China’s Yunying Stealth Drone, Stealth, Highly Maneuverable Target Drones


Yunying drone displayed for the first time. Photo: mil.huauqiu.com/Ma Jun

Yunying drone displayed for the first time. Photo: mil.huauqiu.com/Ma Jun

Yunying’s air inlet located at its upper back mil.huanqiu.com photo

Yunying’s air inlet located at its upper back mil.huanqiu.com photo

The large variety of weapons Yuying can carry give full play to its strike capabilities mil.news.sina.com.cn photo

The large variety of weapons Yuying can carry give full play to its strike capabilities mil.news.sina.com.cn photo

Small YJ-9E anti-ship missile the Yunying can carry mil.news.sina.com.cn photo

Small YJ-9E anti-ship missile the Yunying can carry mil.news.sina.com.cn photo

Avenger is obviously a better attack stealth drone as it has internal weapon bay mil.news.sina.com.cn photo

Avenger is obviously a better attack stealth drone than Yunying as it has internal weapon bay mil.news.sina.com.cn photo

China’s stealth target drone that looks like a US stealth warplane. Photo from Internet

China’s stealth target drone that looks like a US stealth warplane. Photo from Internet

Mil.huanqiu.com says in its report on October 28 that China’s new stealth reconnaissance drone Yunying attracts military fans’ keen interest. As a real instead of model of the new drone will be showcased in Zhuhai Airshow November 1 to 6, its reporter went to the exhibition to see it in advance and took some of the above photos.

Mil.news.sina.com.cn says in its report the next day that Yunying can carry 6 weapons on its wings, which make it much easier to detect but enable it to immediately attack the targets it finds. It can carry various kinds of bombs and missiles including YJ-9E anti-ship missiles.

According to another mil.huanqiu.com report yesterday, Yunying is 9 meters long with a wingspan of 17 meters. Its normal takeoff weight is three tons. At present, there are three versions of Yunying: a reconnaissance attack one that can carry six weapons on its wings but not so stealth, an electronic reconnaissance one and a video reconnaissance one. The latter two are much better stealth and can remain in air much longer as they do not carry weapons on their wings.

They may coordinate with others in combat through data links to enable others including the reconnaissance attack version to attack the targets they find. The reconnaissance attack version may hit small fast targets on water surface with its YJ-9E light anti-ship missile.

The report says that there are quite a few drones on display in Zhuhai Airshow. The most interesting is a stealth target drone and a target drone with high maneuverability.

The former looks like a shrunk B-2 stealth bomber. Its radar cross section is only 0.01 square meter ideal to test the capabilities of air defense in detecting, identifying and intercepting stealth targets.

The latter has better maneuverability than F-22 and can even proactively make sharp change of its flight trajectory in order to test Chinese air force’s capabilities in dealing with highly maneuverable aerial vehicles.

Sources: mil.huanqiu.com “Complete detailed views of Yunying drone from all directions” and “First display of China’s Yunying drone with lots of functions better than Global Hawk” and mil.news.sina.com.cn “Depth Column: Analysis of China’s new Yunying drone with extremely good attack capability” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)


The F-35’s Latest Trick Might Change Warfare As We Know It


F-35. National Interest's photo.

F-35. National Interest’s photo.

Kris Osborn October 26, 2016

F-35 pilots will eventually be able to control a small group of drones flying nearby from the air, performing sensing, reconnaissance and targeting functions, according to Air Force Chief Scientist Greg Zacharias.

Currently the flight path, sensor payload and weapons disposal of airborne drones such as Predators and Reapers are coordinated from ground control stations. In the future, however, drones may be fully operated from the cockpit of advanced fighter jets such as the Joint Strike Fighter or F-22, Zacharias said several months ago in an interview.

“The more autonomy and intelligence you can put on these vehicles, the more useful they will become,” he said.

This development could greatly enhance mission scope, flexibility and effectiveness by enabling a fighter jet to conduct a mission with more weapons, sensors, targeting technology and cargo, Zacharias explained.

For instance, real-time video feeds from the electro-optical/infrared sensors on board a Predator, Reaper or Global Hawk drone could go directly into an F-35 cockpit, without needing to go to a ground control station. This could speed up targeting and tactical input from drones on reconnaissance missions in the vicinity of where a fighter pilot might want to attack. In fast-moving combat involving both air-to-air and air-to-ground threats, increased speed could make a large difference.

“It’s almost inevitable people will be saying, ‘I want more missiles on board to get through defenses or I need some EW [electronic warfare] countermeasures because I don’t have the payload to carry a super big pod,’” he explained. “A high-powered microwave may have some potential that will require a dedicated platform. The negative side is you have to watch out that you don’t overload the pilot,” Zacharias added.

In addition, drones could be programmed to fly into heavily defended or high-risk areas ahead of manned fighter jets in order to assess enemy air defenses and reduce risk to pilots.

Advances in computer power, processing speed and areas referred to as artificial intelligence are rapidly changing the scope of what platforms are able to perform without needing human intervention. This is mostly developing in the form of what Zacharias referred to as “decision aide support,” meaning machines will be able to better interpret, organize, analyze and communicate information to a much greater extent — without have humans manage each individual task.

“Decision aides will be in cockpit or on the ground and [in] more platform-oriented autonomous systems,” he said.

“A person comes in and does command and control while having a drone execute functions. The resource allocation will be done by humans,” Zacharias said.

The early phases of this kind of technology are already operational in the F-35 cockpit through what is called “sensor-fusion.” This allows the avionics technology and aircraft computer to simultaneously organize incoming information for a variety of different sensors – and display the data on a single integrated screen for the pilot. As a result, a pilot does not have the challenge of looking at multiple screens to view digital map displays, targeting information or sensory input, among other things.

Another advantage of these technological advances is that one human may be able to control multiple drones and perform a command and control function – while drones execute various tasks such as sensor functions, targeting, weapons transport or electronic warfare activities.

At the moment, several humans are often needed to control a single drone, but new algorithms increasing autonomy for drones could greatly change this ratio. Zacharias explained a potential future scenario wherein one human is able to control 10– or even 100 — drones.

Algorithms could progress to the point where a drone, such as a Predator or a Reaper, might be able to follow a fighter aircraft by itself — without needing its flight path navigated from human direction from the ground.

Unlike ground robotics wherein autonomy algorithms have to contend with an ability to move quickly in relation to unanticipated developments and other moving objects, simple autonomous flight guidance from the air is much more manageable to accomplish.

Since there are often fewer obstacles in the air compared with the ground, drones above the ground can be programmed more easily to fly toward certain predetermined locations, often called “way-points.”

At the same time, unanticipated movements, objects or combat circumstances can easily occur in the skies as well, Zacharias said.

“The hardest thing is ground robotics. I think that is really tough. I think the air basically is today effectively a solved problem. The question is what happens when you have to react more to your environment and a threat is coming after you,” he said.

As a result, scientists are now working on advancing autonomy to the point where a drone can, for example, be programmed to spoof a radar system, see where threats are and more quickly identify targets independently.

“We will get beyond simple guidance and control and will get into tactics and execution,” Zacharias added.

Wargames, exercises and simulations are one of the ways the Air Force is working to advance autonomous technologies.

“Right now we are using lots of bandwidth to send our real-time video. One of the things that we have is a smarter on-board processor. These systems can learn over time and be a force multiplier. There’s plenty of opportunity to go beyond the code base of an original designer and work on a greater ability to sense your environment or sense what your teammate might be telling you as a human,” he said.

For example, with advances in computer technology, autonomy and artificial intelligence, drones will be able to stay above a certain area and identify particular identified relevant objects or targets at certain times, without needing a human operator, Zacharias added.

This is particularly relevant because the massive amount of ISR video collected needs organizing algorithms and technology to sift through the vast volumes of gathered footage – in order to pinpoint and communicate what is tactically relevant.

“With image processing and pattern recognition, you could just send a signal instead of using up all this bandwidth saying ‘Hey, I just saw something 30-seconds ago you might want to look at the video feed I am sending right now,’” he explained.

The Army has advanced manned-unmanned teaming technology in its helicopter fleet –successfully engineering Apache and Kiowa air crews to control UAS flight paths and sensor payloads from the air in the cockpit. Army officials say this technology has yielded successful combat results in Afghanistan.

Senior Air Force leaders have said that the services’ new next-generation bomber program, Long Range Strike Bomber or LRS-B, will be engineered to fly manned and unmanned missions.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has said that the service’s carrier-launched F-35C will be the last manned fighter produced, given the progress of autonomy and algorithms allowing for rapid maneuvering. The Air Force, however, has not said something similar despite the service’s obvious continued interest in further developing autonomy and unmanned flight.

Also, in September of 2013, the Air Force and Boeing flew an unmanned F-16 Falcon at supersonic speeds for the first time at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The unmanned fighter was able to launch, maneuver and return to base without a pilot.

At the same time, despite the speed at which unmanned technology is progressing, many scientists and weapons’ developers consider human pilots will still be needed — given the speed at which the human brain can quickly respond to unanticipated developments.

There is often a two-second lag time before a UAS in the air can respond to or implement directions from a remote pilot in a ground station, a circumstance which underscores the need for manned pilots when it comes to fighter jets, Air Force officials said.

Therefore, while cargo planes or bombers with less of a need to maneuver in the skies might be more easily able to embrace autonomous flight, fighter jets will still greatly benefit from human piloting, Air Force scientists have said.

While computer processing speed and algorithms continue to evolve at an alarming pace, it still remains difficult to engineer a machine able to instantly respond to other moving objects or emerging circumstances, Air Force scientists have argued.

However, sensor technology is progressing quickly to the point where fighter pilots will increasingly be able to identify threats at much greater distances, therefore removing the need to dogfight. As a result, there may be room for an unmanned fighter jet in the not-too-distant future, given the pace of improving autonomous technology.

Republished with permission of Defense Systems, where Kris Osborn serves as editor-in-chief.

Source: National Interest “The F-35’s Latest Trick Might Change Warfare As We Know It”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


China Masters Shale Gas Exploitation Technology


CCTV says in its prime time news yesterday that China has mastered the technology to ensure stable production of shale gas in its shale gas field in Fuling, Chongqing.

The shale gas field has so far turned out 8.15 billion shale gas. China has thus joined the club of a few countries able to exploit shale gas on large commercial scale.

It is expected that China will enable the shale gas field to have the capacity of 10 billion cubic meters a year within the period of the 13th 5-year plan (2016-2020).

Source: CCTV “Stable production achieved at Fuling shale gas field” (summary by Chan Kai Yee based on the report in Chinese)


China tries to ‘divide and rule’ Taiwan by befriending pro-Beijing towns


Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (C) arrives at the airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, for her first trip to China, where she is expected to meet China's President Xi Jinping, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (C) arrives at the airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, for her first trip to China, where she is expected to meet China’s President Xi Jinping, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By J.R. Wu | TAIPEI Sun Oct 30, 2016 | 5:59am EDT

China is embarking on a divide-and-rule campaign on self-ruled Taiwan, offering to boost tourism to pro-Beijing towns and counties while giving the new pro-independence government the cold shoulder, government officials and politicians say.

Whether Beijing’s promises materialize remains to be seen, but the political rift is pressing Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to come up with measures of its own to counter an alarming decline in mainland tourists.

Eight Taiwanese local government officials, mainly representing counties controlled by the China-friendly opposition Nationalist Party, were promised greater tourism and agricultural ties when they met China’s top Taiwan policymaker in Beijing last month.
And this week, Communist Party Chief and Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to meet Nationalist Party chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu when she visits Beijing during an annual party-to-party gathering about economic and cultural ties.

In contrast, Beijing has withheld official communication with the government of DPP leader and President Tsai Ing-wen, until it agrees to recognize the “one-China” policy.

“The Chinese government has put political conditions relevant to Taiwan surrendering our sovereignty and our right to determine our own future on the outflow of tourists to Taiwan and that’s what makes this a very politically complicated issue,” said Hsiao Bi-khim, a DPP lawmaker for Hualien, on Taiwan’s east coast.

Hsiao and the Hualien county chief, an ex-Nationalist who went to Beijing last month, do not see eye to eye on tourism development.

“We have to condemn this divide-and-conquer strategy and also individual politicians who seek to play into the Chinese divide-and-conquer strategy,” Hsiao said.

ONLY ONE CHINA

China says Taiwan is part of one China, ruled by Beijing. It regards the island as a renegade province, to be united by force if necessary, and ties have become strained since Tsai took office in May.

The previous Nationalist administration agreed to recognize the “1992 consensus”, which states that there is only one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what that means.

The eight officials who went to Beijing came home to a storm of criticism for being lackeys to Beijing’s one-China policy.

One of them, Liu Tseng-ying, chief of Matsu, a group of small islets off China’s Fujian province but held by Taiwan, told Chinese officials that he wanted more Chinese to visit Taiwan’s smallest county.

“I said I hoped Chinese tourists can increase to 40 percent of the total,” Liu told Reuters.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office head Zhang Zhijun agreed to expand trade and travel specifically between China’s Fujian province and Matsu and Kinmen. Both Taiwan-controlled islands lie closer to China than Taiwan.

Group tourists from mainland China, which Beijing can effectively control via state-run Chinese travel agencies, fell 71 percent year-on-year from October 1-18, Taiwan data showed, coinciding with China’s National Day holiday, a Golden Week for travel for Chinese.

The sector was also hit by a bus fire in Taiwan in July that killed 24 mainland tourists. The driver, among the victims, had poured petrol inside the bus and locked its emergency exits before setting it alight, prosecutors said.

The severity of the decline in tourism led to a major protest in September and prompted the government to pledge T$30 billion ($960 million) in loans to the industry and work on attracting tourists from other Asian countries.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Ryan Woo and Nick Macfie)

Source: Reuters “China tries to ‘divide and rule’ Taiwan by befriending pro-Beijing towns”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Philippines says China ships still at shoal, but fishermen unhindered


A fisherman repairs his boat overlooking fishing boats that fish in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, at Masinloc, Zambales, in the Philippines April 22, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

A fisherman repairs his boat overlooking fishing boats that fish in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, at Masinloc, Zambales, in the Philippines April 22, 2015. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

By Manuel Mogato | MANILA Sun Oct 30, 2016 | 1:16pm EDT

China has scaled down its presence at a disputed South China Sea shoal but has not interfered with Filipino fishermen, the Philippine president’s security adviser said on Sunday, after the administration had said China had withdrawn completely.

Hermogenes Esperon said Chinese ships were still present but had not blocked Filipino boats at the Scarborough shoal, a rocky outcrop central to an international arbitration case, since President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Beijing two weeks ago.

The situation at sea remains unclear, however, as do the circumstances behind an apparent softening of China’s position regarding an area significant not only for fishing, but for the broader balance of power in the South China Sea.

China had repelled fishermen since seizing the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, but Filipino boats returned from the area at the weekend with tonnes of fish, broadcaster GMA reported, showing images of smiling crew and a large catch.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had on Friday declared Chinese vessels were no longer there and fishing could resume. Duterte’s spokesman also made similar comments.

However, Esperon said military monitoring of the situation showed a reduced Chinese presence, but not a total withdrawal.

“From Oct. 17 to 27, there had been only two Chinese ships,” Esperon said in a text message. “There are no written agreements or rules but Filipino fishermen who went there lately attest that they were not driven away.”

He said in the past, on an average day, there had been about five Chinese navy and four coastguard ships.

China’s blockade of what is a prime fishing spot prompted the previous Philippine government to take on China by filing a case in 2013 at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, infuriating Beijing.

The tribunal’s July ruling, which China refuses to acknowledge, declared the shoal a traditional fishing ground that Chinese, Philippine and Vietnamese could all exploit. It also invalidated China’s claims to most of the South China Sea.

A frosty Philippine-China relationship changed dramatically after Duterte took office four months ago and started praising China while denouncing the United States in a sudden reversal of his predecessor’s foreign policy.

China’s Foreign Ministry was asked by media on Friday about the situation at the shoal but gave a non-committal answer.

Returning fishermen said two or three Chinese coastguard ships circled the shoal but had not harassed them.

Esperon said a Chinese survey ship was seen near Scarborough on Oct. 19 and a navy frigate the following day, but when Duterte returned home from Beijing, they left the area.

He said there had been no update on the situation since Friday, but a defense source told Reuters a surveillance plane had on Saturday seen four Chinese ships at the shoal.

A senior coastguard official, who declined to be named because he was unauthorized to speak to the media, said a Chinese withdrawal appeared unlikely.

“China will not abandon this area but if it will no longer harass local fishermen, that’s a positive development,” the official said.

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Martin Petty and Alison Williams)

Source: Reuters “Philippines says China ships still at shoal, but fishermen unhindered”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Two Compelling Reasons Duterte Will Not Change His Pro-China Stance


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony held in Beijing, China October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony held in Beijing, China October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ng Han Guan/Pool

SCMP carried its senior editor and China affairs columnist Cary Huang’s article titled “Four reasons Duterte will have to change tune on China and U.S.” specifying the following reasons:

1. The US-Philippines relationship has been strong for the nearly 70 years.

Sorry! Cary Huang forgets that the Philippines drove US troops away by taking back US military bases in the Philippines during the 70 years. I said in my post “South China Sea Disputes: Lucky China; Unlucky Philippines” on June 21, 2013:

Luckily, the Philippines drove away the US and took back the bases to deprive the US of the obligations to spend lots of money for the defense of the Philippines. At that time, we were really very happy about that as we were worried that US presence would make it very difficult for China to maintain its sovereignty to the islands, reefs and sea areas given that it took time for China to develop its navy.

Luckily for China, Filipino navy tried to drive away Chinese fishermen and provided China with the excuse to drive away Filipino fishermen. China is thus very lucky to gain complete control of Scarborough Shoal peacefully.

Why peacefully? The US did not send its navy to interfere as the 70-year relationship was not so strong!

2. The US ranks the third in Philippines’ foreign trade and Filipinos make lots of money in the US and sent back US$17.6 billion last year.

Duterte does not want to cut Philippines’ economic relations with the US; therefore, the trade relations and remittance will not change Duterte’s pro-China stance.

Moreover, the trade benefits not only the Philippines but also the US. The US is no longer a mentor in its foreign trade given the huge foreign exchange deficit in US foreign trade.

As for the US$17.6 billion that Filipinos working in the US sent back last year. Cary Huang perhaps mistakes the money as US donations. No, it had been earned by Filipinos through working hard for and making contributions to US economy and welfare. Do not forget that the US benefits from the Filipinos’ work.

3. Filipinos are overwhelmingly pro-American.

However, they have elected a pro-China and anti-American president and the president has been working to benefit the Philippines through improvement of relations with China.

4. Filipinos are also known for their patriotic passion and will not give up its territorial claims in its dispute with China.

While Duterte does not give up the claims, China does not force Duterte to accept its claims. China has set no preconditions in providing loans and investment to the Philippines. What China wants is to put aside the disputes over sovereignty as it is very difficult to resolve the disputes in a short time but the two sides may conduct cooperation in exploiting the resources in the disputed waters.

Cary Huang concludes, “The effect of the July 12 ruling by the international tribunal in The Hague will be felt in years to come. And that ruling – which the court stated as final and binding – will stand in the way of the Philippines-China relationship, regardless of the rhetoric.”

Sorry, no one is able to enforce the ruling that China has rejected.

Cary Huang is perhaps ignorant that diplomacy is driven by interests; therefore, there are the following two compelling reasons that Duterte will not change his pro-China stance:

1. The US will not fight to protect the Philippines’ interests in the South China Sea. It will not use its force to enforce the ruling in favor of the Philippines. If the Philippines does not cooperate with China in exploiting the resources in the disputed waters, the resources will entirely be exploited by China.

Shall the Philippines wait till the US has grown strong enough militarily and willing enough to help it enforce the ruling when the natural resources have entirely been taken away by China?

What is the use in enforcing the ruling when the resources have dried up?

Duterte is wise in improving ties with China to get a share of the resources.

2. The Philippines urgently needs Chinese loans and investment for construction of its infrastructures and developing its economy while the US is hard up and unable to give the Philippines any significant help.

As for Duterte’s angry words against the US, it is due to US opposition to his anti-drug campaign instead of his pro-China stance though the stance upsets the US.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s article, full text of which can be found at http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/2041077/four-reasons-duterte-will-have-change-tune-china-and-us


China’s Unique Kuaizhou Anti-ASAT System


Model of China's Quaizhou anti-ASAT rocket able to launch a replacement satellite as soon as it has been destroyed by enemy anti-satellite weapon. Mil.huanqiu.com photo

Model of China’s Kuaizhou anti-ASAT rocket able to launch a replacement satellite as soon as it has been destroyed by enemy anti-satellite weapon. Mil.huanqiu.com photo

Satellites are vital in modern war. Without them there will be no navigation, positioning, communications, reconnaissance and missile guidance capabilities in modern warfare. We can foresee that in a modern large-scale war, satellites will first be destroyed. As a result, the capability to quickly make up for the destroyed satellites will be the key in winning the war.

Every military power in the world is developing its anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities. China is no exception. However, when a satellite has been destroyed by enemy ASAT rocket, it take a few days to install a replacement satellite on a rocket, erect the rocket and launch the replacement. The military will suffer greatly if it installs its destroyed satellites later than its enemy.

According to sources, China has developed its unique anti-ASAT capabilities in having developed and deployed its Kuaizhou anti-ASAT system.

In that system, there are lots of ready-made Kuaizhou satellites with integrated rockets installed on mobile vehicles. Soon after a satellite has been destroyed, a Kuaizhou rocket will be loaded with liquid fuel and go out of the tunnel it has been hiding to quickly launch a replacement satellite. As China is able to replace the destroyed satellite much quicker than its enemy, it will be able to quickly recover its satellite navigation, positioning, communications, reconnaissance and missile guidance capabilities to win the war.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on mil.huanqiu.com’s report in Chinese “China’s Kuaizhou rocket looks exactly like a ballistic missile when it is launched”


China Has Finished the Hull of Its First Homegrown Aircraft Carrier


Radar being installed on finished hull of China's first homegrown aircraft carrier. Mil.huanqiu.com photo

Radar being installed on finished hull of China’s first homegrown aircraft carrier. Mil.huanqiu.com photo

In its report titled “China finishes hull of first domestically built aircraft carrier” on October 28, SCMP says, “China has completed assembly of its first domestically made aircraft carrier and design work on the vessel was finished, the defence ministry said on Thursday. Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said workers were also installing equipment on the carrier, without giving further details.”

Wu meant that while building the hull, workers were installing equipment in the hull. If so, it will take less time to finish the entire aircraft carrier.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be found at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2040712/china-finishes-hull-first-domestically-built-aircraft


China’s PLAAF Pilot Training Program Undergoes Major Overhaul


A J-20 in October 2016. Image: Baidu via Wikimedia

A J-20 in October 2016. Image: Baidu via Wikimedia

By Lyle J. Morris,Eric Heginbotham October 27, 2016

In the ongoing military scorecard between the United States and China over who has the most “stuff” – be it troops, tanks, guns, ships or airframes – the human element is sometimes overlooked. By human element we mean the operators behind the hardware making the decisions on what, how and when to shoot and how to employ tactics and counter-tactics based on the environment and the adversary. Neglecting the human element of the U.S.-China military competition would be a major omission, however, as it remains a key variable in assessing a country’s overall military power and capability.

The determinants of operator competency are shaped to a large extent by the military and political culture under which troops train. During the Cold War, U.S. planners believed quantitative advantages in the Soviet air force were offset by superior USAF training and tactics – a product of a U.S. training system that breeds pilot autonomy and objective assessments of error. In many respects, this was a correct assessment at the time. In comparing U.S. and Soviet air forces, for example, Col. Mike Press, writing in Air University Review in the mid-80’s, penned an articulate and persuasive case for U.S. fighter pilot training superiority based on the USAF training program, but warned that “human advantage is very fragile and even here the Soviets show signs of progress.”

Now three decades later, Press’s words remain more relevant than ever when it comes to assessing the air forces of China and the United States. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has made tremendous strides in recent years, fielding an impressive array of third-, fourth- and even fifth-generation stealth aircraft. By numbers alone, the PLAAF remains one of the largest air forces in the world. The PLAAF also desires to build what it calls a “Strategic Air Force” to play a larger role in China’s push to project power and influence in areas farther from the Chinese mainland. Already, the PLAAF has begun sending bombers to patrol the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea – areas in which it would have been unheard of for the PLAAF to operate just five or 10 years ago.

Until recently, little was known, however, about how Chinese air force pilots train. In our report on PLAAF fighter pilot training, we find that the PLAAF has embarked on major reform of its pilot training program in order to remedy deep-seated flaws in fighter pilot competency. We know this because of the availability of an increasingly large number of Chinese language open sources published by the People’s Liberation Army and other authoritative military professional military education institutions. For our report, we examined articles on PLAAF fighter pilot training at the operational unit over a five-year time frame in the PLAAF’s official newspaper, Kongjun Bao (Air Force News). What we found was a PLAAF that is acutely aware of its shortcomings in pilot combat skills and that is seeking to train pilots capable of “fighting and winning” battles against near peer military adversaries, like the United States.

The core of the reform is an effort to train pilots to fight under what the PLA refers to as “actual-combat conditions.” The emphasis on “actual combat conditions” is manifested in training scenarios meant to mimic or simulate real-world battle conditions by adopting within daily training routines elements of nighttime battle training, complex electromagnetic environment, special geographical environments, and combined arms training. The PLAAF’s lack of recent wartime experience magnifies the importance of constructing a training regime grounded in scenarios that approximate to the greatest extent possible technologically sophisticated battlefield conditions.

Combined-Arms Drills and Exercises

When not performing daily training during the spring and fall seasons (what the PLAAF refers to as training in “subjects” and “topics”), pilots are honing their skills in increasingly competitive and multi-dimensional skills competitions under “opposition-force exercises” during the summer. These are multi-day, multi-branch exercises that involve a simulated opposition force and combined-arms elements either within the PLAAF itself (aviation, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and radar) or among different services within the Chinese military (army, navy, and rocket forces). Exercises seek to integrate and apply the routine training subjects and skills practiced by aviators during the year into a competitive environment, in which pilots are graded on performance and tactical skills.

According to Kongjun Bao reporting, most exercises take the form of either “confrontational air battle assessments” or “system-of-systems confrontational drills.” The former only involves fighter aircraft competitions, while the later involves multiple branches of the PLAAF to include SAMs, radar, and AAA. Both evaluate pilots’ ability to perform free-air combat, a new emphasis within the PLAAF meant to test pilot combat skills and tactics upon the removal of certain limits, such as decreasing the altitude gap between aircraft, as well as less direct involvement from the control tower or command post. Such autonomy represents a significant departure from past practice, which emphasized strict reliance on scripted scenarios and guidance from the ground control on most tactical moves against a simulated enemy.

Finally, real-time video feeds are now employed during daily training and during exercises and drills as a tool to evaluate PLAAF pilot performance. Flight-data recordings were previously unavailable to most Chinese aviators, but now offer an objective means of analysis for flight leads and instructors in assessing pilots’ performance, no matter their experience or skill level. Kongjun Bao reporting frequently references video playback that allows flight instructors to “rectify mistakes” of experienced pilots, such as deviations from flight paths or poor tactics in combat. Such open criticism underscores a potential shift from current practice, in which flight leads and instructors might refrain from criticizing senior pilots.

Institutional and Cultural Impediments

While the PLAAF is endeavoring to make training more realistic and dynamic, the report finds that antiquated institutions and, to an extent, thinking continue to act as a drag against progress. The PLAAF continues to train around an annual training cycle, which features five partially overlapping segments during the course of a year: new year flight training; training in “subjects” and “topics;” peak drills and exercises; a second round of training in “subjects” and “topics;” and year-end evaluations. The existence of a PLAAF annual training cycle with peaks and valleys stands in contrast to the USAF model, which maintains a comparatively higher state of readiness and intensity of training year-round.

Several factors explain the existence of an annual training cycle for PLAAF, the most important of which are institutional. PLAAF training must accommodate the annual enlistment cycle of PLAAF conscripts and recruits, most of whom arrive during the fall and serve for two years before they can leave the military or become non-commissioned officers. Conscripts comprise only a modest portion of aviation branch personnel, but the competence of these maintainers and ground-support personnel is critical and pulling off large, integrated combined-arms exercises prior to their full integration is virtually unthinkable. Thus, the peak exercise season in the summer can only be executed during small windows when the weather is optimal and the conscripts in support and logistic roles within the PLAAF have received sufficient training to undertake their duties.

The PLAAF lacks anything that even remotely parallels the USAF Weapons School, which accepts only the best pilots from tactical units, puts them through a highly-demanding six-month tactical training program, and returns them to their units to serve as weapons and tactics officers. Indeed, career paths for PLAAF pilots remain highly stove-piped, with officers serving either in training or tactical capacities – but almost never both. Even as the PLAAF seeks to emphasize “free air combat,” it is less clear that commanding officers are fully willing to cede either administrative or operational micromanagement of their units.

A Work in Progress for the PLAAF

The PLAAF is taking measures to address most of the issues outlined above. It has, for example, opened a new (if limited) training program for unit-level instructors. And, in an effort to highlight the emphasis placed on initiative and individual pilot skills, it has conducted an annual “golden helmet” competition since 2011, allowing selected pilots to test their craft against one another. Overall, however, the reform of Chinese pilot training remains very much a work in progress. With the emphasis on “free air combat” and “unscripted scenarios,” pilots are now expected to be more autonomous in their decision making and adapt to increasingly complex combat environments. It is one thing to incorporate changes into a training program. It is quite another to consistently execute the task and accept failure along the way.

Several Kongjun Bao articles noted shortfalls in pilot performance, including insufficient flight-lead skills and autonomy, lax discipline during daily training, poor tactics, and a lack of coordination with other PLAAF branches. One article noted that many flight leads lacked sufficient “tactical skills” and still relied on ground control for their maneuvers, which was “not conducive to enhancing the enthusiasm and initiative of airborne combatants.” Similarly, as one article stated, pilots showed an inability to adapt to in-flight changes to a flight path during an air-to-ground targeting mission, “failing to shape a new launch condition” and as a result “hitting the wrong target.” In one case, a flight leader was unable to cope with an evolving tactical situation, and returned control to the ground-based unit commander on contact with the “enemy.”

It is safe to assume that such anecdotal vignettes are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to PLAAF pilot failures. While Kongjun Bao reporting offers a larger window into PLAAF pilot training operations, the newspaper is undoubtedly quite discrete in its reporting on PLAAF pilot shortcomings. Therefore it also is safe to assume, based on anecdotal evidence, that the process of executing the new training missions given to PLAAF pilots is in the beginning stages of development and Chinese aviators are struggling to adjust to the new concepts and tasks. Still, Press’s prescience more than three decades ago that the USAF “human advantage [over the Soviets] is very fragile” should not be forgotten when assessing Chinese air force capabilities in the future. At a minimum, PLAAF leaders understand many of the institutional and cultural weaknesses that impede effectiveness and are taking measures to address them.

Lyle J. Morris is a senior project associate at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. Eric Heginbotham is a principal research scientist at MIT’s Security Studies Program.

Source: National Interest “China’s PLAAF Pilot Training Program Undergoes Major Overhaul”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Philippines says Chinese vessels have left disputed shoal


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C), accompanied by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade (R) and Defense Secretary Delfin N Lorenzana (L), claps at the end of Japan's coast guard drills in Yokohama, Japan October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C), accompanied by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade (R) and Defense Secretary Delfin N Lorenzana (L), claps at the end of Japan’s coast guard drills in Yokohama, Japan October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool

By Manuel Mogato | MANILA Fri Oct 28, 2016 | 3:31pm EDT

Chinese ships are no longer at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea and Philippine boats can resume fishing, the Philippine defence minister said on Friday, calling the Chinese departure a “welcome development”.

Philippine fishermen can access the shoal unimpeded for the first time in four years, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, capping off a startling turnaround in ties since his country rattled China by challenging its maritime claims at an international tribunal.

The departure of the Chinese coast guard ships comes after President Rodrigo Duterte’s high-profile visit to Beijing and his repeated requests for China to end its blockade of the shoal, a tranquil lagoon rich in fish stocks.

“Since three days ago there are no longer Chinese ships, coast guard or navy, in the Scarborough area,” Lorenzana told reporters.

“If the Chinese ships have left, then it means our fishermen can resume fishing in the area.”

Though the Scarborough Shoal is comprised of only a few rocks poking above the sea some 124 nautical miles off the Philippine mainland, it is symbolic of Manila’s efforts to assert its maritime sovereignty claims.

Lorenzana did not explain the circumstances of the Chinese pullout from the shoal, the centrepiece of a case Manila filed in 2013 at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague that was decided in Manila’s favour on July 12.

And there was some confusion about the situation at sea, with a Philippine military spokesman earlier saying Chinese vessels were “still there”. Some fishermen familiar with the area said the same.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang made no mention of a coast guard withdrawal when asked about the return of Philippine fishermen to the shoal.

The two countries “were able to work together on issues regarding the South China Sea and appropriately resolve disputes,” Lu told a regular briefing.

The United States backed Manila’s arbitration case as part of its effort to stand up to what it sees as China’s “excessive” maritime claims, only to come under repeated verbal attack from Duterte recently. Washington said it was still assessing Lorenzana’s comments on the Chinese moves.

“We hope it’s certainly not a temporary measure,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a regular news briefing.

“We’d like it to be a sign that China and the Philippines are moving towards an agreement on fishing access at Scarborough reef that would be in accordance with the July 12 arbitral decision.”

Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said a Chinese pullout from Scarborough Shoal would be “a big deal, if it’s true and if it’s sustained.”

“But there is a lot that is still unclear,” he said.

“Is this a sign of a new status quo, whereby China will effectively comply with the arbitral award by allowing Filipino fishermen access to Scarborough?

“Or is it just an olive branch while the two sides haggle over language for a long-term deal, which might prove impossible to reach if Beijing insists on language suggesting it is ‘permitting’ or ‘allowing’ the Philippines access?'”

The Hague court declared that despite Scarborough Shoal being located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, no one country had sovereign rights to it, so all claimants may fish there.

PEACE OVERTURES

China has refused to recognise the case or the award, which also invalidated the nine-dash line on Chinese maps denoting its claims to most of the South China Sea.

China seized Scarborough Shoal – claimed by Beijing as Huangyan Island and by Manila as Panatag – in 2012.

The previous Philippines administration’s pursuit of the case infuriated China, but Beijing appears to have changed its stance since Duterte took office and started praising Beijing, often in the same sentences as his perplexing verbal attacks on longtime ally the United States.

Reuters exclusively reported on the eve of Duterte’s visit to China that Beijing would consider granting Philippine fishermen conditional access to the shoal.

An end to the standoff over the shoal is still a potentially combustible issue for both countries.

Some Philippine commentators say Manila may object to any reference to its fishermen being “permitted” to return, while Beijing might be wary of appearing to be softening its position on what it calls “indisputable” sovereignty.

Duterte’s spokesman, Ernesto Abella, offered no comment on whether the two sides had reached agreement.

“All I can say, at this stage, it has been observed there are no longer Chinese coast guard in the area,” he said.

China’s Lu hailed Duterte’s recent visit as a success and said both countries were able to discuss the South China Sea impasse.

“It is completely possible that the bilateral relationship can recover,” Lu said.

“I can tell you that the two sides are in communication.”

(Additional reporting by Sue-Lin Wong in Beijing and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Paul Simao and Lisa Shumaker)

Source: Reuters “Philippines says Chinese vessels have left disputed shoal”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.