December 12, 2017

China's VT5 Light Tank Superior to Indian, British & German - Sometimes

Most countries have or crave tanks, except the Vatican, which boasts an armoured, 
 airmobile, Popemobile

Developed countries usually have at least one heavyweight main battle tank (MBT) type for urban warfare, deserts and the ideal tank country of rolling hills. Countries with large enough defence budgets can afford some specialised tank types. 

China's increasingly large defense budget affords light tanks for muddy, slushy, snowy, mountain warfare and jungle warfare. China's latest notable light tank is the VT5.    

The VT5 saves weight by having " automatic bustle-mounted ammunition loading system, which allowed [it] to reduce the crew to 3 men.

...Due to its light weight the VT5 is much more mobile than [Chinese] main battle tanks, such as Type 96 and Type 99. It can be used in mountainous areas that are not accessible to main battle tanks. For example the Indian T-72 orT-90 main battle tanks [tellingly] can not go high in to the mountains. At high altitudes air becomes thin and their engines start to loose power. So high in the mountains the new Chinese tank should not encounter any heavily-armored opponents.”

The VT5, on display at an arms bazaar, has pixelated camouflage because enemy sensors take longer to detect a vehicle with such camo and it looks good. (Photo courtesy Military-Today)

To the right of the VT5 is another armoured vehicle in rather loud blue pixelation, perhaps not strictly for camouflage. A Business Insider author describes the blue camo thus: China “unveiled a shocking maritime camo scheme on a variety of armoured vehicles and missile batteries [see at 1min 40secs] in their September 3, 2015 military parade. The blue pixelated camo makes little sense for land combat vehicles, even an amphibious vehicle would lose its need for a bright blue camo scheme as soon as it left the water. Perhaps the Chinese chose the colour scheme to signal a rhetorical shift in the focus of their armed forces on naval strength.”.

Separately China’s one stop shop for weapons’ sales, NORINCO, let the VT5 light combat tank strut its stuff in August 2017. Military attaches of 50 countries were awed beyond gobsmacking by the VT5 display of great Middle Kingdom tank craftsmanship. This was at a tank racing circuit in China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region. The VT5 can do 70 km/h - significantly faster than contemporary British and German tanks.


December 8, 2017

China's LEOs Work With Its Undersea Surveillance System

KQN made interesting comments on December 5, 2017 on China's undersea surveillance system, islands and missiles. This Chinese surveillance system relies on hydrophones and other undersea sensors backed up by confirmation and weaponised patrols by Chinese submarines, surface ships and aircraft. 

I will first refer to the low earth orbiting (LEO) portion of China's undersea surveillance system. Hydrophones can "cue" LEOs, that is "alert" LEOs that a potential target has been detected by hydrophones and the target's approximate location. The latest Chinese LEOs are probably the Chinese Yaogan-30 reconnaissance / "spy" satellites - the subject of today's post below.

Drawing on: Satellite Observation December 3, 2017 and N2YO .

China launched (see coverage paths above courtesy Satellite Observation):

-  3 Yaogan-30s on September 29, 2017 (dubbed the green Yaogan-30-01 triplet)  

-  3 more Yaogan-30s on November 24, 2017  (the red "Yaogan-30-02" triplet), and 

-  3 more Yaogan-30s are expected to be launched soon (dubbed the future blue Yaogan-30-03"

All 6 satellites (and 3 later) will have a 600km low earth orbit (LEO) with a 35° inclination. 

Satellite Observation has an interesting analysis: 

-  each triplet is not flying in close formation so this suggests they are not used for signal intelligence
   triangulation to pin
point the source of an electromagnetic signal (eg. a surface ship).

-  Each of the 3 satellites in each triplet are too far away for triangulating signals, since the satellites
   are not even in line of sight of each other.
-  also at 600 km this is below the 1000km optimal orbit for signal intelligence satellites
-  instead each satellite of each triplet have been phased 120° apart, providing maximum revisiting
-  3 x 3 revisits means a high revisit rate (almost constant) 
-  high revisits from a 600km orbit suggests small optical [Comment also perhaps including infra-red
   for night and synthetic aperture radar (SAR)) satellites to see through rain and shallow water].

The observation is made: "...the satellites have a good coverage of the Pacific, India, China, North Korea and even Japan, but the most northern and southern parts of the globe are not covered: the satellites spend their time in the band of latitudes relevant to Chinese national security concerns...In conclusion, the Chinese are building a high-revisit constellation, in all likelihood for tactical use."



Perhaps likely optical/infra-red naval viewing targets include surface ships, surfaced submarines and even snorkels. Other sensors including SAR might be useful detecting shallow running submarines including submarine wakes. 

Technical advances in China's reconnaissance satellites may one day make (non-AIP) conventional submarines, like Australia's, that need to regularly snort, unviable. 

Other viewing targets may be stealth aircraft, SLBMs and SLCMs being launched and in flight. 


December 7, 2017

Israel's Dolphin Submarine Nuclear Strike Issues

It is well known Israel has nuclear weapons and considers Iran its main future nuclear threat. But what issues is Israel facing with its main first and second strike platforms - the Dolphin submarines?

Launch Points

To assure a future nuclear armed Iran that Israel’s submarines could destroy Iran in a second strike Israel requires sound geographical deployments (see map below). As Israel’s Dolphin submarine base at Haifa is on the eastern Mediterranean this provides unimpeded access to a second strike launch zone (say) 30 nautical miles (nm) offshore. There is the great advantage of only a short time (2 or 3 hours) from leaving Haifa to arriving at a launch point.

Other close options for launch points, eg. the Red Sea or Gulf of Aqaba, would take days and are easily blocked in time of war. The Suez Canal and Red Sea were both blocked in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1956 and 1967. These waterways are too shallow and/or narrow to be submarine friendly.

Submarine passage through the Suez Canal by international law must, very indiscreetly for a submarine, be on the surface. The risks that an Iranian Kilo submarine or aircraft might intercept a Dolphin are very real, as a Dolphin exits south from the Suez Canal or Red Sea.

This leaves the Arabian Sea, off Iran’s southern coast, as the only other, barely viable, launch zone. But major problems are arduous voyages over excessively long distances. This all complicates calculations of lead times and reduces Israel’s ability to plausibly threaten Iran with a second strike.

From Haifa, via the Suez Canal and Red Sea, to the middle of the Arabian Sea a return trip is just over 6,000nm and takes 30 days at a rapid snorkelling speed of 10 knots. For distance calculations see. With the Dolphin’s “maximum unrefuelled range [of] 8,000 nautical miles” this leaves little fuel for operating on station or fleeing pursuers. Refuelling from a submarine tender or friendly base (if there is one) may well be necessary. Refuelling becomes highly specialised if a Dolphin II also needs AIP chemicals. Refuelling has to take into account the possible need for emergency high-speed tactics, which burn up fuel rapidly.

If the narrows to the south of Israel are blocked or unusable for other reasons then the longer route, via the Strait of Gibraltar and around South Africa (Cape of Good Hope) is even further. This means  12,000nm over a 50 day transit (one-way). This adds up to (2 x 50 days) + 30 days on station = a 130 day mission. For a conventional submarine with only 35 to 45 crew this would be too exhausting, leading to major drops in efficiency and safety. Three indiscrete refuelling and reprovisioning cycles would likely be required.


Perhaps the simplest way to avoid distant launch point operations is to increase the range of the Dolphin’s nuclear tipped land attack missiles. But details of these missiles are unclear. Israel advertises its SLCM as an unlikely and major modification of the Popeye air to surface missile (also see this reference). The Israeli SLCM is advertised to have a range of 1,500km. They may be:

1.  long and one-stage rocket propelled allowing them to operate at the edge of space at least at
     supersonic speed over their whole trajectory. Speed and high altitude would make them more
     difficult to shoot down. But having sufficient range from undersea launch and with a sufficient payload are major technical hurdles of such small rockets. Or

2.  Israel’s answer to the US Tomahawk SLCM. Drawbacks are SLCMs' subsonic speed and
     relatively low and vulnerable altitude would limit their value as second strike weapons.

My theory is the so-called “Popeye Turbo”, as it applies to an alleged SLCM, is a cover name developed by Israel and the US for an Israeli derivative of the US Tomahawk. A derivative created by US Tomahawk scientists/technicians who retired to Israel, assisted by Israel’s well known talent for technical intelligence gathering.

An alternative theory is that “Popeye Turbo” is a small SLBM tested by Israel in the Indian Ocean in 2002. This was a test also involving India. India at a minimum could have provided Israel with a launchpad, testing airspace and sea-space because Israel testing SLBMs in the Mediterranean or close waters would meet much international political resistance. Perhaps a deal included Israel assisting India in developing the mini-SLBM Sagarika/K-15. To control publicity the 2002 missile test was plausibly witnessed by the US, probably after being alerted to watch it.

Israel’s “Popeye Turbo” SLCM, miniature SLBM or Israeli Tomahawk may well be launched through the Dolphins’ horizontal 650mm torpedo tubes. Such missiles from launch zones 30nm west of Haifa can already hit Tehran.


If Israel’s next class of three submarines (Dolphin 3s?) are larger than the current Dolphin 2s, then larger, longer range missiles might be mounted.

Israel’s Dolphins would very likely launch their SLBMs or SLCMs from the Mediterranean Sea because alternative launch points involve indiscrete movement, choke points and/or excessively long voyages.

One day Australia might need to consider similar issues Israel is facing now, that is second strikes using missiles mounted on conventional (for Australia “Future”) submarines.


December 6, 2017

With Few Spares Germany's 6 Submarines Are Broken "Kaputt"

As the seagull says - its interesting that since October 2017 none of the German Navy's fleet of six Type 212A submarines seem to be available for operations. 

Drawing from a report of October 20, 2017 by Sebastian Sprenger for DefenseNews

“Navy officials blame bottlenecks in the procurement of spare parts for the submarines’ downtime. While a comprehensive package of spare parts was a key aspect of any new acquisition during the Cold War, cost-saving measures adopted since then have resulted in parts no longer being kept in reserve....”

Of the German Navy’s 6 subs “U-Boote”:

U-31  is being overhauled at TKMS’s Kiel shipyard until December 2017 or is that 2018
          Is U-31 operational yet?
U-32  is out of service, awaiting a maintenance spot at TKMS’s Kiel shipyard
U-33  is being overhauled at TKMS’s Kiel shipyard until February 2018
U-34  is out of service, awaiting a maintenance spot at TKMS’s Kiel shipyard
U-35  was moved into TKMS shipyard at Kiel after an X-plane rudder blade was damaged during a
          diving manoeuvre off Norway on October 15, 2017. Damage to be repaired by?

U-36  is being overhauled at TKMS’s Kiel shipyard until May 2018


Germany's online on October 20, 2017 reported once translated into English:
"SPARE PARTS BOTTLENECK: Marine misery: Germany's submarines are all broken" (in German the article says "kaputt"). To translate this German language article Right-click mouse, then "Translate to English". 

As at December 2, 2017 the situation does not appear to have improved

Are any of Germany's submarines available or operational as of December 6, 2017?


December 5, 2017

Chinese's SOSUS in South China Sea On Dual-Use Cables


Since February 18, 2016Submarine Implications of Woody andthe 3 Reef basesSubmarine Matters has been concerned about China laying Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) arrays on the seafloor: At that time I wrote:

“-  For ASW and anti-shipping China can also string its undersea SeaWeb (SOSUS just part of it)
     networks between the island/reefs and the Chinese mainland.”


This concern about Chinese SOSUS has become more widespread. 

On the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI’s) The Strategist website Eli Huang from Taiwan has written a most interesting article which describes mainland China’s campaign to string SOSUS capable high speed undersea fibre optic cables between its recently militarised islands in the South China Sea.

The article “China’s cable strategy: exploring global undersea dominance” is dated
December 4, 2017. The following is just a small part of Ms Huang's article:

“...China sees cable networks as an essential element of its One Belt, One Road initiative. Undersea cables will ensure that Beijing is well placed to influence media and psychological operations as part of its ‘three warfares’ strategy. In the military arena, such a cable network creates a strategic advantage in anti-submarine warfare for the Chinese navy. It will form an irreplaceable part of China’s underwater observation system in the South China Sea. This ‘underwater great wall’ includes a number of subsurface sensors connected through optical cables to a central processing and monitoring facility in Shanghai. The system will function much like America’s SOSUS network, which employs fixed sensor arrays to detect Soviet submarines. A Chinese system could erode American undersea warfare advantages in the South China Sea.
Undersea cables have been described as Taiwan’s Achilles’ heel. In the event of a conflict across the Taiwan Strait, the cables will be prime Chinese targets: cutting them will cripple Taiwan’s international communications. And the damage wouldn’t be confined to Taiwan. There are at least 10 international submarine cables between Taiwan and Asia–Pacific countries. Damaging Taiwan’s cables would disrupt international business and financial markets, leading to severe economic effects on regional countries, including Japan, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia...”
Eli Huang is an assistant research fellow of the Prospect Foundation in Taiwan. She is also special assistant to Dr Chong-Pin Lin, former deputy minister of national defense in Taiwan. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Prospect Foundation.



Separately from the Article. China's claimed islands are in red above, most are being militarised with 100,000s tons of sand and concrete for sea ports and airports on which weapons are placed. Dual civilian-military use undersea cables can carry SOSUS arrays, For example, from Mischief Reef-Woody Island-Hainan Island-mainland China. (Map courtesy amti.csis, janes and lawfareblog). 

Scroll across to the South China Sea on this TeleGeography-Huawei Marine Networks interactive submarine cable map to see how intense cable laying across the South China Sea is becoming.