Tags: China | Buy | Russian | 'Stealth' | Destroyer

China to Buy Russian 'Stealth' Destroyer

Tuesday, 01 May 2001 12:00 AM

The news comes the day after it emerged that Russia and China will sign a comprehensive bilateral treaty defining future relations between Moscow and Beijing over a 20-year period. The treaty is to be signed during Chinese leader Jiang Zemin's visit to Russia in July. According to the Russian news agency, Tass, one important element in strengthening bilateral relations is the expansion of military cooperation.

China last year took delivery of two Russian Sovremenny-class destroyers, and has ordered six more, according to Jane's, an authoritative guide to military hardware. Now, the Chinese are negotiating for the purchase of another two Sovremennys-these ones equipped with the latest anti-radar "stealth" technology-according to Richard Fisher, China arms expert at the Jamestown Foundation.

The destroyers are considered the most formidable ships of the Chinese fleet, mainly because they are equipped with the Russian Sunburn anti-ship missile, which is designed to carry a 120 megaton nuclear warhead. Even with a conventional warhead, the Sunburn is considered extremely dangerous, because its high speed, low altitude and great agility make it almost impossible for anti-missile defenses to stop.

Said one U.S. defense expert: "The sheer final speed of the Sunburn's attack on the target is a real problem for a defensive system." The missile also has control surfaces on the airframe that allow it to do "a couple of very sharp zig-zags before it hits."

If the Chinese used the Sunburn, "some ships would be sunk," said a U.S. official.

The strategic significance of this, according to U.S. defense experts, is that it may inhibit the U.S. from deploying aircraft carriers in the Taiwan Straits in the event of a military confrontation with China. Without these carriers, analysts say, it would be very difficult to break a Chinese blockade of Taiwan.

But according to Fisher, China is looking to upgrade its naval missile capability even further. "The Sunburn is a large, bulky missile," said Fisher and China is trying to replace it with the Yakhont-a ram-jet-powered missile like the Sunburn, except that it's "smaller and (even) harder to detect."

The Yakhont purchase is currently being negotiated as well, Fisher said.

"China is looking for a missile that can be launched in volume in smaller containers by vertical anti-aircraft weapons or anti-ship mounts," he said.

Commenting on the "stealth" version of the Russian destroyer, an administration official confirmed that China is emphasizing stealth in its weapons development because: "It's the detectability of the hardware that's the issue. You want to be there before the enemy knows you there."

The United States can "conceal the presence of hardware," he added, "This means you don't give the adversary enough reaction time to respond."

Dave Smith, China threat expert and president of Global Horizons, Inc., said that the "stealth" technology that the new Sovremennys are equipped with includes coats of reflective paint that help to reduce its radar signature.

U.S. officials said that China is also purchasing a Russian-built fast attack craft that carries four Sunburns called the Molniya.

The only U.S. weapons system designed to counter an anti-ship missile like the Sunburn is the Aegis radar-equipped Arleigh Burke class destroyer. The Bush administration recently declined to sell the Aegis to Taiwan.

With a radar system that can handle between 100 and 200 targets at once, the Aegis-equipped destroyers are considered state-of-the-art weapons. The ships have very sophisticated radars and fire-control systems that can simultaneously defend against surface, air and underwater attack, while also launching offensive strikes of its own.

The Arleigh Burke class destroyer also has two anti-ship Harpoon missiles and can carry helicopters to extend its early warning capability beyond the ship's horizon radars and guide missiles to those targets.

Pentagon officials recommended against the sale in this year's arms package to Taiwan in part because that country's military would be unable to absorb them. It could take up to two years to select and furnish a shipyard capable of housing the advanced destroyers.

President Bush's advisers have recommended that future decisions on the sale the Aegis system be made contingent on whether or not China continues its military build up.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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The news comes the day after it emerged that Russia and China will sign a comprehensive bilateral treaty defining future relations between Moscow and Beijing over a 20-year period. The treaty is to be signed during Chinese leader Jiang Zemin's visit to Russia in July....
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2001-00-01
Tuesday, 01 May 2001 12:00 AM
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