Tag Archives: China

S-500 in 2016?

Predictions of the imminent appearance of the new anti-air, anti-missile S-500 system come with regularity.  Last week’s press reports aren’t novel in this respect.

Deputy Aerospace Forces (VKS) CINC and Chief of Air and Missile Defense General-Lieutenant Viktor Gumennyy [Goo-MYO-knee] says Almaz-Antey is completing development work on the S-500, and the VKS will receive it “soon.” Hard to argue. We know it’s in development, and he doesn’t say what “soon” means.

TASS and RIA Novosti covered Gumennyy’s comments on Rossiya 24 television.

The prevailing forecast is that the S-500 will complete development, and appear with operational units on an “experimental” basis in 2017.

As recently as early 2015, Deputy Defense Minister and procurement chief Yuriy Borisov predicted the S-500 wouldn’t complete development until 2017.

However, TASS reminds that VKS CINC General-Colonel Viktor Bondarev has said deliveries will start in 2016.  He’s an inveterate optimist; in 2012, he said 2013.

In any event, it’s a chance to review what’s claimed to date about the S-500.

The typical advertisement for the S-500 calls it a new generation, long-range surface-to-air missile with increased capability for high altitude (200 km) intercepts against ballistic missiles and RVs.  It can reportedly engage ten ballistic missiles simultaneously at a range of 600 km.  The S-500 is supposed to be superior to both the S-400 Triumf and U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3).

The system is supposed have 40N6M (possibly a longer-range mod of the S-400’s 400-km missile?) missiles as well as hypersonic 77N6-N and 77N6-N1 missile interceptors.  TASS reported that these anti-missile missiles were successfully tested in mid-2014.

According to Interfaks, GPV 2011-2020 calls for procurement of ten battalions (or five “regimental sets”) of the S-500.  Almaz-Antey’s original contract called for initial deliveries in 2015.

Noted by the regime or not, this is “GOZ breaking.” Some producers get in trouble for it; important ones sometimes don’t.

General-Lieutenant Gumennyy also reported that testing of the S-350 Vityaz SAM continues, and initial launches confirmed the system’s performance.  The S-350 will replace older Russian S-300PS SAMs.

Gumennyy said the share of “modern” SAMs and radars in Russia’s inventory is 45 percent.  Last December, the MOD indicated that 52 percent of all VKS weapons and equipment was “modern.”

P.S. President Vladimir Putin’s assistant for military-technical cooperation confirmed for Izvestiya today that Russia is negotiating sales of the S-400 system to China and India.

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What’s It Cost? (Part III)

48N6E2

48N6E2

We might never be done with this topic, and that’s OK.

On 17 March, TASS reported that Russia will sell China two “regimental sets” of S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missiles in a deal reportedly worth $3 billion.

The first will be delivered in December 2017-January 2018 and the second in May-June 2019, according to the news agency’s “military-diplomatic source.”

Moscow and Beijing signed the S-400 contract in September 2014.

Each “set” has two battalions of four S-400 launchers.  Or a total of 16 launch vehicles.  Or 64 missiles and an unreported number of reloads.

Recall that previous reports claimed China was after no less than six S-400 battalions for that same $3 billion price.

The September 2014 deal includes training for Chinese personnel beginning in the last quarter of 2017, according to TASS.

Its source also stated that the first “regiment” will have the same missiles as the S-300PMU-2 SAM systems China already has.  The 48N6E2 with its 200-km range.

The second will have missiles “with improved characteristics.”  Presumably, the newer 400-km 40N6E.

But it’s not clear that the 40N6 (or export-version 40N6E) missile is fully out of testing, if some press reporting is accurate.

China is, of course, the first foreign customer, but India will apparently be the second.  According to RIA Novosti, India is negotiating for five S-400 battalions for a reported $5.8 billion.

However, it seems unlikely New Delhi would pay that kind of premium for a fifth battalion, even with all 40N6E missiles.

What’s It Cost? (Addendum)

There’s reason this week to return to the issue of what the S-400 system costs. Specifically, what it might cost China.

Vedomosti reported Wednesday that Russia has signed a deal with China to sell it the S-400 / Triumf.

The business daily’s defense industry source claims the agreement inked by Rosoboroneksport and the Chinese military will send off not less than six battalions of the advanced SAM system for more than $3 billion.

That would be at least $500 million per battalion (against the previously ventured guess of about $320 million).  Or in excess of $80 million per TEL.

The Russian Defense Ministry has consistently maintained that the S-400 won’t go abroad before 2016.

Vedomosti notes China’s last big purchase was 15 battalions of S-300PMU-2 completed in 2010.

RIA Novosti pretty quickly reported that an official of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) said an S-400 contract hadn’t been signed with China as yet.

Rosoboroneksport and Almaz-Antey just declined comment.

The Next China Deal

IA Regnum military observer Leonid Nersisyan recently took a stab at preparing Russian public opinion for the eventual sale of S-400 SAMs and Su-35S fighters to China.  A major arms deal with China should be expected, especially given Moscow’s turn further east in the wake of Western sanctions.

Nersisyan aims to refute usual complaints about exporting Russia’s most advanced weaponry to China, i.e. that Beijing will quickly copy and sell it more cheaply.  He dials back to the early 1990s.

The sale of S-300 SAMs began in 1993, amounting to something between 24 and 40 battalions of three variants.  Along the way, China developed a copy, the HQ-9, similar but less capable than the original in many performance parameters.  If it had been a really good knock off, Nersisyan argues, the HQ-9 would be found in many of the world’s armies, but it isn’t.

China's S-300, Whitewalls on a TEL?

China’s S-300, Whitewalls on a TEL?

The S-300 has grown old, and the money earned from China went into S-400 development and saved Almaz-Antey from bankruptcy at a time of little, if any, Russian military procurement.  Nersisyan concludes that:

“. . . the deal was successful — the system was copied (with deficiencies) only two decades after the first deliveries, when it had already grown old, and Russia had more modern analogues.”

Nersisyan points also to the Su-27 sale.  First Russia sold Beijing 24, then 200 kits for assembly in China.  But the Chinese stopped the transfer at 100, and began producing a copy, the J-11B.  However, its engine proved unreliable in comparison with Russia’s AL-31F, which the Chinese opted to buy for their domestic fighters.  Similarly, China bought nearly 100 Su-30 variants beginning in 2000 before producing a copy, the J-16, which also lacks a reliable engine. China’s difficulty, according to various reports, is manufacturing turbine blades and plates.

Neither the J-11B nor the J-16 is being produced in volume, and Russian aircraft remain the foundation of Chinese fighter aviation.

So, concludes Nersisyan, it will take China 20 years to copy the more complex S-400, while Russia is deploying the S-500.  Copying the generation 4++ Su-35S will be complicated by its more advanced thrust-vectored AL-41F1S engine, and Russia will be fielding the PAK FA / T-50 in the meantime.

Nersisyan writes that becoming a real competitor in the global arms market requires original RDT&E, not copying.  He sums up in three maxims:

  • Modern technologies don’t lend themselves to quick copying.
  • Copiers always lag behind.
  • The copy is often worse than the original.

What do others say about the threat of Chinese copying?

CAST’s Vasiliy Kashin agrees that fears are exaggerated because people don’t understand the obstacles to successful copying or that China’s military modernization is directed against the U.S. (something that, he adds, benefits Moscow).  He also blames much of the copying of Russian fighters on Ukrainian technical cooperation with China.

Vasiliy Sychev has written that S-400 and Su-35S sales to China will be straight sales without any technical or production licenses.  Moscow typically wants to sell more, and Beijing buy less, but the sides have worked toward the middle.  A new deal (or deals) will be for 2-4 SAM battalions and 24 fighters ($1.5 billion, or $60 million per).

Nor does Viktor Murakhovskiy see anything critical because Russian capabilities will be ahead of what China gets.

More Sinophobic, Aleksandr Khramchikhin says there’s an active and effective pro-China lobby in Moscow’s power ministries and OPK, and he believes Russia needs to understand it faces a grave threat from China.

Second Tier Pacific Power?

Chinese Carrier Liaoning, or ex-Soviet Kuznetsov-class Varyag (photo: Reuters)

Chinese Carrier Liaoning, or ex-Soviet Kuznetsov-class Varyag (photo: Reuters)

Militaryparitet.com wrote recently about Jane’s Defence Weekly’s report on the possible start of construction of an indigenous Chinese aircraft carrier on Changxing, near Shanghai.  A new one, not an old one bought abroad and refurbished.

It may, or may not, be a carrier in the end.

Nevertheless, Militaryparitet quoted a 23 [sic] December Russia Today story about the Chinese carrier program:

“China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier will be a larger version of Liaoning.  The design is reportedly based on drafts of a Soviet-era, nuclear-powered, 80,000 ton vessel capable of carrying 60 aircraft.”

In other words, a later-day Ulyanovsk.

Militaryparitet also cites Voice of Russia.  It quoted Pavel Kamennov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of the Far East, who claimed China will build two conventionally-powered carriers by 2015 [sic?] before constructing a nuclear one by 2020.

The government broadcaster tends to see a threat from China.  Its report came against the backdrop of Liaoning’s first deployment.

Then VoR turned to nationalist military commentator, retired naval officer Konstantin Sivkov to describe how the “geopolitical situation” will change when Chinese carrier groups take to sea in the future:

“. . . somewhere across 10 years China could put naval power comparable to the Americans on the Pacific Ocean.  This will signify that Russia has moved to the second tier on the Pacific Ocean, and the main players will be the USA and China.”

Now it seems likely China will soon surpass Russia as a carrier power.  Though one notes Moscow, even with a less than robust program, still has years of experience operating Kuznetsov that constitute a final remaining advantage over Beijing.

China catching the U.S. Navy is altogether different.

To its credit, Militaryparitet wrote that acquiring carriers is complex and expensive.  They take years to build, and many more to master their tactical and strategic operation.  There’s no substitute for experience in controlling carriers and battle groups under real-world conditions.  And the U.S. Navy has launched aircraft into combat from flattops for decades.

Those aren’t the only hurdles.

As the Russians learned, and the Chinese are learning, perhaps the most difficult step is fielding a high performance, carrier-capable fighter that can deliver a large combat load.  As RIA Novosti’s military commentator wrote in 2008:

“. . . to turn an ordinary fighter into a deck-based one through a small modernization is not possible.  The aircraft has to be designed from scratch, because the airframe of a deck-based aircraft experiences stress 2-3 times greater on landing than its ‘land-based brethren.'”

Not to mention the stress when the cat hurls it skyward.

So where does this leave us?

It’s no surprise Russian military observers and nationalist-minded elements lament the rise of China’s naval power and its fast-developing and emblematic carrier program.

But were it not for politeness, they could be reminded that China quite some time ago supplanted Russia as a “first tier” power in the Pacific in many ways.  Demographically, economically, diplomatically, and perhaps even militarily.

Other China-watchers (including many Russian ones) have a more benign, less zero-sum view.  They see Beijing as simply preparing to represent and defend its interests, which may or may not conflict with Moscow’s (or Washington’s for that matter).

Meanwhile, Western Russia-watchers tend a little cottage industry of trying to divine how Moscow really feels about China.  And the wisest ones probably say there’s more than one correct answer to this question.

Defense News

Some Russian defense news from April 17-18, 2012 . . .

Militaryparitet.com provided a link to an interesting Livejournal site.  The latter’s apparently been scouring government tender offers, and located one worth 600 million rubles for work to upgrade Votkinsk for Yars ICBM production.

According to RIA Novosti, a Rosoboroneksport official says talks with China about selling the Su-35 are frozen because the PRC wants to buy only a limited number of the new fighters.

Interesting that France, Italy, etc. don’t use the same logic when Moscow talks about purchasing samples.

Vzglyad.ru covered the release of SIPRI’s global military expenditure report for 2011.  The U.S. spent 41 percent of the world’s total, China 8, Russia 4.

Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov talked to the Federation Council about military housing.  He told Senators 60,000 permanent and service apartments were ready to be occupied at the beginning of this year.  See TV Zvezda coverage.

At least for the camera, Pankov didn’t offer an explanation why such a large number were waiting to be occupied.

22nd Army Commander, General-Major Sergey Yudin’s traded his command for a staff job.  He’s now the Chief, OMU for the Western MD.  See Mil.ru.

Ivashov on the Army and Putin

Leonid Ivashov

Leonid Ivashov recently talked to Narodnyy politolog on a variety of army topics including reforms, the possibility of a big war, rearmament, president-elect Vladimir Putin, and his military program.  Segodnia.ru also printed the interview.

Once Russia’s top military diplomat, now avowed geopolitician, the former three-star thinks Putin fears externally-driven regime change and is improving the army to forestall such an eventuality.  Ivashov sees a U.S.-led West depriving Russia of allies before focusing on Russia itself.

Asked about army reforms, Ivashov says they have succeeded in cutting forces, but not in rearming them or improving their social conditions.  Reforms have degraded and weakened the army.  Military men mock the New Profile reforms saying, “There’s a profile, but not armed forces.”  Ivashov calls reforms craziness, and says it’s like servicemen have lived in a house under continuous repair for 25 years.

Following up his comment on mobilization reserves cut to the bare minimum, NP asked the retired general-colonel if a big war is possible today.

Ivashov says yes.  Citing how “they” are beating up Russia’s strategic allies (Syria and Iran), he says “What is this if not war?”

Ivashov foresees a large conflict between the U.S. and China and possible spinoff regional and local wars.  He cites a Chinese specialist who calls for a Russian-Chinese alliance to deter a big war and curb the appetite of the West and international oligarchs.

Is Russia ready for such an eventuality?  Ivashov answers:

“I think Putin understands perfectly how military weakness and the absence of strategic allies can be the end for Russia.  Clearly, the Libyan situation ‘helped’ him understand this, just like what is happening now in Syria, and what they are preparing for Iran.  If you can’t defend the country, you are subjecting yourself to a great risk personally.”

“Now Putin is making a sharp turn to the side of strengthening defense capability.  One can only welcome this.  Because today they don’t simply beat the weak, they destroy them.”

Ivashov calls Putin’s military program ambitious, if not systematic.  The regime’s been in a “light panic” since Libya.

He intimates that more than 20 percent of the state armaments program will be stolen since the amount of theft cited by the military prosecutor covers only cases under investigation, not all corruption.

Ivashov suggests lobbying has replaced forecasts of future military actions as the driver of arms procurement.

The case of Mistral, which one wonders where it will be built and how it will be used, Ivashov says well-connected lobbyist structures ensure what gets produced is exactly what their enterprises make.  He was somewhat encouraged that Putin, at Sarov, entertained turning to specialists and experts to examine the army’s requirements.

On GPV 2020, Ivashov concludes it’ll be a serious step forward if only half of what’s planned gets produced, but it can’t be equipment designed in the 1970s and 1980s.  He sees OPK production capacity problems too.  He questions whether Votkinsk can produce 400 solid-fueled ballistic missiles by 2020.

Returning to the big war, he questions a focus on defensive operations for Russian conventional forces, saying offensive capabilities are needed to deter potential enemies.  He claims reduced force structure and mobilization capability have become a joke in the General Staff:

“The main problem for the Chinese in a conflict with us is not defeating our brigade, but finding it.”

Ivashov’s just a little up in arms over the armor situation.  He all but accuses the General Staff Chief of being a paid (or bribed) lobbyist for foreign tank and armored vehicle makers.  He suggests that Army General Makarov should be placed in cuffs if he says the Leopard-2 is better than the T-90 [what about Postnikov then?], and the Main Military Prosecutor should investigate him.

So what is to be done first and foremost to strengthen the country’s defense capability today?

Ivashov replies get rid of Serdyukov and Makarov who have done great damage, and strengthen cadres in the OPK and military by replacing “managers” with those who can apply military science (as Ivashov was taught) to the problem of developing new weapons.

The always provocative Ivashov doesn’t venture whether he thinks  the current emphasis on defense capability will continue or have the intended results.  He seems sincerely to believe in a possible Western intervention in Russia’s internal affairs.  But it’d be more interesting to hear him talk about whether the army would fight for Putin’s regime in something less than that maximal contingency.  Ivashov, unlike some critics of Russia’s defense policy, shies away from blaming the once-and-future Supreme CINC for at least some of the current military state of affairs.