Monday 24 January 2011

The Chinese, By Stealth

Learning from Wikileaks. Or not

A nice example of how even the skeptical, worldly-wise, wiki-leaking press still swallows everything whole. The Grauniad covers the news that China's new stealth fighter may be based on technology obtained by reverse-engineering bits of a US stealth plane shot down over Serbia. Charmingly, it goes on to say:

"The Chengdu J-20 made its inaugural flight on 11 January, revealing dramatic progress in the country's efforts to develop cutting-edge military technologies. It is at least eight or nine years from entering service."

At least 8 or 9 years, eh ? And you knew this by, err, looking at it, right ? You can just sort of tell.

And this would be the Chinese who couldn't feed themselves, so they definitely couldn't develop an H-bomb ? The Chinese who would crush Hong Kong's business activity by their heavy-handed takeover ? The Chinese who would struggle to industrialize because they have no oil ?

Oh dear oh dear.



Bill Quango MP said...

Mind you, this reverse engineering has been done before

The U.S. refused to supply the Soviet Union with B-29 heavy bombers under Lend Lease, despite repeated Soviet requests. However, on three occasions during 1944, individual B-29s made emergency landings in Soviet territory after bombing raids on Japanese Manchuria and Japan. In accordance with the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact, the Soviets were neutral in the Pacific War and the bombers were therefore interned and kept by the Soviets, despite American demands for their return. Stalin tasked Tupolev with cloning the Superfortress and Soviet industry was to produce 20 copies of the aircraft in just two years. The three B-29s were flown to Moscow and delivered into Tupolev OKB. One B-29 was fully dismantled, down to the smallest bolt, the second was used for flight tests and training, and the third one was left as a standard for cross-reference.

So if it were true, USA has kept stealth bomber tech secret for the 20 years its been in operational service, and a further 10 before the Chinese have theirs ready then they've done pretty well.

Budgie said...

Very much "Oh dear oh dear."

Why do we so underestimate fellow human beings? Copying is rife in engineering and is much the best way to catch up with your competitors. This is what the Chinese do, including ignoring patents.

In Dr Hooker's book "Not much of an Engineer", Hooker recounts recognising a jet engine, in the foyer of a Chinese factory, that he and his team had designed. It had been copied by the Russians, then copied by the Chinese. So thorough was their copying ability that Hooker pointed out to them that they had copied his mistakes too.

Sean said...

I fancy its more PR than anything, its strange it making an appearance while the two Presidents of ChiMerica where meeting at the white house No?

It looks at bit bulky to me, so probably a first draft.

This is more an indication of where they are at and where they are headed too.

rwendland said...

Lewis Page over at The Register figures the J-20 is a long way off Raptor-style planes: "large and cumbersome ... If the J-20 has a military purpose (rather than merely being a demonstration/propaganda/industrial-subsidy project as is probably the reality) it would be to act more as a bomber than a fighter".

Some of the technology he thinks it is probably missing is:

* heat dump into the fuel tanks
* radar low-observability on many angles
* stealthy targeting radar
* thrust vectoring

Page's view on why this has hit the mainstream news:

"The usual suspects are, of course, furiously bigging-up the J-20 as a possible menace. ... The hugely bloated western military aerospace industry, its revenues sapped by economic conditions and a belated focus on the ground troops who are actually fighting real wars in southwest Asia, will naturally seize upon even the flimsiest excuse to plead for yet more billions to be spent moving the western state of the air-combat art still further onward – no matter that it is decades ahead of any possible opposition."

Sounds about right to me.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

Any aeronautical engineer can tell by looking at it that it isn't particularly stealthy and that it is overweight - ergo they are a few years away from having an equivalent to US technology. But we shouldn't worry about it.

We should worry about the European Galileo satellite system - the sole purpose of which is to allow the French to sell smart missiles which do not depend on the American GPS system. The next step will be for the EU to lift the arms embargo on China.

Bill Quango MP said...

When the USSR nicked the B-29 it was the most advanced aircraft in the world. Technologically superior to our Lancaster in every imaginable way.
The UK, the only other manufacturer of heavy bombers, were a long,long way behind in technology. And never caught up.
B-29's were not deployed in Europe so we couldn't even pinch one ourselves.

Laban said...

More interesting IMHO is that the Chinese are putting a hefty effort into mapping the genes which affect intelligence. It may be that when they find them there are no practical applications, but I wouldn't bank on it - they're already quite comfortable with eugenic policy.

Nick Drew said...

Most of this is all very sanguine ! Though personally I shan't be surprised when they do a Sputnik on us

I take Sean's point about RPVs - much more do-able & useful

(also Laban's on genetics ...)

Mr E - OT, but any views on this kerfuffle ? just a bunch of nutters ?

Mr Q - any idea what became of the Soviet B-29 clone project ? I don't recall any 1950's Sov bomber that looked anything like it - certainly not the Bear

Electro-Kevin said...

There are many types of fighter jet, but there will only ever be one Tom Cruise.

Electro-Kevin said...

PS, To counter the Chinese reverse-engineered stealth fighter they need only by a load of the missiles that shot the original one down.

Nick Drew said...

Kev - yes, I thought that! (the missile, not Mr Cruise)

Bill Quango MP said...

Predecessor to the Bear.
Called The Bull.


rwendland said...

ND: OT re Busby's report. Well I never - here's his report. If Busby is correct, that could upset some people. He does have two PhD's (Physical Chemistry & Chemical Physics) so you'd expect him to be on the ball in this area, despite what his critics say. But it is a complex analysis, as there is a mixture of decay products to take account of.

I've never looked in detail at his various claims, so I've no real general opinion. And this particular issue is above my head - but a claim of "10 tonnes of enriched uranium" in the soil does sound pretty implausible.

I'd not be at all surprised at contamination from the Magnox reactor there, as that fuel can leaked fairly often, and in the 1960s and 1970s nuclear staff were pretty sloppy at times - but Magnox used natural Uranium fuel. Busby reckons it is enriched uranium in the soil, which must come from the AGR - which has tougher stainless steel sheathed fuel, so much less likely to leak.

Be interesting to see what, if anything, happens with this.

Nick Drew said...

Mr W - yes I'd found the report too (plus some pretty disparaging comments on our friend, who does get up to some strange stunts ...)

Mr Q - thanks - an interesting tale. Am reminded of something with similar aspects: back in the 70's an acquaintance in the precision engineering business received a strange request from a Russian concern. They had decided they wished to export LPs (music) to the West, and knew that it would be necessary to insert the disks in a nicely-printed, laminated cardboard sleeve

if you think back to those distant times, said sleeves had a very thin spine, just 2 or 3 millimetres wide, on which would be printed the title and a reference-number

the Ruskies were unable to devise a printing press + card-folding unit sufficiently accurate to print on the part of the card that would become the spine when formed into shape

of course they could have done if they'd devoted enough resources - but it was beyond their basic capabilities at that time


dearieme said...

"He does have two PhD's": I've met several people who've made that claim. Only one was telling the truth.

rwendland said...

dearieme, I misread his CV, sorry. He either never wrote up his first one (1970-71) - not that unusual, or was just a postgrad assistant on the programme at QMC. He got his PhD in 1981 at Kent. But the CV still looks good - a first in Chemistry at London (Imperial?). Spectroscopy topic on both PhD research probrammes. Chartered Chemist. I wouldn't discount his analysis on a crank basis.