Pinkov has recently became a writer for UPI on the issues of Chinese military. I must say that his Kanwa magazine credentials are carrying him pretty far. It’s unimaginable how he is allowed to continually write flawed articles for a fairly legitimate news site. As I have seen with his latest article. Pinkov’s knowledge of PLA doesn’t seem to be increasing. If you haven’t read it yet, it goes like:
Should a conflict break out across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwanese forces would face a grave shortage of ammunition after just seven days of fighting. Even though China has a much greater stockpile of ammunition than Taiwan, it would also encounter similar problems in a sustained conflict.
The PLA Air Force fleet of third generation fighters comprises 281 Su-30s, Su-27 SKs, J-11A/Bs and 64 J-10As, whereas its bomber fleet includes approximately 48 JH-7As and 117 H-6s. In full-scale warfare across the Taiwan Strait, suppose there were a loss of 20-30 combat aircraft each day, the current fleet of 344 third generation fighters in effective service in the PLAAF could sustain combat operations for only 11-17 days.
Unlike the United States and Russia, China does not yet have the capability to independently manufacture third generation fighters. For instance, in order to produce J-11B fighters, China has to rely on imports from Russia for critical subsystems including engines and infra-red search and track systems.
Furthermore, the manufacturer of J-11 serial fighters, the Shenyang Aircraft Company, has had a production capacity limited to roughly 17 aircraft each year. As for the J-10, it is widely known that production of this fighter aircraft relies heavily on the outside world, as the J-10’s AL-31FN engines are imported from Russia, and other large parts are forged following the designs of a certain Western country.
As a consequence, if a conflict broke out and a military embargo was imposed, the PLA Air Force would immediately face difficulties with its insufficient number of third generation fighters.
Taiwan’s depleted ammunition could be immediately resupplied from U.S stocks, because most of the Taiwanese ammunition is the same as that used by U.S. and Japanese forces. However, such Chinese equipment imported from Russia as the Su-30 MKK multi-role fighters, Kilo 636M submarines and S-300 PMU-2 surface-to-air missiles are not in service in Russia. Even the quantity of RVV-AE air-to-air missiles in service is quite limited in the Russian Air Force.
In terms of the production of naval battleships, almost all of China’s large-tonnage and new surface combatants rely on Russian and Ukrainian technologies, particularly the power plant systems from Ukraine.
Similar to the situation of the combat platforms, the replenishment of ammunition faces the same problems. Indeed, the PLA’s capability to resupply its ammunition, is much greater than that of Taiwan. However, under highly intense assault operations, the attrition of ammunition would also be much greater than that of the defending side.
Another problem China would face is that the PLA must rely on foreign imports for its high-performance ammunition, and a substantial portion of the critical components of China’s indigenous high-performance ammunition also has to be purchased from other countries. Moreover, as the combat platforms are mostly not standardized, once these platforms are depleted during combat operations and become quantitatively insufficient, the ammunition intended specifically for them won’t be of much use. For instance, except for the J-11Bs, all the other Su serial fighters cannot carry China-made PL-12 AAMs, while the output of J-11Bs is very limited so far.
On the other hand, the J-10A cannot be fitted with Russian-made AAMs and air-to-ground weapons. The PLA Air Force has imported at least 1,000 units of RVV-AE (R77) AAMs, which means each of the 330 third generation fighters of the Taiwanese Air Force would face attack from three R77 missiles on average.
During the Ethiopia-Eritrea air conflict from 1999 to 2000, the Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters of the two countries fired the same R-27 AAMs in large numbers, but none of them hit their targets! In the air battles, the loss of MiG-29s was mainly because they were struck by the short-range R-73 AAMs.
In 1999, when the U.S. Air Force’s F-14D fighters chased the Iraqi MiG-25s that entered the no-fly zone, the U.S. fighters fired a total of eight AIM-54C AAMs, but none of them hit their targets either. During another U.S.-Iraq air confrontation in January 1991, F-15 fighters fired a total of seven Sparrow semi-active radar guided air-to-air missiles, and once again, none of them hit their targets.
China has imported more than 1,000 H-29T ASMs and H-59T ASMs. Are these too many? Not at all. In modern air battles, the basic concept is to involve a few 10,000 air-to-ground weapons, and the effect could still be quite limited. In the case of Taiwan, mountains cover a large portion of the landscape. Moreover, in time of conflict, the problems of cover-up and camouflage have to be taken into consideration.
During the Kosovo War, large-scale air raids lasted 78 days, a total of more than 23,000 rounds of various types of ammunition were dropped, but only 3 percent of them hit the designated tank targets, according to the former Yugoslavia regime after the war.
As for the PLA Navy, it has only 14 real battleships with the capability to engage in modern maritime combat operations. Its other battleships are all useless metal scrap. These 14 ships include two 051Cs, one 051B, two 052Bs, two 052Cs, three 054As, and four 956E/EMs. During a conflict, these 14 battleships would inevitably become the prime targets of Taiwan’s air and naval firepower.
A possible outcome could be as follows: in a lasting war of attrition when the above third generation combat platforms and ammunition supplies become a serious problem, the older equipment of the Chinese military, including J-8Fs, J-7Gs and the obsolete vessels of the PLA Navy would be put to use; hence a 1970s war would be played out on a 21st century battlefield.
This proves the practicality of the Chinese military’s concept of “fighting a quick battle.” Obviously the Chinese military is well aware of the hard reality that the current international political dynamics, China’s own limited strategic oil reserves and its limited supply of advanced ammunition will not allow it to engage in a prolonged war across the Taiwan Strait.
His biggest problem is turning this into a numbers game. It’s about how many planes I have and how many planes you have. And how long I can afford to loose my planes and how long you can afford to loose yours. Now as we know, there is a lot more to war than just how many guns I have vs how many guns you have. Having said that, let’s just look through some of his point.
The first thing that jumps out to me is his underestimation of these so called older plans like J-8F and J-7G. J-8F is believed to be more capable than su-27s in PLA with it’s more advanced radar, ability to fire multiple PL-12s and good supersonic performance. It may not be the most agile platform out there, but the current upgrades makes it a relatively effective BVR platform. In a scenario like Taiwan, even the J-7Gs can have its uses due to the small cross-strait air space.
The second thing jumping out is underestimating China’s 4th generation air force. While the flanker force in PLAAF is well known, the number of J-10s and JH-7As in service are far more that what he stated. We’ve seen 6 regiments of JH-7/A and probably 5 regiments of J-10. And there is probably even more of each type than what we’ve seen. The statement that J-10 depends on the foreign world is purely ignorance. Despite what Pinkov says, WS-10A has been equipping J-10 and has fully reached satisfactory performance for PLAAF. As for the “other large parts are forged following the designs of a certain Western country”, let’s just say that statement is neither correct nor problematic if it is correct. J-11B certainly does not rely on the import of Russian items anymore. A while back, the Russians cut supplies to all the subsystems of J-11B, but this project has just continued by using all domestic components. In case of emergency, CAC’s production line is said to have the capability to reach a rate of 400 J-10s per year. Right now, China has neither the money or the need to reach that level of production. Wartime will however be different. I’m guessing it’s a similar scenario with SAC. The real critical issue to examine is whether China will have enough skilled pilots left in a sustained war.
Pinkov also brought up the interesting point of China only having imported 1000 R-77s and 1000 H-29/59. While this is true, China does not rely on su-30s for it’s A2A and A2G missions. I would say that having 4 R-77 + about 10+ R-27s + large numbers of R-73s for each of the imported flankers is enough. The chance of an aircraft having the opportunity to fire off 15 to 20 times and still survive is not too great. The far more important part is China’s production rate for PL-12, PL-8B, the new SRAAM, KD-88, YJ-91 and YJ-83K. There is no indication at the moment that China would not have enough of these type of ammunitions. And with the induction of LS-500J, LS-6, FT series PGMs, China certainly has the ability to produce a lot of cheap smart bombs. The LACMs and SRBMs will be used for more important targets. I’m not saying that China has enough ground attack weapons for the Taiwan scenario, but that it’s certainly not as bleak as some people would say. As for S-300PMU2, China certainly did not purchase enough of its missile, but China also certainly has plenty of HQ-9 missiles. And the performance of HQ-9 has certainly pleased PLA enough for wide deployment.
And his analysis of the naval situation is more puzzling. I just don’t understand why it matters that some of the subsystems on the modern PLAN ships are licensed production of Russian/Ukrainian systems, when there is no way China can possibly produce those large ships during the war or the time leading up to the war. The only thing that Chinese shipyards can build during these periods are the 022s. Those certainly don’t need to worry about not getting the necessary imports from the Russians. His entire arguments about China not having enough surface fleet is true, but that’s not a problem against Taiwanese. It will be a problem vs JMSDF and USN, but ROCN might not even survive long enough against PLAN missile strikes to form any kind of useful retaliation. His entire dismissal of 022s and the sub force really ignores the reality of the war scenario.
Either way, Pinkov continues to write articles that appeal to the anti-Chinese crowd while failing to really examine PLA doctrines and deployment. It’s certainly easier to convince readers that don’t follow PLA that much. He conveniently ignores certain truth to try to enhance his points. However, a long-time PLA watcher will probably see the folly of his arguments.