By WENDELL MINNICK, ZHUHAI, China
The United States and Western European nations imposed an arms embargo after Beijing ordered a 1989 political crackdown.
Up to 70 Russian and Ukrainian companies flexed their muscles at the show Oct. 31 through Nov. 5, displaying missiles, bombs and fighter aircraft to Chinese bargain hunters. At least one Iranian delegation also attended the show.
Among the Western companies pushing civilian aircraft and equipment were Boeing, Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce.
One Zhuhai source said that even if Western aircraft, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, were available, it would be too expensive for Beijing. Russian aircraft are cheap and reliable, the source said.
China debuted its new L-15 Advanced Trainer, developed by Hongdu Aviation Industry Group. Chinese companies also displayed 10 different unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as well as new conceptual models of an advanced, stealthy Anjian (Dark Sword) unmanned combat aerial vehicle, produced by the Shenyang Aircraft Design and Research Institute, and the Tianyi (Sky Wing) UAV and Soar Dragon high-altitude unmanned scout, both produced by China Aviation Industry Corp.
Pakistan Engine Resolved
The question of how China would supply engines for the version of the FC-1 multirole fighter purchased by Pakistan — dubbed the Joint Fighter-17 (JF-17) Thunder — has been resolved, according to officials from St. Petersburg-based Klimov and the China National Technology Import and Export Corp. (CATIC).
The delta-winged Xiaolong (Fierce Dragon) FC-1 multirole fighter was jointly developed by China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corp. and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra, Pakistan.
The Klimov RD-93 engine being outfitted on the FC-1 also will power the version being exported to Pakistan, Klimov General Director Alexander Vatagin said at the Nov. 1 press conference.
Klimov had long denied rumors that it planned to allow China to re-export the engine to Pakistan. Debate raged on what type of engine China would have to develop for the fighter as a replacement.
Fears that New Delhi would object to the engine’s re-export were often cited as Moscow’s biggest fear. India has purchased a number of Russian MiG-29K/UB fighters, and is a potential customer for MiG-35s. There were fears that New Delhi would curb potential orders if Pakistan received Russian-made engines for the JF-17.
“It is pending approval by the Russian government. Export licenses will be granted if it does not violate export laws in Russia,” Vatagin said.
Li Pei, CATIC development director, told reporters that he expects CATIC to get permission and “export it to Pakistan.”
Other sources have indicated that Russia has satisfied Indian concerns and the engine re-export would not disturb Russian sales of MiG fighters to India.
Future Sukhoi Sales
Sukhoi sources at the show confirmed that the Sukhoi Su-33 and Su-35 are expected to be exported to Beijing in five to 10 years.
The announcement was made in Russia of a pending contract between Moscow and Beijing for the sale of up to 50 carrier-borne Su-33 fighters, for an estimated $2.5 billion, expected to be signed before 2007. The Chinese derivative is expected to be the Su-33K, with a more advanced avionics suite and a broader weapon array than the Russian version, including the RVV-AE air-to-air, Kh-31A anti-ship and Kh-31P anti-radiation missiles, and KAB-500Kr guided bombs, sources said.
China will need up to 100 Su-33s, with deliveries expected to begin in 2010, the sources here said. The acquisition answers the long-term question of whether Beijing planned to build an aircraft carrier. Exact plans for the carrier remain a mystery, but sources predicted China will lay down a keel within the next five years.
No deals for new fighter aircraft have been signed between Russia and China since 2003, when Beijing bought Su-30MKs, leading to speculation that China is waiting for an opportunity to purchase the Su-35 super-maneuverable multirole fighter. It is expected to replace China’s aging Su-27s, first delivered in 1992. Sales are expected to be finalized in the next few years, with deliveries in the 2010-2015 time frame, said sources. At present, China has fielded 280 Su-27s (J-11s) and Su-30s.
Moscow-based Vega marketed the A-50E airborne warning and control system aircraft at the show for the first time, in the hopes of beginning negotiations with Chinese officials on a potential replacement for China’s airborne early warning (AEW) program.
China’s effort suffered a setback in June when the only prototype, the Shaanxi KJ-200 AEW, crashed, killing 40 aboard.
“The aircraft killed the entire design unit of the program,” said a source at the show.
Vega representatives Negerevich Victor Nikolaevich and Valentin Gluhov said China has shown interest in the A-50E aircraft as a possible replacement.
China Unveils New Weapons
China also displayed an increasing ability to develop a wide variety of weapons without Russian assistance.
For the first time, China displayed the WS-2 Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS), developed by the Sichuan Aerospace Industry Corp. (SASC).
A SASC representative said research and development had been completed on the system, dubbed the PR-50 Sandstorm MLRS, and the company was awaiting orders.
Sandstorm is a mobile-launched six-rack system with a range of 200 kilometers. It has an inertial navigation system and a circular error probable — or accuracy — of 600 meters, with a 122mm solid rocket armed with a 200-kilogram anti-personnel and armor-piercing dual-purpose cluster warhead.
The SASC source made the surprising admission that the missile could strike Taiwan from positions in China. The distance between Taiwan and China is 220 kilometers at its widest point and 130 kilometers at its narrowest.
Also making their first public appearances were two new munitions developed by the Luoyang Optoelectro Technology Development Center.
The LS-6 Thunder Stone precision-guided glide bomb has been developed for “standoff precise attack missions on fixed ground targets,” said Luoyang representatives. The LS-6 completed final testing in October 2005, the representatives said, and orders from the Chinese Air Force were pending approval before production could begin.
The weapon is being described as a wholly Chinese development. With a wingspan of 2,740 millimeters, the LS-6 can be mounted to a 440-kilogram bomb. It has a glide range of 48 kilometers with a launch altitude of 800 meters, and a range of 60 kilometers with a launch altitude of 11,000 meters.
Luoyang also displayed the Leiting-2 (LT-2) Thunder Power, a 500-kilogram semi-active laser-guided bomb. Representatives said that for guidance, the LT-2 uses the “Airborne Laser Irradiation Pod, Day/Night Pod or a Ground Laser Irradiation Device.”
According to another source, “the LT-2 is using Russian technology on the seeker.”
Both weapons were mounted on a large model of the J-8II fighter on display, but a source stated the weapons could also be fielded on JH-7A fighters.