The Limitations of China's Defense Industry

I thought that Russian military official’s slapdown of the Chinese knock off of their Su-33 carried based fighter (Chinese designation J-15) was really interesting. Now, as I mentioned yesterday, this could all just be posturing for the global arms market, a bit of tainting the competition if you will.

Or, it could just be public griping over the Chinese stealing intellectual property from Russian aircraft builder Sukhoi. But then again, there is not much of a global market for carrier based fighters. Also, what the Russian official said about shortcomings in China’s aerospace industry resonates with what I’ve seen from other sources.

This 2005 RAND report, Modernizing China’s Military, though a bit dated, is one of the more analytically rigorous assessments of China’s defense industry that I’ve been able to find. Key sections:

"The limitations of China’s defense industries are reflected in the long production cycles for major defense systems. China’s JH-7 (FBC-1) fighter-bombers and J-10 (F-10) multirole aircraft, its most advanced indigenously produced military aircraft, were both under development for two decades. The JH-7 only recently entered into service for the PLA Navy (PLAN), even though it was first designed in the early 1970s. Despite the very long development times involved, the project is still dependent on jet engines imported from Britain—China has been unable to produce the engine on its own. The J-10 has just entered series production despite the fact that the program was initiated in the early 1980s, and the design is largely derived from Israel’s canceled Lavi fighter program (which in turn was based on U.S. F-16 technology).

Other sectors of China’s defense industry have exhibited similar, though perhaps not as acute, weaknesses as the aircraft industry. For most of the 1980s and 1990s, China produced no heavy naval cruisers or multirole destroyers with advanced air defense or antisubmarine systems. Until recently, China’s newest classes of surface ships were produced in very small numbers, showed few significant design innovations, and relied on imported equipment for critical subsystems, weapons, and sensor suites. Even China’s missile sector, which is often heralded as a “pocket of excellence,” does not inspire awe. The solid-fuel ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles for which it has made its reputation are comparable to systems fielded in the West in the 1960s and 1970s.”

If anybody out there knows of more recent assessments please do pass any and all along.

-- Greg Grant

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