China’s Eyes in the Skies (Page 3 of 3)

In addition, the land-based sensor part of the PLA air defence C3ISR network is being supplemented by fixed high speed fibre optic links that provide interconnections that are immune to electronic intelligence intercepts and radio frequency jamming. But a recent and unique addition has been the deployment of indigenous TS-504 mobile tropospheric scatter (troposcatter) communications terminals, which are modelled on US Army equipment that was the employed by US land forces during the Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom Campaigns. These troposcatter terminals appear to be being used to connect mobile radars and missile batteries to the fibre optic network, which increases their ability to survive air assaults, and without the cost penalties and electronic vulnerabilities of satellite links or microwave relays.

The airborne C3ISR segment has also seen investment, with three concurrent programmes to develop AWACS/AEW&C capabilities. Following the abortive KJ-1 effort, the PLA invested in developing a conventional system carried by the Y-8. This system was supplanted by the KJ-200, which uses electronically steered active phased array radar technology that’s two generations ahead of the mechanically steered technology used by the US.

The much larger KJ-2000 AWACS, which also uses active phased array radar, is directly modeled on Israel’s A-50I and Elta Phalcon radar. The PLA had actually negotiated the purchase of the A-50I, only to have the Clinton administration block the sale, resulting in an acrimonious war of words. As a consequence, the Chinese made a national commitment to build their own—resulting a decade later in the recently deployed milestone of the KJ-2000.

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All this means that China is deploying a modern, high technology air defence system based largely on the same or more advanced basic technologies used by the US, EU and Russia in their systems.

Once fully deployed and matured, this system will be effectively impregnable to regional air forces, and largely impregnable to US naval air power, itself the victim of chronic underinvestment. Indeed, the technology being deployed in strength by the PLA is so sophisticated that only the small planned inventory of US Air Force B-2A Spirit and F-22 Raptor aircraft will be capable of confidently penetrating a post-2015 PLA air defence network.

Washington, meanwhile, has yet to appreciate the long-term strategic implications of this developing West Pacific environment.

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