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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

J-11s Briefly Appear Over Tibet

August 9, 2010
August 6, 2010

For the first time, Chinese J-11 jet fighters
have been training over Tibet. J-11s are the most
modern Chinese made fighters. While fewer than
150 have been built since they were introduced in
the late 1990s, they are appearing in more
unexpected places (like the Chinese naval air
force). The Chinese Air Force has no combat
aircraft stationed in Tibet, although older
(MiG-21 clones) J-7s appear to be flown in
regularly, for temporary duty at major commercial airports.

J-11s are illegal Chinese copies of the Russian
Su-27. This plagiarism has been a source of
friction between Russia and China for over five
years. It all began, legally, in 1995, when China
paid $2.5 billion for the right to build 200
Su-27s. Russia would supply engines and
electronics, with China building the other
components according to Russian plans and
specifications. But after 95 of the Chinese built
aircraft were built, Russia cancelled the
agreement. They claimed that China was using the
knowledge acquired with this Su-27 program, to
build their own copy of the Su-27, the J-11.
Russia kept the piracy issue quiet for a while,
and warned the Chinese that simply copying
Russian technology would produce an inferior
aircraft. Apparently the Chinese did not agree,
and are continuing their work on the J-11, using
only, what they claim is, Chinese technology.

The J-11 is believed to now include better
electronics and some other Chinese design
modifications. China can manufacture most of the
components of the J-11, the one major element it
must import are the engines. China believes it
will be free from dependence on Russia for
military jet engines within the next 5-10 years.
Currently, China imports two Russian engines, the
$3.5 million AL-31 (for the Su-27/30, J-11, J-10)
and the $2.5 million RD-93 (a version of the
MiG-29s RD-33) for the JF-17 (a F-16 type
aircraft developed in cooperation with Pakistan.)

The main reason for not stationing fighter
squadrons in Tibet probably has to do with the
high altitude of the area, and the expense of
moving the large quantities of fuel and other
supplies needed to maintain air units. There is
only one rail line into Tibet (recently built) and few heavy duty truck roads.

China also has a serious problem in Tibet with
altitude sickness among its troops. This illness
occurs when people who grew up near sea level
(most of the world's population) move to
altitudes greater than 2,100 meters (7,000 feet).
Below that, the air contains 21 percent oxygen.
Above that, the weaker air pressure lowers the
amount of oxygen the body can absorb. That
produces "altitude sickness", manifested by
shortness of breath, disorientation, nosebleeds,
nausea, dehydration, difficulty sleeping and
eating, headaches and, if you stay up there long enough, chronic disability.

The average altitude of Tibet is 4,100 meters
(14,000 feet). Most people can adapt, sort of, to
the altitude sickness. Some can't. But the
Tibetans have evolved to deal with it. The
majority of Chinese soldiers coming to the
Tibetan highlands (which is most of Tibet)
require a few days, or weeks, to acclimate. But
they are still susceptible to altitude sickness
if they exert themselves, especially for extended
periods. This makes Chinese military personnel in Tibet much less effective.

Researchers recently discovered that most
Tibetans evolved in the last 3-6,000 years to
deal with this problem. It appears that the most
of the people moving to, and staying in, highland
Tibet, where those with the rare genes that made
them resistant to altitude sickness. These people
became the dominant population in Tibet, mainly
because they were healthier at high altitudes.
Nearly all Tibetans have this gene (which
controls how their red blood cells operate, to
maintain sufficient oxygen levels). Very few lowland Chinese have these genes.

The Chinese military is spending a lot of time,
effort and money trying to solve this problem.
Currently, most of the troops in the Chinese
Chengdu Military Region are in the eastern,
lowland half. In the western portion (Tibet),
they station the 52nd and 53d Mountain Brigades,
and struggle to keep these 5,000 troops fit for
duty. If there's an emergency, as there was two
years ago, the nearby 13th and 14th Group Armies
can send troops from their lowland bases. Over 20
percent of these troops will be hampered by
altitude sickness once they reach the highlands,
and commanders are trained to deal with that.

Chinese troops operating at the highest altitudes
(4,500 meters, on the Indian border) now have
access to exercise rooms (one of 1,000 square
meters and another of 3,000 square meters) that
are supplied with an oxygen enriched atmosphere.
Troops exercising in these rooms increase the
oxygen in the blood, and are much less likely to
get hit with a case of altitude sickness. Thus
the troops can stay in shape without getting
sick. For border patrols at high altitudes,
troops usually carry oxygen bottles and breathing masks.

So far, the Chinese have only been able to limit
the attrition from altitude sickness, not
eliminate it. Given the alertness required of
aircraft maintenance personnel, and pilots
preparing for flights, plus the logistical
problems, the air force has declared Tibet fit to
visit, but not to base aircraft units in. Still,
the Chinese air force may one day have to fight
in the air space over Tibet, so some training up there is in order.
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