Farnborough Air Show

Systems advances key to China’s arms aspirations

 - November 15, 2006, 11:32 AM

Newer and more capable systems are the key to the future of Chinese weaponry, and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is also looking to developments in electronics to upgrade the many Russian-made weapons platforms it has in inventory.

China’s defense industrial complex has most of its individual enterprises organized into large industrial conglomerates along the lines of Russia’s Almaz-Antei Air Defense Systems enterprise or the new Unified Aircraft Co. The intent of China’s state industrial managers has been to create centers of design competency and specialization to maximize the ability of these enterprises to produce systems for specific sectors of the defense industry. China’s defense sector has also sought to eliminate the duplication of effort that has characterized its industry in the past.

This reorganization of Chinese firms into large conglomerates has had two positive effects. One is that it places them in close contact with other enterprises that are their logical partners and creates synergies between them. The other is that many enterprises previously closed to the outside world and/or classified defense electronics research institutes have been forced into the open market economic system, which increases their efficiency and competitiveness.

One example is the China Electronics Technology Group Corp. (CETC), which was formed only four years ago. It is still officially a state-owned corporation, but in reality, CETC is a large, umbrella parent company that controls some 46 research institutes specializing in electronic technology and 26 other high-tech companies. In the process, they have managed to facilitate the creation of some of the more advanced designs to come from China’s defense electronics sector.

Foreign specialists who were at April’s CIDEX 2006 defense exhibition in Beijing gave credit to what Chinese industry has been able to accomplish by creating a more effective organizational structure, but hasten to add that this alone does not explain the advances made in recent years. “Chinese enterprises epitomize determination and dedication to advancement in technology,” one foreign participant at CIDEX told Aviation International News. “They have a sense of hunger–of wanting to be on top or to move to the next level–and this propels them forward at an incredible pace. What holds them back now is that they lack the experience of having already designed several generations of weaponry. So they will make mistakes and there will be a back-and-forth learning process. However, in five or seven years we may be amazed at how much further they have been able to advance.”

One of CETC’s standout performers is the No. 14 Research Institute, also known as the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronic Technology (NRIET). This research center has produced the KLJ-7 airborne radar set, which some sources say has become the radar of choice for the new Chengdu F-10 fighter. The KLJ-7 is reported to have displaced a previous NRIET model, the KLJ-3, and is a significant improvement over the previous design. The KLJ-3 was assessed to have been similar to early versions of the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-68, technology that is 20 years old or older.

CETC is also the parent firm of the Southwest China Research Institute of Electronic Equipment, which is credited with the design of the KG300G electronic warfare system. This is an older system that was first shown publicly around 1998, but has reportedly been improved with the assistance of foreign-imported components.

At the same time, the No. 51 Research Institute, also known as the Shanghai Research Institute of Microwave Equipment (SRIME), is developing electronic emission detection systems that can track and triangulate the location of U.S. stealthy platforms and airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft. SRIME has learned how other passive detection and tracking systems work–such as the Ukrainian Kolchuga-M and the Czech Vera-E–and has used these designs as the baseline for its own product development. One of its designs, the SM-102 passive surveillance radar, can locate and provide accurate targeting data on an AWACS at a range of 400 miles.

Chinese firms have some of the youngest scientific workforces in the world. Unlike the U.S., they have no Cold War veterans who have less than five years to retirement. Which means young Chinese engineers will be around after most of their foreign contemporaries are long gone. It remains to be seen who in the West will still be around to challenge them as they seek to dominate the world’s defense market of the future.