It has long been speculated and not that often admitted by all parties involved that sensitive US technologies have found their way to the PRC courtesy of the Israeli aerospace & defense industry.
If Chinese and US relations are to be the foundation of international diplomacy & stability in the 21st century, it is also important for the US that China does not acquire advanced technologies that could confer advantages over its regional neighbors, particularly Taiwan. However, Israel has long been a supplier of such technology to China.
Such transfers of sensitive technologies have begun to materialize into concrete and advanced weapons programs that have already moderately improved the PRC's overall capabilities. The next 15 to 20 years will witness the emergence of China as a very capable regional military power. This will lead to an arms race with Japan and India primarily, the two other dominant powers in that part of the world.
However, China is a long way from being able to challenge the US, perhaps 25 years, and still suffers from:
--Lack of competition between defense companies, no emphasis on best product"
--With a few exceptions, technology integration is inconsistent
--Poor quality control
--Lengthy weapons development cycles (15 years average)
--Procurement cycles lacking forces integration in mind
--Dependence on reverse engineering or foreign technology transfers
--Disparity of equipment sources difficult to integrate together
--Doctrinal and operational challenges
The close defense relationship between Israel and China dates back to the mid-1980s. The Israeli MoD has several times acknowledged collaborative work with China in several areas, including the manufacture of next generation fighter aircraft. The former U.S Secretary of Defense William Perry once confronted Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin about these technology transfer issues but Israel does not seem to have fully complied with US requests so far. US intelligence agencies have also expressed concerns about the closeness existing between Israeli and Chinese defense industries, and the possible threat that this could pose to the Asian military balance.
Israel: what and when?
The United States and Israel have developed a very close and lucrative partnership for the past 40 years. The Israeli air force is almost entirely equipped with US fighter aircraft and has very early on demonstrated the superiority of US systems in the many conflicts it has been fighting against its Arab opponents.
One of the key programs undertaken by the Israeli industry in the 1980s was the IAI Lavi, an impressive fighter program built as a future replacement to the IAF A-4s, F-4s and Kfir C-2s. However, Lavi did not go anywhere; under pressure from the US, which viewed Lavi more and more as a direct market competitor to the F-16C and F-18C, coupled with budget difficulties and a recession, Israel decided to cancel the promising program in 1987.
Systems that might have been transferred partly or in full from the Lavi to the J-10 program in the 1990s include:
--Elta/Elisra EW System: Possible transfer to J-10, lack of data
--Lear Siegler/MBT Flight Control System: Unknown
--Elta EL/M-2035 Multi-Mode Pulse Doppler Radar (or EL/M-2032 derivative): Transferred to China's
J-10 and JH-7 programs.
--Elta ARC-740 UHF radio system: Unknown
--IAI Tamam INS (Inertial navigation system): Transferred
--Elbit SMS-86 Stores Management System: Unknown
--Rafael Python 3: One of the most advanced AA missile in the world: exported to China
--IAI Gabriel IIIAS (ASM): Likely exported; Chinese version rumored to equip the Xian Aircraft JH-7
The Chengdu J-10 might be in production now; non-verifiable information estimates that as many as ten J-10 have been built for test and pre-operational development program. This phase of the program was completed last year. Production versions should be declared operational as early as 2004.
Phalcon AEW: China and India both get a vote of no confidence from the US
More recently, the US has demanded that Israel cancel the sale of the AEW Phalcon EL/M-2075 systems and plane to China. The Clinton administration categorically refused that its sophisticated D-Band C-array radar, developed by Elta be sold to the PRC. Most of the technology developed for the
Phalcon had been approved and financed by the US Congress.
The Chinese acquisition of an AEW capability would significantly help the PLAAF in a possible engagement against Taiwan. Apart from the J-10, weapons systems, radar systems and other advisory role played by the Israel aerospace industry, the Chinese have recently demonstrated a growing interest in UAV systems. They possibly have acquired several systems from Israel and are working on their own long range/endurance ISR platform.
India, China's other rival in the region, has also expressed the wish to acquire Phalcon systems from Israel. However, this could have serious destabilizing effects, as it would certainly enhance the IAF capabilities against the Pakistani air force. The US veto is not final but it is very likely at this moment. India has attempted unsuccessfully to build its own indigenous AEW, with catastrophic results when the program was decapitated after the testbed HS-748 crashed during one of its test flights. India has also acquired several UAV systems from Israel, using them in various combat operations against Pakistan in the Karghil and more recently last year.
Israeli technology transfers to China have greatly enhanced the capabilities of the Chinese industry and have saved Chinese bureaus millions of R&D man-hours.
However, Israel is not alone, Russia and France in particular, as well as the US, have exported technology to China that may have found its way to military applications. China's main problems still resides in its inability to integrate and utilize such technologies as part of integrated concepts of operations; J-10, J-11 and J-12 might represent a major step forward for the PLAAF but using these aircraft based on Mig-21 operations will not produce significant results in the battlespace environment.