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Report on the 5th Airshow China
Zhuhai, PRC, November 1-7, 2004

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by Richard Fisher, Jr.
Published on December 13th, 2004


The November 1-6, 2004 Airshow China/Zhuhai Airshow is the 5th such airshow to be held in Zhuhai, PRC. This year’s show offered three main themes: 1) the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aerospace sector exhibits growing over-capacity and redundancy but shows no lack of government funding; 2) greater creativity is being derived from increased internal competition and industrial cooperation; and 3) manned and unmanned space programs are receiving greater emphasis.

While they feature mainly commercial or "unclassified" programs, the Zhuhai airshows have been China’s only government-sanctioned keyhole into their aerospace sector. But as such, they have always existed on the tension between the PLA’s penchant for paranoid secrecy and the desire of Chinese companies to give the information necessary to earn sales revenues necessary to sustain competitiveness. And like any business adventure in China, you never know what to expect, but longer your commitment, the better your chances of success.

As of this show, one is able to count about 16 new combat aircraft programs and seven training aircraft programs in China. These include: the Sukhoi Su-30MKK; Su-30MKK2; Sukhoi/Shenyang J-11; Shenyang J-8H; Shenyang XXJ; Chengdu J-10; Chengdu FC-1; Chengdu J-7G; Chengdu XXJ; Xian JH-7A; Xian H-6; Hongdu Q-5; Guizhou LCS-16; CHRDI WZ-10; WZ-11; and the Harbin WZ-9. In addition, China may be developing an advanced long-range strike bomber and has the Chengdu J-7MF lightweight fighter program in reserve. Severn training aircraft in production or development include: the Hongdu JL-8; Hongdu L-15; Hongdu JQ-5J; Guizhou JJ-7; Guizhou JL-9; Chengdu J-10B; and the Chengdu FC-1B.

In contrast, the United States can barely afford three new combat aircraft programs, cancelled its only "new" attack helicopter program, and thinks it may be able to dispense with buying new advanced trainers due to progress in simulation. While it is true that China’s combat and trainer aircraft market is exhibiting excessive overcapacity, it is also true that the PLA is not buying all the aircraft on offer. At the same time it is evident that the companies responsible for this overcapacity have the investment capital necessary to continue with new and possibly redundant programs. On one level these companies receive government funds to sustain new programs, but increasingly it appears that the companies are forming alliances and finding investment capital for programs they hope will lead to sales to the PLA. It is also clear that these companies have also had the funds to procure advanced computer and machine tools from abroad to significantly upgrade their development and productive capacity.

This PLA-sanctioned "futures" approach to defense research and development has known success programs. In the early 1990s the Hongdu Company’s K-8 primary jet trainer seemed an orphan without PLA Air Force support. In 2004 it is a multinational cooperation program with a respectable foreign sales record and growing PLA orders. This example is now replicated in the area of training aircraft by Hongdu and Guizhou, in combat aircraft by the Chengdu Aircraft Company, by several companies developing unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and by surface-to-air-missile (SAM) makers.

Airshow China also displayed China’s growing ambitions in space. The successful flight of Shenzhou-5 in October 2003 marked the end of the first stage of China’s manned space program. The second stage will feature increased flights with new science and space walks, and perhaps a new version of the Shenzhou spacecraft. A third stage will see an initial manned space station, while China pursues a Moon exploration mission that will culminate in an unmanned return of Moon samples by 2020.

New Cruise Missile For The H-6 Bomber

A video provided by the Xian Aircraft Company revealed a new cruise missile. It is a large missile about the size of a C-601, but with a V-tail. It looks similar to a smaller cruise missile seen in model form at the 2001 Beijing Airshow. The H-6, however, has a distinctive radome on the rear fuselage, an indication of a command link between the cruise missile and the aircraft. This missile may be the YJ-63 first reported on in 2001, a terminally guided cruise missile based on the C-601, but with a TV-based terminal guidance seeker. Other sources note that this missile is an anti-ship missile with a range of about 120-160km. In 2001 the PLA Airforce was reportedly going to convert 25 H-6 bombers to carry four YJ-63s each. The Xian video only showed an H-6 carrying two missiles.

New Cruise Missile: This H-6 is carrying two new cruise missiles. Xian has also resumed production of this 1950s-era bomber, most likely to carry other new cruise missiles. Photo: RD Fisher via Xian Aircraft Co.

New H-6 Production

The same Xian video also provided the strongest indication yet that the venerable H-6, a Chinese copy of the venerable Tupolev Tu-16 medium bomber, which first flew in 1955, has resumed limited production at the Xian production facility. Other sources confirm that this is indeed the case. The new production run appears to be benefiting from computer-aided design enabled updates and new electronics. That PLA is returning to produce this obsolete bomber very likely for two reasons: 1) it is needed to fulfill stand-off strike missions with new long-range cruise missiles and 2) pressures to complete preparations for a Taiwan war are so great as to justify new production.

Of some interest, the Russian Tupolev bureau displayed a model of its Tu-22M-3 Backfire bomber. While Tupolev officials would not address the issue of possible sales to China, in September the Russian Armed Forced announced plans to retire two regiments of this bomber from the Russian Air Force. As India intends to buy a small number of Backfires, that may prompt China to do the same. But it is also possible that China may be working with Russia on a more stealthy design, perhaps based on the Sukhoi T-60, of which very little is known, or a derivation of Sukhoi’s Su-32 family.

Now For Sale: For the first time at Zhuhai, the Tupolev Co. displayed a model of its Tu-22M-3 “Backfire” bomber; two regiments have been retired by Russia and are now for sale.Photo: RD Fisher

Xian JH-7A Advances

A Xian official confirmed reports that a new version of the JH-7 "Feibao-Flying Leopard" fighter bomber, the JH-7A, has started production. He noted that so far, two regiments of JH-7s have been built for the PLA Navy Air Force-one for testing and one for combat missions. He discounted previous reports that up to 150 JH-7As might be built, saying the number would be less. But he did confirm that the "QinLing" turbofan engine, an uprated Spey 202 fully produced at the Xian Aero Engine Group in cooperation with Britain’s Rolls Royce, powers the JH-7A. The JH-7A also features "fly-by-wire" controls and is able to use advanced precision-guided weapons, like laser-guided bombs and the Russian Kh-31 supersonic anti-ship missile. Other sources note that the PLA Navy may purchase 3 to 4 regiments of JH-7As, while surprisingly, the PLA Air Force has also started to take delivery of this fighter bomber.

The Xian Aero Engine Group was marketing the QinLing but not talking about its details. Xian’s partner Rolls Royce also did not answer questions. According to reports the PLA revived cooperation with Rolls Royce in the 1997-98 timeframe, following a failed attempt at co-production in the late 1970s, followed by years of unsuccessful attempts to copy the engine. Xian’s mastering the Spey/QinLing, however, marks a significant advance for China’s ability to produce modern turbofan engines.

Xian JH-7A: New production of JH-7A has been enabled by renewed cooperation with Britain’s Rolls Royce, which has resulted in the QinLing turbofan engine. Photo: RD Fisher

New Q-5 Trainer And Possible New Attacker

Hongdu, maker of the Q-5 attack aircraft that was developed in the 1960s based on the Russian MiG-19/J-6, unveiled a twin-seat trainer version, the JQ-5J. A prototype is said to under construction with a first flight possible in 2005. In service since the mid-1970s, the Q-5 has previously relied on twin seat JJ-6 for training. The advent of a specialized twin-seat version after so many years indicates the strong possibility that the PLA Air Force has decided to upgrade the Q-5 with modern weapons, and thus, needs a dedicated trainer-or needs a twin-seat version to fully exploit new weapons. The PLA is developing new laser-guided bombs. A dedicated attacker like the Sukhoi Su-25 has been noticeably lacking in the PLA’s preparations for possible Taiwan operations. It is possible that after evaluating the very capable Frogfoot, the PLA may have decided to build a significantly more capable version of the less expensive Q-5.

Hongdu JQ-5J Trainer: A new trainer version of the venerable Q-5 may indicate the PLA is investing in an upgraded Q-5 to fulfill a longstanding close support aircraft requirement. Photo: RD Fisher

Chengdu Developments

While Chengdu’s J-10 remains a "classified" program and was physically absent from Airshow China 2004, Chengdu officials were willing to discuss some potential parameters. The requirement for the J-10’s radar is a range of 120km while being able to process four simultaneous air-to-air engagements. Russian sources, however, cautioned that because the J-10’s radar has a mechanically slewed array, that number of simultaneous engagements could only happen in ideal conditions. Other Russian sources commented that China is having difficulty meeting the design goal of 13,200kg thrust for the WS-10A turbofan, which is intended for the J-10 and other fighters, and may proceed with using the engine at lower thrust ratings. An AVIC-1 video also provided confirmation that the J-10’s cockpit will feature three new multi-function displays. These will likely be joined by a new helmet-mounted display, known to be under development at the Louyang Corporation.

J-10 Cockpit: A brief glimpse from an AVIC-1 video of the cockpit of the Chengdu J-10 multi-role fighter, illustrates China’s rapid assimilation and development of modern cockpit technologies. Photo: AVIC-1

Chengdu officials confirmed that FC-1 production is due to begin in 2006 and that a twin-seat version should be flying by that time. They note the PLA Air Force is still evaluating the FC-1 before making a final decision to purchase this fighter. In contrast, Pakistani officials, the FC-1’s co-development partner, is confident the Chinese military will buy the FC-1.

In 2002 there were unconfirmed reports that Chengdu’s J-7MF had flown, and this year a Chengdu official confirmed this report. The J-7MF, first revealed at the 2000 Zhuhai show as a fall-back program to the FC-1, had resulted in one prototype that flew in 2002. However, the test program was halted after 20 hours to concentrate on the FC-1, which had financial support from Pakistan. Chengdu officials note that a choice over the replacement for the PLAAF’s long-serving J-7s, either the FC-1 or the J-7MF, will be determined by cost. Chengdu maintains that the J-7MF will be as capable as the FC-1.

Chengdu FC-1: It remains possible that the PLAAF will purchase this fighter born of cooperation with Pakistan. Photo: RD Fisher via AVIC 1

Shenyang Developments

Airshow China also featured a brief flurry of news reports and denials by Russia's Sukhoi bureau concerning its 1996 contract with the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) to co-produce 200 Su-27SK/J-11 fighters at the Shenyang factory. On November 2 the Russian newspaper Vremya Novostey reported that in May 2004 China had suspended its purchase of J-11 production kits at 95 kits, noting China was not longer interested in producing this single-role fighter. The next day Sukhoi Chief Designer Aleksey Knyshev denied the report, stated that the KnAAPO plant had delivered 105 kits and that negotiations were proceeding regarding a second contract for the remaining 95 kits. Other reports note that so far, 60 to 70 J-11s have entered the PLA Air Force, with current production at about 15 a year. Since 2002 Sukhoi spokesmen have commented on China's desire to upgrade the J-11 to a multirole fighter, and even to radically modify the J-11 to carry Chinese-made radar, engines and weapons-that it would eventually export as its own. Shenyang has tested the WS-10A turbofan on the J-11 and a J-11 mockup at Shenyang's headquarters features the Louyang PL-12 active-guided air-to-air missile and Kh-31 supersonic anti-ship or anti-radar missiles-at least indicating its ambitions. A future J-11 contract must then reconcile PLA ambitions with Russia's equal desire to sell the components for China's J-11 multirole upgrade.

In the meantime, KnAAPO is now set to deliver its second regiment of 24 Su-30MKK2 strike fighters to the PLA Navy Air Force by early 2005, with reports indicating the Navy's interest in a third regiment. Counting known sales of aircraft and co-production kits, by 2006 the PLA could have over 300 Sukhoi Su-27/J-11/Su-30 fighters in its air forces.


Guizhou Developments

The Guizhou Aviation Industry Group was marketing two aircraft. The FTC-2000 "Plateau Eagle," which first flew in 2003, and based broadly on the Chengdu FC-1, was being promoted as the low-cost alternative for the PLA’s future advanced trainer requirement. While supersonic capable, it is powered by a WP-13F turbojet engine. It has undertaken about 150 test flights. Should it purchased by the PLA, it will be called the JL-9.

A surprise at the show was Guizhou’s LFC-16, a single-seat version of the CY-1 concept aircraft revealed at the 2002 show. The product of an independent company which the Chinese military had encouraged to support by investment, this program has since been adopted by Guizhou, which now claims to have PLA funding for it. Guizhou officials claim a prototype could be ready in 1 to 3 years. This canard fighter-bomber also uses the CY-1’s unique "double-stake" aerodynamic surfaces to produce stability without expensive fly-by-wire systems. It will be powered by the Kunlun-II turbojet. Guizhou officials were noncommittal when asked whether the PLA would be buying the LFC-16.

Guizhou LFC-16: A doubtful concept in 2002, this product of “venture capitalism” in the PLA has apparently been adopted by the Guizhou Co. and may be built into a prototype in 1 to 3 years. It is intended to be an effective but less expensive fighter-bomber. Photo: RD Fisher

Hongdu Trainers

Since 2002 Hongdu’s L-15 trainer concept has undergone a major redesign. At about that same year, Hongdu entered into a cooperative program with Russia’s Yakovlev design bureau, which has resulted in a redesigned trainer which bears fuselage, engine intake and wing design features from the Yak-130 trainer. Seen at the show in a near-full-size mockup, the first prototype of the L-15 is expected to fly in 2005. In contrast to the FTC-2000/JL-9, it uses twin-turbofan engines and will use a fly-by-wire system. Hongdu is also making progress with its K-8/JL-8 primary jet trainer program. Originally a private program that lacked PLA support, it is now reported that the PLA fly three regiments at its Air Force academies.

Hongdu L-15: Completely redesigned in cooperation with Russia’s Yakovlev bureau, the L-15 is scheduled to fly in 2005 as a supersonic fly-by-wire advanced trainer. Photo: RD Fisher

UAV Proliferation

While the 2000 and 2002 Zhuhai shows featured different designs of the Guizhou WZ-2000 strategic UAV, there were no new strategic Chinese UAVs at the show. But there were glimpses of two new medium-range UAVs more tailored to Taiwan Strait operations. Both are pushers and feature pronounced bulb-noses that presumably house satellite communication systems. One such UAV is being developed by Guizhou and features a unitary fuselage and a twin-V tail. Another UAV was only featured in a picture posted by a model-making company, but is presumably is representative of a real system. It is about the same size as the Guizhou UAV, but features a twin-boom tail. Both concept UAVs featured optical surveillance systems. However, it is possible they could also feature synthetic aperture radar (SAR); the Company featured a new SAR for UAVs.

New Concept Medium UAVs: Illustrations of two new medium class UAVs appeared at Zhuhai for the first time. These UAVs appear to be about the size of the US Predator and may be intended for Taiwan theater operations. Guizhou’s concept on the right. Both appear to have satcom capability. Photo: RD Fisher and via Guizhou Co.

Following on their development of micro UAVs first revealed in 2002, a division of the China Aerospace Corporation unveiled a new man-portable flying-disc shaped UAV. Launched by a bungee-cord powered catapult and powered by a large model airplane engine, this UAV has a 1-hour endurance and can reach an altitude of 3,000 meters. It is computer-program controlled and has a 1.3kg optical payload. An official claimed development started three years ago, it was tested in 2003 and is now in production for the PLA.

Russia’s Sukhoi did feature its "ZOND" strategic UAV family first revealed at the 2003 Moscow Airshow. Russian press reports indicate this family is being developed with a "foreign partner," a usual code word for China. The ZOND-1 features a triangular phased array radar that can perform AWACS aerial surveillance missions, and has an 18-hour endurance. The ZOND-2 carries an underslung SAR radar for ground-mapping missions and has a 24-hour endurance.

Veteran UAV maker NRIET was marketing a new cruise-missile like target drone called the But more important, this company was demonstrating its competency at UAV aircraft/control/surveillance system integration, always the more difficult aspect of UAV design. NRIET displayed a small vehicle that contained a computer-control mechanism and camera monitor. It also displayed a soldier-portable control and observation system.

Micro and strategic UAVs: A China Aerospace micro UAV is claimed to be in production, while the status of Sukhoi’s ZOND strategic UAV, right, is unclear. Photo: RD Fisher

New EU-PRC Helicopter Program

A surprise at the show was a new design for a 6-ton transport helicopter. While the Chinese Helicopter Research and Development Institute (CHRDI) was promoting the design as its own, it is in fact the product of a recent co-development agreement between AVIC-2 and Eurocopter. Sources say the program is known as the Advanced Medium Utility Helicopter (AMUH) and is a 50-50 development program that will feature individual production lines in China and France. Intended to fly before 2010, it will carry 15 passengers, or up to 18 troops, and very likely will be powered by the Pratt and Whitney PT6C-67C turboshaft engine. It bears a strong resemblance to the Agusta AB-139 medium helicopter. Sources hint this helicopter will succeed the passenger version of the "Z-10" helicopter program, the Tiger-like attack version of which is reported to have been flying since early 2003.

New 6-Ton Helicopter: The product of a recent cooperative agreement with Eurocopter, this concept 6-ton helicopter shows a similarity to the Agusta AB-139 and is scheduled to fly by 2010, and be assembled in both China and France. It may also serve to succeed a passenger version of the Z-10 program. Photo: RD Fisher and Agusta

New SRBM Unveiled

CASIC unveiled a new short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) called the B611. A picture of this missile appeared on the internet in 2003, while Chinese sources say development began around 1999. Some sources indicate the B611 was the product of a cooperative program with Turkey. It is now in production for the PLA and CASIC officials said that "several countries" have expressed interest in the B611. The missile is derived from the DF-15/DF-11 SRBM family, and shares its stealthy nose shape. However, it is smaller and had only a 150km range. Other sources note that a lengthened, 250km range version is in development. The B611 has a useful 480kg size warhead that features high explosives for now, but other warheads may be developed. CASIC officials claim it has a maneuver capability similar to the Russian SS-X-26 Iskander-E. At the show it was featured with a 24-ton twin-missile truck-based transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). Six of these could be connected to a separate command truck for a notional battalion. An earlier version featured a single missile with integrated command section TEL. With a lighter warhead, this missile might be able to increase its range in order to reach Taiwan. However, it is more likely the B611 would be used to rapidly build up missiles on Taiwan that could be used to attack any U.S. forces coming to the rescue.

CASIC B611: Unveiled at Zhuhai for the first time, the B611 battlefield missile has a range of 150km. It is apparently the product of a cooperative program with Turkey and is in production for the PLA. It is meant to compete with the Russian Iskander-E. Photo: RD Fisher

Hongdu Missiles

Hongdu also unveiled two new types of tactical missiles, which are apparently in production for Iran. Said to have already been advertised by the Iranians as the "Kosar" series of missiles, they appeared in model form at Zhuhai in the guise of the 105kg, 18km range, optically-guided JJ/TL-10A and the microwave radar-guided KJ/TL-10B. Hongdu also displayed a model of the larger 360kg, 35km range, radar-guided JJ/TL-6B missile. All three missiles were "co-developed" with Iran first as ship-launched anti-ship missiles. But Hongdu is marketing the smaller missiles as being capable of launching from 4-ton class helicopters. The optical seeker on the JJ/TL-10A is said to be derived from the C-701. This program is significant in that it marks the beginning of cross aerospace combine co-development, in which an AVIC-2 company and some CASIC companies have joined forced to produce a new missile making capability. This missile also raises the prospect of Iran selling a helicopter attack capability to terrorists.

Hongdu Missiles: Apparently the product of a co-development program with Iran, these Hongdu missiles mark the first missile venture for an aircraft maker, and illustrate a new avenue for proliferation. Photo: RD Fisher

SAM Proliferation

The PLA’s priority on improving defense against U.S. cruise missiles and other PGMs has resulted in a proliferation of new joint-ventures to produce new surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. The Louyang Co. was marketing a SAM version of its TY-90 air-to-air missile, plus an integral optical-radar cueing system, mounted on Shenyang Co. copy of the U.S. HUMVEE military all-terrain vehicle. It was apparently Louyang’s idea to invest in this mobile SAM and draw in two other partners to make the overall system. It is not clear that the PLA will buy it, but Louyang believes its decision was a correct one. Louyang was not displaying its new PL-12/SD-10 active-guided AAM, but did hint that it was developing a SAM version of this missile. It would also fit nicely on the Shenyang HUMVEE, very similar to the U.S. SLAMRAAM now being marketed to Taiwan.

CASIC was also marketing its FC-2000, which also features an integral optical-radar cueing system mounted on an armored car, but instead uses CASIC’s QW-2 man-fired SAM. CASIC was also marketing a new improved version of the FM-90, derived from the French Crotale SAM.

Also on display was a model of the KS-1A, a 50km range SAM that has been in development for a number of years. It is now said to be in production for the PLA. CASIC officials claim that the KS-1A is a command guided missile. Regarding the larger FT-2000 family, CASIC officials denied reports that a version of this missile would use the U.S.-developed "track-via-missile" guidance system, in which the missile seeker homes in on reflected active phased array radar energy. They instead said that the active-guided version of this SAM would use an integral active radar guidance system. The active-guided version might also have a designator like FD-2000.

Space Science Advances

Pride of place at Zhuhai was given to the recovered Shenzhou-5 space capsule, which in October 2003 carried aloft China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei, who attended the show’s opening ceremony. A China Aerospace Company official noted that with the Shenzhou-5 flight, China had completed the first phase of its manned space program. The second phase will now include the lofting of 2 or 3 astronauts and space walks that will take place from a new and larger version of the Shenzhou. Chinese space officials have been saying for some time that the next manned Shenzhou flight will take place in 2005.

The third phase of China’s manned space program will be a much larger manned space station. Video artist projections of this space station indicate that will be a single cylinder with at least two different diameters, powered by two large solar panels. Shenzhou craft would then presumably dock at either end of the station. This space station would not likely appear until the first Five-Year Plan of the next decade, but advanced development work is now underway. At the 2000 Zhuhai show EADS officials explained how they were discussing the sale of manned space technologies with China. At the same time it appears committed to its national manned space station, in the last two years China has also expressed increasing interest in joining the International Space Station.

Manned Space Advances: Future manned space missions will feature space walks, and China plans a space station for the third phase of its manned program. Photos: RD Fisher

China is also pursuing the most aggressive Moon science program of any Asian nation. By 2020 China hopes to send an unmanned probe to the moon that will then return surface samples. There were video depictions of an unmanned Moon landing vehicle that dispensed a moon rover. A Moon rover design is now a matter of competition between two Chinese technical colleges. By 2008 China intends to launch its Changhe-1 science satellite to survey the moon ’s surface. There were also curious video depictions of what appeared to be an inter-planetary space craft that was launched from the Moon.

Unmanned Moon Lander: Before 2020 China hopes to send unmanned surface rovers to the Moon, and to use unmanned rovers also to return Moon samples to Earth. Photo: RD Fisher

Satellite Developments

New satellite programs were also on display. Officials of the DFH Satellite company noted that their Russian NPO Mashinostroyenia optical and radar satellite constellation was due be launched beginning in 2006. Initially this constellation will consist of Chinese produced satellites that are similar to the NPO Mash Condor series. The DFH HJ-1A and B will correspond to the electro-optical version of the Condor and will have a 1/10 meter resolution by 2006. DFH illustrations of the HJ-1 do not show the new electro-optical camera that will be employed. The HJ-1C will correspond to the radar satellite version of the Condor series. It will only have a one-meter resolution. DFH was also marketing for the first time ARS, which at 700kg is 100kg lighter than the HJ series. The ARS will carry 2.5 meter resolution panchromatic and 10m multispectral cameras.

DFH is also taking the lead in developing new smaller satellites that it claims will actually be used, as opposed to simply being used for experimentation. Its new 65kg CAST Mini is designed to be launched in constellations to support a variety of missions. This satellite could be launched by CASIC’s KS-1 solid fuel space launch vehicle, which is based on the DF-21 MRBM. CASIC claims that there have been three KS-1 launches, two of which have been successful. Tsinghua-Hangtian is also developing new micro and nano-satellites-the first of which, the NS-1, flew in April 2004. However, a DFH official claims that Tsinghua’s satellites will not be developed for operational purposes.

PLA sources interviewed the same week as the Zhuhai show stated that the PLA is in the midst of a debate over whether to establish a new Space Force like organization, or to instead increase the responsibilities of the Air Force to include control over military space operations. It is clear that the PLA seeks to exploit space, but also to deny it to others. The KS-1 mobile solid fuel space launch vehicle has accomplished three tests, two successful. It is likely this missile will be used as an initial direct assent ASAT system.

DFH Satellite News: DFH Satellite officials said that an unpictured camera on its HJ-1A/B satellite, left, would have a resolution of 1/10 meter. DFH is also taking the lead in developing micro satellites, like the 65kg CAST Mini on the right. Photo: RD Fisher via DFH Co.

Implications For Taiwan

Perhaps most alarming for the evolving military balance on the Taiwan Strait is the Zhuhai show’s apparent demonstration that China’s investment in military aerospace is growing broader and deeper over time, not less. Compared to the 2002 show, there is a greater number of programs resulting from new inter-company alliances that are competing to meet future PLA requirements. A large number of combat aircraft, UAV and SAM programs is also a consequence of sustained investment in the people, software and hardware needed to produce modern combat systems. To be sure, the PLA is reliant on foreign technology for much of what it is able to produce, but it is now exhibiting greater indigenous productive potential, that is only sure to grow if funding remains available.

The PLA continues to procure advanced Su-30 fighter-bombers from Russia while it perfects its 4th generation J-10 fighter bomber, the JH-7A fighter-bomber, while pursuing a new lightweight fighter program, a new advanced trainer program and possible new bomber, close air support, two attack helicopter and numerous UAV and SAM programs. Combined with current and expected ballistic and cruise missile programs, anticipated AWACS and surveillance satellite programs, the PLA is quickly gathering the means to dominate the air over Taiwan.

As such, it remains imperative that Taiwan sustain an investment in missile and air defense. It should consider investing in more capable 5th generation combat aircraft while its upgrades the protective shelters and weapons carried by its existing F-16 and Mirage-2000 force. Given the scale of the PLA’s build-up, a limited offensive weapon capability, be it ballistic or cruise missile, is wholly justified from the perspective of preserving deterrence.

Implications For The United States

For Washington Zhuhai 2004 demonstrates that China’s is committed to a long-term challenge to the U.S. military superiority in Asia. The immediate challenge to peace and to U.S. interests will fall on the Taiwan Strait, but China is also investing in an aerospace sector that will enable a sustain challenge to the U.S. For this reason it remains imperative that the U.S. consider selling Taiwan new defensive technologies that increase its capacity to deter the PLA, while the Pentagon is given to the means to increase its force levels in the Western Pacific to bolster deterrence on the Taiwan Strait. It is imperative that the F/A-22 be deployed to the Asia-Pacific theater as soon as possible, in order to allow U.S. air forces to have a chance at wresting control of the air from the PLA. But to meet the growing threat of ballistic and cruise missiles it is necessary for the U.S. to consider selling advanced laser weapons to Taiwan.

It is also necessary to place a high priority on achieving the ability to deploy decisive U.S. airpower to the Taiwan region as soon as a PLA attack is determined to be imminent. The U.S. should continue its build-up in Guam, to include B-1 and B-2 stealth bombers, and the F/A-22. In addition, the U.S. should deploy new theater missile defenses systems to Guam and Okinawa as soon as possible to blunt growing PLA missile threats. It is also necessary for the U.S. to invest in long-range stand-off weapons that can target invading PLA forces with precision. The U.S. must also invest in supersonic attack weapons that are less vulnerable to emerging PLA SAMs.

The 2004 Airshow China also illustrated China’s willingness to reach out and establish cooperative programs with states that might be denied access to advanced U.S. technology. Clearly, the Hongdu-Iran program to develop a new class of anti-ship missiles gives Iran a technological boost that could likely lead to its developing even longer range tactical missiles. It also raises the prospect of Iran selling a helicopter attack capability to terrorist organizations with which it is allied. In addition, the B611 ballistic missile co-development program with Turkey raises the prospect of missile competition with Greece and serves to cement a military relationship between Beijing and this strategically positioned country.

Implications for Japan

The degree to which the Zhuhai show demonstrates heightened PLA preparations for war against Taiwan also serves to threaten Japanese security. Japan should take notice of the PLA’s growing space activities as well; it will soon exceed Japan’s space reconnaissance capabilities. Space assets will be used to target very accurate non-nuclear ballistic missiles and new land-attack cruise missiles expected to be fielded by 2005. But if the PLA established a special "Space Force," that will also confirm its intent to conduct offensive and defensive military activities in space. In addition, it appears that the PLA is also committed to a 5th generation combat aircraft program, which could result in a fighter that would reduce Japan’s air superiority margin. It remains critical for Japan to continue with programs that strengthen defense against missiles, increase space assets and the ability to protect them, and to modernize its air forces.

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