In the past week, a really interesting article as shown below popped up and caused some heated discussions on different military forums.
Taipei – Taiwan plans to build its third-generation warplane with Russian technology as the United States has refused to sell Taiwan F-16C/Ds, a newspaper reported Friday.
The Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC), which sent personnel to Russia for instruction from Russian experts, has finished designing the third-generation warplane, the China Times quoted an unnamed military official as saying.
The as-yet-unnamed third-generation warplane will have twin engines and be able to take off and land with a short airstrip, the official said.
During the design process, Taiwan and Russian experts studied the design of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the United States’ most advanced fighter jet, but Taiwan’s aircraft is shorter than the JSF, the military official said.
The paper said that Taiwan ordered 150 F-16A/Bs in 1992 to form its second-generation fleet, which also included 60 French Mirage 2000-5s and 130 self-made Indigenous Defence Fighters (IDF).
To deter any possible attack from China, Taiwan has been seeking to buy the more advanced F-16C/Ds, or JSF, but Washington has turned down the request, agreeing only to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16A/Bs. This prompted Taiwan to decide to build its own third-generation warplanes for self-defence, despite improved Taipei-Beijing ties.
Taiwan and China have been split since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
China sees Taiwan as its breakaway province and has vowed to recover Taiwan by force if Taipei declares independence or indefinitely delays holding unification talks with Beijing.
First, I thought everyone would simply laugh off this article. However, this article seemed to have gathered many believers. The majority of the believers are Russian fanboys that are incensed by China copying J-11B. They think that Russia should sell weapons to Taiwan, since it no longer gets what it needs from China. Therefore, it’s a good idea to replace that export market with Taiwan. So, I think I will address this issue by looking at two different areas: why this story can’t be true and how much copying is going on.
So, why can’t this be true?
It has everything to do with politics/economics. Countries don’t sell weapons to Taiwan, because they are worried about the political and economical ramifications rather than military exports. France, Germany, UK and Israel can’t export to China, but they still refuse to deal with Taiwan. Recently, US received hell from China for the military package that Bush approved in 2008. All things considered, the package approved for Taiwan was actually very watered down. Even so, the hard time that China gave the Bush administration probably made the Obama administration think twice about selling F-16s there. After all, supplying 60 F-16s from 2012 to 2015 really isn’t going to turn the balance of power in Taiwan straits, but that deal is basically off the table now. The military balance across the straits swung in PRC’s direction permanently earlier this decade. Future military exports to Taiwan will offend China more from a political rather than a military point of view. Simply put, China will look at any military exports to Taiwan as an insult to its sovereignty. The global economic downturn has accelerated China’s position in the world. At this point, it would be hard for countries needing China’s financial help to alienate it over Taiwan. For example, US doesn’t want to aggravate the Taiwan situation when it needs China to keep on buying its treasury bonds and keeping interest rate low and inflation down.
Comparatively speaking, Russia is dealing from an even weaker position when dealing with China. The Russian leadership is looking to change the world financial system (like a new world order) with a new reserve currency that is not controlled by the US gov’t. It wants to stop having to buy US treasuries and stop doing import/export deals in USD. Russia basically showed in the past week that it is looking for the BRIC countries as a major part of the new world order replacing the US led G-8. Clearly, China has by far the most leverage and economic muscle to support this new world order. Russia knows that none of its goals can be accomplished without China’s full support. However, China has far more invested in US than the other BRIC countries (with the $2 trillion in US assets compared to $400 billion for Russia). It wants China to support the initiatives of buying gov’t bonds from other BRIC countries, doing currency swaps, trading in local currencies and such. In each case, China’s support can make or break the initiative. Finally, China’s financial support to SCO is also important, because it allows the gov’t there to continue their anti-West and pro-Russia/China policies.
On top of that, it has recently signed a huge energy cooperation agreement with China. As shown in the recent month, the energy/commodities market was basically rescued by a lot of demand from China. Since Russia’s natural resources are its most important export, it needs continued Chinese demand to sustain spot prices for its exported resources. Think about it this way, oil and gas alone accounted for 64% of Russia’s exports in 2007. If the remaining export remained the same and the average energy prices dropped 75% in one year (spot prices for oil dropped from over $150 a barrel to lower than $40 early this year), that would mean the Russian export would be 16% + 36 = 52% of last year’s numbers. Now, if Chinese demand can more than double the energy prices (which it has in the past 3 months), then the export would take about a 30% hit instead of almost 50% hit from last year (although in reality, it doesn’t work like this, but you get an idea). So, you can see that the Chinese market not only affects Russia’s trade with China but also with Europe.
Finally, Russia and China have a lot of mutual goals and share a lot of common positions on international issues. I don’t think I need to go over the political cooperation between the two countries over the past couple of years. Clearly, Russia is not going to jeopardize its economic and political partnership with China just for a couple of new military contracts with Taiwan. The head of the states of the two countries met 3 times last week (once for BRIC, once for SCO and once as a state visit). Clearly, the relationship between the two countries is very good despite the recent declines in military sales and other issues like imbalance in the contents of trading. Having looked at all of these factors, it makes me wonder why certain people believe this kind of story so easily.
How much copying is really going on?
Reading through recent articles on Russian newspaper and Kanwa defense, I often spot articles where Russian defense firms complain about China copying its designs. It’s really hard for a normal person to get grip of how rampant this is unless you had a firm idea of the development process of certain weapon systems. Generally, Chinese military complex has a real innovation problem, so a lot of its recent designs look a lot like existing designs from other countries. Such comments have been made about the recent developments like HALE UAV from CAC (looks like Global hawk), HH-16 VLS (MK-41), KJ-200 radar (Erieye), KJ-2000 radar (Phalcon), FB-6A (Avenger), 093 (LA class), 054 hull (La Fayette), Type 730 (Goalkeeper), 052C FCRs (SPY-1D), Z-10 (Tiger, Rooivalk amongst others), LCAC and many more. China got some help from the respective parties in some cases, but also did not get help on majority of the cases. The Western countries (other than in the case of 022’s catamaran design) did not claim that China copied off them, because there was no way that China had access to those weapon systems. On the other hand, Russians claim that all the suspicious system that they did not work directly with China on must have been copied. In many cases, they say that China got the relevant blueprints from other former Soviet Republics.
The most famous case that it has complained about is J-11B, but that really is a case where the original licensed production/ToT deal hasn’t worked out as well as Sukhoi had hoped. Of the recent Chinese developments, weapon systems like the 76 mm naval gun, AK-630, L-15/CJ-7 trainer and heavy helicopter transport have all received proper ToT or assistance agreement, so Russia has no complaints over those systems. The recent Russian complaints have targeted HQ-9 missile, Yuan Submarine, WS-10A, J-10’s radar, sensors on 054A. I’m not a big follower of China’s SAM programs, but it seems like Russia has a good point if it accuses China was copying S-300 (although the FCR of HQ-9 is a whole different animal). As for Yuan submarine, it is possible that China took some concepts from Kilo and applied it on Yuan, but it would be completely ridiculous to call it a copy. It has totally different dimensions, different engines, different sonar, different fire control system, different weaponry, different sail design + diving plane configuration, different limber hole configuration and other many other differences. And it really makes you wonder why China would copy Kilo, when it would rather keep them at dockside than sending them out on patrols like they are doing with the Song submarines. As for WS-10A, I think it’s fair to say that China got a lot of assistance from the Russians on its development. However, turbofan engine is such a complex piece of work that without the right tools and machines used in AL-31F assembly lines, there is no way you can just straight out copy it. As for J-10s radar, that is probably one of the most ludicrous claims by the Russians. They think China copied the Zhuk series, because it obtained a few units of the radar in the early 2000s. But by that time, the original J-10’s radar was already developed and under test on J-10. KLJ-3 (the first radar on J-10) was from a family of slotted array radar that had already appeared in the 90s (before even Zhuk-8 was offered). I’ve already explored in another entry the Russian claims on 054A.
There is also a list of upcoming projects like WS-13, WS-18 and large transport that could possibly be accused of copying Russia in the future. In the case of the engines, it’s impossible for them to completely copy without the blueprints, materials, tools and machines needed to manufacture RD-93 and D-30KP2. However, there is no question that they will be very similar to their Russian counterpart. I think that the large transport could be the major point of contention between the two sides. If it turns out to look like IL-76 as many have speculated, it could send the Russian complaints to another level.
So in general, China has definitely copied some Russian weapons or at least drew inspiration from many other Russian weapon systems, but I think many of the Russian complaints are directed at the wrong systems. For example, they complain about J-11B and Yuan the most, because China has stopped buying fighter jets and submarines from them. But in reality, there are far more serious cases of violation.