Wednesday 27 Oct 2021 | 17:49 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 27 Oct 2021 | 17:49 | SYDNEY

Open source spying in China


Sam Roggeveen


18 March 2009 13:31

Overnight there emerged some fuzzy new photos (see below, courtesy of Chinese Military Aviation) of what looks to be the prototype of a new Chinese fighter jet variant. The details of this new design are of interest mainly to aviation buffs, so I'll put that discussion over the fold. But the broader point of interest here is how these photos emerged.

In the pre-internet age, foreign governments would have gone to great expense and potentially put their spies in danger to capture an image like this, which looks to have been taken surreptitiously from behind a hedge or tree adjacent to the airfield.

Nowadays, Chinese military enthusiasts do some of that work for free. They then post their photos of new equipment on the internet as a way to boast about their country's military sophistication and so they can discuss technical details with fellow enthusiasts, on forums like this.

You can be sure that government analysts from Canberra to Taipei to Washington are also studying these photos very closely today. What exactly will they be looking for?

First of all, they'll be interested in what looks like a radically redesigned air intake (just to the right of the red '01' lettering) on this new version of the J-10 fighter, which will likely make the aircraft lighter and stealthier. There's also a new bump just in front of the cockpit window, which is probably an infra-red search and tracking device that could give this new fighter an important advantage in dogfights.

These specifics matter because they affect the military balance across the Taiwan Strait, and so could ultimately be a factor in any Australian decision to participate in a military operation to protect Taiwan from Chinese military action. The question would be: can our jet fighters survive in such an environment?

Beyond these specifics, the photo can provide important new insights into the state of China's aerospace industry, which in turn tells us something about Chinese modernisation as a whole. I have read, for instance (sorry, can't find the source just now), that the design of this new type of air intake requires very high levels of computer modelling capability.