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Eye on China

Do Europe and Asia Free Ride On American Military Power?

Monday, April 19th, 2010

A vigorous conversation is underway at The Economist ‘s American politics blog over whether or not much of Europe and East Asia “free ride” on the back of American military power.

Touching off the debate was this post by right-leaning AEI’s Michael Auslin, warning that the decline of America’s global presence and strategic influence, brought about by burgeoning national debt, will lead to “decades, if not centuries, of global instability, increased conflict, and depressed economic growth and innovation.”

That claim led to a counter-argument that Russia and China, the potentially destabilizing powers, have as much interest as anybody else in maintaining the free flow of goods and capital. Expanding further along this line of debate, The Economist said the free rider argument is a spurious one, citing relatively high levels of defense spending in South Korea and Taiwan and asking: “What is the threat to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, or (apart from tussles with China over undersea mineral rights in the Yellow Sea) Japan?”

As for Europe, the most frequently cited free riding offender, The Economist says: “1. The major European powers spend a healthy 2%-plus of GDP on defense, and 2. No major European country faces any serious military threat.”

I’d be curious to hear what readers think on two issues raised here: Is the prevailing global power balance so fragile that marginal changes in certain nation’s weapons portfolios can upend the entire order? Is the global “just-in-time” trade flow conveyor belt self policing?

– Greg

F-16 Sale to Taiwan, Would It Make A Difference?

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Last week, Taiwan stepped up pressure on the Obama administration to sell the country new, upgraded F-16s, something this administration, like the Bush administration before it, refuses to do to avoid antagonizing China. The latest Taiwanese move came from its defense ministry, which released a report saying that China’s continued modernization of its fighter fleet has shifted the cross-strait military balance decidedly in China’s favor.

The report says Taiwan’s ageing fleet of some 400 locally built fighters, French made Mirage 2000s, and 146 F-16A/Bs, are outmatched by China’s massive fighter fleet, particularly with China’s growing numbers of Russian built Su-30s. Only Taiwan’s F-16A/Bs have an edge over Chinese fighter aircraft, the report says. Taiwan requested some 66 F16C aircraft from the U.S. in 2006.

Over at right-leaning think tank AEI’s defense blog, Michael Mazza raises the alarm:

“Are policymakers considering the implications of this? The smaller and more antiquated the Taiwan air force is, the greater the number of American pilots in harm’s way should the U.S. ever need to go to the island’s defense. It’s not clear that anybody is doing this math, as simple as it is.”

Actually, RAND did the math on this one in a report last year, in typical RAND style, using sophisticated modeling to simulate a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the 2010–2015 timeframe. RAND’s conclusion was that the addition of a few dozen upgraded F-16s would have little to no impact on the cross-strait balance. In fact, RAND found that in the event of a Chinese attack, “the air war for Taiwan could essentially be over before much of the Blue air force has even fired a shot.”

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China’s Military Spending Slows

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Interesting reports out of China on projected defense spending: only a 7.5 percent increase, the smallest in two decades, according to Chinese officials. The NYT reports that Chinese budget documents peg 2010 defense spending at $78 billion, an increase of $5.4 billion over last year’s defense budget.

Now, there has always been much debate over the veracity of Chinese defense spending claims and various sources put the annual amounts considerably higher than Beijing’s official figures. That same NYT article says this year is the first time in 21 years that the rate of defense spending has fallen below double digits. Spending had risen an average of 12.9 percent annually from 1996 to 2008.

China is investing mightily in its own domestic stimulus package that has so far gotten the country through the recent economic turmoil in amazingly good shape. China’s economy grew at around 10 percent last year. Like most centrally planned economies, when the Chinese want to stimulate demand they do it through massive infrastructure projects, the colossal Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River being a good example.

China is spending billions on its high speed rail network, highways, airports, housing, etc. All of which is to say that the slowed rate of defense spending increase, may be a one-off phenomenon.

– Greg

Underway at Last!

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

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“China’s carrier has gone to sea” was the headline of one Asian newspaper. The event — the story implied — marked the long-awaited operational debut of the former Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag. In reality, the ship got underway with harbor tugs providing the power, moving the ship from a pier in the port of Dalian to a nearby dry dock, a “voyage” of about two miles.

As of this writing, no major work on the ship has been observed since she arrived at Dalian in northeastern China on 3 March 2002. The ship was painted a few years ago, but little other effort has gone into the unfinished giant despite periodic press claims that the carrier was being “clandestinely” completed.

While the ship was being towed to the dry dock on 27 April the Varyag was extensively photographed. Those photos reveal much about the ship: She rode high in the water and, with the lack of “patches” on her flight deck, it is obvious that engines had not been installed in the ship. Her flight deck lacks arresting cables and operational markings, and her island structure is void of the aerials, electronic domes, and radar antennas that inundate aircraft carriers.

The question is: Why has the Varyag moved into a dry dock. A number of reasons are possible for her brief voyage and dry docking. These include:

(1) Completing the carrier — which was laid down at the Nikolayev South shipyard as the Soviet Riga in the Ukraine in 1985. This would involve the complex task of installing engines and other machinery (assuming that they are now available), auxiliary equipment, messing and berthing facilities, radars and other electronic equipment, etc.

(2) Carrying out general maintenance on the hulk, including cleaning her underwater hull, and taking other measures to simply preserve the Varyag until a definite decision is made concerning her eventual fate.

(3) Permitting naval architects and others to examine the ship’s underwater hull, possibly to assist in efforts to design and construct an indigenous Chinese aircraft carrier.

There can be no question but the Chinese Navy’s leadership wants to acquire aircraft carriers, primarily to provide air cover for naval operations in the South China Sea, an area of great interest to China because of offshore oil activities. In long-range planning, the Chinese may also be considering their increasing political and economic interests in Africa and South America. However, despite periodic press reports — some saying that the first Chinese carrier will be completed this year — there is still no publicly available evidence that construction of such ships has begun in China. Indeed, even commercial satellites would have detected such efforts.

Chinese shipyards, which are producing advanced missile destroyers and nuclear-propelled submarines as well as large merchant ships, can certainly build a large aircraft carrier. Completion of the ship — which would take probably four years or more from the start of construction — would have to be followed by a lengthy working up period, with extensive ship and then aircraft trials and qualifications. Thus, with at least a year from the decision to build such a ship until actual construction would start because of the need to order components and materials, if that decision were made today the first Chinese carrier could be ready in about six or seven years.

– Norman Polmar

Chinese Navy Requires Supercruising Fighter

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

A supercruising combat aircraft is a high priority of the Chinese navy, the country’s top admiral says in a revealing official interview that gives strong clues of perceived shortcomings and future directions for the maritime force.

Adm. Wu Shengli also says China must step up work on precision missiles that can overcome enemy defenses, and the nation should move faster in developing large combat surface ships — probably meaning the aircraft carrier program that looks increasingly imminent.

Wu’s demand for supercruise — supersonic flight without afterburner — hints that such performance will be available from the next Chinese fighter, sometimes called the J-XX.

“One possibility is that the J-XX is being designed for supercruise and that Wu is trying to build support for a naval version of the aircraft,” says Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

The design of the J-XX is unknown. It could be a new aircraft or quite possibly a development of the J-10, a fighter now entering service.

The J-10’s configuration is similar to that of the Eurofighter Typhoon, which the manufacturer says can supercruise at Mach 1.5, although it is likely to be somewhat slower with a useful external load.

For the Chinese navy, one advantage of supercruising would be the ability to cover a large defensive area in less time — quite useful if the imagined target is a U.S. carrier group at long range.

Importantly, Wu lists a supercruising fighter among a series of technological demands that all look quite achievable for the Chinese navy over the next decade or so, suggesting that he does not regard such flight performance as a pie in the sky.

“Sophisticated equipment is the key material basis for winning a regional naval war,” says the admiral, evidently referring to the possibility of a confrontation in the Taiwan Strait. “We must accelerate and promote steps to work on key weapons.

Read the rest of this story, check out Turkey’s new AW149, see a Russian fighter go down and read about the Poseidon’s first flight from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian

ChiCom Carrier Killer

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

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This is not the first time we’ve covered this issue

From the US Naval Institute:

With tensions already rising due to the Chinese navy becoming more aggressive in asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy seems to have yet another reason to be deeply concerned.

After years of conjecture, details have begun to emerge of a “kill weapon” developed by the Chinese to target and destroy U.S. aircraft carriers.

First posted on a Chinese blog viewed as credible by military analysts and then translated by the naval affairs blog Information Dissemination, a recent report provides a description of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) that can strike carriers and other U.S. vessels at a range of 2000km.

The range of the modified Dong Feng 21 missile is significant in that it covers the areas that are likely hot zones for future confrontations between U.S. and Chinese surface forces.

The size of the missile enables it to carry a warhead big enough to inflict significant damage on a large vessel, providing the Chinese the capability of destroying a U.S. supercarrier in one strike.

Because the missile employs a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable, the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased. It is estimated that the missile can travel at mach 10 and reach its maximum range of 2000km in less than 12 minutes.

Read the rest of this story on Military​.com…

– Christian

Cross-Strait Situation Changing

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

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In offices in the Pentagon and the State Department, China-Taiwan experts are scrutinizing the latest reports from the Far East of the changing relationship between China — officially the People’s Republic of China — and Taiwan, the offshore island “state.” For more than a half century the United States has anticipated a possible Chinese assault on Taiwan. But the situation is changing rapidly.

Taiwan became the Republic of China after 1949. Communist armies had overrun most of China and the surviving Nationalist troops, led by Chang Kai-shek, fled to the island, then known by its Japanese name of Formosa.

There followed several decades of intense animosity between the “two Chinas.” Initially, there was concern in the West that the Nationalist armies, rested and rearmed, could invade the mainland, some 100 miles away. Subsequently, there was concern for several decades that Chinese armies would cross the Taiwan Strait to invade Taiwan.

During the latter period the United States gave considerable military assistance to Taiwan in anticipation of a Chinese assault across the strait. And, U.S. war plans called for defending Taiwan against such an invasion, although the difficulties of such an amphibious operation should have been obvious to all parties.

Indeed, China did not build a massive amphibious fleet or a large airborne assault force. Further, China’s marines — currently two brigades in strength — are assigned to the South Sea Fleet rather than to the East Sea Fleet, which faces the Taiwan Strait. While detailed data are not publicly available, it appears that the East Sea Fleet is the smallest of China’s three fleets.

While strong words are still voiced by some leaders of both China and Taiwan, there has been a remarkable rapprochement between the two entities during the past few years. There is now direct postal service, commercial air transport, and, most recently, shipping between China and Taiwan. Also, Taiwan businessmen are investing in China.

And, in early January the China News Agency announced that representatives of China and Taiwan were are expected to meet after the Chinese New Year holidays to hammer out the technical details of several agreements to be signed during the third round of high-level, cross-Taiwan Strait talks. According to Straits Exchange Foundation Chairman Chiang Pin-kung, the new set of agreements will address issues such as cooperation on financial supervision and regulation, prevention of double taxation, intellectual property rights protection, and cooperation on combating crime.

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Gi Zhou Examines the New PLA Corps

Monday, August 25th, 2008

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It appears that the structure of the PLA’s New Heavy Corps will be similar to the British 1 Corps in Northern Germany during the Cold War. The PLA Corps will be structured around brigades and I believe the Corps itself will contain a heavy artillery group, a ground manoeuvre group, an aviation group and a battlefield support group which would include bridging, electronic warfare and logistics.

An early version of the corps envisioned a total of 500 Model 96 or Model 99 main battle tanks in two armoured and two mechanised brigades; 586 ZDB-97 tracked infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), 126 155mm PLZ-45 self-propelled guns; 96 120mm turreted self-propelled mortars; 36 Type 89 30 tube 122mm and 27 300mm 12 tube A-100 multiple rocket launchers; 12 DF-15D tactical missiles and 48 attack, 18 multipurpose and 60 transport helicopters and around 2,000 other types of vehicles.

This was clearly outside what the PLA is currently able to afford with armored brigades now have three armoured battalions for a total of 99 main battle tanks, one mechanised infantry battalion, one artillery battalion with 18 self-propelled guns and one air defence battalion of 18 AAA guns. Each armoured battalion will have three armoured companies, each of three platoons with each company having 11 main battle tanks; three in each platoon and two headquarters vehicles. There are no tanks at the battalion or brigade headquarters. This is a total of 33 main battle tanks.

The new mechanized infantry brigade is to have four mechanised infantry battalions, one armoured battalion, one fire support battalion, one engineer battalion and one communication battalion. Each mechanized infantry battalion has three mechanized infantry companies, each of three platoons with each company having 13 infantry fighting vehicles; four in each platoon and one headquarters vehicle. A complete brigade contains approximately 4,000 soldiers.

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New PLA Armor and Mech. Infantry Brigade Structures

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

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The Soviet Operational Manoeuvre Group in 1986 was looking at creating a ‘Shock Division’ of three regiments, with each regiment containing two tank and two mechanised infantry battalions. Armoured divisions are too unwieldy in complex terrain and an armoured battle group (battalion sized) is easier to control and execute its mission.

The Peoples Liberation Army, following on from their experience with the Operational Manoeuvre Group, can now deploy the new mechanised infantry division and using modular forces have created a composite cavalry brigade for use in complex terrain.

Utilising the deep operation theory, they can employ am air mechanised and/or fast wheeled force as a ‘lance’ followed up by the mobile force (tank heavy) to exploit the breach in an enemys defences followed by a holding force (heavy mechanised), that is the dozer blade.

An article in the 1/2008 issue of Tanke Zhuangjia Cheliang (Tank and Armoured Vehicle) is titled ‘News From Overseas– Chinese Built Many Light Type Mechanised Units.’ The article was written to correct the mistakes that appear in non-Chinese media about the structure and equipment of these new light mechanised units.

The mechanised infantry brigade has four mechanised infantry battalions, one armoured battalion, one fire support battalion, one engineer battalion and one communication battalion. Each mechanised infantry battalion has three mechanised infantry companies, each of three platoons with each company having 13 infantry fighting vehicles; four in each platoon and one headquarters vehicle.

Each armoured brigade has four armoured battalions for a total of 132 main battle tanks, one mechanised infantry battalion, one artillery battalion with 18 self-propelled guns and one air defence battalion of 18 AAA guns. Each armoured battalion has three armoured companies, each of three platoons with each company having 11 main battle tanks; three in each platoon and two headquarters vehicles. A complete brigade contains 4,000 soldiers.

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A Grab Bag of New Chinese Weapons

Friday, July 25th, 2008

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[Editor’s Note: Our good friend Martin Andrew, who publishes an investigative blaster chronicling Chinese military development called the Gi Zhou Newsletter, has some interesting tidbits for us this week. And please note, the picture at left is an earlier Type 89 self-propelled gun.]

New 122mm Self-Propelled Gun

In 1966, Luo Ruiqing, the PLA’s then chief-of-staff criticised the defence industry because it was concentrating on R&D rather than on production. He was accused in the official Report of Luo’s Mistakes that, ‘he still frantically attacked our national defence scientific research work as going from data to data, from design to design, without completing anything’. Luo believed China was in imminent war with the United States, and advocated Soviet assistance. His criticism of the Chinese defence industry could well have applied into the 1990s as well as today with too many designs that achieve little.

A new 122mm self-propelled gun has been shown in the online version of PLA Daily. Titled ‘Artillery troops enhance combat effectiveness with new equipment’, it shows a battery of these guns. The vehicle uses the chassis from the new ZBD97 infantry fighting vehicle with a turret, most probably a modified version of the one used on the Model 89 122mm self-propelled gun.

WZ731 Tracked Scout Vehicle

Identified as a xinxihua zhanchang (Informationalised battlefield) system, the WZ731 tracked scout developed from the ZSD89 hull with a low profile turret mounting two armoured sights, one with a laser rangefinder and CCD daylight sight and the other a thermal imager. The WZ731 had a crew of up to six including a three man scout team. It was 6.62m long, 2.626m wide and 1.88m high at the hull and 2.556m at the top of the armoured sights. The combat weight was only 8.1t which gave it a maximum road speed of 80.5 km/hr.

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