TAIPEI and ISLAMABAD — A Chinese avionics marketing and manufacturing firm has put Israeli-US relations under a microscope after marketing an advanced fire control radar identical to Elta’s ELM-2052 active electronically scanned array (AESA).
Elta is the same Israeli state-owned subsidiary at the heart of an incendiary chapter in US-Israel relations that continues to reverberate 15 years after Washington forced Israel to cancel a controversial Phalcon airborne early warning aircraft contract with Beijing.
Beijing-based NAV Technology claims in its 63-page product catalog to offer an unnamed AESA radar that is identical to the ELM-2052. The two-page description appears to be identical to current ELM-2052 product brochures distributed by Elta, including a photograph of the radar. Elta is a subsidiary of the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
Israel’s Ministry of Defence said it had no knowledge of NAV and its claimed association with Elta. IAI has also denied any association between Elta and NAV “or any other Chinese firm.”
Yang Yunchun, NAV Technology chairman and president, did not respond to repeated requests to comment. By phone, NAV Technology’s Mr. Xiong turned down requests for information about the company’s activities. The Chinese-language company website does not list an AESA radar as a product.
Public information indicates that Yang began his career in aeronautical engineering with bachelor and master degrees from Harbin Engineering University (1993/1997) and a doctorate at the University of California (2001). His primary academic focus was global positioning system (GPS) and inertial navigation system (INS) integration, and advanced GPS signal processing. After his doctorate, Yang worked for NavCom Technology and ContainerTrac.
NAV’s product catalog offers to “reverse engineer” an INS system for the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF's) Dassault Mirage III. “Currently the Litton LN-33 INS has reliability problems at PAF and NAV Technology has proposed a comprehensive solution to reverse engineer the problem and provide detailed solution.”
A source who worked with Yang in California said that Yang had been under investigation by the FBI for “creating shell companies” and “violating intellectual property” and “export controls.” However, there are no public US federal judicial records indicating Yang was charged with any crime.
In 2003, public records indicate Yang, his wife, Yi Yang, and Yunhai Science and Technology (YH Technology) were sued by Crossbow Technology over patent violations involving GPS technology. The suit was dismissed in 2007 over an inability to properly identify those responsible for the violation. Yang and his wife claimed they had no connection to Yunhai.
According to Chinese-language media sites, Yang is participating in the Chinese government’s secretive 863 Program. The program is designed to create advanced technologies that will wean China off its dependence on difficult-to-obtain foreign technologies. Yang’s participation in the program involves improvements to the GPS/BD2 receiver and the network of continuously operating reference stations used for real-time kinematic satellite navigation systems, used to improve the precision of positioning data.
The product catalog does indicate a strong interest in marketing avionics products to the Pakistan Air Force, in particular the joint China/Pakistan-developed JF-17 fighter aircraft, as well as providing support for the Mirage III.
The large amounts of marketing proposals in the product catalog suggest the AESA radar might have been targeted to the JF-17.
The head of the JF-17 sales and marketing team, Air Commodore Khalid Mahmood, would not comment specifically on any progress being made on acquiring an AESA radar for the JF-17 Block III beyond saying, "The AESA radar project is making steady progress. Installation of the radar will add significantly to the combat potential of our aircraft. We are satisfied and happy with the progress."
No comment was forthcoming from Mahmood on Pakistan's relationship with NAV Tech.
Though unaware what level of progress has been made on selecting an AESA radar, analyst Kaiser Tufail, former Pakistani air commodore and pilot, said if a Chinese AESA radar has been selected, it may have been the only realistic option.
"Given the Western concerns about transfer of sensitive technology, which could find its way further east, I think we may have had no other option but to buy Chinese," he said.
Analyst Usman Shabbir with the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank said that from his discussions with the JF-17 team at this year's Paris Airshow, he learned that a Chinese AESA radar option had gained favor over a European offering.
He acknowledges NAV Technology is heavily involved in providing navigation avionics for the JF-17 as well as some precision-guided munitions along with a transfer of technology to enable local production. However, he was inclined to believe a Chinese AESA radar would be provided by an established company such as Nanjing Research Institute of Electronic Technology, which produces the current JF-17's KLJ-7 fire control X-band radar.
"Very few companies can make AESA solutions and not much is known about Chinese companies apart from NRIET," he said, although he is uncertain of Chinese progress in this area that would allow an AESA radar to be installed in the JF-17.
Barbara Opall-Rome contributed to this report from Tel Aviv.