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PLAAF Equipment Trends
National Defense University Conference, “PLA and Chinese Society in Transition”

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by Richard Fisher, Jr.
Published on October 30th, 2001

INTRODUCTION Despite its never having done so before in a large fashion, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is pursuing an overall modernization program to enable the conduct all-weather offensive and defensive operations in a modern high-technology environment. This is consistent with the general doctrinal goal to build a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) capable of waging “Local War Under High Tech Conditions. ” Expansion of all-weather offensive capabilities is a relatively recent and ominous trend in the PLAAF. Apparently, this could include offensive naval strike missions for the PLAAF and greater consideration of using Airborne Forces in a strategic strike capacity.

Perhaps the most important driver pushing current trends in PLAAF equipment modernization is an ongoing evolution of doctrine that stresses high-tech multi-role platforms capable of offensive and defensive operations. As noted by You Ji, this process began to gather steam under the leadership of former PLAAF Commander Wang Hai. [1] Relatively recent statements by current PLAAF Commander Liu Shunyao and even President Jiang Zemin note that the PLAAF is seeking a greater offensive capability. [2]

Information modernization. Critical to the PLAAF’s goal of being able to implement an offensive oriented operations within a joint-warfare environment, as is the case with all PLA services, is access to modern information resources. For the PLAAF and the missile services an important information source critical for targeting will be a constellation of new imaging and radar satellites. Recent reports indicate that the PLA may be planning on fielding 16 new reconnaissance satellites: 8 imaging and 8 radar satellites. [3] The new radar satellites, which are not inhibited by cloud cover, appear to feature synthetic aperture radar (SAR) marketed by Russian NPO Machinostroyenia [4] which can detect objects less than one meter in length. [5] The planned constellation would allow for four daily revisits by each satellite type.

There is also a sense that the PLAAF is being built up to take a leading role in strategic offensive operations at a time when the PLA is placing great stress on building the capacity for Joint Operations. As You Ji has observed, “hardware modernization will bridge the gap between the doctrinal design and application. [6] However, training and upgrading training technology are also critical. As such, it can be determined that PLAAF equipment modernization is showing the following trends:

1. A new interest in modern training aircraft and simulators.
2. Great emphasis on obtaining large numbers of multi-role combat aircraft.
3. Acquisition of new types of anti-air and ground attack munitions.
4. Greater emphasis on support platforms: tankers, EW and ELINT.
5. Indications of an interest in increasing air transport assets.
6. Indications that Airborne troops are to be increased and given strategic offensive missions.
7. A build-up in air defense forces to provide greater support for offensive operations.


In order to transform the PLAAF into a modern air force capable of the range of offensive and defensive missions it will need to make a far greater investment in training. In terms of training equipment the PLAAF relies on a very large fleet of obsolete training aircraft. This however, could change if the PLA decides to spend money. A modest effort to incorporate modern simulators appears to be gaining momentum. And the PLA may now be building its own air combat maneuvering instrumentation (ACMI) system.

Training aircraft. The current training fleet comprises about 40 Su-27UBKs, 50 JJ-7s, 150 JJ-6s, 100 JJ-5s—all jet trainers, and 1,000 CJ-5/CJ-6 piston engine primary trainers. [7] While this fleet may be adequate to teach basic maneuvering and air combat skills, it is woefully unable to teach combined air and ground attack maneuvers in a joint-service environment. Even the Su-27UBKs lack the modern cockpit, datalink and ground attack technologies associated with modern air combat. Through the 1990s the Hongdu company has made an effort to sell its K-8 primary jet-powered trainer, which has the potential to be equipped with modern cockpit and communication systems. However, the PLAAF has been reluctant to purchase the K-8 because the trainer was not the PLAAF’s idea and the K-8 relied on foreign engines.

At the September 2001 Beijing Airshow Hongdu revealed a model of its L-15 concept trainer. Similar in size and shape to the Yak-130 or the Japanese T-4, it is a twin-turbofan dedicated trainer that boasts supersonic speed, modern cockpit systems, and the ability to train in counter-air and ground attack missions. [8] It appears that the L-15 would be an ideal modern trainer for the PLAAF, to allow pilots to transition to the Su-30MKK as well as the J-10. However, like the K-8, the L-15’s future depends on whether it has the PLAAF’s blessing and whether funding is available. [9]

Competition could come from Guizhou’s FTC-2000 trainer, revealed in model form at the November 2000 Zhuhai Airshow. The FTC-2000 is based on the JJ-7 but with side intakes and a larger front fuselage able to house modern radar and a refueling probe. It boasts a supersonic speed and likely will have an advanced cockpit to facilitate practice of air-to-air and ground-attack missions. Should the PLAAF prefer a trainer that can utilize and existing logistics train, and possibly require a shorter development period, the FTC-2000 then the FTC-2000 may be preferable.

Simulators. It appears that the PLAAF is investing more in advanced simulators, but is starting from a low level. The breadth and speed that the PLAAF integrates simulators into actual units will offer an indication of the priority it places on building a modern force. For multi-role combat aircraft simulators are essential for training and for mission rehearsal.

At the 1998 Zhuhai show one could see in a promotional video a large domed air-combat simulator. However, one could not determine their number. Other sources note that Sukhoi has sold up to two Su-27 simulators to the PLAAF. And on various Chinese web pages one can find pictures of new simulators that appear intended for new Su-30MKKs, and PLAAF pilots making use of PC-based simulators. At the 2000 Zhuhai show one could also see a new PC-based virtual-reality simulator by the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which it claimed was being used by J-8 fighter units. The 2000 Zhuhai show also revealed new full-motion simulators but they were configured for arcade rides, and their manufacturers seemed disappointed at the lack of PLAAF orders.

The PLAAF has long sought a modern air ACMI, having reportedly tried to purchase one from Israel. Another potentially important training aid revealed at the 2000 Zhuhai show was the FC-03 Flight Data Recording and Processing System of the China Jinan Aviation Central Factory. Intended as a tool to diagnose crashes, it can also record and depict the progress of a flight in terms of the instrument panel or in a 3-D picture of the track of the flight. [10] The system has been installed in J-7, J-8 and JH-7 aircraft but the number of such installations is unknown. While it is not clear whether the data can also be transmitted and presented in real-time, which is the case in modern ACMI systems, it can at least be viewed and assessed after a flight. If the flight paths of multiple aircraft could be collated, then the FC-03 could be used as a cheap ACMI.


There is a clear shift underway in the PLAAF toward multi-role combat platforms and more support platforms. Muti-role combat aircraft are intended to fulfill doctrinal requirements for more offensive-capable aircraft to compliment a build-up in ballistic and cruise missile forces. In some respects a build-up of attack-capable aircraft is more important, as it is aircraft, not missiles, which carry the most ordinance to the target. Aircraft also can fly multiple sorties, whereas missiles cannot.

Older platforms like the Chengdu Aircraft Factory J-6 (MiG-19) and Chengdu J-7II/III/E (MiG-21C+) copied Soviet designs, and the indigenous twin engine Shenyang Aircraft Factory J-8I and early J-8II fighter interceptors, are being succeeded by the new or modified multi-role aircraft like the Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKK fighter bomber, Chengdu J-10 multi-role fighter, J-8IIC multi-role fighter and the Xian Aircraft Corporation JH-7. It is possible that even the highly capable Su-27SK is being deemphasized in favor of multi-role platforms. It is not yet clear that the PLAAF will retire all of its 1,000+ J-6s or its hundreds of J-7s. But taken as a loose “elite” force within the PLAAF, the number of modern multi-role fighters can be expected to increase substantially.

Notes:Until 2005: 1) Su-30MKK; J-10; and Su-27/J-11 figures based on published Estimates; 2) J-8IIC/H numbers estimated based on number of Russian radar to be purchased; After 2005: Numbers based on published estimates and author estimates; 3) Su-27/J-11 is included as it has high potential for multi-role modification. Sources: “Fighter Figures point to Chinese air supremacy,” Flight International, September 26, 2000, p. 22; John A Tirpak, “Foreign Fighters Get Better,” Air Force Magazine, October 2001; Jon Lake, “Sukhoi’s Super Flankers,” Air Combat, March-April 2001, p. 242; and Douglas Barrie and Jason Sherman, “China Seeks British Engine,” Defense News, July 2, 2001, p. 1.

If current reporting on purchase or production numbers holds to be true, it is possible that 300 to 400 new or modified multi-role combat aircraft could enter PLAAF inventory by about 2005. [11] Such a number of attack-capable combat aircraft would pose a formidable threat to a Taiwan Air Force, especially one that may suffer substantial attrition from initial PLA missile and Special Forces attack. With such numbers the PLAAF could also pose a substantial threat to U.S. air forces in the region, on Okinawa or to a sole carrier assigned to the 7th Fleet.

After 2005, further increases can be expected, as the PLAAF may purchase more Su-30MKKs, or switch the Shenyang Su-27 co-production line to Su-30s, and J-10 production may ramp up. By 2010 it is also possible that a new indigenous fighter, the “J-12” or “XXJ,” may begin to appear. To be sure, such estimates about future numbers are only that, and would assume that the PLAAF continues to receive the finances to purchase such expensive aircraft, their related munitions, plus necessary training and logistical support.

Multi-role Combat Aircraft Programs

Sukhoi Su-30MKK. The purchase of the Sukhoi Su-30MKK (Mnogafunctunali Kommercial Kitayski—Multifunctional Commercial for China) marks perhaps the single most important increase in PLAAF combat capability since PLAAF modernization began in earnest in the 1990s. When outfitted with its new Phazotron ZHUK M-E radar, the Su-30MKK will be the most potent multi-role fighter in the PLAAF, or for that matter, on the Taiwan Strait. In the Su-30MKK the PLAAF will have a platform that will be better equipped for air superiority missions than its Su-27SK fighters. But more importantly, the Su-30MKK will be the first PLAAF combat aircraft able to deliver precision guided bombs and missiles, plus anti-radar and anti-ship missiles, in all weather conditions.

A development of the Su-27UBK twin-seat trainer, the Sukhoi Su-30MK twin-seat strike fighter made its debut in 1993. [12] The Su-30MK contains two sets of weapon and flight controls that allow either crew member to fly or guide weapons, though the rear position is designed for a Weapons Systems Officer. Both cockpits are dominated by two large multi-function displays and the pilot can also utilize a helmet-mounted sight.

This type became the basis for an Indian purchase of 40 Su-30K/MK/MKI fighters in 1996. The Su-30MKK prototype first flew on March 9, 1999. Through 1999 and 2000 data released mainly from Russian sources indicated that the PLAAF Su-30s would differ from India’s order for Su-30MKIs in several respects. First the PLAAF fighters would not be as sophisticated as their Indian counterparts, lacking the super-maneuverable additions like thrust-vectored engines and forward canards. In addition, the PLAAF fighters would not incorporate an advanced phased-array radar that Russia was developing, or Western avionics, that were being requested by the Indians.

The initial 20 Su-30MKKs to be delivered will have the NIIP N001VE pulse-Doppler radar with a 80-100km range that can track up to 10 targets. [13] However, PLA Su-30MKKs will then be equipped with the much-improved Phazotron ZHUK-M-S. [14] The ZHUK-M-S has a 150km range in the air-to-air mode and can track 20 targets while attacking up to four. But its real improvement is in the air-to-ground mode, in which it can detect a destroyer at 300km, a railway bridge at 150km, and a group of moving tanks at 25km. [15] The Su-30MKK already has an integral Infrared Scan and Track system designed for air-to-air engagements, and would likely use instrument pods for low-light and laser designation for laser-guided bombs.

The Su-30MKK has 12 weapons pylons,10 of which can carry guided missiles to include: the mile range Kh-59M TV-guided missile; the 125 mile range Kh-31P anti-radar missile; the Kh-29T TV-guided missile; and a range of laser and TV-guided bombs. It can also carry the existing range of Russian AAMs to include the helmet-sighted Vympel R-73, the medium range semi-active radar guided R-27 and the medium-range active radar guided Vympel R-77. At the 2001 Moscow Airshow the Raduga bureau revealed its Kh-59MK radar-guided anti-ship missile. Its 285km range correlates with the search range of the ZHUK-M-S radar, and opens the possibility that PLAAF Su-30MKKs may in the future have a significant anti-naval mission.

While not as important as its systems and munitions, the respectable aerial performance of the Su-30MKK should not be forgotten. At low fuel states it should have the formidable maneuverability of the Su-27, the effect of which is enhanced by its helmet-sighted short-range AAMs. In close-in combat the Su-30MKK should be able to dominate older Northrop F-5Es and Lockheed-Martin F-16s not equipped with helmet-sighted missiles—which includes almost all the inventories for these types in Taiwan and in Southeast Asia. [16] As a strike fighter, the Su-30MKK will also have an impressive reach due to its aerial refueling capability. Its advertised unrefueled radius of 1,600km (960mi) extends to 2,600km (1,560mi) with one aerial refueling, and to 3,495km (2,095mi) with another. [17] Such reach will become possible when the PLAAF receives Ilyushin Il-78 MIDAS tankers expected to be delivered in 2002. [18]

Reporting about the PLA’s purchase of the Su-30 first surfaced in 1997 in conjunction with the purchase of SOVREMENNIY destroyers. By August 1999 agreement had been reached that China would purchase its first batch. [19] At China’s request, the Russians agreed to produce the Su-30MKK in the Komsomolsk na Amur Aircraft Production Organization (KnAAPO) plant in Western Russia, instead of the Irkusk Aircraft Production Organization (IAPO). This was a considerable blow to IAPO, which had previously had an arrangement with KnAPPO. The later would fill Su-27 orders while IAPO would fill Su-30 orders. China did not want Indians near their aircraft, and KnAAPO had already established a deep relationship with the PLAAF over Su-27SK and Su-27SK component production. In mid-1999 one Hong Kong report noted that co-production of 250 Su-30MKKs could follow the purchase of Russian built aircraft. [20] A more recent source report notes that Shenyang co-production may switch to Su-30MKKs after about 80 Su-27SKs are completed. [21] So far, between 10 and 20 Su-27s have been built in Shenyang.

In December 2000 the first ten Su-30MKKs were delivered to the PLAAF. It is possible that this first batch was stationed at Wuhu Air Base, which also hosts a Su-27SK unit. A second batch of about 10 were delivered in August 2001. The remaining 18 of the first Su-30MKK order will reportedly be delivered by the end of 2001. The PLA was likely so pleased with the Su-30MKK that in conjunction with the Jiang-Putin summit this past July, it ordered a second batch of 38-40. These are to be delivered by the end of 2003. And there are already reports that China may seek a third batch of 20 fighters, for a projected initial total of 100 KnAAPO-built Su-30MKKs. [22] Given the PLAAF’s doctrinal emphasis on obtaining multi-role fighters, plus the difficulties that have plagued Shenyang’s co-production efforts, and the superior performance of the Su-30MKK, there remains a strong possibility that the PLA will order more Su-30MKKs from KnAAPO.

Chengdu J-10. The J-10 is shaping up to be the second most important multi-role PLAAF fighter performance-wise, but apparently may become the most important in terms of numbers. Long the object of Western derision, as well as intense speculation, due to its 20+ year development program, perhaps five or more J-10s are now flying in a test and evaluation program. The J-10 is expected to enter production and up to 30 could be built by 2005. [23] According to another estimate eventual production could reach 500. [24] In terms of performance, the J-10 is compared by some to the F-16 Block 30, [25] which was the first F-16 to incorporate AIM-120 active radar guided AAMs.

The J-10’s origin’s can be traced back to the J-9 program which began at Shenyang in the early 1960s. Intended to respond to the new threat of the U.S. McDonnell-Douglas F-4 PHANTOM, the J-9 was first proposed as a tail-less delta wing design. The program was shifted to the Chengdu Aircraft Factory and by the early 1970s redesigned the J-9 as a 13 ton Mach 2.5, canard-delta design, very similar to the Swedish Saab J-37 VIGGEN. The J-9 program was discontinued in 1980 but its basic canard configuration persisted in the later J-10 proposal. [26] The J-10 was by this time the PLA’s response to emerging Soviet 4th generation fighter threats.

By the end of the 1980s, having been denied U.S. funding for their LAVI fighter program, Israel exported its LAVI technology to the PRC. There are some unconfirmed rumors that Israel even sold a complete LAVI prototype, with its U.S. F-100 turbofan engine, to the PRC. There is one unconfirmed report that a J-10 prototype completed in 1993 was practically a copy of the LAVI, with the F-100 engine. [27] This would conform to the famous model of the J-10 with Li Peng. At any rate, it is widely reported that the J-10 has benefited from both Israeli and Russian design input, with Israel providing critical fly-by-wire technology and advanced cockpit instrumentation.

In two ways the J-10 could have possibly benefited from U.S. technology. First, the Israeli LAVI was greatly influence by access to General Dynamics F-16 technology. Some of this knowledge was passed on to Chengdu by Israel. Such technology may have included avionics, advanced composite materials and flight control specification. [28] Fly-by-wire technology may have been shared as well. Also, the J-10 is said by Taiwan sources to have benefited from PLA access to Pakistan’s F-16 fighters. Such access would presumably include inspection of the aircraft as well as flight evaluation against PLAAF fighters.

If the “Li Peng” model does represent an early design configuration (or even the first prototype), then the J-10 was severely redesigned by the late 1990s. This redesign reflected the requirement to use a 27,500lb-thrust Russian Saturn-Aluyka AL-31 engine, and the doctrinal requirements to have an attack capability. Another report notes that the PLA is developing a 26,700lb-thrust engine but has experienced difficulties in completing this engine. [29] The availability of a suitable domestic engine will likely be critical to the J-10’s success in export markets.

The long-awaited revelation of the J-10 did not occur in an official sense, but through leaks of pictures over the Internet in early 2001. These pictures show a side view of the J-10 on the ground and several pictures show the J-10 in flight. [30] They reveal a F-16 size canard fighter with a square engine inlet, vs. the round inlet on the “Li Peng” model/Lavi/F-16. And compared to the Li Peng model, the true J-10’s vertical stabilizer and main wing are also larger.

The canard configuration confers good short take-off capability and good maneuverability, which are useful in interception and air combat missions. According to Chinese Internet sources, the J-10 cockpit will feature three multi-function displays, a large head-up display (HUD) and hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) capability. Reported radar possibilities include the Russian Phazotron ZHUK ZEMCHUG (Pearl); ZHUK PD; Phazotron SOKOL phased array radar, and the Israeli Elta EL-2032. The ZEMCHUG is the most likely candidate radar for the J-10, and is said to be derived from the ZHUK-M sold to the PLAAF to modify the J-8II fighter. [31] These radar would have the capability for multiple track and attack, and for ground attack. The J-10 is also expected to benefit from an indigenous helmet sighting system, perhaps similar to that revealed at the 2000 Zhuhai Airshow.

Such a sight will likely be able to guide Russian Vympel R-73, Israeli Python-4 or perhaps and indigenous HMS guided AAM like the PL-9. Long-range missile options might include the Russian R-27 and R-77 or a new indigenous active-guided medium range AAM derived from the AMR-1 program. Other reports point to the possibility that the J-10 could have up to 11 hardpoints for carrying ordinance. [32] Each wing is thought to have three hardpoints, one for a fuel tank, and the fuselage has five hardpoints. This configuration would allow the J-10 to carry a low light/laser designator pod on a forward fuselage hardpoint, indicating that the J-10 could have a PGM capability. Attack missiles might eventually include the C-801/802/701 or variants of these missiles. Supersonic attack missiles might include the Russian Kh-31 or a new ramjet-powered Chinese attack missile revealed at the 2001 Zhuhai show.

In 1997 ONI projected that for naval operations, the J-10 could be modified for twin-engines or an upgraded engine. [33] Some speculation holds that the twin-engine version might be powered by the Russian Klimov RD-33 with 18,300lbs. of thrust with afterburner, for a total of 36,600lbs thrust available power. Another alternative might be to use upgraded AL-31 revealed at the 2001 Moscow Airshow. This engine will produce 34,000-36,000lbs. of thrust in the afterburner. [34] With either the twin RD-33s or an upgraded AL-31, the J-10 might also be developed into a twin-seat attack variant. The PLAAF could opt for such a J-10 if it decides to follow the experience of other air forces that have concluded that two crew members are optimal for multi-role missions.

Despite its long development period, it appears that the J-10’s future in the PLAAF is becoming more secure. At this year’s Paris Airshow it was revealed that China might purchase up to 300 more AL-31 engines especially modified for the J-10. [35] This would indicate that the PLA has lost its patience in waiting for a suitable domestic engine and that a high priority has been placed on moving the J-10 into production. Future versions could feature thrust-vectoring and stealth enhancements.

Shenyang J-8II. The PLAAF’s new zeal for multi-role aircraft is also extending to the venerable Shenyang J-8II. Though an obsolete fighter that would be better replaced with Sukhois or the J-10, it is very likely that its one major advantage—availability—has deemed it worthy of a multi-role upgrade. It is possible that up to 100 multi-role capable J-8IIs will be acquired by the PLAAF. That the PLA is again investing its scarce resources in the J-8II is an important indication that increasing the numbers of multi-role fighters may be as important as introducing more modern systems.

Shenyang J-8IIs have been improved incrementally since their introduction. The first major effort to improve the fighter was the “Peace Pearl” program led by Grumman in the late 1980s which sought to outfit the fighter with a variant of the APG-66 radar used in the F-16. When this was ended as part of U.S. Tiananmen massacre sanctions the PLA turned to Russia. In 1996 the J-8IIM emerged, modified to carry the Phazotron ZHUK-8II multi-mode radar and Russian R-27 semi-active medium range AAMs. Pitched as an export only program, the J-8IIM had no takers.

However, by early 2001 reports surfaced that the PLAAF was indeed proceeding with a multi-role capable version of the J-8II. This new version is variously referred to as the J-8IIC or the J-8IIH. [36]

It will carry a Russian radar and a more powerful Wopen WP-14 engine. At the Paris Airshow it was disclosed that the PLA would purchase up to 100 new Phazotron ZHUK radar to modify the J-8II. This was confirmed to the author at the 2001 Moscow Airshow. The radar will be the same ZHUK-8II developed for the J-8IIM. This radar will be able to cue R-27 class AAMs and direct anti-ship missiles like the C-801/802. It is possible that the J-8IIC/H could also carry the new Chinese supersonic ASM.

Other sources note that the J-8IIC/H will be a development of the J-8IID, which is carries a fixed aerial refueling probe. [37] At the 1998 Zhuhai Airshow a prominent picture showed a J-8II with a low light/laser targeting pod similar in configuration to the Israeli LITENING laser/low-light pod. This could indicate that the J-8IIC/H may be able to carry laser-guided bombs. At the 2000 Zhuhai Airshow, officials from the China Jinan Aviation Central Factory noted that J-8IIs were also being equipped with their new FK-2 data link system to improve communication. It is likely the FK-2 data link would used on the J-8IIC/H.

While the J-8IIC/H may always be less capable than U.S. fighters like the F-16 and F/A-18, it is being turned into a formidable weapon system when armed with stand-off missiles and employed for offensive attack missions. In an air-to-air role, the J-8IIC/H might also be valuable as a long-range escort for attack-dedicated Su-30MKKs or JH-7s. The J-8IIC/Hs might draw off the CAP for a U.S. carrier that would allow a strike force to better get close enough for an attack.

Xian JH-7. Another subject of a prolonged development program, the Xian JH-7 (NATO code: FLOUNDER) fighter- bomber has also emerged in recent years as a viable program intended to add numbers to the compliment of PLAAF multi-role fighters. And like the J-10, an urgency to advance production has led to a decision to return to Britain for the Rolls Royce Spey Mk202 engine, about 20 years after the failure of the first Rolls Royce Spey venture. China has just acquired 80-90 old Spey Mk202 engines and intends to revive its co-production. [38] This means that at least 25 more JH-7s can now be produced [39] beyond the 15-20 completed thus far. If Spey co-production is successful, one estimate holds that more than 150 more JH-7s could be built. [40] However, the JH-7s future is unclear given the possibility that U.S. opposition could prevent eventual Spey co-production.

Development of the JH-7 (also known as the H-7 and B-7) is thought to have started in 1975 at about the same time Rolls Royce entered into its first co-production venture with the PRC. [41] While it first flew in 1988, the JH-7 was not revealed to public until the 1998 Zhuhai Airshow, where it was pitched as the FBC-1 “Flying Leapord” for export. It was also intended to showcase the ability of China’s aerospace to produce the range of systems needed to assemble a modern fighter. [42]

The JH-7 looks like a fat British/French JAGUAR, but is about the same size as a F-4 PHANTOM. Its high-wing configuration is ideal for its primary mission, low-level attack. While the exact radar used by the JH-7 is not known openly, it has been shown as a test bed for the CLETRI JL-10A multi-mode radar, which has a 80km (50 mile) search range, and a 40km (25 mile) tracking range. The JH-7 has also been linked to the CLETRI “Blue Sky” low-altitude radar/FLIR pod, to assist low-level navigation and targeting. [43] This pod is similar to the U.S. LANTIRN low-level navigation pod.

Its advertised maximum payload is 14,330 lbs and this can consist of up to three external fuel tanks, up to four C-801/802 anti-ship missiles, free-fall bombs, and two wing-tip mounted AAMs. At the 2000 Zhuhai show a model of the JH-7 was prominently displayed with a new type of indigenous ramjet powered supersonic cruise missile, similar in shape to the French ASMP tactical nuclear armed ramjet powered cruise missile. And at the recent September 2001 Beijing Airshow, a JH-7 model was shown armed with a jet-powered version of the FL-2 anti-ship missile. The JH-7 has also been pictured armed with a Russian Kh-31 ramjet-powered attack missile.

Most likely the JH-7 would be hard pressed to hold its own against current U.S. combat aircraft. However, it is also likely that they will be employed mainly for ground attack and will avoid air combat. It can more than adequately fly low and fast to deliver its weapons. The prospect that the JH-7 will in the future be armed with longer-range supersonic attack and stand-off attack missiles makes this weapon system even more formidable, contrary to its contemptuous NATO code name.

Multi-roles for export. The new emphasis on building multi-role fighters extends to the PLA’s designated export offerings, Chengdu’s FC-1 and J-7MF. Both are considered export programs because the PLAAF ability to purchase the FC-1 is in question. And there was no indication from Chengdu sources interviewed at the 2000 Zhuhai show that the PLA would purchase their new J-7MF.

The FC-1 emerged from the 1980s Grumman-Chengdu program to modify the J-7 into a more capable fighter, the “Super-7. ”When this foundered after Tiananmen, Russia’s MiG bureau was invited in to continue the program, which then developed into a nominal co-development program with Pakistan. While Pakistani officials have often expressed their support for the FC-1, the PLAAF has been less enthusiastic. This likely due to the FC-1’s high dependence on foreign components, like its Russian Klimov RD-93 engine, and a range of Russian and European offerings for its main radar and attack systems. The recent reluctance of the Europeans to supply radar and other key components [44], and the prospect of intense Indian opposition to the sale of Russian components to Pakistan, has cast even more doubt on the program. However, the recent ending of the U.S. arms embargo on Pakistan, and a new U.S. willingness to give Pakistan embargoed F-16s, [45] could result in Europe again approving component sales that revive the FC-1’s prospects.

As a consequence of the FC-1s troubles, Chengdu began several years ago to design an alternative, which emerged as the F-7MF at the 2000 Zhuhai show. It is essentially a J-7E with a larger forward fuselage, small fixed canards, and an underslung engine intake—like the J-10. There is also the expectation that it will carry modern Chinese, Russian or European radar, designator pods and precision guided munitions. The first prototype was due to fly this year, but that has yet to be reported. [46] Not to be outdone, the FC-1 team stepped up its marketing in 2001. In April it revealed a full-size mock-up of the FC-1 shown armed with what may be a new type of Chinese medium range AAM. [47] New promotional literature also shows the FC-1 being able to carry Western and Chinese weapons, to include laser-guided bombs.

While it is not yet clear that either Chengdu program will succeed in foreign markets, let alone with the PLAAF, the later should not be discounted. The example of the J-8IIM export-oriented program turning into the J-8IIC/H modernization program could possibly apply to the successful Chengdu program. If the FC-1 or the J-7MF prove successful, there is at least a chance that the PLAAF will acquire the fighter as well. Such a prospect, however, would most likely depend on an intense requirement for more half-modern multi-role fighters and the failure of other programs, like the J-10.

Future combat aircraft. Since the late 1990s there has been speculation about the PLA’s next-generation combat aircraft, referred to by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence in 1997 as the “XXJ. ”In its Worldwide Challenges to Naval Strike Warfare publication it estimated an IOC of 2015 for the XXJ, which would be “a large multi-role fighter with an emphasis on air combat and a reduced radar signature design.” [48] ONI’s projected design resembled a U.S. Boeing F-15 EAGLE fighter.

In the last several months, however, a number of alleged future PLAAF fighter designs have appeared on Chinese Web sites which show more designs may also be considered. One design from what looks to be a wind tunnel test model closely resembles the U.S. F-22. Another design also resembles the F-22 but uses canards in addition to horizontal stabilizers, like Su-37. [49] Both designs make healthy use of stealth shaping, and very likely, thrust-vectored engines. Another source calls the later configuration the “New 93” and notes that it is a 15-ton fighter with a warload of 4,860kg, and a performance that exceeds the Su-27 in many respects except range. [50]

The canard design could indicate that some Russian assistance is already present in the XXJ. Russia, however, is seeking the partnership investments of India and China for its next generation fighter, slated to compete with the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. However, it is unclear that Russia will succeed in organizing an effective 5th generation fighter program among its many competing aircraft factions, much less pay for it.

Unmanned combat platforms. Like the U.S., the PLA has a strong interest in unmanned air and sea platforms for military missions. The PLA has long used unmanned reconnaissance drones. Its CHANG HONG series is based on U.S. FIREBEE drones captured during the Vietnam War. The latest CHANG HONG revealed at the 2000 Zhuhai show was modified with GPS guidance. Officials noted that the CHANG HONG was back in production after a long period. It is possible that the CHANG HONG could be developed for ELINT in addition to reconnaissance missions. Also revealed at Zhuhai was the ASN-206 small battlefield reconnaissance drone that may incorporate some Israeli technology. In all, about 11 new UAVs were introduced at the 2000 Zhuhai Air Show.

The most interesting UAV at the show was the stealthy twin-engined Guizhou WZ-2000. This UAV could form the basis for the PRC’s first bomb-dropping unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV). Guizhou officials noted that the WZ-2000 could be built in multiple sizes to fit the customer’s needs. Also at the show, the Beijing University Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics demonstrated a virtual-reality control system, which it says is already in use for fighter training, and which it says could be applied to UCAVs.

Single role combat aircraft

Sukhoi Su-27SK/UBK. The PLAAF is on its way to acquiring about 78 Russian-made Su-27SK and Su-27UBK twin-seat training fighters. About 50 were acquired in two batches in 1991 and 1996, and about 28 more Su-27UBKs were ordered in 2000. There could also be an additional 20 or so Su-27SKs assembled from KnAAPO-built knock-down kits in Shenyang, the result of a 1996 agreement giving Shenyang a license to build up to 200 of these fighters. At the 2000 Zhuhai show a high Shenyang Aircraft Corporation official indicated that Shenyang might not build all 200 Su-27s allowed for in the agreement. [51] This would lend credibility to previously cited reports that Shenyang co-production might switch to Su-30MKKs after the completion of 80 Su-27SKs. It would be logical for the PLAAF to prefer the Su-30MKK over the Su-27SK for reasons of doctrine and utility: the Su-27SK only has a secondary ground attack capability and the PLAAF likely understands the better performance of a twin-crewed attack fighter.

Nevertheless, the Su-27SK has provided the PLAAF with a robust introduction to the complexity, expense and improved combat potential of modern 4th generation fighters. The PLAAF has had some highly publicized challenges and problems in incorporating the Su-27SK into its force. It is still not clear that the fighters are being utilized to the extent of their potential. Russia likely has tried to market radar and weapons upgrade kits to China to enable the Su-27SK to become a true multi-role fighters. But it is not clear that the PLAAF is going to favor this investment while its is concentrating on the Su-30MKK.

Close air support. Beyond the long-serving Nanchang Q-5 ground-attack fighter, the PLAAF has not acquired a modern close air-support fighter like the U.S. Fairchild A-10 THUNDERBOLT II or the Sukhoi Su-25 FROGFOOT. The A-10 and Su-25 can fire a variety of PGMs and carry heavy armor-busting machine guns. They are also equipped with heavy armor protection to allow the fighter to dwell over the battlefield to provide continuous protection. There are also reports that some Q-5s are being modified to carry laser-guided bombs, but these reports have not been confirmed. There is a recent report of an abortive “Q-6” fighter program, which resembled the swing-wing Mikoyan MiG-27 FLOGGER ground-attack fighter. [52]

It is also possible that the Hongdu L-15 trainer could be developed into a ground attack variant, as have many other trainers in its class. The L-15’s high-wing configuration makes possible a useful weapons load and itstwin-engines enhance survivability over the battlefield.

For the PLA’s near-term close air-support needs, however, perhaps a large number of dumb bomb-carrying Q-5 and J-6 fighters may be sufficient. In addition, the Army’s “Z-10” attack helicopter program may be produced in sufficient numbers to provide a necessary level of close air support.

Bombers. The PLAAF is credited with about 100 H-6 (Tu-16) medium bombers, a type that first entered PLAAF service in 1959. With a 1,800km (1,040mi) combat radius, the H-6 remains woefully obsolete in most combat roles. Beginning with the PLA Navy H-6D version this bomber was modified to carry stand-off attack missiles. However, early missiles like the C-601/C-611 derivatives of the Silkworm cruise missile had a short range and thus exposed the H-6 to most U.S. and Taiwanese defensive fighters. But in 2000 one report suggested that up to 25 H-6s would be modified to carry four new TV-guided YJ-63 land-attack cruise missiles, also a derivative of the C-601/C-611 series. [53] It is also conceivable that the H-6 could carry the new jet-powered version of the FL-2 revealed at the 2001 Beijing Airshow. This suggests that the H-6 may be given new offensive roles that give this old aircraft a new lease on life. Armed with an LACM-armed H-6, the PLAAF could join an initial assault on Taiwan that would otherwise be led by the short-range ballistic missiles of the Second Artillery and the Army.

There is relatively little open information on PLA attempts to develop a successor to the H-6. Internet sources have offered pictures of what is referred to as the H-8, which is a H-6 with four wing-mounted turbofan engines. Such an idea likely suffered a quick death. There is also occasional reference to a H-9 project, said to be a new stealthy bomber being developed in cooperation with Russia.

It would appear that the PLA would prefer Russian assistance in developing a new modern long-range bomber. But one might surmise that the PLAAF would prefer to have a near-term replacement for the H-6, such as an available Russian alternative. One recently noted possible PLA bomber purchase from Russia was for the Sukhoi Su-32, also called the Su-34. [54] While there has been no corroborating reports since this one, acquisition of the Su-32 would provide the PLAAF with multi-role strike platform that is more capable than the Su-30MKK. It main difference is in a redesigned front fuselage that provides much more space for electronic systems, fuel and for the crew—a rare commodity in Russian combat aircraft. For a strike fighter of its class, is has galley and toilet facilities, which would enable it to perform 10-hour missions. Unlike the Su-30MKK, the Su-32 can carry two Raduga MOSKIT (SS-N-22 SUNBURN) supersonic anti-ship missiles or three Npo Machinostroyenia YAKHONT supersonic anti-ship missiles. And in addition to the usual range of Russian AAMs and PGMs the Su-32 can also be outfitted for anti-submarine warfare. [55]

There was much reporting in the early 1990s that the PLA would purchase the Tupolev Tu-22M3 BACKFIRE bomber, but the PLA has yet to buy this bomber. At the time Russian reluctance nixed the sale. But before the 2000 summit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, a Russian arms export official noted that Russia might permit the sale of strategic systems like the BACKFIRE to China after the signing of a new Friendship Treaty. [56] Following Russia’s leasing of 4 BACKFIRES to India, a sale or lease to China becomes an increasing possibility.

For the PLAAF a small number of BACKFIRES, perhaps 6 to 12, would add a new capability as well as enhance the prestige of the service and the PLA. Its use to the PLA however, would depend much on Russia’s willingness to sell long-range supersonic attack missiles like the 300mi range Kh-22 (AS-6 KINGFISH), designed to attack U.S. carrier battle groups. The BACKFIRE can carry up to three Kh-22s. It can also carry three of the newer stealthy Kh-101 3,000km (1,800mi) range cruise missiles. It can also carry a bomb load of 22 tons. Due to SALT and START, Russian BACKFIRES do not have aerial refueling probes, which limits their combat radius to about 1,300mi. Not encumbered by such agreements, the PLA would be free to modify its BACKFIRES for aerial refueling to extend their range.

Hypersonics. As in the U.S., Russia and elsewhere, it is very likely that the PLA is researching the possibility of building future ultra-long range hypersonic strike vehicles. In the U.S. serious consideration is being given to such vehicles as a successor to the strategic bomber and ICBM. [57] Built on technology developed for the Space Shuttle and the now aborted X-33 single-stage-to-orbit test vehicle, a hypersonic strike vehicle could be as fast as an ICBM, but could also be recalled if necessary—and can strike again. It could deliver highly accurate non-nuclear warheads, the destructive impact of which is compounded by their hypersonic speed.

At the 2000 Hannover Exposition in Germany, China revealed a model of a future small manned space plane. It is comparable in size to the Japanese “Hope” shuttle concept and to several Soviet-era small space plane concepts. While such a space plane is initially intended to support its manned space program, this program has the potential to support a strike vehicle program. At the 1998 Zhuhai show an apparent unmanned space shuttle shape was also revealed, indicating another possible design for a space strike vehicle.

These vehicles are encumbered by the need for an unwieldy rocket booster. China is likely turning to Russia to explore novel single-stage-to-orbit concepts that are less reliant on land-based rocket boost. In early 2001 a Russian report noted that China was negotiating to contribute to a novel hypersonic sub-orbital program of the Leninets Holding Company called AYAKS. [58] Leninets officials at the 2001 Moscow Airshow confirmed China’s interests. AYAKS proposes a novel kerosene-fueled “magnetoplasmochemical” engine that would allow the vehicle to go from Russia to the U.S. in 1.6 hrs. [59] NASA and some U.S. companies are familiar with this work but have chosen not to invest in it. In addition, at the 2001 Moscow Airshow officials from the Molniya company noted Chinese interest in their air-launched MAKS concept space plane. The MAKS manned space plane weighs 27 tons with a crew of two and has a payload of 8. 3 tons. [60] It is about the same size as the Chinese concept space plane revealed in Hannover.


A key element of the PLAAF’s modernization, consistent with trends toward higher technology and higher reliance on “information,” is the development and/or acquisition of advanced aerial munitions. The PLAAF has made strides in this area over the last decade mainly due to the purchase of advanced Russian missiles and guided bombs. However, great effort is being devoted toward the indigenous development of new anti-air and ground attack munitions.

AAMs. Access to advanced Russian air-to-air missiles has resulted in significant advances for Chinese air-to-air missiles. At the 1996 Zhuhai show China revealed its helmet-sighted PL-9 short-range infrared guided AAM. The PL-9 is a Chinese copy of the Israeli PYTHON-3 (PL-8) slaved to the Ukrainian Arsenel helmet sighting mechanism of the Vympel R-73 (AA-11 ALAMO). However, after all this effort, it is still not clear that the PLAAF has adopted the PL-9, instead choosing to rely on the R-73 for its Sukhoi fighters.

The real advance for PLAAF AAMs will come when the Vympel R-77 (AA-12) becomes operational. Deliveries of this missile are imminent, if they have not happened already. [61] These advanced missiles feature an active-guided radar system that allows the missile to find the target without being “painted” by the aircraft radar, in the same fashion as the U.S. AIM-120 AMRAAM.

The PLA also has its own active-radar guided AAM program. At the 1996 Zhuhai show it revealed its AMR-1 active seeker for a medium-range AAM. According to one source the AMR-1 forms the basis for the PL-12 medium-range AAM. [62] This year a new medium range AAM was revealed in conjunction with the mock-up of the Chengdu FC-1. This missile is possibly called the SD-10 and appears to the about the same size as a AIM-120. [63]

ARMs. The first advanced anti-radar missile acquired by the PLAAF has been the Raduga Kh-31P. It is a longer-range variant of the Kh-31 (AS-17) ramjet powered attack missile. The Kh-31P has a range of about 125mi, which confers a comfortable stand-off attack capability on the Taiwan Strait. The Kh-31P will arm PLAAF Su-30MKKs and has been seen on at least one JH-7, indicating this attack fighter may also be so armed. Another possible ARM is the new ramjet powered air-to-surface missile revealed at the 2000 Zhuhai show. About the size of a C-802, this missile also resembles the French ASMP tactical nuclear delivery missile. This missile would also be useful for land attack or anti-ship missions as well.

LACMs. The PLAAF will soon, if not already, field several new Land Attack Cruise Missiles. The reported YJ-63, a TV terminal-guided variant of the C-601/C-611 series may already be in service. While such a missile may not have a great range, it would certainly give PLA commanders more flexibility in being able to target key command, communications or political nodes. Such a missile’s utility, however, may be limited by the weather.

A more interesting recent possible LACM is the turbofan powered FL-2 variant revealed at the 2001 Beijing Airshow. The presence of a new laser-guided bomb on the same JH-7 model points to the new FL-2 variant having a land-attack mission. The rocket powered FL-2 weighs 1,300kg, has a 365kg warhead and a range of 50km. [64] A turbofan variant could increase the range from 100 to 200km. It is also likely to be equipped with GPS/GLONASS precision guidance for land attack missions.

Most Russian illustrations of the Su-30MKK, as well as models of the same, show the aircraft armed with the turbojet powered Raduga Kh-59M (AS-18 KAZOO) land-attack missile. It has a 200km (120mi) range and is guided by a TV seeker which relays its images via datalink to a Weapons Systems Officer. At the 2001 Moscow Airshow Raduga revealed its Kh-59MK anti-ship missile. Based on the Kh-59M, the Kh-59MK features a more powerful engine and a longer 285km (171mi) range. The Kh-59MK also has an active guidance radar designed for anti-ship missions. [65] The degree to which Raduga is linking the Kh-59MK to the Su-30MKK in its promotional literature is at least an indication this missile is intended for the PLAAF.

Guided bombs. Internet-related sources have revealed that the PLAAF likely has had a laser-guided bomb (LGB) for some time. It is a gimballed laser-seeker similar to the U.S. PAVEWAY series of LGBs. A new PLAAF LGB, very likely in the 250kg range, was revealed at the 2001 Beijing Airshow on a model of a JH-7. At the 1998 Zhuhai show a laser and low-light designating pod was shown on a poster, being used by a J-8II fighter. The Chinese pod bore a close resemblance to the Israeli LITENING targeting pod that has recently be purchased by the USAF.

The Su-30MKK could also be armed with other Russian guided munitions. In promotional illustrations the Su-30MKK is shown firing the Kh-29 (AS-14 KEDGE) ASM. This missile is similar to the U.S. MAVERICK system. The Kh-29 can be laser or TV guided and comes in versions with ranges from 10km to 30km. Russia also markets a range of laser and TV guided bombs, which are also compatible with the Su-30MKK.

Another alternative would be GPS/GLONASS guided bombs. The reported Chinese capture of an unexploded U.S.GPS-guided bomb following the U.S. mistaken attack on the PRC’s embassy in Yugoslavia, may have provided the PLA with a template to make its own version. However, the technology for GPS guided bombs is not very complex, and within China’s capability to build. However, there is no reporting that the PLAAF does possess GPS/GLONASS guided bombs at this time.


There is a growing PLA Air Force investment in information and electronic support aircraft. The most obvious example is the AWACS program, which includes the acquisition of the Russian Beriev A-50E. Recent reports note that the PLAAF will initially purchase four of this aircraft. [66] The A-50E, however, is the PLAAF’s second choice, having been denied its first choice, the Israeli Elta PHALCON phased-array radar equipped A-50, following intense U.S. pressure on Israel to cancel this sale in 1999 and 2000. The Israeli radar would have offered advantages in stealth and flexibility, with the potential to be modified for EW/ELINT missions. This is perhaps why China persists in trying to get Washington to reverse its decision. [67]

As it stands, the A-50E is the most advanced version of this Russian AWACS aircraft. Its AK RLDN radar system can detect a bomber-size target at 650km, a fighter at 300km, can track up to 300 targets and command 12 fighters. [68] Systems operators also benefit from modern flat-panel display stations, which are likely much more reliable than early A-50 radar systems. At the 2000 Zhuhai show officials from the China Jinan Aviation Central Factory noted that they would build the data link for the PLAAF’s A-50s, which was not disputed by Russian officials from the MNIIP bureau that makes the A-50s radar. Russian officials did note that if the PLAAF followed Russian training procedures, it would take 1. 5 years to train a crew to operate the A-50E.

Inasmuch as India may acquire A-50s with the more powerful PS-90A turbofan [69] (35,000 lbs thrust vs. 26,000 for the D-30KP) it is possible that PLAAF A-50Es could be similarly outfitted. The PS-90A would confer greater speed and range. On internal fuel, the A-50 with D-30KP engines can remain on station for four hours at a point over 500mi from its base. However, both modified H-6 bombers plus expected Il-78 refueling aircraft, can be used to extend the A-50’s time on station. It would appear that two A-50Es flying continuously over the Taiwan Strait would be sufficient to facilitate offensive and defensive operations.

A second AWACS aircraft is already entering PLA Navy service: the Y-8 transport equipped with the British Racal (now Thales) SKYMASTER aerial early warning (AEW) radar. The SKYMASTER is a version of the Racal SEARCHWATER radar used by British NIMROD patrol aircraft. About 6 to 8 SKYMASTER radar were purchased by the PLA in 1996. The British government justified this sale saying that China wanted these aircraft crack down on smuggling. However in early 2000 reports emerged that the PLA was using its SKYMASTER-equipped Y-8s to vector a LUDA-class destroyers in naval exercises. [70] At altitude the Y-8/Skymaster could be used to support naval battles, especially with long-range targeting, or by vectoring offensive or defensive aircraft.

In the Spring of 2001 internet sources revealed that the PLA has also pursued a domestic AWACS program to succeed its old Tu-4 based AWACS. Pictures of a Y-8 with a radar dome over the fuselage and an aerodynamic test model of the same could be seen on Chinese military-oriented web pages. It is not clear whether the Y-8 based AWACS represents an active development program, or one that has been superceded by the A-50E. A bit later internet sources also revealed that a model of the Y-10, China’s attempt to copy the Boeing 707, has also been considered with a radar dome in a configuration just like the U.S. E-2 AWACS. [71] It appears that this program was not pursued beyond the test model stage.

ELINT. For ELINT support the PLAAF has modified a reported four Russian Tu-154M airliners with ELINT systems. [72] At the 1998 Zhuhai show the Southwest Institute of Electrical Engineering (SWIEE) revealed its large KZ800 Airborne ELINT system, which is likely used in the PLAAF’s modified Tu-154Ms. In late 2000 a Tu-154M of China United Airlines was photographed with was appears to be a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) structure under the fuselage. [73] The configuration is similar to that on the U.S. E-8 JSTARS. The PLA has been developing ground-mapping SAR systems, some based on technology from the U.S. Loral Corporation, though the PLA has likely also had access to Russian airborne SAR technology. China United Airlines has 16 Tu-154Ms that would be likely candidates for conversion to EW/ELINT/SAR platforms.

< B>Electronic warfare. The PLAAF is also developing an active electronic warfare capability. For an initial capability it has modified some old H-5 (Il-28) light bombers for electronic warfare missions in the early 1980s. These are known as the HD-5. [74] Though an early 1950s design, the H-5 has a top speed of 540 mph and a range of 1,400 miles. This would be sufficient to accompany strike packages going to Taiwan.

The Su-30MKK armed with the Raduga Kh-31P anti-radar missile will present a potent electronic attack capability. With a 125 mile range and supersonic speed, the Kh-31P will pose a real threat to hostile electronic emitters like radar. The second batch of Su-27SKs delivered in 1996 featured the KNIRTI SORBTSIYA active jamming pods. This system is able to detect and classify radar signal threats, prioritize the threats, copy and rebroadcast threat signals with jamming modulations, or cause intercepting missiles to deviate from their intercepting path. It can undertake multiple simultaneous jamming operations and is designed to counter fire-control, missile guidance and AWACS radar. [75] The SORBTSIYA pod is also configured so that can continue jamming while maneuvering, something that is difficult for the U.S. EA-6B PROWLER, with a more restrictive antenna configuration. [76]

At the 1998 Zhuhai show Xian officials noted that an electronic warfare variant of the JH-7 was under development. [77] At the same show the Southwest Institute of Electronic Engineering (SWIEE) revealed its KG300G jamming pod and its KZ900 tactical ELINT pods. These could be carried two each by a JH-7 in a manner similar to the U.S. EA-6B Prowler. If armed with the Kh-31P the electronic warfare version of the JH-7 could also attack enemy emitters.


The PLAAF operates one type of aerial refueling tanker and may soon obtain another. The PLAAF clearly has a requirement to extend the range or endurance of its combat aircraft, for which aerial refueling is necessary. With aerial refueling it can extend the range of its Su-30MKKs to reach Guam or undertake long-range patrols over the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The PLAAF has converted more than ten [78] of its H-6 bombers to refuelers, known as the H-6U or HU-6. [79] They differ from standard H-6s in that they have two wing-mounted refueling drogues, most likely of Israeli origin, and the nose area glass for a bombardier is fared over. There appears to be a PLA Navy version that does not have the nose fared over. [80] If the H-6U/HU-6 compares to the Russian tanker version of the Tu-16N, then it may be able to carry about 42,000 lbs. (19 tons) of fuel. [81] This is a light load compared to U.S. tankers. However, it is useful in extending the range of a few fighters like the J-8IID or the Su-30MKK. In addition, it provides the PLAAF with a system for establishing and practicing the complex methods and procedures for aerial refueling.

But by 2002, according to Jane’s Defence Weekly, the PLAAF could be taking delivery of the first of four Ilyushin Il-78M MIDAS dedicated tanker versions of the Il-76 transport. [82] Ilyushin has spent many years promoting the Il-78M in China, beginning with its appearance at the 1996 Zhuhai Airshow. Should it enter service, the PLAAF will have a far more capable tanker than the H-6U/HU-6. The Il-78M can carry a maximum load of 304,233 (138 tons) of fuel, of which 233,068 lbs (105 tons) is transferable. [83] The Il-78M can transfer 60 to 65 tons of fuel out to 1,800km (1,080mi) and 32-34 tons out to 4,000km (2,400mi). [84] The PLAAF is purchasing its Il-78Ms conjunction with it’s A-50E AWACS so the tankers can be expected to support the AWACS aircraft.


The PLAAF has had a very small dedicated aerial transport fleet compared to the size of the PLA and of China. The largest aircraft in this fleet now comprises about 20 Ilyushin Il-76MDs, about 25 Y-8/An-12s, and about 42 Y-7/An-28s. There are even two C-130L-100-30 transports acquired in 1987 but operated by a civilian company. [85] A transport fleet of this size would be hard pressed to handle PLAAF unit rapid deployment requirements for Taiwan operations, let alone undertake simultaneous airborne projection missions. However, there are some indications that this small fleet could soon grow. It is also necessary to account for the PLAAF’s ability to assemble an “irregular” transport fleet from PLAAF-owned airlines and the much larger non-PLA civil transport sector.

Of particular importance to the PLAAF’s transport fleet will be future of its medium transports. These aircraft, such as the long-serving Xian Y-8, a copy of the Ukrainian Antonov An-12 CUB, have a better short field capability. It can carry a maximum load of 20 tons (44,000 lbs. ) Despite its obsolescence and the availability of better aircraft, the Y-8 is being improved. The latest Y-8-400 features higher-power Pratt-Whitney Canada engines and improved payload capability. It might offer the PLAAF a less expensive choice to build up the transport fleet, but it is not clear that the PLAAF is interested. According to Xian officials at the 2000 Zhuhai Airshow, Antonov has been approached help improve the Y-8.

But a more interesting alternative being promoted heavily in China by Antonov is their advanced An-70. [86] The An-70 can carry 35 tons, approaching that of the Il-76, and uses turboprop engines that consume nearly half the fuel of the turbofans of the Il-76. [87] Its use of advanced materials and advanced cockpit technology make the An-70 among the most modern medium transports available. Co-production of the An-70 would constitute a significant air-transport technology upgrade for China. However, at the Zhuhai Show, Xian officials downplayed their co-producing the An-70, citing its expense. More recent reporting notes that China may be invited in as a significant investment partner for the An-70, with no co-production in China. [88]

Another Antonov offering being promoted for China is the An-74TK-300, a new development of the An-74 turbofan powered stol cargo transport. A report at about the time of the 2001 Moscow Airshow noted that China might purchase up to 30 of these smaller jet transports. [89] With a 10 ton payload, this ramp-loaded transport would be ideal for supporting rapid deployment for PLAAF units.

In 1991 the PLAAF began to acquire the Ilyushin Il-76MD, its first modern strategic military transport. Its 40 ton payload is sufficient to carry light airborne tanks like the BMD and a number of light gun or missile-armed APCs or wheeled vehicles very likely intended for PLA airborne units. With a lighter load, about 30 tons, the Il-76 can land on unprepared strips. The PLAAF is variously reported to have acquired 12 to 20 Il-76s so far. [90] The Il-76 fleet is thought be attached to the PLAAF 13th Division and much of its work is dedicated to the 15th Airborne Army, often seen in its exercises. Some Il-76s are seen in the markings of China United Airlines, a PLAAF owned airline, and one has been pictured in the markings of the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Co. (COSCO). [91]

In 2000 and 2001 Russian reports noted that the PLA might purchase more Il-76s, with numbers ranging from10 to 40 more aircraft. [92] Such reports have yet to be verified by other sources. If the aircraft are to be new production, they could also be the new Il-76MF version, with better engines, that can lift up to 54 tons. But whatever version, should it purchase many more Il-76s then the PLA would be acquiring a greater strategic projection capability.

Irregular transports. But if airborne projection operations were to figure into a future Taiwan operation in a large way, it is quite possible that the PLA intends to use “civil” airliners for the bulk of its trooplift, and some cargolift as well. For example, Hong Kong-owned airliners could be used to ferry surprise shock troops to begin operations to capture an airfield, to be followed up by PLAAF transports, assault helicopters and “civil” cargo jets. “Civilian” airliners could then ferry the bulk of troops necessary to secure and build on a bridgehead.

The previously mentioned China United Airlines is used to transport troops, as it did for PLA peacekeeping troops sent to Cambodia in 1993. The PLA theoretically could have access to the 23 cargo versions of the Boeing 747 operated by Mainland and Hong Kong airlines. These aircraft can carry up to 122 tons of cargo, [93] though they require special off-loaders as they do no have loading ramps. In addition, the PLA could have access to about 600 Western and Russian-built jet transports in about 26 Mainland, Hong Kong and Macau-based airlines. [94] It should be remembered that when the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division made its emergency deployment to Saudi Arabia in 1991, the troops flew mainly on chartered jumbo airliners.


While said to be largest unit that could come under the direct control of the Central Military Commission in an emergency,[95] the PLA’s 15th Airborne Corp is normally under the control of the PLAAF. A recent article from Taiwan’s Defense International presents a view of PLA Airborne forces beginning to achieve a stature and size that is allowing them to move beyond an auxiliary, supporting arm, to that of a decisive arm, especially in a Taiwan invasion. [96] In a Taiwan campaign Airborne forces alone would capture key targets in Taipei and cut off the capital city. Such an attack, when combined with massive electronic, missile and air attack, is viewed by some in the PLA as sufficient to force Taiwan’s capitulation. [97]

But for the PLA, such an operation would require intense preparation for its Airborne force that have had no modern combat experience. Nevertheless, it appears that PLA Airborne exercises are growing in size and complexity. The Soviet use of airborne forces in Hungary and the U.S. Airborne deployment to the Gulf are models receiving intense study by PLA Airborne forces. [98] In early December 2000, the Commander of Russian Airborne forces visited China to meet with PLA Airborne leaders and to visit their units. He praised the training of PLA Airborne troops and called for closer Russian-PLA cooperation in Airborne unit training. [99]

PLA Airborne forces are said to number about 30,000. The Defense International article notes the secret formation of a new Brigade and the pending formation two new Airborne Divisions (16th and 17th), for a total of 5 Divisions. The article’s author projects that PLA Airborne forces could grow to 70,000 men. You Ji cites a Chinese General Li Yuliang as having proposed that the PLA have the ability to paradrop 100,000 troops at a time by early in this century. [100]

New Airborne weapons. Airborne forces and Special Forces are receiving new weapons. In recent months the PLA has revealed a new 1,950kg Light Buggy for Airborne troops. [101] Airborne forces could also have access to four new types of large-gun armed APCs, to include a 122mm gun, [102] a 120mm gun, [103] a 105mm gun and a 120mm mortor. [104] The later appears to be a copy of the Russian NONA-SVK mortar-armed APC designed to use laser-guided shells. While it is not known to what degree these new APCs are being used by the PLA, such vehicles could be carried by Il-76 or An-70 size transports and would provide Airborne troops with mobile heavy guns needed to secure an airfield. For air dropping, PLA Airborne forces also have an unknown number of Russian BMD airborne tracked-APCs. The PLA also has a purpose-designed small truck armed with an HJ-8 anti-tank missile, which most likely also can be air dropped. [105]

Perhaps taking their cue from the U.S. LAND WARRIOR program, the PLA has also revealed that it is seeking to add digital connectivity to select ground units, most likely starting with Special Forces. At the October 13, 2000 PLA exercise/fire power display outside Beijing, the PLA revealed Special Forces equipped with a helmet-mounted TV camera and view screen. [106] The apparatus is quite unwieldy but perhaps represents an early attempt to digitize ground units. Nevertheless, they would be useful for sensitive missions of high political impact such as the capture of Taiwan’s political leadership.


The PLA is now building up perhaps one of the most formidable air defense networks in the world. Especially since the Gulf War and Kosovo, the creation of an integrated air defense network has become a high PLAAF priority. One recent reports notes the PLA Air Force is building 68 new radar sites near Taiwan. [107] A robust air defense is viewed as a critical component for supporting offensive forces. [108] There is a heavy emphasis on defeating U.S. PGMs and stealth platforms. The last decade has also seen a heavy investment in range of new radar systems, to include counter-stealth radar. New SAMs from Russia are being integrated into PLAAF and Army air defense units while new indigenous SAMs are making their appearance. A likely hallmark of this investment is to integrate space, airborne and radar sensors to be able to defend the sensor network while directing missiles and guns. For the future, it is possible that the PLAAF will press to control China’s space defense and missile defense forces.

New radar. The PLA has been developing Over-the-Horizon (OTH) radar since 1967 but it is not clear that it has developed this technology for extensive use. Early efforts focused on ground-wave OTH with a range of 250km (150mi). Such radar would be most useful for tracking ships. In the 1980s the PLA revealed efforts to build sky-wave OTH, which bounces radar waves off of the upper atmosphere, and has the potential to detect targets out to 3,500km (2,100mi).

The PLA has developed many long-range surveillance and tactical radar. For long-range surveillance the PLA has developed the YLC-4, a 410km (246mi) range 2-D radar, meaning it can only find the height and range of a target. This radar is advertised as having a potential anti-stealth capability. The JY-14 is a 320km (192mi) range 3-D radar that is resistant to clutter and jamming. The YLC-2 is a more transportable 300km (180mi) range 3-D radar that employs a variety of electronic counter-counter measures (ECCM) to survive enemy jamming. The JY-11 is a new 180 km (108mi) range 3-D radar that is accurate enough to supplant weapon guidance radar, allowing them to turn off, thus decreasing their vulnerability to attack by anti-radar missiles. [109]

The PLA’s knowledge of phased array radar was likely increased when it acquired the Russian Almaz S-300PMU long-range anti-aircraft missile system in the early 1990s. The phased array 76N6 CLAM SHELL radar is able to detect targets out to 90km (54mi) and down to 500m altitude. It can track up to 180 targets. Its phased array configuration means that it can focus periodic “points” of radar energy on a target instead of bathing the sky in radar waves. This allows the radar to avoid triggering aircraft radar- warning devices that might result in anti-radar missile (ARM) attacks. [110] The PLA also has purchased the S-300PMU1, which employs the more powerful 96L6 3-D phased array radar that can track 100 targets simultaneously out to 300km (180mi).

The PLA is also developing new phased array radar that allow for electronic beam steering and allow the radar beam to be focused to achieve longer ranges. A new such phased array radar was revealed at the 2000 China International Defense Electronics Exhibition (CIDEX). It is possible that this same phased array radar is also being developed for naval air defense.

The PLA Army is also introducing new radar systems. The YLC-6 is a 180km (108mi) range low-altitude surveillance radar that is said in tests to have detected a U.S. AH-64 APACHE attack helicopter out to 30km. The CLC-3 is a new mast-mounted radar that is useful to detect low-flying objects such as helicopters and cruise missiles. Also known as the AS901, this is a solid-state L-Band radar that can track up to 10 targets at 3,500m altitude, up to 25km, and out to 15km at 100m. [111] The CLC-2 is a new tactical air defense radar mounted on a tank chassis to provide cueing for the new PZG-95 self-propelled missile/gun anti-aircraft tank, which itself carries the short-range CLC-1 defense radar. A new Army phased array radar is the SLC-2, which can detect incoming artillery out to 50km (30mi) to direct counter-battery fire. Counter-stealth radar. To counter the growing U.S. reliance on radar-evading stealth in its platforms and weapons, the PLA is devoting considerable effort to develop counter-stealth radar to diminish this U.S. advantage. One area of particular PLA effort is in the area of metric-wave radar. The PLA uses several metric-wave radar. At the 1998 Zhuhai Air Show the Institute No. 23 of the China Aerospace Corporation marketed its J-231 radar. The radar is advertised as having “high capability of detecting anti-radiation missile, high anti-stealth capability.” [112] The PLA also operates other metric wave radar like the 2D YLC-14 and a larger 3D YLC-9. Many PLAN warships, including the newest LUHAI class use the Type 636 Metric-wave radar. Russia now markets several new and upgraded Metric-wave radar that incorporate solid-state electronics, countermeasures, automatic processing features and modern displays. Russians complain that the PRC has stolen their technology to upgrade Metric-wave radar. [113]

The PLA may also be exploiting a U.S. technology called “passive-coherent” detection reported to have been purchased from a U.S. company. This technology, developed by Lockheed-Martin, is able to detect disturbances in television broadcast signals caused by aircraft. When this data is combined with normal radar data, detection of stealth aircraft is possible. The PLA may also be exploring “Bi-static” radar, in which the transmitter and receiver are separated by some distance, to overcome stealth shaping. [114]

Obscurants, decoys. Smoke, chaff, lasers and decoys figure heavily in PLA defensive operations, especially to counter the U.S. advantage in laser and radar-guided precision-guided munitions (PGMs). To defend against PGMs the PLA uses a unique system called BODYGUARD. It is a wheeled chassis that contains a smoke and chaff launcher, very likely combined with a laser sensor and dazzler system. [115] When a threat is near BODYGUARD automatically fires off smoke and chaff, and its laser, to confuse the aim of PGMs. The PLA also uses a range of decoys. Full-scale representations could include missiles, ships, aircraft, tanks, command vehicles and other vehicles. [116] Replicas are said to include full-scale representations of a tank-type first seen in the 1999 military parade, to include simulating the tank’s radar and infrared profile. [117] The PLA has also used radar reflectors in exercises. These can be inflatable structures with metallic sides that reflect and obscure radar returns.

Anti aircraft systems. PLAAF air defense units have been gradually upgraded in the 1990s, but this could change. In the early 1990s the PLA received Russian S-300 and S-300PMU (SA-10) SAMs. These are still among the most effective anti-aircraft missiles in the world and their guidance system is very difficult to jam. [118] Unconfirmed reports note that the PLA may already have the Russian S-400 SAM, which boasts a 250mi range. It is likely that PLA Army units have the TOR-M1 (SA-15) SAMs that have a shorter range but are fast enough to intercept PGMs like laser-guided bombs. The TOR was designed to defend S-300s and other high-value targets. In 1998 the PLA revealed its FT-2000 SAM, which uses a unique passive guidance system targeted against U.S. EW aircraft like the EA-6B PROWLER. The FT-2000, which draws from Russian SAM technology, and likely the U.S. PATRIOT as well, is expected to form the basis for an active-guided SAM. In the near term this new SAM, plus other SAMs developed, most likely with Russian assistance, can be expected. In the meantime PLAAF missile units continue to use new variations of the HQ-2 (SA-2). While an ancient system, little is known about its more recent variants.

The PLA has also continued to develop anti-aircraft guns, in contrast to the U.S. Its copy of the Swiss SKYGUARD 35mm radar/camera directed gun system is now in production. It fires shells that fragment in unison so as to create a hail of shrapnel that can destroy incoming missiles or bombs. The PLA is also building the PGZ-95 tracked quad-25mm gun system for Army air defense units

Space defense. It is not clear which PLA service will take the lead in future space and missile defense missions. However, given its investments in air defense, it is possible that the PLAAF will press for leadership in space defense missions. In 2000 the PRC revealed its large SL-4 mobile phased-array radar designed to support the manned space program. This radar is intended to track satellites and could also be used to provide early warning for incoming ballistic missiles. However, it is not known whether this radar is being developed as part of an early warning network. It is also possible that possible that Russia and China will collaborate on developing new missile defenses. Russia is marketing its new MARS decimeter-band mobile missile defense radar that can detect hyperspeed and space-based targets out to 2,000km and also guide interceptors. [119]

China likely has had a long interest in missile defenses. A mid-2001 report in the PRC magazine Hang Tien noted that the PLA’s ABM program included the construction of two anti-missile systems: the FAN JI1 (Counter-attack 1) and the FAN JI 2. The later was tested five times. A FAN JI 3 was also designed but the FAN JI program reportedly did not survive the chao of the Cultural Revolution. [120] At Zhuhai 98 officials connected to the FT-2000 SAM stated that this missile would be developed into an active-guided missile that eventually would have an ATBM capability. There are likely laser ASAT and micro or nano-sat ASAT programs underway. The late may be based on micro-satellite bus technology obtained from Britain’s Surrey Space Systems and a new solid-fueled mobile space launcher revealed at the 2000 Zhuhai show. This new mobile SLV may be based on the DF-21 IRBM.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE UNITED STATES P>At a time when the United States is increasingly preoccupied by its War on Terrorism, it must also confront a growing challenge from the accumulating air power of the PLAAF. Despite the myriad challenges of assembling, training, maintaining and paying for an air force to succeed in a high-tech, joint doctrine environment, the PLA is continuing to make significant strides to those ends. It is clearly making the necessary investments toward those ends. As such it would be foolish for Washington to proceed with business as usual. In just a few years, should the PLA come to the conclusion that has achieved a necessary level of military superiority over Taiwan, while Washington is distracted by the current crisis or even greater crises, Beijing may yield to a real temptation to strike.

As has been noted by the annual Department of Defense reports to the Congress on PLA Modernization, the airpower balance on the Taiwan Strait could favor the PLAAF after 2005. [121] By this time it will have 80 or more Su-30MKKs, over 100 Su-27SKs, plus the A-50E AWACSs and Il-78M tankers needed to support distant and Taiwan Theater strike operations. Su-30MKKs, JH-7s and H-6 bombers will also be able to deliver several new ARMs and LACMs to compliment initial SRBM strikes. Initial and follow-on PLAAF strikes could be cued by a network of space-based and airborne reconnaissance systems. What remains of Taiwan’s Air Force could be quickly dispatched by R-77 armed Sukhois, J-10 and J-8IIC/H fighters. With air superiority established, the PLA could then proceed with airborne or amphibious assaults designed to force a final political capitulation in Taipei.

This trend in PLAAF modernization also places greater pressure on U.S. forces in the region. Should the War on Terrorism drag on for many years it may not be possible to maintain a constant carrier battle group presence in Northeast Asia. But even if one carrier could be maintained, it might be alone in responding to what would most likely be a surprise attack on Taiwan. After 2005 the PLAAF assets that could be concentrated on a single carrier battle group would be formidable. The PLAAF would have enough fighters to attack the carrier’s CAP while strike aircraft could launch scores of stand-off missiles that could saturate closer defenses. If air strikes could be coordinated with submarine missile strikes and land-based missile strikes, the result could be devastating for the United States.

Addressing the air component of deterrence is but one element in a complex military and political matrix necessary to deter a Chinese attack on Taiwan. This should include a robust effort to increase Taiwan’s active and passive missile and air defenses. First, Taiwan also requires a massive effort to place critical aircraft and command assets underground and to make communication grids redundant and secure. Taiwan requires PATRIOT PAC-3, AEGIS, and even laser-based missile defense systems to be able to deal with the volume of incoming missiles and cruise missiles. Taiwan also requires aircraft like the Boeing A/V-8B+ HARRIER v/stol fighter to be able to disburse its air defense forces. Taiwan also should be encouraged eventually to consolidate its aircraft types around the v/stol version of the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Taiwan also requires the means to be able to attack and disrupt a gathering PLAAF/PLA Airborne strike combine. If the U.S. cannot sell Taiwan long-range stand-off attack missiles or systems like the ATACMS missile, then the U.S. should provide Taiwan with technology to make its own.

For its part, more U.S. military should be closer to the Taiwan Theater, a requirement recognized by the September 2001 Quadrennial Review. [122] Part of the solution would be to revive substantial military cooperation with the Philippines. This would allow the U.S. to open a southern defensive front in the event of a PLA attack. The U.S. also needs assets that can also survive PLAAF attack and enable an immediate retaliation. TMD for U.S. forces in the Western Pacific is essential as soon as possible. Plans to convert 2-4 TRIDENT SSBNs to carry cruise missiles should be accelerated as fast as possible. And in addition to LACMs, the U.S. should develop new heavy non-nuclear attack loads that can be placed on the first stage of an unused SLBMs. These are needed to be able immediately attack concentrations of PLA air and naval forces within hours, not the days or weeks needed to deploy conventional forces.

In addition, the U.S. must also accelerate the introduction of advanced combat aircraft and longer-range AAMs to defeat the growing numbers of PLAAF Su-30MKKs and J-10 fighters. To give U.S. pilots a better edge, Pacific Command-based F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighters should be given priority for the new Helmet-sighted AIM-9X missile, and there should be accelerated development of longer-range versions of the AIM-120. The Navy’s F/A-18E/F fighter-bombers should receive more powerful engines with new active array radar planned for the Block 2 configuration. The Pacific Command should also receive new F-22 fighters as soon as possible. In addition, the Pacific Command should have a priority for the F-35 joint strike fighter and new unmanned reconnaissance and combat aircraft.

It is also clear that as the PLAAF intends to benefit from space-based information sources, it may also play a role in denying space to its enemies. This means that the PLA intends to target Taiwanese and U.S. space-based reconnaissance and communication satellites in the event of a Taiwan conflict. As such, it is critical that the U.S. increase the survivability of planned new satellite constellations and give organic anti-satellite capabilities to U.S. air and naval forces that would operate in a Taiwan conflict.


Viewed from the perspective of the mid-1990s, the PLA Air Force has made great strides toward fulfilling the objective to build a force capable of offensive as well as defensive operations. This paper has not focused extensively on the necessary developments in doctrine, training, maintenance and funding that are critical to ensure the success of PLAAF modernization. But from the narrow perspective of equipment, it appears that the PLAAF is receiving the resources to create a competent core capability of multi-role offensive-capable platforms that will be supported by necessary tanker, AWACS and electronic intelligence platforms. And as has been stated by official U.S. assessments, absent compensating measures by Taiwan and the United States, the PLAAF could gain a measure of superiority on the Taiwan Strait after 2005. Also by this time, a single U.S. aircraft carrier sent to support Taiwan could face overwhelming danger, largely from a more capable PLAAF. As such, it is critical that Taiwan and the U.S. undertake actions necessary to preserve an adequate military balance to support continued deterrence

[1] You Ji, The Armed Forces of China, London: I. B. Tauris, 1999, p. 125.

[2] Remarks noted in Ken Allen, “PLA Air Force Modernization and Operations,” in Susan M. Puska ed., People’s Liberation Army After Next,” Carlisle PA: U.S. Army War College and the American Enterprise Institute, 2000, pp. 189-190.

[3] Reports in 2001 noted the PRC would eventually launch 4 imaging and 4 radar satellites, but a new report says 8 more will be launched, indicating a similar division of 4 more imaging and 4 more radar satellites, see, Craig Covault, “Chinese Plan Aggressive Satellite Development,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, November 12, 2001, p. 56.

[4] Ibid. China may also be developing radar satellites that use a planar antenna similar to that used by Canada’s RADARSAT.

[5] Interview with NPO Machinostroyenia officials, 2001 Moscow Airshow.

[6] You Ji, p. 128.

[7] David Donald, “China, People’s Liberation Army Air Force,” International Air Power Review, Summer 2001, p. 87.

[8] Brochure, “L-15,” Hongdu Aircraft Co.

[9] The author thanks Ken Allen for this observation.

[10] Brochure, “Flight Data Recording and Processing System,” China Jinan Aviation Central Factory, obtained at the 2000 Zhuhai Airshow.

[11] “Fighter figures point to Chinese air supremacy,” Flight International, October 26, 2000, p. 22.

[12] Development of the Su-30MK is covered in some detail by Yefim Gordon in two books: Sukhoi Su-27 Air Superiority Fighter, Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing Ltd. , 1999, pp. 58-60; and Flankers, The New Generation, Hinckley: Midland Publishing, 2001, pp. 29-64.

[13] “Su-30MK Twin-Seat Mulitrole Fighter,” Air Fleet, June, 2000, p. 10.

[14] “China’s Su-30MKKs will have multi-mode radar,” Flight International, August 21, 2001, p. 27.

[15] Brochure, “Zhuk-M-S,” Phazotron Company, obtained at the 2001 Moscow Airshow.

[16] Singapore may have Israel’s helmet-sighted Python-4 AAM for its F-16s. Malaysia also has the Vympel R-73 for its Mig-29s.

[17] Gordon, Sukhoi Su-27, p. 148.

[18] “China-Russia ‘Mainstay’ deal is revitalized,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 5, 2001.

[19]“Overview of Russia-PRC Military-Technical Cooperation,” ITAR-TASS, January 16, 2000.

[20]Cary Huang, “Beijing to Buy 72 Russian Jet Fighter-Bombers,” Hong Kong Standard, June 21, 1999, p. 1.

[21]Jon Lake, “Sukhoi’s Super Flankers,” Combat Aircraft, March-April, 2001, p. 242.

[22]“Komsomol’sk on Amur Aviation Production Association to be Executor on Contract for Delivery of 40 Su-30MKK Fighters to China,” Kommersant-Daily, November 19, 2001.

[23]“Fighter figures point to Chinese air supremacy,” Flight International, September 26, 2000, p. 22; “Chinese J10A To Be Mass Produced Next Year,” Kanwa News, September 10, 2001,

[24]John A. Tirpak, “Foreign Fighters Get Better,” Air Force Magazine, October 2001.


[26]Jake Collins, “Chinese Fighter Evolution,” Air Forces Monthly, October, 2001, pp. 54-55; see also, “The Mist of PROC’s J-9 Fighter,” in Defense Technology Monthly’s PROC’s PLA Power, Taipei, 1997, pp. 30-33.

[27]Collins, p. 56.

[28]Larry Wortzel, “U.S. Commits to Security of Its Allies,” Taipei Times, March 15, 2001.

[29]“China’s fighter skips generation,” Flight International, March 27, 2001, p. 22.

[30]Many of these pictures are in the excellent collection of Hui Tong, who maintains a useful website called Chinese Military Aviation,

[31]Sergey Grigor’ev, “Eyes and Ears for Chinese Airplanes,” Nezavisimoye Obozreniye, May 12, 2000.

[32]“China’s fighter skips…,” op-cit; Hui Tong, op-cit.

[33]Office of Naval Intelligence, “Worldwide Challenges to Naval Strike Warfare,” U.S. GPO, 1997, p. 16.

[34]“New AL-41 unveiled at MAKS 2001,” Flight International, August 28, 2001, p. 22.

[35]Nikolai Novichkov, “China to buy Russian engines for F-10 fighters,” Itar-Tass, June 15, 2001; Yihong Chang, “Beijing Engine Deal With Russia Heralds Up To 300 F-10s,” Jane’s Defence Review, July 4, 2001.

[36]“USA rethinks view of China’s next generation XXJ fighter,” Flight International, April 3, 2001, p. 21; Hui Tong, “J-8IIM. ”

[37]“USA rethinks…,” op-cit.

[38]Reporting on the possible PLA purchase of more Speys emerged in early 1999. By late 2000 a deal was concluded and the engines apparently were delivered during the Summer of 2001. Douglas Barrie and Jason Sherman, “China Seeks British Engine,” Defense News, July 2-8, 2001, p. 1; “Chinese Speys Being Delivered,” Air Forces Monthly, August, 2001, p. 4.

[39]“FBC-1 with Chinese ramjet missile,” Air Forces Monthly, January 2001, p. 24.

[40]Barrie and Sherman, op-cit.

[41]Jon Lake, “Xian JH-7,” Air Forces Monthly, December 2000, p. 38.

[42]Richard Fisher, “Xian JH-7/FBC-1, The nine lives of the Flying Leopard,” World Airpower Journal, Summer 1999, p. 23.


[44]Paul Lewis, “European hesitation holds up Sino-Pakistani Super 7 fighter,” Flight International, January 18, 2000, p. 20.

[45]Paul Lewis, “USA lifts arms embargo to Pakistan and offers to supply more F-16s,” Flight International, October 16, 2001, p. 11; at the time this paper was written the Bush Administration had so far refurse to allow Pakistan to obtain the 28 F-16s that had been embagoed in the early 1990s.

[46]“Chengdu reveals details of F-7MF,” Flight International, November 21, 2000, p. 18.

[47]The FC-1 mock-up and new AAM appeared in a substantially detailed article, “’Advanced’ Launch of Chinese Super Seven,” World Flight (from PRC), May 2001, p. 14.

[48]Office of Naval Intelligence, op-cit. , p. 19.

[49]“USA rethinks view…” op-cit.

[50]Collins, p. 56.

[51]Interview, Zhuhai Airshow, November 2000.

[52]Described in an article on ground-attack aircraft in the Mainland magazine, “Weapon,” July 2001, p. 22.

[53]“China’s new cruise nears service,” Flight International, August 22, 2000, p. 26.

[54]Piotr Butowski, “Su-32 could hit market by 2002,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, August 9, 2000, p. 12.

[55]Yefim Gordon, “Flankers…,” op-cit, Chapter 3.

[56]“China To Remain Largest Russian Arms Importer in Coming Years,” Interfax, July 17, 2000.

[57]For a useful overview of U.S. efforts see, David Baker, “Global Hyperstrike,” Air International, October 2001, pp. 208-212.

[58]“Leninets Company and Chinese Government Delegation Sign Agreement to Participate in Creation of Hypersonic Flying Apparatus,” Vedmosti, April 23, 2001, in Roy’s Russian Aviation Resource,

[59]Nikolai Novichkov, “Russia In the Forefront of Aerospace Technology,” Military Parade, May-June 1994, pp. 68-71.

[60]Brochure, “MAKS, Multipurpose Aerospace System,” Molniya Joint Stock Company, obtained at the 2001 Moscow Airshow.

[61]Yihong Zhang, “China’s PLAAF set to receive ‘Adder’ missiles,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 17, 2000, p. 15.

[62]Hui Tong, “PL-12?,” Chinese Military Aviation,

[63]Hui Tong, “SD-10?,” Chinese Military Aviation, op-cit.

[64]Brochure, “FL-2,” China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Company, obtained at the 1998 Zhuhai Airshow.

[65]Brochure, “Kh-59MK,” Raduga Bureau, obtained at the 2001 Moscow Airshow.

[66]“China-Russia Mainstay deal…,” op-cit.

[67]“China seeks US reversal,” Flight International, October 30, 2001, p. 21.

[68]Brochure, “A-50E,” Moscow Scientific and Research Institute of Instrument Engineering (MNIIP), obtained at the 2001 Moscow Airshow.

[69]“A-50 Airplanes Planned for Delivery to India May be Equipped with PS-90A-76 Engines,” Interfax-AVN, October 24, 2001.

[70]“China converts Y-8s for AEW role,” Flight International, March 14, 2000, p. 15.

[71]These pictures appeared on the now defunct “Star. net” Chinese language military web page.

[72]Hui Tong, “Tu-154M/D Careless,Chinese Military Aviation,

[73]“Chinese Airborne Command Post,” Air Forces Monthly, January 2001, p. 16.

[74]Hui Tong, “HD-5 Beagle,” Chinese Military Aviation, op-cit.

[75]“KS-418E Jammer Pod,” KNIRTI brochure, obtained at the 2001 Moscow Airshow.

[76]At the 2001 Moscow Airshow KNIRTI revealed the configuration for its SORBITSYA antenna, which shows an omini-directional broadcast capability that would less likely be blocked by the airframe, whereas the jamming pods on the PROWLER can be blocked if the airframe is at the right angle to the pod.


[78]Robert Sae-Liu, “Chinese expand aerial refueling capability to navy,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, June 21, 2000, p. 14.

[79]Hui Tong, “H-6U/HU-6,” Chinese Military Aviation, www.jetfight. com/ft-7_k-8_il-76.htm.


[81]Jon Lake, “Tupolev’s Badger Family,” World Airpower Journal, Winter 1992, p. 125.

[82]“China-Russia Mainstay deal…,” op-cit.

[83]Yefim Gordon and Dimitri Kommisarov, “The Red Starlifter,” World Airpower Journal, Winter 1998, p. 123.

[84]“Delivery of Il-78MK Refueling Airplanes to India Will Begin in 2003,” Interfax-AVN, October 24, 2001, in Roy’s Russian Aviation Resource, for October 24, 2001.

[85]As of 1993 these two C-130s were operated by Air China Cargo. Colin Ballantine and Pamela Tang, Chinese Airlines, Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing, Ltd. , 1995, p. 42.

[86]“An-70 Will Be Built in China,” Segodnya, June 20, 2000, in Roy’s Russian Aircraft Resource,;“Antonov ANTK and Chinese AVIC II Company Collaboration,” Foreign Media Reports, November 10, 2000, in Roy’s Russian Aircraft Resource,

[87]Vladimir Karnozov, “Future Imperfect,” Flight International, November 6, 2001, p. 47.

[88]“Negotiations Under Way Regarding China’s Participation in Creation and Production of An-70 Airplane,” Interfax-AVN, October 24, 2001, in Roy’s Russian Aviation Resource, for October 24, 2001.

[89]“Possibility of Purchase by China of 30 An74TK-300 Airplanes no Ruled Out in Ukranian Government Apparatus,” Finmarket Agency, August 23, 2001, in Roy’s Russian Aircraft Resource,

[90]The larger number is noted by Yefim Gordon, who supplies the aircraft registration numbers in Dimitry Komissarov and Yefim Gordon, Ilyushin Il-76, Russia’s Versatile Airlifter, Hinckley: Midland Publishing, 2001, p. 109.

[91]The COSCO Il-76 was viewed by the author on the COSCO webpage.

[92]Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye No. 45, May 12, 2000, in Roy’s Russian Aircraft Resource web page,;“Il-76 Sale to China will Permit Assigning Russian VPK Enterprises Manufacturing Parts for this Airplane with Orders,” Finmarket Agency, July 5, 2001, in Roys Russian Aircraft Resource,;Komissarov and Gordon, op-cit, pg. 109.

[93]Bruce A. Smith, “Boeing Broadens Product Line For Cargo Transport Aircraft,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, August 27, 2001, p. 54.

[94]Numbers of Chinese civil cargo and passenger airliners from “World Airlines, Parts 1, 2 and 3,” in Flight International, March 20, March 27 and April 3, 2001. For a cross-reference by airliner type see, “World airliner census, Over the Precipice,” Flight International, October 16, 2001, pp 40-69.

[95]You Ji, p. 49.

[96]Lin Chu-chin, “PLA Special Operations Exclusive—PLA Airborne Operations,” Chun Shih Chia (Defense International), May 2001, pp. 24-39, in FBIS , May 1, 2001.



[99]Andrei Kirillov, “Georgy Shpak Supports Sharing Experience Between Russian, Chinese Paratroopers,” ITAR-TASS, December 8, 2000.

[100] You Ji, p. 145.

[101]Bingqi Zhishi, March 2001; Christopher Foss, “China fields fast-attack vehicle,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, June 13, 2001, p. 13.

[102]Bingqi Zhishi, August, 2001.

[103]Bingqi Zhishi, June, 2001; Yihong Chang, “China unveils 120mm 8x8 tank destroyer,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, June 30, 2001, p. 32.

[104]Bingqi Zhishi, May 2001; Yihong Chang, “China reveals SP mortar,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, June 6, 2001, p. 9.

[105]Bingqi Zhishi, December 2000.

[106]Ibid. ; Many pictures of the new digital communications gear can also be viewed on the PLA Pictoral web page.

[107]Al Santoli, A Report for the American Foreign Policy Council.

[108]You Ji, p. 139-40.

[109]Radar data in this paragraph from brochures of the China National Electronics Import and Export Co. (CEIEC).

[110]Steven Zaloga, “Airpower’s Future Nemesis,” Air Forces Monthly, January 2001, p. 35.

[111]Yihong Zhang, “China Launches New AS901 Radar,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, July 4, 2001.

[112]Brochure, “J-231 Mid-Range Surveillance Radar,” Institute No. 23 of China Aerospace Corporation.

[113]Interview, Moscow Airshow, August 2001.

[114]L. Neng-Jing, “Radar ECCMs New Area:Anti-Stealth and Anti-ARM,” IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, Vol. 31, July 1995, pp. 1120-1127; W. Xu, “The Challenges and the Ways to Deal With—Where is Airborne Fire Control Radar Going,” Proceedings of the National Aerospace and Electronics Conference, NAECON 1993, Vol 1 pp. 303-309.

[115]Brochure, “China National Electronics Import and Export Corporation. ”

[116]The PLA’s skill at building exact decoy replicas was displayed at a Guangzhou region military exhibition in early 2001, covered in Bingqi Zhishi, May 2001 and in Defense Technology Monthly(Taiwan), March 2001.

[117]“Magicians on the Battleground: Experiencing China’s Camouflage Units,” Jeifang Rabao, May 31, 2001, in FBIS, May 31, 2000.

[118]Zaloga, op-cit.

[119]Sergei Boyev, “Shrewd Eyes and Mind of the Missile and Space Defense High-Potential Radars; Past Present and Future, Military Parade, September 2001, at

[120]“China Steps Up ABM Technology Research,”Kanwa News,

[121]Department of Defense, “Annual Report On The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China,” Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY 2000 National Defense Authorization Act, June 2000, p. 21.

[122]U.S. Department of Defense, QuadrennialDefense ReviewReport, September 30, 2001, p. 27.

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