Tuesday, June 19, 2012

China astronauts complete first space docking

Chinese astronauts carried out a manned docking with an experimental space module on Monday, the latest milestone in China's ambitious campaign to build a space station.

The Shenzhou (Devine Vessel) 9 and its three-person crew, which includes China's first woman in space Liu Yang, linked with the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module, with state television showing the pictures live.

Almost three hours later, the blue jumpsuit-wearing mission commander, Jing Haipeng, entered the module followed by colleague Liu Wang and Liu Yang (first female astronaut for China), the first time China has been able to transfer astronauts between two orbiting craft.

Rendezvous and docking exercises between the two vessels are an important hurdle in China's efforts to acquire the technological and logistical skills to run a full space lab that can house astronauts for long periods.

During the 13-day mission, the astronauts will work and sleep aboard Tiangong 1, a trial module that includes an exercise bike and a video telephone booth, according to Xinhua.

The mission has been accompanied by a blaze of national pride and has been given blanket coverage by state media, down to discussion on how flying a space ship is a bit like driving a car and how the astronauts will be able to spice up their food with chilli sauce.

The docking mission is the latest show of China's growing prowess in space and comes while budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.

This is China's fourth manned space mission since 2003 when astronaut Yang Liwei became the country's first person in orbit.

Monday, June 11, 2012

China testing unmanned helicopter (UAV) on Type 054A frigate

Type 054A Frigate can carry the much larger Z-9C helicopter, why the need for the small unmanned S-100 ?

A Chinese frigtate has been photographed operating a small unmanned helicopter that appears to be the Schiebel Camcopter S-100.

Earlier this week, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) released images of the unmanned air vehicle (UAV) and a Chinese Type 054A missile frigate taken by a surveillance aircraft.

An industry source familiar with China's UAV sector says it is "common knowledge" in the industry that China obtained 18 of the Austrian-built UAVs two years ago.

"This is just a Schiebel UAV helicopter," he says, referring to the images. "China purchased 18 of these two years ago. It is the only UAV helicopter this size that is capable of taking off and landing aboard a ship."

When contacted by Flightglobal, a Schiebel representative would neither confirm or deny a Chinese Camcopter deal. He would only say that it is company policy not to comment on individual sales.

The Chinese version of the company's Camcopter brochure shows the S-100 operating from the fantail of a warship. The S-100 has also been successfully flown from warships operated by European navies.

The UAV in the JMSDF photographs closely resembles the Camcopter. The landing struts appear to be slightly forward of the mid-fuselage sensor turret. The layout of the vertical stabiliser structure relative to the tail boom is also similar. Another photo appears to show a Camcopter sitting on the frigate's fantail.

Moreover, the UAV's layout does not resemble other helicopter UAVs known to exist in China, such as the YOTAIS X200, AVIC U8E, or the Sunward Tech Star-lite SVU200.

This the second time Japan's military has produced photos of helicopter UAVs near Chinese warships. In June 2011, it released grainy photos of a UAV (also resembling the S-100) flying near a Chinese warship, although it was not readily apparent that the aircraft was deployed from the ship.

It is unclear whether the Chinese navy routinely deploys unmanned helicopters from its warships, or is simply testing procedures and tactics for such systems.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

China launches a new missile corvette (type 056)

This corvette is more like a frigate, with similar tonnage as the old Jianghu class FFG, certainlly much better armed than the type 053 Jianghu.

A new type of Chinese missile corvette, the principal role for which might be to project power in the South China Sea, could be launched “within days,” military watchers said on the weekend.

Talk of a Type 056 class first emerged in late 2010. So far, little technical information has been released about the corvettes, which are believed to lie in the 1,400-to-1,700-tonne category.

Two shipyards, Hudong Shipyard in Shanghai and Huangpu Shipyard in Guangzhou, are engaged in what appears to be a race to complete the vessels.

Officials at Hudong reportedly announced late last week that the first Type 056 corvette could be launched “within days,” with possible commissioning at the end of this year.

A total of four hulls are known to be under construction, with completion expected to follow soon after the delivery of the lead ship.

Designs of the Type 056 show fin stabilization for high seas navigation with weapons including a 76mm main gun, four surface-to-surface missile (SSM) launchers — reportedly for the YJ-83 SSM, the latest Chinese design — and one FL-1000 surface-to-air missile launcher.

The corvette could also come equipped with torpedoes for limited anti-submarine capability.

It also has a helipad large enough to accommodate vertical takeoff and landing for unmanned aerial vehicles.

Analysts believe the Type 056 could replace or augment the six Type 037 Houjian 528 fast-attack craft that have been based in Hong Kong since 1997, with future production for other People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) fleets, where they could replace aging attack craft and frigates. The corvette could also be intended for export markets, with reports that the Bangladeshi navy has already expressed interest in its acquisition.

The new corvettes will fill a gap between smaller offshore patrol vessels and larger frigates and could be ideal for action in the South China Sea, where China is embroiled in disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines.

Analysts believe medium-sized ships like the Type 056 are better suited to combat light missile frigates with similar displacement already deployed by competitors in the volatile, mineral-rich body of water.

Beyond China’s disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea, the new corvettes could also play a role in a conflict with Taiwan.

“The Type 056 looks like a rough match for the Taiwan Navy’s Lafayette frigates on a one-to-one basis,” James Holmes of the US Naval War College told the Taipei Times by e-mail last night. “Operated in ‘distributed’ fashion — multiple units networked to act in concert, combining their sensors and armaments — it would pose a serious challenge to Taiwan’s surface fleet in high-intensity combat.”

However, warships like the Type 056 are intended more to serve in a flotilla than to take part in major naval actions, Holmes said.

"Their armament is modest, but they outgun most competitors they’re likely to encounter in the South China Sea. They’re less useful in the Yellow and East China seas, where the competition is stiffer since the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the US Seventh Fleet are there,” he said.

In related developments, reports said on the weekend that the FFG 572 Yueyang — the 14th Type 054A destroyer in the PLAN — is scheduled to be commissioned with the 9th Destroyer Squadron in the South Sea Fleet sometime next year.