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Sino-Russia Military Ties

Plenty of opportunity for trade in this Quartermaster Complex.
by Andrei Chang
Hong Kong (UPI) Aug 24, 2007
China is running into problems in its military-technology dealings with Russia. The country has postponed high-level military talks on defense technology and stopped all new military contracts until Russia delivers an overdue shipment of aircraft, according to industry sources in both countries.

China has also complained about the quality of Russian weapons. Russian dealers, on the other hand, are upset about blatant Chinese imitations of their products, built from designs supplied in the understanding that the weapons were to be purchased.

The aircraft issue involves a deal signed in 2005 whereby China agreed to purchase from Russia 30 IL-76 transport aircraft and eight IL-78 aerial refueling tankers. However, Tashkent Aircraft Plant, based in the capital of Uzbekistan, which was to have manufactured the IL-76 and IL-78, declared soon after the signing that the plant was unable to build the planes independently due to financial and technical problems.

To resolve this issue, Russia has given three proposals to the Chinese side, according to a source from Rosoboroonexport, a state-owned military trading company. One is to co-produce the plane's parts in Tashkent and Russian Ulianovsk or Voronezh aviation factories, with final assembly of the IL-76 in Voronezh. The second is to fully manufacture the aircraft in Russia. The third is to assemble all the planes in Tashkent with most of the parts produced in Russia.

Whichever solution is selected, additional investment will be required from the Russian side to add new equipment to the Ulianovsk and Voronezh aviation factories. Consequently, Rosoboroonexport has asked the Chinese partner to accept a higher price for the aircraft.

China's response has been to twice postpone an annual high-level conference on cooperation in defense technology. Beijing has indicated that the condition to restart the talks is for Russia to fulfill the aircraft contract. Russia contends that the existence of this problem is reason enough to hold new discussions, without any condition.

This Chinese tendency to set preconditions for political talks and other negotiations is well-known to U.S. and Japanese negotiators. Now the strategy is being applied to the Russians.

To add salt to the wound, China has also criticized the quality of some Russian weapons it previously purchased. For example, it has complained of the short service life of optical/electronic detection devices (IRST) for the SU-27SK fighter. The Russian factory has deflected the blame, saying the problems are caused by improper usage. Photos of the IRST used for the Chinese air force's SU-27SK show that they are used without protective coverings even in inclement weather.

One of the biggest buyers of Russian arms, the Chinese air force, or PLAAF, has purchased 100 advanced Su30MKK multipurpose fighters and 48 earlier version SU-27SK fighters. It also obtained license production rights for the 200 SU-27SK, which started in 1996. However, the contract was suspended after 95 China-made J11A were completed last year. Russia reportedly backed out of the deal due to technical reservations.

The Chinese navy also received 12 Kilo Class 877/636 diesel submarines and four Type 956E/EM missile destroyers, other naval subsystems for Chinese carriers, and new warships as well as more than eight battalions of S-300PMU/PMU-1 and another eight battalions of S-300PMU-2 long-range surface-to-air missiles, deployed by the Chinese air force in recent decades.

For its part, Moscow is unhappy with China's massive production of imitation versions of Russian weapons. Many Russian arms manufacturers have told the Western press how surprised they were by the scale of China's copycat capabilities. In many cases, Chinese dealers will express their intention to purchase Russian arms, begin negotiations, ask as many technical questions as possible, take photos and videos of the weapons, request all available documents, come back to the table to "discuss" more technical issues, and after a few more "negotiations," the dealers disappear. Two or three years later, a Chinese copy of the weapon under discussion appears on the international market.

A typical example is the Chinese A100 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), an imitation of the Russian SMERCH MLRS, without even superficial changes in shape. The Chinese PLZ05 155-mm self-propelled gun (SPG) system is also a copy of the Russian 2S19M1 SPG.

The same trick has been used by the air force and navy. In the mid-1990s China asked the Russian Phazotron Radar Design Bureau to help the PLAAF to upgrade their F8II fighters. For this purpose, China purchased two ZHUK-8II airborne radars from Phazotron. Certainly many technical documents were transferred, as the Chinese had promised to buy at least 100 of the radar devices. But the Chinese never came back. Two years ago the new Chinese F8IIM fighter was released with the new "indigenous multifunction radar."

"That is a copy of our radar," the designer of Phazotron told this author. "We were so inexperienced at that time."

Along with the Type 956E/EM missile destroyer, the Chinese navy received subsystems from Russia including the Fregat M2EM 3D radar and MR-90 tracking radar and sonar. The same radar system has been seen on China's domestic Type 054A missile frigate (FFG).

"This is our radar!" was the first comment by Russian designers from Salyut factory when they saw photos of the 054A FFG taken from far. After more careful examination, they added, "Unbelievable, the speed at which they were copied."

Italy and France had similar experiences during their military cooperation honeymoon with China in the 1980s. At that time, China purchased two sets of Sea Tiger ship-borne radars, two sets of Crotale air defense missiles, and two sets of the TAVITAC naval command and control systems from France, and a few sets of the sonar and EW systems from Italy. Chinese versions of the above systems are fitted on Chinese navy battleships today.

(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review)

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