Tuesday, 24 February, 2009


Given PRC sustained economic growth rates, and the Pentagon’s estimation that annual PRC defense spending levels will increase beyond 2002 levels of $65 billion, it is possible that the PLA may be able to sustain its arms buying binge. The main recipient of the PLA’s spending has been Russia. During the December 2003 visit to Russia of PRC Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan, it was revealed by Russian sources that PRC arms purchases from Russia would exceed $2 billion in 2004.The figure included previous and new arms deals, meaning that subsequent years hold the prospect for high amounts of arm purchases from Russia.

Long before becoming Defense Minister in 2003, Cao Gangchuan has played a key role in the PLA’s foreign arms acquisitions and broad PLA weapons policies. Beginning in the 1970s, he served in the Office of Military Trade of the General Armament Department (GAD), eventually rising to lead this office. Here Cao was responsible for selling PLA-made weapons, but in the 1980s and increasingly in the 1990s, he was buying foreign weapons. His education in Russia in the 1950s well-equipped him to manage the resumption of growing PLA-Russia arms sales and cooperation in the 1990s and beyond. The monies involved in this business and Cao’s political skills earned the favor of President Jiang Zemin. In 1998, he rose to become Director of the GAD and in 2002 he was publicly identified as the director of the PRC’s manned space program. During the 16th Communist Party Congress in 2002, he was selected to be a Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and was soon afterwards named Defense Minister.

Cao differs from his predecessor in that he will not be a largely ceremonial or political Defense Minister. He is apparently as involved in the military technical issues of PLA modernization as he was during his previous assignments. Cao was visible during the October manned space launch and was even referred to by astronaut Yang LiWei as “chief.” During his December visit to Russia, Cao toured destroyer and submarine shipyards in St. Petersburg, spent a day with Sukhoi observing upgraded fighter aircraft, and advanced a range of arms sales and technology cooperation issues. It can be expected that Cao will continue to exercise significant leadership over the PLA’s arms relationship with Russia and will help determine any new set of arms relationships with Europe should there be a formal end to its 1989 arms embargo.

Impact on PLA Arms Industries: Making Pieces Fit Better

There has long been tension between those in the PLA who demand new weapons as soon as possible and prefer to buy select foreign systems, and those who follow the historic desire by the PRC to strengthen self reliance, which emphasizes the interests of PLA subordinate defense industries over foreign weapons purchases. The middle ground for the PLA has long been to try to graft various foreign components into largely indigenous weapon designs to increase their capability, or to in turn produce a new generation of weapons. From the 1970s to the mid/late-1990s, there were many attempts to do this, largely with marginal success. Prominent examples include the Nanchang A-5 attack fighter, a radically re-designed Shenyang J-6 (MiG-19) turning a short-range, low-payload, clear-weather fighter into a short-range, low-payload, clear weather attack aircraft. In the early 1990s, the PLA Navy acquired two LUHU class destroyers, which for the first time combined U.S. and Ukranian gas turbine engines and French SAMs, defensive electronics and command and control systems, and an Italian CIWS. There were integration problems and the ship’s performance, while an improvement for the PLA, was obsolete compared to neighboring navies. In addition, the early 1990s saw the PLA Navy encounter serious problems trying to marry disparate technologies into its first Type 039 SONG class conventional submarine. For most of the 1990s, indigenous fighter programs, be it the Shenyang J-8II, Chengdu J-10 or Chengdu Super-7/FC-1, encountered delays due to arms embargoes, funding issues and inability to decide on a foreign component or whether to make it themselves.

As the mid-decade draws near, however, it is possible to assemble a different picture that appears to be one of improvement rather than stasis or decline. This conclusion follows from review of new PLA weapon systems in Part 2 of this study. The PLA has not lost its enthusiasm for seeking to graft foreign components onto new weapons systems in the absence of being able to design complete new weapon systems. The new twist is that, by early in this decade, the PLA is getting better at it. The solutions could be many and, while the individual stories of some weapon systems in the second part of this report will shed light on how weapons production has improved, there are reasons that can be listed here.

One reason may be that the PLA has learned lessons on how to better use foreign expertise. A recent example of this is the seeming happy ending to the long-running saga of the Rolls Royce Spey turbofan engine co-production deal. This project started in 1975, but the PLA was not able to co-produce this engine in order to complete a much needed fighter-bomber, the Xian JH-7. In the late-1990s, when the PLA decided that it really wanted the JH-7 to succeed, it went back to Rolls Royce, and by 1999 cut a new deal. It purchased more used Spey engines to carry forward some JH-7 production, but also allowed Rolls Royce to make co-production work. The result is the new Qinling turbofan engine.

Foreign Content of Future PLA Weapons

Weapon System

Foreign Content

Domestic Content

Anti-Satellite, Direct Assent

British micro and nano-satellite technology

PRC design and solid fueled mobile launch system

Radar Satellite

Russian antenna

PRC satellite bus

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Aircraft

Russian Tu-154; US SAR technology

PRC designed SAR

Y-8 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft

British Racal/Thales Skymaster AEW radar

Xian Y-8 transport aircraft

Chengdu J-10 Multi-Role Fighter

Russian engine; possible Russian radar; Israeli airframe and control system assistance

PRC designed airframe; possible PRC Radar and defensive systems; PRC weapons

Shenyang J-11 Multi-Role Fighter

Russian airframe, some avionic and electronic systems

PRC multi-mode radar; PRC weapons, PRC engine

SD-10 Active Air-to-Air Missile

Russian radar and data link

PRC motor; airframe

HQ-9/FT-2000 Surface-to-Air Missile

Russian guidance systems; possible US seeker technology; possible Israeli design assistance

PRC motor; airframe

Destroyer No. 168

Russian SAM, guidance and search radar; Ukrainian gas turbine engine

PRC hull; anti-ship missile; defensive systems


German engine; possible Russian weapons and design assistance; possible Israeli design assistance

PRC hull; defensive systems

Project 093 nuclear attack submarine

Russian design assistance; possible Russian weapons

PRC hull; nuclear reactor; defensive systems

Medium Transport/Attack Helicopter

French design assistance for rotor head; Italian design assistance; possible Canadian engine

PRC airframe; engines; avionics; weapons

Type-98 Main Battle Tank

Russian influenced hull and 125mm main gun; Russian gun-launched guided missile; British or German influenced engine

PRC designed composite armor; tank design and integration


Not So Successful

Demonstrating More Success

Luhu Destroyer: Early 1990s program to combine U.S. gas turbine engines, French and Italian weapons, French electronics, only to make a ship that was still obsolete.

No. 168 Destroyer: Current program to combine Russian weapons and electronic systems, Ukrainian gas turbine engines in a new stealthy hull. Result appears to be a ship that in some respects is superior to Taiwan’s U.S. KIDD destroyers.

Song Submarine: Early 1990s attempt to combine German engines, Russian weapons and possible Israeli advice. First submarine failed to meet performance expectations.

Song A Submarine: After addressing mistakes the new SONG A incorporates design changes and appears to be successful; it is now in series production.

PL-10 AAM: A 1980s program that tried to copy the Italian htmIDE semi-active guided AAM. Apparently was not successful, little indication it is in widespread service.

PL-12 AAM: Combines a Russian active seeker and data link with a PRC motor to create the PLA’s first active-guided AAM. Is apparently successful as it will enter production and be delivered to the PLAAF in 2004.

Super 7Fighter: A late-1980s attempt to employ the U.S. Grumman Company to redesign the Chengdu J-7. Failed due to Tiananmen sanctions.

FC-1: Same concept continued by Chengdu but with Russian technical aid, achieved financial stability by late 1990s and was test-flown in August 2003. It is now viewed as a success for market incentive reform in the defense industry.

J-10 Fighter: A long-running attempt to create a 4th generation fighter stemming from J-9 canard fighter but with Israeli and Russian technical help. Did not officially fly until 1996 but technical difficulties lingered into the late 1990s.

J-10 Fighter: By early this decade Chengdu was meeting with much greater success. Design issues appeared resolved, program somewhat declassified, push for foreign sales, 2-seat model test flown, and late 2003 reports of final production go-ahead.

CBERS-1 optical imaging satellite: Co-development program with Brazil which only purchased 20 meter low-resolution imaging systems.

KONDOR-E optical imaging satellite: In 2003 Russia is ready to sell a 1-meter capable camera for a future PLA imaging satellite.

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