I had originally wanted to just do a comparison of European and Chinese military industrial complex and talk about the gap between them. After thinking about it a little bit, I figure that this might be too difficult to do due to my unfamiliarity with much of European military industry. Instead, I think I’m going to revisit the topic of what China can buy from Europe once the European arms embargo is lifted.
With all of the recent tension in the Eurozone, I believe that it will eventually break down due to the unsustainability of this system. There will be much discontentment amongst EU member states countries over the austerity measures imposed by Eurozone leaders. At some point this will blow up in many of the peripheral countries, which will lead the EU member states to puruse more individualistic policies. We could see a complete repeal of the arms embargo by EU or by individual countries within EU, while certain countries (like UK) will still maintain arms embargo due to their relationships with America. While different EU countries would likely pursue different levels of military clearance when it comes to exports to China, I will make the assumption that most non-strategic systems from EU countries will be available to China.
For a look at how I think lifting European embargo will help China, we can take again at the cidex article. The part about Norwegian manufacturer Sensonor was most enlightening.
Sensonor’s MEMS gyroscope components offer the possibility for radically improving the accuracy of Chinese missile systems and precision-guided munitions. The central component is the STIM202 Butterfly gyro, which is a 55-gram miniature module that replaces previous-generation fibre-optic, ring laser and mechanical gyros …..
If the Sensonor technology is purchased by Chinese industry in significant numbers, their missiles and other guided weapons will achieve levels of performance and accuracy comparable to their western counterparts, but at a much lower total system cost. Even though Kotel in China are already producing a similar product, the people from Sensonor said that they are not worried about their product being reverse-engineered and illegally copied….
Why selling this product into China is not considered a violation of the EU arms embargo on the PRC is unknown. Having no ITAR content may be one issue, but the significant increase it will bring to the accuracy of Chinese weaponry certainly violates the spirit – if not the letter – of the EU embargo.
What I want to illustrate here is that EU companies are already helping PLA modernization even with the arm embargo in place. When China wants to purchase platforms or technology from Russia, it has to deal with Rosoboronexport and Russian government. Unlike its dealings with Russia, China relies on EU companies more for components and subsystems rather than whole systems. Small European companies like Sensonor provide quality commercial off the shelf products that can be used on missiles, avionics and platforms. The entire Russian defense industry has progressed more into the world of capitalism, but much of its practice is still stuck in Soviet Era mindset. The Russian companies that produce components for military systems can do so for Russian weapons, but they are not commercially competitive. In fact, many Russian weapon platforms (for domestic and export) are using European suppliers now. Similarly, China has been purchasing whatever dual use components it can from EU companies. In many cases, Chinese suppliers do exist, but the European suppliers may produce higher quality components. As in the case of Sensonor’s MEMS gyroscope, Chinese missiles and PGMs have benefited with increased accuracy. I feel like if the European embargo gets lifted, more EU suppliers will be able to support different COTS components for Chinese weapons. That will simply improve the quality and price of Chinese weapons. And this will be the case even if it takes another 50 years for the embargo to be lifted. We are in globalized world economy where most products require suppliers from different countries around the world. Even if the Chinese manufacturers can build everything, they will never be the most competitive supplier for every component. As shown in the recent scandal over fake Chinese components, even US military systems require parts from everywhere around the world. Having the option of purchasing from a technologically advanced base like EU could only be very fruitful for new Chinese weapons.
At the moment, China already benefits from working with numerous EU suppliers. Certain weapon systems like HQ-7 SAM, Type 360 radar, 100 mm naval gun and PL-11 AAM are from contracts signed prior to the arms embargo. Other subsystems like Sky Master surveillance radar, SEMT Pielstick engines for different PLAN ships, Kamewa waterjet propulsion for 022s, Arriel-1 engine for Z-9s and different parts of Z-10 have been allowed to export under the dual use umbrella (or too old in the case of WS-9 engine). China has even been able to leverage the dual use nature of helicopters to enter into co-development projects for EC-120 and EC-175. China is also able to enter into co-development projects with European companies for WZ-16 (to be used on EC-175) and SF-A (the domestic option for C-919). I would imagine that propulsion technology is one area where China would seek for help if arms embargo gets lifted. Different types of turbofan engines and gas turbine would become available for aviation and naval platforms. The other areas that China can purchase from EU countries are radars, different types of sensors, combat systems and sonars. As we’ve already seen with foreign participation in the avionics of C-919, China still has a lot to gain for cooperation with Western companies. Due to concerns over IP, what EU countries are willing to export to China may not be better than Chinese products in many cases. China could also purchase European technology for air defence technology. In many of these areas like Long range SAMs, China has already made significant progress in the recent years. However, they could still cooperate on some kind of medium ranged active radar guidance naval SAM based on Aster-15 to replace the semi-active radar HQ-16. They could also cooperate with European countries on Anti-aircraft artillery as most of PLA’s AA artilleries are developed based on what they imported in the 80s. They could also obtain different kind of air defence ammunitions like DART to improve the capabilities of the 76 mm naval gun and future naval gun class. I don’t think China needs to import gun systems, but they could certainly get help on improving target acquisition and guidance. They could also cooperate with European countries to obtain the latest torpedoes. The capabilities of Chinese torpedoes are rarely mentioned, so it’s hard for me to get an idea of where they are. However, Europe certain has advanced light and heavy torpedoes that China could purchase.
There are also whole systems that China could purchase from Europe. European countries are generally fairly advanced in weapon sectors that highly leverage civilian technology like helicopters and transports and comparatively less advanced in weapon sectors that require specialized military industries like any kind of strategic platform like nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier. China can certainly purchase different kind of naval helicopters like NH-90 for the navy. It can also purchase large transport like A400M or the A330 tanker or a platform for AWACS. Even though China is making progress in these areas, it’s still quite far behind Europe in large aircraft. I’m not only talking about R&D, but also production capabilities. China is still probably a generation behind Europe in submarine technology. Even the latest submarine we saw out of WuChang shipyard is still behind the likes of U-212 and Scorpene in terms of acoustic levels and signature management. I don’t think China needs to purchase entire systems, but it could cooperate with European companies like DCN to improve the design off future submarines. Other than these areas, I can’t see a compelling case for China to purchase any other large system from Europe.