Tuesday, March 15, 2011

China Takes The High Ground in Tibet with new air bases

India believes that China now has five airfields in Tibet (Gongar, Pangta, Linchi, Hoping and Gar Gunsa) that are bases for military aircraft. India is also seeing more Chinese warplanes being based full time in Tibet. This was somewhat unexpected, and it's all about thin air.

It was less than a year ago that, for the first time, Chinese J-11 jet fighters were seen training over Tibet. J-11s are the most modern Chinese made fighters. More than 200 have been built since they were introduced in the late 1990s, they are appearing in more unexpected places (like the Chinese naval air force). For a long time, the Chinese Air Force had no combat aircraft stationed in Tibet, except for some older (MiG-21 clones) J-7s that were flown in regularly, for temporary duty at major commercial airports. Some of these J-7s now appear to be there permanently.

The main reason for not stationing fighter squadrons in Tibet probably has to do with the high altitude of the area, and the expense of moving the large quantities of fuel and other supplies needed to maintain air units. There is only one rail line into Tibet (recently built) and few heavy duty truck roads. In all of Tibet, there are only 58,000 kilometers of roads.

China also has a serious problem in Tibet with altitude sickness among its troops. This illness occurs when people who grew up near sea level (most of the world's population) move to altitudes greater than 2,100 meters (7,000 feet). Below that, the air contains 21 percent oxygen. Above that, the weaker air pressure lowers the amount of oxygen the body can absorb. That produces "altitude sickness", manifested by shortness of breath, disorientation, nosebleeds, nausea, dehydration, difficulty sleeping and eating, headaches and, if you stay up there long enough, chronic disability.

The average altitude of Tibet is 4,100 meters (14,000 feet). Most people can adapt, sort of, to the altitude sickness. Some can't. But the Tibetans have evolved to deal with it. The majority of Chinese soldiers coming to the Tibetan highlands (which is most of Tibet) require a few days, or weeks, to acclimate. But they are still susceptible to altitude sickness if they exert themselves, especially for extended periods. This makes Chinese military personnel in Tibet much less effective, especially in an emergency or combat.

Researchers recently discovered that most Tibetans evolved in the last 3-6,000 years to deal with this problem. It appears that most of the people moving to, and staying in, highland Tibet, were those with the rare genes that made them resistant to altitude sickness. These people became the dominant population in Tibet, mainly because they were healthier at high altitudes. Nearly all Tibetans have this gene (which controls how their red blood cells operate, to maintain sufficient oxygen levels). Very few lowland Chinese have these genes.

The Chinese military is spending a lot of time, effort and money trying to solve this problem. Chinese troops operating at the highest altitudes (4,500 meters, on the Indian border) now have access to exercise rooms (one of 1,000 square meters and another of 3,000 square meters) that are supplied with an oxygen enriched atmosphere. Troops exercising in these rooms increase the oxygen in the blood, and are much less likely to get hit with a case of altitude sickness. Thus the troops can stay in shape without getting sick. For border patrols at high altitudes, troops usually carry oxygen bottles and breathing masks.

So far, the Chinese have only been able to limit the attrition from altitude sickness, not eliminate it. Given the alertness required of aircraft maintenance personnel, and pilots preparing for flights, plus the logistical problems, the air force has declared Tibet fit to visit, but not to base aircraft units in. Still, the Chinese air force may one day have to fight in the air space over Tibet, so some training up there is in order.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pakistan plans to acquire 6 submarines from China

Most likely AIP equipped Yuan Class SSK.

After inducting advance fighter jets from China, Pakistan plans to buy six state-of-the-art submarines from the neighbouring country in a bid to boost its under-sea warfare capabilities.

Islamabad is planning to buy six submarines outright with options of joint development of conventional submarines with China, The Express Tribune reported.

The newspaper did not mention the class of submarines being sought by Pakistan saying merely that Islamabad wanted advanced under-sea vessels with air independent propulsion (AIP) system, which would give them capabilities to stay submerged longer and operate noiselessly.

The Defence Ministry has asked the federal Cabinet to approve the purchase of Chinese submarines to counter “emerging threats” faced by Pakistan, the paper said.

Pakistan has a total of five active diesel electric submarines plus three midget submarines. While the three submarines are of German SSK class, Islamabad had recently inducted two French Agosta class ones.

With attempts to acquire AIP technology, Islamabad would be in race with New Delhi, which plans to arm its French Scorpene submarines with the technology but only by 2013.

Pakistan’s Defence Ministry informed the Cabinet that the country’s Navy is facing a “critical force imbalance” in terms of the number of submarines and ships in its fleet.

The “capability gap is widening exponentially with the passage of time”, the report said.

The Navy plans to acquire the six AIP conventional submarines that can operate in a “multi-threat environment under tropical conditions” and are capable of launching torpedoes and missiles, the Business Recorder daily quoted official documents as saying.

A protocol for joint development and co-production of submarines by the Pakistan Navy and China Shipbuilding and Offshore Corporation will be signed shortly after approval by the federal Cabinet, the paper said.

In view of “urgent naval requirements”, the issue of acquiring Chinese submarines was part of the talking points for President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to China in 2009, media reports said.

The matter was also discussed during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Pakistan in December 2010, the reports said.

The Cabinet has been told that Naval Headquarters had pursued the purchase of submarines with Chinese authorities, who have assured Pakistan of their “firm support” for the submarine project.

Under the proposed protocol, four submarines will be constructed at a Chinese shipyard and the remaining two in Pakistan.

Co-development and production will include joint development, training of Pakistani personnel, upgrades of Pakistan Navy’s shipyard and other related aspects.

Pakistan is in the process of inducting 36 J-10 fighter aircraft from China in a deal worth more than $1.4 billion, with options open for induction of more similar aircraft.

Islamabad and Beijing are also collaborating to build an advanced fighter — JF-17 or ‘Thunder’.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

China sends missile frigate Xuzhou to Libya

A first for the Chinese navy.

We’re used to seeing the U.S. Navy pull American citizens out of warzones. Now, China’s navy is doing the same thing — sending a ship to snag its people out of Libya, as the country teeters on the brink of civil war.

China has redeployed the 4,000 ton missile frigate Xuzhou from its anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden to assist in the evacuation of its nationals from Libya. It’s the “the first ever dispatch” of a Chinese navy vessel to run a “non-combatant evacuation,” China SignPost’s Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson note.

The move underlines the growth in Chinese naval power, Collins and Erickson write. And with a number of Chinese workers employed in potentially unstable countries around the world, the evacuation likely serves as a dress rehearsal for future crises.

China has already evacuated some 12,000 of its 30,000 nationals in Libya, flying some to nearby Egypt and placing others on chartered passenger lines. Pressure for a swift exit has grown as the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) reported attacks against its oil facilities in Libya, though the company’s 391 employees are reportedly unharmed.

China joins a number of countries who’ve sent military ships or aircraft to evacuate their citizens from the growing violence in Libya. Britain’s Royal Navy has sent a destroyer to Libya to remove British oil workers currently stranded in the country. South Korea has also diverted a warship from its nearby anti-piracy mission to assist in the evacuation of its citizens.

In Tripoli today, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi made an appearance in the city’s Green Square, giving a defiant speech amidst a supportive crowd.

“I am in the middle of the people,” he said. “We will fight … we will defeat them if they want … we will defeat any foreign aggression.”

His comments follow a rambling, incoherent speech made by phone on Libyan state TV yesterday in which Gadhafi blamed the uprising on al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden lacing young peoples’ Nescafe with drugs.

Despite the welcome Gadahfi received for his speech and the government-issued talking points given to prayer leaders demanding quiet, protesters left Friday prayers today and marched on the capital and were met with random gunfire from the Libyan security forces awaiting them.

Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, has already fallen to anti-government forces. A number of former army officers who have defected from the Gadhafi regime pledged to send forces to help oust the government from power. The Wall Street Journal quoted a Libyan army colonel and defector in Benghazi: “We will not stop until we liberate the whole country.”