The Demise of Utopia: Contexts of Civilizational Collapse in the Bronze Age Indus Valley

Leave a comment

By Chris J.D. Kostman, M.A.

Originally published in JAGNES, the Journal of the Association of Graduates in Near Eastern Studies


Since the discovery of the Harappan Civilization in the greater Indus Valley some 100 years ago, there has been considerable discussion as to the cause of its demise in the mid second millennium B.C. This paper investigates all of the major factors suggested to have contributed to the end of the Harappan Civilization and also considers whether it declined or collapsed at all. The paper concludes that although the Harappans did fall prey to several potentially devastating “acts of god,” their legacy continues to this day. The Harappan Civilization never collapsed: it simply transformed over time.

George Dales once stated that “one of the most enigmatic whodunits of antiquity concerns the decline and fall of the Indus Valley (Harappan) Civilization” (Dales 1964: 37). The proposed perpetrators of this great evil have ranged from invading Aryan hordes, to Mother Nature, to the Harappans themselves. Needless to say, the debate has raged since the very discovery of the Harappan culture and the seemingly utopian civilization that it created during the Bronze Age in the greater Indus Valley. A careful review of the literature suggests that although the Harappans did experience great natural disasters and a dramatic shfit in their urban process, they never declined or fell at all: the Harappan legacy continues to this day.

The Indus Valley, or Harappan, Civilization was located primarily in modern-day Pakistan, as well as north-western India and the adjacent areas of Iran and Afghanistan. The geographical extent of this civilization encompassed a triangular area with 1,000 miles on each side, or approximately 425,000 square miles. This is an area larger than ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia combined. Flourishing from approximately 3000 to 1500 B.C., the Harappan Civilization derives its name from the type site of Harappa, located in the Punjab near Lahore. Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, near Karachi in Sind, are called the “twin capital cities” of the Indus Valley Civilization because of their size, strategic locations, and the appearance of the greatest diversity of materials in their archaeological records.

A consideration of what actually defines the unique character of the Harappan phenomenon during its Mature Preiod (2500 to 1700 B.C.) would be in order at this point. If listed simply, this would include:

* Essentially polar-aligned pre-planned urban settlements, usually divided into a lower town and an incorrectly labeled “citadel.” * Frequent architectural use of mudbrick platforms.
* Fastidious, almost fanatical, attention to water control, including a plethora of hydraulic features such as drains, wells, sump pits, baths, and bathrooms.
* Consistent binary system of weights and measures and its application in architectural features such as brick size.
* Pottery unique in terms of manufacturing technique, decoration, shape, and style. * Distinctive animal and human figurine assemblage.
* Unique and still undeciphered script.
* Essentially a complete lack of any military-related materials, both in terms of weapons and, probably, fortifications. * No palatial architecture or any other types of adminstrative architecture.

The proposed mitigating factors for the apparent decline or “collapse” of the Indus Valley Civilization in the mid-second millennium can be divided into either historical / event causes or cultural causes, in other words uncontrollable versus theoretically controllable factors. Some of these proposed factors include:

* Invading hordes of Aryans / Indo-Europeans (Dales 1964, Fairservis 1971, Srivastava 1984).
* Seasonal flooding of Mohenjo Daro and other sites in Sind (Dales 1966, Raikes 1965, Dales and Raikes 1977).
* Tectonic uplift along the Makran coast which landlocked many heretofore coastal settlements (Dales 1966).
* The “death from natural causes” of Kalibangan and other sites in the Yamuna river channel due to shifts in the river course (Raikes 1968).
* The desertification of Cholistan / Bahawalpur due to shifts in the Hakra River course (Mughal 1982, 1984). * Climatic changes (Misra 1984).
* Ecological degradation, i.e., “wearing out the landscape” (Gupta 1980).
* The sharp decrease in trade with Mesopotamia at the end of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur (Ghosh 1980).
* Cultural process, i.e., societal evolution/devolution (Gupta 1980, Fairservis 1971 and 1979, Schaffer 1982).

The question then is: could any one or a combination of these theories, if correct, have spelled total disaster for the Indus Valley Civilization? They should be examined one at a time to attempt some conclusions.

Aryan Invasions

The Rig-Veda is the oldest known book of the Indian subcontinent. It was first composed in an ancient Sanskrit language and passed down orally for several millennia. Considered the fountainhead of Indian civilization, it played a crucial role in the rise of Hinduism, the caste system, and other central components of Indian society. Some also believe that it details the end of the Harappan peoples.

“The story has been repeated for millennia, sung in temples, chanted in halls, told by word and actions of how a warrior people came out of the vastness of inner Asia through the passes of the northwest to fall upon the fortified cities of India and to conquer: riding horse-drawn chariots, driving herds of cattle, sheep, and goats, worshipping cosmic deities like Indra of the thunder and Agni of the fire, sacrificing, quarreling, gambling, drinking, singing, dancing–the Rig-Veda account of the Aryan tribes is one of the oldest epics in the world (Fairservis 1971: 345).”

At one time, many argued for an authorship of the epic as early as 3100 B.C., or during the Early Harappan period. Some have even argued that the Harappans themselves were the Aryans of the Rig-Veda. However, more recent scholarship on the subject has suggested that the writing of the Rig Veda was no earlier than 1200 B.C. Certain scholars are inclined to accept a date of closer to 800 BC, while earlier dates, some up to 1500 BC, are put forth by still other scholars. Either way, several hundred years separate even this earliest estimate from the ending date of the Mature Harappan Period, which lasted from ca. 2500 to 1700 B.C. In line with this dating, as well as the lack of evidence for iron technology, hereditary social elites, not to mention warfare (three of the primary diagnostic traits of the Aryans, according to the Rig-Veda), most of the scholars of today are convinced that the Harappans were neither Aryan, nor ever in contact with the Aryans
(Srivastava 1984). In fact, the archaeological record depicts a utopian world far different from that of the Aryans described in the Rig-Veda. Thus Schaffer notes that “in the Indus Valley, a technically advanced, urban, literate culture was achieved without the usually associated social organization based on hereditary elites, centralized political government (states, empires) and warfare” (Schaffer 1982, 47).

Indeed, while the commonly accepted dating and the disparity between the archaeological record and the accounts of the Rig-Veda would seem to indicate that several hundred years passed between the deurbanization of the major Indus sites and the Aryan invasion, still more evidence is available to deny a correlation between the two incidents. In particular, the “evidence” for an Aryan invasion that was at one time thought to have been supplied by Mortimer Wheeler’s excavations at Mohenjo Daro is now shown to be deeply suspect. Wheeler’s evidence (Wheeler 1947 & 1968), and the contradictions therein, can be summarized as follows:

Thirty-seven skeletons found in a state of unplanned interment at Mohenjo Daro were put forth as evidence of a massacre at the hands of the Aryans (Wheeler 1968). Dales and others have since pointed out that the stratigraphic location of these skeletons in the residential area, rather than in the “citadel,” and in levels of post-site abandonment, indicate that the “victims” were Post Harappan squatters. A full seven feet of debris separated the “victims” and the true Harappan occupation levels (Dales 1964). More conclusively, detailed skeletal analysis has shown that the “victims” were biologically different from true Harappans.

Vedic descriptions of fortresses were assumed to actually describe Harappan cities; however, the Vedic descriptions diverge widely from the shape and format of Harappan cities. The Rig-Veda describes fortresses of three concentric circles, but the Harappan “citadels” were essentially square.

Huge mud brick “defenses enclosing the citadel” area of Harappa were offered as evidence of fortifications. Wheeler, whose background included both military service and the excavation of Roman fortresses, incorrectly interpreted these constructions as a military edifice (Wheeler 1968). Environmental factors, discussed later, were most likely the inspiration for building these mud brick “defenses.”

The evidence cited for armor was “small domed pieces of copper, each perforated with two holes, were sewn on to a garment and used as an equivalent to mail” (Srivastava 1984: 131). This is implausible at best and no other types of armor have been found at any Harappan site. Wheeler interpreted clay nodules as “baked clay missiles” (Wheeler 1968: 76) but clay nodules are nothing but handmade gravel, not weaponry of any kind.

Further complicating Wheeler’s theory is the curious paucity of remains of Aryan marauders, horses, or weaponry at any Harappan site, or evidence of armed conflict of any kind anywhere in the Harappan realm.

“Where are the burned fortresses, the arrowheads, weapons, pieces of armor, the smashed chariots and bodies of the invaders and defenders? Despite the extensive excavations at the largest Harappan sites, there is not a single bit of evidence that can be brought forth as unconditional proof of an armed conquest and destruction on the supposed scale of the Aryan invasion (Dales 1964: 38).”

Considering the mass of evidence against it, the theory of Aryan invasions spelling doom for the Indus Valley Civilization can be cast off now as purely fanciful thinking. However, one piece of evidence originally put forth to support this antiquated theory is relevant to a later and more plausible theory, and that is the existence of massive mud brick platforms or “defenses.” Wheeler’s conclusion was that the huge constructions were used as defenses against invading peoples (Wheeler 1968), but there are other threats against which they might have defended the Harappan cities and peoples.

The “Flood” Theories

Back in the 1960’s, the hydrologist Robert Raikes and the archaeologist George Dales independently, then jointly, put forth theories for the seasonal flooding, or more precisely the seasonal “ponding,” of Mohenjo Daro and some smaller sites nearby in Sind. Each scholar felt able to hypothesize, from the standpoint of his own separate studies, that a swelling of the ground during the Harappan period produced a type of natural barrier across the Indus River, perhaps some 10 km wide and as much as 45 meters high. The tectonic activity could have been due to faulting or by the intrusion of miocene clays (so-called volcanic muds) under the Indus alluvial sediments (Raikes and Dales 1977: 251). This would have probably taken place near Sehwan, some 145 km downstream from Mohenjo Daro, and would have formed a lake 85 km long, 8 km wide, and 5 meters deep.

The result of such a phenomenon during the Harappan period would have been an annual inundation of sites as the natural reservoir engulfing them grew with run-off from the Himalayas. With the approaching warm season, the reservoir would have dried up or at least shrunk considerably. Associated with such a calamity would have been the problems posed by water-borne diseases and the disposal of wastes. Of course, problems of food supply and trade would have been exacerbated.

The archaeological evidence for such an anomaly includes the existence of five or more layers of silt found between levels of Mature Harappan habitation at Mohenjo Daro. It should be stressed that this archaeologically attested silt is a type of silt laid down in still water conditions, not flood water conditions.

One can easily imagine that such a situation would have given rise to the use of massive mudbrick platforms as the foundation for domestic activities and constructions in an attempt to stay high and dry above the inundation lake. Thus Wheeler was right in terming the massive constructions as defensive constructions; however, they were defenses against intruding water, not intruding people. It is also equally reasonable to suggest that the Harappan fixation with the control of water was somehow linked to this phenomenon.

Tectonic Uplift of the Coastline

Another natural and uncontrollable factor in the demise of at least some of the Indus cities was tectonic uplift on a grand scale. The evidence for this is simple and indisputable: Harappan seaports along the Makran coast, such as Sutkagendor, Sotka Koh, and Bala Kot, are now as far as 50 km inland. “These displaced ports made it evident that the coastline of Pakistan had risen considerably during the past 4,000 years, with the initial rise apparently having occurred during the Harappan period” (Dales 1966: 95). The earthquakes associated with such an uplift would have been tremendous and the disruption of sea and land trade networks would have been devastating. The proximity to Arabian sea trade routes was, after all, the raison d’etre for sites such as Sutkagen Dor and Sutkha Koh. This tectonic uplift, then, would explain the demise of several Harappan coastal sites, as well as imply a hardship for many other Harappan sites which were dependent on these coastal sites for trade and/or marine resources.

Kalibangan’s “Death from Natural Causes”

The urban site of Kalibangan is located in the Indian Punjab and was, like Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, abandoned in approximately the 18th century B.C. Here Raikes found the soil a “coarse greyish sand very similar in mineral content to that found in the bed of the present day Yamuna,” the main river of the area (Raikes 1968: 286). Raikes’ hydrological and archaeological investigations indicate an “alternating capture of the Yamuna by the Indus and Ganges systems respectively” (Raikes 1968: 286) due to coriolis force for the western migration and reactive geological controls causing a bank avulsion and flooding for the eastern migration. Put simply, the Yamuna (or Ghaggar) river switched back and forth between two primary river channels, causing abandoment or development of settlements, depending on the location of the all-important river. This can be summarized as follows:

* Westward diversion to Indus 2500-1750 B.C.=750 years (coinciding with the Harappan period occupation).
* Eastward diversion to Ganga 1750-1100 B.C.=650 years (coinciding with the abandonment of Harappan sites).
* Westward diversion to Indus 1100-500 B.C.=600 years (coinciding with Painted Grey Ware sites).
* Eastward diversion to Ganga 500-100 B.C.=400 years (coinciding with a period of abandonment).
* Westward diversion to Indus 100 BC-500 A.D.=600 years (coinciding with the Early Historic period).
* Eastward diversion to Ganga in about 500 A.D. (coinciding with a period of abandonment).

Thus Kalibangan and many other sites along the Ghaggar river plain have been consistently left in a dry zone. In a way, this is the opposite effect that Raikes and Dales found at Mohenjo Daro, but in the long run the implications would have been the same for the inhabitants: devastation of a significant portion of the Harappan homeland.

As in Sind, this natural phenomena does not seem to have caused an immediate and complete abandonment of Kalibangan and the sites along the same alluvial plain route, but rather a decrease in settlement size followed by a total abandonment after the water table eventually dropped so low that water could not be reached through well drilling. The quick rebirth of the sites after the return of the Ghaggar is evidenced by the almost total lack of fired brick at the sites in their first century of redevelopment. This is due to the fact that the tamerisk forests, necessary for the firing of brick and themselves dependent on a local river for their growth, would have taken 100 years to be restored after the return of the river.

As for the potential implication of this occurrence for the rest of the Indus Valley civilization, Raikes notes that “in Sind it would merely have been one more nail in a coffin already well closed” (Raikes 1968: 286). Again the Harappans found themselves at the mercy of water.

The Desertification of Cholistan

Pakistani archaeologist Rafique Mughal has mapped 414 sites along 300 miles of the Hakra River bed in what is today the Cholistan desert. This, along with geological surveys, provides incontrovertible evidence for a riverine course change which decimated hundreds of Harappan sites and brought about the desert conditions which exist to this day. In contrast to the Ghaggar, however, the Hakra changed its course once and for all.

“Archaeological evidence…overwhelmingly affirms that the Hakra was a perennial river through all its course in Bahawalpur during the fourth millennium B.C. (Hakra Period) and the early third millennium B.C. (Early Harappan Period). About the end of the second, or not later than the beginning of the first millennium BC, the entire course of the Hakra seems to have dried up and a physical environment similar to the present day in Cholistan set in. This forced the people to abandon most of the Hakra flood plain (Mughal 1982: 94).”

Thus the Harappans again found themselves unable to control water resources and a significant portion of their homeland was laid bare by uncontrollable natural phenomena.

Climatic Change

Generally speaking, theories connected with a notable degree of climatic change in a geologically short time frame are rarely given much credence. In the Harappan case, the theory that climatic change was a factor in the demise of the Indus Valley Civilization is supported by palynological and not archaeological evidence and it encompasses the entire Holocene period and not just the Harappan period. Not surprisingly, there is no archaeological evidence to support a theory that climatic change was an important factor in the Indus Valley Civilization. To quote Misra:

“In sum, the enormous volume of archaeological evidence now available from northwest India completely fails to sustain the overall hypothesis proposed by Gurdip Singh that fluctuations in rainfall played a decisive role in the emergence, diffusion, prosperity and decline of farming-based cultures in the region. The only role the increased rainfall played was to arrest the hyperaridity of the Upper Pleistocene, stabilize the sand dunes, accelerate the growth of vegetation and help in the emergence and spread of a nomadic hunting-gathering-pastoral economy. This pattern of life has persisted in the semi-arid and arid environments to this day (Misra 1984: 484).”

Indeed, if climatic change played any role in determining the future of the peoples of the Indus Valley, it was to solidify the means of subsistence and lifestyle for centuries to come.

Environmental Degradation by the Population

George Dales aptly noted that “wearing out a landscape is basically impossible to prove. And no alluvial plain wears out, anyway” (personal communication, 1987). Also, “if environmental factors had been decisive in the downfall of civilizations, Mesopotamia would have been deserted long ago” (Gupta 1980: 52). In other words, although Mother Nature wreaked havoc on several significant portions of the Harappan region, as discussed above, the Harappans themselves could not have been able to change their environmental setting to such an extent as to have any bearing on their ability to sustain themselves.

Decrease in Trade

Some time around the end of the Third Dynasty of Ur, trade between Mesopotamia and Meluhha (the Indus Valley, it is assumed) dropped off, supposedly because the Sumerians turned to Egypt and Arabia for the majority of their imported goods. Ghosh postulates that “the cessation of trade at about 1900 B.C. must have had an adverse effect on the prosperity of the Harappan Civilization and must therefore have been one of the factors leading to the decay of the cities, to the deurbanization of the civilization and to the dispersal of the population” (Ghosh 1980: 322). Ghosh then states that due to the plethora of natural disasters which befell the Harappans, “the people were evidently so overwhelmed by their own troubles that they could no longer pursue the luxury of foreign trade” (Ghosh 1980: 322). But if trade is a luxury, and if luxuries are for only a tiny segment of any given society (hence their role as luxuries), than surely a civilization is not
dependent on luxuries for its entire existence. Also, if we can now, finally, accept that the phenomenon of the Indus Valley Civilization was an essentially indigenous development (not spawned by traveling Mesopotamians, after all), why must we once again turn to the west for the reasons for its fall? Simply put, the Mesopotamians had no direct role in the rise or the fall of the Harappan Civilization. In fact, scholars may have been reading this situation entirely backwards. Instead, Mesopotamia was forced to seek other sources for its imported goods after the Indus peoples, for their own indigenous reasons, ceased export to Mesopotamia and elsewhere. This approach would imply that the Sumerians were the ones losing an important trade connection, rather than the other way around.

Urban Process in the Late Harappan Period

Mark Kenoyer reminds us that “in studying the earliest urban settlement of South Asia, we do not have written documents that describe the structural and social organization of a city. Consequently, our understanding of the urban process is sketchy” (Kenoyer 1991: 29). As any discussion of civilizational collapse theories essentially and necessarily concerns itself with the aspect of urban process that includes the abandonment of urban centers, it is this Indus urban tradition which necessarily comes into study here.

Although acts of the supernatural are beyond the control of mankind, our response to them is controllable. Thus, in the case of the Indus Valley, the Harappans should have been, and were, able to formulate a response to the natural disasters which befell them. This reaction is fundamentally intertwined with the Indus urban process. The mudbrick platforms are one physical testimony to the Harappan response to the invading waters of the Indus during the Mature Harappan period (2500 to 1700 B.C.), but finding evidence for the Late Harappan (1700 to 1200 B.C.?) response to the plethora of attacks on the Harappan lifestyle is more difficult to present at this point.

Did the Harappans develop a response to the many, unrelated natural disasters, described above, that befell them? There must be no doubt that they did, for a civilization as advanced and widespread as that of the Bronze Age Indus Valley could not have just “thrown in the towel” on several millennia of achievement and utopian lifestyle. The question really, then, is what form did the Harappan response take?

The problem in answering this question is that there is a surprising lack of investigation into the later phases of the Harappan period. Nearly every excavation held at true Harappan sites has all but ignored the latest occupation levels, and at many sites still to be excavated, the Late Harappan levels are buried beneath later, historical period levels, further confusing and hiding their role.

Indeed, determing what is a “true Harappan site” may be the biggest curse in Harappan archaeology, though this need not be the case. For some reason, despite agreement as to the above noted diagnostic traits of the culture, many archaeologists seem bent on labeling sites as Harappan which often exhibit not one of these basic traits.

Interestingly, S.R. Rao notes that “to deserve the term ‘Late Harappan’ it is essential that the inhabitants of the deurbanized phase must have retained the core of Harappan achievements such as writing, use of the Harappan standard of weights and Harappan religious beliefs including the method of the disposal of the dead” (Rao 1980: 354). Unfortunately, few scholars seem able to follow this guideline. In fact, Rao himself goes on to rationalize away the absence of these diagnostic traits in many Indian sites which are cited as Late Harappan. Curiously, he even claims that “writing not only survived but was also improved upon” during the Late Harappan Period in India (Rao 1980: 358), yet gives no evidence for it. His lack of evidence is not surprising, though, for none could exist: the Late Harappans did not write. That is one of the defining characteristics of the Late Harappans, after all.

Most scholars today, however, refuse to subscribe to the belief that the Harappans simply pulled up stakes around 1700 B.C. and moved east to regions immediately adjacent to the Gangetic Valley. The fact that these supposed Harappans seem to have forgotten their writing, their system of weights and measures, and all of their other diagnostic traits in the process of moving makes it impossible for us to believe that most of these “North Indian Harappans” were even Harappans at all. However there is no doubt that during this timeframe there was a decrease in population size in the greater Indus Valley and an increase in population in the greater Gangetic Valley. So far no correlation can be deduced, nor even inferred, between the two phenomena.

The one undeniably Late Harappan phase at a true Harappan site, the Cemetery H Culture originally found at Harappa, offers the best insight into this enigmatic period in Indus prehistory. This occupation level at Harappa was excavated by Vats and Wheeler, during 1929-1931 and 1946, respectively (Vats 1940, Wheeler 1947). Two different strata of burials were uncovered in the latest levels of occupation at Harappa. The lower stratum burials are of a type similar to standard Harappan burials: extended, with typical pottery assemblages. The upper stratum contains fractional urn burials. Both strata contain pottery types widely divergent from the Harappan norm. Considering the unique pottery, the unique burials, and the thick deposit between the Late Harappan Cemetery H and Mature Harappan Cemetery R37 at the same site, this no doubt indicates a culture far different from the Mature Harappan culture. Sankalia suggests the paintings on the Cemetery H pottery
depicting mythological tales and somehow discerns that the potters were male and the painters were female. Sankalia also concludes that the H people “culturally and racially do not seem to be far different from the Harappans,” yet he has no evidence to support or even deduce this (Sankalia 1979: 326). His conclusions in this instance seem to be closer to imaginative musings than to fact-based scholarship.

Indeed, recent research does refute Sankalia’s wishful thinking: based on cranial measurements, Hemphill, Lukacs, and Kennedy (1991) postulated a continuity between Mature Harappans and the earth-buried Cemetery H Late Harappans, but, importantly, not between the earth-buried and urn-buried Cemetary H Late Harappans. Thus the inhumation practices indicate different biological groups, a conclusion most archaeologists would have immediately inferred from the archaeological record. Thus those Late Harappans buried extended in the earth deserve their Harappan appellation, while those buried in urns do not.

Further studies of the widest possible skeletal material base (not just Cemetery H, but Indus-wide) indicate “a biological discontinuity in the history of the Indus Valley at some point after the end of the Harappan Civilization (1750 B.C.), but before the Early Iron Age at Sarai Khola (200 B.C.)” (Hemphill et al 1991: 173). Who were these biologically variant intruders and what was their role, if any, in the deurbanization phase of the Harappan period?

Based on the evidence at hand, the major urban centers of the Harappan period drastically decreased in size at the time of their purported abandonment. Mohenjo Daro, for example, seems to have dropped from about thirty-four to little more than one acre. This is certainly noteworthy and seems to imply a significant alteration of the Harappan lifestyle and livelihood. Interestingly, Gupta (1980: 51) points out that some contemporary sites outside the Harappan sphere also experienced similar transformations. Altin Depe (114 to 3 acres), Namazga Depe (170 to 3.5 acres), and Shahr-i Sokhta (32 to 2 acres), are interesting cases that indicate that this apparent deurbanization was not an isolated Indus phenomena, but also took place to the west. The shrinkage, rather than total abandonment, of the Harappan sites implies that “the Harappan Civilization can thus be said to have ‘faded away’ rather than to have been extinguished completely” (Fairservis 1971: 310).

Compounding the difficulty in understanding this deurbanization process is the fact that dating of the Harappan sites is difficult because only seventeen radiocarbon dates from some six Late Harappan occupations are available, fewer than the current number of dates from many single Mature Harappan sites alone (Schaffer 1988). Of these dates, two clusters are found: 2000-1600 B.C. in the eastern Punjab and 1600-1300 B.C. in the Swat Valley. Schaffer concludes that “the two urban periods belong to a single cultural tradition, given the stratigraphic and chronological continuities” (Schaffer 1988). So while deurbanization seems to have been in action, there was still cultural continuity.

Conclusions: The Harappan Legacy

Nature probably played the greatest role in deciding the fate of the Indus Valley Civilization. There can be no doubt that course changes of the Hakra and Yamuna left literally hundreds of Harappan sites high and dry. Nor would most dispute that Mohenjo Daro and its environs were engulfed in an annual lake, forcing the Harappans residing there to live like the Venetians and eventually abandon their homes. Likewise, we know that tectonic uplift along the Makran coast landlocked several coastal sites and disrupted maritime trade. These are major, lasting events, not just isolated disasters without long distance and long term ramifications.

While there also was a gradual abandonment of the major urban centers of some parts of the Indus Valley, and a dramatic increase in the peopling of the the areas east of the Indus Valley, it is impossible at this time to evaluate any possible connection between these phenomena. In fact, “while urban centers may have ceased to exist in Sind, it is impossible to assert that this was the situation for the entire area covered by the Harappan Culture during this phase. Certainly, until some of the large Medieval and Early Historic sites which also have associated Late Harappan ceramics are excavated, and the extent of the Late Harappan settlement determined, it is inappropriate to conclude that urban centers were absent during the Late Harappan period” (Schaffer 1982: 49). Schaffer also correctly notes that “such subjective evaluations as ‘decline’ and ‘degenerate’ are unwarranted until a fuller archaeological record is available for examination. Cultural
changes distinguish the Late from the Mature Harappan Phase, but the exact nature of these changes and the processes responsible for them are at present unknown” (1982: 49).

The cultural process of the Late Harappan period remains as enigmatic as many other aspects of the Indus civilization, yet a few clues do imply that the Harappan peoples did not simply vanish, nor just relocate to India to be swept into a huge gene and culture pool encompassing the subcontinent. For example, in the region today there is continuing usage of many Harappan motifs on pottery, bullock carts identical to those depicted by Harappan ‘toy carts’, and mud brick platforms in domestic locations.

Beyond these physical clues, many, including myself, believe that “in economic and social relations, in religious beliefs and ideology, an important part of the Harappan legacy is likely to be most strongly evident in later Indian culture.” (Allchin and Allchin 1982: 329). In other words, physical evidence of the Harappan legacy is difficult to pinpoint, but the more intangible aspects of the Harappan culture are more than likely to be with us today.

Fairservis (1979: 302) put it best when he said that “the answer to the question as to why the Harappan Civilization fell is that it didn’t fall at all! It simply stood at the beginning of the mainstream of Indian culture and faded into that current, having brought to it acts of faith, class morality, aspects of technology, and perhaps a cosmology which heralded the eventual supreme achievement that was medieval India” (and modern India and Pakistan, I’d add).

“If you seek a legacy, look about you,” the Allchins rightly noted (Allchin and Allchin 1982: 333).

For the related bibliography, click here.

For additional information, visit:


Shipborne versatility: offshore patrol vessels

1 Comment

Tim Fish is a Naval Reporter, based in London

The world’s naval forces task offshore patrol vessels with diverse missions, depending on the range of challenges they face. Tim Fish reports

Offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) cannot be placed into a single category defined by a specific role or mission; they can range in size from coastal patrol boats or large fast attack craft (about 500 tons) up to corvette or frigate-sized ships (2,500 tons).

Navies and coastguards use OPVs to suit specific needs that depend on the size of the service and the location of the country, as well as the political climate of the region in which the vessels operate.

Drivers for the procurement of OPVs include cost, as small countries with limited naval budgets generally cannot afford larger warships; the need to demonstrate a maritime presence, protect resources and enforce a state’s maritime laws; and requirements for managing increasingly large coastal sovereign zones.

In 1967, a state’s jurisdiction over the sea was increased from 3 n miles to sovereign territory extending to 12 n miles – an area in which the coastal state is responsible for all activities under and on the water. This was extended in 1994, when regulations governing a 200 n mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) came into force with the approval of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Part V of UNCLOS grants the state sovereign rights over the seabed, its subsoil and the water adjacent to the seabed within the 200 n mile limit.

Negotiations are taking place that could see the influence of coastal states extended beyond the 200 n miles of EEZs. Part VI of UNCLOS concerns a coastal state’s continental shelf out to 350 n miles from the coastline.

In 2007, Ireland became the first country to gain approval for the extension of its continental shelf, to the west of the island, and now has responsibility for an area of some 141,000 sq n miles – an increase of 100 per cent. The Irish Naval Service has found itself with insufficient ships with which to police this zone. Dublin has put out requirements for two80-90 m-long OPVs and a single 130-140 m-long extended patrol vessel (EPV). The new patrol vessels must have a range of 6,000-8,500 n miles and not only undertake patrolling duties but also fishery protection, search and rescue (SAR), maritime protection, drug interdiction, anti-pollution and vessel boardings. The EPV must also have space for an embarked force of troops and vehicles.

With the gradual expansion of sovereign oceanic territory over the past 40 years, naval forces have been procuring ships that not only provide general law enforcement and SAR capabilities, but also pollution control, firefighting and towing services. Larger warships are not suited to the management of EEZs, so to fill the gap between the smaller coast-hugging patrol craft and the larger ocean-capable warship, OPVs are becoming important assets that are increasing in demand across the globe.

David Bricknell, director of systems and naval product strategy at Rolls-Royce, told that he believes there are two main types of OPV: combat OPVs and niche capability OPVs. Combat OPVs are designed to provide a small but well-equipped warfighting vessel as a substitute for a larger ship such as a frigate or corvette. These OPVs can reach higher speeds and are often fitted with anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) weapon systems, and are designed for rapid response and to take part in battles if required. Designed to naval standards, this type of ship meets all of the necessary survivability standards associated with a warship.

Countries that procure OPVs designed for combat operations are largely located in or near the Middle East or Southeast Asia, according to Bricknell. Sea conditions are generally relatively calm in these regions, where maritime security takes priority over other naval missions near ‘pinch points’ and areas of tension.

In other parts of the world, OPV designs reflect requirements for sovereignty enforcement of national interests particularly associated with the EEZ area cover fishing and mineral rights, law enforcement patrols and an Arctic or Antarctic ice capability; hydrographic, research and survey work; and disaster response.

Bricknell said that niche OPVs are larger and designed for endurance rather than speed, have the ability to operate in high Sea State conditions and, although armaments can be added to these ships, they provide a naval capability for “presence” missions and “are not equipped to fight battles”.

Built to commercial standards and equipped with fewer armaments, niche OPVs are cheaper than their combat counterparts and can be operated with fewer crew members. Designed with a heavy helicopter capability, they can undertake most EEZ activities, but these are secondary to the specific role for which they are designed.

One of the main changes in OPV design relates to the “increasing interest” in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, where “endurance and presence” is important, Bricknell said. Standard OPV designs “do not have this strength” and he expects that some future niche capability presence OPVs will be expected to operate in “mixed ice conditions in and amongst broken ice”.

Melting of the polar ice caps has allowed greater access to the Arctic region and raised hopes of securing oil, gas, diamond and uranium resources, and fish stocks. It could also lead to the opening of the Northwest Passage, which could result in significant changes in world maritime trading patterns. Interest in the region follows territorial disputes relating to Part VI of UNCLOS between the Arctic states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States), which have each submitted claims to the UN to extend their continental shelf.

Canada’s naval assets are not able to operate effectively in the Arctic, so requirements were announced on 9 July 2007 for a new class of up to eight Polar Class 5 Arctic/OPVs (A/OPVs) in a CAD3.1 billion (USD2.7 billion) programme. Requirements for the A/OPVs include an endurance of up to four months near the Arctic ice pack in conditions up to Sea State 7.

The ships will be armed and capable of embarking the new CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter. With a top speed of 20 kt, the A/OPVs will have steel reinforced hulls designed to plough through year-old ice fields up to 1 m thick, as well as pockets of older, thicker ice. Bricknell believes the A/OPV project will be “fairly commercial” in nature to keep costs down, rather than including too many expensive naval capabilities.

The Norwegian Coast Guard’s KV Svalbard, an Arctic-class ship, is one example as is the Rolls-Royce designed Danish Arctic patrol ship, the Knud Rasmussen class. Rolls-Royce designed the Norwegian vessel KV Harstad, a 3,200 ton Ulstein UT 512-class salvage and rescue tug, bought in July 2008, with similar requirements in mind and two similar ships, UT 512Ls, which are currently under construction for Iceland. According to Rolls-Royce, the83 m-long Harstad is equipped for patrolling, pollution control, and outfitted with oil-spill control equipment and fast boarding/rescue boats.

At the opposite end of the scale to presence OPVs are combat vessels such as the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE’s) Baynunah-class vessels, which are being built by local shipbuilder Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB). Located near the strategic chokepoint of the Strait of Hormuz, the UAE has an acute understanding of naval security. Its requirements are for a multirole combatant for patrolling UAE territorial waters and the EEZ with an AAW and ASuW capability, for the protection of critical assets and commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf.

Despite displacing just 630 tons, ADSB classes the OPVs as corvettes. The ships are equipped with a considerable number of weapon systems including the MBDA Exocet MM40 Block 3 surface-to-surface missile (SSM) and the Raytheon Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM) RIM-162 surface-to-air missile (SAM).

The Baynunah class is also fitted with an Oto Melara 76 mm gun and two 27 mm cannon. With four MTU 12V 595 TE 90 diesel engines powering three Kamewa waterjets (two driving a single steering waterjet with the remaining two each driving a booster waterjet), the vessels will be able to achieve a maximum speed of 32 kt. The ships also have an organic helicopter capability, mine-avoidance sonar system, MASS decoy system, 3-D radar and a full communications suite.

Mike Stamford, director of sales at ADSB, told that many types of vessels can be categorised as OPVs, or even ocean-capable patrol vessels (OCPVs). Not only has the term started to encompass more types of ship, but whether to use the term or not depends on the political situation the navy in question faces.

“Often the term OPV is used as a political expedient as OPVs are perceived to be more passive and defensive, whereas the terms corvette, frigate or destroyer are perceived to be overtly offensive and aggressive.

“It is not surprising that some OPVs are multirole and heavily armed, lighter scantling and faster, whereas others are larger, heavier, therefore slower, and equipped for the purposes of survey [and] pollution control. I think in the past some of the vessels which now come under the banner of OPV would have previously been called something else, such as corvette, light frigate or fishery protection vessel, but due to the current fad they fall under the generic term of OPV.”

Gulf patrol
UK-based BVT Surface Fleet is building both combat OPVs for the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) and presence OPVs for the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard. Under Oman’s Project Khareef, BVT is building three new OPVs for the RNO – the first of which is due to launch in 2009. Oman has selected the Exocet anti-ship missile and Mica vertical-launch close-area air-defence systems, and at 98.5 m in length and displacing 2,500 tons, the Khareef-class corvettes are much larger than the UAE’s Baynunah OPVs, although their weapons capabilities are similar. The location of Oman and the size of the EEZ mean that their ships require an ocean-going capability. Larger size means the ships will have better seakeeping qualities and longer endurance of more than 4,500 n miles.

The three presence OPVs being builtby BVT for the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard will meet a requirement for protection of oil and gas reserves located near the coastlineof the Caribbean islands, as well asfor fishery protection and anti-drug operations.

Production of Ship 02 started in mid-2008, with handover expected in early 2010, and construction of Ship 03 is due to start in early 2009 for a handover scheduled for late 2010. At 90.5 m in length and displacing about 2,000 tons, the OPVs are designed to reach a maximum speed of 25 kt and achieve an endurance of 5,000 n miles at 12 kt. The OPVs can accommodate a crew of 70, but are capable of being operated by 34 personnel with dormitory space for a further 50 troops. Each vessel will carry a high-speed interceptor craft and be fitted with a 20 m-long flight deck for helicopter deployment. In addition, a 16 tonne capacity crane will be fitted to enable the load and offload of cargo in port.

Tim Yarker, export sales director at BVT, told that the Trinidad and Tobago OPVs represent a “significant increase” in the country’s operational capability, as the ships “can carry out regional security tasks and delivery of humanitarian assistance in a hurricane zone”. He added that this is also the case with the RNO, where procurement of the Project Khareef corvettes is a “scaling up” of the navy, as the ships will provide new capabilities.

“There is no definition of an OPV … OPVs are all things to all men,” Yarker said. The existence of so many such vessels suggests that each customer appears to have a different set of procurement criteria. Endurance or presence OPVs usually have fewer survivability features, such as reduced shock standards or duplicity of systems.

Yarker said that if this kind of ship gets into a “serious fight … its role is finished” – the ship is naturally not likely to be able to sustain damage inflicted by a stronger adversary. However, if the job of the OPV “is not to get in the way of the enemy”, survivability characteristics are not so important, Yarker explained.

Each country faces a unique set of circumstances that influences OPV procurement decisions, Yarker believes. He added that the OPV market has not increased in size as “the only people that have come into the OPV market that were not there before are the New Zealanders and the Dutch, who have accepted a capability reduction in their fleet”.

In September 2003, the Netherlands decided to reduce the capability of its navy and set in motion the sale of four Karel Doorman M-class frigates, intending to replace them with smaller patrol vessels. Dutch shipbuilder Schelde Naval Shipbuilding was contracted in December 2007 to build four OPVs for the Royal Netherlands Navy under Project Patrouilleschepen that are due to enter into service from 2011-13.

The ships will be equipped with fewer combat systems than their predecessors and have been designed for patrol, surveillance and interdiction operations in the Netherlands EEZ, Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. According to Schelde, the new patrol ships will be 108 m long and displace some 3,750 tonnes, which would make them larger than the 3,320 ton frigates they replace.

The ships will have a maximum speed of 21.5 kt and will support expeditionary forces ashore with space for an NH90 helicopter, two 12 m rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) and one fast rescue boat. Armaments include a single 76 mm gun, a 20-30 mm gun and two machine guns. The vessels will be built to commercial standards, but will feature added ballistic protection and a gas citadel. Crewed by 50 personnel, the patrol ships will have additional accommodation for 40 people and space for 100 evacuees.

Lean machine
Schelde owner Damen has divided the construction of the four ships equally between Schelde’s facilities at Vlissingen in the Netherlands and the Galati shipyard in Romania. The ships are halfway through the detailed engineering stage and steel-cutting began in both Galati and Vlissingen in August 2008, with the keel laying for the first ship anticipated in November.

Leon Goossens, manager of product development at Schelde, told that the development of OPVs will include more high-speed interceptors for boarding operations and drug-trafficking interdictions. Goossens believes the development of “the integrated single-mast configuration in top-side designs will continue not only for the larger OPVs and frigates, but also for the smaller coastal or littoral patrol vessels”.

“Electrical propulsion will be adopted on patrol vessels for cruising speed as auxiliary propulsion and in the future also for main propulsion with multiple generating sets, possibly adopting a battery concept for power supply from different kinds of modular energy sources.”

A reduction in crew size can be achieved through increased levels of automation in both the platform and combat systems, and through the reduced onboard maintenance needed on modular equipment and systems. Goossens said that modularity principles will be applied to a ship’s configuration to a higher degree to allow for increased commonality and the exchange of systems between ships – even between those of different sizes – as well as to facilitate the upgrade process.

The Damen Group has been contracted to build three emergency response vessels for the Swedish Coast Guard. These patrol vessels are specifically designed as multipurpose vessels for normal coastguard duties along the major shipping lanes from St Petersburg, the Baltic Sea and into the North Sea, but also with capabilities for emergency response activities.

The first two ships were contracted on 21 December 2005, with a third vessel with chemical recovery capabilities contracted in April 2007. The 81 m-long vessels have Ice Class 1AS capabilities, but are not intended as ice breakers. They are capable of carrying out rescue operations; firefighting; towing; oil containment, with 600 m of ocean boom; oil recovery (capacity of about 400 tons of crude oil per hour); lighterage of crude oil; remotely operated vehicle operations; and bottle diving support operations. The vessels are also equipped with two fast patrol boats and a heavy crane for recovery duties.

Schelde said the first ship, KBV 001, is nearing completion and will commence trials in November 2008, with delivery expected in December or early January 2009. KBV 002 has been launched and delivery will take place five months after KBV 001. The third ship, KBV 003, is still under construction. KBV 001 is due to commission in the first quarter of 2009, with KBV 003 expected to commission by the end of the same year.

German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) has also turned its attention to the OPV sector. Jonathan Kamerman, managing director of TKMS International, told that most OPVs can do 90 per cent of the routine or non-combatant tasks of a frigate. Kamerman believes that in recent years the shift in the security paradigm at sea from high-symmetric threats (short duration, high intensity) to asymmetric threats (sustained, low intensity) has meant that ship requirements have gone “from complex platforms, complex C3 [command, control and communications], sensors and effectors, [and] high cost, to simple platforms, basic combat systems and low cost”.

Bridging platform
Many naval forces have high-end frigate-sized ships and low-end small patrol ships, but nothing to fill the capability gap in between. “That is where OPVs come in,” said Kamerman. As maritime mission requirements move away from civilian missions such as humanitarian, SAR, firefighting and environmental protection, towards naval missions such as counter-terrorism, crisis response, special operations and combat, “costs increase as task and platform complexity go up”, said Kamerman.

Managing the right force balance, so that a navy does not have to resort to using large warships for fisheries patrol or end up with ships too small to operate in an EEZ, is about achieving “mission sufficiency”, said Kamerman. Navies should choose a low-cost ship with a limited mission-defined combat suite that can carry out both civilian and some lower-order naval tasks, he added.

According to Kamerman, the “sufficient vessel” is a simple, robust platform playing the mothership role to fast interceptor boats and a helicopter. These assets would be deployed for surveillance, interdiction, boarding, inspections, arrest and seizure, special forces insertion and shallow-water access and mobility. The ship should be equipped with tactical networking and an onboard special forces or marine contingent. The reaction time and tactical mobility of the ship should be defined not by the ship itself but by its assets (i.e. the vessel systems).

To achieve a cost-effective platform, Kamerman warns that navies must avoid the traditional cost drivers. He said that OPVs should use commercial design and build standards, and retain a modest speed requirement of “between 19 to 23 kt”. The use of TEU container payloads is another way of increasing capability cheaply. OPVs do not need stealth characteristics as this would “reduce operability”, Kamerman said.

It is the application of combat systems and sensors that represent the biggest potential cost increases. The combat system has to be mission-defined and limited to the low-intensity capabilities required to prevent cost and mission growth. However, good communications systems are paramount and should not be skimped on. Basic C2 (for an adequate surface tactical picture), navigation and 2-D search radar systems should be applied, “but nothing more than that”, said Kamerman. Equipment for real-time threat analysis or weapons assignment is not required on an OPV, which should instead rely on electro-optical (EO) sensors as the “primary sensors”.

For weapons fit, a 20-40 mm cannon and some 12.7 mm machine guns will suffice, but the addition of larger guns, missiles or sensors, such as a 3-D radar or sophisticated anti-air fire-control systems, would push the ship into the more expensive high-end combat realm. Sticking to these principles does not mean that a ship cannot have good growth potential. Space and weight can be provided for systems that have not actually been fitted, allowing for future flexibility – as in the case of the large Dutch OPVs.

Kamerman said the OPV must have good seakeeping up to at least Sea State 5 to allow for the operation of a helicopter and fast boats. OPVs should generally be short and fat, and while this means the vessels will be slow, they will provide stability and increased interior volume. For stability OPVs should have active fin stabilisers, bilge keels, a bulbous bow, wet deck inhibitors, and good freeboard for deck wetness reduction as well as lee creation for boat operations.

Launch pad
OPVs that are longer and thinner can achieve faster speeds, but are less stable and cannot safely operate a helicopter in conditions above Sea State 3 or 4. Kamerman believes OPVs must be optimised to support the launch and recovery of helicopter and boat assets. A large helicopter deck with stores space, to support a 12 tonne transport helicopter with hover in-flight refuelling, and the ability for day and night operations, should be a key OPV requirement. For boat operations, the OPV should be equipped with two (or preferably four) large RHIBs (of more than 9 m in length) with large work spaces, capability for low-speed manoeuvrability, single self-compensating lifting point gantry davits and a boat loading crane.

TKMS has developed a series of four central designs of 1,000-2,000 ton OPVs reflecting these specifications: a 67 m fast OPV; an 81 m Guardian-class OPV displacing about 1,800 tons; an 85 m, 1,900 ton Sentinel-class multimission OPV; and a larger 99 m version of the Sentinel OPV displacing 2,100 tons, all with the same 13.9 m beam standardising the hull form. Built to commercial standards, the vessels are equipped with a helicopter and boat capability, modest speed, sensors and weapons equipment; they are short and fat, for good seakeeping, and with growth potential for future equipment installations.

Spanish shipbuilder Navantia is also adhering to these principles for the construction of the first four Buque de Acción Maritima patrol ships for the Spanish Navy at its yard in Ferrol. Up to eight ships will be built to a modular design for low-intensity operations: counter-terrorism patrolling; protection of maritime resources; maritime interdiction; and port security.

Displacing 2,500 tons, the ships are lightly armed with a single Oto Melara 76 mm gun and two 20 mm cannon, and fitted with the SCOMBA combat management system (CMS), but are capable of launching a helicopter (with a hangar for an NH90-sized aircraft) and are to be equipped with two RHIBs. They will be equipped with a crane, space will be provided for three standard containers and there will be plenty of additional space for operations, crew and working areas.

A spokeswoman for Navantia told : “The strict control of the naval budgets has forced the main world navies to get this type of vessel, as they are smaller ships orientated to maritime security and to patrol in economic exclusive waters in order to control national safety. But also demand has grown in order to control terrorism, drugs and immigration.”

Navantia estimates that about 200 units will be built over the next few years, ranging from 500-2,500 tonnes. The main trend identified in the OPV market is the “tendency in these ships for more automation and reduction of crew [to] about 40 people and this allows a considerable saving of budget”.

The company also started production of the first of four 2,419 ton POVZEE (Patrullero Oceánico para la Vigilancia de la Zona Económica Exclusiva) ocean patrol ships for the Venezuelan Navy at its Puerto Real yard near Cadiz on 11 September. Deliveries are scheduled for May 2010, September 2010, February 2011 and July 2011 respectively.

The 98.9 m-long ships will be used for EEZ protection duties, but have the propulsion and weapons for a much wider-ranging role including maritime security, surveillance, law enforcement, SAR, pollution control and humanitarian relief missions. Each vessel will have four 4,400 kW MTU 12V 1163 TB93 diesels and twin shafts with variable-pitch propellers, giving a maximum speed of 24 kt and endurance of 3,500 n miles at 18 kt. The POVZEE ships will be equipped with a 76 mm gun and a 35 mm gun, with Thales providing the Tacticos CMS, Sting optronic director, Mirador trainable EO observation system and SMART-S 3-D air/surface-search radar. POVZEE will have a flight deck and hangar for day/night helicopter operations and two semi-rigid launch boats.

Argentina is seeking to build five 80 m-long OPVs to a proven design at its Río Santiago yard under the Patrulleros de Alta Mar programme. The ships are intended to range from 1,500-1,800 tons and be equipped with a 40-76 mm gun, but the invitation of bids was delayed, causing the Argentine Navy to join forces with the Chilean Navy to procure five vessels based on the same machinery and systems.

Chilean naval programmes have proved to be more successful, with the commissioning of the first of two Proyecto Danubio IV OPVs, Piloto Pardo, in June 2008. Built by ASMAR at its Talcahuno yard to an 80 m Fassmer design, the ships are powered by twin Wärtsilä 12V 26 diesel engines for a speed of 20 kt and with the capability to embark a medium helicopter and two 7 m Pumar RHIBs. Armed with a single 40 mm naval gun mount, there is space for a 76 mm gun if required. The second ship, Policarpo Toro, was launched in October and is due to be delivered in mid-2009.

Brazil plans to acquire 11 OPVs from 2009-25, but funding problems have led to delays. In September 2006, an order for two NAPA 500-class 477 ton vessels based on CMN Group’s Vigilante 400 CL 54 design was approved. Built by local manufacturer INACE at Fortaleza, the two ships are due for delivery in 2009, with a class of eight ships planned (orders for a further four have been approved). However, Brazil still has a requirement for ocean-capable vessels displacing about 2,000 tons, like those being acquired by Argentina and Chile.

Future capability
Goa Shipyard Limited in India has been contracted to build a series of 105 m-long, 2,215 ton OPVs for the Indian Navy. The ships are based on the Indian Coast Guard’s advanced OPV ICGS Sankalp, which was launched in April 2006. Construction of the first of the new OPVs began in 2007, with first deliveries expected in 2009-10. Three vessels had been laid down by May 2008 – with plans for a fourth ship – each worth between USD80 million and USD120 million. They will be armed with a 76 mm naval gun and two 30 mm cannon, and will be capable of operating a single Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Dhruv helicopter.

In addition to three light frigates ordered from Schelde and a FREMM frigate from French shipbuilder DCNS, the Royal Moroccan Navy is set to update its patrol ship fleet with the procurement of four 70 m-long OPVs from Raidco Marine and Aker Yards (as subcontractor for hull construction). Equipped with a 76 mm gun and 40 mm cannon, the ships will carry out surveillance and fishery control operations in Morocco’s EEZ. The decision was confirmed by Raidco Director Jean-Michel Monnier in late May, with delivery of the vessels due to begin in 2010. The ship’s unit cost is expected to be about USD30-40 million.

The French Navy maintains a sizeable fleet of patrol and support vessels that regularly deploy to French Overseas Departments and Territories. In September 2008, senior officials reiterated the need for a new class of vessels to replace the nine D’Estienne d’Orves-class (Type A 69) 1,300 ton patrol frigates, 10 P400-class patrol ships and support ships over the next decade.

The new-generation patrol vessels will replace the P400 patrol ships, which will reach the end of their service lives from 2010 onwards. However, the programme schedule is not yet defined and the nature of the replacement vessels is uncertain, possibly involving units larger than the current 477 ton displacement P400.

The replacement support vessels, dubbed bâtiment d’intervention et de souveraineté (intervention and sovereignty vessels), will be capable of transporting and supporting a company-strength (120) troop detachment with up to 20 vehicles, weapons and equipment. Rolls-Royce intends to offer a variant of its UT offshore support vessel. The programme has not yet entered a preliminary phase or been included in budget planning. Both projects may be combined into a single programme for up to 20 units.

As a part of its Future Surface Combatant (FSC) programme to recapitalise the UK Royal Navy surface fleet, the UK Ministry of Defence will replace ageing patrol ships and minehunters with a single class of eight 2,000 ton multimission ocean-capable patrol ships (designated C3 – the third type of ship to be procured under FSC). The ships will undertake maritime security, special, mine countermeasures and interdiction operations. C3 funding is being separated from the rest of FSC and tied to the Future Mine Countermeasures capability, as the ships have different drivers to the C1 and C2 components.

For many small navies, procurement of OPVs is a step towards acquiring something bigger. Navies seeking to deploy powerful warships must first become established as a modern, effective force and learn to operate smaller ships.

In other cases, a country may already have an OPV construction capability, and instead seek to purchase designs and systems that meet requirements, while building the hull themselves.

China’s Military Doctrine and Bid for Greater Strategic Influence

Leave a comment


July, 2009

The emergence of the United States in Central Asia following the 9/11 attacks altered the balance of power in the region. As the situation stands now, the stage will be set sooner or later for the US and China to face rising tensions with each other as a result of the Taiwan dispute as well as separatist movements in Xinjiang province.

Today China has the second largest economy based on purchasing power parity and in military terms, has in its possession solid fuelled intercontinental ballistic missiles and the submarine launch JL-2 (CSS-N-2) with MIRV warheads. Essentially, China appears to be willing to keep the US, which seeks a stronger hold in Central Asia despite Russia and China’s influence, in check.

China, which consumes 7% of the world’s oil production output, meets almost all of its thirst through imports. With a 9% annual growth in its economy, China is likely to take additional measures to increase its influence in its periphery as it seeks to diversify its energy resources, much like the US. Therefore, China’s aim in this strategic expansion is to reach the Central Asian Turkic Republics, which also happen to be on the US list.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization and China

Under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Beijing combats separatist movements, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, arms smuggling and drug trafficking in cooperation with Russia. For now, China defends its interests through this political organization.

Although China did not take part in the global alliance against terrorism directly, it did nonetheless take or support certain measures to aid the US in the fight against terrorism. The help came in the form of allowing the establishment of an FBI bureau in the US Embassy in China; supporting Pakistan in its relations with the US; and forming a joint “terrorism combat bureau” with the US.

But while China endorsed measures taken to combat terrorism by the United Nations, it failed to garner support for the inclusion of developments in Xinjiang province, Tibet and Taiwan within the scope of these proposals. However, with US backing, China did succeed in its bid to include the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement as a terrorist organization in August 2002, signaling that China was able to negotiate certain concessions from the US.

Red Lines in China-US Relations

Despite some level of cooperation between the US and China, there remain important disputes that define bilateral relations:

1- The US is committed to Taiwan’s goal of independence and it will not give concessions to China on issues regarding Taiwan.
2- The US will not back down from the ballistic missile defense system that will be deployed with the help of Japan and cover the entire Northeast Asia.
3- In March 2002, the US declared that it will consider the use of nuclear force as an acceptable option in case of a conflict at the Formosa Straits between China and Taiwan.
4- In March 2002, then Vice Secretary of the US Department of State, Paul Wolfowitz, assured the Taiwanese Minister of Defense that in the event of a war between China and Taiwan, the US would take every measure to protect Taiwan.
5- The Middle East, Northeast Asia and especially the Bengal Gulf and the Sea of Japan are sources of instability. The US will likely be prepared to establish military bases in these areas to support long-term operations and secure the protection of its allies with a view to use them against China’s growing influence, as was the case with Taiwan.

From China’s point of view:

1- Against the threat of US hegemony, China will persistently push forward in Southeast Asia and refuse to give up its aspirations to become the regional superpower.
2- China will use North Korea’s nuclear ambitions as leverage against US security guarantees to Japan and South Korea via diplomatic channels.
3- China is likely to step up its effort to increase the SCO’s influence in Central Asia against the US presence (like Iran and Pakistan).

Military Power

As Western experts point out, the modernization of the Chinese Armed Forces is moving ahead swiftly and even two years ahead of schedule. New aircrafts, ships and tanks are deployed to the army faster than expected and China has been spending significant sums for the training of new pilots and naval crew. Although the level of training has not matched Western standards, it is not where it was just a few years ago. An increase in the defense budget by around 10%-15% is a sign of the emphasis placed on China’s growing appetite for military power. Taiwan, which China claims to have a right to and pursues, has much to do with this. According to Pentagon reports, the People’s Liberation Army has surpassed the Taiwanese Army, which has serious and sophisticated systems in its own right, since 2008. Furthermore, the Chinese Army is preparing to become a renowned military force around the world in 10 to 15 years. China, which has surpassed all of its neighbors
in military technology, is preparing itself for possible warfare, especially for the day when Taiwan declares full independence from the mainland. The re-election of Chen Shui-bian as the President of Taiwan and the possibility to change the 2006 Taiwan Constitution in order to pave the way for independence is unacceptable for China. Without a doubt, a war between China and Taiwan would force the US to firm up its position and become a party to the conflict. At this point, the US is concerned that China, which has the most populous army in the world, may use high-tech weaponry acquired from the EU against the US in any possible confrontation with Taiwan.

The People’s Liberation Army reduced its force by 500,000 soldiers in the 1990s because of the increased preference for quality rather than quantity and changing global conditions. Now, China is preparing itself to reduce the numbers to 2,150,000 soldiers. Although the gap between China and the US Army is 20 years in technological terms, China has already caught up with Japan, India, South Korea and Russia. The People’s Liberation Army, which is transforming itself into a more modern and professional army, has emphasized the development of weapon systems like ballistic and cruise missiles-made possible when China increased its defense budget to 60-80 billion US dollars.

Problems with China’s Military Industry

China has the oldest military industry among developing states, however, it has the capability to produce a range of weapon systems like light weapons, armored vehicles, warships, submarines, nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles. Although China tries to maintain and produce a wide range of weapon systems through technology it acquired over the last 50 years, the Chinese military industry still relies on technology that dates back to the 1970s and 1980s. China is especially backward in microelectronics, computer, avionics, sensor technologies, jet engines and aircraft technology; thus China has serious problems in transforming systems integration, theory and design into operable weapon systems.
Many of the problems faced by today’s military industry are manifestations of China’s Communist system and translate into weak organization, low efficiency, solid hierarchical structure, bureaucratic red tape and a centralist system.

Aware of these setbacks, the Chinese government initiated the reorganization of the military industry in accordance with free market principles and founded 10 new defense groups. In 2001, the defense electronics group was added to this list. The main goal of the reshuffling was to enable greater competition between these groups, while encouraging progress and innovation. A further step came when personnel employed in the military industry, which numbered 3 million, was cut back by 30% for need of efficiency.

But steps to improve China’s military industry have not yielded the desired results. Nonetheless, arms exports have increased by 20%, in parallel to the increase in the defense budget, and profit was made in missile and warship exports.

New Weapon Systems

China has succeeded in producing the HQ-9 high altitude surface-to-air missile, 4th generation fighter plane J-10, Song class sophisticated diesel powered submarine and stealth 052C type destroyer. But despite these relative achievements, China is backwards in conventional weapon system technologies, and thus needs EU states to acquire new technologies. On the other hand, China may be potentially more successful in the development of weapons of mass destruction, their related technologies and export.

According to defense experts, China has more than 400 nuclear warheads; 250 of these are various strategic weapons and 150 are tactical. Since China lacks a sophisticated air force that could deliver nuclear warheads, it has focused on the development of ballistic missiles systems and harnessed successful results. It is claimed that China has the capability of 20 ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear warheads.

Improving Chinese Missile Systems

China initiated its missile program in 1956 and has become successful in developing long-range missiles since 1981. Chinese technocrats insisted on the development of solid fuel missiles for a number of reasons, mainly their high mobility, which made it difficult for the enemy to locate and strike, and because they require short preparation time for launch. Consequently, China deployed medium range missiles as well as DF-21, DF-31 and currently develops DF-41 intercontinental missiles with mobile launching systems. Furthermore, China continues to develop MIRV capable missiles in order to bridge the gap with the US and Russia in the number of ballistic missiles.

Table 1. People’s Liberation Army Missile Systems

Type Range (km) Description
DF-5 15.000 Intercontinental missile
DF-31 8.000 Intercontinental missile
DF-41 12.000 Intercontinental missile
DF-21/21A 1.800/2.400 Solid fueled – Similar Scud
M-9 600
M-18/MI-B 400
DF-15 600
DF-11 300
XW-41 1.800 CEP less than 2m – Cruise missile
C-802 120 Similar to French Exocet – anti-ship missile
CAS-1 Kraken
(J-6, JY-611) 90 Anti-ship missile
JL-1 1.700 Submarine/Sea-Launch Ballistic Missile (SLBM)
JL-2 8.000 SLBM
CAA-2 Similar to Israeli Pyton-3, infrared, ballistic air-to-air missile CSA-4 and CSA-5 Similar to Crotale – solid fueled SAM

It is claimed that China is working on developing air-to-surface missiles like the Russian Kh-59ME electro-optical-guided and Kh-31P anti-radiation and the Israeli Popeye. Also, China is allegedly working on the development of laser guided and anti-radiation anti-ship missiles.
While China is working on the development of the above weapon systems to catch up with Western military power, it also focuses on the development of sophisticated anti-missile systems like the American Patriot and Russian S-300. Consequently, China has made serious progress on the development of the Hongqi-9 (HQ-9) air defense missile. Technology behind the S-300P, procured from Russia, and the Patriot, allegedly procured from Israel (although Israel denies such a transaction), was incorporated to develop the HQ-9. It is claimed that China has successfully developed the ship-based version of this high altitude and long ranged platform.

Chinese Contemporary Armament Program

Despite China’s relatively good relations and high volume of trade with the West, we should not forget that it is still governed by an authoritarian communist regime. Although it is not aggressive, it has the most serious armament program of the post-Cold War era. Pragmatist China would use every option to survive, gain in power and stature, and feed its population of 1.5 billion people. This includes the use of force as an acceptable option. In the early 1990s, the People’s Liberation Army implemented a defensive doctrine because in those years its inventory consisted of modified Soviet technology of the 1950s. However, like other sectors in China, military technology and arms production have made strides in parallel to the increased defense budget. Thus, today, the Chinese army is capable of conducting joint operations and employing precision targeting and attack-it has emerged as a modern military power.

China has started to use the increasing power of the People’s Liberation Army as a strategic threat and a tool of pressure. The People’s Liberation Army is in a position to use its nuclear arsenal not just for deterrence purposes but also as a means for exerting political sway. General Zhu’s threat towards the US a few years ago is a clear sign of the maturation of this new found potential. In the future, this threat will not only be directed against the world’s superpower, but send a strong message to other states as well.

The rapid increase in Chinese land and sea based nuclear missiles also proves the above point. Furthermore, the developments in anti-satellite missiles, computer systems, intelligence, reconnaissance and reconnaissance capable new attack submarines and improvements in domestically produced FB-7 and new generation Jian-10 (J-10) (which was allegedly developed through reverse engineering of a F-16, bought from Pakistan, and an attempt to mimic the Israeli Lavi). China also procured a Russian Su-30MKK multi-role fighter plane. In addition, China has succeeded in the production of the HQ-9 long-range SAM, Song class sophisticated diesel powered submarines and stealth 052C type destroyer.
Precision guided munitions, cruise missiles, air-to-air, air-to-surface and anti-radiation munitions, either procured from foreign sources or produced domestically, are geared for offensive purposes. Another interesting Chinese project involves turning hundreds of old fighter planes into unmanned aerial vehicles.

China-US-Taiwan Relations and Possible War

China, which aims to balance American presence in the region, plans to deploy around 2000 ballistic and Cruise missiles against Taiwan until 2010 in order to realize its goal of unification. 200-300 all-weather capable Sukhoi and Xian fighter-bomber planes would support this force. China is not ready to fully reach its goals where Taiwan is concerned for the time being. But in the near future, China could reach the point where it could mount a surprise attack on Taiwan, leaving no time for the US to defend it; thus China would deploy all of its nuclear and conventional weapons in such a scenario. Such an operation may involve all of China’s conventional and non-nuclear force, and possibly nuclear weapons as well. The main objective of the information centric operation would be the Taipei region targeted by airborne troops and marines, supported by special ops and remote controlled platforms.

The People’s Liberation Army’s interest in Taiwan cannot be explained only by the political objective of re-unification with the mainland, but also the strategic significance of the island, which can be used as a spring board for possible operations against Japan, India, Southeast Asia and Australia when needed. Furthermore, Taiwan stands as an obstacle for China’s access and control of the seas.

China also plans to acquire the capability for show of force outside of its region via ongoing procurement of Russian T-22 Backfire and TU-95 Bear bomber planes and planned procurement of strong aircraft carriers. Furthermore, China has established Rapid Reaction Forces that could be used in limited operations in Central Asia and Xingjian province.

Special Forces Corps are being raised to help RRF in low-intensity wars and the main army in total wars. In addition, it is claimed that China is raising a new airborne group, consisting of three divisions, and plans to deploy them at Zhejiang Province that is close to Taiwan, which demonstrate the clear aim of targeting Taiwan. Thus, these forces can rapidly be deployed elsewhere. Furthermore, the People’s Liberation Army is planning to transform its military organization to become more compact and increase the mobility of the army.

The efforts of China to increase its military strength, coupled with its economic power, show that it has strategic goals extending beyond Central Asia, Taiwan and Xingjian province.

Developments in Chinese Military Doctrine

The most significant point in the “Chinese National Defense 2004” report published by Beijing in December 2004 is the People’s Liberation Army’s emphasis on “information technologies” and its perception as force multiplier. The Chinese Army seeks to materialize its joint operations capabilities and potential through modern integrated command, control, communication, computer, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance networks.

In the past, weapons and vehicles built by the military were transferred to the civil sector with the aim of mobilizing the economy.

China aims to employ the lessons learned from Afghanistan and Iraq in its updated military doctrine, planning and procurement practices.
In addition, China aims to exert political pressure to convince the EU to lift the embargo on the export of high-tech weapon systems in effect since the 1989 Tiananmen events. Furthermore, China seeks to continue to procure the Su-30MKK and Su-30MK2, Sovremeniy DDG type missile destroyers, Kilo class submarines and improved SAM systems, from currently its only source for high-tech weapons systems, Russia. Additionally, China plans to buy IL-76 cargo planes and IL-78/MIDAS air tankers.

New Capabilities for the New Doctrine

Under its new defense doctrine, the Chinese Army, now a serious actor in international politics, aims to acquire weapons systems that have increasingly more sophisticated technologies and is developing new strategies to that end.

As a result,

 China seeks to achieve space operations capability and has reached a stage where it can develop high-tech nano- and even pico- technologies built upon the IRS procured from Russia, and their own ASAT satellite capabilities.
 Serious investments are being made on next generation weapon systems and missiles that have maneuver capability and can hit moving warships.
 The stockpile of intercontinental and sea-launched ballistic missiles is expected to pass 100 by 2010.  The 094 type SSBN and JL-2 SLBMs have been successfully tested.
 It is expected that around 1000 Tomahawk type cruise missiles will be added to the army’s inventory by 2010, which are planned to be used against Taiwan.  China will likely procure 1300 short-range ballistic missiles by 2010.
 Notable improvements of the J-10 Chengdu and Xian JH-7A all-weather capable fighter planes are expected in the near future.
 Development programs for two AWACS planes to support the Air Force are in progress.
 Around 60 new nuclear and conventional attack submarines are planned to be bought by 2010.
 Warships that have stealth capability, modern electronic anti-aircraft systems and anti-ship warfare systems are planned to be developed with technologies acquired from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France.
 China allegedly plans to buy the Antonov 124, which has a larger cargo capacity than the American C-5, for its airborne operations.
China, which has seen itself as the dominant power in Asia throughout its history, is stepping up its efforts to consolidate this role in every sphere of influence. However, this is raising concerns not only in the US, but among China’s neighbors as well, namely Korea, India, Japan, Vietnam and Australia. Any US intervention in Central Asia and Taiwan against aggression by a serious regional power like China would be difficult at a time when the US military is weighed down by conflicts in Iraq and to a larger extent under the Obama administration, Afghanistan. China, which sees the period from 2010 onwards as a turning point in securing access to critical technologies, may rise to prominence as a military challenge to the US in as close as ten years. Should such a scenario materialize, Russia will choose to distance itself from both sides. The US will increasingly seek military cooperation with India and other states in the region to counterbalance China, and such a tactical trend is clearly already in the making.

China’s Aviation Sector: Building Toward World Class Capabilities

1 Comment

Testimony for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Hearing on China’s Emergent Military Aerospace and Commercial Aviation Capabilities

by Richard Fisher, Jr.

Published on May 20th, 2010



Since the beginning of the latest phase of China’s military modernization following the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, the Chinese Communist Party leadership has striven to build a world class aerospace sector as a major element of increasing China’s comprehensive national power. This goal has been pursued through enormous targeted investments in technology, design expertise, materials, and education, with successive sectoral reorganizations. A broad acquisition of foreign technology has used to accelerate modernization and has been critical in all areas of success. Having set a goal to become militarily dominant in the realms of air and space, this decade will see the emergence of a modern Chinese 4th to 5th generation air force, their first large cargo transport aircraft, and potentially, their first commercially viable transport aircraft. However, reaching this point has also been hugely difficult for China and especially for its aero engine
sector where results are just beginning to be realized. Assuming continued heavy government support and success, by the 2020s these capabilities could form a core military and commercial air power projection capability for China. Absent appropriate U.S. government and commercial investments, by the 2020s the U.S. military and commercial aerospace sector will find itself in an increasingly heated competition with China, which will have significant security implications for the United States.

By 1989 China’s aerospace sector had largely just started the painful process of emerging from decades of dependence on Soviet 1950s era combat aircraft designs, a limited ability to produce indigenous 3rd generation combat aircraft, an inability to produce competitive commercial transport aircraft and an inability to produce modern aircraft engines. The aerospace sector also was organized in geographic clusters of aircraft and equipment factories reflecting “People’s War” strategies, but producing inefficiencies like one factory’s fighters unable to another’s engines. By 2010, after nearly three decades of investment, reorganization, and acquisition of broad foreign technology, China’s aerospace sector is well on its way to making China one of the top two or three global air and space powers by the 2020s. China is now producing two 4th generation fighters which will soon be upgraded to 4+ generation capabilities, and a
Chinese-made carrier-based fighter will soon emerge. These fighters are equipped with Chinese-made world-class precision air-to-air and ground attack weapons. China is now producing three types of airborne early warning and control (AWACS) aircraft and has one medium range tanker. China is also recapitalizing its trainer fleet with two new supersonic lead-in trainers, plus new jet and piston engine powered primary trainers. This decade will also see the emergence of a new C-17 size Chinese strategic transport aircraft.

It is increasingly apparent that since the early 1990s China has also been simultaneously developing a 5th generation combat aircraft, a prototype of which may fly in 2010 or 2011. Chinese aerospace officials hint it will be as capable as the U.S. Lockheed Martin F-22A. There are also hints of interest in smaller medium weight 5th generation fighters, raising the possibility of a Hi-Lo 5th generation fighter mix. China can also be expected to soon field a new array of sophisticated unmanned aircraft for surveillance and then unmanned combat missions. China also has one of the world’s leading research and development sectors devoted to hypersonic aircraft, which may yield new platforms this decade. China is also offering new capable and bargain-priced aircraft and systems for export and co-production, which could soon offer strong competition at the low end of the market.

China’s previous attempts at commercial aircraft, such as its 1970s failed attempt to copy the Boeing B-707, and subsequent failed attempts to co-produce or develop airliners with dominant Western partners, have given way to a much more serious Chinese-led effort to develop its own airliner industry, starting in earnest during the 10th Five Year Plan (2001-2005). To accelerate results China is actively seeking key partnerships with Western companies. Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer hope to secure market share in China by shifting major elements of airliner production there, but are also helping to improve China’s aerospace workforce. While the ARJ-21 regional airliner may only meet modest success, China hopes emerge this decade as a major market player with its larger C919 airliner. Though it enters a crowded narrow body airliner market, China is betting that its deep finances, captive market and access to state-of-the-art foreign
technologies will allow the C919 to gain a market foothold before major rivals Boeing and Airbus are able to offer their next-generation narrow body airliner. There is also a less examined four-engine wide-body airliner program from the Xian Aircraft Company which likely aimed at filling military requirements. China’s helicopter sector also has received much greater investment, is realizing more programs, but it has yet to break a significant dependence on foreign design assistance.

If there is an “Achilles Heel” it would be China’s aeroengine sector, which after sustained investments since the mid-1980s, may only now be starting to produce a suitably reliable 4th generation fighter turbofan. This achievement, however, is already fueling the development of multiple high-bypass turbofan engines for large aircraft. At the same time China seeks foreign partnerships which it hopes will better assist its ability to remain abreast of regent engine technology developments. A 5th generation fighter turbofan with a 10-to-1 thrust-to-weight ratio is also expected to emerge within several years.

Caveats and Sources

In the main this paper seeks to assess the progress made by China’s aircraft sector from a hardware perspective, though many conclusions must be tentative. This is due largely to China’s intense effort to deny or restrict a detailed level of data and insight about its military, information that has long been taken for granted in the West. For example, despite its official “declassification” in 2006, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has only allowed two semi public opportunities for foreign military officials to get close to the new Chengdu J-10 fighter (November 2009 and April 2010). Chinese aerospace officials have yet to release a brochure of basic performance data for the J-10. Journalists are simply denied the degree of access to mid and top level aerospace official, or to factories, such as is possible in the West. Western aerospace officials who work with Chinese companies also are often reluctant to comment on
their future competitors, though China’s Russian partners are sometimes more glib. China’s major bi-annual airshow held near the city of Zhuhai has seen increasing restriction on information by Chinese authorities over the last decade. That said, the year 2009 witnessed some important spikes in transparency by Chinese standards, especially regarding new strategies, the 5th generation fighter program and large aircraft programs.

Nevertheless it is possible to reasonably discern many ongoing trends. The Pentagon’s annual China Military Power reports provide a useful measure of Chinese aerospace trends but could easily be used to provide much more useful detail. This author and many other journalists and analyst have been able to mine the global airshow and arms show network for much useful information on China’s aerospace sector developments. As China seeks to compete in global military and commercial aircraft markets it seems to realize the necessity of providing more data about its products. Web sites like Scramble, using tools like Google Earth and Chinese sources are able to assemble useful order of battle data. Nevertheless data about advanced military programs like their 5th generation fighters, hypersonics, engines, future aircraft weapons and new strategic aircraft programs remains heavily guarded. But Chinese themselves are among the most interested in
these programs and there is a vigorous vetting of new imagery and data, however scant, on numerous Chinese military issue web pages and blogs.

Goals and Trends

China’s leadership has set a national goal of creating a world class aerospace sector to fulfill both the requirements of dominating modern air and space combat and for creating competitive commercial aerospace companies capable of meeting Chinese civil transport needs and for competing in the global marketplace. In November 2009 People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) commander General Xu Xiliang described a new strategy for the PLAAF as building “an integrated air and space force capable of offensive and defensive actions.” The emphasis on the Air Force building capabilities for space warfare was a new emphasis subsequently explained in Chinese state media as necessary for China to win future wars. This will require that China’s aerospace sector is able to master 5th generation and 6th generation levels of military capability. Also, beginning in earnest during the 10th Five Year Plan (2001-2005), China has started the difficult
and expensive task of building a commercially viable “civil” large aircraft manufacturing sector. Industry spokesmen have repeatedly stated that China must meet this goal if it is to be able to emerge as a leading global power later in this century.

Reorganization In the 1950s, consistent with People’s War strategies that envisioned long guerrilla wars against invaders, China created an aerospace sector characterized by regional redundancy in order to ensure production of military aircraft. Major aircraft centers such as in Shenyang, Chengdu and Xian produced their own aircraft, engines and components but often one center’s aircraft could not use another’s engine. Due to the isolation of the Cultural Revolution and the 1960s Sino-Soviet split, China’s aerospace sector remained relatively static due to political chaos, underfunding and lack of contact with new foreign technology. But these redundant centers also built political patronage networks to help ensure continued business.

Since the early 1990s it has been apparent that China’s party and military leadership has been unhappy with the aerospace sector’s inability to produce world-class products. There has been a pursuit of at times of the contradictory goals of achieving greater rationalization while also seeking to promote competition and innovation, which would require redundancy. In 1999 China organized its then about 440,000 aircraft sector employees into two large corporate conglomerates, placing most military and large aircraft concerns in Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) one and then putting trainers and helicopters in AVIC Two, with the goal of spurring greater domestic competition. AVIC, however, was a bureaucracy that exercised control over still existing aircraft and component companies. The AVIC 1 Commercial Aircraft Corporation was an early attempt to combine distributed government and private factories and institutes toward the goal of making
an airliner, the ARJ-21. Then in 2008 and 2009 there was a re-merging of AVIC 1 and 2, with a reported 420,000 employees and 100 companies, with some talk of the need to build new globally competitive “integrated companies.”

New organizations have emerged apparently to create a divide between military and civil products, but such separation does not seem practically or politically possible for China. In early 2009 AVIC Defense emerged, with a reported 60,000 employees, but with a new organization focused on advancing mastery of new technology but with apparent greater autonomy from the AVIC bureaucracy. However, AVIC Defense is also marketing the U.S. designed Cessna C-162 small civil trainer, which is co-produced by the Shenyang Aircraft Co. after a 2008 agreement. In early 2008 the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) emerged, combining the former AVIC 1 Commercial Aircraft, Shanghai Aircraft Corporation and the First Design Institute for the goal of building competitive commercial airliners. However, a 2008 U.S. Institute for Defense Analysis study of a 2007 visit to the ARJ-21 airliner plant concluded that the former AVIC 1 Commercial Aircraft Co.
was ultimately responsible to the Central Military Commission of the PLA. There are reports that individual aircraft companies like Chengdu and Shenyang have split into “military” and “civil” branches, but these companies remain united by a single leadership, and military and civilian assembly lines remain co-located, to ease the sharing of skills and technology. COMAC’s First Design Institute may also contribute to the design of China’s new large military transport aircraft. These reorganizations also will not change existing Chinese policies of “combining the military and civilian” to ensure maximum mutual benefit.

In early 2009 the AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine Co. was announced with the initial goal of completing a large high bypass turbofan by 2016, currently called the “SF-A” first displayed in late 2009. It is now building a 30 hectare research and development facility in Shanghai, which indicates there is a potential for this new organization to actually relocate existing large aircraft engine expertise from major engine development centers in Chengdu and Shenyang, or to build a new engineer cadre. Military turbofan research and production remain at Chengdu and Shenyang, which likely have had longstanding large high-bypass turbofan programs. When put into production, the SF-A can be expected to enable military versions of new civil airliners, plus new large military transports and perhaps bombers.

Another organizational trend worth monitoring is an upgrading of commercial relationships between Chinese aerospace universities and aerospace companies. In early May 2010 it was announced that the Harbin Institute of Technology, famous for its contributions to China’s manned space program and for aircraft carrier design, signed an agreement to help the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) with five new laboratories to conduct rapid research. CASIC makes precision guided bombs, short range ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). While most Chinese aerospace universities and departments are heavily involved in government funded research for military programs, movement into formal military-corporate relationships may be a new trend. A more widespread teaming of universities and aerospace corporations may rebound to make both the universities and the companies far more competitive.

China’s aircraft sector has also been aided by a number of other trends:

Better design methods: In the early 1990s Chengdu and Shenyang benefitted from the hiring of Russian design consultants, whereas Chengdu had already benefitted from hiring Israeli design assistance for the J-10 program. Russian design assistance is still sought for various programs, to include engine design, though Russia has managed to protect its engine intellectual property better than for airframes. The Ukraine has been a source of consulting on large aircraft design and turbofan engine design. But China received a real boost in the late 1980s when its aircraft companies started using CAD-CAM (computer aided design, computer aided manufacturing) and CATIA (computer aided three dimensional application) programs, at first from France. A Chinese source has noted that computer design programs accelerated the design of Chengdu’s FC-1, which provided experience needed to radically reduce the development time for the twin-seat J-10S. Such
programs are essential for China’s distributed aerospace concerns to jointly develop and produce new aircraft, engines and other products.

New materials: Following global trends China has invested heavily in new materials to enable lighter stronger airframes and that allow higher temperatures needed for high performance engines. A recently released biography of a Chengdu Aircraft Co. designer explained how they developed initial composite materials for use in the J-10 and how they managed to hire a California-based laboratory to test their product. Composite material fabrication has also been an increasing part of the airline component production work that Airbus and Boeing have given to China. In early October 2009 X’ian Aircraft International acquired Austria’s Fischer Advanced Composite Components, a major supplier of airframe and interior composite-based components. An ability to build large composite material airframes and skin of sufficient strength would contribute greatly improve China’s ability to produce stealthy 5th generation aircraft designs, as well as modern, efficient civil and military transports.

Advanced electronics: The last decade has seen Chinese electronics companies absorb significant foreign technology which has aided their development of new advanced electronic components. In the 1990s the PLA was able to have some access to Israeli and Russian designs for radar for 4th generation fighters, which has aided the development of new Chinese radar for the J-10 and J-11 fighters. Access to Russian and Israeli active electronically scanned array (AESA) technology has likely accelerated China development of this critical technology for 4+ and 5th generation fighters and new radar aircraft. China has also quickly adopted technologies needed to create new digital cockpits that ease pilot workload and allow for better information networking. At the 2008 Zhuhai show China revealed a new large “data fusion” digital display similar to that used by the new Lockheed-Martin F-35 fighter. With Russian and perhaps some Israeli assistance China
has also produced new optical/low-light/laser targeting pods to better use their new precision guided munitions.

Growing Engine Progress

Perhaps one of the most serious barriers to China’s ability to build a world-class aerospace sector has been its heretofore inability to produce modern and reliable high-power turbofan engines for military and civil aircraft. That said, it is possible to detect that an enormous effort is underway and while China has experienced considerable difficulties along the way, it is a fact that progress is being made. However, as with so many other advanced military programs, China does not allow the dissemination of sufficient data about specific engine programs to make clear determinations regarding their progress.

Military Turbofans Without an indigenous high-power turbofan China cannot enter into sufficient fighter production rates needed to rapidly recapitalize it fighter force to the 4th generation. Furthermore, it cannot sufficiently enable the sale of its 4th generation aircraft. As such, a great deal is resting on the success of the WS-10A or FWS-10 Taihang, China’s first indigenously designed 4th (called 3rd) generation fighter turbofan, a product of the 606 Shenyang Aeroengine Research Institute (SARI) and the Shenyang Liming Aero Engine Group. A program reportedly started in 1986 by Deng Xiaoping, the goal of the WS-10A program was to produce a turbofan competitive with the Russian Saturn AL-31F and comparable U.S. engines to power new 4th generation fighters like the Shenyang J-11 and Chengdu J-10. It reportedly began flight testing on a J-11 fighter in 2002 and may have started low-rate production in 2006. A picture of the Taihang was
revealed at the 2006 Zhuhai show, and a full scale engine was finally displayed at the 2008 Zhuhai show, though a full engine complete with exhaust nozzle was not displayed until the recent PLAAF 60th Anniversary.

Since the early 1990s Russian sources have disclosed to the author that Shenyang was experiencing great difficulties in meeting planned thrust goals, while there have been reports and rumors of other specific problems. In August 2009 a Chinese AVIC official admitted there were many problems facing the Taihang but declined to elaborate. Other possible issues include incidents of shedding turbine blades, oil leakage issues, and even one unconfirmed rumor of a new J-11BS fighter disintegrating in flight due to a Taihang engine failure. To be sure, U.S. engine makers were very challenged to make the leap from 3rd to 4th generation fighter engines, though at the recent November 2009 Dubai Airshow Russian officials conceded that given their large investment and commitment that China would eventually make the Taihang work.

While having kept a much lower profile, it is increasingly clear that the 624 Engine Design Institute, or the China Gas Turbine Establishment (GTE), and its related Chengdu Engine Group, may have competing advanced fighter turbofan engine programs. This was revealed with some surprise at the 2008 Zhuhai Airshow, when GTE revealed models of new fighter and trainer turbofans. One is a 9,500kg maximum thrust class engine, the other a 4,200kg maximum thrust class engine, and both appeared equipped with axisymetric thrust vector control nozzles. These enhance extreme post-stall maneuverability and can improve short take-off and landing performance. This engine may be related to the more well known WS-13 program, or what is sometimes called the Taishan, which is ostensibly based on the Russian Klimov RD-93 turbofan that powers the MiG-29 and the Chengdu FC-1.

There are other indicators that Chengdu may have a large fighter turbofan development program. At the 2009 Moscow Airshow a Chinese AVIC official demurred when asked whether the Taihang would power the J-10 fighter. Then at the same show, Ukrainian officials explained to the author their hope to work with China, first to coproduce the Progress AI-222-25F turbofan for the Hongdu L-15 trainer, but then to co-develop a 9,500kg thrust engine and then a 15-ton thrust fighter engine. A Chinese source then suggested the AI-222-25F coproduction venture would fall under the Chengdu Engine Group.

It is also likely that there are programs underway at Shenyang and Chengdu to develop more powerful turbofans for 5th generation fighters. Chinese professional engineering journals show an interest in engines with a 10 to 1 thrust to weight ratio, thought to be a requirement for advance 15+ ton thrust engines needed for next generation fighters. One program is called WS-15 and is likely a program of the Chengdu Engine Group, though some Chinese sources say it is a Shenyang program. In mid-December 2009 an internet-source image of the WS-15 engine core appears, at least confirming this program’s existence. A wall chart from the 2006 Zhuhai show illustrating China’s fighter engine history noted the “4th Generation Aero-engine” to be a product of the “AVIC-1 Power Systems.” In 2008-2009 AVIC was further reorganized resulting in the “AVIC Engine Group,” which may promote greater cooperation among formerly competing engine groups. A
Russian source recently stated that China is also developing a 18-ton thrust engine, which would exceed 40,000 lbs. of thrust and approach the 19.5-ton thrust Pratt and Whitney F135 engine of the F-35. China is unlikely to stop there. At the 2008 Zhuhai show a GTE official gave a rare interview in which he noted that the U.S. may be developing future engines with 16 to 1 thrust-to-weight ratios, implying they had to follow suit.

While having resisted the sale of its current advanced turbofan technology to China, Russia hopes to remain a source for completed advanced turbofans. In late 2009 a Russian source told the author that China is interested in the improved more powerful versions of the AL-31. For example, the AL-31F-M1 adds 1,000kg of thrust for a total maximum thrust of 13,500kg, and Russian officials note that future versions could achieve 15-tons of thrust. The PLA may make additional purchases of the AL-31FN if Shenyang’s and Chengdu’s engine programs remain problematic. In addition the PLA is purchasing more Russian Klimov RD-93 engines to support the FC-1/JF-17 program with Pakistan. The more interesting possibility is that the PLA will continue to purchase Russian military turbofans as its indigenous engines come on line so as to sustain a higher rate of fighter production.

High Bypass Turbofans China is also apparently making progress in developing its own high-bypass turbofans for use in new large civil and military transport aircraft. At the 2008 Zhuhai show a mockup of the 3,200kg thrust “Minjiang” high-bypass turbofan, with potential application for business jets or UAVs, was displayed for the first time. It was reported to be a joint program of the GTE and the Shenyang Liming Aeroengine Company, another potential indicator of cooperation between the otherwise rival aeroengine groups. This engine may be used by business jet size aircraft. Then at the early November 2009 Shanghai Industry Fair the AVIC Commercial Engine Corporation made a surprise revelation of its new “SF-A” 12,000 to 13,000kg (@30,000lbs) thrust high-bypass turbofan, which one Chinese report noted had been developed in “secret” since about 2001. This engine may be ready for use by 2016 and is intended for use by the new COMAC C919 regional airliner.

The Chinese companies responsible for the SF-A have not yet been revealed. However, it has been oft reported that SARI was developing a high-bypass turbofan based on the engine core developed for the WS-10A. The prototype for this engine may be known as the FWS10-118, which also may be known as the WS-10D, a 12+ton thrust engine. This engine, or a purchased Russian Dvigatel D30-KP turbofan, or a co-produced model known as the WS-18, may power the new X’ian H-6K bomber. GTE’s work on the Minjiang is a potential indicator that Chengdu may also be working on larger high-bypass turbofans. With the SF-A engine China hopes eventually to compete with the Safran/General Electric CFM-56 high-bypass turbofan family, one of the most popular regional jet turbofan engines with over 14,000 in service. This is a very ambitious objective, as China would also have to compete with the global sales and service infrastructures of well established turbofan
makes CFM, GE, Pratt Whitney and Rolls Royce. But China is also planning to support the long-term development of its advanced high-bypass turbofan sector by developing several types of large aircraft that will provide a growing domestic market for its engines.

China is also going to try to keep abreast of continuous foreign turbofan developments. In 2002 AVIC chose the U.S. General Electric Company to produce a version of its CF-34 turbofan for the ARJ-21 regional airliner. But in late 2009 the new COMAC changed horses, selecting the CFM/Safan Leap-X turbofan for its C919 airliner, because it promised advances in fuel efficiency over the market-dominant CFM-56 turbofan and CFM agreed to accelerate its development schedule to fit the C919’s timetable.

Military Programs

4th Generation Fighters China is now producing single and twin-seat versions of two 4th generation fighters for its air forces and now has over 500 4th generation and 3+ generation fighters and strike fighters. With a successful indigenous high power turbofan the PLA could likely double this number within this decade, but with improved 4th generation fighters. This represents a major achievement for China’s combat aircraft sector despite the fact that both required major inputs of foreign technology and consulting, and both fighters currently rely on Russian-built turbofan engines. Both fighters employ modern effective weapons, use Chinese-built radar and may soon, if not already, start using a Chinese-built turbofan. Both fighters may also be upgraded with a Chinese-built active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar which would elevate them to a 4+ generation level. When so upgraded, they will likely be competitive with U.S. 4+ gen
fighters like the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the Lockheed-Martin F-16 Block 60 Falcon and AESA radar equipped variants of the Boeing F-15C Eagle.

Though it took over 20 years of formal development the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation’s canard-configuration (horizontal stabilizer in front) J-10 has emerged as China’s first “indigenous” 4th generation fighter. In 2010 over 150 are estimated to be serving in about seven units. The single seat J-10A and twin-seat J-10S are comparable in size and performance to the F-16, which is not an accident as F-16 technology sold to aid Israel’s Lavi fighter program of the 1980s, migrated to Chengdu when Israel was hired to provide consulting assistance on the J-10 program. A recently revealed early mockup of the J-10 built in 1991 shows it had the engine air intake of the Lavi/F-16. This was changed, however, when Russian consultants joined the mix in the early 1990s to integrate the Russian Saturn AL-31FN turbofan engine. The radar of the J-10 is assessed to have been influence by Israeli and Russian technology, while a Russian active seeker
makes possible the J-10’s formidable PL-12 medium range AAMs. While there are few images of active J-10s carrying targeting pods and precision guided munitions, this capability is planned for the J-10.

At the end of 2008 Chinese reports emerged of a new variant of the J-10 testing at Chendgu, and images soon emerges of what is called the “J-10B,” which has a redesigned engine air intake, a new infrared search and tracking (IRST) device and what may be a new AESA radar. Russian sources suggest that an early Russian Phazotron Corporation AESA radar sold to China in the mid-1990s may have formed the basis for the new Chinese radar. Some reports also suggest that the J-10B is primarily intended to meet a requirement from Pakistan. These modifications point to the J-10 having evolved rapidly toward a 4+ generation level of capability. In 2005 a Russian estimated for the author that China might build up to 1,200 J-10s over its lifetime, while in late 2009 another Russian source stated that so far 300-400 AL-31FN engines had been purchased to support J-10 production. It is expected that Chengdu will integrate a version of the WS-10A Taihang
turbofan into the J-10, while Russia hopes to sell more powerful versions of the AL-31FN.

One of China’s first major post-Tiananmen military purchases was its initial batch of 36 Sukhoi Su-27SK single-seat fighters delivered between 1992 and 1996. In the few times they have met in mock combat, the Su-27 and Su-30 have outperformed the U.S. Boeing F-15C, though the later has had advantages in electronics and weapons. Its first experience with a world-class 4th generation fighter, the PLAAF’s absorption of this fighter was not without difficulty. However, by 1998 the PLA felt confident enough to secure a co-production agreement between Sukhoi and the Shenyang Aircraft Co. for up to 200 fighters from Sukhoi-built components, designated the J-11. However, Russian glee at having secured such a large customer started to change dramatically by 2004. In 2000 a high Shenyang official told the author that they might not build all 200 co-produced fighters, and it turns out that only about 100 kits were indeed acquired from Sukhoi.

To the Russian’s then and ongoing dismay, the PLA’s real goal was to appropriate the Su-27 design and with improvements put it into production. The J-11B emerged early in the last decade and reportedly started entering PLAAF units in 2007. In 2002 it was tested with the WS-10A Taihang turbofan but recent reporting and imagery suggests it may only by 2009 be equipped with this engine due to developmental difficulties. The J-11B improves upon the Su-27 design by using more composite materials to reduce airframe weight, a new digital cockpit and a better Chinese-made radar. In early 2010 a source suggested to the author that the J-11B is also being tested with an AESA radar, which would point to its quick evolution toward a 4+ generation capability. In 2008 it was revealed that the twin-seat J-11BS was in development and this is now in production. An estimated 140 Su-27s and J-11s serve in about seven PLAAF units. In mid-2010 internet source
images of the Shenyang factory tarmac indicated that the PLA Navy Air Force (PLANAF) is now acquiring J-11B and J-11BS fighters for land-based units.

Chengdu’s FC-1 lightwight fighter program is another important “4th gen” achievement for China’s combat aircraft sector. It started in the 1980s as a Grumman-led program to radically upgrade Chengdu’s J-7 (MiG-21) fighter, which ended after Tiananmen, and was picked up by Russia’s MiG in the early 1990s. The upgraded FC-1 design was revealed in 1995 and soon became a co-development program with Pakistan where it is called JF-17. It made its first flight in 2003 and an upgraded version entered Pakistan Air Force service in early 2010. The FC-1’s main attraction is that if offers about 80 –to-90 percent of the F-16’s performance for about a quarter to one-third the price. It also features a useful radar, digital cockpit and can use 4th generation AAMs and precision guided ground attack munitions. Pakistan may build up to 250 and many countries are interested in buying or co-producing this fighter, which has no real market
competitor from Russia or the West. The PLA, however, has not yet purchased the FC-1.

5th Generation Fighters On July 16, 2009 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a Chicago audience that China “is projected to have no 5th generation aircraft by 2020,” and only a “handful” by 2025. This argument was used to help convince the U.S. Congress to end production of the Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor 5th generation fighter at 187 aircraft. So it was a surprise when on the November 8, 2009 edition of CCTV’s program “Face to Face,” PLAAF, Deputy Commander General He Weirong stated that China’s 4th generation fighter would fly “soon” and that this fighter could enter service in “about eight to ten years,” or between 2017 and 2019. General He is also reported to have said the planes in development “will match or exceed the capability of similar jets in existence today.” As this was the first detailed statement made by any Chinese official about its 5th generation fighter program, it has to be assumed that the PLA at least has confidence in General He’s statement.

Just before General He’s statement a widely cited but not confirmable Chinese Internet source stated that a prototype of the 5th generation fighter could start flying in 2010, albeit with a version of the 12-13-ton thrust WS-10A turbo fan in lieu of the not yet ready 15-ton thrust engine. This source also noted that China could acquire up to 300 of these fighters. Reportedly these fighters will have a “4 S” capabilities: stealth, super cruise, super maneuverability and short take off. After the March 2010 National People’s Consultative Congress, Chinese aerospace officials were cited in some Chinese reports noting the goal is to make China’s 5th generation fighter as capable as the U.S. Lockheed-Martin F-22.

China’s 5th generation fighter program may already be twenty years old. According to the apparent memoir of a former 611 Aero Design Institute member, in 1989 China started organizing conceptual studies for its “next generation” fighter. Both the Shenyang Aircraft Co. 601 Aero Design Institute and the Chengdu Aircraft Co. 611 Aero Design Institute were then appropriated work in the “2-03” Program.

Beyond this public data about the 5th generation programs at Shenyang and Chengdu is unsatisfactory. Both are thought to have been working on “heavy” twin-engine stealthy and highly maneuverable designs to compete with U.S. and Russian 5th generation fighters. However, Chinese internet sources, again unconfirmable, have suggested that in the PLA decided in favor of Chengdu’s 5th generation design, giving Shenyang a subcontractor role.
Both companies are thought to have at various times tended toward a “canard delta,” with Shenyang first thought to be favoring a “triplane” design and perhaps later a triplane-forward swept wing. Chengdu has usually been associated with a twin-engine canard-delta design. A Chengdu 611 Institute brochure obtained around the November 2002 Zhuhai Airshow included a computer simulation design for an apparent heavy twin-engine canard-delta design which bore some resemblance to the aborted Mikoyan MiG 1.44 5th generation fighter prototype. Reporting from the time of this aircraft’s unveiling in 1999 indicated some Russian interest in selling it to China, but there has been no subsequent reporting to that effect. There have been more recent indicators that both Chengdu and Shenyang have worked with 5th generation concept that starts with a flat delta shaped airframe core, to which are attached canard controls, wings and stabilizers.

There is also a possibility that China could have a program for other 5th generation fighters, perhaps to include a medium-weight fighter to compliment its reported heavyweight fighter program. In early 2005 a Chinese industry source told the author that the Chengdu Aircraft Co. was considering a “F-35 like” fighter program. That would have been a period during which Chinese defense concerns were finalizing their programs for the next Five-Year Plan to begin in 2006, but it is not known whether such a medium-weight fighter program was approved. However, at the November 2006 Zhuhai Airshow the Shenyang Aircraft Co. revealed a radical canard-triplane forward swept wing fighter design. But its compelling feature was that it had one engine, an indication that there may be a medium-weight 5th generation fighter program as well. By mentioning the Lockheed-Martin F-35, there is at least the implication that a potential Chinese medium-weight
fighter could be built in multiple versions, to include a short-take off and vertical landing model (STOVL), much like the F-35B.

Aircraft Carrier combat aircraft Fairly soon China is likely to reveal its first fighter designed for its new aircraft carrier, now entering its final stages of refurbishment in Dalian. In 2009 Chinese sources indicated China may build four to six carriers. Since 2005 Russian sources have reported on discussions with China over reviving production of an improved version of the Sukhoi Su-33 to meet PLANAF carrier requirements. But in 2009 a Russian source disclosed to the author that discussions had not progressed due to China’s refusal to buy a profitable number of fighters. Since about 2005 Russia has been concerned over Shenyang’s effort to build its own carrier version of the J-11B, having obtained an early Su-33 prototype from the Ukraine in the late 1990s. At the end of August 2009 there was a spate of Chinese internet sourced reports, albeit unconfirmable, that a naval variant of the J-11B had started testing. With an AESA radar a
naval J-11B would be very competitive with the F/A-18E/F, expected to remain the most important U.S. carrier fighter. It should also be expected that China will develop a carrier-based variant of its 5th generation fighter by the early 2020s.

Strike Fighters From 2000 to 2004 the PLA took delivery of 100 Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKK and MKK2 strike fighters for the PLAAF (76) and the PLANAF (24). This potent strike fighter gives the PLA a powerful multi-role fighter with an 8,000kg payload that in some air-to-air combat parameters is superior to the comparable U.S. Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle. Along with the Su-30 the PLA purchased many capable air-to-air and ground attack weapons, like the Vympel R-77 self-guided AAM and the Kh-59 medium range precision strike attack missile.

In 1998 the PLA was able to revive the X’ian Aircraft Corporation JH-7 strike fighter program, which dated back to the 1970s, when after the second effort, the PLA purchased full co-production rights for the British Rolls Royce Spey turbofan, now called the Qinling. A slightly improved version of the Spey was soon seen on upgraded JH-7A, which began to emerge in 2002. There are now about 180 JH-7As and earlier JH-7s serving in the PLANAF (five regiments) and the PLAAF (three regiments). The JH-7 carries the C-803 anti-ship missile, the KD-88 medium-range ground attack missile and with new Chinese-made targeting pods can use a range of Chinese-made laser and navigation satellite-guided bombs. While aerodynamically comparable to a larger 1960s vintage European Septcat Jaguar strike fighter, China now markets the JH-7A as a much less expensive alternative to the Su-30 and the F-15E. There are reports and some imagery that suggests X’ian is developing a stealthy JH-7B powered by a further improved Qinling engine.

China has yet to develop a new dedicated tactical close support fighter to succeed the 1970s vintage Hongdu Q-5, a radical development of the J-6, a copied Russian MiG-19. However, at the 2004 Zhuhai show it revealed the Q-5J, the first twin-seat version of the Q-5 for training, which heralded a major upgrade for a new single-seat Q-5 that can carry modern targeting pods for use of laser and navigation satellite guided munitions. Reports suggest that only 120 Q-5s remain in the PLAAF, which would be able to perform useful close air-support for possible conflicts over Taiwan or Korea.

Bombers Much like the continually modified U.S. Boeing B-52, China continues to develop new versions of the X’ian H-6 medium bomber, a copy of the venerable Russian Tupolev Tu-16 that first flew in 1952. This path was likely chosen in the early 1990s after Russia rebuffed early PLA attempts to purchase the supersonic Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire. The latest H-6K emerged in 2007, featuring a yet unknown but more powerful new turbofan engine that confers greater range. It also makes increased use of composite materials, has a new electro-optic targeting systems and a new digital cockpit. Most important it was configured to carry six new land attack cruise missiles on its wings, and possibly six more in its bomb bay. The H-6K is also likely be able to deliver new satellite-guided and laser-guided bombs. With its new engines the H-6K can likely reach Guam. Though subsonic and unstealthy, like the B-52, the H-6K’s cruise missiles would pose a
considerable threat to U.S. and allied forces and it could be used as aerial precision artillery after the suppression of enemy air defenses.

There is much speculation that X’ian is working on a new strategic bomber program, though there is no official confirmation of such. Apparently in connection with the November 2009 PLAAF Anniversary an internet image was released of what apparently was a model of a new large delta flying-wing four-engine bomber. It appears to be powered by four large high-bypass turbofans mounted external to the delta wing, which appears to be larger than the U.S. B-2 Spirit flying-wing bomber. It appears this design would not be as stealthy as the B-2 but it might have greater range and carry a larger payload. That said it cannot be verified from existing sources that this is a real PLA program. Nevertheless, its revelation during the PLAAF anniversary points to the prospect of a future high-tech PLA bomber program. If real, such a delta flying-wing bomber would give the PLA an intercontinental range nuclear delivery vehicle, or the third element of a nuclear triad along with land and sea-based nuclear missiles.

Advanced Weapons Following quickly from their stunning use during the 1991 Gulf War and then subsequent U.S. engagements in Kosovo and Iraq, the PLA has now developed its own advanced air-to-air weapons and has developed two families of indigenously designed precision-guided weapons.

In the 1990s the PLAAF acquired modern Russian aircraft weapons, and in 1993 was the first to introduce a helmet-sighted short-range air-to-air missiles (AAM) on the Taiwan Strait in the form of the Vympel R-73. Taiwan still lacks a helmet-sighted AAM, meaning PLA pilots can fire their missile well before non helmet sighted AAMs, basically guaranteeing victory. The U.S. Raytheon AIM-9X helmet display-sighted AAM was not deployed to U.S. Pacific-based squadrons until 2003. China’s main AAM maker Luoyang is now developing a new next-generation highly maneuverable helmet display-sighted short-range AAM influenced by the South African Denel A-Darter short-range AAM. In late 2009 South African sources told the author that Denel did investigate cooperation with Luoyang but decided it would not be profitable and ended talks.

Russia has had a decisive influence on Luoyang’s new PL-12/SD-10 self-guided medium-range AAM. As the PLAAF purchased Vympel’s 75-km range R-77 self-guided AAM for its Su-30 strike fighters, it also managed to purchase an advanced AGAT missile guidance radar to form the basis for what quickly emerged as the PL-12. With new “lofting” programs, Western AAM experts estimate the PL-12’s range may exceed 100km, which may make it very competitive with early models of the U.S. Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM. In 2008 internet imagery suggested that Luoyang may be developing a ramjet engine powered AAM, perhaps having purchased assistance from Vympel, which had an unrealized ramjet powered AAM program in the 1990s. If realized, such a ramjet-powered PLA AAM might be able to exceed 150km in range, which would allow the interception aircraft flying over Taiwan from well within the protective cover of Mainland-based SAMs. Such a ramjet-powered AAM would
also present a great threat to critical U.S. AWACS and tanker support aircraft. The PLA also has the option of purchasing the 300km range Russian Novator A100 AAM now in development.

Beginning at the 2006 Zhuhai Airshow, missile makers Luoyang and CASIC have progressively revealed two new families of precision guided weapons. Both are offering laser-guided and navigation satellite guided bombs. The later likely can use U.S. GPS or Russian GLONASS navigation satellite signals, but soon will be using signals from China’s COMPASS navigation satellite constellation. CASIC’s “FT” series now includes the 100kg FT-5, which is analogous to the most recent U.S. Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) development of the revolutionary JDAM navsat guided weapons. Luoyang and CASIS bombs can also be fitted with strap-on wings to give them extended range. With their Su-30s the PLAAF also purchased several new Russian ground attack weapons like the Molniya Kh-29 short-range attack missile, the Raduga Kh-59 medium-range attack missile and the KAB series of optically-guided bombs.

Of some importance, Russia also sold the PLA the Raduga Kh-31A, a formidable ramjet-powered anti-radiation missile designed to target radar and other electronic emitters, like AWACS. Early in the last decade reports and images emerged of a Chinese copy of the Kh-31, called the YJ-91. Raduga officials, however, consistently denied selling co-production rights. An Asian military source explained to the author that the YJ-91 takes the engine of the Kh-31 and adds a more effective Israeli aided seeker.

China has developed a new strategic air-launched land attack cruise missile, derivative of either the land-based DH-10 of the Second Artillery or the PLA Navy’s YJ-62. Initially arming the new H-6K bomber this cruise missile likely will arm future bombers. Since the 1998 Zhuhai Airshow China has shown models of a new ramjet-powered anti-ship missile, similar in configuration to the French ASMP, but there was no confirmation of this program until mid 2009 when an Asian military source told the author it is in PLA service. If true this means the PLA now has a supersonic anti-ship missile with a possible range greater than 200km.

Trainer Recapitalization By early in the last decade the PLA embarked on a path to recapitalize its training fleet, concluding from hard experience gained during the 1990s that it required modern training platforms to prepare its pilots for new 4th generation fighters and all new aircraft dominated by digital cockpits. For trainers, new digital cockpits allow for rapid transitions to different training missions and greater scope for mission simulation. In 2010 the first CJ-7 piston engine primary trainer is expected to fly, the product of a 2006 agreement with Russia’s Yakovlev to co-produce a version of the Yak-152K piston trainer. While the PLA reportedly will purchase 300, they will replace over 1,000 CJ-6 trainers. The Hongdu K-8 primary training jet was designed in the 1980s as a cooperative effort with Pakistan and U.S. engine maker Allied Signal, but the Tiananmen embargo forced adoption of the Ukrainian Ivchenko AI-25TLK turbofan, now
co-produced as the WS-11. At first rejected by the PLA, after 2000 it was purchased to replace twin-seat JJ-5 trainers; about 400 are expected to be acquired for the PLAAF and PLANAF.

The PLA is also funding the development of up to five supersonic speed capable lead-in trainers. The PLAAF and PLANAF are buying the Guizhou JL-9, a less expensive turbojet powered trainer which takes the front end of Chengdu’s FC-1, with a digital cockpit, but the back end of the old JJ-7 trainer, but with a new wing. Not yet ready for production is the Hongdu L-15, a twin turbofan powered trainer which likely must wait until its Ukrainian Ivchencho AI-225 engine enters co-production before being acquired by the PLA. Designed with assistance from Russia’s Yakovlev, the L-15 appears well suited for development into a carrier trainer. The PLA also puts twin seat version of the Chengdu J-10 (J-10S), and soon, the Shenyang J-11B (J-11BS) into operational units to reduce the cost of training. Finally, in late 2009 a Pakistani source told the author that Chengdu will soon build a twin-seat version of the low cost FC-1 combat jet. In contrast the
U.S. likely will not build twin-seat versions of the F-22 or F-35 fighters, relying instead on simulators for training, while struggling to commence a program to replace its continually upgraded 1950s vintage Northrop T-38 supersonic trainers.

Simulators are gaining increased usage throughout the PLA, and the PLAAF has long understood their value. The PLA has long been capable of producing modern full motion aircraft simulators and has also purchased simulator technology from abroad. Simpler desk-top simulators are also in widespread use in the PLA air forces. It should be expected that following on the U.S. example of increasingly networking military simulators to allow training by far-flung units about to be deployed, the PLA will make increasing use of similar simulator networking technology.

AWACs and EW Platforms China’s ability to produce world-class electronic support platforms has come a long way from its first attempt in the 1960s to build an AWACs aircraft, the KongJing-1 (KJ-1), which sought to place a rotating radar on a copy of a Russian Tupolev Tu-2, itself a copy of the Boeing B-29 bomber. There are now about five AWACS programs alone plus multiple other electronic support aircraft programs underway. China has apparently masters critical large active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar technology for AWACS, meaning they are a generation ahead of the technology used on U.S. Northrop-Grumman E-2 and Boeing E-3 AWACS.

During the 1980s and 1990s there were multiple attempts to acquire foreign AWACS technology. Britain’s Marconi apparently sold at least one example of its Argus radar from the cancelled Nimrod AEW program, which China placed on a modified Russian Ilyushin Il-76 transport. Then in the mid-1990s Britain’s Racal Co. sold six of its Skymaster lightweight naval airborne early warning (AEW) radar, which still fly on the PLA Navy Air Force’s Y-8J aircraft. Ostensibly sold to help China “combat piracy,” by 1999 the Y-8J was observed in exercises providing long-distance cuing for ship-launched anti-ship missiles.

Perhaps the most well known foreign influenced AWACS program is the KongJing-2000 (KJ-2000), which placed the Elta/Israeli Aircraft Industries Phalcon fixed active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar on a Russian Beriev A-50, itself a highly modified Il-76. Even though by mid-2000 President Bill Clinton had personally intervened with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to cancel this sale, the PLA Air Force now flies four KJ-2000s. An Asian military source disclosed to the author that KJ-2000’s radar signature is the same as the Phalcon, an indication that despite U.S. intervention, China found alternate means to complete this program. Part of the U.S. alarm at the Phalcon sale was the transfer of then state-of-the-art AESA technology which the U.S. was just discovering could be used as a weapon by focusing intense electronic radiation on vulnerable electronic components. In addition, AESA radar are highly difficult to jam and can
passively monitor electronic intelligence at ranges greater than active detection.

A second less expensive Chinese AESA AWACS platform is the Shaanxi KJ-200/Y-8W, which uses a “balance beam” AESA radar very similar in configuration to the Swedish Ericsson PS-890 radar. Swedish officials have repeatedly told the author that there was no sale to China. Mounted on an improved Shaanxi Y-8 platform, the Y-8W operates at a lower altitude than the KJ-2000 but has a potential 300km detection range. In April 2010 Japanese Air Force fighters intercepted a Y-8W operating over the East China Sea. There are about five Y-8Ws in the PLAAF and the PLANAF reportedly will purchase this AWACS to replace or supplement the Y-8J.

A third AWACS program is called by some sources the ZDK-03, uses a rotating radar array and is due to be delivered to Pakistan’s Air Force in 2010. There may also be multiple airborne radar programs underway for the PLA Navy Air Force. In late 2009 internet sources revealed that a version of the Change Z-8 helicopter was being tested with a retractable radar that in flight rotates below the fuselage. There is speculation this will be the first AWACS support platform for the PLA’s first aircraft carrier. In 2005 a Chinese magazine carried a photo of a politician visiting an aircraft design bureau and also seen was the partial image of an apparent fixed-wing turboprop powered AWACS aircraft similar in size to the U.S. Grumman E-1 Tracer. Then a 2009 journal article from China’s Northwestern University featured a wind tunnel study of a Russian Sukhoi S-80 twin-boom turboprop with “saucer” and “beam” radar configurations, suggesting an alternate future AWACS for Chinese aircraft carriers.

The improved Y-8 also serves for other electronic warfare and support missions. In 2005 the Y-8G was revealed to feature two large cheek arrays on the forward fuselage, which could house a phased array antennae for electronic warfare or jamming missions. Soon after the Y-8T was revealed as a dedicated airborne command and control aircraft, to serve as a supplementary command post. Earlier versions of the Y-8 serve as electronic warfare platforms for the PLAAF and the PLA Navy. In addition since 2007 the PLAAF has equipped some of its early Xian JH-7A strike fighters with dedicated electronic warfare pods, which likely allow it perform jamming escort missions similar to the U.S. Boeing EF-18F Growler.

Maritime patrol and anti-submarine (ASW) patrol aircraft are categories of combat aircraft in which the PLA remains lacking compared to other major air powers. In the middle of the last decade there were Russian reports of PLA interest in purchasing the very long range Tupolev Tu-142 strategic ASW aircraft but this has not been realized. The PLANAF relies on a small number of Shaanxi Y-8s modified for maritime patrol, while the PLA also sends electronic intelligence, and more recently, Y-8W AWACS on patrols over the East China Sea. At the 2000 Zhuhai airshow AVIC unveiled in model form its Y-7MPA, a dedicated maritime partrol version of this twin turboprop airliner, but there are no reports it was built. Earlier in the last decade Russian reports persisted of Chinese interest in purchasing or co-producing the Beriev Be-200 twin turbofan-powered flying boat. Instead, at the 2008 Zhuhai show it was revealed that China was going to build an
updated version of its old Harbin SH-5 flying boat, called the JL-600. By late 2009 Chinese reports emerged that construction had started and a first flight was expected by 2013. It will be built in fire-fighting, and can be expected to be built in maritime patrol and anti-submarine versions. The JL-600 will also greatly improve Chinese logistic support for its far flung outposts in the South China Sea.

Unmanned Aircraft Development The PLA’s interest in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) dates back to the late 1950s and has been dominated by university-based programs until just this last decade. Chinese universities like Beijing University for Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Nanjing University for Aeronautics and Astronautics and Northwestern Polytechnical University still play a key role in unmanned aircraft research and development but mainline corporations have radically increased their investment in this sector since the 10th Five Year Plan. The PLA’s investment in unmanned technologies is not limited to aircraft, but encompasses ground vehicles, surface ships, submarines and robots ranging from single-purpose tractors to humanoids. But by the time the first U.S. large unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) enters service, likely something based on the U.S. Navy’s Northrop Grumman X-47B, similarly sized PLA UCAVs may not be far behind.

In the 1960s China was able to acquire Russian Lavochkin target drones and U.S. Ryan Firebee reconnaissance drones captured over North Vietnam and China, to form the early basis for its early unmanned aircraft effort. During the 1980s China was able to obtain its next major UAV technology boost from Israel, which at the time was a world leader in tactical UAVs. At the 2000 Zhuhai show the Guizhou WZ-2000 was revealed, a squat twin-jet powered delta winged high-altitude long-endurance UAV, which by the 2002 Zhuhai show evolved into a medium sized UAV, which by the 2008 Zhuhai show appeard to form the basis for an armed turbofan powered unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) similar in size to the U.S. General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper.

Since the 2006 Zhuhai show there appears to emerged a rough division of labor, in which Chengdu and Guizhou concentrate on medium and long range surveillance UAVs and medium range UCAVs, while Shenyang appears to be concentrating on future long range subsonic and supersonic UCAVs. The 2006 Zhuhai show saw the revelation, in model form, of Chengdu’s Tian Yi, which was revealed by internet sources in 2008 to have entered testing. While likely useful as a medium range UAV, the Tian Yi also serves to aid the development of Chengdu’s Long Haul Eagle, which is close in size and configuration to the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk. In 2006 Guizhou revealed in model form its box-wing Soar Dragon UAV, credited with a 7,000km range, but there has been no subsequent information on this system.

At the 2006 Zhuhai airshow Shenyang created a stir by introducing in model form its Dark Sword supersonic UCAV, about which Shenyang has revealed very little. In 2006 it was described in a small plaque as a “fighter,” which would have been an amazing accomplishment for a UCAV, though this mission was not mentioned in its plaque at the 2008 Zhuhai show. There has been some suggestion that this design may have been inspired by South African technical assistance. A new model of the Dark Sword was revealed as part of the 2009 PLAAF Anniversary, an indication that it remains an ongoing program. At the 2008 Zhuhai show the forward-swept wing subsonic Warrior Eagle was revealed, also likely a Shenyang program. This concept appears to be a more realistic goal technologically, if one considers it is well suited for attack and surveillance missions. Wall illustrations at the 2008 Zhuhai show suggested the Warrior Eagle would also be capable of
cooperative “swarm” missions. There are also indications that the X’ian Aircraft Co. may be developing a strike UCAV.

PLAAF Space Warfare Potential While PLAAF leaders sought to justify active military space capabilities as part of their new strategy heralded as part of their 2009 anniversary, it is not clear that the Chinese leadership has chosen the PLAAF to be dominant “space combat’ service for the PLA. Chinese source have occasionally referred to a debate over which service to take that lead, to include the Second Artillery or the General Armaments Department of the Central Military Commission, which currently controls China’s manned and unmanned space program. However, there are likely multiple PLA programs underway to achieve military combat goals in space that most likely would be controlled by the PLAAF.

The 2006 Zhuhai show saw the revelation in model form of the Air Launched Launch Vehicle, a space-launch vehicle (SLV) launched from an H-6 bomber that looks similar to the U.S. Orbital Sciences Pegasus air-launched SLV. Such an SLV would be much more flexible than the PLA’s current SC-19 anti-satellite (ASAT) rocket. However, it is not known whether the ASLV has been developed. At the end of 2007 Chinese internet sources depicted the Shenlong, an apparent unmanned space plane technology test vehicle seen suspended for launch by a H-6 bomber. This program apparently was led by the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, which earlier had been involved briefly in the 1980s with France’s Hermes small manned space plane program. The Shenlong could form the basis for a reusable unmanned military platform similar to the U.S. Air Force’s recently launched X-37B space plane, or it could serve to validate technologies for larger manned space planes.

At the end of 2009 some Chinese media reports on the new PLAAF strategy mentioned “reports” that China was developing a sub-orbital bomber. This raises the issue of China’s apparent heavy investments in hypersonic (5x or more times the speed of sound) propulsion technologies, with the apparent goal of producing hypersonic aircraft for military missions. In 2007 Chinese engineers revealed that China has built a wind tunnel capable of Mach 5+ speeds that the Laboratory of High Temperature Gas Dynamics in Beijing. Also in late 2007 a Chinese internet image showed a wind tunnel model of a possible hypersonic test vehicle. Future hypersonic combat platforms could perform attack or reconnaissance missions from the edge of Low Earth Orbit.

There is also a suggestion that the PLA may be considering the arming of a large four-engine transport with a laser for the purpose of attacking satellites. An image released on Chinese web pages at the time of the November 2009 PLAAF Anniversary, itself likely from a display to commemorate the anniversary, showed a new four-engine transport armed with a laser attacking a satellite. The PLA is known to have made great investments in military laser programs and it is not inconceivable that they would develop a large laser, perhaps a chemical laser, for use on a future four-engined transport known to be a program of the Xian Aircraft Corporation. While the U.S. has recently curtailed the Boeing YAL-1 laser-armed B-747 in part due to concerns the laser’s short range makes it vulnerable for its anti tactical missile mission, such a large laser armed aircraft could conceivably perform an ASAT mission from protected airspace.

Large Civil and Military Transport Aircraft

Military transports China’s ambition to build new large military and civil transport aircraft has been affirmed many times since the 2006 National People Congress meeting. On November 5, 2009 Chinese reports stated that during a press conference AVIC officials revealed that a mockup of a new 200-ton “military transport” aircraft would appear by the end of 2009. While this did not occur, it can be expected that during this year or next that AVIC will reveal more details on this large transport. In 2006 Ukrainian officials noted they had been hired as consultants by X’ian Aircraft Design and Research Institute (603 Institute) to consult on large aircraft programs, to include the possible adaptation of Antonov’s turbofan-powered An-70 for turbofan propulsion. Then in 2007 a Ukrainian official confirmed that images of a model of a Chinese four-turbofan military transport was another AVIC-1 design. It is not clear if the “200-ton”
aircraft is the same as the AVIC-1 transport concept, but Chinese internet reporting has indicated this aircraft is designed to carry a 60-ton payload, which would place it in the same class as the Russian Ilyushin Il-76 and the U.S. Boeing C-17.

In addition, it appears that the X’ian Aircraft Company has made progress on smaller twin- turbofan powered high-wing transport, first revealed in model form at the 2004 Zhuhai Airshow as the “WJ” for Whoshan Jiaolian. It was described as a 50-passenger 20-ton aircraft for training. But in mid-December 2009 an image of a new model of this aircraft appeared, indicating the first example to have been built. This aircraft may eventually serve as a training aircraft, or this design may also serve as the basis for a reported larger 25-ton payload twin-turbofan medium transport slated to replace the turboprop powered Y-9 program. Such an aircraft would be competitive with the proposed Brazilian Embraer C-390 high-wing twin-turbofan transport, which is being developed for a 20-ton payload. Such an aircraft might allow X’ian to gain a leading position in an emerging medium-transport market for a more modern and faster replacement for the market-dominant turboprop-powered Lockheed-Martin C-130 Hercules (@2,300 built).

Civil transports Convinced that producing competitive large airliners is critical for goals of national power, China is now entering the highly risky and expensive civil airliner market. China can be expected to produce a family of airliners over the next two decades that will compete with most of the market segments now covered by Boeing and Airbus. China’s COMAC can be expected to capitalize on the assurance of generous state funding, an ability to claim a sizable portion of an expected Chinese demand for about 3,000 new airliners, the ability to rapidly exploit new foreign technologies, and very likely, an attractive price. At the January 2010 Singapore Airshow officials from two Chinese airlines stated they would purchase the future COMAC C919 airliner. But as COMAC becomes a major competitor it appears that Airbus may have the better “hedge” to protect its share of the Chinese airliner market: the building of a final assembly facility for its A320 airliner in Tianjin.

China’s ambitions to build a competitive civil airliner became serious in 2002 when AVIC announced its ARJ-21 65-90 seat regional airliner, which made its first flight in November 2008. To help ease market acceptance China has enlisted reputable global component suppliers: Antonov and Boeing for design consultation; General Electric for their CF-34-10A turbofans; Hamilton Sunstrand for the auxiliary power unit; Rockwell Collins avionics; Parker Hannifin hydraulics; Liegherr for landing gear and Sagem for cabin systems. COMAC claims sales of 200, including the first foreign sale to Laos, and 60 for a leasing company owned by General Electric. One Chinese report notes the ARJ-21 could be sold for about $28 million, which may represent a discount from a 2007 reference to a price of $30 million. This is competitive with the $35 million 70-seat Bombardier CRJ-700. Chinese leaders have pressed for rapid U.S. certification of the ARJ-21 as a means to build market confidence.

Before the ARJ-21 has proven itself in the market, COMAC has placed a much larger bet on its 80-ton 150+ seat single isle C919 airliner, which will directly compete with the Boeing B-737 (6,000+ built) and the Airbus A320 (4,000+ built). It will also be competing with the Russian Irkut MC-21 and Canadian Bombardier C-Series, which like the C919 intend to quickly exploit new engines and technologies to gain market share from the B-737 and A320. The C919 is expected to fly by 2014 and enter service by 2016, powered initially by the new CFM Leap-X turbofan, which give a 16 percent fuel efficiency over the CFM-56 turbofan, and then by a version of the domestic 30,000lb thrust SF-A turbofan after 2016. Reportedly about 20 percent of its airframe will be made from weight and fuel-saving composite materials. While not a high as the 50-percent goal of the latest Boeing B-787 airliner, it is much higher than the older B-737 and A-320. Airbus officials
have recently stated that a re-engined A320 can beat the C919 and other newcomers, but other analysts contend that without the new wing and lighter airframe of the C919 and its stable mates, Airbus and Boeing may have to invest in a next generation 150-seat class airliner sooner than a projected timetable of just after 2020.

Chinese companies and aviation officials have disclosed very little about a possible larger wide-body four-engine passenger transport program. The designation for this aircraft is unknown, but since 2007 occasional computer graphics and photos of models of this aircraft have appeared on the Chinese Internet. The most famous was taken at the end of 2007 at X’ian’s Aircraft Design and Research Institute (603 Institute) during a visit by Premier Wen Jiabao, seen standing next to a partial view of the model. Subsequent photos of this model also indicate it a X’ian concept. This aircraft appears to be about the size of a Boeing B-767, or a 140+ ton max-weight airliner. An aircraft this size would likely obtain adequate power from four 13-ton thrust SF-A engines. The FWS10-118 turbofan is also linked to a 150-ton aircraft program, which would increase the possibility that X’ian’s four-engine transport is a real program.

Powered by Chinese-made engines, both the C919 and the undesignated four-engine transport could also serve a range of missions for the PLA. The C919 could be adopted as a regional maritime patrol aircraft, similar in concept to the Boeing P-8 based on the B-737, or it could be outfitted with a linear phased array radar to fly at a higher altitude than the similarly equipped turboprop-powered Shaanxi Y-8W AWACS aircraft. The larger four-engine transport could be outfitted for long-range AWACS, electronic intelligence/attack and tanking missions, or as the laser-armed ASAT aircraft noted earlier in this article. A tanker version of this aircraft would provide a much more useful replacement for the smaller HU-6 tankers currently in use, and allow PLAAF transports, bombers and strike fighters to achieve global projection capabilities.


China’s tragic May 2008 Sichuan earthquake quickly resulted in a critical spotlight on China’s helicopter industry; China did not have enough helicopters to quickly meet urgent requirements and China’s helicopter sector did not produce a heavy-lift (20-ton payload) helicopter like Russia’s Mil Mi-26, one of which was hired to contribute to earthquake relief. There has since been a commitment to build such a heavy lift helicopter and Russia’s Mil is likely to be the lead co-development partner, as it may be helping China with a less well reported 13-ton helicopter program.

While China has greatly increased investment and funding for its helicopter companies in the last 20 years, they have yet to break out a dependence on foreign design assistance and design inspiration. The heavy-lift helicopter program apparently will follow a long list of copied helicopters. During the 1980s the PLA established a strategic relationship with what became Eurocopter and now co-produces five Eurocopter designs: SA321 as the Z-8; AS565 Dauphin as the Z-9; AS350 as the Z-11; EC-120; and the EC-175 as the Z-15. The latest EC-175 is a state-of-the-art 7-ton class helicopter that uses advanced rotor and avionics technology. Previously Eurocopter officials would tell the author that China would not produce a military version of the EC-175 but in late 2009 Eurocopter officials stated that there was no impediment to China making military versions of the Z-15.

Eurocopter and Italy’s Agusta provided design assistance for what has become China’s first modern medium attack helicopter, the Z-10. About the same size as the Agusta A-129 and U.S. Bell A-1W attack helicopter, when produced in numbers it will provide effective tactical support for ground forces. There is some question over what engine the Z-10 will use; prototypes have been powered by Pratt-Whitney Canada PT6C-67C turboshaft, while reports note that Russian and Ukranian engines have been tested on the Z-10. Reports also suggest the Z-10 will use a less powerful but indigenous WZ-9 turboshaft. It is armed with the HJ-10 anti-tank missile that is similar to the U.S. Hellfire.

Russia has sold about 200 of its Mil Mi-8/17 family of 13-ton helicopters to the PLA Army and 18 of the Kamov Ka-28 naval helicopter to the PLA Navy. There are reports as well of program to co-produce the Mi-17 in China. Meanwhile China is benefitting from competitive pressures on helicopter makers to succeed in the China market, which has resulted in relaxations on previous Tiananmen restrictions on the sale of U.S. helicopters to China. For the future, Chinese sources suggest an interest in large tandem rotor helicopters while universities have studied tilt-rotor technology. China is also working on a number of unmanned helicopters from small size to sizes approaching the U.S. Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout.


Despite a dearth of information on China’s aerospace programs there is enough data to conclude that China intends to challenge America’s current dominance of the aero-space realm. China is able to direct massive state resources toward this goal as it seeks to harness market forces and opportunities to its advantage. China’s challenge is not just military but also commercial. While the 1990s showed China a difficult learning curve, by 2010 it can be said that China is nearing that curve in many respects and that this coming decade could prove a time of “harvest.” China’s 4th generation fighters will advance to 4+ gen levels of capability and initial 4-to-4+ generation level carrier fighters will enter service just before China’s 5th generation fighters appear on the scene. China will also sell its modern combat aircraft to its rogue partners and to other states. As it is in other spheres, the United States is in a military airpower
race with China. The prospect of the PLA building a force of over 1,000 4th generation fighters plus 300 5th generation fighters by the mid-2020s, with advanced weapons and support aircraft, has the potential to end the assurance of U.S. air superiority in Asia absent a vigorous U.S. response. As such, the 2009 decision to end production of the F-22 can only be viewed as incredible given U.S. reliance on assured air superiority for its military forces. The U.S. needs sufficient numbers of F-22s as it must now move quickly move to lead the development of 6th generation air capabilities, UCAVs, hypersonics and energy weapons, if it is to sustain deterrence in Asia.

By the 2020s new strategic aircraft may also allow the PLA to combine new capabilities in maritime power projection with long-range strategic air force projection. The advent of a large intercontinental strategic bomber would tend to undermine the impression that China projects that it does not seek nuclear parity or superiority over the United States and Russia. A large fleet of C-17-size transports plus the new airmobile medium weight armor forces the PLA is building today will give China options for global rapid military maneuver.

China’s commercial challenge is just starting but could accumulate rapidly. This experience too will not be easy for China. There will be the expensive challenge to build global support networks. There may also be market disruptions such as being denied Western markets and technology if China initiates military conflicts. Nevertheless, in the COMAC C919 China is betting for high stakes that it can succeed, with the West’s help, to produce the first of many competitive commercial airliners. Major commercial producers like Airbus and Boeing have previously been united in their defense of policies that preserve their ability to sell to China. They also have invested in component production in China that in many ways helps China’s ability to become a competitor. China’s response to a potential challenge to COMAC by Western next generation narrow body airliners will be telling. Should China decide to use its large domestic market to rapidly
expand COMAC’s product line and then subsidize foreign sales, then it will be clear that it is aiming for commercial air dominance as well.

Assessing the PLA Air Force’s Ten Pillars: US Report

Leave a comment

During Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ visit to China in January 2011, he stressed the importance of solid military-to-military relations. As a result of his visit, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) will hopefully engage each other through military exchanges across a wide range of issues rather than in combat.

Unfortunately, his emphasis on the resumption of military dialogue was overshadowed by the timing of China’s first flight test of its J-20 stealth aircraft at the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation during his visit. While the implications of the timing of the flight test are debatable, the USAF now has a window into understanding more about the aircraft, as well as an opportunity to discuss it openly with the PLAAF and aviation industry personnel.

Although most PLAAF analysis focuses on the impressive array of advanced weapon systems it has fielded over the past decade and is planning to field over the next decade, including the J-20, it is important to examine the PLAAF from a broad perspective by pointing out some of its strong and weak points beyond its weapons and equipment. Indeed, analyzing the weak points, as well as the strong points, could provide significant clues about the PLAAF’s overall capabilities in combat.

The purpose of this article is to help analysts at different levels (tactical, operational, and strategic) examine and engage the PLAAF using the Ten Pillars as a base. The Ten Pillars include organizational structure, leadership, doctrine, officer corps, enlisted force, education, training, logistics and maintenance, and foreign relations.

The article also provides information about the key joint billets PLAAF, PLA Navy (PLAN), and Second Artillery officers hold within the PLA’s joint leadership structure. Although the Army still dominates the leadership structure, patterns are emerging for permanent PLAAF, PLAN, and Second Artillery billets as Deputy Chiefs of the General Staff. These are important clues for examining the future commanders for each organization as the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Party Congress in 2012 approaches.

Key Findings

Based on an assessment of the pillars, the following key findings are made:

The PLAAF and USAF are different. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other. Analysts need to examine the PLAAF through its eyes without always comparing it to the USAF.

Assessing the PLAAF requires understanding how all Ten Pillars fit together, which includes assessing all four branches (aviation, surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, and airborne) and five specialty forces (technical reconnaissance, electronic countermeasures, communications, chemical defense, and radar), as well as the education and training system.

The PLAAF is rapidly moving ahead technologically, especially through the deployment of new equipment, weapon systems, and information technology (e.g. informatization) with the goal of achieving integrated joint operations with the Army, Navy, and Second Artillery, but some advances are being held back by its historical culture and an Army-dominated leadership structure (See further discussion on this topic below). The PLAAF is also moving forward in its training capabilities. Key tactics training areas include unscripted, opposition force, jamming, night, all-weather, over water, minimum altitude, dissimilar aircraft, and aircraft-SAM/AAA de-confliction training, but the training is still not at the highest levels in several areas.

The PLA is a long way from becoming a truly joint military that incorporates senior PLAAF and PLAN officers in the highest-level organizations. The PLAAF remains underrepresented in the highest echelons, including the second and third tiers, of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee’s Military Commission (CMC), the four General Departments—General Staff Department (GSD), General Political Department (GPD), General Logistics Department (GLD), and General Armament Department (GAD)—and the Military Region (MR) Headquarters.

Although the PLAAF recognizes that its capabilities, doctrine, and training must still evolve considerably in order to challenge U.S. power projection capabilities, it is exhibiting a growing sense of confidence in just about everything it is doing.

The PLAAF acknowledges that its training management and support systems are not adequate. In addition, the PLAAF recognizes that its operators are not granted sufficient autonomy to perform optimally in complex, dynamic operational environments. Centralized control remains a persistent and unresolved problem. Although the PLAAF uses tactics training coordination zones for combined-arms and joint training, most training is opposition force.

The PLAAF’s annual training cycle revolves around two key periods: all new officers arrive at their unit between July and September during the peak exercise season; and one-half of the PLAAF’s conscripts/recruits turnover and all enlisted personnel who are not promoted to the next grade are demobilized during November through January.

The PLAAF’s officer corps is changing, but not in all areas. Whereas PLAAF college graduates receive their technical training as a cadet, civilian college graduates, who comprised a high percentage (possibly 60 percent) of all new officers in 2010, may or may not receive any technical training prior to assuming their new billets. In addition, officer intermediate and advanced professional military education (PME) is separated by the five career tracks, each of which is taught in a different location.

The PLAAF’s enlisted force is gradually evolving from a conscript force based primarily on new personnel having only a ninth grade education to a force recruited from high school graduates, college students, and college graduates. The goal is to build a more highly skilled noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps.

The PLAAF has been heavily involved in domestic disaster relief operations the past few years, which have provided opportunities for real-world, unopposed experience and has highlighted a critical lack of airlift assets.

The PLAAF is increasing its engagement with foreign air forces through functional and educational exchanges, as well as joint exercises, but foreign contact and exposure remains tightly constrained by PLA guidelines. For example, the PLAAF commander and political commissar are restricted to one foreign trip annually, and the PLAAF posts military attachés to only a few foreign countries.

The PLAAF and Jointness

As China’s economic center of gravity continues to shift from the interior to the coast, the role of the PLAAF, PLAN, and Second Artillery in terms of protecting sea lines of communication and territorial integrity through joint integrated operations will grow in relation to the Army. One indicator of the PLAAF’s shifting role, as well as that of the PLAN and Second Artillery, in joint integrated operations concerns how it is, or is not, integrated into the PLA’s “joint” leadership structure. The leadership structure, which is responsible for overseeing the entire PLA’s ten pillars, consists of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee’s Military Commission (CMC), the four General Departments—General Staff Department (GSD), General Political Department (GPD), General Logistics Department (GLD), and General Armament Department (GAD)—the Academy of Military Science (AMS), National Defense University (NDU), and the seven military region (MR) headquarters [2].

Although the PLAAF commander has been a member of the CMC since 2004, it is the author’s opinion that the PLAAF does not, and will not for the foreseeable future, play a major role in the Army-dominated PLA leadership structure [3]. Specifically, there is debate about whether the current PLAAF commander, General Xu Qiliang, will become the Minister of Defense and/or a CMC vice chairman during the 18th Party Congress, which will be held in late 2012. Those arguing that he will move to one or both of these positions cite his age and seniority on the CMC and the grooming of General Ma Xiaotian as the next PLAAF commander [4]. Ma is currently one of the Deputy Chiefs of the General Staff (DCGS) and would have to retire if he does not become PLAAF commander. Those arguing against this cite the Army’s historical domination of those positions. That said, however, it is the author’s opinion that even if Xu does assume one or both of those billets, he will wear an Army uniform.

Concerning the PLAAF’s, PLAN’s, and Second Artillery’s role in the four General Departments, the key to remember is that the General Departments serve not only as the joint command but as the Army Headquarters [5]. As such, the directors have always been, and will most likely always be, Army officers. As shown in Figure 1, within the four General Departments, PLAAF officers have served continuously since 2004 as one of the DCGSs, and since 2005 as one of the deputies in the GPD. As such, it appears that the GSD and GPD now have permanent PLAAF deputy billets. It does not appear, however, that the GLD has a permanent PLAAF deputy billet.

No PLAAF, PLAN, or Second Artillery officers have ever served as a deputy in the GAD, which indicates it is less joint than the GSD, GPD, and GLD. Furthermore, it appears that only Army officers have served as the director for any second-level departments, such as the Operations, Intelligence, Cadre, Propaganda, Transportation, and Finance Departments.

Each MR Headquarters, which “exercises direct leadership over the Army units within its area of responsibility,” has an average of five deputy commanders [8]. Since 1988, each Military Region Air Force (MRAF) commander and Fleet commander has served concurrently as an MR deputy commander; however, all of the other MR deputy commanders who serve full time on the staff are Army officers. Furthermore, like the four General Departments, no PLAAF officers have served as the director of an MR first-level department and only a few PLAAF personnel apparently hold positions in any of the departments.

There are no indications this situation will change unless the PLA completely reorganizes the, CMC, General Departments, and MR Headquarters.


The USAF and PLAAF are different and will employ their assets differently in combat. As such, one should not necessarily compare the two using the same criteria. While it is important to focus on the PLAAF’s weapon systems, it is also important to examine the PLAAF as a whole to see where it is moving forward and where it is not in terms of its goal of achieving integrated joint operations with the Army, Navy, and Second Artillery.

There is no doubt but that the PLAAF is modernizing its force with new weapon systems and equipment, including combat aircraft, air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and ground-based radar systems. It is also trying to conduct more realistic training with the new equipment with the goal of eventually implementing integrated joint operations with the Army, Navy, and Second Artillery. That said, however, the PLAAF is lagging behind in many areas that affect how it can use these new systems to the best of their abilities, especially during sustained offensive and defensive operations. One of the biggest areas of concern is the lack of sufficient airlift assets and the ability to coordinate between fighters and SAMs inside an air defense zone. In addition, it is dealing with trying to recruit, train, and retain a more educated enlisted force and officer corps to be able to operate and maintain these new systems.

One of the biggest reason the PLAAF is not moving forward as rapidly as it could across the board is that it is being held back by its historical culture, including subservience to the Army’s dominance in the CMC, General Departments, and Military Region Headquarters, and its inability to push command decisions down to lower levels. As such, there are no indications this situation will change in the near future.

The Jamestown Foundation: China and the Arctic: The Awakening Snow Dragon[tt_news]=37488&tx_ttnews[backPid]=25&cHash=9d8a4177b0d9781d2038312112e90d6d

ANALYSIS: Private mercenaries and the Afghan Army

Leave a comment

—Musa Khan Jalalzai

The involvement of Afghan generals in land grabbing and drug trafficking is a major threat for the NATO mission. In Kabul and many other districts, narcotics are transferred from one place to another in military vehicles

Ethnicity, misgovernment, corruption and political violence have put in danger the national unity of Afghanistan. All ethnic groups have their own thinking of national unity and concordance. The recent institutionalised ethnic and sectarian divisions, specifically in the police and army units raised some questions: whether Afghanistan will again become the battleground or will this persistent insecurity affect the security of neighbouring states? The decade-long civil war in the country has already left devastating effects on Pakistan’s economic performance and security infrastructure. This is a big challenge for Pakistan, which has close ethnic, sectarian, cultural, religious and tribal proximity with Afghanistan. Thus Pakistan understands the way Afghan forces are being trained and armed is not a proper method to create a standing military.

The US, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) are training soldiers of the Afghan National Army but rely on private security agencies and rogue warlord armies. Coalition forces in Afghanistan feel more threatened by the Afghan National Army than the Taliban. Last year, several coalition soldiers were killed by their Afghan partners during a military patrol in the south. Afghan Army commanders have established close contacts with drug lords and the Taliban militia, provide them with arms and military information, including counter-insurgency strategies.

The police department is considered to be the most corrupt institution. Last year, Britain’s top representative warned that amid enduring suspicions over the reliability of local forces, Afghans are turning to the Taliban for justice. Drug trafficking, facilitation, corruption and the trends of alienation among the police force may delay the force’s ability to take over the responsibility of law and order enforcement in 2014. Smoking narcotics in police barracks is not new. Illiteracy is another issue that has badly affected the performance of the police. A police officer needs to have some notes, write down number plates of vehicles and take a necessary statement, but unfortunately, Afghan police are not able to read or write.

The involvement of Afghan generals in land grabbing and drug trafficking is a major threat for the NATO mission. In Kabul and many other districts, narcotics are transferred from one place to another in military vehicles. Generals and their cronies have grabbed thousands of acres of agricultural and government land across the country. Commanders of the Tajik-dominated army protect drug lords and the criminal mafia and supply arms to the dissidents across the border into Pakistan.

A recent report submitted to the British parliament has warned that: “Counter-insurgency in Afghanistan cannot succeed without two elements essential for success: a legitimate, functioning government and insurgents that are deprived of external sanctuary and support. Transition — efforts to build Afghan forces and transfer responsibilities to them — faces major obstacles and will take longer than anticipated.” If there is no functioning state in the country, what is the purpose of the presence of foreign forces there?

A black market economy and criminal trade has flourished while thousands of private security personnel have taken control of important places across the country. Keeping in view their secret links with insurgents and warlords, the Afghan president once cried that private security firms empowered warlords. Recent reports say some private security agencies have hired Iranian agents and Taliban soldiers. In Helmand and in Kandahar, US military officials discovered that Afghan security guards were passing sensitive security and troops information to the Taliban. At the same time a security firm — EOD — had hired two Iranian intelligence agents who were known to the US military intelligence.

An Afghan Security Council secret official and an aide to President Karzai, Muhammad Zai Salehi, was arrested in July 2010. The New York Times reported Salehi was accused of soliciting a bribe to help shut down an investigation into a company suspected of transferring millions of dollars out of the country for officials, insurgents and drug smugglers. This is not the only instance. There are innumerable cases of civil and military officials’ secret involvement with the Taliban. After the appearance of this news item, the NATO command issued new instructions for awarding billions of dollars worth of international contracts in Afghanistan.

Some reports of the Afghan Interior Ministry confirm that there are over 200 agents of Iranian Sepah-Ansar operating in Afghanistan. These agents are collecting sensitive information and facilitate the Taliban in arms and training. Reports revealed major warlords or their relatives or allies have been contracted for security services in four provinces. In Uruzgan province, Australian Special Forces and the US signed an agreement with a local warlord Matiullah Khan for protecting their convoys and military bases. His army is known for kidnapping and the drug trade. Matiullah Khan has built an army of 2,500 soldiers known as Kandak-e-Amniat-e-Uruzgan — Uruzgan Security Force. Warlord Matiullah Khan receives 340,000 dollars per month. This agreement is clearly evident of the US and NATO distrust of the Afghan National Army and the police. Military observer are of the opinion that now the US and NATO may not show more interest in building an Afghan
Army as its soldiers are killing coalition forces. This distrust among the Afghan National Army, NATO and the Afghan police has strengthened the Taliban and Iran on the one hand and delayed the process of building a strong Afghan Army on the other. In southern Afghanistan, Canadian forces in 2007 hired a local warlord for the security of their forces. General Gulalai had helped the US in driving out the Taliban from Kandahar in 2001. Moreover, the Canadian military hired another warlord, Haji Toor Jan’s private army for the protection of its installations.

In Badakhshan, a local warlord who is in control of a significant portion of the drug trade provides security to the German Army’s Provincial Reconstruction Team. Warlord Nazari Muhammad receives thousands of dollars as a salary for his private army. The Afghan president, his brothers — Wali Karzai and Hashmat Karzai — the son of Afghan Defence Minister, Hamid Wardak — Pir Gailani — Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Rabbani, Gulbadin’s son, ex-army chief Fahim, General Dostum, Haji Din Muhammad and other warlords and parliamentarians have established their own private armies, which erode the strategic role of the Afghan National Army across the country.

According to two recent reports of the UN, ISAF forces have trained, armed and employed some 1,000 private security groups across Afghanistan. The UN has estimated that there are 120,000 armed individuals belonging to about 5,000 private militias in Afghanistan. As the US and NATO is ultimately dependent on private criminal armies, the existence of the Afghan National Army remains a question. If the US and NATO do not rely on the national army and Afghan police, the question is; what is the basic role and function of these two forces? The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) gives arms, money and communication equipment to the warlords and has hired them on their payroll. These warlords, with the help of the CIA, consolidate their political control over different regions. The Afghan National Army is divided into five combat corps. But it has neither performed as a counter-insurgency force or as a strategic force.

The writer is the author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and can be reached at

Kargil Conflict and Pakistan Air Force

1 Comment

Kargil Conflict and Pakistan Air Force

Pakistani writings on Kargil conflict have been few; those that did come out were largely irrelevant and in a few cases, were clearly sponsored. The role of the PAF has been discussed off and on, but mostly disparagingly, particularly in some uninformed quarters. Here is an airman’s perspective, focusing on the IAF’s air operations and the PAF’s position.

Operational Planning in the PAF 

Since an important portion of this write-up pertains to the PAF’s appreciation of the situation and the decision-making loop during the Kargil conflict, we will start with a brief primer on PAF’s hierarchy and how operational matters are handled at the Air Headquarters.

The policy-making elements at Air Headquarters consist of four-tiers of staff officers. The top-most tier is made up of the Deputy Chiefs of Air Staff (DCAS) who are the Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) of their respective branches and are nominally headed by the Vice Chief of Air Staff (VCAS). They (along with Air Officers Commanding, the senior representatives from field formations) are members of the Air Board, PAF’s ‘corporate’ decision-making body which is chaired by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). The next tier is made up of Assistant Chiefs of Air Staff (ACAS) who head various sub-branches and, along with the third-tier Directors, assist the PSOs in policy-making; they are not on the Air Board, but can be called for hearings and presentations in the Board meetings, as required. A fourth tier of Deputy Directors does most of the sundry staff work in this policy-making hierarchy.

The Operations & Plans branch is the key player in any war, conflict or contingency and is responsible for threat assessment and formulation of a suitable response. During peace-time, war plans are drawn up by the Plans sub-branch and are then war-gamed in operational exercises run by the sister Operations sub-branch. Operational training is accordingly restructured and administered by the latter, based on the lessons of various exercises. This essentially is the gist of PAF’s operational preparedness methodology, the efficiency of which is amply reflected in its readiness and telling response in various wars and skirmishes in the past. 

In early 1999, Air Chief Marshal Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi was at the helm of the PAF. An officer with an imposing personality, he had won the Sword of Honour at the Academy. During the 1971 Indo-Pak War, as a young Flight Lieutenant, he was on a close support mission in erstwhile East Pakistan when his Sabre was shot down and he was taken POW. He determinedly resumed his fighter pilot’s career after repatriation and rose to command PAF’s premier Sargodha Base. He was later appointed as the AOC, Southern Air Command, an appointment that affords considerable interaction amongst the three services, especially in operational exercises. He also held the vitally important post of DCAS (Ops) as well as the VCAS before taking over as CAS.

The post of DCAS (Ops) was held by the late Air Marshal Zahid Anis. A well-qualified fighter pilot, he had a distinguished career in the PAF, having held some of the most sought-after appointments. These included command of No 38 Tactical Wing (F-16s), the elite Combat Commanders’ School and PAF Base, Sargodha. He was the AOC, Southern Air Command before his appointment as the head of the Operations branch at the Air Headquarters. He had done his Air War Course at the PAF’s Air War College, another War Course at the French War College as well as the prestigious Defence Studies course at the Royal College of Defence Studies in UK.
The ACAS (Ops) was Air Cdre Abid Rao, who had recently completed command of PAF Base, Mianwali. He had earlier done his War Course from the French War College.
The ACAS (Plans) was the late Air Cdre Saleem Nawaz, a brilliant officer who had made his mark at the Staff College at Bracknell, UK and during the War Course at the National Defence College, Islamabad.
There is no gainsaying the fact that PAF’s hierarchy was highly qualified and that each one of the players in the Operations branch had the requisite command and staff experience. The two top men had also fought in the 1971 Indo-Pak War, albeit as junior officers.
First Rumblings
As Director of Operations (in the rank of Gp Capt), my first opportunity to interact with the Army’s Director of Military Operations (DMO) was over a phone call, some time in March 1999. Brig Nadeem Ahmed called with great courtesy and requested some information that he needed for a paper exercise, as he told me. He wanted to know when had the PAF last carried out a deployment at Skardu, how many aircraft were deployed, etc. Rather impressed with the Army’s interest in PAF matters, I passed on the requisite details. The next day, Brig Nadeem called again, but this time his questions were more probing and he wanted some classified information including fuel storage capacity at Skardu, fighter sortie-generation capacity, radar coverage, etc. He insisted that he was preparing a briefing and wanted to get his facts and figures right, in front of his bosses. We got on a secure line and I passed on the required information. Although he made it sound like routine contingency planning, I sensed that something unusual was brewing. In the event, I thought it prudent to inform the DCAS (Ops). Just to be sure, he checked up with his counterpart, the Director General Military Operations (DGMO), Maj Gen Tauqir Zia, who said the same thing as his DMO and, assured that it was just part of routine contingency planning 

Not withstanding the DGMO’s assurance, a cautious Air Marshal Zahid decided to check things for himself and despatched Gp Capt Tariq Ashraf, Officer Commanding of No 33 Wing at PAF Base, Kamra, to look things over at Skardu and make a report. Within a few days, Gp Capt Tariq (who was also the designated war-time commander of Skardu Base) had completed his visit, which included his own periodic war-readiness inspection. While he made a detailed report to the DCAS (Ops), he let me in on the Army’s mobilisation and other preparations that he had seen in Skardu. His analysis was that ‘something big is imminent.’ Helicopter flying activity was feverishly high as Army Aviation’s Mi-17s were busy moving artillery guns and ammunition to the mountain tops. Troops in battle gear were to be seen all over the city. Interestingly, Messes were abuzz with war chatter amongst young officers. In retrospect, one wonders how Indian intelligence agencies failed to read any such signs, many weeks before the operation unfolded.

After hearing Gp Capt Tariq’s report, Air Marshal Zahid again got in touch with Maj Gen Tauqir and, in a roundabout way, told him that if the Army’s ongoing ‘review of contingency plans’ required the PAF to be factored in, an Operations & Plans team would be available for discussion. Nothing was heard from the GHQ till 12 May, when Air Marshal Zahid was told to send a team for a briefing at HQ 10 Corps with regard to the ‘Kashmir Contingency’. 

Air Cdre Abid Rao, Air Cdre Saleem Nawaz and myself were directed by the DCAS (Ops) to attend a briefing on the ‘latest situation in Kashmir’ at HQ 10 Corps. We were welcomed by the Chief of Staff (COS) of the Corps, who led us to the briefing room. Shortly thereafter, the Corps Commander, Lt Gen Mehmud Ahmad entered, cutting an impressive figure clad in a bush-coat and his trademark camouflage scarf. After exchanging pleasantries, the COS started with the map orientation briefing. Thereafter, Lt Gen Mehmud took over and broke the news that a limited operation had started two days earlier. It was nothing more than a ‘protective manoeuvre’, he explained, and was meant to foreclose any further mischief by the enemy, who had been a nuisance in the Neelum Valley, specially on the road on our side of the Line of Control (LOC). He then elaborated that a few vacant Indian posts had been occupied on peaks across the LOC, overlooking the Dras-Kargil Road. These would, in effect, serve the purpose of Airborne Observation Posts (AOP) meant for directing artillery fire with accuracy. Artillery firepower would be provided by a couple of field guns that had been heli-lifted to the heights, piecemeal, and re-assembled over the previous few months when the Indians had been off-guard during the winter extremes. The target was a vulnerable section of Dras-Kargil Road, whose blocking would virtually cut off the crucial life-line which carried the bulk of supplies needed for daily consumption as well as annual winter-stocking in Leh-Siachen Sector. He was very hopeful that this stratagem could choke off the Indians in the vital sector for up to a month, after which the monsoons would prevent vehicular movement (due to landslides) and, also suspend all airlift by the IAF. “Come October, we shall walk in to Siachen – to mop up the dead bodies of hundreds of Indians left hungry, out in the cold,” he succinctly summed up what appeared to be a new dimension to the Siachen dispute. It also seemed to serve, at least for the time being, the secondary aim of alleviating Indian military pressure on Pakistani lines of communications in the Neelum Valley that the Corps Commander had alluded to in his opening remarks. (The oft-heard strategic aim of ‘providing a fillip to the insurgency in Kashmir’ was never mentioned.)

When Lt Gen Mehmud asked for questions at the end of the rather crisp and to-the-point briefing, Air Cdre Saleem Nawaz opened up by inquiring about the type of air support that might be needed for the operation. Lt Gen Mehmud assured us that air support was not envisaged and that his forces could take care of enemy aircraft, if they intervened. “I have Stingers on every peak,” he announced. Air Cdre Saleem tried to point out the limited envelope of these types of missiles and said that nothing stopped the IAF from attacking the posts and artillery pieces from high altitude. To this, Lt Gen Mehmud’s reply was that his troops were well camouflaged and concealed and, that IAF pilots would not be able to pick out the posts from the air. As the discussion became more animated, I asked the Corps Commander if he was sure the Indians would not use their artillery to vacate our incursion, given the criticality of the situation from their standpoint. He replied that the Dras-Kargil stretch did not allow for positioning of the hundreds of guns that would be required, due to lack of depth; in any case, it would be suicidal for the Indians to denude artillery firepower from any other sector as defensive balance had to be maintained. He gave the example of the Kathua-Jammu Sector where the Indians had a compulsion to keep the bulk of their modern Bofors guns due to the vital road link’s vulnerability to our offensive elements.
It seemed from the Corps Commander’s smug appreciation of the situation that the Indians had been tightly straitjacketed in Dras-Kargil Sector and had no option but to submit to our operational design. More significantly, an alternate action like a strategic riposte by the Indians in another sector had been rendered out of question, given the nuclear environment. Whether resort to an exterior manoeuvre (diplomatic offensive) by the beleaguered Indians had crossed the planners’ minds, it was not discernable in the Corps Commander’s elucidation.
Perhaps it was the incredulousness of the whole thing that led Air Cdre Abid Rao to famously quip, “After this operation, it’s going to be either a Court Martial or Martial Law!” as we walked out of the briefing room. 

Back at the Air Headquarters, we briefed the DCAS(Ops) about what had transpired at the 10 Corps briefing. His surprise at the developments, as well as his concern about the possibility of events spiralling out of control, could not remain concealed behind his otherwise unflappable demeanour. We all were also piqued at being left out of the Army’s planning, though we were given to believe that it was a ‘limited tactical action’ in which the PAF would not be required – an issue that none of us agreed with. Presented with a fait accompli, we decided not to lose any more time and, while the DCAS (Ops) went to brief the CAS about the situation, we set about gearing up for a hectic routine. The operations room was quickly updated with the latest large-scale maps and air recce photos of the area; communications links with concerned agencies were also revamped in a short time. Deployment orders were issued and, within the next 48 hours, the bulk of combat elements were in-situ at their war locations.

IAF – By Fits & Starts
The IAF deployments in Kashmir, for what came to be known as ‘Operation Safedsagar’, commenced on 15 May with the bulk of operational assets positioned by 18 May. 150 combat aircraft were deployed as follows:

> Srinagar – 34 (MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-27)

> Awantipur – 28 (MiG-21, MiG-29, Jaguar)

> Udhampur – 12 (MiG-21)

> Pathankot – 30 (MiG-21, MiG-23)

> Adampur – 46 (Mir-2000, MiG-29, Jaguar)

One-third of the aircraft were modern, ‘high-threat’ fighters equipped with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missiles. During the preparatory stage, air defence alert status (5 minutes to scramble from ground) was maintained while Mirage-2000s and Jaguars carried out photo-reconnaissance along the Line of Control (LOC) and aging Canberras carried out electronic intelligence (ELINT) to ferret out locations of PAF air defence sensors. Last minute honing of strafing and rocketing skills was carried out by pilots at an air-to-ground firing range near Leh. 

Operations by IAF started in earnest on 26 May, a full 16 days after commencement of Pakistani infiltration across the LOC. The salient feature of this initial phase was strafing and rocketing of the intruders’ positions by MiG-21, MiG-23BN and MiG-27. All operations (except air defence) came to a sudden standstill on 28 May, after two IAF fighters and a helicopter were lost – a MiG-21 and a Mi-17 to Pak Army surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), while a MiG-27 went down due to engine trouble caused by gun gas ingestion during high altitude strafing. (Incidentally, the pilot of the MiG-27 Flt Lt Nachiketa, who ejected and was apprehended, had a tête-à-tête with this author during an interesting ‘interrogation’ session.)

The results achieved by the IAF in the first two days were dismal. Serious restraints seem to have been imposed on the freedom of action of IAF fighters in what was basically a search-and-destroy mission. Lt Gen Mehmud’s rant about a ‘Stinger on every peak’ seemed true. It was obvious that the IAF had under-estimated the SAM threat. The mood in Pak Army circles was that of undiluted elation, and the PAF was expected to sit it out while sharing the khakis’ glee.
The IAF immediately went into a reappraisal mode and came out with GPS-assisted high altitude bombing by MiG-21, MiG-23BN and MiG-27 as a makeshift solution. In the meantime, quick modification on the Mirage-2000 for day/night laser bombing kits (Litening pods) was initiated with the help of Israelis. Conventional bombing that started incessantly after a two-day operational hiatus, was aimed at harassment and denial of respite to the infiltrators, with consequent adverse effects on morale. The results of this part of the campaign were largely insignificant, mainly because the target coordinates were not known accurately; the nature of the terrain too, precluded precision. A few cases of fratricide by IAF led it to be even more cautious.
By 16 June, IAF was able to open up the laser-guided bombing campaign with the help of Jaguars and Mirage-2000. Daily photo-recce along the LOC by Jaguars escorted by Mirage-2000s, which had continued from the beginning of operations, proved crucial to both the aerial bombing campaign as well as the Indian artillery, helping the latter in accurately shelling Pakistani positions in the Dras-Kargil and Gultari Sectors. While the photo-recce missions typically did not involve deliberate border violations, there were a total of 37 ‘technical violations’ (which emanate as a consequence of kinks and bends in the geographical boundaries). Typically, these averaged to a depth of five nautical miles, except on one occasion when the IAF fighters apparently cocked-a-snoot at the PAF and came in 13 miles deep.
The Mirage-2000s scored at least five successful laser-guided bomb hits on forward dumping sites and posts. During the last days of operations which ended on 12 July, it was clear that delivery accuracy had improved considerably. Even though night bombing accuracy was suspect, round-the-clock attacks had made retention of posts untenable for Pakistani infiltrators. Photo-recce of Pakistani artillery gun positions also made them vulnerable to Indian artillery.
The IAF flew a total of 550 strike missions against infiltrator positions including bunkers and supply depots. The coordinates of these locations were mostly picked up from about 150 reconnaissance and communications intelligence missions. In addition, 500 missions were flown for air defence and for escorting strike and recce missions.
While the Indians had been surprised by the infiltration in Kargil, the IAF mobilised and reacted rapidly as the Indian Army took time to position itself. Later, when the Indian Army had entrenched itself, the IAF supplemented and filled in where the artillery could not be positioned in force. Clearly, Army-Air joint operations had a synergistic effect in evicting the intruders.
PAF in a Bind
From the very beginning of Kargil operations, PAF was entrapped by a circumstantial absurdity: it was faced with the ludicrous predicament of having to provide air support to infiltrators already disowned by the Pakistan Army leadership! In any case, it took some effort to impress on the latter that crossing the LOC by fighters laden with bombs was not, by any stretch of imagination, akin to lobbing a few artillery shells to settle scores. There was no doubt in the minds of PAF Air Staff that the first cross-border attack (whether across LOC or the international border) would invite an immediate response from the IAF, possibly in the shape of a retaliatory strike against the home base of the intruding fighters, thus starting the first round. PAF’s intervention meant all-out war: this unmistakable conclusion was conveyed to the Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, by the Air Chief in no equivocal terms.
Short of starting an all-out war, PAF looked at some saner options that could put some wind in the sails after doldrums had been hit. Air Marshal Najib Akhtar, the Air Officer Commanding of Air Defence Command was co-opted by the Air Staff to sift the possibilities. Audacious and innovative in equal parts, Air Marshal Najib had an excellent knowledge about our own and the enemy’s Air Defence Ground Environment (ADGE). He had conceived and overseen the unprecedented heli-lift of a low-looking radar to a 12,000-ft mountain top on the forbidding, snow-clad Deosai Plateau. The highly risky operation became possible with the help of some courageous flying by Army Aviation pilots. With good low level radar cover now available up to the LOC, Air Marshal Najib along with the Air Staff focused on fighter sweep (a mission flown to destroy patrolling enemy fighters) as a possible option.
To prevent the mission from being seen as an escalatory step in the already charged atmosphere, PAF had to lure Indian fighters into its own territory, ie Azad Kashmir or the Northern Areas. That done, a number of issues had to be tackled. What if the enemy aircraft were hit in our territory but fell across, providing a pretext to India as a doubly aggrieved party? What if one of our own aircraft fell, no matter if the exchange was one-to-one (or better)? Finally, even if we were able to pull off a surprise, would it not be a one-off incident, with the IAF becoming wiser in quick time? The over-arching consideration was the BVR missile capability of IAF fighters which impinged unfavourably on the mission success probability. The conclusion was that a replication of the famous four-Vampire rout of 1st September 1965 by two Sabres might not be possible. The idea of a fighter sweep thus fizzled out as quickly as it came up for discussion. 

While the PAF looked at some offensive options, it had a more pressing defensive issue at hand. The IAF’s minor border violations during recce missions were not of grave consequence in so far as no bombing had taken place in our territory; however, the fact that these missions helped the enemy refine its air and artillery targeting, was, to say the least, disconcerting. There were constant reports of our troops on the LOC disturbed to see, or hear, IAF fighters operating with apparent impunity. The GHQ took the matter up with the AHQ and it was resolved that Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) would be flown by the F-16s operating out of Minhas (Kamra) and Sargodha. This arrangement resulted in less on-station time but was safer than operating out of vulnerable Skardu, which had inadequate early warning in the mountainous terrain; its status as a turn-around facility was, however, considered acceptable for its location. A flight of F-7s was, nonetheless, deployed primarily for point defence of the important garrison town of Skardu as well as the air base.

F-16 CAPs could not have been flown all day long as spares support was limited under the prevailing US sanctions. Random CAPs were resorted to, with a noticeable drop in border violations only as long as the F-16s were on station. There were a few cases of F-16s and Mirage-2000s locking their adversaries with the on-board radars but caution usually prevailed and no close encounters took place. After one week of CAPs, the F-16 maintenance personnel indicated that war reserve spares were being eaten into and that the activity had to be ‘rationalised’, a euphemism for discontinuing it altogether. That an impending war occupied the Air Staff’s minds was evident in the decision by the DCAS (Ops) for F-16 CAPs to be discontinued, unless IAF activity became unbearably provocative or threatening.
Those not aware of the gravity of the F-16 operability problem under sanctions have complained of the PAF’s lack of cooperation. Suffice it to say that if the PAF had been included in the initial planning, this anomaly (along with many others) would have emerged as a mitigating factor against the Kargil adventure. It is another matter that the Army high command did not envisage operations ever coming to such a pass. Now, it was almost as if the PAF was to blame for the Kargil venture spiralling out of control.
It also must be noted too that other than F-16s, the PAF did not have a capable enough fighter for patrolling, as the minimum requirement in this scenario was an on-board airborne intercept radar, exceptional agility and sufficient staying power. F-7s had reasonably good manoeuvrability but lacked an intercept radar as well as endurance, while the ground attack Mirage-III/5s and A-5s were sitting ducks for the air combat mission. 

In sum, the PAF found it expedient not to worry too much about minor border violations and instead, conserve resources for the larger conflagration that was looming. All the same, it gave the enemy no pretext for retaliation in the face of any provocation, though this latter stance irked some quarters in the Army that were desperate to ‘equal the match’. Might it strike to some that PAF’s restraint in warding off a major conflagration may have been its paramount contribution to the Kargil conflict?

It has emerged that the principal protagonists of the Kargil adventure were General Pervez Musharraf: Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Mehmud Ahmed: Commander 10 Corps and, Maj Gen Javed Hasan: Commander Force Command Northern Areas. The trio, in previous ranks and appointments, had been associated with planning during paper exercises on how to wrest control of lost territory in Siachen. The plans were not acceptable to the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to whom the options had been put up for review more than once. She was well-versed in international affairs and, all too intelligent to be taken in by the chicanery. It fell to the wisdom of her successor, Mr Nawaz Sharif, to approve the Army trio’s self-serving presentation.
In an effort to keep the plan secret, which was thought to be the key to its successful initiation, the Army trio took no one into confidence, neither its own operational commanders nor the heads of the other services. This, regrettably, resulted in a closed-loop thought process which engendered a string of oversights and failures:
  • Failure to grasp the wider military and diplomatic ramifications of a limited tactical operation that had the potential of creating major strategic effects.
  • Failure to correctly visualise the response of a powerful enemy to what was, in effect, a major blow in a disputed sector.
  • Failure to spell out the specific aim to field commanders, who acted on their own to needlessly capture territory and expand the scope of the operation to unmanageable levels.
  • Failure to appreciate the inability of the Army officers to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of an Air Force.
  • Failure to coordinate contingency plans at the tri-services level.

The flaws in the Kargil Plan that led to these failures were almost palpable and, could not have escaped even a layman’s attention during a cursory examination. The question arises as to why all the planners got blinded to the obvious? Could it be that some of the sub-ordinates had the sight but not the nerve in the face of a powerful superior? In hierarchical organisations, there is precious little room for dissent, but in autocratic ones like the military, it takes more than a spine to disagree, for there are very few commanders who are large enough to allow such liberties. It is out of fear of annoying the superior – which also carries with it manifold penalties and loss of promotion and perks – that the majority decide to go along with the wind.

In a country where democratic traditions have never been deep-rooted, it is no big exposé to point out that the military is steeped in an authoritarian, rather than a consensual approach. To my mind, there is an urgent need to inculcate a more liberal culture that accommodates different points of view – a more lateral approach, so to speak. Disagreement during planning should be systemically tolerated and, not taken as a personal affront. Unfortunately, many in higher ranks seem to think that rank alone confers wisdom and, anyone displaying signs of intelligence at an earlier stage is, somehow, an alien in their ‘star-spangled’ universe.

Kargil, I suspect, like the ‘65 and ‘71 Wars, was a case of not having enough dissenters (‘devil’s advocates’, if you will) during planning, because everyone wanted to agree with the boss. That single reason, I think, was the root cause of most of the failures that were apparent right from the beginning. If this point is understood well, remedial measures towards tolerance and liberalism can follow as a matter of course. Such an organisational milieu, based on honest appraisal and fearless appeal, would be conducive to sound and sensible planning. It would also go a long way in precluding Kargil-like disasters.


Come change-over time of the Chief of Air Staff in 2001, President Musharraf struck at PAF’s top leadership in what can only be described as implacable action: he passed over all five Air Marshals and appointed the sixth-in-line who was practically an Air Vice Marshal till a few weeks before. While disregarding of seniority in the appointment of service chiefs has historically been endemic in the country, the practice has been seen as breeding nepotism and partiality, besides leaving a trail of conjecture and gossip in the ranks. Given Air Chief Marshal Mehdi’s rather straight-faced and forthright dealings with a somewhat junior General Musharraf, particularly during Kargil conflict, there is good reason to believe that the latter decided to appoint a not-very-senior Air Chief whom he could order around like one of his Corps Commanders. (As it turned out, Air Chief Marshal Mus’haf was as solid as his predecessor and gave no quarter when it came to PAF’s interests.) Whatever the reason of bypassing seniority, it was unfortunate that PAF’s precious corporate experience was thrown out so crassly and several careers destroyed. Lives and honour lost in Kargil is another matter.


This article was published in Air Forces Monthly (UK) – June 2009 issue, under the title ‘Himalayan Showdown’. The article was also published in Defence Journal (Pak), May 2009 issue.

Older Entries