Tuesday, January 02, 2018

China reasserts control over CPEC, disciplines Pakistan by halting funding for three infrastructure projects

This article was previously published on the Indian news website Firstpost.com.

The Chinese government stopped funding three infrastructure projects in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) programme. These three projects were included in the CPEC agenda in December 2016 and the final procedural formalities were pending. However, recent reports mention that the funding may only resume once China releases new guidelines.

China Gezhouba  Group Co Ltd (China Daily)
Pakistan authorities have mentioned that China is concerned over corruption in CPEC projects, which is ludicrous. The China Gezhouba Company Limited, developing Pakistan’s Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Project, has been blacklisted by the World Bank for misconduct and corruption. Other Chinese companies are not beyond corrupt methods. In addition, China is not concerned with deteriorating law and order situation in Pakistan, rather, it believes that situation has improved in the past three years. Therefore, this deferment is nowhere related to corruption or law and order. Rather, prima facie, it seems to be a temporary measure to discipline Pakistan and reassert Chinese control over CPEC projects.
Neelum-Jheum Power Project (Daily Times)

China agreed to fund $46 billion in Pakistan’s infrastructure development projects in 2015. A majority of these funds were earmarked for energy generation and connectivity. The CPEC’s ambit covered Gwadar Port Project and a special economic zone nearby, Gwadar International Airport and other highway projects. In addition, the reconstruction of Karakorum Highway, a number of thermal power plants such as Sahiwal Coal Power project and numerous highway projects are part of the development programme. A number of these power projects are part of the ‘Early Harvest’ scheme in which China aims to connect about 10,400 MW of electricity to Pakistan’s power grid, during 2018-2020.

Sahiwal Coal Power Project (Siasat.pk)
China aims to score on two major fronts through the CPEC. First, by developing Pakistan’s frontier and less-developed, conflict-prone regions, China is incentivising good behaviour. China’s Xinjiang province has faced serious social disturbances where local ethnic Uyghur Muslims have violently clashed with the Han immigrants, supported by government forces.

China Govt Murals - Uyghurs reject veil (BBC)
In return, Chinese authorities have drastically curbed religious activities of Uyghurs in the entire province. The use of Islamic veil for women is banned, fasting during Ramadan for civil servants, party cadres, teachers and students is discouraged, minors are prevented from visiting mosques and the surveillance and control over common Uyghurs is pervasive.

Nevertheless, Uyghurs have remained dissatisfied with the Chinese rule and groups such as East Turkistan Independence Movement (ETIM) are major headache for China. China hopes that its CPEC projects will alleviate poverty in its border region with Pakistan and in turn, China will be able to prevent ETIM from gaining support there.
Murals - Uyghurs love school, reject Mosque (BBC)

Gwadar Port
Second, China aims to create an alternative route to access its markets and resource-centres in West Asia and Africa, in addition to the Straits of Malacca. The Gwadar Port and major highway projects have consequently become prominent in the Chinese strategy. China can build an alternate route while utilising its excess capacity in steel, cement and other industrial production in Pakistan through CPEC.

However, the trajectory of CPEC has not been without hiccups and roadblocks. The Chinese project development culture, financing methods, labour policy and lack of transparency are major issues that have raised alarms in Pakistan’s political, economic and social circles. CPEC projects have remained completely under the control of Chinese companies and banks. The enthusiasm in Pakistan’s business circles have taken a visible dip as the project bidding, contracting and financing occur through Chinese companies. The machinery, construction materials and almost everything comes from China.

The financing of these projects is done through market-rate loans and equities. On Chinese equities in projects, Pakistan government has given the sovereign guarantee of 17-34 percent returns. The loans from Chinese banks are disbursed on six to seven percent interest rate and another seven percent insurance premium is charged in the first year itself, again by a Chinese insurance company. Therefore, the viability of these projects is gradually getting into red zones. Pakistan is expected to start repayment from 2020 but its fiscal deficit has increased and the balance of payment situation remains critical. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been warning Pakistan about its economic situation.

Additionally, every Chinese project in Pakistan is being mostly completed by Chinese engineers and labour. The immigrant Chinese labour has taken away jobs in a country with high unemployment. Moreover, Pakistan government has taken land from locals in Gilgit, Baltistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan in the name of development and jobs. However, Chinese companies have begun development without any significant local involvement, creating enormous dissatisfaction and tension.

Protests against CPEC in Pakistan
The Gwadar Port Project has similarly run into problems. As per the Pakistan’s Senate report, China is set to get 91 percent of the revenue generated in the port while Pakistan will only get nine percent for next 40 years. The Senate has often been critical of the lack of transparency and predatory policy of Chinese companies.

Senators argue that Pakistan is getting the short-end of the stick in the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China. Pakistan’s value-added exports have not benefitted and the local industry has acutely suffered. The business community in Pakistan has sought their inclusion in formal agreements with China to prevent being left out from CPEC contracts. Gradually, China has begun facing loss of public perception in Pakistan where its companies are being compared with the East India Company.

The backlash has further led to Pakistan disagreeing with Chinese conditions for funding the Diamer-Bhasha hydropower project. Pakistan also rejected Chinese proposal of using Yuan as the official currency in Gwadar Port Free Zone, citing sovereignty concerns. A section of experts in Pakistan have argued that even non-Chinese companies will invest if similar conditions and guaranteed returns were offered to them. The Chinese predatory behaviour in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Tajikistan, Laos and other countries further creates suspicion.

China cannot understand and tolerate this sudden growth of spine among Pakistan’s officials and politicians. Chinese experts have already differed over and questioned the CPEC’s feasibility in the past. The CPEC development offer to Pakistan was couched in China’s generosity and brotherly goodwill. China expected Pakistan to lap up any and every funding and development project, even on predatory conditions because according to China, Pakistan had no other option. Therefore, the loss of public perception, rejection of its proposals and Senate questioning irritates China.

Whenever China is irritated and angry, it tends to take these temporary punitive steps to bring the other party back to its senses and reassert complete control over the situation. Similar anger was expressed after Chinese citizens were killed in Pakistan. Moreover, China is not short of funds. It still holds around $ three trillion in American treasury bonds which fetch minuscule one percent interest rate, compared to six-seven percent rates on loans and 17-34 percent on equities in CPEC projects.

Therefore, China cannot afford to walk away from the CPEC where it has already invested substantially. Moreover, the original reasons of launching CPEC, geopolitically and financially, still remain valid. Pakistan’s role remains crucial to stabilise Xinjiang and China remains interested in Gwadar. Therefore, the current funding deferment is a temporary setback. China aims to stay in Pakistan for the long term.

Friday, December 08, 2017

BrahMos test-fired from Sukhoi: India’s emerging tactical cruise missile triad sparks Chinese apprehensions

This article was previously published on the Indian news website Firstpost.com.

A Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft of the Indian Air Force successfully test-launched the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile's air-launched version on Wednesday. The missile was tested over the Balasore test-firing range against a sea-based target in the Bay of Bengal. With this test, India has commenced the drive to complete its tactical triad of the sea, air and ground-launched cruise missiles. The air-launched BrahMos will be tested for another year in a series of tests and inducted in the year 2019.

Sukhoi-30MKI launching Brahmos missile (New Indian Express)
After Nirbhay subsonic cruise missile's launch this month, this test was the second successful test-launch. The importance of these successful tests in terms of the range, speed and impact of India's deterrence is enormous. In the last few decades, a stand-off precision-strike weapon has become crucial to warfighting.

Globally, the number, detection range and capability of air-search radars and fire-control radars of surface-to-air missiles have grown exponentially. The air-defence cover of major powers has become too dense to pierce, even for stealth fighters. In addition, airborne warning and control assets, over the horizon radars (OTHR) and satellite-based monitoring have brought a decisive shift in the air warfare methods. Accordingly, stand-off weapons, unmanned combat vehicles and lasers are emerging as crucial weapons of the future.

With a 1200-1500 kilometre combat range of Sukhoi-30MKI aircraft, the BrahMos can hit any target within the range of 1500-1800 kilometres around India. In addition, BrahMos' range is being extended to 600-900 kilometres, after India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2016. A BrahMos-ER (extended range) was finally tested in March 2017 to a range of over 400 kilometres and the 900 km one is due for testing by 2019. Moreover, the hypersonic BrahMos-2 is another version under development.

Brahmos Misile

As a result of these developments, Indian capability for stand-off precision war is substantially expanding. BrahMos and Nirbhay may emerge as India's carrier-killer missiles in the naval domain.

A couple of squadrons of BrahMos-equipped Sukhoi-30MKIs, deployed each in the Andaman and Nicobar Command and the Indian west coast, will help to ensure a peaceful Indian Ocean. In addition, the threat of saturation strikes of these air-launched cruise missiles will neutralise naval ambitions of any Indian adversary in the region.

Regionally, BrahMos has an important place in the Chinese discourse over India's missile capabilities. Chinese media has been regularly highlighting its supersonic performance characteristics, penetration ability, anti-interference features and resistance to anti-missile interception capability.

It is also argued in China that if BrahMos is equipped with nuclear warheads then India's capability for air-launch of nuclear weapons will increase considerably. A United States report, which argued that a total of 64 BrahMos missiles could destroy a carrier battle group, has experienced frequent mention in the Chinese discourse.

Therefore, Chinese defence experts recommend that China counter India's tactical missile capability augmentation in three ways. First, they argue that core components and intellectual property rights of this missile are still in Russian hands. Moreover, most of cutting edge weapon platforms of Indian Armed Forces have some Russian role.

Therefore, if China increases its proximity with Russia, with strong linkages, it can prevent or restrict Indian access to Russia's cutting-edge weapons. If the Russian bear gets a large jar of Chinese honey and assurances of future refills, the Russian option can be minimised.

Second, even though India can extend the range of the BrahMos missile to 600-900 kilometres, a crucial component to ensure a successful hit is the long-range precision-guidance capability. Chinese experts argue that Indian capabilities in airborne-early detection and warning systems, mid-course guidance systems and long-range radar coverage are limited. The satellite-based guidance system also suffers from faulty atomic clocks and a limited number of satellites. Hence, as long as these capabilities do not improve, the threat of this missile will remain local.

CJ-10 LACM (Airpower Australia)
Third, in terms of ground war, most of the Indian airbases are close to the India-Tibetan border. Therefore, China will be able to damage Indian air capability far more than India can with its limited range BrahMos. Indian BrahMos attack will certainly invite a Chinese response with CJ-10 long-range cruise missile which can even reach Delhi. Additionally, the mountainous terrain and dense coverage of HQ-9, HQ16A and other close-range air defence missiles will help neutralise the BrahMos threat for China.

In the naval domain, China believes that any combat will be a system based operation. Therefore, a combination of YJ-12 anti-ship supersonic cruise missile (KH-31 missile's Chinese version), HQ-9, HHQ-16, FL-3000 and CIWS guns will be used for China's fleet defence. Moreover, the advantage in detection capability and the defensive radius of the Chinese Navy will be crucial. Another strategy would be to either detect its heat signature or strive to destroy the launcher before the missile is launched.

Even a cursory study of the reports in the neighbourhood over the BrahMos missile reflects the unease, apprehension and a grudging acceptance of India's advantage in a no-contact war. An extended-range, air-launched BrahMos with a capability to hit any target to nearly 2,000 kilometres would usher in a paradigmatic shift in the India-Pacific's security architecture.

However, India would need to increase the number of delivery platforms, as only 36 or 50 modified Sukhois will not be enough. The enhancement of long-range guidance capability is another major area that needs attention. The continued augmentation of tactical cruise missile triad makes India's adversaries uncomfortable. India should do it more.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Xi Jinping's demand of loyalty from PLA betrays Communist Party of China's insecurity over its dominance

This article was previously published on the Indian news website Firstpost.com.

On 26 October, 2017, Chinese president Xi Jinping declared in a military gathering that the Chinese military will be a 'world class force' by year 2050. He further affirmed that in the last five years, the Central Military Commission (CMC) has strived to build an army that upholds the Communist Party of China's (CPC's) absolute leadership over the People's Liberation Army (PLA). He added that by the year 2020, the mechanisation of PLA would be achieved and by 2035, the modernisation of armed forces and national defences would be in place.

Xi Jinping meets PLA Officers 2017 (China Daily)

This modernised force would consistently innovate military strategy, promote civil-military integration and be governed by military laws. To achieve these targets, Xi reaffirmed that senior PLA officers must be loyal and obedient to the CPC, be smart at combat, strict in discipline and efficient in their command. They must improve their political education, combat training and push forward towards excellence with high spirits and diligence.

Most of these points in Xi's speech were reiterations of Political Work Report presented in the 19th Party Congress on 18 October. Nevertheless, his demand of loyalty and obedience from the PLA's senior staff stands out. In the last five years, almost every CPC leader of substance has appealed to the PLA to ensure that the party maintains its absolute control over the military.
Xi Jinping delivers the report to 19th PCC - 2017 (China Daily) 

Sun Zhengcai (Diplomat)
This frequent assertion betrays an insecure feeling of the party about its dominance over the PLA. Moreover, the president of a country demanding his senior military officers to be loyal and obedient is a unique feature of authoritarian states. No one expects the Prime Minister of India or President of the US to seek loyalty and obedience of their military officers frequently. It indicates that the Chinese political leadership is facing a legitimacy crisis, especially after Xi used every stratagem possible to sideline his political and party rivals in a 'winner-take-all' power struggle leading to the 19th Party Congress.

Hu Chunhua (Business Insider)
He has consistently sidelined the China Youth League (CYL), one of the two major factions in the party and staffed the Standing Committee, Politburo, Central Committee and the CMC with his protégés and supporters. A sizeable chunk of these appointments have gone to the princeling faction. In addition, he has purged or demoted his prominent rivals, such as Sun Zhengcai and Hu Chunhua, while increasing his own status to the 'core leader', equal to Mao Zedong and that makes him considerably insecure. Consequently, the absolute loyalty of senior PLA officers is crucial to his political survival.

Additionally, Xi's timeline for PLA's coming out as a world class military needs a detailed examination. How capable is the PLA? Is it only good for national defence and peripheral conflicts or can it even conduct long-range power-projection operations successfully? In the last four decades, the PLA has achieved substantial modernisation of its capabilities. China has augmented significant capabilities in ballistic and cruise missiles, cyber warfare, small arms, ground-based long-range air-defence radars, electronic warfare and drones.

The mechanisation of ground forces has been yet another successful program. It began in 1980s, when Chinese troops had experienced terrible lack of mobility and logistical support during the Vietnam War. Soldiers had climbed above tanks and tied themselves with ropes for stability to reach the battlefield. When the Vietnamese guerrillas ambushed Chinese convoys, they killed a large number of these tank-tied defenceless soldiers. Consequently, the mechanisation became the rallying point in China and led to inductions of multiple new generations of APCs and beginning 1989, Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV).

China's civilian automobile industry, in collaboration with major global automobile manufacturers, further provided a boost to this mechanisation process. Chinese companies exported earlier generations of APC, IFV, tank and artillery guns to friendly countries and the lessons learnt from their use were incorporated in subsequent production. Accordingly, the latest Type-04A (ZBD-04A) IFVs are much improved in protection, firepower, mobility and networking. Similarly, China has been successful in developing better quality tanks, wheeled IFVs and self-propelled and rocket artillery. At the tactical and logistical level, multiple variants of fast mobility vehicles, all-terrain and light utility vehicles have become part of the PLA's mobility enhancement drive. Xi is expecting to complete this process by 2035, which seems attainable.

Type ZBD-04A Infantry Fighting Vehicle (Army recognition)

Further, Xi's appeal for modernisation of armed forces and the national defence refers to four modernisations in the PLA – of the military strategy, weapons and equipment, staff quality and organisational management. To achieve these, Xi demobilised 300,000 soldiers in 2015 and embarked upon the single largest reorganisation of the PLA's higher command structure, in the last four decades.

He eliminated four general departments of joint staff, logistics, political work and armaments and created 15 units under the direct control of the CMC for better accountability, efficiency and control. His avowed objective is to implement the joint warfare doctrine and prepare the PLA to conduct joint operations successfully in the digital age. He would also prefer that the PLA develops enhanced capabilities to conduct long-range power-projection operations successfully.

However, both capabilities to conduct joint and distant operations remain far from China's reach. Although China has inducted various types of latest military platforms and equipment, there are serious gaps hindering its transformation. It has achieved decent technological capabilities through its time-tested strategy of import-assimilate-re-innovate. Here, the PLA imports fully developed platforms and then its assimilation and incremental upgrade takes the Chinese industry to the next level. However, in the cutting edge military technology sectors, the science has been developing in gallops, leaving Chinese research and development sector behind.

Certainly, China has inducted multiple capable weapon platforms in its inventory. The PLA Air Force has continuously upgraded its fighter inventory with fourth generation fighter aircraft such as Russian Sukhoi-27 fighter along with its local variants, the J-10 fighter and is now inducting the J-20 stealth fighter.

The PLA's attack and transport helicopter inventory has experienced similar rapid growth with additions of Z-10, Z-11 and Z-19 attack helicopters. In addition, the PLA has imported copious numbers of Mi-17 transport helicopters from Russia, AS-365, AS-350 and EC-120 helicopters from France and even locally produced improved versions of the Z-8 (Aerospatiale Super Frelon) helicopter with better engines and avionics.

J8 Aircraft

Nevertheless, as per the latest military balance figures, the Chinese inventory of nearly 1870 fighter aircraft contains over 1075 antiquated ones, which will need replacement in a decade or two. China will have to induct a sizeable number of latest 4th and 5th generation aircraft to fill the vacuum after these vintage fighters are gone. The technological capability, production or import timeline and financial resources will be the two main features shaping China's future fighter aircraft inventory.
A5/Q5 Fantan Attack aircraft

In addition, China's lack of capabilities in propulsion and sensor technologies is critical. The PLA has been developing its indigenous WS-10 jet engine and its variants. However, these engines have low mean time between failures (MTBF) and are therefore, not economical to be deployed at a large scale. 

JH7A Attack aircraft
In addition, China has launched a mission-mode project to develop a jet engine similar in the capability to the Russia imported 135 kN AL-31 FN engine which propel most of its 4th generation fighters. In comparison, the global engine manufacturers are developing higher thrust engines in the 180-190 kN ra
nge and even the adaptive engines are in the pipeline. Therefore, the gap between the Chinese and the global engine technology would remain in place, hampering the growth of the entire fighter aircraft sector in China.

In addition, the academic dishonesty is rampant in China. This year itself, hundreds of Chinese scientists retracted their published research papers from international journals after other researchers were unable to replicate their findings. This betrays an impression of academic fund waste, fraud and doubt over Chinese claims in the cutting-edge research programs.

An example of this gap between claims and capabilities exists in China's sensor and radar technologies. Despite China's tall claims of developing Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars, none of them has so far been deployed on any Chinese aircraft and the PLA Air Force and the Navy fighters are managing with Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA) radars.

Y-20 (Reuters)
Finally, the PLA Air Force is facing an acute shortage of force multiplier aircraft. Its air-refuelling capability, airborne early-warning and control capability remain work in progress and the inventory of heavy-lift military transport aircraft is grossly inadequate for its air-transport requirements. This situation may improve with the induction of the Y-20 transport aircraft however its capabilities and technologies are unknown and unproven in the rigour of battle. Its use of Russian engines is a further shortcoming.

In the naval domain, China considers the Command of the Oceans as crucial for China's comprehensive national strength. The rise and fall of the Chinese state is deemed to be critically dependent upon it, especially in the nearby seas. Accordingly, China aims to holistically develop maritime supremacy, step wise, in the next few years.

First, China wants to improve its people's low marine awareness and focus the national attention in the maritime direction. Second, Beijing needs to develop strength in all marine industrial sectors, including the merchant shipping. Third, China aims to build a strong naval fleet with focuses on high-sea protection and long-range power projection. Thus, China aims to build an informationised navy to conduct 'intelligent local wars on the seas'. As Chinese national interests are expanding globally due to its expansion in trade and Belt and Road Initiative, the capability to conduct far seas operations is deemed to be critical for the PLA Navy in the future.

Therefore, to safeguard its economic and security interests, the PLA Navy has been inducting warships and associated weapons platforms on a phenomenal scale. China's advanced ship manufacturing industry has played a key enabling role in warship production. Nevertheless, these seemingly advanced warships have also experienced regular failure of air‐compressors, toilets and electro‐mechanical machinery during their deployments to the Gulf of Aden. The failure rate was fairly high for domestically developed systems, which explains why countries such as Thailand and Myanmar, who imported Chinese warships, chose to equip them with western sub‐systems.

In addition, Chinese submarines have faced problems in noise reduction, inferior sub-systems and sensors. Chinese navy also faces serious lack of experience in anti-submarine warfare capability. Moreover, since a majority of Chinese sub-systems have Russian origin and even the Russian technology has lagged a generation behind the western technologies, Chinese military capabilities face double disadvantages.

Besides the weapon system inductions, there are multiple issues on the human side that hinder the PLA's drive to be the world class military. Foremost is the corruption in the PLA, even after Xi and Wang Qishan's iron hand policy against it. The problem has persisted even though two major sources of corruption, the purchase of military license plates and the purchase of promotions have become discreet and less frequent.

Second, the man-machine interface in the PLA remains sketchy at best. Although, the PLA has been insisting on following the realistic training with live ammunition, its large size with attendant inertia makes any transformation sluggish. The lack of an active battle experience is another major issue limiting common soldier's experience of the 'Fog of the War'. The predominance of ground force is a major handicap in promotion of service equality and jointness.
PLA Veterans protesting in China (Tuidang.com)

The demobilisation and anti-corruption drives have further created dissatisfaction among the PLA ground force officer corps which makes the CPC anxious. Finally, the lack of effective interoperability in interconnection, intercommunication and combat equipment is another major shortcoming that limits China's drive towards world class military.

In sum, China has achieved a respected level of military advancement in the last four decades. Its capabilities in some domains are at world class but in crucial high-tech areas and operational efficiency, it lags behind the West. Its rivals are also augmenting their military capabilities at a rapid pace whereas China faces the military embargo from the West. Therefore, whether it will be able to resolve these limitations by 2050, especially under a shaky economy, remains an open question.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Y-20 Aircraft Will Transform China’s Strategic Combat Capability

Executive Summary
China’s PLA Air Force inducted its first two Y-20 strategic heavy-airlift transport aircraft (out of probable 400 more) in July 2016 to provide a considerable boost to China’s expeditionary and long-range power-projection capability.

Y-20-1 in PLAAF Service (Pic- haohanfw.com)


On 6 July 2016, the Chinese Air Force inducted its first two Y-20 transport aircraft into the active service at Chengdu-Qionglai Air Base. Made by the Xi’an Aircraft Corporation, Y-20 is the largest transport aircraft built in China. It is a four-engine, high tail cargo aircraft with maximum take-off weight of 220 tons and can carry 66 tons of payload to about 4500 km. This all-weather aircraft can take off from short runways and can be deployed to transport heavy equipment and troops during military assault, peacekeeping and humanitarian assault/disaster-relief missions. 

Y-20 Design Inspirations (Pic - news.cn)
Yunshuji-20 or Y-20 (nickname ‘Kunpeng’) is a long range heavy transport aircraft which China has been developing indigenously. The idea to develop a heavy strategic transport aircraft was considered during the 10th Party Congress of China in 2004, when the PLA decided to transform its air force into a ‘Strategic Air Force’. Therefore, the need for air superiority and long range strike capability, beyond 100 miles, required the development of a suitable airlift aircraft. Consequently, China started the Y-20 development programme in 2005, which evolved into an urgent requirement after the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. The earthquake and China’s lack of adequate airlift capability turned into a major embarrassment for the Chinese regime. During the post-earthquake relief programme, American C-17 aircraft and Russian IL-76 aircraft transported hundreds of tons of relief material into Sichuan earthquake zone while Chinese Air Force lacked suitable airlift aircraft as well as adequate number of trained pilots to fly into the disaster-struck region. In the aftermath, the Y-20 development program received phenomenal support from the Chinese government. Finally, the Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation (an AVIC subsidiary) produced the first prototype aircraft by December 2012 which flew in 2013. The prototype was a result of indigenous technological development, coupled with substantial external design help from Ukraine

Recent Developments 

Rep Image - Future Y-20 Tanker
At the 2016 induction ceremony, the PLA Air Force Spokesperson Shen Jinke marked the induction as a crucial step for improving China’s strategic power projection capability. It is here that this aircraft’s unique role in the PLA’s modernisation programme becomes crucial. The aircraft can not only perform suitably as a heavy airlifter but it can eventually be configured to perform as an airborne-early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C), aerial-refueller, electronic warfare aircraft, drone mothership and other force-multiplier missions. These are missions where Chinese capability is severely limited due to the lack of a large transport aircraft. 

Y-20 Glass Cockpit (pic-Focus)
The PLA Air Force has less than two dozen Russian IL-76/78 in its inventory at present. A larger order to induct 30 additional IL-76 and 8 IL-78 aircraft was cancelled in 2008 due to the failure of price renegotiation between Russia and China. After the 2008 earthquake, however, China decided to procure ten used IL-76 aircraft from Russia which was delivered starting 2013. Even so, these two dozen heavy airlifters are inadequate for transporting requirements of a two million strong PLA. In addition, due to the western embargo, China is unable to purchase an airlifter which is equivalent to American C-17 or C-5 aircraft. 

Y-20 FLIR (Pic - Sina.com)
Y-20 HUD (Pic- CCTV-4)
Thus, China had no other option but to develop an indigenous aircraft for the purpose. The Y-20 aircraft uses fairly modern technologies in terms of ‘supercritical aerofoils, integrated avionics, glass cockpit, head-up display, FLIR and composite materials in the fuselage’. Although, Y-20 has been using Russian D-30KP2 engines so far, a drive to develop Chinese aviation engine for the aircraft, named WS-20, is in the process. The Y-20’s 66-ton payload capability will provide China a capability to move majority of its combat and support platforms to the battlefield, including its heaviest tank, the 58-ton Type-99A2. The aircraft can haul lighter loads such as paratroopers to more than 10,000km, while at 40-ton payload, it can reach 7,800 km. Additionally, the aircraft is capable to take-off from short runways and dirt-strips which opens access to various remote battlefields. Additionally, Chinese scientists are studying possibilities to launch 200-kilogram satellites in low earth orbit from this aircraft. 

ShenLong under H6(Pic - Tiexue.Net)
Y-20 Cargo Hold (Pic- Focus)

Chinese experts expected in 2007 that the development phase of Y-20 aircraft will conclude in about 8-10 years and large scale deliveries would begin in 2017. The development program has so far maintained the schedule. Chinese experts expect that the PLA requires anywhere from 400 to 100o Y-20 aircraft for long range power projection and strategic airlift. However, the final production of Y-20 aircraft may remain in single digits for a foreseeable future. China has embarked on the development of four transport aircraft simultaneously, namely, Y-20, Comac C919, ARJ-21 and Y-9 aircraft. A large number of skilled personnel are required to run these simultaneous manufacturing programs, which is not available in China. It is possible that China would prioritize one or two of these aircraft, however that would depend upon the demand and possibility of sale of civilian transport aircraft in the market. 


Y-20 Cargo Hold (Pic - Focus)
The induction of Y-20 transport aircraft is a significant event for China’s logistics support capability. From tactical, China is embarking towards the build-up of a global combat logistics capability. The induction of hundreds of these aircraft into the PLA Air Force will provide it a strategic support capability in terms of air transport, air-refueling, electronic warfare and intelligence support. This aircraft will become crucial in sustainment flying missions at Djibouti, Gwadar and others in future. China can further export Y-20 aircraft to friendly nations such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and many other countries in Asia and Africa. If Y-20 can be built at cheaper prices than Russian IL-476, then China can sell the aircraft to many other countries. In sum, Y-20’s induction in the PLA Air Force will increase the range of its strike aircraft and extend China’s reach into global battlefields.

Y-20 Induction Ceremony (Pic -Weibo.com)