These New Chinese Weapons Originated in the USA (and Russia)

China has a domestic arms industry, but its growing military has feasted on copies of foreign origin

These New Chinese Weapons Originated in the USA (and Russia) These New Chinese Weapons Originated in the USA (and Russia)

Uncategorized September 18, 2013 0

Shenyang J-11 fighter over Anshan Airfield, China. Department of Defense photo These New Chinese Weapons Originated in the USA (and Russia) China has a... These New Chinese Weapons Originated in the USA (and Russia)
Shenyang J-11 fighter over Anshan Airfield, China. Department of Defense photo

These New Chinese Weapons Originated in the USA (and Russia)

China has a domestic arms industry, but its growing military has feasted on copies of foreign origin

It’s no secret that China’s red-hot economy has fueled a defense build-up of staggering proportions.

For more than a decade, the People’s Liberation Army, Chinese Navy and Chinese Air Force have enjoyed double-digit annual budget increases, and the fruits of this spending are in the shiny new tanks, fighter planes, submarines and ships of China’s armed forces.

The past 15 years have seen a dizzying array of new weapons systems introduced in China, replacing antiquated designs from the Cold War that became unsuited for modern warfare long ago. But some of these new designs look … familiar. Even with large defense outlays, there has been the temptation to cut corners by copying successful foreign hardware.

Some of these cases involved honest dealing with foreign manufacturers, others involved outright theft of intellectual property. Most suspect cases seem to be somewhere in between, and the extent to which Chinese weapons are based on foreign designs can get a little murky.

In at least four of these cases, temptation seems to have won out over innovation.

The Chinese Su-27 fighter: Shenyang J-11

After studying the Persian Gulf War, China decided it needed to modernize its air force. At the top of the list was a modern air superiority fighter, but lacking the technology and know-how to build one itself, China went shopping. Unfortunately for Beijing, the high-tech United States and its allies clamped an arms embargo on China after the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy students at Tiananmen Square. Nobody would sell to China.

Nobody that is, except for the Russians. In 1995, China and Russia struck a deal that the latter would provide 200 Su-27 air superiority fighter jets to China in kit form, which would be assembled in China by China.

Selling warplanes as kits is a fairly common practice, but China stopped producing what was termed the J-11 air superiority fighter after a little more than one hundred aircraft were assembled. In 2004, the contract was canceled, ostensibly because the Su-27 no longer met Chinese requirements. Ominously, Russian state security also intercepted Chinese nationals attempting to illegally acquire Su-27 blueprints and components.

In 2007, China introduced a new fighter design, the J-11B. It was, as one might expect, a variant of the J-11. However, it was a total surprise to Russia’s Rosoboronexport, the company that had shipped the J-11 kits. The J-11B incorporated domestic Chinese technology into the J-11 aircraft. The fighter was also touted as a multi-role aircraft, capable of air-to-ground in addition to air superiority missions.

It was, the Chinese claimed, a better aircraft.

Dongfeng Mengshi tactical vehicle. Creative Commons photo, Flickr user CadillacWagon

The Chinese Humvee: Dongfeng EQ2050 Mengshi ‘Brave Soldier’

There was a time when western countries were beating down China’s door attempting to sell it weapons.

AM General, the original manufacturer of the ubiquitous Humvee tactical vehicle, attempted to sell the Humvee to the Chinese military in the late 1980s. At the time, it was claimed the Chinese thought the vehicles were too big and heavy, which was probably true. Another issue was likely the high cost — at $21,000 each, Humvees were not cheap and China was not yet rich.

The Persian Gulf War made the previously low-key Humvee famous, and China studied the war extensively. It was then that the People’s Liberation Army concluded that their “People’s War” doctrine of overwhelming the enemy with numbers was well and truly dead, and the future relied upon technology and mobility.

AM General had left behind a free Humvee while wooing China, and several civilian models were purchased under the guise of equipment for oil exploration. According to Car News China, these vehicles, and the gift Humvee, were disassembled and reverse-engineered. The result was the EQ2050 Mengshi tactical vehicle, which is apparently no longer too big or too heavy for China.

Naturally there were complications in making copies, but this time an American company appeared complicit. The Mengshi’s diesel engine was built by U.S. firm Cummins, but the Tiananmen Square arms embargo meant that American companies couldn’t sell China engines destined for military vehicles. So, China imported the Cummins engines for a civilian version of the Mengshi.

Funny thing, though: only one civilian Mengshi was ever made.

Norinco CQ rifle. Via Wikipedia

The Chinese M16: the CQ

China’s elite units, including the People’s Liberation Army Special Forces and the People’s Armed Police Snow Leopard anti-terrorism unit use copies of the AR-15/M-4 carbine series of rifles. These forces do not use the standard Chinese assault rifle, the QBZ-95, which is issued to the vast majority of the PLA.

As it turns out, Norinco, China’s state-owned arms producer, has been cranking out AR-15 copies for decades. The copies, known as CQ, are functionally identical to the American-made original, with the unusual exception that early versions had a revolver-style grip instead of a pistol grip. The reason for this change is unknown but it may have been made to accommodate smaller Asian hands.

Norinco sold clones of the M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol and M1A rifle in the U.S. before a ban on imported firearms ended the sale of Chinese weapons. Not only were the Chinese copies inexpensive, they were considered reliable. Were it not for the ban it’s highly likely that the CQ rifle would own a significant portion of today’s American AR-15 market.

That the CQ is used by China’s elite forces does make one wonder what it is about China’s domestically designed assault rifle, the QBZ-95, that makes it unsuitable.

Wing Loong UAV. Creative Commons photo, Picasa user Ko Savonije

The Chinese Predator: Chengdu Pterodactyl

China’s copy of the Predator, Wing Loong (Pterodacytl), was allegedly introduced as a scale model in 2008 at Airshow China. Since then, it has been shown off on Chinese state television, and in a video produced by Aviation Industry Corporation of China, shown firing laser-guided missiles at targets. Pterodactyl is in the category of “Medium Altitude, Long Endurance” unmanned systems trail-blazed by the American Predator, to which is bears an uncanny resemblance.

Indeed, the Pterodactyl actually has improved performance over the Predator, at least in terms of speed and range; Predator has the upper hand with regards to loiter time (24 hours versus 20 hours) and service ceiling (25,000 feet versus 16,000 feet). Since it came out nearly a decade after the original Predator, that isn’t surprising.

Like the Predator, the Pterodactyl is designed for both surveillance and attack missions. It packs a variety of optical surveillance sensors, including an infrared camera, T.V. camera and a laser designator. It is also capable of carrying up to 100 kilograms of weapons — for example, a pair of dumb bombs, “smart” laser guided bombs or AR-1 anti-tank missiles similar to the American Hellfire.

It also stands out in another way: Pterodactyl is possibly the first weapons system ever to be named after a dinosaur.

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