Sunday, June 10, 2007

Oh Look, I'm Famous...

Wow. 374 visitors today. Either the ABM article or the FC-1 article is generating a lot of attention, because that's way above average for this place.

I wonder which article it could be?

Let's get a few things straight from the get-go. I have nothing against the nation of Pakistan, or its citizens. I do have some issues with the policies of its government, as is my right as an individual allowed to think for myself and have opinions. I have nothing against the people or the nation of China or India either, for that matter.

There are, naturally, people out there that are just not amused, apparently, by my criticism of Pakistan's FC-1 purchase. They take issue with the fact that I am apparently disparaging the aircraft, which I am not, or the Pakistani Air Force, which I am also not.

Here's one of them now, by someone calling himself Fahad H:

First off, nobody has to like what I write. I could really care less, I do it because I enjoy it. The ABM feature? That was really fun. But I do find it funny that anyone not agreeing with PAF fanboys is automatically labeled as some sort of inferior person.

Let's address this guy's points before we move on to the next gem from PakDef.

First off, what does my article have to do with the Indian LCA project anyway? Nothing, that's what. As I explained in the comments, I didn't view the LCA and the FC-1 as likely opponents with the MKI flying around performing air superiority and barrier air defense. If you ask me the LCA is best suited as a point defense aircraft for the most part (a smart poster could potentially twist and construe that as a belief that the FC-1 is superior to the LCA, but no, they went right for the insults). The FC-1 might be suited for that role as well, but it enjoys relatively good range performance and as it will help to replace the Mirages and A-5s in the PAF it will invariably have to be tasked with some strike sorties as well. So, I evaluated the FC-1 against the Su-30MKI, and not the LCA, which is still a little farther behind if you ask me.

Fahad H claims that Indian production of the Su-30MKI by HAL is moving along slowly. That may be right, it's not like they have a lot of experience making modern fighter aircraft. But as of right now it is in service, and the FC-1 is not. Also, what guarantee is there that Pakistan will be able to produce the FC-1 at a faster rate? What was the last fast jet combat aircraft assembled in Pakistan?

The PAF doesn't require that many J-10s because they're getting more F-16s? The last time I checked, Pakistan was getting 18 F-16s, but wanted to buy around 70 more. I won't even touch that issue here for now, but my point wasn't so much to replace the F-16 with the J-10, but the FC-1. The J-10 is a more capable aircraft. The J-10 is not actually all that much more expensive than the FC-1 either. Moving on.

AWACS environment-that'll be present on both sides of the equation before long, but the author seems to think that it will only be of a benefit to the PAF.

And the last line is really, for lack of a better word, stupid. The only reason it is included is because of the Indian reliance on twin-engined fighters like the Su-30MKI and the MiG-29. Let me check...the RAF, the Luftwaffe, the Russian Air Force, China if you consider the sheer numbers of twin engined types in service right now...all of them must be equally as stupid, right Fahad? But why aren't they mentioned?

And I'm the one here that has a problem, supposedly.

Now let's look at another one, posted by someone called Munir:

Wow, now we're really getting scientific. Not only am I immature, but I am also apparently an Indian working in the IT industry. Sorry fellas, but I'm about as American as they come. If you google'd white guy, you'd probably get my picture.

The first paragraph is mostly just a bunch of slander, but there is one interesting point. Munir claims that I believe that anything Chinese is inferior to anything Indian. That is not the case, and I never pretended to take that viewpoint. In fact, there are a number of areas where China has a pretty substantial lead over India. There's jet engines (WS-10 vs. Kaveri), fighter aircraft (J-10 vs. LCA), SAM systems (HQ-9 vs. Akash), ICBMs (CSS-4 vs. nothing), nuclear submarines (Han and Jin classes vs. the still incomplete ATV), and I could continue. Insofar as Pakistan and India are concerned, Pakistan certainly has nothing to be ashamed of with their clear lead over India in the cruise missile field (Babur vs. nothing, BrahMOS is not yet a true land attack weapon, even the official site states it is primarily an anti-ship weapon) and the development of guided air-to-ground weapons (H-4 vs. nothing). So, that part of Munir's argument falls right apart quite nicely.

He then claims that India is doing something wrong by importing weapons and not developing them. OK Munir, are you going to campaign for an end to Pakistani F-16 purchases then, since the FC-1 can on some level be considered a local Pakistani product? The rest of his point is spot on, insofar as that any major conflict would make all of this pointless as it would be nuclear.

Wait a minute...didn't I say the same thing at the end of my article? He must have missed it.

Here's the last one, from someone calling himeslf Sabre, available here:

His first paragraph isn't relevant here, but he gets things going in the second one. See, it's his fourth sentence that eliminates him from the ranks of credible dissenters. If he knew me at all, he'd know that I've served in the US Air Force. So I guess I must be one of the experts, right? Of course not, because I don't share his viewpoint, apparently.

In his third paragraph he claims that I have culled all of my data from Indian websites (again with the disparaging, racist use of the term Indian as an ethnic slur, but I bet you he has no bias himself whatsoever, right?), and have purposely looked for sources to make the FC-1 look bad. Sorry guy, couldn't be further from the truth. Most of the analysis is my own, based in no small part on my operational experience. A lot of the information on the FC-1 was pulled from Chinese language websites, as well as another blog site that was praised by the people at PakDef in the same thread where they trashed me. I tried to actually use PakDef's own website for information, but their FC-1 page is so outdated that the latest update on it is that the 2nd prototype just took off. But the bottom line is that this is primarily an opinion piece. Sure, it's based on fact, but the conclusions are mine alone and represent my personal opinion. Which is that Pakistan could do better than the FC-1. What in the world is wrong with that?

Then, he goes on to claim that I said that the FC-1 is inferior because of it's relationship to the J-7. Where did I do that? I did provide a brief history of the program in the first part of the article, and yes, the FC-1 will probably replace Pakistan's F-7s (export J-7s for the uninformed), but nowhere did I state that the FC-1 was inferior because it descends in some fashion from the J-7. English comprehension sorta helps if you want to read something I write and comment about it.

Lastly he goes on to label me as "pathetic and unprofessional". He claims that bias shouldn't enter into something like this, but he is obviously biased himself towards anyone not sharing his viewpoint. I'd love to know how my article is biased. Let's see if one of them can explain that without using the phrase "because you don't like the FC-1" or some manner thereof.

The problem I have with people like this is that they are clearly acting in an overly nationalistic manner without regard to the context or the facts of an argument. Guess what, it happens everywhere, this is not some sort of problem restricted to Pakistani internet posters, not by far. Some of the Indian posters I've come across are just as misguided as these two. I've even seen Chinese, American, and Russian posters just as obnoxious and misinformed.

The other problem I have is that they are purposely acting in an infantile and insulting manner for the sole purpose of attempting to undermine the credibility of what I write, and myself as a person. If you have a constructive argument to make, fine, come here and post a comment and I usually respond to them if I notice (I did go back a few days ago to review some old posts and noticed that someone had posted a comment after that post got bumped from the front page, so I responded late to that one).

At any rate, I guess I should be amused by the fact that there are people out there that are just so irate at what I've written that they take the link to another forum to complain about. What I don't understand is how they completely managed to miss the point. Like I said before, the purpose of the article was not to slag the FC-1 as some worthless aircraft, but to explain why, in MY OPINION, the FC-1 is not the right fit for the PAF.

So, to conclude, let's ask and asnwer a few questions to make this crystal clear for everyone with a working knowledge of the English language.

1. Is the FC-1 a worthless aircraft?
-No. It offers multi-role performance at low cost and is ideally suited for third-world air arms with lower operating and procurement budgets.

2. Will the FC-1 be a failure in PAF service?
-No. The FC-1 is a genuine upgrade in terms of performance and capability over the current PAF inventory, and that includes non-upgraded F-16s.

3. Is there a better aircraft for the PAF than the FC-1?
-Yes. In my opinion the PAF would be better off with the further increased capabilities of the J-10.

4. How does the FC-1 compare to the Indian LCA?
-I have no idea. My interests lie in Russian and Chinese military products. Hence the interest in the FC-1, the J-10, and the Su-30MKI. I could care less about the LCA, but it would seem to me that the LCA is a relatively pointless endeavor given the MRCA buy in the works. It would seem at this point to be a symbol of national pride more than anything else. If you want to know how it works, go find someone interested in the jet.

5. Why do I hate Pakistan?
-I don't have any negative feelings towards the bulk of the Pakistani people or their nation. I take issue with some of the positions and actions of the Musharraf government. There is a difference there, it's like complaining about Bush, even Americans do that. I also take issue with those that are supporting Islamic extremism by harboring Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants in and around Waziristan.

Hopefully that clears up any outstanding issues regarding my opinion on certain issues.

And would you look at that, I didn't even need to call anyone immature or make racist generalizations about their nationality and occupation. What is the world coming to.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The FC-1 -or- A Tale Of An Inferior Fighter Plane (Part 2)

Part one of this article is available here:

The Chegdu FC-1 is positioned to become the backbone of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) for the next twenty-plus years. Pakistan has standing orders for 150 of the aircraft, which may yet increase to a maximum of 250 aircraft.

Unfortunately, the FC-1, known to Pakistan as the JF-17, is an inferior aircraft, and almost overwhelmingly so when compared with its principal rival, the Indian Air Force's (IAF) Su-30MKI.

The MKI has many advantages over the FC-1 (it should be noted that the two aircraft are not competing on the open market for export orders, so financial comparisons between the two are not included here). The MKI offers much greater combat persistance, with a 12 AAM load compared to the FC-1's 6. An MKI can be fitted with up to 8 BVR AAMs, twice the load of the FC-1. The MKI already features IFR capability, giving greater endurance, although IFR has been mooted for future FC-1 production blocks.

One further distinct advantage is in the radar of the MKI. The MKI's N011M Bars radar set is a PESA, and can detect 20 targets while conducting four simultaneous engagements. Maximum detection range is in the 200 kilometer range, with detection of an F-16 size target being possible up to 160 kilometers. The FC-1's Chinese radar set has been claimed to be able to detect a fighter sized target at 75 kilometers, while tracking 10 targets and prosecuting two simultaneous engagements. Given the larger numbers of MKIs being fielded at present, and their greater radar performance specifically with regards to the ability to engage four targets versus two for the FC-1, the MKI has a distinct advantage in direct air-to-air combat.

This, of course, does not take into consideration support assets and the aircraft's EW suites. The FC-1 does appear to have a comprehensive EW suite, as does the MKI. One internet blogger has surmised that the FC-1's EW suite should have an advantage when combating a Russian-armed aircraft like the MKI as China does have extensive knowledge of Russian air-to-air weaponry.

Here's the problem with that argument.

The Bars radar has Jet Engine Modulation (JEM) technology, allowing for a target to be identified at range by simply analyzing the radar returns from the target's engine compressor face. The FC-1's engine face is currently shielded somewhat thanks to the DSI inlets, but if the inlet trunks are not RAM coated then radar returns will still be able to propagate back and forth through them. Simply hiding a compressor face is not enough.

There is also the passive engagement option for the MKI, something else speculated for future FC-1 blocks. The MKI has a very good IRST system, enabling target prosecution using passive sensors and weapons. The MKI can also act as a "mini-AWACS", passing targeting information to other aircraft operating "blind".

The FC-1 also currently suffers from having a highly reflective steerable planar array radar set. This is a major source of radar reflectivity and will compund the RCS of the airframe. In the MKI, the passive phased array set is angled downwards slightly, helping to reduce this effect on the FLANKER's RCS.

Okay, on paper, that might not really be a fair comparison. The MKI is, after all, a heavy fighter, with a larger airframe bestowing a greater number of weapons hardpoints and a larger radar set. But the simple fact is that if the FC-1 were to go into combat, it'd likely have to deal with the MKI, so a comparison is wholly justified.

What about the F-16? Or the other Chinese product, the J-10? The F-16 Block 50/52 being purchased by Pakistan benefits from years of constant tweaking and updating based on countless combat operations, and is a wholly mature weapon system. In terms of paper capability, the FC-1 only really lags far behind the F-16 in terms of stores capacity, and perhaps system reliability thanks to combat experience. The J-10 is a far more advanced aircraft than the FC-1, featuring greater payload capacity, nearly double the operational radius according to some sources (it does have a significantly higher internal fuel load), and a more robust, capable avionics suite.

The real problem with the FC-1 is the fact that it appears to be a cheap, exportable miniaturization of the far more capable J-10. Pakistan has already shown interest in acquiring the J-10. With a possible 250 FC-1s, one would have to wonder why they would feel the need to pursue yet another fighter aircraft, especially when an advanced Block 50/52 F-16 purchase is being made as well. The PAF's infatuation with the F-16 is well known. The J-10 would be a better option than the F-16 from a political standpoint, but mention cancelling an F-16 buy to the PAF and see what happens. There is a far smaller possibility of J-10 support being rescinded should a war break out, after all, given that Pakistan's chief antagonist is no friend of the Chinese government either.

In this analyst's opinion, had Pakistan held out for a large export order of the J-10, things would be a lot different. People will throw out the argument that the PAF needs a high-low mix of J-10s and FC-1s. That doesn't necessarily wash, as one major combat type would prove to be far cheaper to operate over the long run. The FC-1 would be suited in small numbers to serve in a supplementary role as a point defense aircraft given the horrifying lack of a robust SAM network in Pakistan, but the heavy work should be left to the J-10 or a similar aircraft. Unfortunately, with a potentially 250 aircraft purchase of the FC-1, there will not be enough money in the fighter budget for enough J-10s to make a serious difference on the subcontinent, not when the IAF is buying around 250 MKIs.

That is not to say that the FC-1 is without merit. This is a cheap, export-class light fighter capable of BVR air-to-air combat. If it is fitted with a Chinese engine, which is in the works to sidestep the RD-93 issue mentioned in the first half of this article, the FC-1 may enjoy export success around the globe as a MiG-21 and J-7 FISHBED replacement. Production of the FC-1 will also breathe much-needed life into the stagnant aircraft industry in Pakistan. But when compared to the primary threat aircraft in Pakistan's primary antagonist, the FC-1 simply falls short, and as such is an inferior aircraft for Pakistan. It might be a great fit for a nation like Ecuador or even Cuba, but Pakistan needs a capability set that the FC-1, at this point in time, decidedly does not offer.

Much has been made of the FC-1 recently, given that the aircraft is being exported to a nuclear state in a potentially volatile region of the world. Part of the issue is that neither the Indians nor the Pakistanis can wholly separate themselves from a propagandist standpoint when describing their latest purchases. If you believed either side, you'd believe that they would win an air war in very short order. Unfortunately for the armchair generals of the world, and the interweb fanboys, it's just not that simple.

Ultimately, success in the air will be determined by not only system effectiveness and capability, but by pilot skill, and the parameters of the engagement. That being said, it doesn't help to voluntarily go into a fight with one hand already tied behind your back, does it? In reality, a major conflict on the subcontinent will probably end up with a nuclear exchange, and all of this will be rendered moot anyway.