NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
China has deployed one aircraft carrier and has plans for at least three more of the strategic power projection platforms as part of Beijing’s large-scale military buildup.
As part of its carrier operations, state media announced on Tuesday the roll out of a new jet trainer, the JL-10, that Chinese officials say will be used by People’s Liberation Army navy pilots to train in the challenging task of aircraft carrier landings.
The official China Daily newspaper conveniently omitted in its report on the first 12 JL-10s that the trainer is powered by Ukrainian jet engines. The supersonic trainer is also known as the L-15.
Aircraft jet engines have been a major weakness for China’s aviation industry for at least a decade. To solve the problem, China has purchased both Ukrainian and Russian jet engines to power their warplanes after trying unsuccessfully to produce copies of the engines indigenously.
Critics say the Trump administration should pressure Ukraine to halt the engine sales along with other military transfers to China. William C. Triplett, a China expert and former counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Ukrainians are helping China solve jet engine production problems.
“We sure as hell don’t want to help Chinese pilots learn to land on aircraft carriers at an accelerated pace,” he said.
Disclosure of the new Ukrainian-powered carrier training jet comes a month after the Pentagon announced the supply of $200 million in military assistance to Ukraine’s military.
The American aid will fund command and control systems, secure communications, military mobility, night vision equipment and military medical gear. “Basically the Ukrainians are getting away with taking the U.S. taxpayer’s money in the one hand while stabbing the U.S. Navy in the back with the other,” Mr. Triplett said.
A second argument for pressuring Kiev is that China for the first time in decades is now identified by the U.S. government as a strategic competitor that American forces could one day face in the shooting war. Thus Ukraine should be pressed to end sales of jet engines and other military gear that are bolstering China’s military.
The deal for trainer engines was concluded in 2016 with Ukraine’s Motor Sich company in Zaporizhzhya when the first 20 engines were supplied. The $380 million deal calls for a total of 250 engines for the trainers.
Ukraine recently delayed China’s attempt to buy Motor Sich.
Rick Fisher, a China expert at the InternationalStrategy and Assessment Center, said the United States should pressure Kiev to block the sale.
“For China, gaining control of Motor Sich will result in the accelerated arrival of the PLA’s global airmobile power projection capabilities,” Mr. Fisher said.
China remains a major arms buyer from Ukraine. In addition to JL-15 engines, recent Ukraine-China arms transfers have included some 50 diesel engines for tanks, and gas turbines for Luyang-2 and Luyang-3 guided missile destroyers.
In 2009, China bought two large Zubr-class hovercraft landing ships that were shipped to China shortly before Russia launched its covert military takeover of the Crimean peninsula.
Two more landing craft will be built in China under Ukrainian supervision. China also spent $45 million in 2016 to Ukraine’s state-owned Ukroboronprom for three Il-78M aerial refueling tankers.
The Chinese navy said in a statement last week that the JL-10s were commissioned in a ceremony at the Naval Aviation University in Shandong province.
The twin engine JL-10 is powered by two Ukraine-made Ivchenko-Progress AI-222-25F turbofan engines. The jet is used for training Chinese navy pilots to flight the J-15 carrier-based fighter jet.
Stratcom on North Korea
The commander of the Strategic Command, Gen. John E. Hyten, said earlier this month that American nuclear forces and strategic defenses are ready to deal with any threat from North Korea.
Gen. Hyten, who would be in charge of any nuclear conflict with North Korea, told reporters earlier this month he is hopeful the nuclear talks with Pyongyang will produce results. He noted that the arms talks already lessened some dangers.
“I can tell you from a Stratcom perspective, any time politicians are talking I’m much happier, and I can tell you that 2017 was a whole lot busier year in Stratcom with North Korea than 2018 has been,” the four-star general said.
North Korea launched a total of 23 missiles in 2017, including two new intercontinental range missiles. Pyongyang announced in April it is halting both missile and underground nuclear tests prior to the summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Gen. Hyten, however, said the nuclear forces command has to be ready for a conflict. “The force is fully ready, fully postured to deal with any threat that comes out of North Korea,” he said.
Those capabilities include missiles on land and in submarines and on bombers, as well as strategic missile defenses in Alaska and California. “Our deterrent force is on alert fully prepared right now,” Gen. Hyten said. “That will continue to be the case.”
“But I think military people, as much as anybody, hope the peace process works, but we stand ready to respond if it goes another direction. But right now, 2018 is a better year than 2017.”
Asked whether he believes North Korea will give up its nuclear arsenal as part of the negotiations now underway, Gen. Hyten said he has changed his view on the potential denuclearization.
“I think there is that potential that’s out there,” he said. “You’d have to ask the statesmen, the Department of State folks about the timeline for that, but the direction that things are moving is a positive direction. I don’t think anybody can deny that.”
Mattis on discipline
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis issued a memorandum to the military this week emphasizing the need for discipline and lethality.
“As we aggressively execute our National Defense Strategy and make our force more lethal, I remind you that enhanced lethality demands more than increasing the size of our formations and obtaining newer more advanced equipment,” Mr. Mattis said in an Aug. 13 memorandum. “It also requires having a more disciplined force.”
Mr. Mattis noted that Gen. George Washington once commanded an outnumbered and outgunned group of patriots in defeating Britain, at the time the strongest military in the world.
He quoted Washington as saying, “discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.”
“Today we are the most powerful military in the world and find ourselves in a competition among great powers,” Mr. Mattis said, noting that the defense strategy requires expanding competitive space to challenge adversaries.
“We must have better individual and unit discipline than our enemies,” he added. Military discipline on the battlefield is imperative and include vigilant operational security, protection of electronic gear and “responsible social media activity.”
Enforcing standards is key to making American forces more lethal and leaders must uphold standards to prevent enemies from gaining from not appropriately punishing substandard conduct.
“We have no God-given right to victory,” Mr. Mattis said. “Discipline is a competitive edge we must seek and maintain each day if we are to keep American safe from its enemies. As Gen. Washington learned first-hand, discipline will make us stronger and more lethal. Therefore, let nothing prevent us from becoming the most disciplined force this world has ever seen.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz