Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chinese Show and Tell

PS The J-10 is superior then F-16.
WS-10a engine was tested on a prototype J-11B fighter in 2002. In 2005, the Chinese media reported that the engine had completed 4 months endurance testing and the engine was certified for production in 2006.

Chinese Show and Tell


The most advanced Chinese fighter plane to date made its public debut at the biennial China Air Show here this week, and it was an impressive sight. The pilot wowed onlookers with a series of maneuvers reminiscent of "Top Gun," including sharp turns, a near-vertical climb and a 360-degree rotation. The plane, dubbed the J-10, is the centerpiece of Beijing's military aerospace program. The message is clear: China's military is arriving, and fast.

[Commentary] ChinaFotoPress

The J-10.

The biennial air show in this southern city is unique because it's the closest glimpse most people can get of China's secretive aerospace aspirations. Even then, it's an imperfect window. Some of the models displayed might be more aspirational than practical, and there's a strong likelihood the military holds back especially interesting material. U.S.-based defense analyst Richard D. Fisher likens the Zhuhai event to a "clear view through a key hole."

Still, it's instructive. More technology is on display this year than ever before. The J-10 -- China's answer to the F-16 -- is the star. The Pentagon notes the J-10's utility in "anti-access/area-denial," or keeping the enemy out of a particular patch of land, sea or air. Its body is modeled on Israel's Lavi fighter program of the 1980s (the similarities are obvious, though both sides deny it) and it has, for now at least, a Russian engine. The Chinese are developing their own Taihang turbofan engine for the J-10, and after more than a decade of trials, a model of the Taihang is also on display in Zhuhai this week.

The show also features various antiship missiles like the C-602 and C-705. The Chinese even displayed a sophisticated cockpit display system featuring the same kind of liquid-crystal technology in line with what the U.S. will put in its most advanced fighter, the F-35. As if to underscore that its ambitions stretch into space, China also displayed the recently returned Shenzhou-7 orbiter (from which a Chinese astronaut recently made the country's first space walk).

Another corner of the cavernous exhibition hall is devoted to future projects, such as models of unmanned aerial vehicles; an illustration on a wall sign shows that China's ambitions in this sphere match America's. While some of the models are clearly fanciful (one is an orange-colored saucer-shaped contraption resembling a children's toy), others like the Warrior Eagle are within China's technological grasp. If the unmanned program lives up to aspirations, it would one day be a powerful tool for fighting a naval war.

So what is all this weaponry for? Beijing never quite says. As the Pentagon noted in its annual report on China's military this year, the country "continues to promulgate incomplete defense expenditure figures, and engage in actions that appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies." Even at Zhuhai, China's big show of transparency, Chinese engineers are often cagey in discussing technologies they've put on display. Foreign analysts are left to make educated guesses by patching together statements from Chinese officers and strategists and tracking arms purchases and development.

One thing is clear: At the broadest level, China is intent on rivaling the U.S. as a military superpower. In part Beijing will achieve this by catching up to the U.S. in terms of China's own capabilities (see, for example, the J-10 program, the space mission, or those unmanned vehicles).

Taiwan appears to be one focus of military planning. The J-10 is a Chinese answer to the F-16, 150 of which America sold to Taiwan in 1992 and more of which Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou would like to buy. The antiship C-602 and C-705 missiles, with a range up to 280 kilometers, could be used to deter U.S. naval intervention in any cross-Strait conflict.

China could also use its newfound military power to project more influence in South Asia. China still has outstanding boundary disputes with India, and the J-10 is in a technological class with India's fleet of French-built Mirage 2000 fighters. Beijing's new firepower could also come in handy defending its interests along key trade routes -- for example in the South China Sea, where China has lately been more aggressively asserting its claims to disputed archipelagos.

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