Inside Chinese made Weapons: Powerful, Modern, Copied

The modernization of the armed forces is one of the priorities set by the Chinese leadership. For a long time in China, the creation of its own models of military equipment went along the path of cloning foreign (primarily Soviet) weapons systems. In part, this practice continues today, but the situation has changed, and now the Chinese defense industry has in its arsenal a number of its own original developments based on the most advanced technologies.

The Chinese military aviation industry has taken a huge step forward, although the policy of cloning is apparently not able to give up yet. The multirole fighter J-11B looks so distinctive that there is no doubt: yes its derives from Russian Su-27. Su-27SK in China produced under license from Russian components – this was actually J-11.

PLAAF J-11 fighter aircraft
PLAAF J-11 fighter aircraft

Superfast Work

At the beginning of the last decade, China refused Russia to continue the supply assembly kits and, simply copied the plane for production at its own industrial base. So it turned out J-11B, which now appeared Chinese avionics with a modern “glass” cabin and Chinese weapons, in particular in the form of air-to-air missiles PL-8, PL-9, PL-12. It was also planned to replace the Russian AL-31F engines with its own development of the WS-10 (based on the Franco-American engine CFM56 – they are put on the Boeing 737 and A320), but there is no reliable data on how successful this replacement is.

The development of the theme was a modified J-11D, which, according to Chinese sources, J-11D has parameters at the level of the Russian Su-35, J-16 – a multi-purpose two-seater strike aircraft and J-15 – a carrier-based fighter for Chinese aircraft carrier “Liaoning” (originally “Riga” Soviet project 1143.6). However, how much the last two machines really improved on their own, and how much the Chinese aircraft designers are deeply familiar with the Russian Su-30MKK and Su-33, we can only guess.

H-6 bomber

One may also recall that China is one of four countries in the world that have ever built nuclear-capable bombers. The Xian H-6 has been produced in China since 1959 and is a licensed replica of the long-decommissioned Soviet Tu-16. However, China continues to develop this line and as recently as 2011 was shown the most modern modification – H-6K. The aircraft, of course, is equipped with the latest Chinese avionics, has an extended range (up to 3000 km) and is capable of carrying 6 cruise missiles CJ-10A with nuclear BF. Such a bomber fits well into China’s strategy of deterring the enemy at sea behind the first chain of islands (Japanese Islands, Okinawa, Taiwan) and can be used to fight American aircraft carrier strike groups.

Fifth-generation Pride

However, the use of a Soviet-designed glider and engines in replacing avionics and weapons with native Chinese is only one tactic. The other is access to the front lines. China is currently the second country in the world to have a 5th generation fighter. It’s called the Chengdu J-20.

One thing is for sure: this is not a clone of any of the existing models, but it seems that Chinese designers have tried to put together technical solutions, spied in different places. And as a source of inspiration were not only the already adopted American F-22 and F-35 but also the Soviet unrealized project MiG 1.44.

Perhaps it is MiG who borrowed the front horizontal plumage (the “duck” scheme), the use of which is highly questionable in terms of inconspicuousness – one of the main criteria for belonging to the 5th generation. In American sources, you can find the opinion that copying individual solutions in the field of inconspicuousness, Chinese designers have not fully understood the essence of these technologies, and say, they will not work as planned by the creators of F-22 and F-35. However, the U.S. tends to take the new Chinese weapons system seriously, seeing in the novelty not so much a fighter to gain superiority in the sky, as a strike aircraft designed to hit from a long distance air-to-air missiles of large slow-moving targets such as air tankers or AWACS. And then, left without fuel and “eye,” American strike aircraft can be very vulnerable.

chinese j-20
Chengdu J-20 is the third 5th gen. fighter in the world (after the F-22 and F-35)

In 2016, an American citizen of Chinese origin was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for assisting a group of Chinese hackers linked to China’s military. Hackers managed to steal a large amount of sensitive information related to the 5th generation F-35 fighter from Lockheed Martin’s servers.

Has this information been used? To get an answer to the question, just look at the J-31, the second 5th generation fighter developed in China. The main fundamental difference – two engines instead of one in the American prototype. Everything else is very similar. As with the J-20, American experts doubt that the Chinese were able to reliably copy stealth technology due to the lag in materials science and precision processing methods.


But no one is going to underestimate the latest development of the Chinese aviation industry. It is assumed that one of the goals pursued by the creators of J-35 was to develop a less perfect, but much cheaper and outwardly similar clone of the F-35. Such an aircraft could well be in demand in countries where the F-35 is not sold for political reasons or where there is insufficient funds to buy it.

Smart and Dangerous

In addition to the development of unmanned systems, China of course, pays tribute to the topic of drones. the wing Loong large-scale reconnaissance and strike UAV is an obvious attempt to keep up with the American M-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper, then Chinese work in the field of AI-controlled mini-drones (Swarm drones) can be recognized as pioneering. In December 2017, at a forum in Guangzhou, 1,108 drones took to the air, which, acting in close proximity to each other, did not collide, but, on the contrary, perfectly interacted as a whole. The military use of this technology is self-evident. Dealing with a pack of mosquitoes is more difficult than repelling a large bird attack. The drone cloud can be used for reconnaissance, for blinding air defenses, for small point strikes on targets.

Chinese CH-4 drone operate by Iran
Chinese CH-4 drone operate by Iran
China is actively experimenting with small drones in different environments. For a long time, the highest-flying drone was the American high-altitude reconnaissance Global Hawk – its ceiling of 19,000 m. Above the air is too thin and very cold – it is difficult to create enough lifting force, especially when it comes to a small apparatus; in addition, electronic devices are unstable.
However, last year in China over the desert territory of Inner Mongolia was launched a mini-UAV from an altitude of 25,000 m (there it was raised by a balloon). The drone fired from an electromagnetic catapult, and this pulse was enough to overcome 100 km through the air on the way to the target marked on the ground. All this time on board were working collecting data sensors. In the future, such mini-devices the size of a bat could conduct aerial reconnaissance without paying attention to any air defense. Such drones (the price of each – only a few tens of dollars) can be shot in large quantities, for example, from the side of a high-altitude interceptor.

Electric Hammer

There is another area in which the Chinese defense industry is probably at the forefront – the development of a combat rail, an electromagnetic gun. Recently, the whole world bypassed a photo showing the Chinese amphibious assault ship Type 072III, in the bow of which is supposedly installed a prototype of such weapons. Recall that the advantages of the railroad is the ability to launch projectiles with hypersonic speeds at distances that are much higher than the capabilities of conventional artillery. No explosives are required – due to its colossal kinetic energy, a conventional dummy can cause serious damage to a large object, such as a ship.

However, there are serious obstacles to the creation of a usable railgun, such as the device’s high energy intensity, rapid wear and tear, and the need to protect electronics from a powerful magnetic field. Photo With the Chinese rail, it was not a fake: this spring, China officially confirmed that a “breakthrough” had been achieved in the field of electromagnetic weapons development, and it is now expected that by 2025 the PLA can adopt the system in service then the fleet will have an additional “long hand” to deter the enemy AUG for the already mentioned chain of islands.

Photo of an experimental sea-based Chinese rail
Photo of an experimental sea-based Chinese rail

By ships and satellites

Another such “hand” is the DF-21D, the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile developed on the basis of the DF-21, a two-stage medium-range solid-fuel missile. To get a ballistic missile on moving for one and a half thousand kilometers from the place of launch of the target – a task not trivial, and Chinese engineers decided it, equipping the weapon with a maneuvering combat unit. The trajectory of its flight is adjusted by the terminal guidance system based on satellites and UAVs.

Work towards the creation of this type of weapon continues, and just before the signing of the issue to the press at the Aerospace Salon in Chuhai, the Chinese Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) presented the anti-ship missile system CM-401. The complex includes a launcher and two short-range ballistic missiles (up to 300 km) with a maneuvering combat unit. Unlike the DF-21D, the new weapons will be deployed not on land, but on board the latest high-tech destroyers Type 055, the first of which was launched in the summer of 2017.

DF-21D Medium-range ballistic missile
DF-21D Medium-range ballistic missile

Chinese military engineers look not only into the ocean distances but also into the sky. China continues to test the DN-3 missile, which is officially designed for kinetic interception of ballistic missiles. It is meant that the warhead does not carry explosives, and destroys the target only by its own kinetic energy (which requires an accurate hit). However, outside the PRC, DN-3 is often referred to not as an anti-missile, but as an anti-satellite weapon. In the event of a major conflict, the PLA could shoot down reconnaissance satellites flying over the country at an altitude of several hundred kilometers.

VT-4. China's newest main battle tank
VT-4. China’s newest main battle tank

Everything above about the new chinese defense industry is only part of the picture. The modernization of PLA’s weapons is large-scale and is going in all directions. China is actively experimenting with hypersonic weapons, working on the creation of combat exoskeletons. New samples of ground combat equipment have been created: the main battle tank VT-4, floating BMP qBD05. China is preparing for a conflict with a strong, equipped with high-tech weapons.

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