Monday, April 25, 2011

Sea Trials Expected for China’s 1st Carrier

Defense News


Sea Trials Expected for China’s 1st Carrier


TAIPEI — China is expected to begin harbor trials of its first aircraft carrier this summer, with near-sea and open-sea trials starting next year, a Taiwan defense official said.

But aircraft for the Soviet-built Varyag are not expected to be ready for at least two years, and escorts and support ships for a carrier battle group are at least five to 10 years off.

Photos of the Varyag indicate it is being outfitted with an active phased array radar, simi­lar to the U.S. Aegis radar system; a 30mm close-in weapon system; and the Chinese FL-3000 Flying Leopard air defense missile system. The deployment of the FL-3000 “would appear to be a logical Chinese approach to pursue defense in depth against opposing anti-ship cruise missiles,” said Andrew Erickson, a China defense analyst at the U.S. Navy War College.

Erickson said it’s not clear how operationally effective the Varyag will be.

“Mastering the complex system of systems in carrier-based, high-intensity, operations­capable air power that is a modern operational aircraft carrier will likely require considerable time, investment and even risk to valuable pilots and aircraft,” he said.

Still, the carrier’s presence is “already being felt” in the region, a “loud declaration that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is now a blue water force,” said Dean Cheng, a China defense specialist at the Heritage Foundation. Yet not much is truly known about China’s carrier program.

Beijing has not even announced the name of the vessel. Western guesses include Shi Lang, after the Ming-Qing Dynasty naval admiral who conquered Taiwan in 1681, and Liu Huaqing, after the father of China’s modern navy.

China bought the Varyag in 1998 from Ukraine via a Hong Kong company that claimed it would turn the ship into a casino in Macau. The ship was instead transported to Dalian, where refitting began.

Ukraine also helped launch China’s devel­opment of the fighter jets that will fly from the Varyag. In 2001, it sold a prototype of the Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-borne fighter to Shenyang Aircraft Corp. Last year, photos surfaced of the J-15 Flying Shark, which looks like a duplicate of the Su-33. The J-15 is expected to be ready for deployment no sooner than two years from now.

Taiwan defense analysts speculate that the Varyag’s first deployment will be a circumnavigation of their self-ruling island, or perhaps a partial retracing of the route the Imperial Japanese Navy took leading to its 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Lin Chong Pin, a former Taiwan vice defense minister, said such a stunt would “backfire,” and “destroy their efforts at winning the hearts and minds” of the Taiwanese people.

Lin said the Chinese navy would most likely use the carrier in the South China Sea, not the western Pacific, where the PLAN operates a large fleet of submarines.

Erickson said a Chinese carrier would likely only “serve as a target” if a limited war broke out with a high-tech adversary such as the U.S. or Japan — that is, “a Taiwan scenario.” But he said a carrier might seem more intimidating to neighbors in the South China Sea, which China has declared a core national interest.

Cheng said conflicts might arise over sea lanes in the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait, which are vital to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

The PLAN is conducting its eighth rotation of anti-piracy patrols off the Gulf of Aden, thus putting “the rest of Asia on notice that its forces can and will be found around the world,” he said.

Report: Arms to Taiwan Help U.S. Economy

Defense News


Report: Arms to Taiwan Help U.S. Economy


TAIPEI — Amid new calls for an end to U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan, proponents argue that the lucrative arms market here is a boon to a shaky American economy that continues to suffer. Taiwan spent $16.5 billion on U.S.­built arms and equipment from 2007 to 2010, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

In January, a roundtable discussion at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs recommended the U.S. “re-examine” continued arms sales to Taiwan in an effort to improve ties with China. Members of the roundtable included Joseph Prueher and Timothy Keating, both retired U.S. Pacific Command commanders, and James Shinn, a national intelligence officer for East Asia at the Central Intelligence Agency. The roundtable report said arms sales to Taiwan had damaged Sino-U.S. ties and had become a “vicious circle.” The report further recommended that Washington re-evaluate the Taiwan Relations Act.

The CRS report, “Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990,” by Shirley Kan, indicates that Taiwan arms sales generate big revenue for U.S. defense companies despite the absence of a defense treaty with Taiwan. In 2007, Taiwan bought $3.7 billion in U.S. arms; in 2008, $6.4 billion; and in 2010, $6.4 billion. No sales to Taiwan were approved in 2009. Among customers of U.S. arms worldwide, Taiwan ranked fourth behind Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia from 2002 to 2009.

From 2000 to 2010, under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, Taiwan procured Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile defense systems, UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, Harpoon missiles, Osprey-class mine-hunting ships, Kidd-class destroyers, AIM-120 ad­vanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, Standard Missile-2 Block IIIA air defense missiles, a surveillance radar program for early warning of Chinese missile launches, AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters and P-3C Orion anti-submarine patrol aircraft.

“These foreign military sales provide the United States with important commercial and military benefits,” said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, noting that it is advantageous — to operations, maintenance and lifecycle support costs — when U.S. allies use the same equipment.

“When it comes to our own military requirements, the ability to export systems we also buy allows companies to reduce the unit costs charged to the U.S. military and provides important financial savings for an already overstretched defense budget,” he said. “Foreign military sales produce profits, which are reinvested in research and development for upgrades to present systems or in the development of the next generation.”

Despite the economic advantage of continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, “we have never had any traction pitching the industrial base issue at U.S. administrations,” Hammond-Chambers said. “It’s partly the fault of companies that have cried wolf too many times and partly bureaucratic dislike for defense companies, particularly on the Democratic side of the political line.”

Due to Chinese pressure, the U.S. is holding three sales to Taipei totaling $20 billion. These include eight diesel-electric attack submarines, promised by the George W. Bush administration in 2001; 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters, on hold since 2006; and an upgrade for 146 F-16A/B Block 20 fighters, on hold since 2009. China has called the sale of new F-16C/Ds to Taiwan a “red line,” but it is unclear what China will do in retaliation.

Lockheed Martin urged a release of the F-16C/Ds to Taiwan in a March 2010 briefing on the issue. In the brief, Lockheed said the release would sustain about 11,000 jobs in 43 states and keep the F-16 production line open for other potential foreign customers.

One advantage of the U.S. building diesel submarines is that Taiwan is paying for the research and development of a platform the U.S. has not built since the early 1960s. This would create a new defense product for the U.S. to export to other countries, and perhaps move the U.S. Navy to buy less expensive, quieter diesel submarines for half the cost of a nuclear-powered boat.

Besides F-16s and subs, Taiwan has discussed with the U.S. the procurement of two signals intelligence aircraft; six C-27J Spartan medium transport aircraft; 60 F-35B and 150 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters; Stryker armored vehicles; AV-8B Harrier jump jets; CH-53X minesweeping helicopters, trainer aircraft KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft; the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System; CBU-97 Sensor Fuzed Weapon cluster bombs; armored security vehicles; HH-60G Pave Hawk search-and-rescue helicopters; upgrades of six Lafayette-class frigates and two Sea Dragon submarines; an air traffic control system; Perry-class frigates; Newport-class landing ship tank; Athena C4ISR Multi-Domain Awareness System; and Sky Warrior tactical UAV.

Taiwan’s interest in the F-35 is serious. The island received a technical briefing on the F-35 from the U.S. Department of Defense in 2002 after a request was submitted by Wang Chi-lin, director of the Defense Procurement Division, Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, in Washington. Having a short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft would allow Taiwan to continue operating fighters in the absence of runways, which China’s 1,300 DF-11/15 short-range ballistic missiles aimed at the island would quickly destroy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thailand Looking at German Subs

Defense News


Thailand Looking at German Subs


TAIPEI - The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) is considering the procurement of two German decommissioned 500-ton Type 206A diesel-electric attack submarines. If successful, these will be the RTNs first submarines.

Thailand is not the only potential customer. Germany is discussing the sale to other unidentified countries, a German defense source said. The source did confirm the submarines were decommissioned and available.

The planned purchase of two submarines is part of a multiyear weapons procurement package approved by the Thai cabinet and parliament last year, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, now a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The submarine deal is part of a larger 10-year, $30 billion program to procure new arms, including anti-submarine helicopters, six more Gripen fighters, frigates, riot control equipment, tanks and armored personnel carriers, he said.

"Thailand's ongoing spat with Cambodia has reinforced the Thai military's case for submarines," Pongsudhirak said.

Cambodia and Thailand have overlapping claims over the resource rich Joint Development Area in the Gulf of Thailand.

"Thailand's strategic outlook on submarines indeed stems more from regional rivalry parity with its neighbors, less from strategic and tactical calculations," he said. This has promoted the RTN to push for submarines, particularly when Vietnam and other regional neighbors have embarked on similar plans.

"The Thai Navy and the military generally have not come up with concrete strategic plans for submarine utilization and deployment," Pongsudhirak said. "It is the idea that Thailand needs submarines to keep up with neighbors' arms modernization."

However, the tension with Cambodia has augmented this idea because the future extraction of resources in the Gulf of Thailand is likely to be contentious.

Thailand is clearly trying to keep up with its neighbors, said Sam Bateman, with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Bateman is concerned the age of the 206A submarines, commissioned during the mid-1970s, and the RTN's lack of experience could be problematic.

"I'd be seriously concerned about the submarine safety implications - an old submarine with inexperienced submariners is a dangerous mix."

Albrecht Muller contributed to this story from Berlin.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

N. Korea Hones Commando Delivery Skills From Sea

Defense News


N. Korea Hones Commando Delivery Skills From Sea


TAIPEI — North Korea is improving its special forces delivery capabilities with upgrades to its Sang-O (Shark)-class coastal submarines and construction of a Kongbang­class hovercraft base near the South Korean border on the west coast.

The effort to improve its commando delivery platforms is not surprising and well within the capabilities of North Korean naval designers, said Bruce Bechtol, author of the book, “Defiant Failed State: The North Korean Threat to International Security.”

“This is in keeping with North Korea’s philosophy since the mid-1990s of improving on asymmetric weapons that are alternatives to going head to head with superior and more modern ROK [South Korean] and U.S. weapon systems,” he said. By continuing to improve on these asymmetric systems, North Korea can credibly threaten the South, as evidenced by the 2010 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, he said.

Over the past 10 years, North Korean special forces, including light infantry, have increased from 120,000 to 200,000, said Joseph Bermudez, author of the book, “North Korean Special Forces.” Bermudez clarified that the term special forces in North Korea includes light infantry. When you are thinking of special forces, you cannot think of them as Green Berets, he said. These are largely increases in light infantry capabilities.

It is unclear how many of the 32 Sang-O subs are being upgraded, but the modifications include an increase in dive speed from 8.8 to 12 knots.

The submarines have been lengthened by 4 meters from the original 116.5 meters, which will allow for more troops, weapons, fuel and greater range, Bermudez said. The time frame of when these modifications were initiated is unclear.

The original 250-ton Sang-O-class coastal submarines are divided into reconnaissance and attack variants. The reconnaissance variants could carry up to 18 troops, while the attack variant carried torpedoes.

A Sang-O was captured in 1996 off the east coast of South Korea, and several 90-ton Yugo-class midget submarines have been lost in operations against the South.

Despite media reports, the Sang-O is unlikely to have been responsible for the sinking last year of the Cheonan. Instead, North Korean forces most likely used a Yugo, which often operates from a mother ship disguised as a merchant vessel, Bermudez said.

North Korean special forces also will be using a new hovercraft base. Late last year, South Korean and U.S. intelligence detected the construction of a base in North Korea near the west coast town of Sasulp’o, Hwanghae-namdo.

The new base is in an area where forward elements of the West Sea Fleet’s 29th Sniper Brigade, comprising two battalions, are based.

These battalions are supported by two squadrons of 82-ton Nampo­class high-speed landing craft, Bermudez said. Each craft can carry 35 troops at 36 knots. Combined, the two squadrons have a total single voyage lift capability of 800 troops or about “one-and-a-half Navy sniper battalions,” he said.

The construction of the new hovercraft base began last year and consists of three hovercraft compounds. Two of the three compounds consist of 16 hovercraft bays around a central yard, while the third compound consists of 20 bays around a central yard with a total covered capability for 52 hovercraft, Bermudez said. The bays are large enough to accommodate the Kongbang II/III and other hovercraft in North Korea’s navy. The base is about 20 to 30 percent complete.

The Kongbang can carry 40 to 50 troops at a top speed of 50 knots, Bermudez said. It is believed to be based on the British SR.N6 Winchester-class hovercraft.

Should the new base become fully equipped with 52 Kongbang hovercraft, the vehicles would possess a total single-lift capability of 1,500 to 2,000 troops, he said. However, if the Kongbang were combined with the Nampo, the combined single-lift capability would be 2,300 to 2,800 sniper troops.

The new hovercraft base is on the Namdae Stream, which flows into the Yellow Sea, a short distance from the Northern Limit Line and the northernmost South Korean controlled islands of Paengnyong-do and Taechong-do. This is where the Cheonan was sunk in March 2010.

North Korea has other special operations vessels. There are about 100 high-speed semi-submersible infiltration craft and seven U.S.-built high-speed racing boats procured in 1993 from shipbuilder Fountain Powerboat Industries. A Fountain official was found guilty of violating U.S. export laws.

China’s New White Paper Hints at Joint Ops

Defense News


China’s New White Paper Hints at Joint Ops


TAIPEI — China’s air force and navy may be emerging from the shadow of the People’s Liberation Army, according to the latest version of China’s biennial defense white paper.

Released March 31 by China’s Information Office of the State Council, the paper calls the PLA “first among equals” among China’s military services. That appears to be a first for China’s publicly released papers, which had generally described the PLA as dominant over the People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), said Andrew Erickson, a China defense analyst at the U.S. Naval War College. This suggests growing clout for the Air Force and Navy, “although they have a long way to go to fully realize a more equal institutional status in practice,” Erickson said.

Titled “China’s National Defense in 2010,” the paper also appears to indicate a growing focus on joint operations capabilities, particularly in terms of doctrine, training and logistics.

“Obviously, the PLA has a long ways to go before it can say it is fielding a truly joint force, let alone an integrated jointly operational one,” said Richard Bitzinger, an analyst at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore.

This year’s edition of the report omits for the first time a comparison of its defense budget to those of Japan and other neighbors.

“Chinese defense spending now outstrips every other nation except the United States,” Bitzinger said.

Earlier in March, China announced that its record $91.5 billion spending plan for 2011 would represent a 12.7 percent increase over $78.6 billion in 2010. The jump also marks a return to the double-digit growth recorded through most of the 2000s.

China’s defense budget rose from $27.9 billion in 2000 to $60.1 billion in 2008. It overtook Japan’s budget in 2007 and Britain’s in 2008. After rising 7.5 percent from 2009 to 2010, it is now second only to the roughly $660 billion spent by the U.S.

The paper also says the military is putting more emphasis on what the Pentagon calls military operations other than war (MOOTW). For example, the PLAN has sent eight task forces to the Gulf of Aden to run counterpiracy patrols. Other potential missions include humanitarian operations and disaster relief.

“This is in accordance with the four New Historic Missions with which President Hu Jintao has charged the PLA,” Erickson said.

Announced in 2004, those four missions are: 

■ Consolidate the ruling status of the Communist Party. 

■ Help ensure China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and domestic security in order to continue national development. 

■ Safeguard China’s expanding national interests. 

■ Help maintain world peace.

Bitzinger said the report’s focus on MOOTW could be a “good way to mask power-projection efforts.” Erickson said that although “no nation is truly altruistic in its behavior, China deserves credit for such contributions as they are broadly beneficial.” 

CBM Confusion 

The 2010 edition of the paper lists confidence-building measures as a military mission, something no previous version has done.

Yet there have been no improvements in cross-Taiwan Strait military relations. China continues to upgrade and field new ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, and the U.S. continues to deny Taiwan’s request for new F-16 fighters and submarines.

The mention of confidence-building measures with Taiwan “is more of a declaration by Hu Jintao to show he has done something,” said Arthur Ding, a cross-Strait military affairs specialist at the National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations, Taipei.

The English-language version of the white paper fails to deliver the nuances of the Chinese-language original with regard to confidence­building measures, said Alexander Huang, a Taiwan defense analyst.

In Section 9, the report uses the phrase “mechanism for military confidence-building,” or “junshi huxin jizhi,” in reference to China-U.S. confidence-building measures meant to “maintain national security, safeguard regional peace and stability.” However, in Section 2, as part of China’s own defense policy and in strict adherence to the “One China policy,” a different phrase is used: “military security mechanism of mutual trust,” or “junshi anquan huxin jizhi.” This is in reference not to confidence-building measures but to ending hostilities as a result of the Chinese civil war.

Huang said Western analysts have misinterpreted the terminology in both sections as being the same.

“‘Confidence’ or ‘xinxin’ is different from ‘trust’ or ‘xinren’,” he said. “But most analysts try to use the Western academic concept of CBMs to portray and interpret Beijing’s approach to Taipei regarding cross-Strait military exchanges.” This common mistake — applying Western concepts to Chinese terminology — often causes undue optimism in Washington for better cross-Strait and Sino-U.S. military relations, Huang said.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Taiwan Frustrated Over Stalled F-16 Effort

Defense News


Taiwan Frustrated Over Stalled F-16 Effort


TAIPEI - Taiwan defense officials are frustrated by continued U.S. reluctance to move forward on new F-16C/Ds and an upgrade program for older F-16A/Bs. Combined, the programs add up to $10 billion in new U.S. arms deals to Taiwan, but reluctance by Washington to anger Beijing continues to stall the deal.

Taiwan's request for 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters for $5.5 billion and for an upgrade package for 146 F-16A/B Block 20 fighters for $4.5 billion has been on hold since 2007 and 2009, respectively.

There is also intense debate within the U.S. government as to whether the programs should include the active electronically scanned array radar, which some in Washington fear could end up in Chinese hands if Taiwan reunifies with the mainland. The alternative is the older APG-68 mechanical radar.

Taiwan also faces hurdles over an engine replacement with some in Taiwan's defense community suggesting that the current Pratt & Whitney F-100-PW220 engines be rebuilt, rather than replaced, due to budget concerns.

"The A/B program should be ready for notification next year even if Obama balks at sending it to the Hill," said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council. "However, the P&A [price and availability] data remains stuck at the State Department.

"At the Taiwan end, the view seems to be to wait until a call has been made on the new buy [C/D]," he said.

Hammond-Chambers said Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou had serious reservations about doing just the upgrade program.

"They view the new buy and upgrade program as a single effort working sequentially," he said. "The delay in the P&A data might be useful, too, as it'll keep it out of a tight 2012 [Taiwan defense] budget."

The Taiwan Air Force has 126 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF), 56 Mirage 2000s, 146 F-16A/Bs and about 60 F-5E/Fs. The F-5s, largely used for training and reconnaissance, are scheduled for retirement within the next five years. The Mirage 2000s are suffering from maintenance problems and will be mothballed within the next five to 10 years.

Taiwan's state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. (AIDC) is upgrading 71 IDFs with delivery expected in the 2013-14 timeframe.

Should the U.S. not release the F-16C/D fighters, Taiwan will not be able to replace the 116 fighters (F-5/Mirage) to be phased out within the next 10 years. F-16A/B fighters and the remaining 55 IDFs that are not upgraded will also begin to lose operational capability as they age further.

Taiwan is also facing problems identifying a replacement for its older AT-3 jet trainers. The U.S. no longer builds a lead-in fighter trainer, and neither the Europeans nor the South Koreans are prepared to anger China with the sale of the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 or the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50 Golden Eagle.

A KAI official said that Taiwan Air Force officials had visited KAI several times in an unsuccessful effort to secure the release. A plan by Taiwan's AIDC to build an indigenous replacement, the AT-5, ended in disaster several years ago due to a lack of support by Taiwan's Air Force, a Taiwan defense industry source said.

Taiwan is facing continued threats from China, including new fighter capabilities such as the recently unveiled J-20 stealth fighter and a new DF-16 medium-range ballistic missile in development. Taiwan is facing more than 1,300 short-range ballistic missiles and despite continued improvements in cross-Strait relations between China and Taiwan, there has been no reduction of missiles aimed at the island.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

CAE To Supply Flight Trainers for Taiwan

Defense News


CAE To Supply Flight Trainers for Taiwan


TAIPEI - Canadian-based CAE won a U.S. Navy contract under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program to design and manufacture an operational flight trainer and operational tactics trainer for Taiwan's P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

Taiwan procured 12 P-3C aircraft from the U.S. for $1.9 billion in 2007. Lockheed Martin is refurbishing the aircraft and the first P-3C delivery to Taiwan is scheduled for June.

CAE provides simulation and modeling technologies and integrated training solutions for the aviation industry and defense community.

The P-3C operational flight trainer will be a Level D equivalent flight simulator and be used to train pilots, said a March 23 CAE press release. The P-3C operational tactics trainer will be used to train the sensor operators. Both training devices will be delivered to Taiwan in 2014. CAE did not reveal the amount of the contract award.

The award follows a January FMS announcement that Lockheed will supply mission system spares to outfit new avionics components for Taiwan's P-3C under a $47.5 million contract with delivery in 2012.

The FMS program announced a $10 billion contract award in December to Pacific Propeller International, based in Kent, Wash., to refurbish 56 P-3C HS54H60-77 propeller assemblies for Taiwan's P-3C. Work will be completed in mid-2014.

The U.S. approved the export for 12 P-3s in 2001, but Taiwan was unable to secure funds for the sale until 2007 due to internal political infighting. Delivery was also stalled by a late bid challenge from L-3 Communications.

The P-3s will replace aging Grumman S-2T Turbo Tracker anti-submarine warfare aircraft acquired during the 1980s after a conversion of Taiwan's older S-2E/G to T standards. Sources have indicated that only a handful is still operational and none are mission capable. Taiwan's Navy operates a number of operational ASW helicopters, including 500MD Defender and the S-70C(M)-1/2 helicopters.