Friday, October 30, 2020

Kh-35E Uran Missile Tested from INS Kora

The Indian Navy's missile corvette INS Kora reportedly test fired a Kh-35E Uran (NATO:SS-N-25 Switchblade) to its max range on October 30, 2020 in the Bay of Bengal hitting the target with precision. The Kh-35E is the export variant of the Ukrainian Kh-35 missile, a 620-kg subsonic cruise missile powered by a Motor Sich R95-300 turbojet engine. The missile features a 145-kg warhead and has a max range of 130-km. The missile cruises at 10-15-m above the sea, dipping down to 4-m during the end game.

India procured 400 Kh-35E missiles from Russia between 1998 to 2004 for use on Delhi (Project-15) and modernized Kashin-2 (Rajput) destroyers, Brahmaputra (Poject-16A) frigates, Kora (Project-25A) corvettes and Tarantul-1 (Vibhuti) FAC.

The IAF has the air launched variant of the missile, Kh-35E Zvezda (Star) (NATO designation AS-20 'Kayak). The Zvezda variant is also carried by IN IL-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

IN IL-38 with Kh-35E Zvezda missile


Russia's Tactical Missiles Corporation developed Kh-35U variant of the Ukrainian Kh-35 missile entered Russian service in 2015.

The Kh-35U/Kh-35UE missile uses a UEC-Saturn engine, instead of the Ukranian Motor Sich engine. The Russian engine is reportedly a third shorter and lighter by several tens of kilograms, which facilitates improved characteristics of the entire product as a whole. 

The Kh-35UE at MAKS-2019

The Kh-35U features a dramatically reduced RCS as compared to the Kh-35, is 50-kg heavier than the Kh-35, and has twice the range (260-km) of the Kh-35.

The missile is designed to attack vessels up to 5,000 tonnes.

India is not known to have acquired the Kh-35UE export variant of the missile

The Reason Why India Declined the US Offer of MQ-9B Reaper Armed Drones

MQ-9B via Twitter


During the recent 2+2 Ministerial dialog between India and the US, the US reportedly pressured India into buying MQ-9B drones but India declined, denying President Donald Trump a foreign policy success that could have boosted his reelection chances. The deal would have secured US jobs (The USAF has lost interest in the Reaper, a weapon system honed for anti-terrorist operations, with its focus on the perceived combined threat from China and Russia) and reiterated Trump's tough anti-China posture.

 Multiple current officials speaking on the condition of anonymity told the US News that the Reaper sale was at the top of the agenda for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. India apparently signed the the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-Spatial Cooperation on October 27, 2020, an agreement that would have facilitated MQ-9B sales, but declined to purchase the MQ-9B. 

It's likely that India declined the MQ-9 offer because of high per unit cost - roughly $100 million each factoring in infrastructure costs - and the drone's limited utility in the context of the current India - China stand-off in Ladakh.

The total cost of procuring 30 MQ-9 drones from the US was projected at $6 billion which likely includes weapons and logistics support.

While, US officials believe that the armed drone would perform a critical role in better preparing the Indian army for the threat it faces from the PLA and its fleet of drones, it's likely that the Indian armed forces, with limited financial resources at their disposal, don't agree. 

The ET on July 25, 2020 did report that the services were contemplating "an emergency procurement" of six Predator-B drones, 2 each for the 3 services, from the US in the context of the ongoing confrontation with China along the LAC. However, in July 2019, the HT had reported that the services were rethinking the drone procurement following the Iranian take-down of a US Global Hawk on June 20, 2019 using its S-300 AD system. The IAF had reportedly internally raised questions about an armed drone surviving in a contested air space like over Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) or along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with both potential adversaries equipped with top of the line surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems. 

The very expensive MQ-9, which operates from medium altitude, would be an easy target for PLA's AD systems comprising S-300 and S-400 systems. Additionally, the PLA has HQ-16 (Buk) air medium-range and HQ-9 long-range ADS currently in service. 

Some sources told the US News that India may eventually buy the drones as part of a larger and more comprehensive arms package at some point in the future and that probably would be the best option for India.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Russia Tests Ship Based Missile Launched Rocket Propelled Torpedo

Russian Northern Fleet "Admiral of the Fleet Kasatonov" Project 22350M frigate during recent weapon trials. Photo via RuMoD

On October 28, 2020, the RuMoD in a press release announced that the second P-22350M frigate of the Northern Fleet "Admiral of the Fleet Kasatonov" fired a newly developed anti-submarine missile at the training grounds of the fleet in the Barents Sea.

"The shooting was carried out as part of the qualification serial tests of the product and was recognized as successful. One of the nuclear submarines of the Northern Fleet was involved in its support, which monitored the torpedo that had separated from the rocket in the underwater environment. Also, the frigate's rocket fire was provided by the crews of the Il-38 anti-submarine aircraft, the Ka-27 helicopter and the torpedo boat of the Kola flotilla of diverse forces.

"When performing rocket firing, the frigate's combat crews demonstrated confident possession of military equipment, high professionalism and naval training."

The wording of the press release suggests that the frigate may have successfully tested a shipborne missile launched variant of its vaunted air launched rocket propelled APR-3E torpedo, possibly designated APR-3M


The APR-3M is the latest variant of the APR-3 torpedo. 

In May, 2019, the Research and Production Enterprise ‘Region’ (part of Tactical Missiles Corporation) launched serial production of the torpedo. 

Enterprise CEO Igor Krylov told TASS, "All the trials of the APR-3M missile have been completed, the process of its serial production has been organized and its deliveries to the Russian Defense Ministry are underway. In the near future, we will also start promoting this missile for exports. The APR-3M is integrated into the armament of a Ka-27M modernized anti-submarine warfare helicopter." 


The APR-3E anti-submarine warfare torpedo is a follow-up of the APR-1, APR-2 and APR-3 missiles that were in service with the Soviet and Russian Navies. These munitions are among the world’s most effective anti-submarine warfare weapons.

The APR-3E is a rocket propelled light ASW acoustic homing torpedo with waterjet propulsion. It was developed by Russian Tactical Missiles Corporation JSC to engage current and future submarines at depth from the surface down to 800 meters at speed of up to 43+ knots, and it is a replacement for earlier APR-2 light antisubmarine acoustic homing torpedo.

The APR-3E variant of the torpedo is designed to be carried by fixed wing and rotary wing platforms including Tu-142, Il-38, Ka-28 and other aircraft. The torpedo requires at least 100 metres depth of water for the initial air-drop and can be deployed in conditions up to sea state 6.

Upon entering the water, the control surfaces of the torpedo enable the torpedo to travel in a spiral path with the help of gravity without starting the engine. During this stage, the acoustic seeker of the torpedo searches for targets. Once the target is identified, the engine starts and solid propellant rocket engine ensures the target has virtually very little or no time to react, thus increasing the kill probability.


The following are the specifications of the torpedo according to the Wikipedia.

Speed: > 56 kn
Range: > 3 km
Diameter: 350 mm
Length: 3.685 m
Weight: 525 kg (another 25 kg for accessory for aircraft deployment)
Propulsion: solid-propellant rocket-powered turbo-waterjet
Fuze: impact and proximity
Warhead: 74 kg
Seeker: acoustic
Seeker range: 1.5 km – 2 km
Maximum target speed: > 43 kn

DRDO's SMART Missile

The DRDO recently successfully flight tested the Supersonic Missile Assisted Release of Torpedo (SMART) from Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha. 

The DRDO's SMART missile is conceptually similar to the weapon tested by Russia. However, the Russian missile is likely to be much more lethal if it delivers the rocket propelled APR-3E torpedo. Currently, DRDO's SMART delivers the indigenously developed battery powered TAL light torpedo with a max speed of 33 kn

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

All Foundational Agreements Signed , but What about Tech Transfer under DTTI?

The US in 2006 proposed that India sign the following 3 foundational agreements to facilitate increased defense co-operation

  • Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). Now known as  Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA)
  • Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) 
  • Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA)

On October 27, 2020, India and the US signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geo-Spatial Cooperation on October 27, 2020 following the third U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. Earlier, in 2016, India and the US signed the   LEMOA and in 2018, COMCASA.

India has now fulfilled its end of the bargain in its quest to facilitate increased defense co-operation. How about the US.

In 2012, India and the US signed the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI)  aimed at streamlining the approval process for release of US technology to India; removing bureaucratic hurdles with the aim of increasing defense trade and exploiting the potential for co-production/co-development.

Eight years later there has been no release of US technology to India.

The press statement by Raksha Mantri Shri Raj Nath Singh following India- USA 2+2 ministerial dialog in New Delhi on October 27, 2020 states

"In the Defence Industrial Cooperation area, we had a very candid and useful discussion. Recent initiative of 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' in Defence sector was underlined as a key driver and a guiding factor of our Defence Industrial Cooperation. I highlighted the capabilities of Indian Defence Industry and their usefulness in the supply chain of major US platforms and systems. We have identified priority Near-Term projects for joint development between respective agencies, which need to be fast tacked under the DTTI and resolved to work together in Defence R&D more efficiently."

The statement smacks of an underlying desperation on the part of India. As far as Atmanirbhar Bharat goes, India's strategic alliance with the US hasn't met Indian expectations. The alliance, however, has generously met US expectations through multi-billion dollar weapon system deals - P-8I, C-130, C-17, Apache 64E, Chinook Ch-47F - through government to government contracts. 

Despite having signed 3 ironclad agreements that increase its security dependency on the US, India has not been able to win US trust for transfer of defense technology. The fact is, India will never be able to win US trust. I think we all know that.

Not that the US has ever categorically expressed a willingness to transfer US defense technology to India. After eight years of dangling the carrot of technology transfer under DTTI, the US is now offering India a role in its defense systems supply chain through limited private sector partnership under initiatives such as Industrial Security Annex (ISA) and Indian Defence Innovation Organization (DIO-iDEX) and U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) tieup

While private sector defense supply chain tie-ups could help create jobs in India, they will not help make India self reliant in indigenous weapon system development and manufacture. More likely, such tie-ups would perpetuate Indian dependence on the US. More troublingly, they will give unprecedented leverage to the US over Indian economic and foreign policy. The US is notorious for its sanctions regime and India has been at the receiving end. The spread and granularity of US sanctions would have made Shylock look like an amateur.  

In contrast to the US approach on defense technology transfer, Russia has transferred to India technology for construction of nuclear power reactors for submarines and ships, cryogenic rocket engine, Brahmos missiles and Missile RF seekers without  any leverage.

Today, China is a very credible US adversary because the Soviet Union and then Russia transferred critical defense technology to China which China built upon to not just match but even pull ahead of US technology. India could have done the same; perhaps it can still do so without surrendering its sovereignty and becoming a US vassal. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Russia Well Prepared for US Hypersonic Weapons


When the US withdrew from the ABM treaty in June 2002, Russia indicated that it would develop hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) warheads to counter any anti ballistic missiles systems that the US deployed to ensure the efficacy of the Russian nuclear deterrent. 

On  March 1, 2018, during a presentation to the Federal Assembly,  President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, unveiled a hypersonic maneuvering HGV warhead (later named Avangard) capable of penetrating deployed US ABM systems. He also unveiled an air-launched surface attack HGV capable of carrying a nuclear or conventional warhead. The HGV was later named Kinzhal. 

On December 27, 2019, RuMoD announced that the first regiment of Avangard hypersonic missile systems had gone on combat duty.

"Russian Defense Minister Army General Sergei Shoigu reported to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that the first missile regiment armed with the latest Avangard strategic missile system with the hypersonic boost-glide vehicle assumed combat duty from 10:00 a.m. Moscow time on December 27, 2019," the ministry said in a statement.

In February 2020, Russia's Central MD commander announced that Kh-47M2 Kinzhal ALBMs will be deployed on MiG-31s in the 712th Fighter Aviation Regt at Kansk by 2024. The MOD has said 10 Kinzhal carriers are already on "experimental combat duty.

The two HGVs were among the 6 new strategic weapons unveiled by President Putin which included a nuclear powered torpedo with a thermonuclear warhead (Poseidon), a heavy intercontinental ballistic missile (Sarmat), a high-energy laser weapon (Persevet) and a nuclear powered cruise missile (Burevestnik).

In addition to the two HGVs unveiled on March 1, 2018, Russia is close to deploying a anti shipping hypersonic cruise missile - Tsirkon.

President Putin's March 1, 2018 speech and the subsequent operational deployments was clearly intended to convey the message that Russia has the technical expertise and the political will to maintain the credibility of its nuclear deterrent.

While developing hypersonic weapons to counter growing US anti missile capability, Russia remained aware of the inevitability of its adversaries eventually acquiring the same technology and started to develop technology to counter hypersonic weapons! 

In June 2020, while speaking to Russia-1's Vesti Nedely program on his government's work to gain an edge in the field of new strategic systems, President Putin reportedly said,  "I think that we can pleasantly surprise our partners with the fact that when they [get] these (hypersonic) weapons, with a high degree of probability, we will have a way of combating against them.” 

In the following paragraphs, I present a roundup of the progress made by Russia in countering adversary hypersonic weapons. 


On October 24, 2020, Russian military expert Igor Korotchenko, claimed on Radio Sputnik that the Russian military industry was already testing a missile system capable of shooting down enemy hypersonic missiles.

According to him, during a series of tests conducted a few months ago, the S-300B4 system demonstrated the ability to intercept and shoot down operational-tactical and, most importantly, hypersonic missiles, including those under development around the world.

The capability to engage hypersonic targets was based on a newly developed 400-km range missile of the S-400B4 system developed ammunition, which has a range of up to 400 km. 

Igor Korotchenko claimed on Sputnik radio that the new missile system was presented at the Army 2020 exhibition, which took place this year in Russia. He also said that Russia has already developed an export version of the system, which will be named Abakan. [source]

59N6-TE Mobile Radar

via Twitter

In June 2020, TASS reported that Russia's Rosoboronexport has started promoting on international arms markets the 59N6-TE mobile radar capable of detecting hypersonic targets, the company’s press office reported on Thursday.

"Today Rosoboronexport is bringing to the market the latest radar station capable of effectively detecting a wide range of advanced and future air objects, including hypersonic targets," the company’s press office quoted Rosoboronexport CEO Alexander Mikheyev as saying.

"While developing the export version of the radar, the growing role of air defense systems for the provision of security of states was taken into account, as well as the needs of foreign customers in the expansion of the reconnaissance capabilities of their air defense units," he said.

The 59N6-TE mobile three-dimensional station is an exclusively Russian-made product, which implies present-day Russian hardware components with digital processing and signal generation. It is fully solid-state and has high potential together with enhanced jamming resistance, according to the data posted on the company’s website.

via Twitter

"The 59N6-TE is a radar of medium and high altitude, having a decimeter wavelength range. Apart from hypersonic targets, it also effectively detects aerodynamic and ballistic objects," the statement says.

The 59N6-TE radar provides for the measurement of the range, azimuth and altitude of aerial targets. It is capable of detecting objects flying at a speed of up to 8 000 km/h at a range of up to 450 kilometers and at an altitude of up to 200 kilometers. After detection, it exchanges radar information with C4I systems. It operates in conditions of jamming and carries out direction finding of active noise jammers, Rosoboronexport said.

The station has an automatic and a semi-automatic mode of aerial targets’ acquisition and tracking. "In a real time mode, it can simultaneously track no less than 1 000 objects and recognize 8 classes of targets, which includes selection of anti-radar missiles and warning its own combat crew of the danger of elimination, inter alia, by high precision munitions and homing missiles. The 59N6-TE radar also includes equipment for the recognition of detected aerial targets in international radar recognition systems Mk-XA and ATC RBS," the company said.

The 59N6-TE radar set includes an antenna-hardware complex and an indicator post, placed on a standard vehicle chassis of the “KAMAZ-6560” type. There are also options to place the item on a single vehicle chassis, deploy it in a stationary version or to place the radar antenna system on a high tower support and other installations. Besides, the station is equipped with remote operator’s work stations, which may stay at a distance of up to one kilometer from the indicator post if connected via glass fiber links, and up to 15 kilometers in case of using a radio link.    

Air-to-air Missile with Multiple Homing Heads

In February 2020, Izvestia reported that Russia is designing an ultra-long-range air-based missile capable of intercepting high-speed and maneuvering targets. The weapon is designed to engage hypersonic aircraft and cruise missiles.

The missile is being developed for carriage by MiG-31 interceptor and its planned successor, the MiG-41. According to Izvestia, one of the candidates for the role of submunition is the medium-range missile K-77M.

The heavy long range missile will deliver a warhead with several modern air-to-air missiles over a distance of several hundred kilometers. The submunition missile will then separate from the carrier and begin to search and attack targets on their own using active homing.

Typically, an air-to-air missile has a single warhead and the chances of a lone warhead failing to successfully engage a hypersonic maneuvering target are very high. Using several active homing submunition missiles would increase the chances of a successful head on engagement.

The U.S. uses a similar approach for ballistic missile defense against ICBMs. Interceptor missiles launch “kill vehicles” with multiple warheads, each equipped with sensors as well as thrusters for rapid maneuvering. The submunition missile will disperse at a pre-calculated range to cover a larger area in a head on engagement. 

The use of a single information space would make the interception more effective. Ground-based radars, early warning radars, or an attack warning system could detect aerial targets, cruise or hypersonic missiles and transmit target information to an airborne MiG-31 which could launch an ultra-long-range missile towards the target area while itself staying well out of harm's way. 

Rezonans-NE VHF counter-stealth early warning phased-array radar

The Rezonans-NE VHF counter-stealth early warning phased-array radar is designed to effectively detect a wide range of current and future air targets, including low-observable cruise and ballistic missiles, hypersonic aerial vehicles, as well as stealthy ones, in severe electronic countermeasures (ECM) and clutter environment.

Rezonans radars operate in the meter band and employ the principle of wave resonance, which allows detecting aircraft based on stealth technology and also hypersonic targets flying at a speed of up to Mach 20. The radar is capable of detecting targets and issuing target acquisition on aerodynamic targets at a distance of 600 km and at a range of 1,200 km on ballistic targets, at an altitude of up to 100 km.

Russia's Northern Fleet already has 3 Rezonans-N in service as in February 2020: 2 in Arkhangelsk and 1 on Novaya Zemlya. According to an OPK source, two Rezonans-N radars will be deployed to the Kola Peninsula in the Russian Arctic in 2020.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

INS Vikrant Basin Trials in October 2020: Really?


Going by this photograph of INS Vikrant posted by @DefencePROkochi on Twitter on October 25, 2020, INS Vikrant does not appear ready for basin trials.

The TNIE reported on October 4, 2020 that INS Vikrant is set to begin basin trials this month.

The TNIE had reported in August 2020 that NS Vikrant, is set to begin testing in waters (Basin Test) with its systems and equipment fitted.

Sources in Navy confirmed to TNIE that, “Harbour Trials have finished. The Basin Trials are planned for September.” Basin trials are conducted for proving of the propulsion (move), transmission (electricity) and shafting systems .

During his press conference on December 3, 2019 ahead of Navy Day December 4, 2019, CNS Admiral Karambir Singh stated that IAC will be fully operational by 2022 and will have MiG-29K aircraft.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Rudram - 1 : Next Generation Anti-radiation Missile (NGARM)


In April 2012, DRDO announced that it is developing an anti-radiation missile on  priority to equip Su-30MKI aircraft.

In August 2014, DRDO Chief Avinash Chander confirmed to the press that missile design is in progress and hardware is being readied for the first trials. 

"We expect successful trials of this ARM from an aircraft in about the next three years," he very optimistically said.

The missile, earlier known just as NGARM, was first officially referred to as Rudram-1 in a tweet by RM Rajnath Singh on October 9, 2020 while announcing a successful test of the missile on the same day. 

Missile Characteristics

Rocket Motor

NGARM reportedly employs an indigenously developed dual-pulse, solid-propellant rocket motor.


RCI is developing  the MMW seeker for the NGARM. The seeker is reportedly a combination of passive and active radar.


The missile uses a an inertial navigation system (INS) that is aided by GPS.

Targeting Pod

The NGARM would be cued using the DRDO developed Siva HADF (High Accuracy Direction Finder)

Test on October 9, 2020

The Rudram NGARM was successfully Flight tested on October 9, 2020 onto a radiating target located on Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha. The missile was launched from SU-30 MKI fighter aircraft. 

According to the PIB release following the test, Rudram, "has INS-GPS navigation with Passive Homing Head for the final attack. The RUDRAM hit the radiation target with pin-point accuracy. 

"The Passive Homing Head can detect, classify and engage targets over a wide band of frequencies as programmed. The missile is a potent weapon for IAF for Suppression of Enemy Air Defence effectively from large stand-off ranges."  

Photographs released with the PIB release show the launching Su-30MKI sans the HADR pod, indicating that the missile was launched in LOBL mode.

Test on January 18, 2019

“The missile was tested from a Sukhoi-30MKI on January 18, 2019 at the integrated test range at Balasore. The missile, with all systems functioning properly, hit the designated target with a high degree of accuracy in the Bay of Bengal. The NGARM can be launched from Sukhois from different altitudes and velocities,” said a source.

The test was likely sans a seeker

Missile Specifications

The missile will have a strike range of 15-100 km from launch altitudes of 100 m to 15 km from Su-30 MKI aircraft.

It will be carried by Su-30MKI on a modified AKU-58 launcher.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

PLAAF vs IAF: Which Air Force Would Prevail?


IAF, PLAAF airbases


The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force (PLAAF) is a large, well trained and technologically air force. Arguably, more technologically advanced than the Indian Air Force (IAF)! Importantly, almost all PLAAF platforms and weapon systems are locally developed and manufactured. 

The PLAAF's size and technological edge notwithstanding, the well trained, motivated and technologically advanced IAF enjoys a significant advantage over the PLAAF in terms of the number of air bases it can operate from to - support Indian Army (IA) operations, interdict PLA supply lines and undertake counter-air operations against PLAAF bases. In the context of the current face-off along with the Ladakh - Tibet disputed border,  if the balloon does go up, would the IAF be able to support Indian troops fighting a grim battle perched on high mountains supplied through a tenuous road infrastructure? What if the conflict spreads all along the LAC? What if the conflict escalates into an all-out war?

In the following paragraphs, I will attempt an objective analysis of PLAAF capabilities to assess the extent of the threat it poses to IA operations. The analysis will dwell on PLAAF platforms, training, and likely tactics to assess the threat faced by the IAF. 

PLAAF Overview

In the following paragraphs, we will dwell on PLAAF platforms, training, and likely tactics in the context of a border war between India and China.

The PLA is likely to employ its following frontline fighters to challenge IAF operations. (Inventory holding obtained from Wikipedia is given in parentheses and includes assets deployed by the PLAAF and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN))

  1. Su-35 Multi-role strike fighter (24)
  2. J-20 Stealth fighter and penetrating sensor (50 of which 25 are likely operationally configured)
  3. J-16 Multi-role strike fighter (128)
  4. Su-30MKK (76)
  5. J-11 Multi-role strike fighter (346)
  6. J-10C Multi-role interceptor (435)
Non-frontline fighters in PLAAF inventory, such as J-7, J-8, and JH-7 are unlikely to play a significant role in a war with India because of the limited number of PLAAF air bases in the theater as well as payload and range limitations of the fighters when operating from high altitude airfields.

Unlike the IAF, the PLA has a bomber force comprising 126 Xian H-6 bombers customized for varying roles such as nuclear weapon delivery, EW (Electronic Warfare), low-level penetration, cruise missile carriage, ballistic missile (Dongfeng-21D) carriage, WZ-8 high-speed UAV carriage, aerial refueling, etc.

The latest H-6 variants feature D-30KP turbofan engines of 12,000 kg thrust replacing the original Chinese turbojets. Other modifications include larger air intakes, a redesigned flight deck with smaller/fewer transparencies, and large dielectric nose radome. Upgraded H-6 have longer range, air-to-air refueling capability,  and the capability to deploy weapons such as the ones listed above.

PLAAF force multipliers include aerial refueling tankers (3 IL-78 and 10 HY-6U converted Xian H-6 bombers) and around 50 AEW&CS, AWACS aircraft.

Additionally, the PLAAF deploys around twenty EW aircraft and five Canadian Challenger 850 SIGINT aircraft. The PLAAF also has a large helicopter, transport, and UAV fleet which I will not dwell upon in this article.

PLAAF Training & Tactics

A  2016 Rand report on PLAAF fighter pilot training concluded that the PLAAF has embarked on a major reform of its pilot training program to remedy deep-seated flaws in fighter pilot competency. The report was based on a study of articles published in the PLAAF's official newspaper, Kongjun Bao (Air Force News) on fighter pilot training at operational units over a time frame of five years.

The study established that the PLAAF is training to fight and win battles against near-peer military adversaries, like the United States and is acutely aware of its present shortcomings. The PLAAF has progressed well beyond ground-controlled scripted air combat scenarios to more combat realistic exercises that train for the battlefield, not for the test. 

PLAAF conducts multi-day, multi-branch exercises spanning units equipped with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), and radars. During such "Red force vs Blue force" exercises, adversary forces enjoy autonomy in choosing targets, timings, and tactics. (In PLAAF exercises, Blue force represents the adversary unlike the conventions in the USAF where the Red Force represents the adversary). PLAAF exercises include force multipliers like tankers and AWACS/AEW&CS as well as EW equipment and aircraft. 

The PLAAF lacks an analog to the USAF Weapons School (AWS) for developing and disseminating combat skills and tactics across units. As a result, the PLAAF's ability to maintain broad uniformity in tactical practices remains limited. Unit commanders and other senior cadre exercise autonomy in the content and scope of certain training.
The PLAAF has participated in Aviadarts since the second edition of the Russian hosted exercise in 2014. PLAAF pilots who performed well during Aviadarts are honored and counted alongside the finest Chinese pilots as well as Chinese astronauts. 

PLAAF Tactics

The PLAAF's fighter combat capability would likely pivot around four fighter jets, namely;
  1. J-20 Stealth Strike & Penetrating Sensor Fighter
  2. Su-35 Multi-role strike fighter
  3. J-16 Multi-role Strike fighter
  4. J-10C Multi-role Interceptor
Considering the large number of AEW&CS/AWACS aircraft available in PLAAF inventory, it is likely they would be facilitating EMCON (Emission Control) by PLAAF fighters to reduce chances of their passive detection by IAF fighters. In other words, operating with an AEW&CS/AWACS platform, PLAAF fighters would not have to switch on their radars and risk revealing their presence.  

For air dominance and air superiority missions, PLAAF would use a combination of J-20 and J-16 fighters. The J-16s would sweep the airspace with their powerful Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar while forward deployed and data linked LO (Low observable) J-20s would engage any adversary aircraft breaking EMCON to engage the radiating J-16s. (A fighter aircraft that switches on its radar to engage a target can be passively detected, tracked and engaged by an adversary fighter!) Both the J-20 as well as the J-16 are capable of carrying the PL-15 missile, a Meteor missile analog, with a range of around 150-km. 

At the start of hostilities, PLAAF would use J-20 fighters to degrade adversary air defenses. The stealth fighter would be used to take out adversary high-value aerial assets such as AWACS, AEW&CS, and Aerial tankers using PL-15 missiles. Operating as a forward sensor, a J-20 would be able to freely penetrate heavily defended adversary airspace to obtain accurate coordinates of strategic targets such as missile batteries and radar stations. The coordinates would be relayed in real-time over data links to J-16 fighters and J-6H bombers operating outside contested airspace and armed with precision-guided long-range cruise missiles. 

After the J-20s have softened adversary air defenses, the PLAAF would rely on J-16 fighters to strike enemy ground forces including mobile radar stations, and the J-10C to provide local air superiority for the striking fighters.

J-20 Stealth Fighter Threat

The J-20 is a well-designed stealth aircraft featuring full extent frontal aspect and limited extent side aspect LO shaping. A detailed analysis of the fighter can be perused at IAF vs PLAAF: Assessing the J-20 Threat

The J-20 would be able to penetrate Indian airspace completely undetected on most occasions. On some occasions, it would be possible for the IAF to detect the J-20 using ground-based or airborne radars. However, because of the aircraft's faint radar signature, it would not be possible for the IAF to effectively engage the J-20 using air or ground-launched missiles. 

The PLAAF has a limited number of operationally deployed J-20 stealth fighters. They are based in Wuhu, Anhui Province, near the eastern coast. The J-20 is a highly specialized aircraft that likely depends on a lot of support facilities at its home base. It's RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) coating, for example, would frequently need to be tended. It's unlikely that the J-20 will be deployed for extended periods from bases in Tibet.

J-20 operations from high altitude air bases on the Tibetan plateau would be constrained by limited payload due to the rarefied air. As a result, their combat range and/or time over target would be restricted. Also, the physical displacement of PLAAF air bases from the border area would result in a longer time to target. Under the circumstances, it would not be possible for the PLAAF to effectively keep J-20 fighters on patrol along the entire 3,488 km length of the LAC. 

Likely J-20 Employment by the PLAAF

The J-20 would likely be employed for specialized roles. For example, shooting down high-value IAF assets such as AWACS & aerial tankers. Considering the limited number of aerial tankers and AEW&CS/AWACS assets in its inventory, the IAF would be greatly disadvantaged by any losses.

The PLAAF could also use its J-20 as a penetrating sensor, leveraging its ability to penetrate Indian airspace undetected. As a penetrating sensor, the J-20 would obtain target coordinates for cruise or ballistic missile attacks by other PLA assets. In case of an uncontrolled escalation, the J-20 could be used to obtain coordinates of mobile strategic missile launchers detected through surveillance satellites. 

Xian H-6 Bombers

In total, the Chinese military has 270 H-6 strategic bombers. Most of them are located on the eastern coast of the country.

Since the H-6s carry cruise missiles on board, their deployment in the border zone could provide the PLA with a significant advantage over the Indian army in the event of armed conflict.

The latest H-6 variants are armed with the relatively new CJ-20 cruise missiles featuring half ton warhead and  2,000 kilometers range. Additionally, China has the lighter YJ-63 cruise missiles, which although cover distances ten times less than the CJ-20, can be taken on board in larger quantities.

PLA's Cruise Missile Advantage

The PLA is better armed than the IAF in terms of the range and number of air-launched Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACM) in its inventory. 

Air-Launched LACM

The following PLAAF LACMs are worth noting. 


KD-63 LACM on an Xian H-6 bomber via Twitter

The H-6 is capable of carrying the 500-km range KD-63 and the 1,500-km range CJ-10 LACMs.

The  KD-63 LACM is the latest upgrade of the YJ-63 aka C-603 series cruise missiles that entered service in 2004 - 2005. The KD-63 features a solid nose cone instead of a glass window, suggesting that it uses radar for terminal guidance instead of TV. The missile is powered by the  XW-41, turbojet engine, and has a range of 500-km.


CJ-20 missile via Twitter

The CJ-10 LACM, based on the Russian Kh-55 LACM, is a subsonic missile with a 500-kg warhead and a range over 1,500 km. The missile uses a combination of INS/GPS/TCM (Terrain Contour Matching) for navigation and possibly DSMAC  (Digital Scene-Mapping Area Correlator) for terminal guidance. The H-6 can reportedly carry four missiles externally. 


The HN-3 is a subsonic, turbofan-powered missile weighing approximately 2.5 tons with a range of between 1,200km and 3,000km. The missile uses INS/TERCOM for navigation and  TV/IIR for terminal homing. 

China's PGM / UAV Advantage

The PLA has numerous types of armed UAV's and weapons developed for use by the UAVs. PLA's armed UAVs include LO UAVs that could penetrate Indian airspace undetected and loiter for hours performing ISR operations and obtaining coordinates for cruise and tactical ballistic missile targets. PLA LO UAVs also have an attack capability. 
The IAF doesn't have any armed UAVs.

A full analysis of the PLA's UAV capabilities can be read here. Based on the analysis, we can categorically conclude that the PLA enjoys a very significant advantage when it comes to UAVs

China's Air Defense Capability

The PLA has various types of very short range, short-range, and medium-range tactical air defense systems (ADS) for VA/VP (Vital A/Vital point) defense. The IAF tactical ADS match,  and in some cases exceed PLA systems capabilities. 

However, the PLA scores over the IAF in medium-range ADS and IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems). IADS are complex, multilayered defense systems incorporating a range of ground-based and aerial sensors, as well as multiple surface-to-air missile (SAM) types. Modern IADS like the S-400 feature long-range missiles that restrict freedom of maneuver well outside their land borders. IAF medium-range ADS like MRSAM are likely superior to the PLA's HQ-16(Buk) medium-range ADS, however, the PLA has many more HQ-16 systems deployed.

PLA IADS comprises S-300 and S-400 systems. Additionally, the PLA has HQ-16 (Buk) air medium-range and HQ-9 long-range ADS currently in service. 

The Chinese armed forces were the first export customer of the Russian-made S-300PMU2 IADS capable of destroying aircraft, cruise missiles, and theater ballistic missiles in intense clutter and jamming environments. They were also the first export customer of the S-400 system!

The S-300PMU2 can engage aerial targets with a range from 3km to 200km, at altitudes between 10m to 27,000m. The S-300PMU2 also has the ability to detect and destroy anti-ballistic missiles with a range between 5km to 40km and altitudes between 2,000m to 25,000m. The system can engage up to six targets simultaneously, while guiding up to twelve missiles - two missiles per target ensuring target kill. Additionally, highly automated detection and acquisition procedures provide outstanding performance over previous SAM systems.

The S-400 system can engage aerodynamic targets at ranges varying from 3km to 380 km and ballistic targets at ranges varying from 6km to 50 km. It can simultaneously track up to 300 targets, and simultaneously engage 80 targets guiding 160 missiles (two per target) at the same time.

The S-400 comprises four types of interceptor missiles, covering different segments of the airspace protected by the unit. 

The HQ-9 is a two-stage, solid-propellant rocket motor powered missile with a max 300 km range capable of engaging aerodynamic and ballistic targets at up to 41km altitude. The missile features INS guidance and active radar homing. The HQ-9 missile system is roughly analogous to the Patriot/S-300

S-400 System Deployment

In September 2020, press reports suggested that the PLA had moved a regiment of S-400 opposite the Chumar sector and is in the process of moving another regiment opposite the Depsang sector.

PLAAF IADS limitations

Luckily for the IAF, terrain shielding will prevent PLA IADS from threatening IAF aircraft flying within Indian airspace. Also, IAF strikes into Tibet could reduce the lethality of PLA IADS by flying low. Considering the 4,500 m average elevation of the Tibet plateau, flying low over it wouldn't pose a significant range or payload penalty on IAF fighters.
Low flying is a stealth technique that the IAF is very comfortable with. IAF strike fighters like the Jaguar, Mirage 2000, and Rafale are honed for low-level flying. 

Chinese Fighter Bases

The following is an over view of Chinese fighter bases that would launch fighter operations against the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force. 

Chinese Fighter Bases Near Ladakh

The following are the PLAAF fighter bases relevant to the Ladakh sector.

via Twitter

Hotan Airbase

Elev: 4,672 ft
Len: 10,499 ft

This airbase has a standard length runway which would constraint fighter operations by limiting their payload.

The airbase reportedly hosts around 35-40 J-11, J-8, and other fighters, along with a few AEW&C

In September 2020, a report based on satellite imagery revealed that China is constructing a new R/W in Hotan. The existing runway may be constrained by terrain from further lengthening. Building a new longer length runway would allow their fighters to take off with a full load. It's also possible that the new runway would be utilized for fighter-sized drone operations, including GJ-11 Sharp Sword and J-8 drones.

Kashgar Airbase

Elev: 4, 529 ft
Len: 10,499

The airbase reportedly hosts J-11, JH-7, UAVs and H-6K?

Ngari Gunsa Airbase

Elev: 14,022 ft
Len: 14,764 ft

Ngari Gunsa is a dual-use military and civil airport which serves the town of Shiquanhe in the Ngari prefecture.

PLAAF Air Bases Near Arunachal Pradesh

Shigatse Airbase

Elev: 12,408 ft
Len: 16,404 ft

The Shigatse airport has recently been converted into an airbase. Construction of an additional airstrip is in progress on the western side of the main airstrip, likely to be used for UAV operations.

There are nine new aprons and eight new helipads recently constructed on the airbase, one of the satellite images suggests. The support buildings are used for the accommodations of the staff.

Qamdo Bamda Airport

Elevation: 14,436 ft
Length: 14,764 ft

The Bamda airport was upgraded with a longer runway in 2019. After the Doklam stand-off, another airstrip has been added to its eastern side. The additional airstrip would give this airport capability to take off and land aircraft in tandem.

Nyingchi Mainling

Elevation: 9,675 ft
Length: 9,843

Lhasa Gonggar Airport

Elevation: 11,713 ft
Length: 13,123

After the Doklam stand-off, at least two KJ-500 AEW aircraft have been observed permanently deployed here. Satellite images of October 2017 showed 20 J-11s, eight J-10s, eight Mi-171V, and two KJ-500 AEW aircraft at the airport, making it more of a military airbase.

IAF Air Base Location Advantage

The following annotated Google Earth map illustrates the advantage that the IAF enjoys in terms of the number and location of airbases. 

China's AWACS Advantage

Data linked with and under control of an AWACS the J-20 would pose a formidable challenge to all IAF fighters including Rafale. With the AWACS providing situational awareness and target tracking information, there would be no need for the J-20 to switch on its powerful AESA radar and risk revealing its position. It's conceivable that the J-20 can relay tracking information obtained from the AWACS to a PL-15 missile that the J-20 has launched till the PL-15 picks up the target on its little AESA active homing terminal tracker. 


The following is a brief roundup of PLAAF AWACS platforms.


KJ-2000 via Twitter

The KJ-2000 is  based on IL-76. The 14-m diameter non rotating rotodome houses 3 phased array radar antennas.


KJ-200 via Twitter

The KJ-200 is based on  Shaanxi Y-8 (An-12 ripoff)


KJ-500 via Twitter

The Shaanxi KJ-500 is based based on the Y-9 airframe

The KJ-500 has a fixed dorsal rotodome containing three radar arrays each containing active electronically scanned array or AESA radars arranged in a triangular configuration to give full 360° coverage. The new radar design supplants the “balance beam” design used on the earlier Shaanxi KJ-200 AEW&C.

In September 2020 an upgraded variant of the KJ-500, equipped with a refueling probe was spotted in images published on the internet. 

PLAAF has deployed KJ-500s to Lhasa-Gonggar Airport in Tibet.


A new variant with a claimed fixed next generation radar was spotted in 2013

Cyber Attacks

In a limited conflict or all-out war, China is likely to use its cyber and electronic attack capabilities to the hilt. Retired Chinese general Wang Hongguang, a former deputy commander of China’s Nanjing Military Region, reportedly claimed that China could seize air supremacy over Ladakh and simultaneously capture electronic control systems, destroying India’s command network, air defense network (radar network), and air command network. The PLAAF could target India’s key infrastructures, artillery positions, armored clusters, logistics storage warehouses, oil depots, etc. It would then occupy key strategic heights, dividing and trapping the Indian deployments by cutting off the Depsang Plain and the Siachen Glacier, and finally, occupying National Highway 1 from Srinagar to Leh and thereby cutting off the connection between Ladakh and the outside world.

That's a lot of wishful thinking, but it does give an insight into the PLA's intent to use cyber warfare.

The IAF trains to operate in a dense electronic warfare environment and is aware of Chinese cyberattack capabilities. 


The capability gap between the IAF and the PLAAF is significant and must not be overlooked. 

In addition to what has been discussed in this article, PLA tactical missiles and weapon systems such as the Type PCL191 MRLS (Guardian-2) with precision strike capability could pose a significant threat to IAF bases and radar units. The mobile PCL 191 modular rocket system can carry eight 370 mm (14½ inch) rockets — each with a range of 350 km (220 miles) — or two 750 mm Fire Dragon 480 tactical ballistic missiles — each capable of flying up to 500 km.

The combination of the S-400 AD system, AWACS, J-20 fighters, and Su-35 / J-16 fighters represents offensive and defensive capabilities that the IAF cannot match.  
The IAF does enjoy an edge over the PLAAF in terms of the number of air bases that it can operate from, and their lower elevation. 

In a limited conflict, both the IAF and the PLAAF would likely rely on their outstanding pilots and platforms to conduct operations. In which case, the two air forces are likely to be evenly matched. However, if the conflict escalates and lengthens, drawing average squadron pilots into the conflict, the IAF would likely enjoy an advantage on account of better training and motivation. 

Overall, in a short or limited scope conflict, the IAF would be in a position to stand up to the PLAAF. But with passage of time or increase in the scope of the conflict, the PLAAF's numbers, technological superiority, better supply chain on account of local manufacture, and greater national power will start to prevail. In any prolonged conflict, the PLAAF is likely to dominate the airspace over the border area and steadily erode the IAF's warfighting capability.

To remedy the imbalance in the short term, the IAF's best bet would be to procure cruise missiles in large numbers from Russia for its Su-30MKI and MiG-29K fleet, procure ground based EW equipment to neutralize the PLA's advantage in UAV's and PGMS, and step up production of Brahmos-A / upgrade of Su-30MKI for Brahmos-A carriage. Additionally, the IAF needs to augment its Air Defense capability by procuring MRSAM (Barak-8) missile systems directly from Israel.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Su-30SM2 Upgrade - Likely Base for HAL's Su-30MKI Upgrade


Su-30SM at MAKS 2019


The Sukhoi Experimental Design Bureau in partnership with Irkut Corporation is developing a new modernized version of the Sukhoi Su-30SM Flanker-H that features upgraded engine, improved Radar and avionics and modern weapons. Designated as the Su-30SM2 (Earlier referred to as Su-30SMD), the aircraft leverages the operational lessons that Russia has learned during its operations over Syria. It is powered by the AL-41F-C1 engine. 

The Su-30SM2 is an attempt to converge to the maximum extent possible the Su-30 family with the Su-35 series to minimize logistics and maintenance overheads. 

Besides a new more powerful (AL-41F-S1) engine, the new Su-30SM2 variant will feature improved radar (IRBIS N035), avionics and OLS. In addition, it will be able to carry new air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons developed for the Su-57 fighter.  

Development History

Since 2015, development work has been underway to increase combat capabilities and import substitution of foreign components on the base Su-30SM, under a project designated "Adaptation-Su". 

Initially, the scope of the upgrade was restricted to making the aircraft compatible with newly developed weapons by fitting an improved avionics suite. The limited scope upgrade was designated Su-30SM1. In 2018, the Russian President Vladimir Putin sought maximum possible convergence of the Su-30SM and Su-35S platforms. Consequently, it was decided to power the upgrade with AL-41F-1S engines and replace the Bars radar with the much more powerful Irbis radar. The upgrade was named Su-30SM2.


AL-41F-1S at MAKS 2019

The AL-41F-1S ( product 117S ) engine was developed by the Lyulka Design Bureau (part of the United Engine Corporation, UEC ). It is a twin-shaft variable bypass turbofan engine of modular design with thrust vector control and a digital integrated regulator. The engine powers the Su-35S platform.

Improved engine performance (lower SFC, higher thrust) is achieved through the use of a new low-pressure compressor with increased air flow and efficiency, as well as a new turbine with a more efficient blade cooling system.

Compared with the Su-30SM's AL-31FP engine, the product 117S engine features 16% increase in max thrust (14,500 kgf) and twice the service life (4000 hrs) while retaining the same weight and dimensions.

The more powerful Product 117S facilitates increased electrical power generation allowing more powerful radar and EW systems to be fitted on the fighter. The higher powered Irbis radar of the Su-30SM2 increases detection range of air and ground targets.

Work on the integration the Product 117S with the Su-30SM2 was jointly carried out by the Sukhoi company, the Irkut aircraft building corporation and the UEC-UMPO engine building association.

According to the developer, the new engine will not only increase the vehicle's capabilities in battle. The unification will simplify and reduce the cost of servicing the entire large fleet of aircraft and extend the service life of the Su-30SM already purchased by Russia and its allies.

IRBIS-E / N035 Radar

The Su-30SMD will feature the same IRBIS - N035 radar that is currently fitted on the Su-35. 

Designed by the Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute (NIIP) in Zhukovsky, the Irbis-E is a direct evolution of the BARS design, but significantly more powerful. While the hybrid phased array antenna is retained, the noise figure is slightly worse at 3.5 dB, but the receiver has four rather than three discrete channels. The biggest change is in the EGSP-27 transmitter, where the single 7-kilowatt peak power rated Chelnok TWT is replaced with a pair of 10-kilowatt peak power rated Chelnok tubes, ganged to provide a total peak power rating of 20 kilowatts. The radar is cited at an average power rating of 5 kilowatts, with 2 kilowatts CW rating for illumination. NIIP claim twice the bandwidth and improved frequency agility over the BARS, and better ECCM capability. The Irbis-E has new Solo-35.01 digital signal processor hardware and Solo-35.02 data processor, but retains receiver hardware, the master oscillator and exciter of the BARS. 

IRBIS-E Operational Capabilities

New Weapons

The Su-30SMD would be able use the entire spectrum of modern and under development high-precision air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons including KAB-250 glide bombs as well as X-59MK2 air-to-surface missiles.


During a visit to the Irkutsk Aviation Plant in August 2020, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that by the end of the year RuMoD plans to sign a contract for the construction of 21 Su-30SM2 fighters and 25 Yak-130 trainer aircraft. The total cost of the order will be more than RUB 100 billion.


On September 8, 2020, Izvestia reported that the Su-30SM fitted with a Product 117S engine would fly by the end of the year. 

Approval has been received for the first flight of the Su-30SM2 prototype with the AL-41F-1C engine "product 117S", sources in the Ministry of Defense and the military-industrial complex told Izvestia. According to the approved work schedule, which was reviewed by the publication, at the present time aircraft manufacturers have signed a contract to check the readiness of the newest aircraft for the first flight. The Super-Sukhoi is expected to take off before the end of the year.


It was earlier reported that Test flights of the Su-30SMD with the new engine should take place in 2020. The Russian military's official website announced in August 2019 that the first batch of Su-30MSD fighters equipped with the AL-41F-1C engines would be inducted in 2021. Eventually, the entire VKS Su-30SM fleet would be upgraded to Su-30SMD standard.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

IAF vs PLAAF: Assessing the J-20 Threat


Dual seat variant of the J-20 via Twitter


The J-20 is a large and heavy all aspect stealth fighter, sometimes referred to as a light bomber. Based on the geometry of its shape, it likely has a very low front aspect RCS and reasonably low side aspect RCS. However, rear aspect RCS reduction is minimal. 

The J-20 was developed to penetrate undetected airspace in the vicinity of a US Navy Carrier Battle Group to a depth required to track the warships for guiding ballistic missiles such as the DF-26 or to directly attack the ships using anti-shipping cruise missiles in its internal bomb bay.

Suppression of Enemy Air Defense Systems

The size of the J-20 and the lack of rear aspect stealth compromise its overall RCS to a value that is likely significantly more than 0.0015 dBsm RCS of the F-35. However, there can be little doubt that the J-20 would be able to penetrate Indian airspace completely undetected for suppressing our air defense systems including command and control centres, radars and missile sites.

A statement by the former IAF CAS Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa (Retd.) that IAF Su-30MKI have been able to detect the J-20 must be taken in the right context. The J-20's lower side aspect stealth would allow such detection at ranges or around 40-50 kms using the Su-30MKI's powerful BARS radar, but the radar would not be able to obtain a weapon grade track. Also, it is likely that PLAAF J-20 fighters flying in close proximity to the LAC would use RF reflectors or lenses to spoof RCS assessment.

Operating undetected in Indian airspace, the J-20 would be able to strike radar and missile sites with its internally carried precision guided LACMs to degrade IAF air defenses. The stealth fighter would also be able to act as a forward penetrating sensor of massive cruise missile attacks launched by PLAAF H-6 bombers. (The PLAAF's cruise missile threat would be covered in a subsequent post.)

Air Dominance

The stealth advantage of the J-20 would give it a first see, first shoot advantage in BVR combat over all IAF fighters except the Rafale and the Su-30MKI. The Rafale would stand a fighting chance against the J-20 with its low RCS, Spectra self protection suite with RF cloaking and Meteor 150-km BVR missile, My earlier Thumkar post J-20 vs Rafale delves into the relative strengths of the two fighters in greater detail.

The Su-30MKI would stand a survival chance against the J-20 with its powerful BARS that could alert it's pilot  to the presence of a J-20, if not provide a weapon grade track. Also, the Su-30MKI with its super maneuverability could outmaneuver a J-20 launched JL-15 air-to-air missile during its end game maneuvering.

Exploiting the J-20's Sensor Fusion Weakness

Recent reports of a dual seat J-20 variant sighting, in the context of China's earlier claim that a dual seat variant is under development, confirms that the J-20's sensor fusion is subpar - otherwise there's no operational reason to put a second seat on a stealth fighter! (Ironically, the dual-seat variant of the J-20 corroborates the assessment that the J-20 stealth shaping is good. Adding a second seat will increase the RCS and the fact that China is doing so suggests that the RCS is low enough to absorb a compromise.) 

Without excellent sensor fusion and cockpit displays interpreting readouts from multiple sensors can easily overwhelm the sharpest of pilots leading to paralysis by analysis of incorrect decisions. The IAF could exploit this weakness of the J-20 to its advantage. For example, by putting multiple threats in the J-20 's vicinity to bait it into WVR combat. 


The PLAAF has a limited number of operationally deployed J-20 stealth fighters. They are based in Wuhu,  Anhui Province, near the eastern coast. The J-20 is a highly specialized aircraft which likely depends on a lot of support facilities at its home base. It's RAM coating for example would need to be frequently tended. 

It's unlikely that the J-20 can be deployed for extended periods at bases in Tibet.

Also, operating from high altitude air bases on the Tibetan plateau, J-20 fighters would not be able to carry their full weapon / fuel payload. As a result, their combat range or potential would be constrained. Also,The physical displacement of PLAAF air bases from the LAC would result in longer time to target, and restricted fuel load would mean shorter time on target.

It's unlikely that the J-20 could operate from Hotan (4,672 ft) or Kashghar (4, 529 ft) for operationally significant time. (Ngari (14,022 ft) is likely unsuitable for J-20 operations. Of course, the J-20 could operate from Wuhu and tank up in the air en-route to Ladakh. But then its role would hardly be operationally significant. 

IAF Options

For the IAF, one way of mitigating the J-20 threat would be to acquire a reliable detection capability. We have the time and we have the sources to acquire radars that can obtain non weapon grade tracks on the J-20. 

Deployment of such radars would allow the IAF to detect the presence of J-20s in proximity to the LAC and send a package to exploit the sensor fusion weakness of the aircraft. If not that, detection would allow IAF fighters operating in the vicinity to evade the J-20s

Also, the IAF would be able to use gaps between J-20 patrols for its interdiction and close support missions along the LAC.


In the context of an IAF vs PLAAF faceoff in Ladakh, the J-20s could play a limited but operationally significant role.

Because of their limited number and operational deployment challenges, it's unlikely that the PLAAF would use the aircraft extensively. However, sensational deep penetration of Indian airspace followed by painful strikes would be good publicity for Chinese technology. It's likely that the PLAAF would carry out such strikes with their best trained pilots using the best of their weapons.

The J-20 threat is real and cannot be wished away by loud shouting on television debates. The IAF must move quickly to augment its stealth fighter detection capability to mitigate the threat.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

IAF vs PLAAF - The PLA's UAV Threat


Wing Loong 1 at MAKS 2019


This is the second article of series that I am writing analyzing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the IAF and the PLAAF in the context of the face-off between the IA and the PLA along the LAC in Ladakh. The first article of the series was Rafale vs J-20.

The threat posed by PLA reconnaissance and armed UAVs to Indian Army (IA) operations along the LAC is mostly ignored by our main stream media and, going by the total absence of attack drones in the IA and Indian Air Force (IAF) inventory, by our military, civilian and political leadership. 

The inexplicable and shocking absence of armed drones in the Indian inventory is likely attributable to the very flawed IAF doctrine that relies exclusively on multi-role aircraft and PGMs to provide close air support (CAS), and a mindset that believes armed drones are useful only for anti-terrorists operations. 

In the following paragraphs I will provide an overview of the PLA's UAV capability. Having understood the PLA drones capability, we will dwell on how the PLA would likely leverage the capability to maul the IA in the valleys along the LAC and on the flat high ground of Depsang, BMP-2 ICVs and T-90 MBTs et al! Finally, we will discuss some options available to the IA to mitigate the PLA drone threat, through emergency procurement or relatively inexpensive material. Do note, I say 'mitigate the drone threat' not 'eliminate the drone threat!'


The PLA has numerous types of   

  • Slow speed piston/turboprop powered reconnaissance and attack UAV's ranging from portable, small and MALE. 
  • High speed, turbojet/turbofan powered reconnaissance and attack MALE and HALE UAVs with varying degrees of stealth, ranging from front aspect stealth to flying wing all aspect stealth. 
  • Specialized UAVs equipped including 
    • A high altitude UAV featuring a AESA radar that can detect and track LO fighters 
    • An air launched low hypersonic speed drone to obtain targeting information for missiles

Most PLA MALE and HALE drones can operate beyond line of sight (LOS) and in the past, the PLAAF has demonstrated the ability of its armed MALE UAVs to carry out precision strikes at long ranges using satellite data links.

The number of Chinese institutions working on design and development of UAVs is impressive, their repertoire of UAVs even more impressive, and most impressive of all is the spectrum of precision strike weapons and supporting E/O targeting systems that China has developed for its armed UAVs. As we will see later in the text, the small size and weight of the air-to-ground missiles and bombs carried on the UAVs vouches for their precision strike capability. Most importantly perhaps, China has developed the PGMs keeping costs in mind. Chinese PGMs are much more affordable than their western counterparts they will be used extensively

In the past, the PLAAF has demonstrated the ability of its armed MALE UAVs to carry out precision strikes at long ranges using satellite data links.

Many of the UAVs developed by China represent work in progress. Some, like the air launched low hypersonic speed WZ-8 drone and the AESA equipped Divine Eagle HALE drone developed for tracking stealth fighters, are not relevant to the PLAAF vs IAF scenario. In the following paragraphs we will look at PLA UAVs that are most likely to confront Indian forces and the weapons that they are known to carry.

A comprehensive write up on PLA UAVs can be perused at this link on my paid access website IDP Sentinel  



The BZK-005 is a MALE reconnaissance drone which is believed to be in service with units of the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) as well as with a special group subordinate to the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission. The drone is similar in appearance and capability to the Israeli Searcher drone in service with the IAF. 

The BZK-005 features a satellite based data link allowing it to operate well beyond LoS. 

The UAV reportedly has a speed of 150-180 kph, a service ceiling of 8,000 m and an endurance of 40-hr. It can carry a 50-kg payload.

A variant of the BZK-005 features a system mounted under the UAV's nose that could be electronic support measures (ESM), a radar, or a communication relay.

CH - 4 / Wing Loong - 1

(Photograph on top)

The CH-4 is a MALE drone that appears uncannily similar to the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, with one visual difference being that the ventral fin below the V-tail on MQ-9 is absent on CH-4.

There are two variants. The CH-4A, a reconnaissance drone with 3500–5000 km range and 30- to 40-hour endurance, and the CH-4B, which bundles attack and reconnaissance capabilities with provisions for 6 weapons and a payload of up to 250 to 345 kg.


  • Length: 9.05 m (29 ft 8 in)
  • Wingspan: 14 m (45 ft 11 in)
  • Height: 2.77 m (9 ft 1 in)
  • Gross weight: 1,100 kg (2,425 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Rotax 914 turboprop, 75 kW (100 shp)
  • Propellers: 3-bladed


  • Maximum speed: 280 km/h (170 mph, 150 kn)
  • Range: 4,000 km (2,500 mi, 2,200 nmi)
  • Endurance: 20 hours
  • Service ceiling: 5,000 m (16,000 ft)

The PLAAF designation for the armed variant CH-4B is GJ-1 (Gongji 1 or Attack 1). It features a chin mounted reconnaissance/targeting pod as well as hardpoints to carry weapons such as.

  • BA-7 air-to-ground missile
  • YZ-212 laser-guided bomb
  • YZ-102A anti-personnel bomb
  • LS-6 50-kG miniature guided bomb.

In May 2016, China demonstrated the CH-4s ability to strike targets with high precision using SATCOM data link and E/O target acquisition and targeting system. 

The CH-4B UCAV has been exported to Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Iraq

CH - 5 / Wing Loong - 2

The CH-5 is similar in design but larger than the Chengdu CH-4. The PLAAF designation for the armed variant of the CH-5 is GJ-2.

China claims Wing Loong - 2 is better than the American MQ-9 Reaper "because it surpasses the latter's flight duration and operational efficiency". 

UAV has a wingspan: 21 m, max take-off weight: 3.3 ton, max suspension weight: 1 ton, Endurance: 40 hours, Max range: 6,500-km.

The CH-5 can carry between 16 and 24 air-to-surface missiles. An upgrade would extend its range to 10,000 km.

Standard payloads include an electro-optical turret that has infrared, laser rangefinder and designator capabilities as well as a separate synthetic aperture radar. Electronic intelligence, communications intelligence and electronic warfare payloads are also available

The CH-5 has been exported to Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, UAE, Uzbekistan


via Twitter

The FL-1 bears a strong physical resemblance to the 3,300 kg-class CH-5.

Both UAVs feature ventral EO/IR turret. The FL-1 appears visually distinct from the CH-5 because of its pronounced wing root fairings.

The UAV is powered by a rear-mounted heavy fuel engine of an undisclosed type with a dorsal intake. This engine drives a three-bladed pusher propeller, which enables the vehicle to cruise at speeds of up to 240 km/h at altitudes of 16,404–19,685 ft and attain an operating ceiling of 26,246 ft.

It's likely that the operational capability and endurance of the FL-1 exceed those of the CH-5.

GJ-11 Sharp Sword Stealth UCAV

The GJ-11 long-range stealth attack drone is designed to penetrate deep into contested airspace without being detected to strike strategic targets or ferret out targets and relay targeting information for air or ground launched missiles. The drone is likely armed with internally carried missiles and laser-guided bombs.

TB001 Armed Reconnaissance UAV

via Twitter

The operational status of the TB001 is not known.

The MALE class drone performed its maiden flight in March 20, 2020. 

Known locally as the "Twin-tailed Scorpion," the TB001 reportedly has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 2,800 kg, an overall wingspan of 20 m, a length of 10 m, and a height of 3.3 m. 

TYW-1 Armed Reconnaissance UAV

Source: Via

The operational status of the UAV is not known. It is similar but slightly heavier than the BZK-005

The 9.85 m-long and 2.5 m-high TYW-1 reportedly has a maximum take-off weight of 1,500 kg compared with the 1,250 kg of the BZK-005.

According to Chinese media reports, the TYW-1 can carry a 370 kg payload, features four underwing pylons, has a ceiling of 7.5 km, an endurance of 40 hours, and can reach a top speed of 200 km/h.

The UAV is equipped with an electro-optical system that can reportedly read a license plate 50 km away from an altitude of 5,000 m. It also features both line-of-sight and satellite navigation and control systems.

Wing Loong - 10 / Wind Shadow / Cloud Shadow UAV

The Wing Loong 10 (Wind Shadow) is a single turbofan powered RF LO MALE/HALE UAV. An armed, export oriented variant of the Wind Shadow, referred to as Cloud Shadow, is powered by the WP-11C turbojet engine, instead of a turbofan.

Cloud Shadow is the first high-altitude, high-speed fixed-wing UAV available for export by China . 

Wind Shadow is designed for long-range reconnaissance and strike missions. It's export variant was unveiled at  the 11th Zhuhai Air Show on October 31, 2016.

The UAV has a line-of-sight link radius of 290-km, cruising altitude of 14,000m and a maximum speed of 620-kph.

A variety of air-to-ground missiles and glide bombs were exhibited at the static display, including armaments such as the Blue Arrow-7 and -21, YJ-9E and AG-300M. 

The aircraft has a maximum payload of 400kg, a normal take-off weight of 3,000kg and endurance of six hours.


via Twitter

The CH-92A is a medium range tactical reconnaissance/attack drone with a command link effective up to 155 miles and an endurance exceeding eight hours. It can fly up to 16,400 feet (higher than certain short-range air defense systems can reach), and up to a maximum speed of 124 miles per hour.

A CH-92 battery can be deployed in the field in around an hour, and the drone’s tricycle landing gears allows it to take off from an unprepared field or highway. It can also be recovered by parachute if necessary.

The drone’s reported maximum payload of 165 pounds can encompass up to two FT-8 missiles as well as sensors carried in a turret under the nose including day/night thermal cameras (viewing range of 8-12 miles depending on time of day), laser rangefinder and targeting pod with a range of around 8 miles, and a Moving Target Indicator for tracking vehicle targets.

The CH-92 is reported to be capable of attacking moving targets using FT-8C and FT-18D air to surface laser guided missiles

The operational status of the UAV in the PLA is not known. The UAV was exported to Serbia.

Divine Eagle LO Radar Drone

Photographs of China's Divine Eagle drone first emerged in May 2015. The UAV reportedly first flew in February 2015.

The twin fuselage, 15-t Divine Eagle is believed to be the largest UAV ever built; it's estimated to be 15-m long, 6-m tall and between 35-m to 45-m from one wingtip to the other.  The drone features a five wheel landing gear layout. 

The Divine Eagle is powered by a single, 1-m diameter intake engine positioned between its tailfins. The engine is conjectured to a medium non-afterburning turbofan with 3 to 5 tons of thrust, sufficient to power a 12-18 tons max AUW drone. The US RQ-4 Global Hawk, uses a F-137-RR-100 turbofan engine with 3.4 tons of thrust. 

The twin fuselage configuration of the UAV facilitates installation of a large surface area L or S band radar, with minimum internal volume and weight.

The Divine Eagle is planned to carry multiple Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars with SAR and GMTI capability. Airborne Moving Target Indicator (AMTI) radar types are used to track airborne targets, like enemy fighters and cruise missiles. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) provides high resolution imagery of slow moving ground vehicles and enemy bases. Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) radars are ideal for identifying and tracking ships, such as aircraft carriers. 

Chinese media suggests that the UAV would be used for a variety of missions such as early warning, targeting, EW, and satellite communications.

I didn't include the Divine Eagle in the post to begin with because its operational status was unknown. This October 12, 2020 India Today article suggests that the PLAAF has operationally deployed the Divine Eagle along the Indo-Tibet border. The article shows a Divine Eagle parked at the PLAAF airbase at Uxxaktal. 

UAV Weapons

Multiple Chinese companies have developed families of UCAV weapons including precision-guided land attack missiles, bombs, and air launched ATGMs.

The Wing Loong series are equipped with the LE380 sensor turret that can include a laser designator, enabling the aircraft to fire laser-guided munitions.

The Wing Loong - 2 can carry ASCMs such as the  YJ-9E. 

In the following text, we will focus on land attack weapon systems only. These can be classified as follows.

  • LS series PGMs which are modular bomb upgrade kits for gravity bombs. The kit comprises a SALH guidance module and a gliding module.
  • FT series PGMS which are modular bomb kits for gravity bombs comprising a INS/GPS guidance module and gliding module.
  • YZ series anti personnel cluster bombs
  • AKD, AR series ATGMs

The following is an incomplete list of weapons that can be carried by PLA armed drones.


The AKD-10 is an air launched version of the AFT-10 ground launched surface-to-surface anti-tank missile. The 50 kg (110 lb) missile uses MMW plus IIR seeker.


The AR-1 is a 45 kg-class short range SAL anti-armour missile. A CH-5 can carry up to 8 AR-1 missiles mounted on its centreboard and outboard pylons


The AR-2 is a short-range semi-active laser (SAL) air-to-surface missile for use in anti-terrorism operations and low-intensity conflicts.

The AR-2 missile is reportedly a lighter and less capable variant of the AR-1, but it's more cost effective and can, therefore, be expended more readily, saving the heavier missile for higher value targets.

The missile is compatible with the CH-4 and CH-5 drones.

The AR-2 can also be carried by other unmanned combat aircraft and Chinese attack helicopters after minor technical modifications..

Weighing about 20 kg and carrying a 5 kg warhead, the AR-2 has a maximum range of 8 km and a top speed of 735 km/h, the missile's designers told China Daily.

The AR-2 is reportedly effective against personnel, armored cars, houses, and bunkers.


Laser-guided anti-personnel cluster bomb


A anti-personnel cluster bomb


CM-502 missile (right extreme) at MAKS-2019

The CM-50X missile family is being developed and produced by China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC) of China.

The precision strike missile has a 10km-40km range and is compatible with multiple launch platforms. The missile features a modular architecture facilitating use of different guidance systems and warheads. Typically, the missile features a TV/IR seeker and HE fuze-warhead. 


The LS-6 is a 50-kg Laser guided precision bombs


Tianlei-2 (TL-2) is an air-to-surface missile.

Blue Arrow-7 (BA-7, LJ-7)

Is a 47 kg (104 lb)  air-to-surface missile with a tandem HEAT warhead that can penetrate 1,400 mm (55 in). It has semi-active laser guidance, and an effective range of 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) to 8 km (5.0 mi). 


The FT-8C is a 44-lb laser-guided missile with a range of up to 5.5 miles. 


50-kg INS/GPS guided bomb


25-kg INS/GPS guided bomb


17.6-lb bomb with a range of 3 miles.


PLA reconnaissance drones have already made their presence felt along the LAC. They were reportedly used in the bloody Point 14 Galwan clash on June 15, 2020. Equipped with thermal imagers and operating from heights well beyond small arm fire range, PLA reconnaissance drones can track individual IA soldiers in day and night. 

Drones have unique advantages when operating in high mountain valleys. Because of their slow speeds (around 150 to 200 kph) they can comfortably fly in the valleys along the LAC. Engaging them with MANPADs featuring heat seeking missiles is a challenge because of their low thermal signature. Engaging then with QR or SR SAM systems with active seeker missiles is also a challenge because of the clutter from the surrounding high ground. 

PLA's MALE drones feature satellite data links. They would be operated from numerous airports (operational & under construction), heliports and dedicated UAV bases close to the LAC as shown in the annotated satellite imagery below posted on Twitter by @detrefsa_

All armed PLA drones would be equipped with PGMs - Anti personnel cluster bombs, semi-active laser homing glide bombs, INS/GPS guided glide bombs, air-to-surface missiles including ATGMs.

Almost the entire range of drone weapons have stand off capability with good range. 

PLA drone operations would likely be relentless - 24x7 in all weather. They would not be constrained by costs - of drone, drone operations or PGMs. 

The PLA would loose a lot of drones due to technical failures, piloting errors including CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) and IA ground fire. Considering that the drones and PGMs are manufactured by multiple agencies in China, the losses would be easy for the PLA to absorb.

Indian CAS Opertions

The Indian Army has capable MALE reconnaissance drones (Searcher, Heron) and smaller spotting and targeting drones. Our smaller drones are not known to be equipped with thermal imaging. 

IA and IAF armed helicopters (mostly armed with unguided rockets except the AH-64Es) would be tasked with CAS in the valleys. IAF fighters armed with very expensive imported stand off PGMs would have a limited role to play in valleys but a more substantial role on the Depsang plateau. 

Our helicopters would be engaged by adversary ground fire including surface to air missiles. There would be losses. Since armed helicopters are expensive assets, their losses would be difficult to sustain. Besides, they would involve aircrew losses or capture. 

IAF fighters providing CAS from medium altitudes would be engaged by adversary fighters and ground based missile defenses. CAS mission would have to be carried out by multiple variously armed (air-to-air missiles, PGMs, EW pods) fighter aircraft in a package. The missions would involve losses of fighters and losses/capture of aircrew. Considering how valuable these assets are, it would be difficult to sustain operations.

GPS/GSM Jamming

Many PLA reconnaissance drones are known to be capable of jamming GPS and GSM signal over a wide area. Such jamming would affect the accuracy of IAF PGMs using INS/GPS guidance.  

Options for Countering PLA UAV Threat

The Indian Army does have some last minute EW options to mitigate the PLA drone threat. These include
  • Deployment of GPS/GSM jammers on Searcher and Heron drones
  • Deployment of RF signal jammers with field units to disrupt the use of cluster bombs 
  • Deployment of ground based and airborne jammers to disrupt data links
The systems mentioned above are not known to be in the IAF, IA inventory, but are available with countries friendly to India.

The problem with EW is that there is always a counter to the warfare technique being employed.