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Friday, January 9, 2015

The Technological Maturity of Chinese AESA Technology & Strategic Impacts


Image 1: APG-63(V)2 radar installed on an F-15C. The APG-63(V)2 was the first fighter mounted active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar to enter service worldwide. The first American F-15C unit to receive the new radars were stationed at Elmendorf AFB in 2000. In comparison, the first European AESA entered operational service in 2012 and the first Russian AESA equipped fighter (Mig-35) will not enter service until 2016. The initial US technological lead in AESA technology is attributable to substantial investments made in the late stages of the Cold War. Image retrieved via Defense Industry Daily. 

Author's Note: During the research process for another article, it became apparent that very few credible, verifiable, and non-speculative English based source materials existed on the subject of PLA fighter radars. Basic information, such the proper name or designation of a radar system utilized by a particular fighter often varies between sources; performance figures associated with domestically produced radars are even harder to verify. This article's intent is to determine the technological maturity of Chinese AESA technology relative to US, Russian, Israeli, and European systems as well as to determine the strategic impacts of future Chinese AESA fighter radars.

AESA radars represent a significant increase in detection power, reliability, and electronic warfare capabilities when compared to older electronically scanned arrays (ESA) and mechanically scanned arrays (MSA). This article largely focuses on more technical aspects of AESAs but the basics of AESA capabilities and associated technologies are cogently detailed by Karlo Kopp in "Active Electronically Steered Arrays A Maturing Technology". A brief overview of AESA technology is detailed below followed by an analysis of PRC AESA systems. 

Generally, measuring the number of transmit receiver (T/R) modules an AESA has is indicative of its raw detection power performance. Three main determinants dictate the maximum number of transmit receiver modules a fighter radar can accommodate: the volume of the aircraft’s nose, the technological maturity of the firm/country’s T/R module packaging technology, and the effectiveness of the radar's thermal management system(s). The volume of the nose is a fairly intuitive constraint, the larger an aircraft’s nose, the larger the radar can be. For example, the F-15C’s nose cone is able to accommodate the much larger 1,500 T/R element APG-63V(3) radar vs. the F-16C Block 60 with its comparatively smaller nose cone and its 1,000 T/R element APG-80 AESA. Packaging technology refers to how many individual T/R modules can be installed within the finite space usually accomplished by reductions in size of the individual T/R modules. The more technologically advanced a firm’s T/R packaging technology is, the smaller the individual T/R modules will be resulting in an increased density of the layout of T/R modules within the array. Thus, advancements in packaging technology enable engineers to accommodate more T/R modules within the fixed volume of the aircraft's nose.

Image 2: US early production quad packed transmit receiver modules. The United States no longer produces quad channel T/R modules and has since produced single T/R module designs. Less advanced AESAs such as the Zhuk-AE utilize multi-T/R channel designs, it is possible China's first generation of AESAs also utilize a multi-T/R channel design. Image Credit: Air Power Australia. 

Lastly, thermal management systems are instrumental for the operation of high power AESA radars. Unlike MSA systems, air cooling systems are insufficient to prevent heat related system failures and frequent maintenance issues as Karlo Kopp details,
Due to the behavior of microwave transistor amplifiers, the power efficiency of a TR module transmitter is typically less than 45%. As a result, an AESA will dissipate a lot of heat which must be extracted to prevent the transmitter chips becoming molten pools of Gallium Arsenide - reliability of GaAs MMIC chips improves the cooler they are run. Traditional air cooling used in most established avionic hardware is ill suited to the high packaging density of an AESA, as a result of which modern AESAs are liquid cooled.US designs employ a polyalphaolefin (PAO) coolant similar to a synthetic hydraulic fluid. A typical liquid cooling system will use pumps to drive the coolant through channels in the antenna, and then route it to a heat exchanger. That might be an air cooled core (radiator style) or an immersed heat exchanger in a fuel tank - with a second liquid cooling loop to dump heat from the fuel tank. In comparison with a conventional air cooled fighter radar, the AESA will be more reliable but will require more electrical power and more cooling, and typically can produce much higher transmit power if needed for greater target detection range performance (increasing transmitted power has the drawback of increasing the footprint over which a hostile ESM or RWR can detect the radar. – Kopp, 2014
Chinese AESAs 

Image 3:The image which allegedly describes the number of T/R modules within the J-10B, J-16, and J-20 has been posted on numerous defense forums since at least December of 2013. 

Chinese defense forums have posted copies of the image above which claim to cite the J-20’s AESA T/R module count at 1,856, the J-16’s at 1,760, and the J-10B at 1,200 T/R modules. It is likely the J-10B is the first Chinese fighter aircraft to feature an AESA; J-10B units achieved initial operational capability (IOC) in October of 2014. The volume of the J-10s nose cone is not substantially different from that of the F-16 or the Israeli Lavi from which the J-10 is partially based. Therefore, if one were to assume China had reached parity with the United States in packaging technology, the 1,200 T/R module figure would be plausible but slightly high. For comparison, the APG-80 AESA for the F-16C/D Block 60 has 1,000 T/R modules (DSB, 2001). However, it is unlikely that China has been able to reach parity with the United States in terms of packaging technology on their first generation AESA design. Neither Russia nor Israel was able to field 1,000 T/R element arrays within their first generation fighter mounted AESAs for similar nose volumes as the F-16 with the Mig-35 and Israeli F-16 respectively. 

Russia’s first fighter mounted AESA radar, the Zhuk-AE, contained 652 T/R modules and was unveiled in 2007. The Israeli ­­­ ELM-2052 AESA radar, which has been marketed for both the F-16 and the FA-50 – a joint Korean Aerospace Industry and Lockheed Martin F-16 derivative, has roughly 512 T/R modules (Trimble, 2014). ­­­­­­The only firm outside of the United States that was able to produce a 1,000 T/R element within one generation was the French avionics firm Thales with its RB2E radar (Avionics Today, 2009). ­While the relative technological maturity of European, Israeli, and Russian AESAs is not directly indicative of the relative technological maturity of China’s packaging technology, it is an indicator that the first generation AESA produced by China is likely not on par with the US which is generally recognized as having the most technological mature T/R packaging technology (Kopp, 2014).

Image 4: T/R module count of US AESAs based upon the 2001 Defense Science Board report "Future DoD Airborne High-Frequency Radar Needs/Resources"(link provided in Source 1 citation, refer to page 6). Image Credit: Air Power Australia, 2008. 

The prospect of China’s T/R packaging technology being on par with US firms within a single generation of radars is even more dubious when one examines the preference for an incremental technological development within the Chinese aerospace industry. Several Chinese aviation authors have hypothesized that the J-10B serves as a “technological stepping stone” with respect to the development of the more advanced J-20.  For example, Feng Cao argues the J-10B and the J-16 AESAs were likely used to test technology related to the J-20’s AESA which would be a second generation Chinese design. By virtue of the larger nose volumes in the J-16 and J-20 airframes, it is highly probable the two aircraft will feature radars with more T/R modules than the J-10B’s radar. 

The J-16 utilizes the Su-27BS airframe which has room for a 0.9-1.1 meter aperture in the nose which is on par with the F-15 and F-22 in terms of volume (Kopp, 2012). The 1,500 element N036 Tikhomirov NIIP AESA has a similar aperture size to the electronically scanned array (ESA) Irbis-E radar featured in the Su-35 series of fighters which shares the base Su-27 airframe. If the 1,760 T/R figure is correct it would indicate the Chinese aerospace industry has eclipsed Russian T/R module packaging technology as the N036 is arguably the most advanced Russian fighter mounted AESA. Similarly, the most advanced US fighter mounted AESAs such as the APG-77(V)2 and APG-82(V)1 contain 1,500 T/R modules*. While the prospect of Chinese avionics firms reaching parity with US and Russian firms is more plausible within two generations of designs, the author is skeptical the 1,760 figure is correct given the unsubstantiated nature of the image and the fairly substantial 260 T/R discrepancy between the J-16 radar figure compared to the most advanced US and Russian AESA designs. Therefore, the author speculates it would be more reasonable to assume a figure between 1,200 and 1,500 T/R modules for the J-16 rather than the 1,760 figure.  

Image 5: The sixth and most recent (as of January 2015) unveiled J-20 testing aircraft model "2015". 

The tentative designation for the J-20's AESA is the Type 1475. While the nose volume of the J-20 is certainly large, the jet overall is longer and heavier than the F-22, no credible figures for nose volume were available at the time of this publication. As with the J-16 T/R figure, the J-20 figure is substantially greater than that of the most advanced US and Russian designs. Even if the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology (NRIET) or the China Leihua Electronic Technology Research Institute (607 Institute) was able to develop sufficient packaging technology that would enable 1,856 T/R modules within the J-20's nose, the density of the T/R modules would create significant cooling problems. For example, Phazotron's single greatest difficulty in designing the Zuk-AE was the AESA's thermal management system (Kopp, 2008). Without an effective cooling system, the Type 1475 would not be reliable at peak power output and would cause significant maintenance issues. Furthermore, with such a high number of T/R modules, the Type 1475 would be vulnerable to radar warning receiver (RWR) systems such as the ALR-94 without a very capable low probability intercept (LPI) mode. 

Many discussions with respect to the "relative stealthiness" of fighter aircraft are limited to merely comparing radar cross section estimates while entirely neglecting alternate means of detecting aircraft such as RWRs or other emission locator systems. David Axe succinctly compares the process of how RWRs function to how a flash light carried by another person is easily visible in a dark room. AESAs emit a substantial amount of energy, especially designs with a greater number of T/R modules, which enables passive emission locator systems to detect an AESA. The addition of an LPI software for AESAs mitigates the risk of RWR detection.  

The radar's signals are managed in intensity, duration and space to maintain the pilot's situational awareness while minimizing the chance that its signals will be intercepted.More distant targets get less radar attention; as they get closer to the F-22, they will be identified and prioritized; and when they are close enough to be engaged or avoided, they are continuously tracked - Bill Sweetman, 2001 

Image 6: Engagement boundaries for the AN/APG-77. Targets automatically receive higher tracking accuracy as they enter engagement boundaries in proximity to the F-22. The boundary concept facilitates automated sensor tasking and efficient sensor usage which contributes towards increased situational awareness and fewer emissions by the array (Ronald W. Brower, 2001). Image Credit: Ronald W. Brower & USAF, 2001.  

However, LPI software is not foolproof as demonstrated between tests involving F-22s and a CATbird avionics testbed equipped with the F-35's avionics package*. The F-35's avionics were able to jam and track multiple F-22 and F-15 radars during the exercise (Fulghum, Sweetman, Perrett & Wall, 2011).


Graphic 1: The data present in graphic 1 are assembled from numerous sources which are cited below. The formula: "(km known) * (new rcs/rcs known)^(0.25) = detection range of new rcs" was used to calculate many of the figures. T;E = maximum number of targets tracked & maximum number of targets engaged simultaneously. 

In summary, the high T/R module counts detailed in image 3 are likely too high to be considered legitimate. This is not to marginalize the significant advancements made by the Chinese aerospace industry in avionics, but the level of misinformation and disinformation prevalent within publications detailing Chinese military systems necessitates a strict research approach. The figures cited in image three are not consistent with what one could reasonably assume given the technological development of fighter mounted AESAs within other countries such as Russia, Israel, and the United States. Ultimately, determining the exact T/R module count for various Chinese AESAs is of little consequence when compared to the underlying trend that Chinese avionics firms have made staggering advancements over the past decade.

The vast majority of fighter aircraft currently deployed by the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) use Soviet designed MSAs such as the N010 and N001 series. Even the most capable of China's MSAs, the N0001VEP equipped on the Su-30MKK, can only track ten targets while engaging two simultaneously. Originally, the J-11 could only track ten targets and engage one before being upgraded to engage two targets simultaneously after 2003 (Global Security, 2014). The addition of even a comparatively primitive AESA would significantly increase the lethality of China's fourth and fifth generation fighter forces. One of the main constraints of China's existing fighter force detailed in graphic one is the limited detection range, tracking, and engagement numbers of the MSAs relative to Russian ESAs and American AESAs.

In a 2008 RAND report, Air Combat Past, Present and Future, John Stillion and Scott Perdue state the PLAAF has at least a three to one numerical superiority over the United States in a conflict over the Taiwanese strait around 2020. As part of the Russian method of fighter employment, each Flanker is equipped with between eight and twelve beyond visual range (bvr) air-to-air missiles in which multiple missiles are fired against each target to increase the probability of a kill (pk). In a modern digital radio frequency memory jamming environment, even capable radar guided missile such as the AIM-120 will likely have lower than a 0.50 pk (RAND, 2008). Hence the Russian bvr doctrine of launching at least two missiles against a single target as the pk increases as the number of missiles fired increases.

Image 7: Pk vs. missile salvo size. The AIM-120 has a pk. of 0.46 in combat against non-jamming targets. Image Credit: Air Power Australia, 2008.

The addition of fighter mounted AESA radars would enable Chinese pilots to launch missiles against a larger number of targets in the opening salvo of an air-to-air engagement as well as providing increased situational awareness for Chinese pilots when compared to current MSAs. The ability to engage more targets at beyond visual range effectively complements the PLAAF's numerical superiority by allowing each aircraft to make full use of their comparatively larger payload of air-to-air missiles. It is worth noting that the United States will continue to deploy large numbers of fourth generation aircraft such as the F-15C, F-16C/D, and F/A-18E/F into the late 2020s to 2030s; these aircraft will be especially put at risk as a result of improvements in Chinese avionics with respect to improved PLAAF bvr capabilities.

The enhancement of situational awareness gained by the deployment of AESAs is especially important given the shift within the PLA from Soviet and Russian inspired doctrines towards embracing an increasing number of American combat doctrines such as network centric warfare:
Almost all of the PLA’s 2013 exercises focused on operating in 'informationized' conditions by emphasizing system-of-systems operations, a concept that can be viewed as the Chinese corollary to U.S. network-centric warfare. This concept requires enhancing systems and weapons with information capabilities and linking geographically dispersed forces and capabilities into an integrated system capable of unified action. These operational training reforms are a result of the Outline of Military Training and Evaluation (OMTE), which was last published in mid-2008 and became standard across the PLA on January 1, 2009. Since that time, the PLA has pushed to achieve OMTE objectives by emphasizing realistic training conditions, training in complex electromagnetic and joint environments, and integrating new technologies into the PLA force structure. - Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2014, Department of Defense, 2014

Image 8: PLAAF Su-30MKK aggressor unit. Image retrieved via Sinodefense.

PLAAF pilots continue to improve their skills as a result of realistic large scale exercises such as Red Sword/Blue Sword and accumulate higher numbers of practice flight hours per year. PLAAF pilots accumulate 200 flight hours per year compared to pre-sequestration US fighter pilots accumulating 250 to 300 flight hours per year in their aircraft. The combination of new AESAs, adoption of new fighter employment doctrines, and improved pilot training will make the PLAAF an increasingly formidable fighting force and a near peer competitor to the USAF. While the PLAAF is unlikely to reach parity with the USAF in the near future, the advancements made by the PLAAF are substantial enough to pose a significant threat to US forces in the region given the PLAAF's in theatre numerical superiority. A USAF official interviewed by the National Interest astutely summarized the PLAAF's ongoing modernization program:
I think we can probably keep a slight advantage for quite some time, but a slight advantage means significant losses and less of a deterrent...Lets pretend the F-22 confronts current air-to-air threats outside of a SAM [surface-to-air missile] environment and has a 30 to one kill ratio today versus a [Sukhoi] Su-30 or [Shenyang] J-11. When the J-20 and J-31 come around, even a three to one kill ratio advantage becomes costly...Our competitors know the current reality and are working very hard to avoid the wide gap we have created by investing in those planes,they represent their attempt and creating parity in the skies.

*AN/APG-77 – the 1,500 T/R figure comes directly from a Defense Science Board report published by the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2001. The author judged credibility of direct source material to be more authentic than the commonly cited 2,000 or 1,994 T/R figure. The latter of the three figures was determined by counting the T/R modules visually by members of the forums. Neither the APG-77(V)1 nor the APG-77(V)2 upgrades include added T/R modules. Rather, the version one upgrade adds surface aperture radar mode and (V)2 adds commonality with the APG-81 with respect to maintenance purposes.

*The F-22 is likely able to overcome the limitations of LPI in an actual combat with the assistance of the ALR-94, sensor fusion, and tactics described by Bill Sweetman in article "The Next Generation" published in the Journal of Electronic Defense in 2000 (An online copy of the article is available in the source 41 citation courtesy of

Graphic 1 Related Notes

*EL/M-2035 - figures are from the EL/M-2032 of which the EL/M-2035 is a derivative. Also the figure provided is the maximum detection range of the radar in an air-to-air and does not give a corresponding rcs target

*Type 1493 - the name and tracking numbers provided by Sinodefense "PLAAF Su-27/J-11 Flanker". Kopp states the J-11B radar strongly resembles the Zhuk-27 (N010) radar, the J-8II is equipped with a N010 derivative, the Zhuk-811. Numerous Chinese internet sources claim the J-11B is equipped with an AESA radar but these claims are baseless and unsubstantiated. An official SAC image (below) clearly show a mechanically scanned array within the nose of the aircraft (available on Air Power Australia website). Similarly, many Chinese internet sources claim the J-11B incorporates stealth coatings and a reduced radar cross section along with an AESA. David Shalpak, The Chinese Air Force: Evolving Concepts, Roles, and Capabilities, dismisses the reduced rcs claims (pg. 196). Clearly a great deal of misinformation exists with respect to the J-11B. 

*Type 1473 - The maximum detection range figures listed for the Type 1473 are from the EL/M-2032 which is arguably its closest analogue with published performance data (the Israelis supplied EL/M-2032s to China in the early 1990s which was developed into the Type 1473). The tracking and engagement figures for the Type 1473 are provided by Sinodefense.  

*AN/APG-81 - 2015 service date refers to the scheduled first F-35B deployment by the USMC


My apologies for any formatting discrepancies, blogger has a terrible text editor with respect to numbered lists and indents. What is displayed in my preview often does not match what is actually displayed on the site and can require edits in HTML to fix. 

  1. Future DoD Airborne High-Frequency Radar Needs/Resources, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition and Technology, 2001. 
  2. Analysis: End of year surge for Chengdu J-20 fighter programme, Richard D Fisher Jr, 2015. 
  3. Sukhoi Flankers The Shifting Balance of Regional Air Power, Karlo Kopp, 2014. 
  4. Chinese naval J-11s spotted in the open, Ted Parsons, 2010. 
  5. The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapon Systems, Norman Friedman, 2006. 
  6. The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapons Systems, Norman Friedman, 1997 version.
  7. Serious Squall, Jean-Michel Guhl, 2009. 
  8. "Vigorous Dragon” Fighter Jets are a Full Set, Soon to be a Regiment, hJeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, 2014.                                                                                                                         
  9. Fourth known J-20 prototype makes first flight, Richard D Fisher Jr, 2014.
  10. PLA-AF and PLA-N Flanker Variants, Karlo Kopp, 2014.                                                 
  11. Phazotron Zhuk AE/ASE Assessing Russia's First Fighter AESA, Karlo Kopp, 2014.
  12. Active Electronically Steered Arrays A Maturing Technology, Karlo Kopp, 2014.
  13. Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Fire Control Radars, Northrup Grumman.
  14. Raytheon AESA Research: Past, Present and Future, Mike Sarcione, Porter Hull, Colin Whelan, Doug Tonomura, Thomas V. Sikina, Jim Wilson and Robert E. Desrochers II, 2014. 
  15. Airshow China 2014: Russia to supply China with more RD-93 turbofans, Nikolai Novichkov, 2014. 
  16. Raytheon (Hughes) AIM-120 AMRAAM, Andreas Parsch, 2007.                                       
  17. PLAAF SU-27 / J-11 ‘FLANKER’, Sinodefense, 2014.                                                        
  18. Fighters (Cont.), jetfight2000.                                                                                               
  19. Flanker Radars in Beyond Visual Range Air Combat, Karlo Kopp, 2014.
  20. ISRAEL & IN FOCUS: AESA radar emerges from US export shadow, Stephen Trimble, 2014. 
  21. EL/M-2052, IAI.                                                                                                                    
  22. Indonesia Air Force Handbook, USA International Business Publications 2007,                 
  23. Chinese Military Aviation, Hui Tong, accessed 2015.                                                         
  24. Chinese Airborne Radars, Paul Martell-Mead, 2013.,19984.0/prev_next,prev.html#new 
  25. First Typhoon Flight With AESA Could Open Door to Exports, Tom Kington, 2014. 
  26. 6th J-20 Stealth Fighter Rolls Out, More to Soon Follow, Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, 2014.
  27. Stealth Radar Tests On Passenger Jet, Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, 2014.
  28. AESA’s Advantages, Ed McKenna, 2008.                                                                           
  29. Stretching the ‘16, Frank Colucci, 2014.
  30. Northrop Grumman Completes Demonstrations of SABR for F-16s, Avionics Today, 2013.
  31. Radar Refits: F-15s Looking for the AESA Edge, Defense Industry Daily, 2014.
  32. Aiming high: China's air ambitions, Craig Caffrey, 2013/
  33. China Unveils More Capable Stealth Fighter Prototype, Feng Cao, 2014.
  34. Flanker Radars in Beyond Visual Range Air Combat, Karlo Kopp, 2014.
  35. China’s Stealth Aircraft Program Will Face Advanced Defenses, David A. Fulghum, Bill Sweetman, Bradley Perrett and Robert Wall, 2011.                                                              
  36. Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2014, Department of Defense, 2014.                                                                                                
  37. FIGHTER EW., Bill Sweetman, 2000.                                                                                 


  1. HI Matt

    Another Great article, but went above my head in technicality.

    What is the relationship between France and China avionics?
    Dose France ever supply/advise or give any help to china?

    I have read that France have given advice and technical assistance with china regarding Air-Craft Carrier in the past.


    1. Thanks Stone. Yeah you can tell I had trouble with the material as their are citations in every other sentence. The gist of it is, making AESAs is really hard! :D

      Given the opaque nature of China's military, I tried to reference the development of AESAs in other countries that we know more about to try and gain insight into China's development of their own AESAs. France was listed as the only country outside of the US to field a 1,000 T/R element array on their first generation design. The Russians and Israelis had less than 700 for both of their first generation AESAs. Thus, I didn't think the 1,200 T/R figure for China's first generation AESA was plausible.

      I'm not intimately familiar with how European T/Rs have affected China's development of AESAs but in general a lot of dual use technology from the EU goes to China. France is by far the largest exporter of dual use technology to China, over 1.95 billion Euros worth since 2001. An article published by Reuters, "The Chinese military machine’s secret to success: European engineering", has a lot of good information.

      I know Brazil has given some expertise to China with respect to carriers (but theirs is BARELY operational). BTW, how are things going in Australia? I haven't seen much in the news since the Sydney hostage crisis aside from the Australian Government lending aid toward the AirAsia search.

    2. HI Matt,

      Since the Hostage crisis the country went into a shock.

      As you might know we are a very left wing country. It was amazing (not really ;) ) that the Greens and Labor Left's where no where to be seen.

      They were the largest Voice against government granting power to ASIO and AFP.

      It has also put a big hit at the biases left wing media who kept saying that this type of act would never happen here. The France issue is also a wake up call too.

      Still the Guardian Australia and ABC news are in la la land. I think the US version is msbc? or something like that.

      Most of the politicians are on holidays still, so no real news. My Guess for 2015 we will be buying Jap Sub's.
      A Joint Drone base might be on the cards with the USA and AUS.

      Think ASIO and AFP will get more money and more power that's for Terrorist.

      But Countering China, there is no talk about that hear, as we have a very good relationship with China and the Asia pacific. It's like kicking a can down the road. If the news comes out about buying the Sub's there will be alot of talk about china, but after a few days it will be gone.

      The US media is very intensive about china. I have relatives in Europe and they barely talk about china. Not in the way we chat about them, here and on forums.

      We shill have not found the missing plane, would not want to be flying AirAsia or Malaysia air anytime soon.

      Been lot's of talk in the Media about Russia and it's military though. So that could also be why china chat has been down.

      The lady who got shot and sadly died, they are saying she was killed by a rickashay bullet, but one of the Tac Response teams :-(

      If china introduces a new stealth boomer or new missle, that will get quiet a fair bit of news.

      Other than that quiet for the moment.

    3. Thanks for the update! Its nice to get an idea of what is going on in Australia, I try to keep myself informed but major media outlets here don't have much on Australia at any given time (I read mostly Google News, Reuters, VOA, and the Wall street Journal). NSA reform has been stalled with Republicans talking the Senate majority and several key anti-NSA democrats have been voted out of office.

      As we have discussed, the Japanese option is probably the best aside from the Virginia-class. The latest article indicates Japan would be willing to co-produce submarines with Australia:

      I don't know if you've heard Defense Minister Johnston say he wouldn't trust ASC to build a canoe! Hope it works out :D

      With respect to China, I read 76% of Australians believe the most important economic relationship is with China and only 16% with the US. Despite the fact that the US (along with the UK) are by far the largest foreign investors in Australia. China is eighth with 4% of the US' total.

    4. Hi Matt,

      Well gee looks like someone is reading your thread in from the media. (lol, we where just talking about news in Australia)

      "I don't know if you've heard Defense Minister Johnston say he wouldn't trust ASC to build a canoe! Hope it works out :D "

      I laughed my ass off the chair when i seen hi comments, and his 100% right!. hahaha

      China Buy huge amount of resources at high prices and buy huge amounts of property's in main cities. I think it gets over blown in the media sometimes

      All the best

    5. Great article as always, on the Australian submarine note i wouldn't hold my breath for the Japanese option, A) Japan has laws against exporting weapons technology which would make program management really tricky, B) Japanese submarines have almost half the service life that ours do currently, they also have a much shorter range and the combat system would have to be changed to American, this all means a massive rework C) There is a lot of pressure for a home-built submarine, my bets on an upgraded Collins submarine, it's a good sub.

      We could never get a Virginia because the manning requirements are insane and we have trouble with ours as is, nuclear infrastructure is expensive and political suicide.

      ASC is fine at building things, it's program management that's the biggest problem.(if you have the time and money Collins Class Submarine Story is a great book that really illustrates this).

      ASPI is a great news source to keep up to date with Australian defence news, the ASPI Suggests weekly posts are fairly comprehensive of the happenings.

    6. Thank you Eskodas. With respect to the Collins replacement program, my understanding is the joint-development route has been gaining traction. Its a fairly reasonable compromise given the ongoing concerns with ASC. I tend to wary of scandalous media reports of defense programs, but in the case of the Collins it seems there are significant issues. Even with the manning, cost, and logistic considerations aside, if a submarine does not have a low acoustic signature it is going to be minimally effective. I'm aware improvements have been made to the Collins since entering active service with respect to lowering its acoustic signature, but I think Japanese assistance would be prudent from the get-go for the Collins replacement.

      I do like the ASPI strategist, I put it up on the top right of the page (blogs I follow). I try to keep myself up to date on Australian defense developments. I happen to think Australia is the best American ally at this point and I hope the that sentiment becomes more prevalent in Washington.

  2. Hi Matt,another excelent article.

    I think CATbird avionics vs Raptor is marketing to increase exports.This also happened in 2006 with the protorype of the EA-18G."Coincidentally"after the news of kill mark on the EA-18G's fuselage of an F-22,RAAF decided ti buy Growlers.

    1. Thank you! It is difficult to tell given that the rules of engagement are not published with respect to the CATbird test (same with the EA-18G). Although I'm confident in the abilities of the AN/APG-81, its one of the few systems that F-35 critics don't rage against on a frequent basis. While the EA-18G raptor kill rules of engagement aren't available, from what I've read the kill was achieved with an AIM-120.

      Its not inconceivable that the Growler managed to score a kill, but it would be interesting if further information was available (but I doubt it due to possible classified information).

  3. Matt.
    In fact you have a regard as young, full of naiveties. Thx for your blog, there are relevant informations. Your work is absolutly noteworthy

    About AESA I think neither you, me, Karlo Koop-even though it seems to be a good source-, and even US governement really aware about what chinese or russian 's AESA are really. Nevertheless, a thing is sure, Russia, and China have nothing to see what they were during the 90's.

    The supposed american superiority is only hype, it was during three wars:
    - Vietnam's war, US lost at least 2.500 aircrafts many of them were du to the Mig, even Mig-17
    - Iraq war, it was in fact an accident in history, because US benefits informations, and circonstances they will never meet in the future.
    - Serbia war, same thing second and last accident in the history.
    During the last conflct against Iraq, and Serbia, US were beside a coalition of nearly half of the planet, against small isolated, poor countries under blockade. Hence lack of the spare parts. For example during Serbia's war, serbian pilots had only few hours training in their Mig-29, furthermore, only a little part of this fleet was able to fight, with lack of all basics things.
    In these conditions there was easy to swagger a so-called supperiority of US hardware.

    Against Iraq -1991- after a week of skirmish Saddam ordered its fleet of fighters to flee in Iran. During this time Saddam successfully sent its aircrafts safetly in iranian air fields, including number of Il-76, and the two Iraqis awacs as everyone know how easily they could dodge US air to air missiles. Meanwhile, US claimed they supposed to have the total control of iraqis sky. the facts prove the contrary. US admited they lost at least 45 aircrafts, ovbiously -propaganda oblige- none of the losses were du air to air dogfights. During this conflict from 1991-2003 americans realize that the reliability of air to air missiles never exceeded 5%, to -amraam- 7% in the best cases, for that reason US doctrine of engagement is always at least 7 vs 1 ennemy.

    About the so-called US superiority about AESA technology, it is hard to say, during the soviet era there were parity, and US admited too that soviet Mig-31's radar was far ahead their american counterparts after soviet spy delivered the secret of the Mig-29 -export version possessed by Iraqis and serbians-, and Mig-31 radar.
    Nowadays it is complicated to say, nevertheless a thing is sure russian and chinese if they did not reach complete parity with US, they overpassed american hi tech. If a conflict occures between US vs India, China, and Russia US will learn at its expenses how reality is not virtual.

    For better infos:
    - about China
    - for air defense
    - See also Pierre Sprey analysis, as a specialist it is worth to hear.


    1. Actually, US aerospace superiority is evident in any conflict you careto examine.

      Taking the F4 Phantom, in a Vietnam early versions of the Phantom achieved a paltry 2:1 KR, but by war's end, later model Phantoms were seeing 12:1. IN 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israelil Phantoms dominated MiG-21. Phantom's higher thrust-to-weight ratio allowed a greater rate of climb that Phantom crew learned to use to decisive advantage.

      F-15 and F-16 have been completely dominant against every Soviet/ Russian type they have engaged. In fact, never before has an air force ever been so completely dominant. Both aircraft were a generation ahead of SU27 and MIG29.

  4. Here is another example where the evidence confronts the virtual certitude of US staff

    1. Thank you for the comment, and I apologize for the late response.

      While the current level of US military technological superiority is certainly in decline in relative terms, I would disagree with respect to the Gulf War. Within US military policy circles and even within Chinese military academic writings, it is readily accepted that the overwhelming conventional military superiority of the United States during the Persian Gulf War contributed towards China's development of its anti-access strategy along with the third Taiwanese strait crisis and the bombing of the Serbian-Chinese embassy. Andrew Erickson, one of the most widely acclaimed US China scholars (who has testified before Congress) has written extensively on this topic.

      US missiles had low pks during the Gulf War but US F-15's still managed to score at least 39 air-to-air kills with no causalities. The overwhelming and undeniable superiority of coalition air power is evident by the number of Iraqi pilots who took their aircraft and fled to Iran, the principal regional rival of Iraq.

      I will agree to an extent with your Vietnam argument. However, Vietnam's failures were the catalyst for several of the extensive changes the USAF underwent to make it into a more effective fighting force during the 1970s and 1980s. It is also important to note that most US aircraft causalities were a result of AAA or SA-2s rather than Vietnamese Migs.

      The Mig-31 is certainly an interesting aircraft and there is no doubt that the N-007 radar was very capable. Good info:

      But it is important to look at the entire fighting force rather than a single individual platform. In that respect, the US APG-68, APG-63, and APG-73 were far superior to their Soviet counterparts. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, East German Mig-29s were used by German pilots in mock exercises against US fighter aircraft. While the Migs off boresight missile capability was very effective at visual range, German Mig pilots said US radar technology at beyond visual range was far superior:

  5. I think the module count numbers are accurate, unfortunately. Consider this source:

    Basically, if we assume the Chinese are a generation behind the United States, their module densities seem realistic for what they can achieve. Remember, both the Flankers and the J-20 has an aperture size advantage over the F-15 and F-22 respectively; this means that they can cram more modules simply because they have more space at their disposal. If you use the ~1950 module APG-77v2 as a baseline and then staple on 21% more modules to compensate for increased aperture size in the Flanker and J-20, were the Chinese to use the same technology level as the United States, their AESAs would have about 2360 modules. Having a reported 1860 module AESA radar indicates their relative backwardness.

    Of course, it is possible that the J-20 AESA is newer than what is depicted, which is claimed as a 2009-era AESA, but if the latest J-16s are going up in the air with 1760 T/R AESAs they are likely still quite behind our cutting edge.

    1. Rereading the information; you've obviously seen the F-16 posts, but I think the point is that you're not considering variation in aperture sizes. The Su-27 series aircraft tend to have slightly larger radar apertures than the F-15s, as does the J-20 versus the F-22. It's designed for; the Soviets didn't feel that their radar would have been able to match the F-15 in BVR, so they intentionally built their radome to support a larger radar to defeat the F-15 through brute force.

      The same factor applies to the J-20 vs the F-22; the F-22's small radar aperture, relative to the F-15, was actually noted as a design flaw, given that it's approximately .85 m^2 compared to the .9-.95 m^2 on the F-15. That's why in counter-stealth tactics, the F-15 is used as a spotlight; because it has a larger radar than the F-22. The J-20, while flawed in other aspects, was intentionally designed to have either the largest or second largest radome after the PAK-FA. If it's larger than the T-50, the only aircraft that could possibly compete with the J-20 would be the ATD-X, and for the ATD-X the radome size is also designed for as part of its mission profile (interceptor, high-speed approach, detect opponents at long range, shoot BVRs, speed home).

      The same factor actually applies to the J-10B vs the F-16. The F-16 was not designed for the BVR mission; that was supposed to be the role of the F-15 in the F-16 / F-15 lo-hi mix. The F-16 has a relatively small-apertured radar, as a consequence, while the J-10B's radar aperture was deliberately redesigned during the J-10A to J-10B upgrade process to support a larger radar.

      The aperture size is an active choice to increase aerodynamic drag and RCS in order to increase radar effectiveness; take the Eurofighter vs the Rafale, for instance, the Eurofighter is a far superior BVR fighter to the Rafale, simply because it has a larger radar aperture than the Rafale. The French opted for WVR dominance and maneuverability, instead of the range, speed, and sensors of the Eurofighter. The Chinese and the Russians made the same choices with the PAK-FA, Flankers, and J-20; they aren't confident that their radars will be up to snuff with regards to current generation American aircraft, so what they're choosing to do is to increase aperture size; they can't beat American fighters in space and energy efficiency, but they can beat American fighters in raw power.

    2. I apologize for the late response, have had to do a lot of traveling lately. When I did the research for this article, I was cognizant of the fact that if the 2,000 APG-77 figure were true then the entire basis for my findings would be questionable. However, I still maintain that an official DoD figure is more credible than estimations made by visually counting T/R modules. It certainly can be argued differently but I think more often than not a primary source has greater validity.

      I had not seen the aperture sizes for the F-22 and F-15 previously, could you please link me the source? Thank you!

      I would agree with your argument that the Russian's and the Chinese have larger aperture's to compensate for their comparatively less advanced packaging technology. However, the point I raise in the article about the importance of low probability intercept modes is still valid especially if the Chinese and Russians have beat US systems in terms of raw power.

    3. Thanks for the polite response, I admit I've been a bit condescending and I apologize for it.

      First, regarding the DOD figures; I am of the absolute opposite opinion. We've seen pictures of the F-22's actual AESA, and because of cheeky Japanese module counters we have a relatively high estimate of the F-22's ability.

      The picture needs to be explained somehow; why is there a APG-77 that seems to have 1950 T/R modules? Is that a prototype unit that never made it into service? Is it an obsolete model that has since been replaced by AESAs with lower T/R counts?

      Quite likely, the exact module count is classified and even though illegal module counts have been made by Japanese hobbyists, the official module count is still ~1500, and the DoD is just repeating the official figures, sort of like how Hellfire missiles were supposed to have only 5km in range during the Cold War, when in actuality they had 10km of range.

      The other possibilities are that the F-22 AESA pics were prototypes and that it was uneconomical or technically unfeasible to produce in such densities; while the module size was correct, you needed a lot of tubing to provide reliable cooling; that there was a transition from high module count to intermediate module count, which makes sense if you look at the point-and-shoot camera industry; their imaging sensors reached such high densities that by packing more pixels, you ended up with lower image quality due to quantum effects, or the pictures were simply off.

      About aperture sizes; I don't believe there are official sources, but this is an unofficial claim by a forum posting:

      You can do the measurements yourself with a schematic, which will be inaccurate because radar aperture size is not commensurate with radome size, but assuming they're proportional the information will be accurate.


      One other possibility is pretty wicked from a Chinese or Russian point of view. I don't really follow the VVSR; but I know the Chinese operate L-band AESAs with their KJ-2000 and KJ-200 aircraft. What's possible is that the Chinese will aim to operate a bistatic system; ie, they don't need secure transmissions from their AEW&C to their fighters, because their AEW&C are vulnerable to jamming and hacking, but what'll happen is that the L-band AEW&C will transmit and the fighter's L-band AESA will receive. That achieves bistatic radar anti-stealth; because the transmitter and receiver are significantly distant from each other the deflector aspect of stealth shaping will be less effective, as well as allowing the Chinese to use L-band seekers on their aircraft without having to turn on their fighter radars. The problem with stealth in combination with anti-air missiles is that if you consider that full-size fighter radars tend to detect fully-stealthy aircraft like the F-22 at only 19 nmi ranges, think about how much harder it will be for missile seekers to paint a F-22. Better idea: have an AEW&C paint the target aircraft and have the missile seeker home on the aircraft's return emissions.

      However, using an L-band system of systems means that you need L-band AWACS instead of X-band AWACS. L-band T/R modules, for whatever reason, seem to be larger than their X-band counterparts, probably due to wavelength size, so it's possible the reason the Chinese T/R counts are so low is because they're designing for a multi-static L-band system.

    4. No worries, thank you for the aperture info. Classification issues could certainly be an explanation of the 1,500 T/R figure. It the classified bit is true but then an issue is why would the DoD release images of the APG-77 in full view if they wanted to keep the T/R figure secret? The T/R modules within the APG-81 are used for the APG-77(V)2 which are smaller than the original T/R modules used in the APG-77 according to a Microwave Journal publication (the article actually says (V)1 has the APG-81 T/R but I'm pretty sure the (V)1 refers to the SAR upgrades and the (V)2 has the APG-81 T/R modules.

      Regardless, with the smaller APG-81 T/R modules it might have been possible for them to fit more in the Raptor's nose but to the best of my knowledge the DoD has not indicated anything about increasing the number of T/R modules in the APG-77 to closer towards the 2,000 figure. Once again, it might have occurred but it is likely classified.

      Does the L-band radars provide target quality tracks for missiles? I’m aware VHF radars used by the Russians are at best early warning systems against stealth aircraft. Maintaining a low emissions signature is certainly difficult as you discussed with respect to integrating AWACS assets. Hopefully the data-links supporting NIFC-CA will be designed to operate under high jamming environments but it does possess an immense capability when integrated with the E-2D (similar to what you mentioned about other aircraft painting the desired target):

      “The key to that capability is the aircraft’s powerful UHF-band hybrid mechanical/electronically-scanned AN/APY-9 radar built by Lockheed Martin. Both friend and foe alike have touted UHF radars as an effective countermeasure to stealth technology….Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin appear to have overcome the traditional limitations of UHF-band radars in the APY-9 by applying a combination of advanced electronic scanning capability together with enormous digital computing power in the form of space/time adaptive processing… Under the NIFC-CA ‘From the Air’ (FTA) construct, the APY-9 radar can act as a sensor to cue Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles for Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets fighters via the Link-16 datalink. Additionally, the APY-9 also acts as a sensor to guide Standard SM-6 missiles launched from Aegis cruisers and destroyers against targets located beyond the ships’ SPY-1 radars’ horizon via the Cooperative Engagement Capability datalink under the NIFC-CA ‘From the Sea’ (FTS) construct. And thus far, all live-fire NIFC-CA missile shots have been successful.”



    5. It's common expectation right now that the Chinese basically looted most of the research for the F-35 program's radar, so they could be far less behind than is commonly believed. On the other hand, the problem with depending on stolen technology is that you become vulnerable to bugs and traps; there was a famous story about the United States intentionally losing control software for oil control pipelines to the Soviet Union. A couple of years later, US spy satellites reported a massive, almost nuclear explosion, in the Siberian wilderness, which was attributed to faulty or sabotaged control software obtained by the Soviets.

      One big factor is that I'm almost 100% sure the Chinese are ahead of the Russians in the semi-conductor business, because of SMIC, which has Chinese ex-president Jiang Zemin's son on the board of directors, having various partnerships with IBM's chip foundry business and conducting technology transfers. They are 1-2 generations or 4-6 years behind the cutting edge, of course, they were planning to open up 28nm fabs last year and probably won't be able to scale up this year, whereas Intel opened 14nm fabs last year and TSMC opened up 20nm fabs around the same time. The Russians simply don't have anything comparable; they might be more advanced in airframe design and aerodynamics, but their computing technology, just as during the Cold War, is antiquated. Remember, it was the Russians who developed the equations for stealth shaping, but they didn't have the computing technology necessary to do the simulations, and they literally published them as unclassified data. The United States, on the other hand, had the computers to weaponize the mathematics, and the rest is history.

      The other part is that the Chinese have had AESA technology for quite some time, but not to the same scale or sophistication as Western AESA technology. The KJ-2000 AESA radars are from the mid-2000s, built with probable Israeli assistance, and there were rumors of the Chinese using AESA on their ship-based radars.

      The Russians are definitely ahead in terms of weapons design and creative solutions to technical problems (see jam-proof laser-wire hybrid-guidance missiles, radar-assisted explosive reactive armor), but I think the Chinese have them beat when it comes to semiconductor electronics, their design might be a bit plodding and mundane,


      About the classified T/R module count, I think it was possible there was a screw-up and no one thought that someone would obtain pictures of T/R modules in enough resolution to do a manual count (trust me, I've tried, and it's backbreaking and boring work; it's very hard to keep focused on the column you're working on and figuring out how many elements there are in the column), or possibly the pictures were of obsolete radars, or that there's something else going on. Still, the pictures are out there, and they need to be explained away somehow.

      About L-Band, well, the counter-stealth UHF-band radar on the E-2D is actually longer than the L-Band and delivers lower resolution, if you're looking at it from a band-perspective only. I suspect, however, that using a combination of advanced AESA technology and large apertures you can get around resolution problems to some extent with L-band. There was also talk about a L-band AESA for the F-35; I'm not sure what happened to it, so it's possible L-band, combined with the latest technologies, can deliver enough resolution to obtain tracking solutions.

      About the E-2D, one interesting thing is that UHF-band is loosely defined to mean any signal between 300 MHz and 3 GHz. L-band is actually within UHF-band, so it's not impossible that the E-2D is actively employing a multi-static strategy itself.

  6. With all due respect, this is a fabulous article with great effort from Matt. One interesting point could be the technological basis used in this article and I personally reckon it could be arguable given that the fast-growing AESA abilities across the development of CAESAR AESA, APG-63V4 AESA, APG-81 AESA, and RBE-2 AESA appeared in less 5 years.

    I would not say China has approached the same abilities as their European partners but as to the latest official publishing(, there are at least two points that might contribute to this discussion.

    1. The chief designer of the first fighter mounted AESA has promoted "the AESA designing ability" to the APG-77 level. And thanks to Israel-China Friendship, the transfer of the packaging technology of Year 2000 level was very likely after the failure of phalcon deal. Without the acknowledgement of this technological base, it is hardly explainable that China can develop so many AWACS (KJ-2000, KJ-200, ZDK-03, and KJ-500) as well as fighter mounted AESA on J-10B and J-16.
    So it would be interesting to know your opinion and re-estimate China's AESA ability according to designing level of early APG-77 and packaging technology after ten year's huge investment and development. It is still impossible for China to approach the latest technology level of US products but should it close the gap between Chinese and European AESA, it is a great achievement for Chinese avionics.

    2. It is officially recognized as X-band fighter mounted AESA so that the entire basis of using L-band from Aspirant might be questionable. And is it possibly logical that China is not developing AESA abilities to counter US only and it better follow the pace of the leader and develop X-band for possible regional conflicts and export market?

    1. Thank you! Well ten years from now I'd imagine gallium nitride (GaN) based arrays would start to become fitted to fighter aircraft and replace today's gallium arsenide (GaAs) based arrays. GaN's have the potential to provide much more powerful AESAs and the US has already invested heavily in GaNs. A Defense News article published in 2011 stated the US was two years ahead of European firms with respect to GaN research.

      The sixth generation F-X will almost certainly feature a GaN array around 2030. The bottom line is I think the US will be able to sustain its technological edge, though it will be somewhat diminished, due to the massive R&D budget and huge pool of intellectual capital. The Chinese defense aerospace industry has proven itself adept in copping Western technology to the point of reaching parity in some respects with the West, but I would argue it has struggle to innovate new technologies and surpass the US. In fact, the emphasis on reverse engineering effectively dampens domestic innovation. Ultimately though as the article states, they do not have to equals to the US in terms of AESA tech to pose a significant threat.

      With respect to the export market, the only Chinese AESA that is going to be export as of now will be equipped on the JF-17 Block III. China has states willing to purchase their arms exports (Burma and Pakistan) but China really does not have committed strategic allies that would be of use, militarily, in a conflict with the US.



    2. Thanks Matt. We might all agree that China is hardly parity with the United States on the AESA technological basis in very near future (let's say, 10 years at least).
      But what really interest me would be the trend in the past 10-15 years. As to my personal opinion, the advancement in AESA abilities is up to the experience in pulse-Doppler radar and the production capacity of electronic components. Nowadays, although India and Japan can claim their success in designing the AESA system, Israel and China are the only two countries outside US and European countries which demonstrate their technological success in both areas and thus the proven AESA abilities.

      Israel apparently benefited from France technologies and possible US ToT ( or from their patriots in US) but China was too weak to produce its indigenous pulse-Doppler radar (comparable to western standards) before 2000. And if an estimate of its AESA abilties can be made from current available publishing, I would bet the starting level was a bit higher than Israel and closer to France (800 - 1000 T/R modules?). This might explain the 1,200 T/R modules for J-10B in image 3 in your article as it was stated as 1.5 generation AESA. So there should be another "so-called" 1st generation AESA in China and if we assumed it was based on the compensation from Israel after the failure of phalcon deal, everything looked reasonable (As Israel wouldn't transfer their latest packaging technology, China still had to develop from 1st generation @ 800 - 1000 T/R modules).

      1. Technological base for pulse-Doppler radar

      Even in the late 90s, China relied heavily on Russia technologies to update its surface-to-air and air force radar systems. However, airborne radar from Russia might have advantages in raw power but apparently it lacked ability in designing and producing Western-style modern and compact pulse-Doppler fire-control radar. China's well-known experience with western radar design from F8-II "Peace Pearl" or Lavi might be limited and not enough to break through the obstacle in pulse-Doppler radar straight away but their insist on western airborne radar design style rewarded them a lot in the future AESA development. Besides possible copy from Israel friends or European partners(France and UK?), they might also be able to touch on Italian FIAR Grifo used on F-7P and F-7PG. And their success in this area was quite provable: the downgraded or export version KLJ-7 on JF-17 could beat a few western competitors and it is quite safe to say that pulse-Doppler radar from China has approached a similar level to at least a "weak" France position (Italy?).

      2. Technological base for the production capacity of electronic components
      While Russia is struggling with their AESA system and highly suspicious about China's AESA abilities, China can easily benefit from a more advanced electronics industry than Russia in this area. And China is such a biggest fan of US and definitely they had a focus on the APG-77 level in the dreaming time. That would be interesting as China was very late in the successful club of pulse-Doppler radar but enjoyed a good time to invest heavily in GaAs and GaNs. Yes, the US still sustains its technological edge and "following the leader" may not be a successful strategy for China to overtake the leading position.

      However, it would be interesting to see what would be the actual global and regional strategy of China in the following years and a "second to US" position in AESA and other military areas might be pretty enough for them to secure their interest in next twenty years. If Russia can secure their interests across Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea, and Syria at a "much weaker USSR" position, why not China can expect more from their Georgia (Japan), Ukraine (Vietnam), Crimea (Taiwan) and so on?

      It is not too much to US to tolerate for a country with nearly same GDP in 2020, isn't it?

    3. You are probably right that China's AESA module counts aren't limited because of pursuit of L-band technology for AEW&C + fighter bistatic systems. However, I do have objections on other points.

      First, AESA module count can't be used as a sole measurement of a radar's technological advancement; ie, if I link up two RBE-2 AESAs together I've doubled the RBE-2's module count, but it doesn't necessarily make my AESA more advanced because the transmission and reception density has not changed and obviously a twinned RBE-2 system can't be put into a Rafale. AESA module count should instead contribute to module density and power density, whose geometric average should indicate radar effectiveness.

      That's why the Rafale's T/R count is so small, because the Rafale wasn't designed as a BVR fighter and consequently it has a small radar aperture. With the same level of technology as the Eurofighter, it can't stick in the same number of T/R modules simply because there isn't enough space.

      Second, about GaN, GaN is actually used for civilian telecommunications technology and GaN prices are dropping dramatically. I would not be surprised to see a F-35 running around with a GaN AESA between 2018 and 2023; it is a couple of years earlier than your 10-year time frame, but I think the rate of technological advancement is there; the F-35 is already sporting a jammer pod or jammer module that uses GaN AESA for jamming.

      Third, I suspect the difference between European AESA levels and American AESA levels might not be as far as is commonly believed. The CAESAR AESA system is claimed to have a module count of 1500 T/R modules, while the Typhoon and the F-35 have essentially identical radar apertures. This means that the F-35, if you accept the Japanese estimates, should have about 10% more T/R modules than the Eurofighter. About the Chinese claiming to be up to the level of the APG-77; there are at least three APG-77s with at least 2 different sets of T/R modules. They may be up to any given level of the radar, although I suspect they're up to the APG-77v2, given their compromise of the F-35 systems.

    4. By the way, if the figure you want is whether or not the Chinese have packaging technology on par with the West; the answer is no:

      Russian AESA:

      ~1 meter diameter AESA for PAK-FA and Flankers, 1500 modules

      Density: 1909 modules / m^2

      Chinese AESA:

      J-16 AESA, 1 meter diameter

      Density: 2240 modules / m^2

      J-20 AESA: 1.05-1.1 meter diameter

      Density: 2143 modules / m^2

      French AESA:

      RBE-2: .6 meter diameter

      Density: ~3000 modules / m^2

      Old American AESA:

      F-22 (based on 1950 modules): .9 meter diameter

      Density: 3065 modules / m^2

      Eurofighter AESA:

      CAESAR: .7 meters diameter

      Density: 3897 modules / m^2

      Modern American AESA:

      F-35 (based on 1650 modules): .7 meter diameter

      Density: 4287 modules / m^2.

    5. Here's also something very peculiar, that I think you should be aware of. The J-10's radar aperture is supposed to be 700mm, while the J-10B's AESA is claimed to have around 1200 modules. The resulting calculation puts the J-10B's module density strictly at three thousand, which is weird, because for everything else we've seen the Chinese do around 2.2 max modules per m^2.

      It's weird because when the pictures of the J-10B's ESA was revealed, people started arguing over whether or not it was a PESA or AESA module, especially since there were IFF dipoles. That was pretty controversial; although all sources seem to agree that the J-10B is currently flying with an AESA. The question, rather, is whether the radar you have a picture of is actually the radar the production version is flying with. The story I'm happiest with is that the picture of the J-10B is actually of a PESA, but the J-10B was upgraded to an AESA before it hit production status. So the picture that's flying around is actually completely superfluous and has no relevance to an actual production AESA.

      But it's weird that the J-10B is claimed to have a module density up to the F-22 level, when all other Chinese AESAs seem to have an antiquated module density.

    6. Thanks Aspirant. I think your points make sense to some extent while we don't have enough information from official documentation.

      1. Both US and EU have invested and presented their achievements in AESA, which continues their leading positions from pulse-Doppler radar so that no one would doubt it.
      So if the baseline was set from China's radar system in late 90s, it makes reasonable estimates that the achievement in 15 years may not enough to catch up with leaders' paces. As such, Russia, Inida, and Japan always make most skeptical arguments on China's AESA abilities.

      2. The question is actually how much China could benefit from western and Russian technologies between 1995 and 2005. If we use Israel's 1st generation AESA as starting points(700 TR), do we believe China developed 1st generation way behind this level? If China started with a level higher than Israel's 1st generation and their huge investment is NO.2 in this planet for last 5 or 10 years, the gap between western and China AESA may not be as big as many people recognized.

      T/R module count itselt doesn't mean everything but if we reckon a radar system would be quite balance in all aspects, it is an easy indicator or mostly possible one we can have at this moment without offical acknowledgement from China.

      Generally, a 1200 TR AESA (J10B) in nose cone of nearly same size of Rafale F3 might not be deeply poor in thermal management, processing performance, etc. I believe it is still a interior one for J10B's AESA compared with RBE-2 AESA but the major question lies in its engine's power. It may also lacks a full package of EW suite as Rafale but the suite on JF-17 is another reference we can get from public information.

      3. As to the latest offical documentation from 14 institute (link in the above post), they actually didn't say the performance reached APG-77's level and the sample machine in 2009 would most likely be a one aiming to match the early APG-77 other than the APG-77v2.
      But it is 2015 now and there should be a new one in ongoing development. Also notice this sample machine was in 2009 and RBE-2 AESA completed testing and was delivered in 2010 - China is still behind France but it could be another reason I may reckon a "weak France" position is achievable for them.

    7. Hi Aspirant,

      Thank you for all the information provided and I don't have problem that the Chinese don't have packaging technology on par with the West NOW but according to what happened to their investment and development in AESA or radar industry between 2005-2015, it is or will soon be a "weak France" position - e.g., not comparable to the US but only interior to latest "on-fly" European technology.

      1. J-16 AESA, 1 meter diameter from image 3 (Matt's article) only has 1760 TR but it doesn't affect the image that China already fitted a bit more advanced fighter AESA in a similar size Flanker than Russia. and J-16 was also speculated as the first one to equip with AESA so it might represent its technical level before 2010.

      2. There are too many rumors about J-10B's radar. As far as I can guess, it flied with PESA at its maiden flight as if the AESA that was more capable than the one on J-16 was still under testing.

      3. China never declared J-10B fitted with F-22 level AESA. Since 14 institute is the designer and possibly the technology leader in China, the latest documentation from them at least represented the direction they are working on: for AESA with packaging technology to reach around 3000 modules / m^2 or 2500+ modules / m^2, which would be also a reasonable target to match the level of early APG-77 and RBE-2.

      4. No matter 2000, 2500+ or 3000 modules / m^2 China can use in the near feature, it represented the level interior to European technology but we can see the gap would be narrowing fast.

      5. It's hard to estimate AESA on J-10B/C or J-20 without official confirmation and especially J-20 is still in development stage so it is likely to equip a latest AESA version. Considering a far bigger nose cone it has compared with Rafale, even the packaging technology to 2500 or 3000 modules / m^2 level can secure its advantage to Rafale if India get that in the near feature.

    8. Re Aspirant

      Thanks for the density and GaN posts. I was not aware of the growing commercial application of GaNs. The only US military systems that incorporate GaNs to my knowledge, as of now, are the AMDR and Next Generation Jammer which are both a few years from being fielded. The Gripen NG will also use GaN on its electronic warfare suit components so its possible the F-35's AN/ASQ-139 might receive GaN upgrades in the future?

      I'm assuming the 1,600 T/R count for the APG-81 is also from the forums right? The DSB report cites 1,200 T/R but as we've both discussed for the APG-77, that might be a watered down figure released to the public and the actual is classified.

      With respect to the J-10 AESA, IHS Janes did report that the J-10B's nose has been extended to fit a wider radar aperture so if the 700mm figure is from the J-10A that might explain the discrepancy.

    9. "The Chinese defense aerospace industry has proven itself adept in copping Western technology to the point of reaching parity in some respects with the West, but I would argue it has struggle to innovate new technologies and surpass the US. In fact, the emphasis on reverse engineering effectively dampens domestic innovation"

      I think that's a really dangerous perspective. First, I think it's really dangerous to simply assume that China is "copying". What China is doing is studying any piece of technology they can get their hands on and "adapting". It's not blind or mindless. Second, the notion that reverse engineering or copying impedes innovation is a bit of an unfounded cliche. If we look at the history of countries that managed to catch up and technologically surpass the incumbent not only does copying and reverse engineering give technological laggards the ability to leapfrog the innovation process, but it actually acts as an accelerant to innovation, because when approached correctly it helps build a knowledge base much faster than if technological development is attempted independently. Furthermore, this idea that copying is a dependency that discourages the copier from not thinking nnovatively assumes that copying and innovation are mutually exclusive processes. Everything we know about the history of innovation suggests that they are in fact not intrinsically mutually exclusive, and can very well be additive.

    10. Its hard to make a broad assessment given the degree of variation between technology sectors. However, there is a significant volume of empirical evidence that would suggest China is having difficulty cultivating human capital due to corruption and organizational inefficiencies (pg. 43)

      Though the current US Science and Technology policy is so bad, e.g. the need for high skilled immigration reform (H1-B), it wouldn't surprise me if China caught up much sooner than many in the US anticipate.

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    Hi Matt and Aspirant,

    Are there any official documents to confirm the TR count for RBE-2, early APG-77, and CESAR?

    As such found in 2014,the Captor-E is 1,500 TR, RBE2 AESA for 1,000 TR.

    Another article in very early 2000s said 1,500 TR for early APG-77 and APG-63V2.

    As compared with Aspirant's data, I regarded prototyping radars in image 3 might not be the actual one carried by J10B or J16. But if RBE2 AESA is 1,000 TR, 1,200 TR looks too good to fit J10B and especially the image was based on information before 2009 (the last one in image 3 was declared for J20 with its status in 2009).

    However, since it was publicly known that the mass production cost was once a serious issue, cost might be another reason that China produced the prototyping radar of 1200TR for J10B before 2009 but had to wait for the mature production technology to make it affordable in 2013 or 2014.

    On the other hand, as J-16 has a large nose cone, even a less advanced packaging technology could be used to produce their first applicable fighter AESA on it and if so, 1500 -1760 TR would still be good enough to make such decision.

    1. For the RBE-2 I used the Avionics Today publication (its under the sources section in the article) which puts it at 1,000 T/R. Its a reputable publication but its not an official source e.g. not the French Defense Ministry. The APG-77 Figure is from a defense science board report released in 2001 and states 1,500 T/R. The DSB report is an official US Government document hence my insistence on the 1,500 figure vs the ~2,000 figure cited by others. Though it is still debatable. I am not aware of any captor-E radar figures that are legitimate but I have seen the 1,500 estimate.

    2. Thanks Matt.

      Thales doesn't provide the T/R count on their website either but the RBE-2 is most likely at 1,000 T/R as they were also presented to Brazil, India, and such.

      The early APG-77 from many sources is at 1,500 T/R and of course the latest version should have more. Although APG-81 might present the latest technology, F-22 is the top frontline fighter to afford whatever price (1 T/R was reported at price higher than USD 2,000) while F-35 may make compromise with T/R counts and mass production ability.

      Besides that, once China can produce its first proven X-band AESA, it would take much fewer years to improve the performance by increasing T/R counts than what they used in making first modern Doppler radar. Also, no matter GAaS or GaN is involved, the production cost should at least partly follow Moore's law and make it easier to produce affordable AESA.

      If the prototyping radars in image 3 ban be taken seriously, J-10B may have a radar of 1,200 T/R to match the RBE-2 to some extent(80%-90%?) even if its MMIC technology and processing efficiency could be interior to the French. And the huge investments from China in recent years and foreseeable future may secure the upgrade of its AESA at a faster pace than their French friends.

      As to the application of GaN, China is following the US in the laser weapon development while their European partners are likely to put weights on butter and bread. It would not be a big surprise if China would be a "second to US" to mass produce an applicable GaN based AESA.

  9. perhaps J-20 has more powerful AESA but lacks effective LPI mode, can this problem solved through software upgrade、

  10. Well, this comment is a bit late in coming - Thank you for a wonderful and detailed analysis. Helps a non-tech guy like me to understand this AESA business.