Russia sells China today an estimated US$2 billion of new weapons a year, with increasing technology transfer requirements. Thousands of scientists, engineers and technicians from the financially devastated defense industries of ex-Soviet states, particularly Russia, may now be integrated in the Chinese defense industry and R&D infrastructure.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s China expert, Chinese funding also supports the continuation of Russian military R&D projects (e.g. the advanced Su-37 thrust-vectored variant of the Su-27 fighter aircraft), more than 100 programs for adapting Russian weapon prototypes to Chinese military, and other joint ventures.
China pays Moscow mainly by writing down the massive Russian debt to Beijing.
In progress are massive transfers to China of even more advanced Russian defense systems and technologies. It is believed that by 1994-95, China successfully transplanted to a location near Shanghai an entire Russian cruise missile plant (probably based on either the Kh-15/AS-16 ‘Kickback’ or more likely the Kh-55/AS-15 ‘Kent’), complete with research and development team. As Russian cruise missile technology now supports land-attack ranges of about 4,000 km, China's capabilities in this field could increase rapidly, and it is believed that China has now developed the advanced ‘Hong Niao’ (Red Bird) series of land attack cruise missiles with advanced GPS, terrain-following and terminal guidance systems.
PLA owned enterprises are believed to be buying as many as 165 former state defense firms in Russia, and essentially dismantling them and shipping them back to China.
A significant portion of the former Soviet Union’s heavy investment in the directed energy weapon (DEW) field may have been diffused to China through technical personnel and business transactions, as the Russian state science and technology infrastructure continues to implode through a lack of resources.
Relevant Russian design bureaus include Antey, NPO Astrofizika, NPO Almaz, and OKB Vympel, which have conducted R&D on CO2, free-electron, and gas lasers, as well as high-powered microwave weapons (HPM) and are familiar with current US developments in the field. The Institute of Applied Physics and the Lebedev Physics Institute may also have been at the cutting-edge of HPM and radio frequency (RF) weapon research. Some reports indicate that Russia may have transferred the knowledge to develop a nuclear reactor-powered, ground-based laser with anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities. The AGAT research establishment in Belarus may also be providing assistance in laser optics to China.
China has also allegedly formed secure E-mail links with Russian military, scientific and nuclear organizations and thus acquired such benefits as computer technologies for simulating nuclear tests. Coordinated through a Chinese “Military-Technical Cooperation Coordinating Center”, these activities with Russia have, according to unconfirmed Chinese sources, saved hundreds of millions of dollars and up to two decades of R&D effort by China for some areas.
Reports during early 2000 indicated that some 2,000 Russian technical personnel are engaged in Chinese R&D efforts in DEWs, nuclear weapon miniaturization, cruise missiles, space-based weapons, and nuclear submarines. This migration of top human talent from the old Soviet military-industrial-complex is the powerful engine driving the rapid modernization of China’s aerospace-defense sector.
China has a long-standing tradition of employing Russian/Soviet weapons, which are considered cheap to mass-produce and easy to use and maintain compared to Western systems. By 1998, Russian arms sales to China had topped US$6 billion.
Chinese Manchuria, adjacent to the Russian border, has a high concentration of traditional defense manufacturing industry for such products as tanks and other AFVs, aircraft, and artillery, in addition to defense-related educational and R&D institutes with strong pre-1960s historical ties to Russia.
Hence, the ‘new’ defense relationship with Russia is hardly surprising or even new. Yet these defense trading relations, however advantageous, fall short of a true strategic partnership or even a high level of mutual trust.