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Defense Issues Weekly, first edition – April 7th, 2013

China orders Su-35 jets, AL-31F117S engines, ultra-quiet subs

This week, during a Moscow visit by China’s Defense Minister and 4th ranked member of the Central Military Commission, Gen. Chang Wanquan, it was announced that the Middle Kingdom will purchase several types of Russia’s newest military equipment: among others: 24 Su-35 multirole fighters, a number of Saturn AL-31F117S engines, four ultra-quiet Lada class submarines, Il-76 transport aircraft, and Il-78 Midas tanker aircraft.

This follows on Russia’s earlier sale of the Tu-22M bomber production line to China, which intends to procure 36 of these supersonic, intercontinental bomber aircraft. The Tu-22M has a combat radius of 2,410 kms which, however, can be greatly extended through mid-air refueling. Its maximum speed is Mach 1.88. Its armament consists of freefall bombs (nuclear or conventional) and either 3 Raduga Kh-22 air-to-surface nuclear-armed cruise missiles or ten missiles of other types (six on its rotary launcher and four on underwing pylons). The Kh-55 ALCM can also be used on the Tu-22M and has also been procured by China.

If procured, it would greatly add to China’s existing bomber fleet, which, with 120-160 H-6 (Tu-16) bombers, already gives China the ability to attack targets over 4,000 kms away from China’s coast using the CJ-10 air-launched cruise missile, which is nuclear-capable.

The Su-35 air superiority fighter is the latest member of the Flanker family. It is decisively superior to every current and planned aircraft in US and allied inventories except the F-15 and the F-22 (but superior to the F-35). It possesses the newest Russian radar, the Irbis-E, superior to every American aircraft radar but the APG-63(V)3-4 and the APG-77, possesses jammers and an infra-red search and tracking system (which the F-22 and older F-15 models lack), and can carry 12 missiles (the F-15 can carry 11; the F-22 can carry 8 in stealth more, but 12 if stealthiness is not a must). It is also armed with a 30mm gun.

The Su-35′s thrust/weight ratio, 1.13:1, is slightly superior to the F-15′s (1.12), but inferior to the F-22′s (1.26:1), and it outclasses all American fighters in the rate of climb: 280 m/s. However, its wing loading ratio, at 408 kg/sq m, is worse than that of the F-22 (375) and F-15 (358), meaning it turns slower than these two American fighters. Its speed of flight, at Mach 2.25, is also worse than theirs, and at a 59,100 ft max ceiling, it is outclassed by these two USAF fighters, which can fly at up to 65,000 ft.

The Al-31F117s engine produces over 80 kN of dry thrust, or 142 kN at afterburner. Each Su-35 is, and each J-20 fighter will be, equipped with two such engines, producing  a total of 284 kN of thrust at afterburner. These engines are intended for the J-20, a stealthy long-range fighter/striker which China is developing and first flew in January 2011. There are two flying prototypes: one uses AL-31F engines, and the other uses WS-10A engines. Development of China’s own turbofan thrust-vector-control-capable engine, the WS-10G, is lagging, hence Russia has stepped in to aid Beijing.

The Lada class is the newest, 21st century class of Russian conventional attack submarines. Ultra-quiet, the class is equipped with air-independent propulsion and will join China’s already-large (67-68 boats) submarine fleet, consisting mostly of very quiet, AIP-equipped conventional submarines ideal for operations in the Western Pacific, especially its noisy parts close to China, and for executing China’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial strategy of denying the US the ability to operate in the WESTPAC. (China calls the strategy “shashoujian”, i.e. “assassin’s mace”.)

Russia practices bomber strike on US missile defenses

China is hardly the only country planning to use the Tu-22M. A Russian Tu-22M bomber recently carried out simulated “practice” strikes on US missile defenses in Asia, including Japan. The incident occurred on February 26th; the Tu-22M bomber simulated an attack on American Aegis-type BMD ships deployed near Japan. A second mock attack was conducted the next day, also by a Tu-22M bomber, against a US missile defense site in Japan.

The incident was reported recently by Washington Free Beacon/WaTimes reporter Bill Gertz, who only recently received the information from US officials. It is probable that had Gertz not found out and reported the story, the public would have never known about it.

This is the fourth simulated Russian bomber strike against US missile defense assets in less than a year. Last June, as President Obama was meeting with President Putin in Mexico, Russian Tu-95 bombers, escorted by fighters and also accompanied by tankers and AWACS aircraft, practiced striking US installations in Alaska. Then, on July 4th, Russian bombers flew very close to California’s shore and practiced strikes on military installations there. Then, in February 2013, Russian bombers practiced strikes on Guam. This is the fourth incident, and as stated above, it also occurred in February. Bill Gertz was the first journalist to report all four simulated Russian attacks.

US officials have agreed to talk to Gertz about these incidents only on the condition of anonymity. In public, US officials continually refuse to say anything about it, in line with the Obama administration’s established policy of not saying anything critical of Russia and China.

Hagel speech on defense issues

On Wednesday, April 3rd, at the National Defense University, new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered his first significant speech as Pentagon chief, which revealed the direction of the DOD reforms he intends to undertake and his defense priorities.

Hagel announced that DOD reforms must, first and foremost, tackle growing personnel, overhead and acquisition costs, which, if left unchecked, will bankrupt the DOD and make it impossible for the DOD to procure modern equipment for the military, maintain it at an appropriate size, maintain its current equipment and bases, and train it adequately.

He said that while the DOD must care for America’s troops, the cost of caring for them and of the DOD retirement program must be reduced. A complete overhaul of military retirement and healthcare programs is therefore needed.

Hagel’s warnings are nothing new: his predecessors have also warned about these spiralling costs, as have think-tanks such as the CSBA, which has warned that by FY2039 the entire defense budget will be spent on personnel, absent significant cost-cutting reforms.

The DOD must also tackle overhead, Hagel says. It employs almost 800,000 civilian staffers, hundreds of thousands of contractors, and between 700 and 900 generals. It has too many offices, agencies, and commands, and too many too senior generals commanding too few troops.

Hagel will unveil the FY2014 defense budget proposal next week.

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  1. Jan Brown says:

    I find what you write interesting & informative WHEN I have time to read them. I know that when I try to just skim highlights or not read at all..I’m missing out on something…that as it may, I only have so much time to spend at a computer..If you can perhaps shorten them or omit some of the more techinal aspects it would be of help to me. ..I most assuradly appreciate all the effort that goes into them…even if at times I might disagree.

    • Zbigniew Mazurak says:

      You’re right. I’ll try to improve my future articles with those suggestions in mind.

      • Jan Brown says:

        Whew! That’s a relief…You have so much knowledge & information that is important & I was afraid you might think I was being too critical.