Tag Archives: china

China thinks it can defeat the US. David Axe thinks they can’t. Worse, the Chinese know they don’t have to.

David Axe takes a look at the relative naval strengths in the Western Pacific. For years armchair analysts have looked at a potential Sino-American conflict through the paradigm of an attack across the Taiwan Strait. For many years, the thought of an actual assault across the strait was rather unthinkable, as the Chinese had little or no genuine amphibious assault capability. That’s rapidly changing with the Chinese shipbuilding program producing significant amphibious shipping for both the People’s Liberation Army Navy, and for the People’s Liberation Army Ground Forces.

He sees the rapidly growing Chinese fleet as strong, but with one potentially fatal flaw- undersea warfare.

The bad news first. The People’s Republic of China now believes it can successfully prevent the United States from intervening in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or some other military assault by Beijing.

Now the good news. China is wrong — and for one major reason. It apparently disregards the decisive power of America’s nuclear-powered submarines.

Moreover, for economic and demographic reasons Beijing has a narrow historical window in which to use its military to alter the world’s power structure. If China doesn’t make a major military move in the next couple decades, it probably never will.

The U.S. Navy’s submarines — the unsung main defenders of the current world order — must hold the line against China for another 20 years. After that, America can declare a sort of quiet victory in the increasingly chilly Cold War with China.

Yes, we do have excellent nuclear submarines. And any student of naval war in the Pacific will quickly realize that long range submarines unleashed offensively will have devastating consequences upon an enemy. Our Silent Service in World War II had an impact far larger than the numbers of sailors, or the numbers of boats assigned would suggest.

But no single weapon system or approach is the single key to victory. The great American talent in warfare is the integration of all forms of combat power to overwhelm an enemy, both physically and mentally.  One role for nuclear submarines that Axe doesn’t mention is using our subs as Anti-submarine Warfare platforms to sanitize an area so our carriers and other surface ships can operate with relative safety.  That’s going to take a few boats off the table, keeping them from pursuing Axe’s goal of sinking any notional Chinese amphibious assault.

Second, a look at both US and Japanese submarine operations in World War II suggests that submarines are not likely to be terribly successful in stopping any amphibious invasion. US submarines failed to stop Japanese invasion of the Philippines, and the Japanese never succeeded in stopping any of the many, many US amphibious assaults in the war. Similarly, the German U-boat force was never able to defeat any amphibious assault, though they did try.

But the real issue is, the Chinese currently have no intention of engaging in a shooting war with the US.

As Matthew Hipple argues, while the US is constrained by a “shoot/don’t shoot” deterrence posture of credible combat power in the disputed territories of the Western Pacific, China is leveraging every tactic and means short of shooting to achieve its aims. And absent US willingness to shoot first (and there’s none of that) China is both achieving near term goals, and showing regional forces that the US is not, in fact, a credible deterrent.

Defense strategists usually discuss asymmetry in terms of operations or tactics: specialized anti-ship missiles, cyber-attacks on command-and-control functions, or insurgency against conventional forces. Strategic-level asymmetry is less discussed—in this case, a force designed to stop an opponent’s war versus an opponent using those forces for everything but a war.

The United States is leaving a gap in its strategy. At CSF14, Andrea Dew describes this gap in the context of groups in active conflict: “Although we artificially draw lines between different domains, other adversaries use them seamlessly.”Dew’s specific concernsare about armed groups fighting a state through the exploitable seams of its stove-piped perspectives. This general concept applies to non-combat operations, where China is utilizing a gap in how the West views the scope and appropriate use of military action as a political instrument. Between the committee chambers of diplomats and the joint operations center of admirals, there is a blind spot in our strategy being manipulated, the same as if it were a small boat attack against a conventional blue-water combatant.

The US could counter this current Chinese operational plan, but the current administration, and the vast majority of the defense establishment simply do not have the mindset to engage in the strategic ambiguity needed.

Most US leaders see the path forward in terms of the past, when US and Soviet forces, seeing an escalating pattern of incidents at sea, forged an agreement to minimize the chances of a tense encounter escalating into a shooting match. They worked together to minimize the tensions.

The Chinese, however, are currently working instead to determine just how far they can push, and with every push, are seeking to expand that envelope, bit by bit. The more they can antagonize both regional powers, and the US, without firing a shot, the more they demonstrate a dominance that may lead regional powers to decide that an unhappy relationship with China is better than a feckless one with the US.  And no submarine fleet, no matter how capable, can change that.

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China’s Economic Paper Tiger

There’s been quite a bit of buzz in the late about China’s slowing economic growth. Gordon Chang’s blog brings us an interesting paper by the China Center for Economic and Business which estimates that China’s economy is 1/3 smaller than orginally thought:

In a report released on June 20th, the business research organization Conference Board recalculates Chinese gross domestic product going back to 1952. Economist Harry Wu estimates that China from 1978 to 2012 grew an average of 7.2 percent a year. Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics reports 9.8 percent average annual growth during that period.

Generally the article argues that economic data since 1977 is considered unreliable. Those of us here with a healthly skeptism of Government find this unsurprising (how many revisions has that number undergone!?) but not trusting data post 1977 takes that skeptism to another level.

More from the paper:

For several years now, China Center researchers worked to illuminate China’s productivity performance — a critical input for gauging the overall sustainability of any economy. This is not an easy task, as data issues involved are very difficult. In this special briefing paper”, Senior Advisor to the China Center Harry X Wu presents the findings of his 30-year long work program on re-estimating Chinese GDP. Wu’s results indicate that Chinese TFP growth went negative during the period from 2007 to 2012. Overbuilding, overcapacity, underutilization, and the “advance” of the state into private sector markets are now substantially dragging on China’s growth.

At the moment, China’s economy is vulnerable to shocks, but the biggest one might not be external. In order to create GDP, Chinese leaders have incurred indebtedness at an extraordinarily rapid pace. Beginning especially at the end of 2008, Beijing has essentially ordered the building of “ghost cities,” high-speed rail lines to nowhere, and factories with little demand for their products.

Here are the key findings from the article:

Since 1978, there is evidence of a strong upward bias in official GDP estimates that emanates from several sources. Removal of the bias yields a significantly lower aggregate growth rate.

On average, our new estimate of China’s GDP growth for the reform period 1978-2012 is 7.2 percent per annum (p.a.), which is 2.6 percentage points lower than the official estimate of 9.8 percent p.a. As for the “central planning period” of 1952-1977, our result is almost the same as the official estimate of 4.3 percent p.a., although there are differences between our estimate and the official estimate over sub-periods.

Examining changes over time, our new results show greater volatility and slower growth than the official estimates, which appear, in particular, to understate slowdowns.

External shocks to the economy are much more pronounced in our new results than in the official estimates, suggesting that the Chinese economy is more vulnerable to external shocks than the picture painted by the official GDP estimates.

For the period of the global financial crisis and its aftermath, 2008 to 2012, we show that, on average, the real GDP growth might have been as slow as 6.5 percent p.a. on average instead of the officially reported 9.3 percent p.a. More specifically, we find that growth in 2008 was only 4.7 percent compared with the official estimate of 9.1 percent, and 4.1 percent in 2012 compared with the official estimate of 7.4 percent.1

For the period of the global financial crisis and its aftermath, 2008 to 2012, we show that, on average, the real GDP growth might have been as slow as 6.5 percent p.a. on average instead of the officially reported 9.3 percent p.a. More specifically, we find that growth in 2008 was only 4.7 percent compared with the official estimate of 9.1 percent, and 4.1 percent in 2012 compared with the official estimate of 7.4 percent.1

Thomas “I have a hardon for authoritian China” Friedman and the religiously zealot Keynesian school members really ought to take note. You can go read the rest of the article (I went to the trouble of downloading the article myself, thank me very much…lol). You can only inflate your economy so much and right now, that’s exactly what China’s been doing. China’s real estate market is in collapse due to construction of so-called “ghost cities.” 

 

China’s plan is to “coerce” State owned enterprises to move to these cities!? Well, this isn’t really new. The Czarist Russia and the Soviet Communists did the same thing then called Potemkin Villages:

Gregory Potemkin was a favorite and lover of the Russian Empress Catherine II. After Russian conquest of modern Southern Ukraine and Crimea from the Ottoman Empire and liquidation of the Zaporizhian Sich (see New Russia), Potemkin became governor of the region. The area had been totally devastated during the wars by the Russian army, and Potemkin’s major task consisted of rebuilding it and bringing in Russian settlers. As a new war was about to erupt between Russia and Ottoman empire, in 1787 Catherine II made an unprecedented six month trip to New Russia, with her court, several ambassadors, and (according to some sources) the Austrian emperor Joseph II, travelling incognito. The purpose of this trip was to impress Russia’s allies ahead of the new war. In fact, Potemkin assembled a few “mobile villages”, located on banks of Dnieper River. As soon as the barge carrying the queen arrived, Potemkin’s men dressed up as peasants would show up in the village. Once the barge left, the village had to be disassembled and rebuilt downstream overnight. Potemkin later led the Russian army in the Russo-Turkish War in 1787-1792.

The deserted 5-star Country Garden Phoenix Hotel stands in Conch Bay in Tianjin, China. Photographer: Steve Engle/Bloomberg

The deserted 5-star Country Garden Phoenix Hotel stands in Conch Bay in Tianjin, China. Photographer: Steve Engle/Bloomberg

Buildings stand in the Conch Bay district of Tianjin, China. Photographer: Steve Engle/Bloomberg

Buildings stand in the Conch Bay district of Tianjin, China. Photographer: Steve Engle/Bloomberg

There are plently of economic lessons learned here. Geopolitically, it could explain China’s recent behavior in the South China Sea towards Vietnam and the ongoing ADIZ problems with Japan. China’s plan would be to keep the domestic population looking out and forment outrage against “outsiders” and distract them from their own domestic problems.

What does this mean for us? Well, we’ve got more to worry about from a China that’s not opposed to lashing out internationally than we do a China that REALLY economically prosperous.

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China’s Nuclear Carrier Program

The Chinese military establishment is rather opaque at times, but in other ways, they’re quite forthcoming about what they have planned.

Many have scoffed at China buying, refurbishing and deploying the ex-Varyag carrier as the Liaoning. Claiming it is in no way a match for US Nimitz class carriers, with no catapults and a tiny air wing, they sneer at the thought that China can become a naval aviation power. What’s one small carrier to a fleet of 11 supercarriers?

The problem is, the Chinese have never intended to only operate one carrier. The Liaoning is clearly a training carrier, an introduction to naval aviation, much as the US Navy’s first carrier, CV-1 Langley, was not a combat ship, but a laboratory to explore the challenges of naval aviation.

The US Navy uses its carrier fleet for forward presence and as the primary method of power projection from the sea. They take the fight to the the shores of an enemy.

The Chinese Navy (actually, the People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN) in the near to mid term sees its role as Anti-Access/Area Denial or A2AD. That is, their role is to prevent the US Navy from being able to perform its power projection role. They see the waters of the far western Pacific as their own, and other nations can only operate their at their sufferance.

Most of the Chinese A2AD strategy has been based on a combination of submarines and land based air and missile power, backed by large numbers of relatively small missile armed surface combatants.

But historically, if you want to fight a carrier based navy, you need a carrier based navy. And so the Chinese some time ago announced their intentions to build up a fleet of (at least) four carriers. The first, Liaoning, we’ve seen. And the word is that the second of this fleet will be a new-build repeat, though probably with some changes based on lessons learned. That leaves carriers 3 and 4.

It has long been speculated that these carriers would be more in line with what we think of as a supercarrier. Nuclear powered, with catapults capable of operating more than just lightly loaded fighters, and with a large, diverse air wing with strike fighters, anti-submarine helicopters, and critically, a viable Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

After a good deal of speculation, now comes word from the China-Defense blog that a fairly definitive model of the next generation Chinese carrier has been made public.

http://xbradtc.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/6f1d2-230357nj50vu409gjdufv8.jpg?w=749&h=575

http://xbradtc.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/bec8d-230358p4rcyo8aye3raaym.jpg?w=755&h=575

If you think that looks not a bit like a Nimitz (or even a touch of Ford) carrier, you’re not alone.

Skeptics of Chinese naval aviation like to say that the US Navy took over 70 years to learn to operate carriers. But that’s not true. Looking at the history of carrier aviation, our Navy learned to operate carriers as many as four different times, each in different ways.

  • The early days of Langley, Lexington, Saratoga
  • The late prewar Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise,  Hornet, Wasp and early one and two ship carrier groups
  • The Essex/Independence classes and the large Fast Carrier Task Force of late World War II
  • The great transition to the jet age, with the Forrestal supercarriers, the angled deck, steam catapults, and the optical landing system

For our purposes, the last is of the greatest interest. In a period of little more than a decade, carrier aviation changed almost completely. The US Navy suffered appalling accident rates during that time, but the lessons were learned, and for the most part are still valid today.

And having written down the lessons, they are available to study for any who wish to learn.

And like most engineering challenges, once the problem has been solved the first time, every iteration after that is much simpler.

China won’t suddenly become the dominant force upon the ocean blue. But to ignore that fact that China is rapidly becoming a very near peer at sea in the western Pacific, especially as they become more and more aggressive and expansionistic, is to court disaster in the very near future.

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Liaoning At Sea

The Chinese have slavishly copied the US Navy’s techniques and procedures as they learn to operate tactical jets from their first carrier, the Liaoning. Apparently, the also realize the critical importance of releasing “hooah” vids.

 

Spill thought this was pretty cheesy. I thought it was pretty good, though obviously not “homemade” the way most US vids are.

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China Commissions First Type 052D Destroyer

25 years ago, the Chinese Navy (or more correctly, the People’s Liberation Army Navy) was a joke. Crudely build ships with fire control and armament little more advanced than what we operated in World War II would have been easy pickings for our Navy. But China, leveraging the vast increase in GDP, set out to build a quality navy, and has used both domestic development, and reverse engineering of western systems to field ever increasingly capable warships.

One of the first truly modern warships the Chinese fielded was the
Type 052, a class of two ships entering into service in 1994.

Designed prior to the Tiannamen Square massacre, they were built with western powerplants and electronics, though they used largely Chinese armaments.

Type 052.

File:Chinese destroyer HARIBING (DDG 112).jpg

Next step in development was the confusingly designated Type 051B, which looked nothing like the earlier Type 051 series.

File:Chinese destroyer Shenzhen DDG167.jpg

The Chinese only built one Type 051B, and it was apparently not considered terribly successful. But clearly the clean modern hull lines and general layout can be likened to such western types as the British Type 23 frigates (though the Type 051B was considerably larger). Interestingly, the Type 051B reverted from gas turbines and diesels to a steam plant. Chinese technology wasn’t quite capable of using indigenous marine gas turbines to power a destroyer yet.

That would change with the next series, the Type 052B.

One of the problems with the earlier series was the lack of an effective area anti-air weapon system. Earlier series carried the HY-7 missile, which was in effect a reverse engineered French Croatale short range missile. Roughly equivalent to our RIM-7 Sea Sparrow missile, it was a point defense system, capable primarily of self defense, and not area coverage.

That lack of area air defense effectively restricted Chinese operations to areas that could be covered by friendly land based air-power.

With the Type 052B, the Chinese installed the Russian SA-N-12 Grizzly Surface to Air Missile. Each ship had two single arm launchers, similar to the old US Mk13, with a total capacity of 48 missiles. For the first time, a Chinese destroyer could provide decent area air defense over a battle group or convoy.

File:Type 052B Guangzhou in Leningrad.jpg

While the 052B was a big improvement, it still relied on mechanically rotated radars, and the single arm launcher system for the Grizzly SAM limited its ability to deal with saturation raids. Entering service in 2004, they were a generation behind US (and even Russian) warships which had long switched over to Vertical Launch Systems, or VLS, and phased array radar systems. The two ships of the 052B class were clearly an interim design.

Using the hull and machinery of the 052B, the next series introduced two major changes. The Type 052C introduced an Active Electronically Scanned Phased Array radar, and the HHQ-9 long range surface to air missile in a Vertical Launch System.

File:Luyang II (Type 052C) Class Destroyer.JPG

The US has operated phased array radars at sea for over thirty years, but the SPY-1 radar is a “passive” array, meaning that a handful of transmitter/receiver modules feed the phase shifting elements of the array that steer the radar beams. In an active array, each phase shifting module is its own transmitter/receiver.

48 HHQ-9 SAMs in a unique vertical launch system gives the 052C a potent very long range anti-air capability. The HHQ-9 is derived from the Russian S-300 SAM system.  It’s theoretical range of 200km is overstating its capability, but it is still one of the more formidable sea based anti-aircraft missiles around.

The Chinese were pleased enough with 052C to proceed to series production, with six hulls being laid down. The need for area air defense, especially as escorts for the new Chinese aircraft carrier, meant building a credible blue water escort was important.

But there was still considerable scope for improvement. And so, even while 052C hulls are fitting out, the next iteration has been built and is being commissioned.

The Type 052D is roughly the same size at the 052C. And it too has an actively scanned array. But improvements in the cooling system have changed the appearance of the array. And rather than a VLS that can only launch the HHQ-9 SAM, the 052D has a new VLS that can, much like the US Mk41, accommodate a variety of different missile types. The 100mm gun of earlier classes has been replaced by a new 130mm design.

The 052D is the “objective” design, and is in series production, with one in commission, three others fitting out, and an additional 8 units planned, for a total of 12.

The obvious analog in the US fleet is the Flight IIA Burke class destroyer.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bf/Burke_class_destroyer_profile%3Bwpe47485.gif

 

The Burkes are a good deal larger than the 052D, by about 2000 tons. Part of that is likely to the US tendency to build their ships for greater endurance and seakeeping. While China may seek to improve their blue water capabilities, they also are unlikely to routinely undertake the kind of world wide deployments US warships have made for the last 70 years.

While we can count gun mounts and missile cells, and look at antenna arrays, much of the capability of a modern warship is actually resident in the combat data systems, the computers that manage the weapons and sensors. And it is very difficult to draw an accurate conclusion as to their capability from the open source press.  We should avoid imbuing them with a lethality beyond what reason dictates, but we should also beware of discounting the ability of others to field technologically advanced and effective weapons.

The Chinese fleet of my youth, a collection of rustbuckets and antiques, is rapidly becoming a modern blue water, power projection fleet. They may not be our peer yet, but they’re certainly a force to contend with.

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Carriers, Mobility, Stealth and Initiative

Think Defence today has a post on the difficulty a potential foe faces in finding a carrier at sea. It is (like virtually all content there) well worth reading the whole thing.

Aircraft carriers are difficult to detect.

Perhaps more importantly, they are difficult to identify. Regarding the difficulty of detection, the seas are very big and, in comparison, even the biggest of aircraft carriers are very small. Modern maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) have radars that have ranges of hundreds of nautical miles (nm) but oceans extend for thousands of nautical miles.

Moreover, radar impulses can be detected by electronic support measures (ESM) systems at significantly greater range than the radar can detect the platform (air or surface or even submarine) carrying the ESM. In wartime, an MPA using its radar gives itself away, opening the way to it either being intercepted and shot down before it can locate the carrier, or to the carrier simply altering course and avoiding the MPA.

Of course, MPAs also have ESM, but this works only if the carrier and its task group (Carrier Battle Group: CBG) are emitting electromagnetically.

But if the CBG has adopted strict electromagnetic silence (and it can do so & this is exercised), then there is nothing to detect. So the MPA is reduced to the Mark 1 eyeball as its only useful sensor.

When I think of most post-World War II significant carrier operations, I generally consider their use in Korea, Vietnam, and of course, operations in the Persian Gulf, where they essentially stayed in fixed positions, and acted like additional airfields. The lack of significant enemy ability to interdict our forces at sea allowed us to sacrifice one of the carrier task forces’ greatest assets, mobility, at little risk.

Prior to World War II, it was widely assumed that operating carrier forces within range of enemy land based airpower was a recipe for disaster, and that shore based airpower would quickly sink or damage any carrier force. The first clue that this wasn’t quite so true came December 7, 1941.

Successful, if not highly fruitful, US attacks against Japanese outposts in early 1942 showed that by choosing the time and place to attack, carriers could operate to impede or suppress shore based airpower, and retire out of range before an effective Japanese counterstroke could be brought to bear.

The Fast Carrier Task Force (TF38/TF58) would often operate in wide ranging support of amphibious landings in the Pacific War. While FCTC would of course raid the target of a landing, it would also strike enemy installations far afield, to deny the enemy the ability to reinforce the defense of our objective, and to a degree, to conceal our objective. The ability of the FCTF to move hundreds of miles each day, to attack in unexpected places, meant the Japanese often struggled to counterattack. It was only at times when the fast carriers were tied to an objective that the Japanese were able to mount large scale raids to attack our fleet. The most obvious example of this is the horrible attrition imposed on the fleet while supporting operations at Okinawa.

After the Vietnam War, the Navy looked at what it might be required to do in a World War III scenario versus the Soviet Union. The primary task was to secure the sea lanes to Europe. The primary Soviet threats to the sea lanes were submarines, and long range land based bombers armed with cruise missiles.  We’ll leave the discussion of the submarine threat to another time, but the Navy realized it would be called upon to stop the long range bomber threat, both as a threat to merchant shipping, and to the carrier forces themselves.  Soviet long range aviation had a much longer strike range than the organic airwing of carriers. To charge in and raid the Soviet bomber bases, the carriers would have to be able to avoid detection. And so they spent a fair portion of the coldest days of the Cold War learning to do just that.

The force transits to its objective area in complete electronic silence. Deceptive formations are used dispersed over a broad area to ensure any detection system does not see the classic “bullseye” formation made famous in countless Public Affairs shots and never used in operations. Broad surveillance systems are known so any detection method is countered either by denying sensor information, misleading, or providing expected results consistent with something else. For example, ESM systems rely on active emissions from radars or communication systems. So nothing is radiated. Overhead systems are in known orbits, are predictable, and their sensing capabilities known. So the track is varied, weather is sought out to hide in when vulnerable, blending into sea lanes (while staying out of visual detection range of ships) and such techniques. Deceptive lighting is used at night so that the obvious “blacked out warship” is instead thought to be a merchant or cruise liner. Surface search radar identical to commercial ones are used. Turn count masking is used by the ships. Aircraft maintenance on the CV and other helo equipped ships is limited to prevent transmissions.

In NORPAC 82 using these and other tactics the CV force operated close enough to support each other, but far enough and randomly dispersed to avoid identification by anyone. One night in bad weather a man went overboard when the ship was within 200nm of a Soviet airfield in the Kuril Island chain. Despite launch of helicopters and active search methods by several ships in the successful SAR, including clear voice UHF transmissions, the force is not detected because no Soviet asset was above the radar horizon. No overhead system was cued. The force continued on.

The Chinese have spent the last 20 years developing anti-access/area-denial tactics, techniques, and procedures. And to be sure, any operations against China would be significantly different than operations in the northern reaches of the Atlantic or Pacific.

But to blithely dismiss the ability of a carrier strike group to avoid detection (or at a minimum, to avoid being recognized as a carrier group) is to overlook the long history of carrier groups successfully approaching enemy shores.

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NextGen China Carrier?

@SteelJawScribe found a little gem in a Chinese newspaper:

I can’t read any Chinese, so I can’t find the correct link, but the article is about (I guess) the future Type 055 Guided Missile Destroyer. That would be the ship in the foreground. And if you say to yourself, “Whoa, that looks a lot like a USN DDG-51!” you’re not alone.

I’d like a better look at the hull and the deck layout of the notional carrier but a couple things popped 0ut to SteelJaw. First, the carrier is a nuke. No stacks, ergo, nuke. Second, a closer look at the birds on the roof show what looks like the J-20 stealth fighter, and clearly shows the rotodomes of an Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

Mind you, it’s tough to really know what the Chinese are planning just by looking at pics found on the internet. There’s a ton of stuff floating out there, but until there are hulls in the water, it is often just speculation. The Chinese are a bit more tight lipped about their procurement process than we are.

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