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Monday, April 29, 2013


Author's note: I apologize for last week's absence; future posts will be more substantive. I'm working on a J-20 related article but in the meantime here are some quick thoughts about Russia's PAK DA concept.

The Russian PAK DA is a proposed replacement to Russia's fleet of Tu-95 Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack bombers. There are currently two proposals for the PAK DA: a flying wing design and a hypersonic aircraft. (Gethin, 2012). The concept image above is not an official concept image and I doubt the final product will bear any resemblance to the image above for the following reasons:

Vertically oriented tails have poor stealth characteristics plus the engine nozzles in the rear are completely bare in the concept image. A bomber must have the ability to strike deep within enemy territory and return safely. Without a stealthy rear radar cross section, the PAK DA would be unable to survive an IADS (integrated air defense system). Furthermore  its unclear if the air intakes in the concept image shield the fan blades from frontal radar returns. The current PAK FA prototype does not shield its fan blades from radar returns. They are clearly visible in the image below. Both the F-22 and F-35 incorporate features eliminate radar returns from the face of the engine e.g. the F-22 utilizes an S shape inlet and the F-35 uses a diverterless supersonic inlet. Furthermore, as explained in the 6th generation aircraft article, concept images of the aircraft this early in the development phase rarely remain accurate for long.

Of the two proposals under consideration, the flying wing design is much more likely to enter production.  Russian procurement programs tend to favor safer more evolutionary design approaches rather than radical leaps forward (Kopp, 2013). Another issue would arise from the proposed hypersonic bomber's huge infrared signature. Even if the bomber has a low radar cross section, the heat generated from such high speeds would make the aircraft easily detectable to an IRST sensor. Although high speed can potentially protect the aircraft (e.g. the SR-71), its much more practical to build stealthier slower aircraft. For example, the RQ-170 Sentinel drone incorporates stealth rather than high speed for protection.


  1. Russia to replace current bombers with subsonic flying wing
  2. Here’s Russia’s (badass) next-generation stealth strategic bomber
  3. United Aircraft Corporation - Annual Report

Friday, April 12, 2013

F/A-XX 6th Generation Aircraft

Last year, the US Navy issued a request for information (RFI) regarding its desire to replace its fleet of F/A-18E/F and EA-18G aircraft in the 2030s. Boeing recently released an updated concept of their 6th generation F/A-XX originally unveiled last year. Lockheed Martin unveiled its own 6th generation concept in a calender distributed to journalists last year. If the development of the first 5th generation aircraft (the F-22 Raptor) is any indication, the 6th generation fighter(s) that enters service after 2030 will look entirely different from either company's initial conceptual proposals. 

Image 2: Lockheed Martin 6th generation concept. 

"The genesis of the Raptor can be traced to a Tactical Air Command (TAC) study known as TAC-85 undertaken in the early 1970s. In 1969-70, TAC-85 began inquiring into what the USAF fighter of the next century would look like. 'Look like' went far beyond the physical appearance of the 21st-century fighter...The initial Request For Information (RFI) for the ATF was issued to industry in June of 1981. Invited to submit bids were nine aerospace companies: Boeing, Fairchild, General Dynamics  Grumman  Lockheed, LTV, McDonnell Douglas, Northrup, and North American Rockwell...The RFI only specified the mission in the vaguest terms. [The] USAF waited for the industry brainstorming to come up with more defined design and capability parameters...The Advanced Tactical Fighter Statement of Operational Need (ATFSON) in November 1984 detailed the projected deficiencies of current generation fighters. This statement resulted in Congressional funding and approval for the ATF in 1985. The REP [Request Final Proposal] for the ATF was issued in July 1986." - Lou Drendel, 2011

The following timeline shows key dates in the Raptor's design and manufacturing evolution. Dates within parenthesis give a rough approximation of what can be expected of  the 6th generation development program. By no means are the estimated dates conclusive or set in stone. It is definitively known that the  RFI was issued by the US Navy in 2012. It is also definitively known that the US Navy plans to field the 6th generation Super Hornet replacement sometime after 2030. Given the immediate issue of F-35 procurement, it is likely that the 6th generation replacement program will be delayed beyond 2030. Current plans project the F-35 production line will remain open until at least 2036.

Timeline of Raptor Evolution

1981 (2012) RFI issued
1985 (2016) Funding Awarded by Congress
1986 (2017) Competing Firms Finalized
1990 Evaluation Concluded (2021)
1991 Raptor Declared Winner (2022)
1994 Engineering, Manufacturing and Development (EMD) contract (2025)
1997 F-22 First Flight (2028)
2001 Lot 1 Ordered (2032)
2003 First Deliveries (2034)
2005 IOC Reached (2036)

In 1981, none of the initial RFI proposals shown in the image below resemble either the YF-22 or the YF-23 (image courtesy of Given that the USN issued the RFI in 2012, the 6th generation program is likely in the equivalent stage of development. Meaning that is is unlikely the conceptual images released by Lockheed Martin or Boeing will look like the final product or even the prototype.

Program requirements changed over time which partially contributed to the disparity in designs (e.g. stealth became a dominant factor). Lockheed Martin and its developmental partners (Boeing and General Dynamics) went through dozens of design iterations before submitting the Lockheed Model 090P shown below for the final proposal. The USAF chose Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin as the finalists in the concept demonstration phase. (image courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

Due to airframe weight concerns, Lockheed decided to completely redesign its initial Model 090P proposal during 1987. The redesign process yielded an aircraft that resembles YF-22. (image courtesy of Lockheed Martin) 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Word About Chinese Military Research

Image 1: Shenyang J-15 undergoing carrier flight testing. 

Authors Note: While conducting researching the China's anti-access series of articles, I was constantly reminded of how bad much of the existing source material is. The primary objective of this article is to aid those who wish to learn more about the Chinese military from reliable sources. A list of reliable research resources will be provided after the examination of why such a large extent of publicly available online resources on the Chinese military are unreliable. 

Many experienced analysts who routinely research military topics often encounter an assortment of difficulties while researching topics pertaining to the Chinese military

"American military attaches assigned to the country are taught that 'China's first line of strategic defense is the Chinese language.' It takes about a decade to become reasonably proficient in Chinese—all too often an impractical quest—but on top of that, many Chinese will admit that the vocabularies of the military and related sciences approach a separate language, unknown to most.” - Richard D. Fisher, 2012

To make matters worse, the Chinese Government is not a credible source in regards to military related information as it routinely commits acts of disinformation (e.g. providing false defense budget figures). Many English written articles on the Chinese military are often both poorly written and biased to the extent of qualifying as an outright fabrication. Articles about Chinese military systems on Wikipedia are a classic example of this phenomenon*. 

*NOTE: I do not use Wikipedia articles directly for research nor would I recommend it to anyone. However, I've found that examining the source material utilized in a well written Wikipedia article can be a good initial starting point for one's own research into a topic if conventional methods do not provide much useful information.

Many of the topics written on Chinese military systems on Wikipedia are beyond redemption and cite bogus source material. This is an excerpt from a particularly poor written Wikipedia article about the J-15 as of 4/5/2013. (Image 2) 

Nearly every claim made by the author(s) during the first three fourths of this paragraph are either demonstrably wrong or highly suspicious.   
  1. "likely exceeds or matches the aerodynamic capabilities of virtually all fighter aircraft currently operated by regional militaries, with the exception of the U.S. F-22 Raptor." Its hard to take these types of statements seriously as they are not grounded in reality to any extent. The J-15 is the product of China's reverse engineering efforts of Ukrainian Su-33 aircraft obtained between 2001 and 2005 (Source 4). While the original Soviet Su-33 airframe provides some decent maneuverability characteristics when compared to some legacy 4th generation aircraft, it is inferior to high performance fighter aircraft employed by other regional air forces such as the Su-30MIK, Su-30MKM, F-15SG, and F-15K. The J-15 will not even be as maneuverable as the original base Su-33 design if Shenyang cannot secure reliable high thrust engines. China's current domestically produced WS-10A engines are not very capable. In short, given that even basic quality control measures remain a major issue for Shenyang, any claim that compares the J-15 to the most lethal air superiority fighter in the world should be met with intense scrutiny. 
  2. In regards to 4.5 generation technological features mentioned: To the article's credit, it does mention the remarks made by Sun Cong, chief designer of the Shenyang J-15, in the subsequent paragraph. Sun Cong's full statement: "In an interview with Chinese state news agency Xinhua, Chinese aircraft designer Sun Cong said that the J-15 is 'generally close to the US F/A-18, reaching world class standards.'" (Source 6). However, Sun Cong's statements and the information provided in the paragraph above (image 2) are mutually exclusive. As capable as the original McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet is, the original F/A-18 Hornet did not feature AESA radar, RAM coatings, supermaneuverability, etc. The original Hornet would not even be in the same league of performance as an aircraft which features the aforementioned traits. If the J-15 really included the listed traits, its performance would be closer to that of an advanced 4.5 generation fighter design such as the Eurofighter Typhoon not the original 4th generation legacy Hornet. The technology incorporated within the J-15 design is reminiscent of 4th generation aircraft qualities as the J-15 does not quality for the 4.5 generation aircraft designation. Its also worth keeping in mind by the time the J-15 starts to enter service, the original Hornet will be transitioning out of service in the US Navy. The original Hornet will be replaced by the much more capable 5th generation F-35C which will serve alongside the 4.5 generation F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.  
  3. In regards to the AESA claims: No credible source has confirmed the incorporation of an AESA radar into the J-15 design. If previous domestically produced Chinese radars are any indication, China's current domestically produced fighter radars are comparable to late 1980s to early 1990s US fighter radars in terms of both detection power and tracking performance. The pulse doppler radar utilized in the J-11B as of 2006 was capable of tracking six to eight targets and engaging four of them simultaneously (Source 1).  The domestically produced J-10A's radar, based on the Israeli EL/M-2035 can track twenty targets and engage up to four simultaneously (Source 2). The  APG-71 radar developed for the F-14D Super Tomcat in the late 1980s and fielded in 1991 could track 24 targets and simultaneously engage six of them (Source 3). Radar systems aren't developed overnight. Considering the scheduled deployment date for the J-15 is 2016 (Source 12), its reasonable to assume the radar system utilized by the J-15 is currently being developed. Given the relative level of technological maturity featured in 2006 indigenous radars mentioned earlier, it is highly improbable that within a period of just seven years (2006-2013) Chinese radar technology advanced enough to build a capable fighter AESA radar system. Russian firms took a considerably longer period of time to gain the ability to produce an AESA fighter radar on par with US AESA systems. Russia's first AESA fighter radar, the Phazotron Zhuk AE/ASE, was publicly announced only a relatively short while ago in 2007. European firms also took a considerable period of time to develop their own AESA radar systems. Thales recently delivered the first European built fighter AESA radar sets to Dassault in 2012. However, it should be noted that Chinese firms will advance their radar technology faster than Russian firms did relative to US firms due to China's extensive cyber espionage efforts. In summary, no credible source has verified the inclusion of an AESA radar in the J-15 and the current state of Chinese domestic radar technology would make the development an AESA radar (or at least a competent AESA radar system) incredibly difficult for Chinese engineers. Its possible the J-15 could have a very basic AESA by 2016 but its unlikely. 
The J-15 Wikipedia article is representative of how inaccurate many online resources are that relate to the Chinese military. There are also an innumerable number of Chinese military blogs that post false information which in turn Wikipedia authors will use for their own articles.

Reliable and Easily Accessible Sources on the Chinese Military

There are a few good online resources about the Chinese military that I've found of the years. The list below are the main websites I use when researching the Chinese military. Assuming you do not purchase a subscription to based resource such as Jane's Defense & Security Intelligence & Analysis, these are among the best online resources on the Chinese military.

Global Security:

  • Global Security provides an extensive series of thousands of articles that encompass nearly every major weapon systems employed by militaries worldwide. Global Security is technically a subscription based resource. However, the site provides 7 free article a month. Global Security is an excellent resource and is certainly a worthwhile investment to individuals who desire a reliable comprehensive resource on military equipment. 
  • Site introduction: " is the leading source of background information and developing news stories in the fields of defense, space, intelligence, WMD, and homeland security. Launched in 2000, is the most comprehensive and authoritative online destination for those in need of both reliable background information and breaking news., is well-respected, trusted and often-referenced in the media, both domestically and internationally."

US Department of Defense Publications:

  • The US Defense Department publishes an annual report to Congress concerning Chinese military capabilities. These reports contain a huge volume of information and provide a good introductory resource on the Chinese military. Specific weapon systems are usually mentioned briefly but these reports provide an invaluable perspective on aggregate Chinese military capabilities.  

Air Power Australia:
  • Air Power Australia (APA) is an interesting resource which has published some of the most comprehensive analyses of Russian and Chinese weapon systems to date. However, Dr. Karlo Kopp's criticisms on the F-35 is largely unfounded. The main reason why APA appears on this list is much of the information published on the site cannot be found elsewhere. For example, some of the detailed performance figures of Russian fighter radars are simply not available anywhere else except in Russian whitepapers written in Russian.  
  • Site introduction: "The  Air Power Australia website was established in October, 2004, with the aim of  promoting air power; stimulating public and parliamentary debate on air power topics; educating the community; and, publishing and archiving papers and articles on air power topics. The website covers a wide range of air,  land and sea warfare topics, especially where these are related to the integration and synergy of air, land and sea warfighting capabilities."

  • The RAND corporation is a think tank that routinely publishes some of the most comprehensive national security analysis available to the public. Although the RAND website and its analysis contains a lot of useful information, finding a specific paper or topic can be difficult due to the sheer volume of reports. 
  • Site introduction: "The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis.  RAND focuses on the issues that matter most such as health, education, national security, international affairs, law and business, the environment, and more. With a research staff consisting of some of the world's preeminent minds, RAND has been expanding the boundaries of human knowledge for more than 60 years.  As a nonpartisan organization, RAND is widely respected for operating independent of political and commercial pressures.  Through our dedication to high-quality and objective research and analysis and with sophisticated analytical tools developed over many years, RAND engages clients to create knowledge, insight, information, options, and solutions that will be both effective and enduring."
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Discerning the credibility of a resource can be pretty difficult.


  1. PLA’s Flanker fighter family, DX, 2009:                                                                             
  2. Air Force Systems, Global Security, 2014.
  3. The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems 1997-1998, Norman Friedman, 1997:
  4. J-15 Flying Shark (Jianjiji-15 Fighter aircraft 15) / F-15, Global Security, 2013: 
  5. Is China Buying Russia’s Su-35 Fighter?, Defense News, 2012:|head
  6. China fighter designer compares J-15 to F/A-18 Hornet, Greg Waldron, 2013: 
  8. Sukhoi Su-33 and Su-33UB Flanker D  Shenyang J-15 Flanker D, Dr. Carlo Kopp, 2008:
  9. China’s Testing Woes Remind That Developing Carrier Planes Is Hard, David Axe, 2013:
  10. China’s Defense Secrecy Still Robust, Richard D. Fisher, 2012:
  11. Engine Tech, Cyber-Espionage Key To China’s Progress, Bill Sweetman, 2012:
  12. New Pictures Of China's J-15 Suggest The Plane May Be Getting Ready For Carrier Takeoffs, Robert Johnson, 2012:
  13. Flanker Radars in Beyond Visual Range Air Combat, Dr. Karlo Kopp, 2008:

Monday, April 1, 2013

China's Anti Access Strategy Part I

Image 1: China's island chain strategy (image courtesy of source 2)

In terms of global perceptions, the belief that The People's Republic of China will supersede the United States as the dominant economic, political and military power in the 21st century is becoming increasingly widespread. However, in order to achieve true superpower status like the United States, China must achieve the ability to project hard power (military force) across the globe in addition to its already extensive soft power influence. Global power projection is not an immediate concern among current Chinese strategic planers. China's military procurement portfolio reflects the desire to consolidate and project regional power rather than to achieve global military influence. Of the roughly $150 billion dollars spent by the Chinese military (estimates range $120-$180 billion USD official military budget is $115.7 billion USD), a comparatively small portion is spent on the development of China's single aircraft carrier and its related systems. Three main areas in terms of military capabilities have benefited from a disproportional level of funding since the 1990s: regional air power capabilities, short & medium range missile capabilities, and submarine warfare capabilities. These investments do not actively project power over long distances like America's ten multi-billion dollar carrier strike groups. Rather, these systems deny a potential aggressor access to key areas of the Pacific region. For example, between 1995 and 2012, China domestically produced 39 submarines and bought 12 Kilo class submarines from Russia (Source 1). Only eight of these submarines are capable of sustained global deployment (nuclear powered). The People's Army Liberation Navy (PLAN) forwent the procurement of global power projection assets in favor of increased regional submarine warfare capabilities. The PLAN lacks a large inventory of fleet replenishment and oliers to sustain the continued operation of its largely diesel powered surface fleet. These oliers are required for large scale naval deployments thousands of kilometers from Chinese naval ports. If the PLAN valued increasing its global power projection capabilities in the short term, it would have allocated a more substantial sum into assets like oliers and fleet replenishment vessels. The trade off made between oliers and an increased regional submarine presence is generally representative of current Chinese military thinking. As a whole, the selection of equipment by the Chinese military does not demonstrate an interest in global power projection at this time. The first part in this series will examine the primary strategic objectives China seeks to achieve. Subsequent parts in this series will examine the individual components of China's anti-access strategy listed above.

The Chinese military has been tasked with three main strategic objectives: maintain the capability to defeat Taiwan in the event of a military conflict, deny foreign intervention in a China-Taiwan War (e.g. keep the United States from aiding Taiwan), and secure China's continued access to natural resources (Source 2). In order to achieve these goals, China's strategic planners have devised the island chain strategy shown above in image 1. Under the plan, Chinese military forces will eventually be capable of projecting power up to the second island chain and deny US forces from operating within the island chains if necessary. The ability to project power out to the first line of island chains will be accomplished before power projection can be readily applied out to the second island chain. Chinese forces are already capable of projecting power out to the first island chain.

"China’s active defense strategy has a maritime component that aligns with the PRC’s 1982 naval maritime plan outlined by then-Vice Chairman of the Military Commission, Liu Huaqing. This naval strategy delineated three stages. In the first stage, from 2000 to 2010, China was to establish control of waters within the first island chain that links Okinawa Prefecture, Taiwan and the Philippines. In the second stage, from 2010 to 2020, China would seek to establish control of waters within the second island chain that links the Ogasawara island chain, Guam and Indonesia. The final stage, from 2020 until 2040, China would put an end to U.S. military dominance in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, using aircraft carriers as a key component of their military force." -  Stacy A. Pedrozo, Capt, JAGC, USN, U.S. Navy Military Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Image 2: China's oil supply routes (courtesy of source 3)

The third objective given to the Chinese military is to secure China's continued access to imported natural resources.

"Beijing is increasingly dependent upon imported energy to sustain its economy. A net oil exporter until 1993, China still lacks trust in international energy markets...In 2009, China imported approximately 56 percent of its oil and conservative estimates project that China will import almost two-thirds of its oil by 2015 and three-quarters by 2030...A second goal of Beijing’s foreign energy strategy is to alleviate China’s heavy dependence on Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), particularly the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca. In 2010, over 80 percent of China’s oil imports transited the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca." - Source 2

A somewhat antiquated view holds that China seeks to establish naval and air bases along key oil routes to ensure its continued access to these resources (string of pearls strategy). China response to Pakistani invitations to build a naval base at Gwadar is not one of exuberance. However, China continues to invest heavily in Africa including substantial investments in ports. Although the relative merits of the string of pearls argument is somewhat questionable, China's intention to secure its access to oil supplies is undeniable. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are of particular interest to China.

Further Reading (blog articles by topic) 


  1. China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, 2013  
  2. ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2011 
  3. ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2012, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2012 
  4. China’s Real Blue Water Navy, Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, 2012
  5. Bold Projections Taken Out of Context Overstate China’s Leeway for Military Budget Growth, Defense Industry Daily, 2013