Monday, May 1, 2006

Some New Chinese Toys

While America fights in the Persian Gulf, and the chattering classes pursue the destruction of the Bush presidency, China is methodically pursuing the expansion of its arsenal and global military reach. Strategy Page and Times of India both report that last Friday, China test-flew the fourth prototype of its new JF-17 “Thunder” strike-fighter.

The JF-17, built in cooperation with Pakistan, is supposed to be a multi-role combat aircraft with, according to Strategy Page, “80 percent” of the effectiveness of the F-16. Assuming effectiveness can be so-quantified, the Chinese apparently hope to make up the 20 percent edge of the US aircraft by producing it at substantially lower cost, given that quantity has a quality all its own.

Raw performance statistics are far from being the only measure of the effectiveness of a weapons system, so the efficacy of China's design concept remains to be seen. Still it should be borne in mind that the US is struggling to find the money to maintain its current fighter fleet, let alone produce the new F-22 fighter and the F-35 strike-fighter. The Chinese don’t have to worry about yammering liberals wanting money for saving the snail-darter.

The involvement of Pakistan in the JF-17’s development is no doubt explained by, among other things, the Pakistani Air Force’s possession of F-16’s and French Mirages for evaluation by the Chinese design team and engineers. Pakistan also has a sound aircraft development and maintenance infrastructure, and plenty of engineers with ample experience working on US and European aircraft. Also the Pakistani government and military leadership no doubt wants access to high-performance combat aircraft without all the bothersome political restrictions associated with US or European purchases.

Given Pakistan’s difficulties with India, Pakistan would cooperate with China in any case, but Washington’s discomfort at Pakistani participation in this aircraft program can be imagined. What do you suppose it says about future US relations with Pakistan ?

The JF-17 uses a Russian made engine, the R-93, also used in the Russian MiG 29. Most Chinese high performance aircraft have included a substantial proportion of Russian built components, and presumably this one will be no different – another reason for Bejing to keep making nice to Moscow. Over time, the Chinese no doubt hope to reverse-engineer all these components, but until they are able to do so, the dependence on foreign components is a serious weakness of the Chinese military-industrial complex.

The JF-17 is supposed to have an operational ceiling of 55,000 feet, a maximum speed of Mach 1.6, and a operational range of 1,300 kilometers (807.78 miles). (Islamabad to New Delhi is 653 kilometers (406 miles); Fuzhou to Taipei approx. 250 kilometers (155.3 miles)). The Thunder can carry 3.6 tons of weapons, track multiple targets, and use radar guided and heat seeking missiles.

Series production of the JF-17 is supposed to begin in June or July for China, and in June of 2007 for Pakistan, but this aircraft has already encountered significant development delays. Given our present problems, lets hope for a few more delays.

1 comment:

Mike's America said...

You remember the forcing down of our U.S. Navy EP-3 in early 2001.

China has been preparing for a strategic confrontation with the U.S. for some time.

This does NOT mean that they will confront us, but they are preparing in case they find it in their interests to do so somewhere down the road.

And put aside Taiwan for a moment. The larger issue may be OIL!

The same reason the Japs attacked us at Pearl Harbor.