China Developing Counterstealth Weapons
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Did China use stolen Western technology to build its stealthy J-20 combat jet? Maybe — but perhaps a more pressing topic is whether such knowledge is being used to develop weapons to shoot down U.S. warplanes.
China’s top air-to-air missile research institute has invested considerable effort in designing such missiles.
New imagery available on Google Earth indicates China built a full-scale mock-up of the now-retired F-117 stealth fighter at the Luoyang Optoelectro Technology Development Center (LOEC) in Henan province. (View the mock F-117 at 34 degrees 39 minutes and 44.24 seconds north latitude and 112 degrees 25 minutes and 45.19 seconds east longitude.)
A former U.S. defense attaché based in Beijing said the appearance of the mock-up is not surprising, noting that China has also built mock-ups of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II for study.
Beijing officials are denying last week’s widespread media reports that pieces of a U.S. Air Force F-117 stealth fighter downed in Serbia in 1999 ended up in Chinese hands.
There is a lot of “anecdotal evidence” that China got access to the downed F-117, said Larry Wortzel, a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
China is also denying allegations that a former Northrop Grumman engineer, Noshir Gowadia, sold classified data on the B-2 stealth bomber’s engine signature suppression system used to protect the aircraft from heat-seeking missiles. Gowadia was found guilty of five related charges and sentenced to 32 years in prison Jan. 24 in a U.S. federal court.
There have also been questions raised over the role Dongfan Chung, a former Boeing stress analyst, could have played in China’s understanding of stealth technology. Chung was convicted in a U.S. federal court in July 2009 of six counts of spying for China.
Air Defense Academy Patch
Also known as the 612 Institute, LOEC is famous for its air-to-air missiles and precision-guided bomb systems, including the LS-6 Thunder Stone precision-guided glide bomb, the TY-90 surface and air-toair missile system, and the PL-5, PL-9 and PL-12 (SD-10) air-to-air missiles. The PL-5 and PL-9 have been exported to Myanmar, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Pakistan reportedly has ordered the PL-12.
Data on the company is scarce. According to an LOEC brochure distributed at the 2006 Zhuhai Air Show, the company “owns three integrated optical, mechanical and electronic product assembly plants, one optoelectronic device research institute, thirteen workshops, and employs 1,978 employees including 528 engineers and technicians.”
Imagery of the mock F-117 at LOEC comes on the heels of news that China has developed its first stealth fighter, the J-20. Photos of the new fighter were released in December, followed by a test flight earlier this month.
A Taiwan defense official said China is developing a new air-to-air missile, the PL-21, designed specifically for stealth aircraft. Powered by a ramjet and solid rocket propulsion system, the PL-21 will have a range of 100 kilometers.
China has also been procuring air defense systems from Russia and Ukraine to offset gaps in indigenous efforts. These include the Russian-made road-mobile S-300PMU2 surface-to-air missile system and the Ukrainian-made Kolchuga passive-sensor radar system, said Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center.
Chinese procurements of the S-300 family of air defense missile systems began in the early 1990s, a Taiwan defense official said. With the PMU2 variant, China can cover northwestern Taiwan from bases in Fujian province, he said.