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Chapter Eight

PLA Air Force Equipment Trends


Richard D. Fisher, Jr.


The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is pursuing its first large-scale overall modernization to enable the conduct of all-weather offensive and defensive operations in a modern high-technology environment. This endeavor is consistent with the general doctrinal goal to build a People's Liberation Army (PLA) capable of waging "local war under high-tech conditions." Expansion of all-weather offensive capabilities, a relatively recent and ominous trend in the PLAAF, could include offensive naval strike missions for the PLAAF and greater consideration of using airborne forces in a strategic strike capacity.

Perhaps the most important driver of current trends in PLAAF equipment modernization is the evolution of doctrine that stresses high-tech, multirole platforms capable of offensive and defensive operations. This process began to gather steam under the leadership of former PLAAF commander Wang Hai.1 Relatively recent statements by current PLAAF Commander Liu Shunyao and even President Jiang Zemin indicate that the PLAAF is seeking a greater offensive capability.2

Critical to the PLAAF goal of being able to implement offensive operations within a joint warfare environment, as is the case with all PLA services, is access to modern information resources. For the PLAAF and missile services, an important information source critical for targeting will be a constellation of new imaging and radar satellites. Recent reports indicate that the PLA may be planning to field 16 new reconnaissance (8 imaging and 8 radar) satellites.3 The new radar satellites, which are not inhibited by cloud cover, appear to feature synthetic aperture radars marketed by Russian NPO Machinostroyenia4 that can detect objects less than one meter in length.5 The planned constellation would allow for four daily revisits by each satellite type.

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

  • a new interest in modern training aircraft and simulators
  • great emphasis on obtaining large numbers of multirole combat aircraft
  • acquisition of new types of antiair and ground attack munitions
  • greater emphasis on support platforms: tankers, electronic warfare (EW), and electronic intelligence (ELINT)
  • indications of an interest in increasing air transport assets
  • indications that airborne troops are to be increased and given strategic offensive missions
  • a buildup in air defense forces to provide greater support for offensive operations.

Training Systems

The PLAAF will need to invest far more in training to transform itself into a modern air force capable of a range of offensive and defensive missions. The force currently relies on a very large fleet of obsolete training aircraft, but this situation could change if the PLA decides to spend money. A modest effort to incorporate modern simulators appears to be gaining momentum. In addition, the PLA may be building its own air combat maneuvering instrumentation (ACMI) system.

Training aircraft. The current training fleet comprises about 340 jet trainers (40 Su-27UBKs, 50 JJ-7s, 150 JJ-6s, and 100 JJ-5s) and 1,000 CJ-5/CJ-6 piston engine primary trainers.7 While this fleet may be adequate to teach basic maneuvering and air combat skills, it is insufficient to teach combined air and ground attack maneuvers in a joint service environment. Even the Su-27UBKs lack the modern cockpit, datalink, and ground attack technologies associated with modern air combat. Throughout the 1990s, the Hongdu Company tried to sell the PLAAF its K-8 primary jet-powered trainer, which has the potential to be equipped with modern cockpit and communication systems. However, the PLAAF has been reluctant to purchase the K-8 because the trainer was inappropriate for PLAAF needs, and it relies on foreign engines.

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

Competition for the L-15 could come from Guizhou's FTC-2000 trainer, revealed in model form at the November 2000 Zhuhai Airshow. The FTC-2000 is based on the JJ-7 but has side intakes and a larger front fuselage able to house modern radar and a refueling probe. It boasts a supersonic speed and likely will have an advanced cockpit to facilitate practice of air-to-air and ground attack missions. Should the PLAAF prefer a trainer that can utilize an existing logistics train and possibly require a shorter development period, the FTC-2000 may be a better candidate than the L-15.

Simulators. The PLAAF appears to have increased its previously low level of investment in advanced simulators. The speed with which the PLAAF integrates simulators into actual units will suggest the priority that it places on building a modern force. For multirole combat, aircraft simulators are essential for training and mission rehearsal.

At the 1998 Zhuhai Airshow, a promotional video was played in which an undetermined number of large domed air-combat simulators was visible. Other sources note that Sukhoi has sold one or two Su-27 simulators to the PLAAF. Also, various Chinese Web sites show pictures of new simulators that appear intended for new Su-30MKKs and of PLAAF pilots making use of personal computer (PC)-based simulators. The 2000 Zhuhai show featured a new PC-based virtual-reality simulator by the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which it claimed was being used by J-8 fighter units. The same show also revealed new full-motion simulators, but they were configured for arcade rides, and their manufacturers seemed disappointed at the lack of PLAAF orders.

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

Combat Aircraft

A clear shift is under way in the PLAAF toward multirole combat platforms and more support platforms. Multirole combat aircraft are intended to fulfill doctrinal requirements for more offensive-capable aircraft to complement a buildup in ballistic and cruise missile forces. In some respects, a buildup of attack-capable aircraft is more important since aircraft, not missiles, carry the most ordnance to the target. Aircraft also can fly multiple sorties, whereas missiles cannot.

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

If current reporting on purchase or production numbers holds true, 300 to 400 new or modified multirole combat aircraft could enter the PLAAF inventory by about 2005.11 Such a number of attack-capable combat aircraft would pose a formidable threat to a Taiwan Air Force, especially one that may suffer substantial attrition from initial PLA missile and special forces attack. The PLAAF could also pose a substantial threat to U.S. air forces in the region, on Okinawa, or to a sole carrier assigned to the 7th Fleet.

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

Multirole Combat Aircraft Programs

Sukhoi Su-30MKK. The purchase of the Sukhoi Su-30MKK marks perhaps the single most important increase in PLAAF combat capability since PLAAF modernization began in earnest in the 1990s. When outfitted with its new Phazotron Zhuk M-E radar, the Su-30MKK will be the most potent multirole fighter in the PLAAF or, for that matter, in the Taiwan Strait. In the Su-30MKK, the PLAAF will have a platform that will be better equipped for air superiority missions than its Su-27SK fighters. But more important, the Su-30MKK will be the first PLAAF combat aircraft able to deliver precision guided bombs and missiles, plus antiradar and antiship missiles, in all weather conditions.

A development of the Su-27UBK twin-seat trainer, the Sukhoi Su-30MK twin-seat strike fighter debuted in 1993.12 The Su-30MK contains two sets of weapon and flight controls that allow either crewmember to fly or guide weapons, though the rear position is designed for a weapons systems officer. Both cockpits are dominated by two large multifunction displays, and the pilot can also utilize a helmet-mounted sight.

This type became the basis for an Indian purchase of 40 Su-30K/MK/MKI fighters in 1996. The Su-30MKK prototype first flew on March 9, 1999. Through 1999 and 2000, Russian data sources indicated that the PLAAF Su-30s would differ from the Su-30MKIs being ordered by India in several respects. First, the PLAAF fighters would not be as sophisticated as their Indian counterparts, lacking such super-maneuverable additions as thrust-vectored engines and forward canards. In addition, the PLAAF fighters would incorporate neither the advanced phased-array radar that Russia was developing nor the Western avionics that the Indians were requesting.

The initial 20 Su-30MKKs to be delivered will have the NIIP N001VE pulse-Doppler radar with an 80- to 100-kilometer (km) range that can track up to 10 targets.13 However, PLA Su-30MKKs will then be equipped with the much-improved Phazotron Zhuk-M-S.14 The Zhuk-M-S has a 150-km range in the air-to-air mode and can track 20 targets while attacking up to 4. But its real improvement is in the air-to-ground mode, in which it can detect a destroyer at 300 km, a railway bridge at 150 km, and a group of moving tanks at 25 km.15 The Su-30MKK already has an integral infrared scan and track system designed for air-to-air engagements and would likely use instrument pods for low-light and laser designation for laser-guided bombs.

Table 8-1. Estimates for Known PLAAF Multirole Combat Aircraft

The Su-30MKK has 12 weapons pylons, 10 of which can carry guided missiles including the 1-mile-range Kh-59M television (TV)-guided missile; the 125-mile-range Kh-31P antiradar missile; the Kh-29T TV-guided missile; and a range of laser and TV-guided bombs. It can also carry the existing range of Russian antiaircraft missiles (AAMs) to include the helmet-sighted Vympel R-73, the medium-range semiactive-radar-guided R-27, and the medium-range active-radar-guided Vympel R-77. At the 2001 Moscow Airshow, the Raduga bureau revealed its Kh-59MK radar-guided antiship missile (ASM). Its 285-km range correlates with the search range of the Zhuk-M-S radar and opens the possibility that PLAAF Su-30MKKs may in the future have a significant antinaval mission.

While not as important as its systems and munitions, the respectable aerial performance of the Su-30MKK should not be forgotten. At low fuel states, it should have the formidable maneuverability of the Su-27, the effect of which will be enhanced by its helmet-sighted short-range AAMs. In close-in combat, the Su-30MKK should be able to dominate older Northrop F-5Es and Lockheed-Martin F-16s not equipped with helmet-sighted missiles--almost all the inventories for these types in Taiwan and in Southeast Asia.16 As a strike fighter, the Su-30MKK will also have an impressive reach due to its aerial refueling capability. Its advertised unrefueled radius of 1,600 km extends to 2,600 km with 1 aerial refueling and to 3,495 km with another.17 Such reach will become possible when the PLAAF receives Ilyushin Il-78 MIDAS tankers expected to be delivered in 2002.18

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

In December 2000, the first 10 Su-30MKKs were delivered to the PLAAF. It is possible that this first batch was stationed at Wuhu Air Base, which also hosts a Su-27SK unit. A second batch of about 10 were delivered in August 2001. The remaining 18 of the first Su-30MKK order reportedly will be delivered by the end of 2001. The PLA apparently was so pleased with the Su-30MKK that in conjunction with the Jiang-Putin summit in July 2001, it ordered 38 to 40 more. These are to be delivered by the end of 2003. Given the PLAAF doctrinal emphasis on obtaining multirole fighters, plus the difficulties that have plagued the Shenyang coproduction efforts and the superior performance of the Su-30MKK, the PLA quite possibly will order more Su-30MKKs from KnAAPO.

Chengdu J-10. The J-10 is shaping up to be the second most important multirole PLAAF fighter in terms of performance, but apparently it may become the most important in terms of numbers. Long the object of Western derision as well as intense speculation because of its over 20-year development program, 5 or more J-10s may now be flying in a test and evaluation program. The J-10 is expected to enter production, and up to 30 could be built by 2005.22 Another estimate puts eventual production at 500.23 Some compare the performance of the J-10 to the F-16 Block 30,24 which was the first F-16 to incorporate AIM-120 active-radar-guided AAMs.

The origins of the J-10 are in the J-9 program that began at Shenyang in the early 1960s. Intended to respond to the new threat of the U.S. McDonnell-Douglas F-4 PHANTOM, the J-9 was first proposed as a tailless delta wing design. The program was shifted to the Chengdu Aircraft Factory, and by the early 1970s, the J-9 was redesigned as a 13-ton mach 2.5, canard-delta design, very similar to the Swedish Saab J-37 VIGGEN. The J-9 program was discontinued in 1980, but its basic canard configuration persisted in the later J-10 proposal.25 The J-10 was by this time the PLA response to emerging Soviet fourth-generation fighter threats.

Having been denied U.S. funding for its LAVI fighter program, Israel exported that technology to the People's Republic of China (PRC) by the end of the 1980s. Unconfirmed information suggests that Israel even sold a complete LAVI prototype, with its U.S. F-100 turbofan engine, to the PRC. According to an unsubstantiated report, a J-10 prototype completed in 1993 was practically a copy of the LAVI, including the F-100 engine.26 This would conform to the famous model of the J-10 with Li Peng. At any rate, the J-10 is widely reported to have benefited from both Israeli and Russian design input, with Israel providing critical fly-by-wire technology and advanced cockpit instrumentation.

The J-10 could have benefited from U.S. technology in two ways. First, the Israeli LAVI was greatly influenced by access to General Dynamics F-16 technology. Israel passed on the knowledge of some of this technology, which may have included avionics, advanced composite materials, and flight control specification,27 to Chengdu. Fly-by-wire technology may have been shared as well. Also, Taiwanese sources say the J-10 benefited from PLA access to Pakistan's F-16 fighters. Such access presumably would include inspection of the aircraft as well as flight evaluation against PLAAF fighters.

If the "Li Peng" model does represent an early design configuration (or even the first prototype), then the J-10 was severely redesigned by the late 1990s. This redesign reflected the requirement to use a 27,500-pound-thrust Russian Saturn-Aluyka AL-31 engine and the doctrinal requirements to have an attack capability. Another report notes that the PLA is developing a 26,700-pound-thrust engine but has experienced difficulties in completing it.28 The availability of a suitable domestic engine will likely be critical to the success of the J-10 in export markets.

The long-awaited revelation of the J-10 occurred not in an official sense but rather through leaks of pictures over the Internet in early 2001. These pictures show a side view of the J-10 on the ground, and several pictures show the J-10 in flight.29 They reveal an F-16-size canard fighter with a square engine inlet rather than the round inlet on the Li Peng model/LAVI/F-16. Compared to the Li Peng model, the true J-10's vertical stabilizer and main wing are also larger.

The canard configuration confers good short takeoff capability and maneuverability, which are useful in interception and air combat missions. The J-10 is also expected to benefit from an indigenous helmet-sighting system, perhaps similar to that revealed at the 2000 Zhuhai Airshow. Such a sight will likely be able to guide Russian Vympel R-73, Israeli Python-4, or perhaps an indigenous HMS-guided AAM like the PL-9. Long-range missile options might include the Russian R-27 and R-77 or a new indigenous active-guided medium-range AAM derived from the AMR-1 program. For longer-range engagements, the J-10 will be equipped with a multimode radar of unknown origin. Reported possibilities include the Russian Phazotron Zhuk PD, Zhuk ZEMCHOUG, Phazotron SOKOL phased array radar, and the Israeli Elta EL-2032. These radars would have the capability for multiple track and attack and for ground attack.

Other reports point to the possibility that the J-10 could have up to 11 hardpoints for carrying ordnance.30 Each wing is thought to have three hardpoints, one of which is for a fuel tank, and the fuselage has five hardpoints. This configuration would allow the J-10 to carry a low light/laser designator pod on a forward fuselage hardpoint, indicating that the J-10 could have a precision guided munition (PGM) capability. Attack missiles might eventually include the C-801/802/701 or their variants. Supersonic attack missiles might include the Russian Kh-31 or a new ramjet-powered Chinese attack missile revealed at the 2001 Zhuhai show.

Despite its long development period, the J-10's future in the PLAAF apparently is becoming more secure. At the 2001 Paris Airshow, it was revealed that China might purchase up to 300 more AL-31 engines especially modified for the J-10.31 This would indicate that the PLA has lost its patience in waiting for a suitable domestic engine and that a high priority has been placed on moving the J-10 into production. Future versions could feature thrust-vectoring and stealth enhancements.

Shenyang J-11 Multirole. In mid-2002, both Russian and Chinese Internet sources revealed that Shenyang intended to build a new multirole variant of the J-11 coproduced version of the Su-27SK. The Russian sources indicated that Shenyang intended to fit the new J-11 version with an indigenous radar, most likely a multimode radar, so that the J-11 could fire the new Project 129 active-guided AAM.32 Then at an exhibition, Shenyang displayed a model of its J-11 armed with Kh-31 ground attack missiles and an active-radar-guided AAM, offering confirmation of its J-11 multirole variant. It likely also would be able to carry other PGMs, such as laser-guided bombs. This new J-11 would serve to correct the deficiencies of the Su-27SK/J-11 family of which the PLAAF learned from its expensive experience. It would also allow the J-11 to conform with new PLAAF doctrinal goals. Moreover, there would be the added advantage for Shenyang of being able to offer the PLAAF another competitor to the Chengdu J-10.

Shenyang J-8II. The new PLAAF zeal for multirole aircraft is also extending to the venerable Shenyang J-8II. Though it is an obsolete fighter that would be better replaced with Sukhois or the J-10, the one major advantage of the J-8II (availability) probably has made it worthy of a multirole upgrade. The PLAAF may acquire up to 100 multirole-capable J-8IIs. That the PLA is again investing its scarce resources in the J-8II indicates that increasing the numbers of multirole fighters may be as important to it as introducing more modern systems.

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

However, reports surfaced by early 2001 that the PLAAF was indeed proceeding with a multirole capable version of the J-8II, variously referred to as the J-8IIC or the J-8IIH.33 It will carry a Russian radar and a more powerful Wopen WP-14 engine. The PLA will purchase up to 100 new Phazotron Zhuk radars to modify the J-8II. The radar will be the same Zhuk-8II developed for the J-8IIM and will be able to cue R-27 class AAMs and direct ASMs such as the C-801/802. The J-8IIC/H also might carry the new Chinese supersonic ASM.

Other sources note that the J-8IIC/H will be a development of the J-8IID, which carries a fixed aerial refueling probe.34 At the 1998 Zhuhai Airshow, a prominent picture showed a J-8II with a low-light/laser targeting pod similar in configuration to the Israeli LITENING laser/low-light pod. This could indicate that the J-8IIC/H may be able to carry laser-guided bombs. At the 2000 Zhuhai Airshow, officials from the China Jinan Aviation Central Factory noted that J-8IIs were also being equipped with their new FK-2 datalink system to improve communication. It is likely the FK-2 datalink would be used on the J-8IIC/H.

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

Xian JH-7. Another subject of a prolonged development program, the Xian JH-7 fighter-bomber has also emerged in recent years as a viable program intended to add numbers to the complement of PLAAF multirole fighters. As with the J-10, an urgency to advance production has prompted a return to Britain for the Rolls Royce Spey Mk202 engine, about 20 years after the failure of the first Rolls Royce Spey venture. China has just acquired 80 to 90 old Spey Mk202 engines and intends to revive its coproduction,35 meaning that at least 25 more JH-7s can now be produced36 beyond the 15 to 20 completed thus far. If Spey coproduction is successful, one estimate holds that more than 150 more JH-7s could be built.37 However, the future of the JH-7 is unclear given the possibility that U.S. opposition could prevent eventual Spey coproduction.

Development of the JH-7 (also known as the H-7 and B-7) is thought to have started in 1975 at about the same time Rolls Royce entered into its first coproduction venture with the PRC.38 Although it first flew in 1988, the JH-7 was not revealed to the public until the 1998 Zhuhai Airshow, where it was pitched as the FBC-1 Flying Leopard for export. It was also intended to showcase the ability of China's aerospace industry to produce the range of systems needed to assemble a modern fighter.39

The JH-7 looks like a fat British/French JAGUAR but is about the same size as an F-4 PHANTOM. Its high-wing configuration is ideal for its primary mission of low-level attack. While the exact radar used by the JH-7 is not known, it has been shown as a testbed for the CLETRI JL-10A multimode radar, which has an 80-km search range and a 40-km tracking range. The JH-7 has also been linked to the CLETRI "Blue Sky" low-altitude radar/forward-looking infrared pod, to assist low-level navigation and targeting.40 This pod is similar to the U.S. LANTIRN low-level navigation pod. Its advertised maximum payload is 14,330 pounds, which can consist of up to 3 external fuel tanks, up to 4 C-801/802ASMs, freefall bombs, and 2 wing-tip-mounted AAMs. At the 2000 Zhuhai show, a model of the JH-7 was prominently displayed with a new type of indigenous ramjet-powered supersonic cruise missile, similar in shape to the French ASMP tactical nuclear armed ramjet-powered cruise missile. Also, at the September 2001 Beijing Airshow, a JH-7 model was shown armed with a jet-powered version of the FL-2 ASM. The JH-7 has also been pictured armed with a Russian Kh-31 ramjet-powered attack missile.

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

Multiroles for export. The new emphasis on building multirole fighters extends to designated PLA export offerings, Chengdu's FC-1 and J-7MF. Both are considered export programs because the PLAAF ability to purchase the FC-1 is in question. Chengdu sources interviewed at the 2000 Zhuhai show did not indicate that the PLA would purchase their new J-7MF.

The FC-1 emerged from the 1980s Grumman-Chengdu program to modify the J-7 into a more capable fighter, the "Super-7." When this foundered after Tiananmen, Russia's MiG bureau was invited to continue the program, which then developed into a nominal codevelopment program with Pakistan. While Pakistani officials have often expressed their support for the FC-1, the PLAAF has been less enthusiastic. This reluctance likely is due to the FC-1's high dependence on foreign components, such as its Russian Klimov RD-93 engine, and a range of Russian and European offerings for its main radar and attack systems. The recent reluctance of the Europeans to supply radar and other key components,41 and the prospect of intense Indian opposition to the sale of Russian components to Pakistan, has cast even more doubt on the program. However, the recent ending of the U.S. arms embargo on Pakistan and the new U.S. willingness to give Pakistan embargoed F-16s42 could result in Europe again approving component sales that would revive FC-1 prospects.

As a consequence of the FC-1 troubles, Chengdu began several years ago to design an alternative, which emerged as the F-7MF at the 2000 Zhuhai show. It is essentially a J-7E with a larger forward fuselage, small fixed canards, and an underslung engine intake--like the J-10. There is also the expectation that it will carry modern Chinese, Russian, or European radar, designator pods, and precision guided munitions. The first prototype was due to fly in 2000, but that has yet to be reported.43 Not to be outdone, the FC-1 team stepped up its marketing in 2001. In April of that year, it revealed a full-sized mockup of the FC-1 shown armed with what may be a new type of Chinese medium-range AAM.44 New promotional literature also shows the FC-1 equipped to carry Western and Chinese weapons, to include laser-guided bombs.

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

Future combat aircraft. Since the late 1990s, there has been speculation about the PLA's next-generation combat aircraft, called the XXJ by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) in 1997. ONI estimated an initial operational capability of 2015 for the XXJ, which would be "a large multirole fighter with an emphasis on air combat and a reduced radar signature design."44 The design projected by ONI resembled a U.S. Boeing F-15 EAGLE fighter.

Recently, however, a number of alleged future PLAAF fighter designs have appeared on Chinese Web sites that show more designs may also be considered. What appears to be a wind tunnel test model of one design closely resembles the U.S. F-22. Another design also resembles the F-22 but uses canards in addition to horizontal stabilizers, like the Su-37.46 One source calls this configuration the "New 93" and notes that it is a 15-ton fighter with a warload of 4,860 kilograms and a performance that exceeds the Su-27 in many respects except range.47 Both designs make healthy use of stealth shaping and, very likely, thrust-vectored engines.

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

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

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

Single Role Combat Aircraft

Sukhoi Su-27SK/UBK. The PLAAF is working on acquiring about 78 Russian-made Su-27SK and Su-27UBK twin-seat training fighters. About 50 were acquired in 2 batches in 1991 and 1996, and about 28 more Su-27UBKs were ordered in 2000. There could also be an additional 20 or so Su-27SKs assembled from KnAAPO-built knockdown kits in Shenyang, the result of a 1996 agreement giving Shenyang a license to build up to 200 of these fighters. At the 2000 Zhuhai show, a high Shenyang Aircraft Corporation official indicated that Shenyang might not build all 200 Su-27s allowed for in the agreement.41 This statement would lend credibility to previously cited reports that Shenyang coproduction might switch to Su-30MKKs after the completion of 80 Su-27SKs. It would be logical for the PLAAF to prefer the Su-30MKK over the Su-27SK for reasons of doctrine and utility: the Su-27SK only has a secondary ground attack capability, and the PLAAF likely understands the better performance of a twin-crewed attack fighter.

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

Close air support. Beyond the long-serving Nanchang Q-5 ground-attack fighter, the PLAAF has not acquired a modern close-air support fighter like the U.S. Fairchild A-10 THUNDERBOLT II or the Sukhoi Su-25 FROGFOOT. The A-10 and Su-25 can fire a variety of PGMs and carry heavy-armor-busting machineguns. They are also equipped with heavy armor protection to allow the fighter to dwell over the battlefield to provide continuous protection. Unconfirmed reports indicate that some Q-5s are being modified to carry laser-guided bombs. Recent reports discussed an abortive program for a Q-6 fighter, which resembled the swing-wing Mikoyan MiG-27 FLOGGER ground-attack fighter.49 It is also possible that the Hongdu L-15 trainer could be developed into a ground-attack variant, as have many other trainers in its class. The L-15 high-wing configuration makes possible a useful weapons load, and its twin engines enhance survivability over the battlefield.

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

Bombers. The PLAAF is credited with about 100 H-6 (Tu-6) medium bombers, a type that first entered PLAAF service in 1959. With a 1,800-km combat radius, the H-6 is obsolete in most combat roles. Beginning with the PLA Navy (PLAN) H-6D version, this bomber was modified to carry standoff attack missiles. However, early missiles such as the C-601/C-611 derivatives of the Silkworm cruise missile had a short range and thus exposed the H-6 to most U.S. and Taiwanese defensive fighters. But a 2000 report suggested that up to 25 H-6s would be modified to carry 4 new TV-guided YJ-63 land-attack cruise missiles, also a derivative of the C-601/C-611 series.50 It is also conceivable that the H-6 could carry the new jet-powered version of the FL-2 revealed at the 2001 Beijing Airshow. This suggests that the H-6 may be given new offensive roles that give this old aircraft a new lease on life. Equipped with a land-attack cruise missile (LACM)-armed H-6, the PLAAF could join an initial assault on Taiwan that would otherwise be led by the short-range ballistic missiles of the Second Artillery and the Army.

There is relatively little open information on PLA attempts to develop a successor to the H-6. Internet sources have offered pictures of what is referred to as the H-8, which is an H-6 with 4 wing-mounted turbofan engines. Such an idea likely suffered a quick death. Occasional references are made to an H-9 project, said to be a new stealthy bomber being developed in cooperation with Russia.

The PLA might prefer Russian assistance in developing a new modern long-range bomber. But one might surmise that the PLAAF would prefer to have a near-term replacement for the H-6, such as an available Russian alternative. One recently noted possible PLA bomber purchase from Russia was for the Sukhoi Su-32, also called the Su-34,51 which would provide the PLAAF with a more capable multirole strike platform than the Su-30MKK. Its main difference is a redesigned front fuselage that provides much more space for electronic systems, fuel, and the crew--a rare commodity in Russian combat aircraft. It has galley and toilet facilities, which would allow the crew to perform 10-hour missions. Unlike the Su-30MKK, the Su-32 can carry 2 Raduga MOSKIT (SS-N-22 SUNBURN) supersonic ASMs or 3 NPO Machinostroyenia YAKHONT supersonic ASMs. Also, in addition to the usual range of Russian AAMs and PGMs, the Su-32 can also be outfitted for antisubmarine warfare.52

Despite much reporting in the early 1990s that the PLA would purchase the Tupolev Tu-22M3 BACKFIRE bomber, it has yet to do so. At the time Russian reluctance nixed the sale. But before the 2000 summit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, a Russian arms export official noted that Russia might permit the sale of strategic systems such as the BACKFIRE to China after the signing of a new friendship treaty.53 Following Russia's leasing of four BACKFIRES to India, a sale or lease to China becomes increasingly possible.

For the PLAAF, a small number of BACKFIRES, perhaps 6 to 12, would add a new capability as well as enhance the prestige of the service and the PLA. Its usefulness to the PLA, however, would depend much on Russia's willingness to sell long-range supersonic attack missiles like the 300-mile-range Kh-22, designed to attack U.S. carrier battlegroups. The BACKFIRE can carry up to 3 Kh-22s. It can also carry 3 of the newer stealthy Kh-101 3,000-km-range cruise missiles. It can also carry a bomb load of 22 tons. Because of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Russian BACKFIRES do not have aerial refueling probes, which limits their combat radius to about 1,300 miles. Not encumbered by such agreements, the PLA would be free to modify its BACKFIRES for aerial refueling to extend their range.

Hypersonics. As in the United States, Russia, and elsewhere, the PLA probably is researching the possibility of building future ultra-long-range hypersonic strike vehicles. The United States is giving serious consideration to such vehicles as a successor to the strategic bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).54 Built on technology developed for the space shuttle and the now aborted X-33 single-stage-to-orbit test vehicle, a hypersonic strike vehicle could be as fast as an ICBM but could also be recalled if necessary--and could strike again. It could deliver highly accurate nonnuclear warheads, the destructive impact of which are compounded by their hypersonic speed.

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

These vehicles are encumbered by the need for an unwieldy rocket booster. China probably is turning to Russia to explore novel single-stage-to-orbit concepts that are less reliant on land-based rocket boost. In early 2001, a Russian report noted that China was negotiating to contribute to a novel hypersonic suborbital program of the Leninets Holding Company called AYAKS.55 Leninets officials at the 2001 Moscow Airshow confirmed China's interests. AYAKS proposes a novel kerosene-fueled magnetoplasmochemical engine that would allow the vehicle to go from Russia to the United States in 1.6 hours.56 NASA and some U.S. companies are familiar with this work but have chosen not to invest in it. In addition, at the 2001 Moscow Airshow, officials from the Molniya Company noted Chinese interest in their air-launched MAKS concept space plane. The MAKS manned space plane weighs 27 tons with a crew of 2 and has a payload of 8.3 tons.57 It is about the same size as the Chinese concept space plane revealed in Hannover.

Advanced Munitions

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

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

The real advance for PLAAF AAMs will come when the Vympel R-77 (AA-12) becomes operational. In mid-2002, U.S. intelligence sources revealed that the R-77 had begun operational testing from PLAAF Su-30MKK fighters.58 These missiles feature an active-guided radar system that allows the missile to find the target without being "painted" by the aircraft radar, in the same fashion as the U.S. AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile.

The PLA also has its own active-radar-guided AAM program. At the 1996 Zhuhai show, it revealed its AMR-1 active seeker for a medium-range AAM. According to one source, the AMR-1 forms the basis for the PL-12 medium-range AAM.59 In mid-2001, a new medium-range AAM recently was revealed in conjunction with the mockup of the Chengdu FC-1. In mid-2002, Russian sources noted that this missile was called the Project 129 and combined the Russian AGAT radar, guidance and data-link from the R-77 with a Chinese missile motor. As such, it would likely have better range than the R-77, which has suffered from an insufficient engine.60 The export designation for this AAM is SD-10.

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

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

A more interesting possible LACM is the turbofan-powered FL-2 variant revealed at the 2001 Beijing Airshow. The presence of a new laser-guided bomb on the same JH-7 model points to the new FL-2 variant having a land-attack mission. The rocket-powered FL-2 weighs 1,300 kg, has a 365-kg warhead, and a range of 50 km.61 A turbofan variant could increase the range from 100 to 200 km. It is also likely to be equipped with GPS/global navigation satellite system (GLONASS) precision guidance for land-attack missions.

Most Russian illustrations of the Su-30MKK, as well as models of the same, show the aircraft armed with the turbojet-powered Raduga Kh-59M (AS-18 KAZOO) land-attack missile. It has a 200-km range and is guided by a TV seeker that relays its images via datalink to a weapons systems officer. At the 2001 Moscow Airshow, Raduga revealed its Kh-59MK ASM. Based on the Kh-59M, the Kh-59MK features a more powerful engine and a longer 285-km range. The Kh-59MK also has an active guidance radar designed for antiship missions.62 The degree to which Raduga is linking the Kh-59MK to the Su-30MKK in its promotional literature indicates this missile is intended for the PLAAF.

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

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

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

Information and Electronic Support

The PLAAF investment in information and electronic support aircraft is growing. The most obvious example is the airborne warning and control system (AWACS) program, which has acquired the Russian Beriev A-50E. Recent reports note that the PLAAF will initially purchase four of this aircraft.63 The A-50E, however, is the PLAAF's second choice, having been denied its first choice, the Israeli Elta PHALCON phased-array radar equipped A-50, because of intense U.S. pressure to cancel this sale in 1999 and 2000. The Israeli radar would have offered advantages in stealth and flexibility, with the potential to be modified for EW/ELINT missions. This capability may explain why China persists in trying to get Washington to reverse its decision.64

The A-50E is the most advanced version of this Russian AWACS aircraft. Its AK RLDN radar system can detect a bomber-size target at 650 km and a fighter at 300 km and can track up to 300 targets and command 12 fighters.65 Systems operators also benefit from modern flat-panel display stations, which are probably more reliable than early A-50 radar systems. At the 2000 Zhuhai show, officials from the China Jinan Aviation Central Factory noted that they would build the datalink for the PLAAF A-50s, which was not disputed by Russian officials from the MNIIP bureau that makes the A-50 radar. Russian officials did note that if the PLAAF followed Russian training procedures, it would take 1.5 years to train a crew to operate the A-50E.

Inasmuch as India may acquire A-50s with the more powerful PS-90A turbofan66 (35,000 pounds of thrust versus 26,000 for the D-30KP), PLAAF A-50Es could be similarly outfitted. The PS-90A would confer greater speed and range. On internal fuel, the A-50 with D-30KP engines can remain on station for 4 hours at a point over 500 miles from its base. However, both modified H-6 bombers plus expected Il-78 refueling aircraft, can be used to extend the A-50 time on station. Two A-50Es flying continuously over the Taiwan Strait probably would be sufficient to facilitate offensive and defensive operations.

A second AWACS aircraft is already entering PLAN service: the Y-8 transport equipped with the British Racal (now Thales) SKYMASTER aerial early warning (AEW) radar. The SKYMASTER is a version of the Racal SEARCHWATER radar used by British NIMROD patrol aircraft. The PLA purchased 6 to 8 SKYMASTER radars in 1996. The British government justified this sale by saying that China wanted these aircraft to crack down on smuggling. However, reports emerged in early 2000 that the PLA was using its SKYMASTER-equipped Y-8s to vector LUDA-class destroyers in naval exercises.67 At altitude, the Y-8/SKYMASTER could be used to support naval battles, especially with long-range targeting, or by vectoring offensive or defensive aircraft.

In spring 2001, Internet sources revealed that the PLA has also pursued a domestic AWACS program to succeed its old Tu-4-based AWACS. Pictures of a Y-8 with a radar dome over the fuselage and an aerodynamic test model of the same could be seen on Chinese military-oriented Web pages. It is not clear whether the Y-8-based AWACS represents an active development program or one that has been superceded by the A-50E. Internet sources also revealed that a model of the Y-10, China's attempt to copy the Boeing 707, has also been considered with a radar dome in a configuration just like the U.S. E-2 AWACS.68 This program apparently was not pursued beyond the test model stage.

Yet another indigenous AWACS program was revealed by Chinese Internet sources in mid-2002. This system used a Y-8 to carry a thin lengthy antenna mounted above the fuselage in a manner similar to the Swedish ERIEYE radar. This radar uses a steerable phased-array radar beam and offers aerodynamic and weight advantages over a rotating saucer array. It is possible that the PLAAF is developing this system in lieu of Y-8 with the rotating array.

Electronic intelligence. For ELINT support, the PLAAF reportedly has modified four Russian Tu-154M airliners with ELINT systems.69 At the 1998 Zhuhai show, the Southwest Institute of Electrical Engineering revealed its large KZ800 Airborne ELINT system, which the PLAAF probably uses in its modified Tu-154Ms. In late 2000, a photograph of a China United Airlines Tu-154M showed what appeared to be a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) structure under the fuselage.70 The configuration is similar to that on the U.S. E-8 JSTARS. The PLA has been developing ground-mapping SAR systems, some based on technology from the U.S. Loral Corporation, though the PLA has likely also had access to Russian airborne SAR technology. China United Airlines has 16 Tu-154Ms that would be likely candidates for conversion to EW/ELINT/SAR platforms.

Electronic warfare. The PLAAF is also developing an active EW capability. In the early 1980s, it modified some old H-5 (Il-28) light bombers for EW missions, calling them the HD-5.71 Though an early 1950s design, the H-5 has a top speed of 540 miles per hour and a range of 1,400 miles. Its capabilities would be sufficient to accompany strike packages going to Taiwan.

The Su-30MKK armed with the Raduga Kh-31P antiradar missile will present a potent electronic attack capability. With a 125-mile range and supersonic speed, the Kh-31P will pose a real threat to hostile electronic emitters such as radar. The second batch of Su-27SKs delivered in 1996 featured the KNIRTI SORBTSIYA active jamming pods. This system is able to detect and classify radar signal threats, prioritize the threats, copy and rebroadcast threat signals with jamming modulations, or cause intercepting missiles to deviate from their intercepting path. It can undertake multiple simultaneous jamming operations and is designed to counter fire-control, missile guidance, and AWACS radar.72 The SORBTSIYA pod is also configured so that it can continue jamming while maneuvering, something that is difficult for the U.S. EA-6B PROWLER, which has a more restrictive antenna configuration.73

At the 1998 Zhuhai show, Xian officials noted that an EW variant of the JH-7 was under development.74 At the same show, the Southwest Institute of Electronic Engineering revealed its KG300G jamming pod and its KZ900 tactical ELINT pods. These could be carried two each by a JH-7 in a manner similar to the U.S. EA-6B PROWLER. If armed with the Kh-31P, the EW version of the JH-7 could also attack enemy emitters.


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

The PLAAF has converted more than 10 of its H-6 bombers75 to refuelers, known as the H-6U or HU-6.76 They differ from standard H-6s in that they have two wing-mounted refueling drogues, most likely of Israeli origin, and the nose area glass for the bombardier is faired over. There appears to be a PLAN version that does not have fairing over the nose.77 If the H-6U/HU-6 compares to the Russian tanker version of the Tu-16N, it may be able to carry about 42,000 pounds of fuel78--a light load compared to U.S. tankers. However, it is useful in extending the range of a few fighters like the J-8IID or the Su-30MKK. In addition, it provides the PLAAF with a system for establishing and practicing the complex methods and procedures for aerial refueling.

The PLAAF was expecting to take delivery of the first of four Ilyushin Il-78M MIDAS dedicated tanker versions of the Il-76 transport in 2002.79 Ilyushin has spent many years promoting the Il-78M in China, beginning with its appearance at the 1996 Zhuhai Airshow. Should it enter service, the Il-78M will be a far more capable tanker than the H-6U/HU-6. The Il-78M can carry a maximum load of 304,233 pounds of fuel, of which 233,068 pounds is transferable.80 The Il-78M can transfer 60 to 65 tons of fuel out to 1,800 km and 32 to 34 tons out to 4,000 km.81 The PLAAF is purchasing its Il-78Ms conjunction with its A-50E AWACS, so the tankers can be expected to support the AWACS aircraft.

Transport Aircraft

The PLAAF dedicated aerial transport fleet has been very small relative to the size of the PLA and the country. The largest aircraft in this fleet now comprises about 20 Ilyushin Il-76MDs, about 25 Y-8/An-12s, and about 42 Y-7/An-28s. There are even two C-130L-100-30 transports acquired in 1987 but operated by a civilian company.82 A transport fleet of this size would be hard pressed to handle PLAAF unit rapid deployment requirements for Taiwan operations, let alone undertake simultaneous airborne projection missions. However, there are some indications that this small fleet could soon grow. The PLAAF also must account for the ability to assemble an irregular transport fleet from PLAAF-owned airlines and the much larger non-PLA civil transport sector.

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

But a more interesting alternative being promoted heavily in China by Antonov is its advanced An-70.83 The An-70 can carry 35 tons, approaching the capacity of the Il-76, and it uses turboprop engines that consume nearly half the fuel of the turbofans of the Il-76.84 Its use of advanced materials and advanced cockpit technology makes the An-70 among the most modern medium transports available. Coproduction of the An-70 would constitute a significant air transport technology upgrade for China. However, at the Zhuhai show, Xian officials downplayed their coproducing the An-70, citing its expense. More recent reporting notes that China may be invited in as a significant investment partner for the An-70, with no coproduction in China.85

Another Antonov offering being promoted for China is the An-74TK-300, a new development of the An-74 turbofan-powered short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) cargo transport. An August 2001 report noted that China might purchase up to 30 of these smaller jet transports.86 With a 10-ton payload, this ramp-loaded transport would be ideal for supporting rapid deployment for PLAAF units.

In 1991, the PLAAF began acquiring the Ilyushin Il-76MD, its first modern strategic military transport. Its 40-ton payload is sufficient to carry light airborne tanks such as the Russian BMD airborne tracked armored personnel carrier (APC) and a number of light gun- or missile-armed APCs or wheeled vehicles very likely intended for PLA airborne units. With a lighter load, about 30 tons, the Il-76 can land on unprepared strips. The PLAAF is variously reported to have acquired 12 to 20 Il-76s so far.87 The Il-76 fleet is thought be attached to the PLAAF 13th Division, and much of its work is dedicated to the 15th Airborne Army, whose troops are often seen in its exercises. Some Il-76s are seen in the markings of the PLAAF-owned China United Airlines, and one has been pictured in the markings of the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Company.88

In 2000 and 2001, uncollaborated Russian reports noted that the PLA might purchase between 10 and 40 more Il-76s.89 If the aircraft are to be new production, they could also be the new Il-76MF version, with better engines that can lift up to 54 tons. The PLA would acquire a greater strategic projection capability with the purchase of more Il-76s, whatever the version.

Irregular transports. If airborne projection operations were to be a large part of a future Taiwan operation, the PLA may intend to use civilian airliners for the bulk of its trooplift and some cargolift as well. For example, Hong Kong-owned airliners could be used to ferry surprise shock troops to begin operations to capture an airfield, to be followed up by PLAAF transports, assault helicopters, and civilian cargo jets. Civilian airliners could then ferry the bulk of troops necessary to secure and build on a bridgehead.

China United Airlines is used to transport troops, as it did for PLA peacekeeping troops sent to Cambodia in 1993. The PLA theoretically could have access to the 23 cargo versions of the Boeing 747 operated by Mainland and Hong Kong airlines. These aircraft can carry up to 122 tons of cargo,90 though they require special offloaders as they do not have loading ramps. In addition, the PLA could have access to about 600 Western- and Russian-built jet transports in about 26 mainland, Hong Kong, and Macau-based airlines.91 Recall that when the U.S. 82d Airborne Division made its emergency deployment to Saudi Arabia in 1991, the troops flew mainly on chartered jumbo airliners.

Airborne Forces

The PLA 15th Airborne Corps, said to be largest unit that could come under the direct control of the Central Military Commission in an emergency,92 is normally under the control of the PLAAF. A recent article from Taiwan's Defense International presents the PLA airborne forces as beginning to achieve a stature and size that is allowing them to move beyond an auxiliary, supporting arm to that of a decisive arm, especially in a Taiwan invasion.93 In a Taiwan campaign, airborne forces alone would capture key targets in Taipei and cut off the capital city. Some in the PLA view such an attack, when combined with massive electronic, missile, and air attack, as sufficient to force Taiwan's capitulation.94

But for the PLA, such an operation would require intense preparation for its airborne forces that have had no modern combat experience. Nevertheless, PLA airborne exercises appear to be growing in size and complexity. The Soviet use of airborne forces in Hungary and the U.S. airborne deployment to the Gulf are models of intense study by PLA airborne forces.95 In early December 2000, the commander of Russian airborne forces visited China to meet with PLA airborne leaders and to visit their units. He praised the training of PLA airborne troops and called for closer Russian-PLA cooperation in airborne unit training.96

PLA airborne forces are said to number about 30,000. The Defense International article notes the secret formation of a new brigade and the pending formation of 2 new airborne divisions (16th and 17th), for a total of 5 divisions. The article's author projects that PLA airborne forces could grow to 70,000 men. Chinese General Li Yuliang reportedly proposed that the PLA have the ability to paradrop 100,000 troops at a time by early in this century.97

New airborne weapons. Airborne forces and special forces are receiving new weapons. The PLA recently revealed a new 1,950-kg light buggy for airborne troops.98 Airborne forces could also have access to 5 new types of large-gun-armed APCs, to include two 122-millimeter (mm) guns,99 a 120-mm gun,100 a 105-mm gun, and a 120-mm mortar.101 The mortar-armed APC appears to be a copy of the Russian NONA-SVK mortar-armed APC designed to use laser-guided shells. Although the degree of PLA use of these new APCs is unknown, such vehicles could be carried by Il-76 or An-70 size transports and would provide airborne troops with mobile heavy guns needed to secure an airfield. For air dropping, PLA airborne forces also have an unknown number of Russian BMDs. The PLA also has a purpose-designed small truck armed with an HJ-8 antitank missile, which most likely also can be airdropped.102

Perhaps taking its cue from the U.S. LAND WARRIOR program, the PLA also is seeking to add digital connectivity to select ground units, most likely starting with special forces. At the October 13, 2000, PLA exercise/firepower display outside Beijing, the PLA revealed special forces equipped with a helmet-mounted TV camera and view screen.103 The apparatus is quite unwieldy but perhaps represents an early attempt to digitize ground units. Nevertheless, the equipment would be useful for sensitive missions of high political impact, such as the capture of Taiwan's political leadership.

Integrated Air Defenses

The PLA is building perhaps one of the most formidable air defense networks in the world. Especially since the Gulf War and Kosovo, the creation of an integrated air defense network has become a high PLAAF priority. One recent report notes the PLA Air Force is building 68 new radar sites near Taiwan.104 A robust air defense is viewed as a critical component for supporting offensive forces.105 There is a heavy emphasis on defeating U.S. PGMs and stealth platforms. The last decade has also seen a heavy investment in a range of new radar systems, including counterstealth radar. New surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) from Russia are being integrated into PLAAF and Army air defense units while new indigenous SAMs are appearing. A likely hallmark of this investment is to integrate space, airborne, and radar sensors to defend the sensor network while directing missiles and guns. The PLAAF may press to control China's space defense and missile defense forces in the future.

New radar. The PLA has been developing over-the-horizon (OTH) radar since 1967, but whether this technology has been developed for extensive use is unclear. Early efforts focused on groundwave OTH with a range of 250 km. Such radar would be most useful for tracking ships. In the 1980s, the PLA revealed efforts to build skywave OTH, which bounces radar waves off the upper atmosphere and has the potential to detect targets out to 3,500 km.

The PLA has developed many long-range surveillance and tactical radars. For long-range surveillance the PLA has developed the YLC-4, a 410-km-range 2-dimensional (2-D) radar, meaning it can only find the height and range of a target. This radar is advertised as having a potential antistealth capability. The JY-14 is a 320-km-range 3-dimensional (3-D) radar that is resistant to clutter and jamming. The YLC-2 is a more transportable 300-km-range 3-D radar that employs a variety of electronic counter-countermeasures to survive enemy jamming. The JY-11 is a new 180-km-range 3-D radar that is accurate enough to supplant weapon guidance radar, allowing it to turn off, thus decreasing its vulnerability to attack by antiradar missiles.106

The PLA knowledge of phased array radar was likely increased when it acquired the Russian Almaz S-300PMU long-range antiaircraft missile system in the early 1990s. The phased array 76N6 CLAM SHELL radar is able to detect targets out to 90 km and down to 500-meter altitude. It can track up to 180 targets. Its phased array configuration means that it can focus periodic points of radar energy on a target instead of bathing the sky in radar waves. This allows the radar to avoid triggering aircraft radar-warning devices that might result in ARM attacks.107 The PLA also has purchased the S-300PMU1, which employs the more powerful 96L6 3-D phased array radar that can track 100 targets simultaneously out to 300 km.

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

The PLA Army is also introducing new radar systems. The YLC-6 is a 180-km-range low-altitude surveillance radar that is said in tests to have detected a U.S. AH-64 APACHE attack helicopter out to 30 km. The CLC-3 is a new mast-mounted radar that is useful for detecting low-flying objects such as helicopters and cruise missiles. Also known as the AS901, this is a solid-state L-band radar that can track up to 10 targets at a 3,500-meter altitude, up to 25 km, and out to 15 km at 100 meters.108 The CLC-2 is a new tactical air defense radar mounted on a tank chassis to provide cueing for the new PZG-95 self-propelled missile/gun antiaircraft tank, which itself carries the short-range CLC-1 defense radar. A new army phased array radar is the SLC-2, which can detect incoming artillery out to 50 km to direct counterbattery fire.

Counterstealth radar. To counter the growing U.S. reliance on radar-evading stealth in its platforms and weapons, the PLA is devoting considerable effort to develop counterstealth radar. One area of particular PLA effort is in the area of metric-wave radar, of which the PLA uses several. At the 1998 Zhuhai Airshow, the Institute No. 23 of the China Aerospace Corporation marketed its J-231 radar, which is advertised as having "high capability of detecting antiradiation missile, high antistealth capability."109 The PLA also operates other metric-wave radars, such as the 2-D YLC-14 and the larger 3-D YLC-9. Many PLAN warships, including the newest Luhai class, use the Type 636 metric-wave radar. Russia now markets several new and upgraded metric-wave radars that incorporate solid-state electronics, countermeasures, automatic processing features, and modern displays. Russians complain that the PRC has stolen their technology to upgrade metric-wave radar.110

The PLA may also be exploiting a U.S. technology called passive-coherent detection, reported to have been purchased from a U.S. company. This technology, developed by Lockheed-Martin, is able to detect disturbances in television broadcast signals caused by aircraft. When this data is combined with normal radar data, detection of stealth aircraft is possible. The PLA may also be exploring bistatic radar, in which the transmitter and receiver are separated by some distance to overcome stealth shaping.111

Obscurants and decoys. Smoke, chaff, lasers, and decoys figure heavily in PLA defensive operations, especially to counter the U.S. advantage in laser- and radar-guided PGMs. To defend against PGMs, the PLA uses BODYGUARD, which consists of a wheeled chassis that contains a smoke and chaff launcher, very likely combined with a laser sensor and dazzler system.112 When a threat is near, BODYGUARD automatically fires smoke and chaff and its laser to confuse the aim of PGMs. The PLA also uses a range of decoys. Full-scale representations could include missiles, ships, aircraft, tanks, command vehicles, and other vehicles.113 Replicas are said to include full-scale representations of a tank type first seen in the 1999 military parade, to include simulating the tank's radar and infrared profile.114 The PLA has also used radar reflectors, inflatable structures with metallic sides that reflect and obscure radar returns, in exercises.

Antiaircraft systems. PLAAF air defense units were gradually upgraded in the 1990s, but this could change. In the early 1990s, the PLA received Russian S-300 and S-300PMU (SA-10) SAMs. These are still among the most effective antiaircraft missiles in the world, and their guidance system is very difficult to jam.115 Unconfirmed reports note that the PLA may already have the Russian S-400 SAM, which boasts a 250-mile range. PLA units probably have the TOR-M1 (SA-15) SAMs that have a shorter range but are fast enough to intercept PGMs such as laser-guided bombs. The TOR was designed to defend S-300s and other high-value targets. In 1998, the PLA revealed its FT-2000 SAM, which uses a unique passive guidance system targeted against such U.S. EW aircraft as the EA-6B PROWLER. The FT-2000, which draws from Russian SAM technology and likely the U.S. PATRIOT as well, is expected to form the basis for an active-guided SAM. In the near term, this new SAM--and other SAMs developed, most likely with Russian assistance--can be expected. In the meantime, PLAAF missile units continue to use new variations of the HQ-2 (SA-2). It is an old system, but little is known about its more recent variants.

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

Space defense. It is not clear which PLA service will take the lead in future space and missile defense missions. However, given its investments in air defense, the PLAAF may press for leadership in space defense missions. In 2000, the PRC revealed its large SL-4 mobile phased array radar designed to support the manned space program. This radar is intended to track satellites and could also be used to provide early warning for incoming ballistic missiles. However, it is not known whether this radar is being developed as part of an early warning network. It is also possible that Russia and China will collaborate on developing new missile defenses. Russia is marketing its new MARS decimeter-band mobile missile defense radar that can detect hyperspeed and space-based targets out to 2,000 km and also guide interceptors.116

China likely has had a long interest in missile defenses. A mid-2001 report in the PRC magazine Hang Tien noted that the PLA ABM program included the construction of two antimissile systems: the FAN JI 1 (Counterattack 1) and the FAN JI 2. The latter was tested five times. A FAN JI 3 was also designed, but the FAN JI program reportedly did not survive the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.117 At the 1998 Zhuhai show, officials connected to the FT-2000 SAM stated that this missile would be developed into an active-guided missile that eventually would have an antitactical ballistic missile capability. There are likely laser antisatellite (ASAT) and micro- or nanosat ASAT programs under way. The latter may be based on microsatellite bus technology obtained from Britain's Surrey Space Systems and a new solid-fueled mobile space launcher revealed at the 2000 Zhuhai show. This new mobile space launch vehicle, called the KT-1, may be based on the DF-21 intermediate range ballistic missile.

Implications for the United States

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

As has been noted by the annual Department of Defense reports to the Congress on PLA modernization, the airpower balance on the Taiwan Strait could favor the PLAAF after 2005.118 By that time, it would have 80 or more Su-30MKKs, over 100 Su-27SKs, plus the A-50E AWACSs and Il-78M tankers needed to support distant and Taiwan theater strike operations. Su-30MKKs, JH-7s and H-6 bombers will also be able to deliver several new ARMs and LACMs to complement initial SRBM strikes. Initial and follow-on PLAAF strikes could be cued by a network of space-based and airborne reconnaissance systems. What remains of Taiwan's air force could be quickly dispatched by R-77-armed Sukhois, J-10s, and J-8IIC/H fighters. With air superiority established, the PLA could then proceed with airborne or amphibious assaults designed to force a final political capitulation in Taipei.

This trend in PLAAF modernization also places greater pressure on U.S. forces in the region. Should the war on terrorism drag on for many years, it may not be possible to maintain a constant carrier battlegroup presence in Northeast Asia. But even if one carrier could be maintained, it might be alone in responding to what would most likely be a surprise attack on Taiwan. After 2005, the PLAAF assets that could be concentrated on a single carrier battlegroup would be formidable. The PLAAF would have enough fighters to attack the carrier's combat air patrol, while strike aircraft could launch scores of standoff missiles that could saturate closer defenses. If airstrikes could be coordinated with submarine missile strikes and land-based missile strikes, the result could be devastating for the United States.119

Addressing the air component of deterrence is but one element in a complex military and political matrix necessary to deter a Chinese attack on Taiwan. This should include a robust effort to increase Taiwan's active and passive missile and air defenses. First, Taiwan also would require a massive effort to place critical aircraft and command assets underground and to make communication grids redundant and secure. Taiwan would need PATRIOT PAC-3, AEGIS, and even laser-based missile defense systems to be able to deal with the volume of incoming missiles and cruise missiles. In addition, Taiwan would require aircraft such as the Boeing A/V-8B+ HARRIER vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) fighter to be able to disburse its air defense forces. Taiwan also should be encouraged eventually to consolidate its aircraft types around the V/STOL version of the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Taiwan needs the means to be able to attack and disrupt a gathering PLAAF/PLA airborne strike. If the United States cannot sell Taiwan long-range standoff attack missiles or systems like the Army Tactical Missile Systems missile, then it should provide Taiwan with technology to make its own.

For its part, more U.S. military should be closer to the Taiwan theater, a requirement recognized by the September 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review.120 Part of the solution would be to revive substantial military cooperation with the Philippines, which would allow the United States to open a southern defensive front in the event of a PLA attack. The United States also needs assets that can survive PLAA attack and enable an immediate retaliation. Theater missile defense for U.S. forces in the western Pacific is essential as soon as possible. Plans to convert two to four TRIDENT nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines to carry cruise missiles should be accelerated as quickly as possible. In addition to LACMs, the United States should develop new heavy nonnuclear attack loads that can be placed on the first stage of an unused submarine-launched ballistic missile. These are needed to be able to attack concentrations of PLA air and naval forces within hours, not the days or weeks needed to deploy conventional forces.

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

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


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


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

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

  3Reports in 2001 noted that the PRC would eventually launch four imaging and four radar satellites, but a new report says eight more will be launched, indicating a similar division of four more imaging and four more radar satellites. See Craig Covault, "Chinese Plan Aggressive Satellite Development," Aviation Week and Space Technology, November 12, 2001, 56. [BACK]

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

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

  6Ji, 128. [BACK]

  7David Donald, "China, People's Liberation Army Air Force," International Air Power Review, Summer 2001, 87. [BACK]

  8Brochure, "L-15," Hongdu Aircraft Company. [BACK]

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

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

 11"Fighter Figures Point to Chinese Air Supremacy," Flight International, October 26, 2000, 22. [BACK]

 12Development of the Su-30MK is covered in some detail by Yefim Gordon in Sukhoi Su-27 Air Superiority Fighter (Shrewsbury, Great Britain: Airlife Publishing, 1999), 58-60; and Flankers: The New Generation (Hinckley, Great Britain: Aerofax Midland Publishers, 2001), 29-64. [BACK]

 13"Su-30MK Twin-Seat Mulitrole Fighter," Air Fleet, June 2000, 10. [BACK]

 14"China's Su-30MKKs Will Have Multi-Mode Radar," Flight International, August 21, 2001, 27. [BACK]

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

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

 17Gordon, Sukhoi Su-27, 148. [BACK]

 18"China-Russia 'Mainstay' Deal is Revitalized," Jane's Defence Weekly, October 5, 2001. [BACK]

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

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

 21Jon Lake, "Sukhoi's Super Flankers," Combat Aircraft, March/April, 2001, 242. [BACK]

 22"Fighter figures point to Chinese air supremacy," Flight International, September 26, 2000, 22; "Chinese J10A To Be Mass Produced Next Year," Kanwa News, September 10, 2001, accessed at <>. [BACK]

 23John A. Tirpak, "Foreign Fighters Get Better," Air Force Magazine, October 2001. [BACK]

 24Ibid. [BACK]

 25Jake Collins, "Chinese Fighter Evolution," Air Forces Monthly, October 2001, 54-55; see also "The Mist of PROC-s J-9 Fighter," in Defense Technology Monthly's PROC's PLA Power (Taipei, 1997), 30-33. [BACK]

 26Collins, 56. [BACK]

 27Larry Wortzel, "U.S. Commits to Security of Its Allies," Taipei Times, March 15, 2001. [BACK]

 28"China's fighter skips generation," Flight International, March 27, 2001, 22. [BACK]

 29Many of these pictures are in the excellent collection of Hui Tong, who maintains a useful Web site entitled Chinese Military Aviation, accessed at <>. [BACK]

 30"China's fighter skips," op. cit.; Hui Tong, op. cit. [BACK]

 31Nikolai Novichkov, "China to buy Russian engines for F-10 fighters," ITAR-Tass, June 15, 2001; Yihong Chang, "Beijing Engine Deal With Russia Heralds Up To 300 F-10s," Jane's Defence Review, July 4, 2001. [BACK]

 32Douglas Barrie, "China Builds on Russian Adder To Develop Active Radar Missile," Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 3, 2002, 26. [BACK]

 33"USA rethinks view of China's next generation XXJ fighter," Flight International, April 3, 2001, 21; Hui Tong, "J-8IIM." [BACK]

 34"USA rethinks," op. cit. [BACK]

 35Reporting on the possible PLA purchase of more Speys emerged in early 1999. By late 2000, a deal was concluded and the engines apparently were delivered during summer 2001. Douglas Barrie and Jason Sherman, "China Seeks British Engine," Defense News, July 2-8, 2001, 1; "Chinese Speys Being Delivered," Air Forces Monthly, August 2001, 4. [BACK]

 36"FBC-1 with Chinese ramjet missile," Air Forces Monthly, January 2001, 24. [BACK]

 37Barrie and Sherman, op. cit. [BACK]

 38Jon Lake, "Xian JH-7," Air Forces Monthly, December 2000, 38. [BACK]

 39Richard Fisher, "Xian JH-7/FBC-1, The nine lives of the Flying Leopard," World Airpower Journal, Summer 1999, 23.

 40Ibid. [BACK]

 41Paul Lewis, "European hesitation holds up Sino-Pakistani Super 7 fighter," Flight International, January 18, 2000, 20. [BACK]

 42Paul Lewis, "USA lifts arms embargo to Pakistan and offers to supply more F-16s," Flight International, October 16, 2001, 11. At the time this essay was written, the Bush administration had so far refused to allow Pakistan to obtain the 28 F-16s that had been embargoed in the early 1990s. [BACK]

 43"Chengdu reveals details of F-7MF," Flight International, November 21, 2000, 18. [BACK]

 44The FC-1 mock-up and new AAM appeared in a substantially detailed article, "'Advanced' Launch of Chinese Super Seven," World Flight (from PRC), May 2001, 14. [BACK]

 45Office of Naval Intelligence, Worldwide Challenges to Naval Strike Warfare (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1997), 19. [BACK]

 46"USA rethinks view," op. cit. [BACK]

 47Collins, 56. [BACK]

 48Interview, Zhuhai Airshow, November 2000. [BACK]

 49Described in an article on ground-attack aircraft in the Mainland magazine Weapon, July 2001, 22. [BACK]

 50"China's new cruise nears service," Flight International, August 22, 2000, 26. [BACK]

 51Piotr Butowski, "Su-32 could hit market by 2002," Jane's Defence Weekly, August 9, 2000, 12. [BACK]

 52Yefim Gordon, "Flankers," op. cit., chapter 3. [BACK]

 53"China to Remain Largest Russian Arms Importer in Coming Years," Interfax, July 17, 2000. [BACK]

 54For a useful overview of U.S. efforts, see David Baker, "Global Hyperstrike," Air International, October 2001, 208-212. [BACK]

 55"Leninets Company and Chinese Government Delegation Sign Agreement to Participate in Creation of Hypersonic Flying Apparatus," Vedmosti, April 23, 2001, in Roy's Russian Aviation Resource, accessed at <>. [BACK]

 56Nikolai Novichkov, "Russia in the Forefront of Aerospace Technology," Military Parade, (May/June 1994), 68-71. [BACK]

 57Brochure, "MAKS, Multipurpose Aerospace System," Molniya Joint Stock Company, obtained at the 2001 Moscow Airshow. [BACK]

 58Bill Gertz, "China test-fires new air-to-air missile," The Washington Times, July 1, 2002, p. 1. [BACK]

 59Hui Tong, "PL-12?," Chinese Military Aviation, accessed at <>. [BACK]

 60Douglas Barrie, "China Builds on Russian Adder To Develop Active Radar Missile," Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 3, 2002, p. 26. [BACK]

 61Brochure, "FL-2," China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Company, obtained at the 1998 Zhuhai Airshow. [BACK]

 62Brochure, "Kh-59MK," Raduga Bureau, obtained at the 2001 Moscow Airshow. [BACK]

 63"China-Russia Mainstay deal," op. cit. [BACK]

 64"China seeks U.S. reversal," Flight International, October 30, 2001, 21. [BACK]

 65Brochure, "A-50E," Moscow Scientific and Research Institute of Instrument Engineering (MNIIP), obtained at the 2001 Moscow Airshow. [BACK]

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

 67"China converts Y-8s for AEW role," Flight International, March 14, 2000, 15. [BACK]

 68These pictures appeared on the now defunct <> Chinese language military Web site. [BACK]

 69Hui Tong, "Tu-154M/D Careless," Chinese Military Aviation, accessed at <>. [BACK]

 70"Chinese Airborne Command Post," Air Forces Monthly, January 2001, 16. [BACK]

 71Hui Tong, "HD-5 Beagle," Chinese Military Aviation, op. cit. [BACK]

 72"KS-418E Jammer Pod," KNIRTI brochure, obtained at the 2001 Moscow Airshow. [BACK]

 73At the 2001 Moscow Airshow, KNIRTI revealed the configuration for its SORBITSYA antenna, which shows an omini-directional broadcast capability that would less likely be blocked by the airframe, whereas the jamming pods on the PROWLER can be blocked if the airframe is at the right angle to the pod. [BACK]

 74Ibid. [BACK]

 75Robert Sae-Liu, "Chinese expand aerial refueling capability to navy," Jane's Defence Weekly, June 21, 2000, 14. [BACK]

 76Hui Tong, "H-6U/HU-6," Chinese Military Aviation, accessed at <>. [BACK]

 77Ibid. [BACK]

 78Jon Lake, "Tupolev's Badger Family," World Airpower Journal, Winter 1992, 125. [BACK]

 79"China-Russia Mainstay deal," op. cit. [BACK]

 80Yefim Gordon and Dimitri Kommisarov, "The Red Starlifter," World Airpower Journal, Winter 1998, 123. [BACK]

 81"Delivery of Il-78MK Refueling Airplanes to India Will Begin in 2003," Interfax-AVN, October 24, 2001, in Roy's Russian Aviation Resource, accessed at <>. [BACK]

 82As of 1993, these 2 C-130s were operated by Air China Cargo. Colin Ballantine and Pamela Tang, Chinese Airlines (Shrewsbury, Great Britain: Airlife Publishing, 1995), 42. [BACK]

 83"An-70 Will Be Built in China," Segodnya, June 20, 2000, in Roy's Russian Aircraft Resource, accessed at <>; "Antonov ANTK and Chinese AVIC II Company Collaboration," Foreign Media Reports, November 10, 2000, in Roy's Russian Aircraft Resource, accessed at <>. [BACK]

 84Vladimir Karnozov, "Future Imperfect," Flight International, November 6, 2001, 47. [BACK]

 85"Negotiations Under Way Regarding China's Participation in Creation and Production of An-70 Airplane," Interfax-AVN, October 24, 2001, in Roy's Russian Aviation Resource, accessed at <>. [BACK]

 86"Possibility of Purchase by China of 30 An74TK-300 Airplanes Not Ruled Out in Ukranian Government Apparatus," Finmarket Agency, August 23, 2001, in Roy's Russian Aircraft Resource, accessed at <>. [BACK]

 87The larger number is noted by Yefim Gordon, who supplies the aircraft registration numbers in Dimitry Komissarov and Yefim Gordon, Ilyushin Il-76, Russia's Versatile Airlifter (Hinckley, Great Britain: Aerofax Midland Publishing, 2001), 109. [BACK]

 88The COSCO Il-76 was viewed by the author on the COSCO Web site. [BACK]

 89Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye No. 45, May 12, 2000, in Roy's Russian Aircraft Resource, accessed at <>; "Il-76 Sale to China will Permit Assigning Russian VPK Enterprises Manufacturing Parts for this Airplane with Orders," Finmarket Agency, July 5, 2001, in Roy's Russian Aircraft Resource, accessed at <>; Komissarov and Gordon, op. cit., 109. [BACK]

 90Bruce A. Smith, "Boeing Broadens Product Line for Cargo Transport Aircraft," Aviation Week and Space Technology, August 27, 2001, 54. [BACK]

 91Numbers of Chinese civil cargo and passenger airliners from "World Airlines, Parts 1, 2 and 3," in Flight International, March 20, March 27, and April 3, 2001. For a cross-reference by airliner type, see "World Airliner Census, Over the Precipice," Flight International, October 16, 2001, 40-69. [BACK]

 92Ibid. [BACK]

 93Lin Chu-chin, "PLA Special Operations Exclusive--PLA Airborne Operations," Chun Shih Chia (Defense International), May 2001, 24-39, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, May 1, 2001. [BACK]

 94Ibid. [BACK]

 95Ibid. [BACK]

 96Andrei Kirillov, "Georgy Shpak Supports Sharing Experience Between Russian, Chinese Paratroopers," ITAR-TASS, December 8, 2000. [BACK]

 97Ji, 145. [BACK]

 98Bingqi Zhishi, March 2001; Christopher Foss, "China fields fast-attack vehicle," Jane's Defence Weekly, June 13, 2001, 13. [BACK]

 99Bingqi Zhishi, August 2001. [BACK]

100Bingqi Zhishi, June 2001; Yihong Chang, "China unveils 120mm 8x8 tank destroyer," Jane's Defence Weekly, June 30, 2001, 32. [BACK]

101Bingqi Zhishi, May 2001; Yihong Chang, "China reveals SP mortar," Jane's Defence Weekly, June 6, 2001, 9. [BACK]

102Bingqi Zhishi, December 2000. [BACK]

103Ibid.; many pictures of the new digital communications gear can also be viewed on the PLA pictoral Web page. [BACK]

104Al Santoli, report for the American Foreign Policy Council. [BACK]

105Ji, 139-140. [BACK]

106Radar data in this paragraph from brochures of the China National Electronics Import and Export Company. [BACK]

107Steven Zaloga, "Airpower's Future Nemesis," Air Forces Monthly, January 2001, 35. [BACK]

108Yihong Zhang, "China Launches New AS901 Radar," Jane's Defence Weekly, July 4, 2001. [BACK]

109Brochure, "J-231 Mid-Range Surveillance Radar," Institute No. 23 of China Aerospace Corporation. [BACK]

110Interview, Moscow Airshow, August 2001. [BACK]

111L. Neng-Jing, "Radar ECCMs New Area:Anti-Stealth and Anti-ARM," IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, 31 (July 1995), 1120-1127; W. Xu, "The Challenges and the Ways to Deal With--Where is Airborne Fire Control Radar Going," Proceedings of the National Aerospace and Electronics Conference, NAECON 1993, 1, 303-309. [BACK]

112Brochure, "China National Electronics Import and Export Corporation." [BACK]

113PLA skill at building exact decoy replicas was displayed at a Guangzhou region military exhibition in early 2001, covered in Bingqi Zhishi, May 2001, and in Defense Technology Monthly (Taiwan), March 2001. [BACK]

114"Magicians on the Battleground: Experiencing China's Camouflage Units," Jeifang Rabao, May 31, 2001, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, May 31, 2000. [BACK]

115Zaloga, op. cit. [BACK]

116Sergei Boyev, "Shrewd Eyes and Mind of the Missile and Space Defense High-Potential Radars; Past Present and Future," Military Parade, September 2001, accessed at <>. [BACK]

117"China Steps Up ABM Technology Research," Kanwa News, accessed at <>. [BACK]

118U.S. Department of Defense, "Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China," Report to Congress Pursuant to the FY 2000 National Defense Authorization Act, June 2000, 21. [BACK]

119The PLA intention and capability to target U.S. carriers is further explored by the author in "To Take Taiwan, First Kill A Carrier," China Brief, July 8, 2002, accessed at <>. [BACK]

120U.S. Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2001), 27. [BACK]

Table of Contents  I  Chapter Nine

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