Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wedgetail AEW & C

I think RMAF should buy Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft with F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Like the Australia did.

Wedgetail AEW&C prototype in 2005 (Boeing)

Turkish Wedgetail AEW&C (Boeing)

Northrop-Grumman MESA L-band AESA primary antennas

The cavity endfire is in the upper “surfboard”, and the sidelooking arrays in the vertical fin

Northrop-Grumman MESA L-band AESA cavity endfire radome

Ventral antennas for C3 system

Ventral nose ESM antenna radome assembly. Note the red covers over the AAR-54 MAWS apertures

ft tailcone fairing mounting MIDS/JTIDS/Link-16, AN/AAR-54 MAWS, ALR-2001 ESM apertures and the ventral dummy AN/AAQ-24 DIRCM turret. The AN/ALE-47 CMDS is located between the ventral strakes

Wingtip ALR-2001 ESM array

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Video: F-15C

The Newest Thing in US Navy Warships

Concept for the DDG 1000 Zumwalt class destroyers. (Photo: Bath Iron Works)

This is not your father’s Navy warship. Well it’s not my father’s either – since he’s never owned one – but you get my point. Check out the new digs on the Navy‘s wave of the future. Isn’t she a beauty? I’d like to introduce you to (the rendered conception of) the DDG 1002 Zumwalt Class Warship. It’s the latest thing in intimidating, high tech maritime awesomeness. 

Or it will be, once construction is completed. 

The Zumwalt, taking shape at Bath Iron Works, is the biggest destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy. DDG 1000 is the first of a new class of warships in the US Navy’s revolutionary vision for 21st Century surface combatant designs. What does that mean? 

So glad you asked… 

The ship is designed as a multi-mission destroyer able to provide independent forward presence and deterrence. It’s also designed to operate as an integral part of a joint or multi-national naval task force. The primary mission emphasis is on land attack, maritime dominance and joint interoperability. This will enable the DDG 1000 to control the littoral battlespace and deliver more ordnance on target over a broader range of military objectives than any surface combatant ever put to sea. 

Basically, it’s a multi-purpose, water-treading, techno-ship capable of handling multiple situations with equal levels of stealth, firepower and let’s face it, finesse. No other ship balances power and class on the high seas quite like this baby. 

The Zumwalt’s new technology will allow the warship to deter and defeat aggression and to maintain operations in areas where an enemy seeks to deny access, both on the open ocean and in operations closer to shore, the Navy says. The warship is looking to get some pretty sweet features, too. We’re talking a wave-piercing hull, electric drive propulsion, and advanced sonar. 

Oh, and let’s not forget the rocket-propelled warheads that can shoot as far as 100 miles. 

This thing is longer and heavier than its predecessors, by the way, but only needs half the crew size. Why? Well a lot of this ship will rely on automated systems.

This warship integrates numerous critical technologies, systems, and principles into a complete warfighting system. These include employment of optimal manning through human systems integration, improved quality of life, low operations and support costs, multi-spectral signature reduction, balanced warfighting design, survivability, and adaptability.

Talk about swift, silent and deadly.

“DDG 1000 is a vessel that fits within our Defense Strategic Guidance. With its stealth, incredibly capable sonar system, strike capability, and lower manning requirements – this is our future,” said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations. The Zumwalt-class ships are being built with modern, modular shipbuilding methods, allowing for construction of much larger units with greater degrees of outfitting achieved prior to ship assembly.

So when does this behemoth hit the international waves?

DDG 1002 is expected to deliver to the Navy in fiscal year 2018. It might be a few years away, but we’re already seeing a trend toward technology-driven visions for the future of the military. What’s next? Bullet proof armor suits? Robots integrated into the ranks? Illogical-but-still-awesome jet packs become standard GI issue?

Okay, maybe not the last one, but I believe that the future of the force is going to utilize the best and brightest in technology and people.

I gotta say, with this warship on the future maritime playing field, Battleship is never going to be the same.

Information for this article provided by the Naval Sea Systems Command Office of Corporate Communications

Jessica L. Tozer
Armed With Science

(Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science. She is an Army veteran an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for technology in the military.)

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LCA Naval Version Successfully Carries Out Maiden Flight

The maiden flight of the Naval variant of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was carried out successfully today at HAL Airport, Bangalore. The first prototype of the LCA Naval variant NP-1, took to the skies at 1210 AM, Apr. 27. The flight which lasted for about 20 minutes within the designated flight envelope had carried out the planned tests successfully. The test flight was carried out with landing gear extended as a routine practice during the maiden flight. With this successful flight test, the LCA development programme has crossed another major milestone.

The LCA (NP-1) was piloted by Come T.A Maolankar, Chief Test Pilot and co-piloted by Wg Cdr M Prabhu, Flight Test Engineer of NFTC. The event was witnessed by a host of top dignitaries including Dr. V.K Saraswat, Scientific Advisor & DG(DRDO), Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, PVSM AVSM VM ADC, Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Satish Soni, AVSM, NM, Commandant Air Force Training Command Air Marshal Rajinder Singh, AVSM, VM, Chairman HAL Shri R.K Tyagi, DS & Programme Director (CA) & Director ADA Shri PS Subramanyan, Project Director of LCA Navy, Cmde (Retd) C. D Balaji and Dr. K Tamilmani of CEMILAC.

The development plan of the Naval version envisages building of 2 prototypes, a two seat trainer (NP-1) and a single seat fighter (NP-2), as technology demonstrators to carry out carrier suitability certification and weapons integration. HAL is the major partner to ADA, for the Design & Development of the Light Combat Aircraft. In the Naval variant, the responsibilities of HAL include Design of General Systems viz. Fuel System, Environmental Control System, Hydraulics, Electrical, Communication System , Landing Gear, Arrestor Hook, LEVCON Modification. HAL is also responsible for manufacturing of prototypes, system Integration & installation, Ground Testing and the Integrated Flight Control System Test facility.

The additional features that the naval version would have when compared to the other version of LCA are the LEVCON (Leading Edge Vortex Control Surface) to reduce the forward speed of the aircraft during carrier landing, Telescopic Landing Gear with high sink rate, Arrester Hook for deck recovery and fuel dump system for emergency deck recovery. The aircraft is specifically designed for take off from a 14 degree ramp on the aircraft carrier deck and use the Arrester Hook System to facilitate landing within the deck length of 90 meters.

The Naval prototype (NP-1) had its roll out earlier in the presence of the Hon’ble Raksha Mantri and the Chief of the Naval Staff in Jul 2010.

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Flying Shark” Gaining Altitude: How might new J-15 strike fighter improve China’s maritime air warfare ability?

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “Flying Shark” Gaining Altitude: How might new J-15 strike fighter improve China’s maritime air warfare ability?,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), 

General Chen Bingde, Chief of Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), has just been quoted as confirming that a Chinese “aircraft carrier is under construction now.” According to Global Times, “This is the first time the PLA has officially acknowledged the existence of a Chinese aircraft carrier.”[i] General Chen is likely referring to a future indigenously constructed Chinese aircraft carrier, which U.S. government sources have projected will be operational sometime after 2015. As U.S. Department of Defense projected in 2010: “Analysts in and out of government project that China will not have an operational, domestically produced carrier and associated ships before 2015.  However, changes in China’s shipbuilding capability and degree of foreign assistance to the program could alter those projections.”[ii] Meanwhile, however, China is already preparing the refitted ski jump carrier Varyag, purchased from Ukraine in 1998 and brought to Dalian Shipyard in 2002, to go to sea.
Given these developments, it is time to analyze the first carrier-based aircraft that China will employ: the new J-15 “Flying Shark” carrier-based heavy fighter-bomber. Pictures of the J-15 have been appearing for almost two years and a video of it flying has been on YouTube for about a year,[iii] so the sudden surge of attention to the aircraft likely comes because Varyag (renamed “Shilang,” according to some Chinese sources) could begin sea trials as early as this summer. (Chinese Internet sources frequently mention 1 July 2011 as a potential date, though a knowledgeable Chinese expert with whom one of the authors has spoken cautions that the exact date is impossible to predict given the uncertainties inherent in systems development and integration).
As currently configured and supported, the J-15 is no “great leap forward,” but is nevertheless triggering concern among regional nations because it indicates rapid improvement in Chinese naval aviation and suggests Chinese determination to supplement current anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) approaches by developing some form of regional blue water presence beyond the First Island Chain. (This demarcation, envisioned by Chinese strategists such as former PLA Navy/PLAN commander Admiral Liu Huaqing, extends through Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia, and encompasses the three “Near Seas”: Yellow, East China, and South China. They regard it as both a “benchmark” of PLAN progress and a “barrier” fortified with foreign military facilities.) The J-15’s initial role will be linked to, and limited by, its first operational platform: a “starter carrier” to project a bit of power, confer prestige on a rising great power, and master basic procedures.
What’s happening now?
On 24 April 2011, Chinese Internet sources posted new photos of a J-15 sitting outside a hangar at the airfield of the No. 112 Factory of Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC). First assembled at SAC in 2008, J-15 prototypes reportedly made their maiden flight on 31 August 2009 and their first takeoff from a land-based simulated ski jump on 6 May 2010 at China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE), Yanliang Air Base, Shaanxi Province.[iv]
The J-15, which has an airframe closely resembling that of the Russian Su-33, boasts more advanced, indigenously made avionics, including a wide-angle holographic Heads-Up Display (HUD);[v] as well as more complex trailing-edge double-slotted flaps.[vi]Small canard foreplanes and enlarged folding wings enhance low-speed handling. A shortened tailcone helps to avoid tail-strike during high angle of attack (AoA) landing. An arresting hook helps shorten landing distance, and strengthened landing gear with twin nose wheels helps absorb impact. The J-15 is likely to have similar avionics, radar, and weapons capabilities to the land-based J-11B, which itself emulates the Su-27SK, albeit with improvements in precisely these areas, as well as to the airframe. The airframe changes might include structural reinforcements to support arrested landings in the tailhook, wing/body attachments, and wing/weapon pylon attachment areas.
The lack of a second seat for a Naval Flight Officer (NFO) to operate the avionics and radar suite in the images of the J-15 currently available on Chinese websites suggests that the PLA believes its electronics suite is sufficiently integrated and automated to require only one person to operate all the plane’s functions, including navigation and targeting. This is normal practice for carrier aircraft: most U.S. Navy F/A-18s are single seat, as are most Russian Su-27s and derivatives. Modern weapons systems are highly automated and can be operated well by a single pilot. Two seats are used primarily in order to operate in bad weather at low altitudes and when the systems cannot be as automated, as in the EA-18 Growler electronic warfare airplane. The J-15 is single seat because a) this is normal for carrier aircraft, and b) a crewed aircraft would give up too much performance at takeoff from the ski jump.
China’s push to refurbish “Shilang” could potentially reunite the basic Su-33 airframe with the ski jump carrier from which it was originally designed to fly. PLAN Aviation has reportedly conducted a test flight on land using a ski jump. Google Earth and Internet photos suggest that the cities of Huludao and Xi’an have ski jump runway-style pilot training facilities, with two sets of arresting gear also present at Huludao. This ski jump approach, while it may help launch China into the deck aviation field, will limit significantly whatever performance parameters the J-15 achieves.
What it means
The J-15’s emergence offers potential capabilities that are noteworthy because China is starting from such a low baseline in naval aviation that virtually any progress could make a big difference. It means that when the J-15 becomes operational (potentially by 2014), PLAN Aviation will have a carrier-based airframe with relatively advanced sensors and electronics, the maneuverability to be a credible close-in fighter, and even the potential range and payload to be a serious strike platform for use against maritime and terrestrial targets—if China develops its naval aerial refueling capabilities significantly. The J-15 has a retractable refueling probe that is likely derived from that of the Su-30MKK, but overall this is an area in which China has yet to demonstrate notable progress. For now, it would seem to be dependent on land-based tankers as launch of tankers (or buddy-to-buddy refueling, which adds significant weight, making ski jump-launching difficult of not impossible) would have to rely on shore-based tankers until China develops or acquires catapults.
As for potential mission applications, the J-15 is a large aircraft and likely has a normal takeoff weight in the 25 tonne range, which is roughly similar to that of America’s now-retired F-14 Tomcat. It remains to be seen precisely what capabilities the J-15’s avionics suite possesses, but if they can support a ground attack mission (the tricky part might be targeting radar with land and ocean seek/guidance modes), the J-15 will have two primary uses in a future Chinese carrier group, with a third role of providing air cover as necessary during future operations to protect and/or evacuate Chinese citizens threatened by violence in Africa and other regions.
If properly equipped, supported, and employed—and these are significant “ifs”—the J-15 could affect the regional military balance substantially, as it likely exceeds or matches the aerodynamic capabilities of virtually all fighter aircraft currently operated by regional militaries, with the exception of the U.S. F-22 Raptor. If China is able to eventually employ an effective indigenous active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar in the J-15, it could potentially come close to approximating the electronic capabilities of the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, the U.S. Navy’s primary strike fighter. AESA radars offer stealth and high jamming-resistance and the potential ability to track and engage cruise missiles such as the Tomahawk; they could possibly be used in electronic countermeasures (ECM) applications as well. While too many variables remain at this time to determine precisely how the J-15 will contribute to China’s “system of systems” of military capabilities, its very existence suggests for the first time the possibility of China developing serious maritime aviation capabilities—a prospect that would have regional implications. In fact, there is already a substantial likelihood that the J-15’s existence will prompt China’s maritime neighbors to purchase additional late-generation fighter aircraft.
One concrete example of a fighter program that the J-15 could influence is the F-35B, which currently faces possible cancellation or cuts. The F-35B’s short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) capabilities would make it the only aircraft that the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) would be able to operate off of its Hyuga-class helicopter destroyers. As early as the late 1980s, parts of the JMSDF have sought to incorporate fighters into their destroyer operations as a way to enhance defense against bombers and anti-ship cruise missile (ASCMs).[vii] Rising perceptions of threats from carrier-based Chinese J-15s could sharpen Japanese interest in acquiring a meaningful number of F-35Bs.
The F-35B’s attractiveness is enhanced by the fact that with its STOVL characteristics, it would also be deployable in case of a first strike on Japanese/U.S. airbases on Okinawa, or other areas such as Guam, that led to damaging or loss of runways. As such, planners could use the F-35B as the core of a “centralized battle-management, decentralized air asset staging” concept that could help counter the risk that the PLA’s growing, highly accurate ballistic missile arsenal poses to airfields in the region. The question would be the range of Okinawa or Guam from the area of operations as the F-35B in STOVL mode suffers from the same kind of limitations that the J-15 would suffer when operating from a ski jump.
Possible J-15 missions
While the Flying Shark’s capabilities remain uncertain, its potential is significant. If deployed effectively, it could offer China new options for combat air patrol (CAP) and maritime strike.
Long-range CAP. The Sukhoi Flanker/J-11/J-15 basic design features high internal fuel capacity and allows for a substantial operational radius, given the Su-27’s genesis as a Soviet long-range interceptor with a roughly 10 tonne internal fuel load. Even with the reduction in fuel and weapons loadout imposed by a ski jump launch, it is reasonable to assume that a J-15’s combat radius could extend as far as 700 km from the carrier, particularly if the buddy tanking capability is included, which can add more than 300 km of operational radius, according to Carlo Kopp of Airpower Australia. (This would be provided by a buddy pod, an external store generally containing a hose and drogue system that allows one aircraft to transfer fuel to another). The J-15 will likely be able to carry China’s PL-12 air-to-air missile, adding an additional 100km to its reach out range. Currently, China’s longest-range maritime air cover in blue water situations comes from the 200 km-range HHQ-9 naval surface to air missile.
When the J-15 is deployed, it could help push potential foes much further away from a Chinese carrier given that the range of most potential opponents’ air-launched anti-ship weapons is 300km or less. Organic fighter cover would be vital for maritime security missions located far enough from land to preclude land-based air support. Chinese fighters would likely be at a significant numerical disadvantage in any confrontations involving the U.S. Navy, but J-15s armed with the PL-12 air-to-air missile, which has similar performance parameters to the Russian R-77 and US AIM-120A Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), would nonetheless have to be taken very seriously by potential opponents. In a close-in fight, the J-15, which likely has a 10% better thrust-to-weight ratio and 25% lower wing loading than the F/A-18 Super Hornet (the mainstay U.S. Navy fighter for a long time to come), could be a dangerous foe. More powerful versions of the indigenous WS-10 turbofan engine, as China is able to develop them, would improve the J-15’s aerodynamic performance.
Maritime strike/anti-ship missionsIf armed and able to launch successfully with the Kh-31 supersonic anti-ship missile or the indigenous YJ-82 supersonic ASCM, carrier-based J-15s could credibly hold surface platforms within 500 km of the Chinese carrier group at risk. We base this assessment on the 200+ km range of the air-launched YJ-83 ASCM, which could give PLAN aviators in J-15s the ability to trade fuel for weapons in a weight-restricted ski jump takeoff scenario. This would add an additional threat dimension for which fleet commanders would have to account. Existing Chinese surface combatants and submarines launching late-model ASCMs like the Klubpose a very serious threat to surface vessels, but they take much longer to move into firing positions and thus can be more easily accounted for by planners and air defense personnel (though submarines might be difficult to detect if operated quietly).
Whereas a Kilo-class diesel submarine or future nuclear attack submarine (e.g., Type 095) or a Type 054 frigate could require hours to close to ASCM firing range with a surface ship several hundred km from a Chinese carrier group, a J-15 strike package could cover the distance in minutes, giving Chinese commanders much greater tactical flexibility. China’s growing space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities will help facilitate the J-15’s maritime strike potential.
One creative way in which the PLA might attempt maximize the impact of deck aviation in a regional conflict would be to “lily pad” by launching a number of fully loaded J-15s from coastal airbases, aerially refuel them within the protective envelope of land- and carrier-based fighter aircraft, and subsequently use the carrier(s) for airplane recovery after the first-strike mission with a full weapons loadout. The carrier(s) could then potentially generate successive, more lightly-loaded sorties from their ski-jumps. The aircraft might then refuel just enough to get back within tanking range from home base. The U.S. did a form of this in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, ferrying A-4 Skyhawks to Israel via a series of carriers in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
At longer ranges the strike package would be subject to significant tradeoffs, possibly limited by the need to designate some aircraft as buddy tankers and the need for retaining fighters for CAP, lest the carrier be left open to air attack. J-15s on an anti-ship mission would also be vulnerable to attack by opposing fighters if operating against U.S. forces.
Ski jump carriers: no great leap forward
Regardless of the J-15’s specific capabilities, however, it is likely to be limited severely by the deck aviation platform from which it operates. For the foreseeable future, this would seem to be a ski jump, as seen on the ex-Varyag. As a former carrier aviator at the U.S. Naval War College emphasizes, a ski jump design imposes significant restrictions; such carriers have very limited operational capability. Using a ski-jump does not allow an aircraft to approach maximum take-off weight, and even then it requires maximum thrust to keep it in the air at less than 100 mph when it hits the end of the jump. The only aircraft that can use a ski jump effectively is a high thrust-to-weight jet like the Su-33, and then without much load. Ski jump launch cannot produce sufficient lift to allow full gross weight takeoffs. Vertical and/or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) jets like the Harrier or F-35B obtain benefit from a ski jump, which lets them carry more load that if they took off vertically or using a straight deck. But China currently lacks V/STOL capabilities.
One of the great operational limitations of a ski jump carrier is that it must depend on helicopters to provide the essential capability of airborne early warning (AEW). Compounding matters, helicopters are one of the PLAN’s greatest areas of weakness; its fleet remains extremely small and underdeveloped. It appears that the PLAN may employ Ka-31 AEW helicopters imported from Russia until it can develop an adequate indigenous platform, perhaps based on the Z-8. As long as the PLAN operates ski jump carriers, therefore, it is unclear how much the air group on the carrier will contribute to the overall ISR picture, since ISR aircraft are typically underpowered relative to their weight and sophisticated versions would have difficulty launching via ski jump.
A Chinese carrier likely will not be launching anything but J-15s, because a plane with near 1:1 thrust to weight ratio is required to do anything but fall after leaving the ski jump. A Chinese ski jump carrier, then, will not be operating robust fixed-wing ISR assets like the U.S. Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye or S-3 Viking, which could not launch safely from it, and it does not possess their equivalents in any case. Nor could it safely launch a heavily-loaded twin-engine cargo aircraft like the C-2 Greyhound, which is likewise dependent on catapult launch. Thus, even if China had three carriers in the fleet, up from zero today, PLAN Aviation would still be a primarily land-based air force; how it will (or will not) integrate with the PLA Air Force remains a key uncertainty. Nor can a ski jump carrier operate tankers, whose aerial refueling is essential for extending naval aircraft range. The U.S. Navy used to deck-launch S-2 Trackers, fully outfitted with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) gear, but the carrier had to be producing considerable wind over the deck to accomplish this; typically, a catapult was used.
For these reasons, Chinese ski jump carriers simply cannot be used in any of the combat roles that U.S. Navy carriers have performed. At best, they could provide limited air cover for amphibious forces and some close air support, akin to what U.S. Marine Corps Harriers have long provided. Ski jump carriers derive most of their combat power from helicopters or from deck-launched ASCMs. Any fighters they carry would have little or no capability to man distant combat air patrol (CAP) stations, so for defense, they would either rely solely on surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) or perhaps alert interceptors. However, given the limited amount of AEW they would have, the alert interceptors would be largely undefended once they went over the radar horizon.
While a new step for China and an important indicator, the J-15 is limited in capability; its launch platform even more so. It is important not to overstate the land attack and anti-ship potential of the J-15 airframe flying off of short take off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) carriers such as “Shilang,” particularly against large U.S. military facilities like Guam and Diego Garcia. Even if J-15s could get off the deck with a reasonable weapons load, their range would be greatly reduced—it would be significantly less coming off of the ski jump than for comparable U.S. aircraft coming off catapults. China could in theory refuel planes in the air (assuming China buys or develops a buddy pod) but this sort of “operational triage” would reduce the air group by turning a significant number of fighters into tankers. Employed in isolation, buddy pods are of limited utility (and might not be all that launch-able from ski jumps in the first place).
To obtain significantly extended range it is necessary to use large tankers, which the U.S. Air Force (USAF) employs extensively, but China lacks. Fuel is the heaviest thing an aircraft carries, it seems unlikely that a ski jump- launched J-15 with a buddy pod would have significant ability to provision other fighters. Even a catapult launched F-18 with a buddy store only has about 4,000 lb of fuel to transfer. Given the limitations on number of aircraft carried and the takeoff weight limits of ski jump launched aircraft, “Shilang” could not generate operationally significant numbers of sorties unless the game was to get one or two aircraft into a strike firing position. Essentially, they would just be able to do aerial sniping against weakly armed opponents. Combined with the need to hold some jets back for defense, then, Chinese planners would face with a very difficult choice—attack at longer ranges with a greatly reduced strike package (probably insufficient to seriously damage a large target), or bring the carrier in close to get more aircraft on target and expose the entire carrier group to greater risk.
While a first-generation Chinese carrier would not represent a threat to U.S. ships and facilities in the way that the U.S. uses carriers, however, it could nevertheless be employed to provide significantly increased air defense to a group of surface ships in order to get them within ASCM range of a U.S. carrier group, or—should the Chinese develop a naval land attack cruise missile (LACM)—to get the LACM shooters within range of a key U.S. base. The same is true of ASW protection in theory, although this might be done better by additional destroyer-based helicopters, with which China has more experience and which would not offer such a large, consolidated, and easily detectable target set.
In addition, while a Chinese carrier group would not last very long in a head-to-head confrontation with the U.S. Navy, the very existence of a Chinese carrier capability, even a limited one, would potentially exert significant pressure on China’s South China Sea neighbors to settle maritime disputes in ways favorable to China. If regional leaders perceive “Shilang” as a confirmation of waxing Chinese naval power and something that erodes the credibility of U.S. security guarantees, this could potentially prompt Vietnam, Malaysia, and others to seek bilateral accommodation with China.
Aside from a focused worst-case mission to damage a very specific target at the risk of limited operational effectiveness and high friendly losses then, the J-15’s development is part of a long-term PLAN Aviation effort to “dip its toe” in the water in order to build more robust capabilities in the long run. The oceans are vast and promising, but the water can be cold and the salt often stings.
Remaining issues & challenges.
1)      Since ski jump launches reduce an aircraft’s potential fuel and weapons payload relative to catapult launches, it will be telling to see if China’s future indigenous carrier hulls employ a catapult launch instead. For operations outside of the range of China’s handful of land-based large tanker aircraft (i.e., essentially the entire strategic zone between the straits of Hormuz and Malacca), this will greatly limit combat effectiveness since J-15s launched from the carriers will be able to carry fewer weapons and can only rely on their internal fuel stores. Even in local contingencies, Chinese forces would quickly face a shortage of tankers, particularly given China’s trouble acquiring the IL-78s needed to refuel Flanker-derivative planes like the J-15.
2)      A related question concerns the ability of the plane’s landing gear to absorb the impact of landing. The heavier the machine at landing, the more stress on the airframe. If a pilot lands too fast or the arresting gear is set for the wrong weight, then the hook could come off the airplane or the arresting gear engines could be ruined. Cross deck pendants (flexible steel arresting cables/wires strung across the carrier deck to catch the arresting hook of an incoming aircraft) do break, but rarely. When they do, due mostly to a faulty swedge fitting (where the pendant attaches on each side to the wires that go down into the engines) or poor quality assurance in pendant fabrication, the results are gruesome. Many people on deck are killed and maimed, not to mention the damage to aircraft.
3)      To function at maximum combat effectiveness, carrier-based fighters need AEW and tanker support. The U.S. and French Navies use variants of the E-2 Hawkeye to provide AEW capability. The tanker issue may prove more challenging for operations beyond China’s immediate region. U.S. naval aviators typically rely on USAF tankers operating from forward bases in the Middle East and other regions to support them during expeditionary air operations. China would need to negotiate access agreements of some type to deploy tankers to support any possible future operations in the Western Indian Ocean and Northeastern Africa.
4)      One question that will affect the J-15’s combat potential directly is: will China deploy more advanced, longer-range air-to-air and air-launched anti-ship missiles in the next few years? If China can build a sufficiently robust ISR and targeting chain, missiles in the class of Russia’s 300km-range Novator K-100 or Vympel R-37 andBrahMos-class air-launched ASCMs (~300 km range) would help compensate for range restrictions induced by lower fuel payloads during ski jump operations. This would be in keeping with China’s larger “missile-centric” approach.
5)      If China plans to fully indigenize J-15 production, it will need to have the domestically made WS-10 turbofan engine or other variant attain world-class reliability standards to enable safe and confident overwater operation. Global Times claims that Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) is series-producing WS-10 engines for the J-11B, but other sources indicate that reliability issues remain, which is a major safety issue for an overwater aircraft. The engines would also need to be made salt water-resistant to allow marine operation. Many analysts believe the J-15 is now using Russian-made AL-31 engines, which China is able to refit and overhaul on its own. Aeroengine development is among the greatest technological challenges for any aerospace power, and China has yet to demonstrate top-tier indigenous production capabilities here.
6)      What types of follow-on modifications might SAC make to the J-15 as it moves toward becoming operational? We think it is realistic to expect modifications including thrust vectoring engine nozzles similar to those found on other Flanker-derived aircraft and changes to engine intakes and other structures to reduce radar cross section. The aircraft’s avionics suite will almost certainly become more capable over the next 5 years.
7)      How many J-15s will PLAN Aviation acquire? Deploying a carrier with a full component of highly capable strike fighters sends a very different strategic message than deploying a carrier outfitted primarily with helicopters.
8)      It will be interesting see if Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group promotes a follow-on version of the slightly-navalized variant of its J-10 fighter that it has already developed—perhaps as an alternative or supplement to SAC’s J-15. This assumes, of course, that the J-10 can be turned into a successful carrier fighter. The U.S. examined just such a possibility with the F-16, it turned out to not be a suitable design. Rumors about a carrier-capable J-10 have circulated on the Chinese Internet for years, but open sources have not yet offered concrete evidence of such a development. Delta-wing canard fighters can operate from a carrier, although they may require substantial strengthening in order to withstand the rigors of arrested landings and possibly catapult launches if China’s future carriers move away from ski jumps. This can sometimes make a fighter too heavy, as exemplified by BAE Systems’ proposed navalized Eurofighter Typhoon, which can operate from ski jump carriers but would be too heavy relative to competitors if it were beefed up for catapult operations. In a positive example, the French Rafale C is an effective, combat proven aircraft with successful land- and carrier-based versions. A competitive twin engine naval J-10 using Russian RD33 engines or the WS-13 turbofan China has developed for the FC-1/J-17 export fighter would likely have aerodynamic characteristics similar to the Rafale.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The India-China Rivalry by Robert D. Kaplan

By Robert D. Kaplan
As the world moves into the second decade of the 21st century, a new power rivalry is taking shape between India and China, Asia's two behemoths in terms of territory, population and richness of civilization. India's recent successful launch of a long-range missile able to hit Beijing and Shanghai with nuclear weapons is the latest sign of this development.
This is a rivalry born completely of high-tech geopolitics, creating a core dichotomy between two powers whose own geographical expansion patterns throughout history have rarely overlapped or interacted with each other. Despite the limited war fought between the two countries on their Himalayan border 50 years ago, this competition has relatively little long-standing historical or ethnic animosity behind it.
The signal geographical fact about Indians and Chinese is that the impassable wall of the Himalayas separates them. Buddhism spread in varying forms from India, via Sri Lanka and Myanmar, to Yunnan in southern China in the third century B.C., but this kind of profound cultural interaction was the exception more than the rule.
Moreover, the dispute over the demarcation of their common frontier in the Himalayan foothills, from Kashmir in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east, while a source of serious tension in its own right, is not especially the cause of the new rivalry. The cause of the new rivalry is the collapse of distance brought about by the advance of military technology.
Indeed, the theoretical arc of operations of Chinese fighter jets at Tibetan airfields includes India. Indian space satellites are able to do surveillance on China. In addition, India is able to send warships into the South China Sea, even as China helps develop state-of-the-art ports in the Indian Ocean. And so, India and China are eyeing each other warily. The whole map of Asia now spreads out in front of defense planners in New Delhi and Beijing, as it becomes apparent that the two nations with the largest populations in the world (even as both are undergoing rapid military buildups) are encroaching upon each other's spheres of influence -- spheres of influence that exist in concrete terms today in a way they did not in an earlier era of technology.
And this is to say nothing of China's expanding economic reach, which projects Chinese influence throughout the Indian Ocean world, as evinced by Beijing's port-enhancement projects in Kenya, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar. This, too, makes India nervous.
Because this rivalry is geopolitical -- based, that is, on the positions of India and China, with their huge populations, on the map of Eurasia -- there is little emotion behind it. In that sense, it is comparable to the Cold War ideological contest between the United States and the Soviet Union, which were not especially geographically proximate and had little emotional baggage dividing them.
The best way to gauge the relatively restrained atmosphere of the India-China rivalry is to compare it to the rivalry between India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan abut one another. India's highly populated Ganges River Valley is within 480 kilometers (300 miles) of Pakistan's highly populated Indus River Valley. There is an intimacy to India-Pakistan tensions that simply does not apply to those between India and China. That intimacy is inflamed by a religious element: Pakistan is the modern incarnation of all of the Muslim invasions that have assaulted Hindu northern India throughout history. And then there is the tangled story of the partition of the Asian subcontinent itself to consider -- India and Pakistan were both born in blood together.
Partly because the India-China rivalry carries nothing like this degree of long-standing passion, it serves the interests of the elite policy community in New Delhi very well. A rivalry with China in and of itself raises the stature of India because China is a great power with which India can now be compared. Indian elites hate when India is hyphenated with Pakistan, a poor and semi-chaotic state; they much prefer to be hyphenated with China. Indian elites can be obsessed with China, even as Chinese elites think much less about India. This is normal. In an unequal rivalry, it is the lesser power that always demonstrates the greater degree of obsession. For instance, Greeks have always been more worried about Turks than Turks have been about Greeks.
China's inherent strength in relation to India is more than just a matter of its greater economic capacity, or its more efficient governmental authority. It is also a matter of its geography. True, ethnic-Han Chinese are virtually surrounded by non-Han minorities -- Inner Mongolians, Uighur Turks and Tibetans -- in China's drier uplands. Nevertheless, Beijing has incorporated these minorities into the Chinese state so that internal security is manageable, even as China has in recent years been resolving its frontier disputes with neighboring countries, few of which present a threat to China.
India, on the other hand, is bedeviled by long and insecure borders not only with troubled Pakistan, but also with Nepal and Bangladesh, both of which are weak states that create refugee problems for India. Then there is the Maoist Naxalite insurgency in eastern and central India. The result is that while the Indian navy can contemplate the projection of power in the Indian Ocean -- and thus hedge against China -- the Indian army is constrained with problems inside the subcontinent itself.
India and China do play a great game of sorts, competing for economic and military influence in Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. But these places are generally within the Greater Indian subcontinent, so that China is taking the struggle to India's backyard.
Just as a crucial test for India remains the future of Afghanistan, a crucial test for China remains the fate of North Korea. Both Afghanistan and North Korea have the capacity to drain energy and resources away from India and China, though here India may have the upper hand because India has no land border with Afghanistan, whereas China has a land border with North Korea. Thus, a chaotic, post-American Afghanistan is less troublesome for India than an unraveling regime in North Korea would be for China, which faces the possibility of millions of refugees streaming into Chinese Manchuria.
Because India's population will surpass that of China in 2030 or so, even as India's population will get gray at a slower rate than that of China, India may in relative terms have a brighter future. As inefficient as India's democratic system is, it does not face a fundamental problem of legitimacy like China's authoritarian system very well might.
Then there is Tibet. Tibet abuts the Indian subcontinent where India and China are at odds over the Himalayan borderlands. The less control China has over Tibet, the more advantageous the geopolitical situation is for India. The Indians provide a refuge for the Tibetan Dalai Lama. Anti-Chinese manifestations in Tibet inconvenience China and are therefore convenient to India. Were China ever to face a serious insurrection in Tibet, India's shadow zone of influence would grow measurably. Thus, while China is clearly the greater power, there are favorable possibilities for India in this rivalry.
India and the United States are not formal allies. The Indian political establishment, with its nationalistic and leftist characteristics, would never allow for that. Yet, merely because of its location astride the Indian Ocean in the heart of maritime Eurasia, the growth of Indian military and economic power benefits the United States since it acts as a counter-balance to a rising Chinese power; the United States never wants to see a power as dominant in the Eastern Hemisphere as it itself is in the Western Hemisphere. That is the silver lining of the India-China rivalry: India balancing against China, and thus relieving the United States of some of the burden of being the world's dominant power.

Read more: The India-China Rivalry by Robert D. Kaplan | Stratfor 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pic of the Day: F-35 Gets Gas

This is the coolest picture of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter I’ve seen in a while. It shows the JSF conducting in-fight refueling while loaded with weapons on its wing hardpoints for the first time ever.
The jet above, an F-35A known as AF-4, is refueling from a KC-10 Extender  on April 21 over California while carrying two inert AIM-9X Sidewinders on the outer wing hardpoints along with two AIM-120 AMRAAMs and a pair of JDAMs (GPS-guided bombs) in its internal weapons bay.
The mission is one of many designed to test how well the jet flies while carrying a load of external weapons before the plane begins dropping ordnance later this year.

Read more: 

China’s Carrier Fighter Fleet (Photo)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thailand’s New LPD: Singapore’s ST Wins Contract for Ship, Landing Craft

In November 2008, ST Engineering subsidiary Singapore Technologies Marine Ltd (ST Marine), reported that they had “secured a contract in a basket of currencies amounting to about S$200m” (about $135 million) to design and build a 141 meter Landing Platform Dock (LPD) amphibious assault ship, along with ancillary vessels: a pair of 23m Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM) that can transport heavy equipment like tanks from the ship’s well deck to the shore, and a pair of smaller 13m Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (LCVP) for people and small wheeled vehicles. That customer turned out to be the Thai Navy, which floated an RFP for an LPD-type ship in April 2008.
ST Eng lists their ship design as an “LST” (Landing Ship Tank) on their site, but the Endurance Class does not beach itself. The label LPD is more appropriate for these 6,500 – 8,000 ton vessels, which cost less than 1/10th as much as the USA’s 25,000 ton LPD-17 Class. Now, the ship has been delivered:

Thailand’s Endurance Class LPD

SIMBAD, firing
Amphibious ships have important non-military uses in this region, where monsoon floods and tsunamis frequently produce disaster situations that require their ability to arrive by sea instead of by submerged or destroyed roads, to land supplies and bring people from the near-shore area, and to carry vehicles and helicopters to help inland. Like most LPDs, the ship includes onboard medical and dental facilities.
Compared to other LPDs, Singapore’s Endurance Class packs an offensive punch. A 76mm Oto Melara naval gun is a lot more than most other LPDs carry. It can be used against ships or aerial threats, and effectively gives the ships a secondary role as patrol vessels. A pair of remotely-operated 30mm guns give them added firepower against small boats and slow aerial targets. They’re a bit light on air defense, though, with only a pair of Simbad twin-launchers for MBDA’s very short range Mistral missiles. That’s normal for a small amphibious ship like this, and the entire array actually stacks up well against much larger ships like France’s Mistral Class (21,300t) and Australia’s Canberra Class (27,500t) LHDs.
Thailand’s LPD will use Terma’s C-Flex combat and C2 system. It’s tied to Terma’s SCANTER 4100 air and surface surveillance radar, to Terma’s C-Fire EO Director for day/night camera surveillance and laser rangefinding, and to a IFF system. The system can engage a surface and an air target simultaneously, but under limited circumstances: it uses the radar for tracking the surface target, and the EO Director for tracking the air target. The Mistral missiles will provide some independent capability there.
The ship’s crew will be about 150, and it can reportedly carry up to 360 troops, 18 tanks, 20 vehicles, and bulk cargo. A pair of 25t deck cranes help with loading and unloading, and vehicles up to 60 short tons can be driven off through a bow door or ramp. If port facilities aren’t available of sufficient, offloading will use the well deck’s 2 LCM/FCU 23m and 4 LVCP/FCEU 13m landing craft. That well deck area could also be used to launch fast boats and boarding parties, depending on the mission. Thailand’s order of just 2 FCEUs suggest that RHIBs or other fast boats will be part of the ship’s normal complement.

Contracts & Key Events

April 20/12: Delivery. HTMS Ang Thong (LPD-791) is delivered to the Royal Thai Navy, who is expressing interest in buying more. Bangkok Post:
“It will be deployed during the US-Thai Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (Carat) exercise next month and on a peace-keeping mission together with [the Chinese-built] HTMS Similan to tackle Somali pirates [in 2013].... According to Adm Kanat, HTMS Ang Thong is also suitable for rescue missions because it has a sick bay, a minor operation room and a dentist room…. The navy needs more landing ships, of this type he said. It has decommissioned five old auxiliary vessels and HTMS Ang Thong is the only replacement so far. The navy plans to order more ships of the same type.”
March 20/11: Launch. The (now offline) YouTube video of the HTMS Ang Thong launch had this text caption:
“On 20th March 2011, Royal Thai Navy’s LPD-791 has already released to sea at ST Marine Singapore dockyard. This vessel has displacement around 7600 tons. RTN would like to use this vessel with AAV and MH-60S in marine mission. This LPD can transport 19 AAVs or 15 Trucks/Trailers , 2 LCVP and 2-4 SH-60B/MH-60S or 1 CH-47.”
Note that launch is not the same as delivery, which requires more integration and then acceptance trials.
Sept 10/09: Combat suite. Terma announces that its C-series combat system and combat management system (C-Flex, C-Search and C-Fire) will arm Thailand’s new LPD.
C-Flex is the combat management system and central node for the C-series. C-Search is a radar and sensor suite, which will be tied to a Terma SCANTER 4100 air and surface surveillance radar, and an IFF system. C-Fire is the fire control system, which will handle the ship’s 76 mm main gun and 2×30 mm remotely operated guns. C-Fire’s Electro Optical (EO) Director has an inbuilt thermal imager, a TV camera, and an eye-safe laser range finder.
Nov 11/08: Order. Singapore’s ST Engineering announces the contract. Construction is scheduled to begin in mid 2009, and delivery is planned for in the second half of 2012.