Wednesday, October 12, 2011

China Strengthens Vehicle Family, Expands Joint Ops

Defense News


China Strengthens Vehicle Family, Expands Joint Ops


TAIPEI — Mechanization remains the core of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) kit acquisitions as it adds a new family of armored vehicles and sharpens its abilities to conduct joint operations while improving command and control.

The PLA is introducing modern ground force weapons into all military regions, said Dennis Blasko, author of the book “The Chinese Army Today.” The PLA is improving its tracked infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), armored personnel carriers (APC), main battle tanks and artillery. At present, about 25 percent to 33 percent of these vehicles and artillery are new types or variants and older equipment is being upgraded with new electronic, computer and communications equipment, he said.

The PLA’s ability to adopt a new family of armored vehicles in a relatively short time and integrate them into effective combined arms formations is impressive, said Gary Li, an analyst at U.K.-based Exclusive Analysis.

A series of amphibious-capable IFVs, such as the new Type 04, based on the BMP3, has improved the PLA’s multiterrain capabilities for armored infantry.

“There is usually a battalion as­signed to every armored regiment and this allows them to keep up better than before,” Li said. Another big improvement has been the introduction of the Type 05 family of advanced amphibious assault vehicles, which comes with a 30mm cannon, 105mm self-propelled assault gun and 122mm self-propelled howitzer. Some of these modifications have been spotted in service with elite coastal amphibious mechanized infantry divisions.

China has taken the chassis of the older six-wheeled WZ551 (Type 92) and built the PTL-02 100mm self­propelled anti-tank gun, which is now assigned to anti-tank companies of infantry artillery battalions and regiments, Li said.

There is also a new family of ZBD-09 eight-wheeled APCs “well on its way to becoming the PLA’s Stryker family” of APCs, though it lacks a 122mm artillery variant at this time, said Richard Fisher, an analyst for the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington.

“Units based on these vehicles may also form the basis of the PLA’s first medium-weight airmobile units formed around new C-17 size transports expected before the end of the decade,” he said.

Main battle tanks continue to be of great interest to China, despite a global trend of moving away from large land battles using tanks. 

Making Strides 

“The PLA has finally improved its capabilities to fight a late-20th­century mechanized war, just when it’s going out of fashion elsewhere,” Li said. However, there have been problems with new tank developments.

“The Type 99 has been much written about, but it remains a bit of a problem child,” he said, including an underpowered engine and insufficient countermeasure systems. “The fact that a new Type 99A2 is already rolling out suggests that the PLA was not happy with their ‘Abrams killer.’” The Army continues to rely on 1,500 Type 96 tanks and about 400 older T-99 tanks.

“Although not as advanced as the Type 99, the Type 96 class has roughly upgraded the PLA’s armored forces from the 1950s to the 1990s,” he said.

China has also greatly improved its artillery, with rockets now featuring self-guided sensor-fused munitions similar to the U.S.-built Skeet system, Fisher said. Overall, the PLA appears to be standardizing its artillery caliber to 122mm, 155mm and 300mm.

Frontline units are using new, heavy, self-propelled guns such as the 155mm PLZ-05, 122mm PLZ-07, and the 300mm PHL-03 multilaunch system, which “have given the PLA a good dose of firepower,” he said.

The mechanization effort is intertwined with the PLA’s two main vectors: jointness and informationalization. But joint operations are still difficult for the PLA, Blasko said.
“In fact, the PLA is still experimenting in conducting many joint and combined arms operations that other advanced militaries have conducted for decades,” he said. Since 2006, a main emphasis in ground force training has been “transregional” exercises in which units from one military region (MR) move across MR boundaries to train in another MR, he said.

The PLA is also exploiting information technologies, including the use of laptops and smartphones, Fisher said.

“Digital connectivity from national command authority to the grunt at the front is regularly depicted in propaganda coverage,” he said. The PLA has improved communication with more landline fiber-optic cable networks and satellite communications, which are now being supplemented by skywave (electromagnetic waves) and UAV systems.

The introduction of new equipment into the PLA is very important to the Chinese for “prestige reasons” as it “presents the appearance of a modern, capable force,” Blasko said. However, the PLA leadership understands that their “biggest shortfall” is not new equipment, but training personnel to operate and maintain the equipment.

The PLA also understands that the PLA command-and-control structure and many headquarters are still not organized and streamlined for modern operations.

“Therefore, it continues to modify force structures, which can be disruptive until everybody is familiar with the new organizations,” Blasko said.

The PLA sees this as a long-term process to build organizations to adequately command and control their new capabilities. The result will be “force reductions in the next decade,” especially if the training for “transregional” exercises satisfies senior leaders, Blasko said.

Taiwan To Receive Euro SAR Helos This Year

Defense News


Taiwan To Receive Euro SAR Helos This Year


TAIPEI - Taiwan's Air Force will take delivery of three search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopters procured from Eurocopter by the end of the year, if training stays on schedule. Taiwan pilots are undergoing flight training in France.

According to local Air Force sources, Taiwan will put the new helicopters into service in the second half of 2012. Eurocopter beat Sikorsky's bid of the S-92 for the SAR medium-lift helicopter requirement in December 2009. The deal includes an option for a total of 20 helicopters.

This will be the first European purchase by Taiwan since the Air Force procured Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft and La Fayette frigates in the early 1990s. China has effectively blocked most arms sales to Taiwan from Europe, but the EC225 Mk-2 Super Puma is categorized as a commercial helicopter and therefore deemed a non-offensive platform for restricted use as a search-and-rescue platform.

The Air Force and Navy operate 17 Sikorsky S-70C helicopters for anti-submarine warfare missions, SAR and VIP missions. These aircraft were procured in the early 1990s and have not reached the end of their service capability.

The U.S. released a $3.1 billion deal for 60 Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters in 2010 to replace aging Bell UH-1H utility helicopters. The Army also has a mix of CH-47SD Chinook cargo helicopters and Bell OH-58D reconnaissance helicopters.

Taiwan Still Pushing for F-16s

Defense News


Taiwan Still Pushing for F-16s


TAIPEI - The Oct. 4 letter sent by seven retired U.S. Air Force officials urging F-16 sales to Taiwan says the more advanced C/D version of the fighter is vital for Taiwan to defend itself and restore balance in the Taiwan Strait.

The letter was addressed to Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Armed Services Committee; and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., of the Foreign Relations Committee. They introduced the Taiwan Airpower Modernization Act (TAMA) on Sept. 12. It was signed by retired generals David Deptula, Michael Dunn, John Loh, William Looney, Lester Lyles and Lloyd Newton, and former Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne.
In 2008, Wynne was forced to resign as secretary by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates after the Air Force mistakenly sent nuclear weapon fuses to Taiwan instead of helicopter batteries.

"It is our assessment that the sale of F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan will significantly help to restore the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait, increase stability in the region, and decrease the likelihood that the United States will one day have to intervene in a military action between China and Taiwan," said the letter.

TAMA is an effort to force the Obama administration to adhere to "obligations" under the Taiwan Relations Act "to provide Taiwan with the military equipment it needs to maintain its self-defense capabilities," said a news release issued by the two senators.
The letter is part of an ongoing effort by Taiwan and the Washington-based U.S.-Taiwan Business Council to push for the release of new F-16s.

"The letter expressed firm conviction that the sale of F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan is in the security interests of Taiwan and the United States alike, and their assessment that the sale of F-16C/D aircraft to Taiwan will significantly help to restore the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait and increase stability in Asia," said a news release issued by Rupert Hammond-Chambers, Council president.

The U.S. government released a $5.8 billion upgrade package for 146 F-16A/B fighter aircraft on Sept. 21 that included a wide array of new systems previously denied by the U.S., including an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, Joint Direct Attack Munitions and an option for new engines. The F-16A/Bs were procured during the 1990s.

In response to the decision to release only the F-16A/B upgrade package and not the C/Ds, Taiwan's Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu told a legislative committee on Sept. 28 that the Air Force would go forward with a $530 million upgrade of the remaining 56 F-CK-A/B Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) in the 2013-2017 timeframe. Taiwan's state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) has so far upgraded 71 IDFs with new mission computers and radar systems, but previous budgeting issues prevented a total upgrade of all aircraft.

Taiwan had expected the U.S. to release the F-16C/D fighter and had budgeted $8 billion to cover costs, but now those funds will now allow for continued upgrades of the remaining IDFs.

The Air Force is also looking at the procurement of 50 jet training aircraft to replace aging AT-3 Tzu Chiang jet trainers built by AIDC during the 1980s. Kao said Taiwan could build their own trainers or procure them from overseas. Taiwan Air Force officials have met with officials at Korea Aerospace Industries to discuss possible procurement of the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic jet trainer.

Saab Wins Thai Air Force ACCS Order

Defense News


Saab Wins Thai Air Force ACCS Order


TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Sweden-based Saab Group has received an order from the Royal Thai Air Force for an extension of an Air Command and Control System (ACCS), which was delivered by Saab in 2010.

The system is part of the air defense system consisting of the Saab Gripen fighter and the Saab 340 Erieye airborne early warning (AEW) system.

"We are delivering an advanced air command and control system, which forms a vital part of the Thai air defense system," Gunilla Fransson, head of Saab's Security and Defence Solutions, said in a press release issued Oct. 3. "The order is a yet another milestone in the cooperation between Thailand and Saab, in a market that is very important for us."

The 104 MSEK contract will run between 2011-2013.

In 2007, Thailand announced a decision to buy 12 Gripen fighters and two Erieye AEW aircraft for a total of $1.1 billion, ending the four-year debate over how the country would replace its aging F-5 fighters.

Taiwan Military Expands Missile Deployment

Defense News


Taiwan Military Expands Missile Deployment


PENGHU ISLAND – Taiwan’s Navy is outfitting eight Cheng Kung-class (Perry-class) frigates with a new “aircraft carrier killer” anti-ship cruise missile, the Hsiung Feng 3 (Brave Wind 3).

For the first time, foreign journalists were allowed to inspect a ship outfitted with the new missile at Magong Naval Base on the main island of the Penghu Archipelago, located off the western coast of Taiwan, on Sept. 29.

The ramjet-powered supersonic HF-3 is the latest in the Hsiung Feng family of missiles developed by the military-run Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology. The Hsiung Feng 3 has a reported range of 300 kilometers. The Navy conducted a missile drill onboard the 1103 Cheng Ho outfitted with two HF-2 and two HF-3 missiles. A Navy official said all eight frigates would be outfitted with the new HF-3 and that, at present, only three, including the 1101 Cheng Kung and 1109 Chang Chien, had the missile.

“The Navy is in the process of outfitting all the ships with the missile,” he said.

Taiwan’s state-owned China Shipbuilding Corp. built all eight frigates in the 1990s, and they were initially outfitted with eight HF-2 missiles. At present, all the ships are outfitted with the Standard SM-1MR surface-to-air missile, and the Mk 31 and Mk 46 torpedo. All eight Perry-class frigates make up the 146 Squadron at Penghu.

Taiwan first revealed the HF-3 during a Ten-Ten Parade in 2007 and later unveiled it as the “aircraft carrier killer” at an exhibit at the Taipei Aerospace and Defense Technology Exhibition on Aug. 10.

Penghu is a critical chess piece in any conflict with China. The archipelago has numerous defense facilities designed to deter an attack on Taiwan. These include a signals intelligence and long-range radar facility, a Hawk medium-range surface-to-air missile base, and the Magong Air Base Command, which fields detachments of Indigenous Defense Fighter aircraft from April to October.

The military would not confirm suspicions that it has an HF-2 coastal battery on Hujing Islet and a Tien Kung 2 (Sky Bow 2) long-range surface-to­air missile silo base on Baisha Islet near Tongliang.

The only other outer island that has the Tien Kung 2 is on Dongying Island, located north of Matsu Island near the coast of China. Both bases restrict Chinese air power in the northern and southern approaches in the Taiwan Strait.

The Chungshan Institute is working on a highly classified missile system called the Hsiung Feng 2E, a land-attack cruise missile (LACM) that can hit mainland China. There are elements within Taiwan’s military pushing for the placement of HF-2E LACM on Penghu. With a range of 600 kilometers, the LACM could hit targets along China’s coast.