The FC-1/ JF-17 Thunder is a joint Chinese-Pakistani project that aimed to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on western firms for advanced fighters, by fielding a low-cost multi-role lightweight fighter that can host modern electronics and precision-guided weapons. It isn’t a top-tier competitor, but it represents a clear step up from Pakistan’s Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives and French Mirage III/V fighters. This positioning addresses a budget-conscious, “good enough” performance market segment that the West once dominated, but has nearly abandoned in recent decades.
Pakistan has fielded JF-17s in squadron strength, with more on order and a Block II R&D program nearing completion. India’s competing Tejas fighter is overcoming project delays by looking to foreign component sources, but Pakistan and China remain out front with their offering, even though they began their project much later than India did. Pakistan and China have even set up a joint JF-17 marketing agency to promote export sales, which hasn’t paid off as quickly as they had hoped, but it would be unwise to count them out just yet…
Latest updates[?]: Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) is under pressure from the military to complete the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation of its Hai Chien 2 anti-air missile by this year. The Navy wants to start limited production of the missile from March next year so that the Tuo Chiang Class corvettes can have an anti-air capability. Unfortunately for NCSIST, the institute has run into problems integrating the missile with air defense radar. To meet the deadline by next year, it has to start shipborne testing in the next few months. So far, the missile has only been fired at sea once in 2014. Another effort to have the missile fired from the Mk 41 VLS is also delayed as the indigenous Hsun Lien naval combat systems is behind schedule.
Despite China’s ominous military buildup across the strait, key weapons sales of P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, Patriot PAC-3 missiles, and diesel-electric submarines to Taiwan had been sabotaged by Taiwanese politics for years – in some cases, since 1997. The KMT party’s flip-flops and determined stalling tactics eventually created a crisis in US-Taiwan relations, which finally soured to the point that the USA refused a Taiwanese request for F-16C/D aircraft.
That seems to have brought things to a head. Most of the budget and political issues were eventually sorted out, and after a long delay, some major elements of Taiwan’s requested modernization program appear to be moving forward: P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, UH-60M helicopters, Patriot missile upgrades; and requests for AH-64D attack helicopters, E-2 Hawkeye AWACS planes, minehunting ships, and missiles for defense against aircraft, ships, and tanks. These are must-have capabilities when facing a Chinese government that has vowed to take the country by force, and which is building an extensive submarine fleet, a large array of ballistic missiles, an upgraded fighter fleet, and a number of amphibious-capable divisions. Chinese pressure continues to stall some of Taiwan’s most important upgrades, including diesel-electric submarines, and new American fighter jets. Meanwhile, other purchases from abroad continue.
Latest updates[?]: News reports from Japan reportedly say the governments of Japan and United States have started talks on how to proceed with the former’s F-X fighter program. According to the reports, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Lockheed Martin are involved as well. It is said that the other two American companies are Boeing and Northrop Grumman. While Lockheed’ strength is in stealth technology, Boeing has considerable knowledge on composite materials while Northrop can contribute in radar and electronic warfare technology.
In December 2011, Japan picked Lockheed Martin’s new F-35A stealth fighter as its next fighter aircraft, to replace its aging F-4 “Kai” Phantom fleet. The F-35 was actually their 2nd choice.
Back in February 2006, Inside The Air Force (ITAF) reported that momentum was building within the USAF to sell the ultra-advanced F-22A Raptor abroad to trusted US allies, as a way of increasing numbers and production. Japan clearly wanted them, and the Raptor was a topic of diplomatic discussions in several venues, including a 2007 summit meeting. In the end, however, US politics denied export permission for downgraded export variants of the F-22, and its production line was terminated. That left Japan looking at other foreign “F-X” fighter options in the short term, while they considered a domestic stealth fighter design as their long-term project.
In the ensuing F-X competition, the F-35 Lightning II beat BAE’s Eurofighter Typhoon, as well as an upgraded F/A-18E Super Hornet from Boeing. Now Lockheed Martin has to deliver, and so will its Japanese partners. Will the F-35A’s price and program delays create problems in Japan? This article looks at the JASDF’s current force, its future options, and ongoing F-X developments.
Latest updates[?]: Flight Global reports, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has not received any confirmation that it has won an order to supply the FA-50 to Argentina. A person familiar with the requirement says that no confirmation has been received, and that the deal, if concluded, would cover eight aircraft. KAI says the contract covers the installation of fire-control radar, radar warning receivers and defensive countermeasures. A few days ago, several media reported that Argentina had chosen the FA-50 to purchase as a light fighter. The aircraft is a light combat version of the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft. Should the FA-50 win the deal, it would mark the type's first sale in the Western Hemisphere, the Flight Global article states.
Argentina’s air force is having a hard time maintaining its core Nesher/”Finger” fighters, even as the Kirchner regime seeks to take control of the Falkland Islands and their potential offshore oil reserves. That led Argentina to search for new fighter options, as the most reliable way of projecting power to likely exploration zones. Britain’s defenses are also much more run down than they were in the 1980s, and their complete lack of a carrier force leaves ongoing protection of the islands’ surrounding economic zones to just 2-4 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters, an offshore patrol vessel, and part of a regular navy ship rotation.
Argentina’s window of opportunity will close when Britain’s advanced carrier force enters service in 2020, which has added urgency on both sides as Argentina tries to make a deal. Can Argentina find its partner?
Latest updates[?]: According to the South China Morning Post, China is hoping to develop a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier by first putting the reactors on icebreakers. This approach was carried out by the Soviet Union when they wanted to build their own nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Russia has so far been invited by China to develop the latter’s first nuclear-powered icebreaker. “China really needs a more powerful, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to catapult its superheavy carrier-based fighter jet, the J-15,” the SCMP quotes Naval expert Li Jie. Although China already has nuclear submarines, the systems they use are unsuitable for carriers as they are not powerful enough.
SU-33s: folded, landing
In 1998, the former Russian carrier Varyag was bought by a Chinese firm for use as a “tourist attraction.” Nobody believed that, and by 2005, she was in drydock for secret refits. Still, a carrier needs planes. Near the end of October 2006, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper revealed that Russian state-run weapon exporter Rosoboronexport was in negotiations with China to deliver SU-33s, a variant of Sukhoi’s SU-27 Flanker with forward canards, foldings wings, an arrester hook, a reinforced structure, and other modifications that help it deal with carrier operations and landings.
By 2009, Russian media were reporting a breakdown of negotiations, citing low order numbers and past pirating of Russian SU-27/30 designs. China built on that prior piracy to produce its SU-33 look-alike “J-15,” with the reported assistance of an SU-33 prototype bought from the Ukraine. It’s now 2012, and China’s myriad deceptions have served their purpose. They don’t have an active carrier force yet, but they’re very close.
Latest updates[?]: The Canadian government has reaffirmed its intention to proceed with Leonardo Helicopters-led modernization of its AW101 Cormorant search and rescue rotorcraft, and to potentially increase its fleet size from 14 to 21 examples. Canada and Leonardo are currently during the final finalization stages of outlining the requirements for the CH-149 Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade program, including fleet augmentation, simulation and training. The Cormorant is a medium-lift helicopter used in both military and civil applications. It is based on AugustaWestland’s AW-101. The potential deal provides for new avionics equipment, electro-optical and infrared sensors, as well as the integration of Leonardo's Osprey active electronically scanned array radar. Canada has operated the AW101 as its primary rotary-wing search and rescue capability since 2002. Canada aims to extending the lifetime of its CH-149 fleet to 2040 and beyond.
Canada’s Maritime Helicopter Replacement Program has been a textbook military procurement program over its long history. Unfortunately, it has been a textbook example of what not to do. While Canada’s 50-year old Sea King fleet aged and deteriorated to potentially dangerous levels, political pettiness and lack of concern turned a straightforward off-the-shelf buy into a 25+ year long odyssey of cancellations, lawsuits, rebids, and more. Eventually, the Canadian military settled on Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk as the basis of its new CH-148 Cyclone Maritime Helicopter, which will serve from the decks of Canada’s naval ships and bases.
The civilian S-92 has gone on to some commercial success. To date, however, Canada has been the H-92’s only military customer – with all of the associated systems integration and naval conversion burdens that one would expect. After a long series of badly missed milestones and delivery delays, there are also deeper questions being raised concerning both the machines’ fitness, and DND’s conduct of the program as a whole. This article covers the rationale for, history of, and developments within Canada’s Maritime Helicopter Program.
In 2006, the Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC), based in Taichung, celebrated the upgrade of 2 of the ROCAF’s 130 F-CK-1A/B Ching-Kuo Indigenous Defense Fighters, “to improve their combat-capabilities against China.” Details that have emerged since show a set of F-CK-1C/D upgrades that turns the aircraft into fully multi-role fighters, moving them beyond their current limitations as air superiority aircraft and de facto lead-in fighter trainers for the ROCAF’s F-16s and Mirage 2000s.
Upgrades of the ROCAF’s other 128 aircraft were set to follow, even as China continues to deploy advanced SU-30 family and J-10 4+ generation fighters on their side of the Taiwan Straits. The new “F-CK-1C/D Hsiung Ying” (Brave Hawk) would still be a generation behind China’s most advanced machines, and budgets had to be approved to accomplish even that much. That approval was stalled for years, but the upgrade project has finally finished Phase 1 – even as Taiwan’s request to buy 66 F-16C/D fighters remains stalled in Washington…
Kanwa Asian Defense reports that the China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation has put CASIC’s HQ-9 surface-to-air missile on the export market, under the name FD-2000. “Brochures advertising China’s latest missile appeared at the most recent African Ground Force Equipment Exhibition in Cape Town, South Africa and also at the Defense Exhibition in Karachi, Pakistan last November.”
The Chinese Air Force has already deployed the HQ-9 at its bases in the north-central provinces of Xi’an and Lanzhou. A brigade reportedly contains a command vehicle, six control vehicles, 6 targeting radar vehicles, 6 search-radar vehicles, 48 missile-launch vehicles, and 192 missiles; plus a positioning vehicle, a communications vehicle, a power supply vehicle and a support vehicle. A battalion reportedly contains 8 missile launch vehicles.
The HongQi-9/FD-2000 reportedly combines elements “borrowed” from Russia’s S-300 and America’s MIM-104 Patriot…
On Sept 30/08, “The USA’s National Cybersecurity Initiative” focused on the belated but growing reaction to recent uses of cyber-attacks as an adjunct to warfare, and by the growing rate of attempted intrusions into American systems from countries like China. “Secure Semiconductors: Sensible, or Sisiphyean?” discussed the growing realization within the US military that massive use of commercial electronics, coupled with the complexity of modern chip designs, made it very difficult to be sure that “backdoors” and other security flaws weren’t being inserted into high-end American defense equipment. It’s a difficult conundrum, because commercial chips offer orders of magnitude improvements in cost and performance. Hence DARPA’s “Trust in IC” program, which hopes to crack the problem and offer the best of both worlds.
On Oct 2/08, Business Week’s in-depth article “Dangerous Fakes” claimed that a key component of the silicon security threat might be even simpler:
“The American military faces a growing threat of potentially fatal equipment failure – and even foreign espionage – because of counterfeit computer components used in warplanes, ships, and communication networks. Fake microchips flow from unruly bazaars in rural China to dubious kitchen-table brokers in the U.S. and into complex weapons. Senior Pentagon officials publicly play down the danger, but government documents, as well as interviews with insiders, suggest possible connections between phony parts and breakdowns… Potentially more alarming than either of the two aircraft episodes are hundreds of counterfeit routers made in China and sold to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines over the past four years. These fakes could facilitate foreign espionage, as well as cause accidents. The U.S. Justice Dept. is prosecuting the operators of an electronics distributor in Texas – and last year obtained guilty pleas from the proprietors of a company in Washington State – for allegedly selling the military dozens of falsely labeled routers… Referring to the seizure of more than 400 fake routers so far, Melissa E. Hathaway, head of cyber security in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, says: “Counterfeit products have been linked to the crash of mission-critical networks, and may also contain hidden ‘back doors’ enabling network security to be bypassed and sensitive data accessed…”
August 19/15: A Chinese company has been accused of selling counterfeit Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar systems, using a design taken from Israel’s Elta Systems. NAV Technology Company is believed to be selling a version of Elta Systems’ EL/M-2052 system, an airborne fire control radar capable of tracking dozens of targets simultaneously. The company also offers other products thought to be taken from US designs, including a copy of the GBU-39 precision munition.
Consultants hired by the German government confirmed that its defense procurement is messed up because of poor corporate management and weak institutional culture: Deutche Welle | Süddeutschen Zeitung [in German].
Germany will make a decision [Reuters] next year on whether they’ll continue to develop MEADS.