Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chinese trainer jets tilt military balance for Sudan

K-8 Trainer has been a successful Chinese aircraft on the international market.

Chinese trainer jets tilt military balance for Sudan

By ANDREI CHANG

http://www.upi.com/Security_Industry/2008/09/17/Analysis_Chinese_aircraft_fly_for_Sudan/UPI-23831221670928/

HONG KONG, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- China's official media have released photos of K-8 fighter trainers demonstrating impressive attack power against land-based targets. The aircraft are the same model that China has exported to Sudan, ostensibly for training purposes.

However, the K-8 trainers are very much like standard attack aircraft, and their tactical application in the Sudanese air force is not only for training but also for land attack operations. The K-8 has a flight endurance of three hours and a maximum flight range of 1,300 miles, and its combat radius covers the whole of Sudan's territory.

Although all trainer aircraft have some land-attack capability, the K-8 aircraft that China has sold to Sudan are different from those in service in China's People's Liberation Army air force in that they are fitted with 23mm machine-gun pods.

Along with the trainer planes, HF-20 rocket launchers were also exported to Sudan. The Chinese-made HF-20 rocket launcher is an unauthorized imitation of the Russian S-8 rocket launcher.

The HF-20 rocket launcher has impressive destructive power. It has a firing rate of 0.05 seconds per round and a strike range of 3,900 to 13,100 feet, and the rocket can carry different types of warheads, such as high-explosive or armor-piercing warheads.

China has also exported A-5 attack aircraft to the Sudanese air force. Since it already has the A-5 attackers, the question arises as to why Sudan would need the more powerful K-8 trainer/attacker.

The author's analysis is that the K-8 trainer is useful for the fundamental training of Sudan's air force pilots, and at the same time it supplements the A-5 as an attack aircraft, since the air force lacks a sufficient number of these planes. The combat load of this trainer craft has been increased to 1 ton; the A-5 has a combat load of 2 tons, and there is no great difference between the two in attack power.

Judging from photos of the A-5s released by the Sudanese air force, the aircraft is not the same as the A-5E that was upgraded after 2005. The biggest difference between the two aircraft is that the A-5 has a blade-shaped communications antenna on the back of the cockpit; this can be seen on the planes exported to Sudan.

The latest model, the A-5E, does not have such a communications antenna but is equipped with a laser designator. The A-5E is mainly intended to carry Chinese-made laser-guided bombs.

China also has exported K-8 aircraft to Zambia and other African countries, presumably for actual training purposes. Africa is the main recipient of the Chinese trainer aircraft; they have become the key weapon for China to exchange for oil from these countries. China claims that 80 percent of the trainer aircraft in African air forces are K-8s.

Egypt is China's biggest customer for these trainers. With authorization from China, the Egyptian air force has manufactured 80 K-8s and is currently negotiating a deal for the production of a second batch of 40 aircraft.

The K-8 was jointly developed and produced by China and Pakistan, with Pakistan providing the funding for research and development, according to a Chinese source. As a consequence, Pakistan has participated in the export of K-8 trainers to Muslim countries, and Pakistan also receives a share of the sales and profits.

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(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)

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