Today, we just heard about the Mi-171 deal concluding with a company in Sichuan doing the assembly. As we mentioned in this blog, we first about this plan in one of the posters of this company. We also saw a picture of the first assembled Mi-171 on a Kanwa article last year. At the time, Kanwa was speculating that this deal may not go through because Russians are fearful that China would create another J-11B situation. However, from this report, it's clear that China has received a Z-9 type of deal where it could the rights to eventually produce everything locally and exporting the planes to third countries. The company that's doing the assembly was already doing maintenance and repairs for Mi-8/17 helicopters in PLA. Therefore, it shouldn't be a surprise it can raise the production to 20 for this year. The IL-76 problem didn't affect this deal, because China is still importing this under the civilian guise. China had been importing civilian Mi-17 variants and converting them to military version for the past few batches. They will probably still be getting the "civilian kits" (whatever that means) and modifying it to be able to fire rockets and such. If the production rate of Mi-171 does eventually reach 80, it certainly would represent quite an enhancement to PLA aviation. This deal probably also means that new Z-8 units will mostly be used for the navy. Recently, we had a picture of 920 medical ship with Z-8, so it seems like many of the large newly built ships will be getting new Z-8Ks. Therefore, this deal should also help the helicopter shortage situation with PLAN aviation. This deal also reminds me the recent Sokol helicopter deal, because of the way foreign helicopters were favored over domestic helicopters. In both cases, the foreign helicopter (Mi-171) got a huge local production contract due to their much lower cost rather than their technology level. Of course, the local helicopters in both cases are more expensive, because they were originally French helicopters. As mentioned in the past, Kazan/Ulan-Ude have basically cornered China's medium to super heavy transport helicopter market with Mi-17, Mi-26 and possibly Mi-38. The super light to medium helicopter market are all West assisted/inspired design or local production of Western designs. (including S-300, EC-120, Z-11, Sokol, CA-109, Z-9, Z-10, Z-15, 10 ton helicopter). We certainly have a clearer view of future of helicopter in PLA than we did a couple years ago. The only projects that I'm waiting for are Z-15, 10 ton helicopter and Mi-38.
Another interesting piece of news that came out today is the sale of K-8 to Venezuela. We also heard recently that China sold 12 K-8s to Zimbabwe and 6 already arrived in the country. K-8 has certainly become of one of China's leading export items. I guess it provides some hope for the L-15 project, because K-8 started out without any contract from China or Pakistan. Maybe in a couple of years, Hongdu will be able to win over the PLA brass with L-15 as it did with K-8. Countries like Venezuela, Egypt and Pakistan will certainly be more likely to buy L-15 after inducting K-8s.
The other big news is that SAC guarantees the large transport will have first flight by 2012. From all sources I have went through recently, it seems like this will be the domestic version of IL-76. There have been some speculations about transport with 60 ton capacity like C-17. It seems like SAC may have more than one project going. A Chinese IL-76 is the safe design that will be able to go in service relatively quickly (probably before 2015). They are also working on another design that will be more advanced, but probably would not go in service until 2020. From the numerous sources that I read, it seems like they are not only familiar with IL-76 design (after using it and maintaining it for so long), but also have the blue prints, some of the personnel and the necessary technology needed to set up production in SAC. In fact, one of the big shrimps on Chinese bbs recently said that the IL-76 factory in Kazakhstan provided this to China as a response to what they view as Russia trying to squeeze them out of IL-76 production (by moving all production to Russia). The large bypass turbofan engine project based on WS-10A is not that far away from completing and should be better than D-30 series (probably at PS-90 level).
The other engine news coming out recently is that WS-13 finished long duration test last year. It will probably take off with JF-17 this year and achieve design certification by 2009. Once it gets the production certification, China will have no more need/headache for RD-93. Note, they also have the WS-12 project ongoing which is in the same weight class, but a completely new design.
On the naval side of things, we saw some new pictures of F-22P coming out recently. It only confirmed the previous notion that FM-90N is the SAM for F-22P. We can see the launchers and the FCR for it installed since the last set of photos.
The more interesting news that came out is with regards to the new 130 MM naval gun. People often saying that China is not open enough, but this one is an example of how a yet to be seen weapon system is mentioned in an official source.
Zhou Bingwu (left) studying together with other technical personnel on compatible fire plans of naval gun.
The reporters learnt recently from a military representative office of the Armament Department of the PLA Navy that Zhou Bingwu, a senior engineer of this office, has tackled problems in key technologies, such as shell cases got jammed in gun barrel, and enabled one naval gun barrel to fire different types of artillery shells with different calibers, and realized automatic loading of separate-loading ammunition. At the end of April, this achievement passed the technical evaluation after it was put to test in a live ammunition range practice.
The naval gun experts at the range located at the northern foot of the Yin Mountain were amazed at this achievement, and they held that this achievement would turn naval gun into a multifunctional launching platform and make the gun be able to launch precise attack against long- and middle-distance targets automatically and from multi-directions, thus it is going to bring new life to naval guns. Cai Yuquan, leader of the naval gun expert team excitedly said, "This achievement has filled a technical blank in naval gun's firing field." At present, this achievement is in the process of applying for national scientific and technological innovation award.
Zhou Bingwu is over 50 years of age now and he started to carry out research on naval gun in 1993. Fiver years ago, he went to Beijing to report to the higher level on his research program of firing multi-types of shells with a single naval gun. In early 2005, the application for the development of a new type of large caliber ship-gun was approved, and a military-civilian joint research task force was established accordingly.
By Deng Xianwei and Jiang Ming
(May 8, PLA Daily) Editor: Fan Aifeng
The Chinese version of this article is similar, but also mentions that the shells are guided. It seems like this gun is being prepared for the new generation of destroyers that will start production in the near future. It will certainly be superior to the 100 mm and the 76 mm currently serving on the newer ships. It should be superior to existing PLAN guns in anti-surface warfare, land attack and also serve as CIWS in front of Type 730s. I have also read about the development of a 155 mm naval gun similar to the AGS (advance gun system) of DDG-1000.
And finally, we read about HH-9 and RIF-M engaging in training exercises recently. RIF-M hit all 6 targets in the test trial. The description of HH-9 tests were harder to decipher, but it seems like HH-9 was able to hit sea-skimming targets, BVR targets and concurrent engagements. The sea-skimming test was especially interesting, because the drone was wobbling (after loosing control of itself) toward the sea and HH-9 missile struck it as it entered the water. It stated the FCR tracked it, suddenly lost the track, tracked it again and then fired the missile to hit it. Apparently, this entire sequence from the tracking to destroying the targets took 10 to 20 seconds (he actually stated 1x seconds). If the entire process took closer to the 10 second marks, then I would think that is very good time for tracking, reacting, launching preparation, firing off and flight to the target. The Chinese are generally very pleased with the performance of HH-9.