale, the PLA could assemble most of the elements for this kind of power projection before the end of the decade. All of these could pose new and growing threats to Taiwan. And if used under conditions of strategic and tactical advantage, many of these new capabilities could seriously impede American military power, especially if used to come to Taiwans defense.
It will be up to political leaders in Washington to determine whether significant resources continue to be devoted to sustaining the current U.S. military-technical lead over the PLA. Furthermore, political leaders in Taiwan will have to make hard fiscal decisions in the coming years if their military modernization is to proceed with enough speed to promote sufficient deterrence against the PLA. The PLAs gathering space-missile-air-naval combine is not unstoppable. But it will require that both Washington and Taipei spend more to acquire the space, intelligence, air and naval systems that will serve to demonstrate continued determination to the PLA. It will also require that Washington coordinate with other allies, especially Japan, to make sure that any offensive moves by the PLA that threaten U.S. and Japanese security can be met with immediate and effective force.
Arresting The PLAs Suppliers
The key conclusion of this report is that the PRC has been able to accelerate important components of military modernization though a sustained access to modern foreign military technology. This conclusion leads to another: for as long as the PRC threatens to use its military power to put key U.S. interests in danger, and proliferates nuclear and missile technologies, it is imperative for Washington to do its utmost to stem the flow of modern military technology to the PRC. Sustaining the 1989 Tiananmen embargoes forbidding the sale of U.S. weapons and dangerous military technologies is a first requirement. It is necessary for the U.S. to continue to look hard at dual-use items, like some helicopters, that the PLA could use to attack Taiwan.
Sustaining this embargo is critical if only to demonstrate to Europe that its rapidly evolving policies that may soon lead the removal of its arms embargoes will create yet another serious conflict with Washington. Europe has already significantly relaxed its prohibitions against sales of militarily useful technologies and Beijing is pushing hard for a complete end to the 1989 European Union embargo. Should this embargo end it is likely that the PLA will be able to create new arms industry alliances that will further accelerate it access to and use of advanced military technologies. Europe could be a source for new military innovation that for the long-term Russian may not be able to afford to sustain. The U.S. should develop both broad and specific warnings that if Europe decides to become the PLAs new military-technical supplier, that the U.S. will take appropriate measures to defend critical U.S. defense technologies, which may affect long-term European access to future U.S. technical innovation.
In addition the United States should make stemming the supply of critical defense technologies to the PRC a higher strategic priority. One success story in this regard has been the long-term U.S. dialogue with Israel to convince its leadership to stop its sale of dangerous military technologies to the PLA. It took a near crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations to make this point; the 1999-2000 confrontation over the sale of Israels PHALCON AWACS system. While the U.S. should be grateful for Israels eventual recognition and response to U.S. concerns, continued U.S. vigilance is warranted. Israel should also be reminded that its hope to use its arms trade with the PRC to seek to prevent its arms sales that might threaten Israel has not worked. While the PRC has not sold conventional weapons to direct confrontation states that now pose threats to Israel, the PRCs proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies to Pakistan, and subsequent Pakistani proliferation, is creating new dangers to Israel.
Addressing the challenge posed by Russia also remains important. In 2002 the Department of Defense, in its annual report on PLA modernization, paid special attention to the PLAs relationship with Russia. By simply continuing to highlight both the extent and breadth of the PLA-Russian military technical relationship, the U.S. gives greater intellectual ammunition to those in Russia who may share American concerns. Granted, there are not many in the current Russian government who do share U.S. concerns. It is clear that in Moscow the interests of Russian weapons makers predominate, and their priority is to sell their wares. Nevertheless Washington and Moscow do have a longstanding interest in bi-lateral arms control and on occasion Russia can be persuaded to curtail sales of dangerous weapons. It is the U.S. interest to make Russias weapons sales to the PRC a higher priority on Washingtons agenda with Moscow. While Russias democratic institutions remain fragile, both U.S. officials and Members of Congress can reach out to convey an American concern.