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India's Incredible Shrinking Air Force

The Buzz

By my calculation, about 79% of India's combat aircraft squadrons and 96% of its main battle tanks are of Soviet-design, a legacy of New Delhi's close relationship with Moscow in the 1970s and 1980s. A country's defense choices can define the shape of its armed forces for decades to come. This is an important lesson for Indian leaders to heed as they consider the future of the Indian Air Force (IAF), a service that set out a highly ambitious doctrine in 2012, but appears to be shrinking ineluctably year by year. What is especially troubling is that problems are visible across the low, medium, and high end of the IAF combat fleet.

At the high end is the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), part of Russia's PAK-FA program (pictured) whose first prototype flew in 2010 and has been in testing since. India is notionally co-developing the aircraft, with some suggestions it's willing to invest tens of billions of dollars into the project. In practice, India's role has grown increasingly limited to particular areas of the aircraft like tires and radar coolant.

In recent years, there have been growing signs of discontent in India: “the Russians treat Indians like they are children and the IAF officials with the gold braid on their caps are used to being treated with excessive deference and the Russians do not do that.” Others were concerned about turning the IAF into an all-Russian fleet for another generation, the risks of betting heavily on an unproven platform, and more specific doubts over the aircraft's engines, stealth features, weapons carriage, radar, and safety. Unsurprisingly, then, in September 2014, the IAF reportedly slashed its prospective orders from 10 squadrons (around 220 aircraft) to 6-7 (126- 147 aircraft) and then, in August 2015, to just three (63 aircraft) – in total, a 70% drop in numbers for what is supposed to be the stealthy apex of Indian air power in the 2030s and beyond.

Things are looking just as confusing at the middle end of the spectrum. India had planned to buy 126 French Rafale aircraft as part of its long-running tender for Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender. But that deal dramatically changed shape in April 2015, when Indian Prime Minister Modi – reportedly cutting out Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar – agreed a deal to buy just 36 Rafale in flyaway condition, cancelling the overall tender in July.

That raised two big questions. First, would even this rump deal survive? There have been numerous reports that the two sides are stuck on the price and other issues, while Paris' hand has been strengthened by agreements to sell the Rafale to Egypt and Qatar. Second, what happens to other 90 aircraft that were part of the original deal: will India just settle for fewer jets, or make up the difference somewhere else?

Sweden has offered the lighter and cheaper Gripen, which was part of the original MMRCA competition, while Parrikar has even suggested, intriguingly, that “some of it can be replaced by even proper stockpiling of missiles.” Two scholars at India's Observer Research Foundation (ORF) have recently written a report on India's indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), but this project is probably a good quarter century away from completion and of little relevance to the medium-term problem.

Finally, trouble is afoot at the lower end too. India spent decades developing its indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), later named the Tejas, as a replacement for its large but ageing and accident-prone fleet of MiG-21s. Two squadrons of the Tejas are scheduled to arrive before 2020, and four squadrons of a higher-end Tejas Mark II in the mid 2020s. But IAF officers widely express skepticism, even scorn, at the quality of the Mark I, and the Mark II is increasingly delayed and will struggle to live up to the promise. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which developed the Tejas, has tried to push a slightly improved Mark IA variant onto the IAF, and even suggested that this could obviate the need for the Mark II altogether, but this seems unlikely to be met with enthusiasm by those who actually have to fly the aircraft in combat.

Put these three issues together, and the scale of the problem becomes apparent. The IAF presently operates around 37 combat squadrons, expected to fall to 32 to 35 (estimates vary) by the end of the year. Its 'sanctioned strength' was supposed to be 42 combat squadrons by 2022. On present trends, this looks to me to be entirely unattainable. MiG-21s are retiring quicker than other aircraft are coming in. Even if the 90-aircraft 'Rafale gap' is filled, I struggle to see how India gets above the mid-30s in squadron numbers by 2020. And after that point, India will start losing its dedicated ground attack aircraft (5 MiG-27 and 7 Jaguar squadrons). The IAF has shown little interest in procuring dedicated replacements for the strike role, suggesting that multi-role aircraft like the Su-30MKI and Rafale will have to take up the slack – underscoring the problem of numbers.

In his 2011 report on the MMRCA deal, Dogfight, American analyst Ashley Tellis suggested that, “in terms of raw numbers alone, the IAF must plan on confronting by 2020 as many as 1,500 fourth-generation Pakistani and Chinese fighters.” Even if we generously assume that India can stay at 37 squadrons around that date, that would still be around half of that number of aircraft. Chinese participation in an India-Pakistan war is not necessarily likely, but India would be negligent not to consider the possibility and allocate air defense assets accordingly. And as academic Walter Ladwig explored in an excellent paper earlier this year, India's superiority over Pakistan in modern aircraft has fallen from 4:1 in the early 2000s to less than 2.5:1 today. That ratio is likely to fall further.

Numbers aren't everything in air combat, but they certainly matter. Consideration of the air balance could, for instance, shape Indian decisions over the feasibility and effectiveness of punitive air strikes on Pakistan in response to a major terrorist attack. Another long-term implication could be that India has less 'surplus' air power for power projection in the Indian Ocean region, especially during periods of heightened tension on its land borders.

In recent years, India's military modernization has been portrayed as massive, comprehensive, and unstoppable. But much of this has been about replacement of obsolete platforms rather than numerical growth, and the growing cost of a smaller number of key platforms – particularly combat aircraft – means that even massive spending can produce limited results. Barring a major crisis that prompts India to reverse the steady 25-year slide in the percentage of GDP it spends on defense (now at an all-time low of 2.4%), New Delhi will have to choose to make sacrifices elsewhere if it is serious about plugging the gaps in the IAF. The Army, which continues to consume over half of the defense budget, would be a reasonable place to start.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Creative Commons/WikiCommons. 

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The Ultimate Weapon of War: Nuclear Land Mines?

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Land mines and nukes are two of the most terrifying weapons of war — for two very different reasons. Nuclear weapons can wipe out entire cities, and land mines wait buried in the earth, ready to harm anyone who wanders too close.

In the 1950s, Britain tried to combine the two into a nuclear mine … with chickens as a heating source. Yes, this was actually proposed. But we’ll get to the chickens in a moment.

The Blue Peacock would have been one of the worst kinds of Cold War weapons — a nuke the enemy doesn’t know you have. The United Kingdom sought to develop and deploy 10 nuclear mines. Once completed, it would ship the nightmare weapons to the British Army of the Rhine — the U.K.’s occupation force in Germany.

The BAOR would then plant the landmines along the East German border in the north and detonate them should the Soviets ever try to cross the Iron Curtain. The project’s primary goal wasn’t to kill Soviet soldiers — though the blasts certainly could — but to irradiate and contaminate the North German Plain so Moscow’s troops couldn’t occupy it.

“A skillfully sited atomic mine would not only destroy facilities and installations over a large area, but would deny occupation of the area to an enemy for an appreciable time due to contamination,” explained a Cold War era policy paper unearthed by Discovery.

Scientists based the Blue Peacock’s design on Britain’s first atomic weapon — the Blue Danube. The Danubes were 10 to 12 kiloton bombs designed to free fall from planes. They looked cartoonish, like a bomb Wile E. Coyote might drop on the roadrunner.

The Blue Danubes packed less of a punch than Fat Man and Little Boy, so in 1954, the British Army decided to adapt that tiny nuclear punch into a land mine.

The War Office ordered development and the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment set to work converting the Danube into the Peacock. In a few years, the researchers had a prototype. The nuclear land mine used a plutonium core surrounded by conventional explosives with twin firing pins. Steel encased the entire contraption.

The project had several problems.

First, compared to a conventional land mine, the Blue Peacock was massive. The huge cylinder weighed about eight tons. On its side, the circular mine was more than six feet high. Suffice to say, transporting and testing the weapon was an ordeal.

To prove the weapon could even detonate, researchers dug up a gravel pit near Sevenoaks in Kent. Researchers placed the mine, flooded the pit and detonated the conventional explosives. The test did not involve nuclear materials. Researchers were just trying to prove whether the casing and firing pins would work.

The next problem was friendly soldiers’ proximity to the detonation. Firing an atomic weapon without taking damage from the ensuing explosion is a classic problem of nuclear war. A plane can drop a warhead, flee the scene and escape the worst of the blast. But a smaller munition hidden under the ground or launched from artillery is a different story.

The U.S. Army developed and deployed nuclear bazookas — the Davy Crockett — in the ‘60s, but the tiny nuke was still a nuke. It takes miles for the fallout from even a small nuclear blast to dissipate. The Pentagon thought better and shelved the project.

Britain had a similar problem with its Blue Peacock. How could it detonate a nuclear land mine without being anywhere near the device? It came up with two solutions, one ingenious and the other bizarre.

The first plan was to run three miles of wire from the land mine to an outpost where a soldier would detonate the explosives from a distance should the Soviets ever invade. Should that fail, or should the British Army know the Soviets were coming and had time to abandon the area, a single soldier could activate a clockwork timing mechanism attached to the mine.

The timer lasted eight days. Once it wound down, the mine exploded.

Vulnerability was the next problem. The U.K. needed a way to keep the Soviets from disarming the mines if Russian soldiers discovered them. Its answer was to make the mine tamper proof … by ensuring it would explode if someone messed with it.

The British military scientists built the Blue Peacock a pressurized hull and tilt switches. If someone or something attempted to tamper with the mine, jostled it, filled it with water or pierced the hull with bullets … then the Blue Peacock would start a 10 second timer. At the end of those 10 seconds, the mine exploded.

Heat was the final problem. The electronics and conventional explosives in the Blue Peacock were susceptible to cold weather, and the entire system needed to stay within a narrow temperature range. If the ground in Germany dipped below a certain temperature, then it was possible the land mine wouldn’t detonate.

Again, the researchers developed several innovative solutions to the problem. An early idea involved chickens. The mine was large enough and its interior spacious enough to accommodate living fowl. The idea was to toss in a few with enough seed to keep them alive for a few weeks. A soldier would switch out the chickens as needed.

The scientists instead went with a more practical method of heat generation. They packed the mine with fiberglass pillows. Britain’s National Archives declassified much of the information surrounding Blue Peacock, including the chicken scheme, on April 1, 2004.

The date of the release seemed ominous and some in the press asked the National Archives if the whole thing was an elaborate prank for April Fool’s day.

“The Civil Service does not do jokes,” the National Archives told the BBC.

The U.K. built two prototypes of the Blue Peacock, but shut the project down in 1957. Too many problems plagued the nuclear land mine, from its size to its weight to its reliance on fancy pillows. Storing a nuclear weapon on friendly soil during peacetime was politically unacceptable, the fallout would be too great and American and British scientists were hard at work on smaller, lighter and more dangerous warheads.

The British Army shelved the project. One of the prototype Blue Peacocks is currently on display at the Atomic Weapons Establishment Historical Collection in England.

Britain’s attempts to develop a nuclear land mine were crazy, but it wasn’t the only time a nuclear power attempted to develop mines and smaller, more tactical nuclear munitions. It was just one reflection of the mad logic that was 1950s atomic war planning.

This piece first appeared in WarIsBoring here

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The Soviet T-34: The Lethal Tank that Won World War II?

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On June 22, 1941, Nazi German launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive attack on the Soviet Union that was the largest invasion in history.

More than three million German soldiers, 150 divisions and 3,000 tanks comprised three mammoth army groups that created a front more than 1,800 miles long.

The Germans expected to face an inferior enemy. Giddy from victories in Poland and France, Hitler and many in his military high command believed it was the destiny of Germany to invade Russia. “The end of the Jewish domination in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state,” Hitler announced in his manifesto Mein Kampf.

For months Germans won victory after resounding victory. But then the attack stalled—and the appearance of a new Soviet tank stunned the Wehrmacht.

It was the T-34. The new armored vehicle had an excellent 76-millimeter gun and thick sloped armor and cruised at more than 35 miles per hour. It possessed many advanced design features for the time—and it could blow German Panzers to Hell.

The T-34 had its problems—something we often forget when discussing a tank with a legendary reputation. The shortfalls included bad visibility for the crew and shoddy Soviet workmanship.

“They were good, but they were not miracle weapons and they had their faults,” writes Philip Kaplan in Rolling Thunder: A Century of Tank Warfare. “But the T-34, for all its faults, is now often referred to by tank experts and historians as possibly the best tank of the war.”

World War II German Field Marshall Ewald Von Kleist was more succinct. “The finest tank in the world,” is how he described the T-34.

The origins of the T-34 are simple enough. The Red Army sought a replacement for the BT-7 cavalry tank, which was fast-moving and lightly armored for use in maneuver warfare. It also had Christie suspension, one reason for the tank’s increased speed.

But during a 1938-to-1939 border war with Japan, the BT-7 fared poorly. Even with a low-powered gun, Japanese Type 95 tanks easily destroyed the BT-7s. Tank attack crews also assaulted the BT-7s with Molotov cocktails, reducing the Soviet tank to a flaming wreck when ignited gasoline dripped through chinks between poorly welded armor into the tank’s engine compartment.

The T-34 was the solution. It kept the Christie suspension, replaced the gasoline engine with a V-2 34 V12 diesel power plant and offered the crew speeds that were 10 miles per hour faster than the German Panzer III or Panzer IV.

Furthermore, the T-34’s high-velocity gun was capable of killing any tank in the world at the time.

“In 1941 when Hitler launched Barbarossa, the tank was indisputably the best in the world,” Jason Belcourt, a veteran of the U.S. Army who served in the armor branch, told War Is Boring. “The combination of sloped armor, big gun, good speed and good maneuverability was so much better than anything the Germans had on tracks.”

By mid-1941, the USSR had more than 22,000 tanks—more tanks than all the armies of the world combined, and four times the number of tanks in the German arsenal.

By the end of the war, the Soviet Union had produced nearly 60,000 T-34 tanks—proving the point that quantity does have a quality all of its own.

At first, the Germans were at a loss when it came to countering the threat the T-34 posed. The Germans’ standard anti-tank guns, the 37-millimeter Kwk36 and the 50-millimeter Kwk 38, couldn’t put a dent in the Soviet tank with a shot to its front.

That left the Germans with a limited set of tactics. German tankers could attempt flank shots with their guns. The Wehrmacht could lay mines. Soldiers risked their lives in close assaults employing satchel charges and Molotov cocktails.

In what could be called an act of desperation, the Germans even used modified 88-millimeter anti-aircraft guns to stop attacking T-34s with direct fire.

But the Russians never had enough trained crews for the tanks the Red Army fielded. The Soviets wasted the T-34 and its crews in vast numbers.

By the time the Soviets trained enough crews to man the T-34s, the Germans had tanks with high-velocity guns and better anti-tank weapons like the Panzerfaust, a recoilless anti-tank weapon with a high-explosive warhead.

But the Russians always had more T-34s than the Germans had Panzers or Tigers.

“Where the tank was decisive was in the battle of production,” Belcourt said. “From June 1941 until the end of the war, the Soviets were always producing a tank that was often good and never worse than adequate.”

The final verdict on the T-34 perhaps is less glowing than the legend that the Soviets weaved around the tank—but is still complimentary. The T-34 tipped the balance in favor of the USSR when it came to armored battle; mass production of the tank outmatched anything the Germans could do when it came to manufacturing.

The T-34 in the hands of determined Soviet tankers routed the Germans at Kursk, the greatest tank battle of all time.

The T-34 was “undeniably revolutionary, but it was not the first in anything except how to combine thick sloped armor with a diesel engine, wide tracks and a big, relatively powerful gun,” Belcourt said. “They had all been done before, but never together.”

This piece first appeared in WarIsBoring here. 

Image: Creative Commons/WikiCommons. 

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Call for Applications: Program Coordinator, Fellowship Program

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The Center for the National Interest seeks to hire a Program Coordinator to help launch and manage an exciting new fellowship program for young foreign policy leaders.
Key responsibilities will include:

- Creating a database of international relations programs, developing and distributing marketing materials, recruiting candidates, and managing the selection process for five resident and twenty non-resident fellows;

- Planning and organizing a seminar series on foreign policy and international affairs;

- Facilitating fellows’ research projects and coordinating the editing and publication of fellows’ studies/reports;

- Drafting grant reports and proposals, and,

- Other duties as needed.

The incumbent will also have the opportunity to write for the Center’s magazine, The National Interest.

Applicants should have a master’s degree in international relations or a related field and two years’ experience in program management and administration. Strong oral and written communications skills are also required. Salary and benefits are competitive and based on experience and salary history.

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, three references, and one or two writing samples to Paul Saunders, Executive Director, Center for the National Interest, at [email protected].

Image: Flickr. 

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Call for Applications: National Interest Young Leaders Fellowship

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The Center for the National Interest is pleased to announce an exciting new fellowship program for young foreign policy leaders, thinkers and writers with support from the Charles Koch Foundation.

The Center will select five Resident Fellows and twenty Non-Resident Fellows for a ten-month term commencing November 2, 2015 and concluding August 26, 2016.

Resident Fellows will engage in the full range of the Center’s activities, including conducting independent research and writing, engaging with senior foreign policy leaders through the Center’s programming and a special seminar series, and supporting the Center and its magazine The National Interest in their ongoing operations. Resident Fellows will receive a stipend of $2,000 per month during the program.

Non-Resident Fellows will also pursue independent research and writing and participate in Center programs and the seminar series. Non-Resident Fellows will receive a stipend of $1,000 upon completion of the program.

Both Resident and Non-Resident Fellows will have the opportunity to write for The National Interest’s web site,


Applicants for Resident and Non-Resident Fellows should have completed at least a B.A./B.S. in international relations, political science, history and economics.

Applicants should submit the following materials in electronic form to Fellowship Program Coordinator, Center for the National Interest, at [email protected]:

- A resume/curriculum vitae including educational and work experience and two professional references

- A personal statement, up to 1,000 words, explaining the applicant’s interest in the program at the Center for the National Interest

- An essay, up to 2,000 words, providing the applicant’s perspective on the purpose of America’s international leadership

- A signed certification form [Download .pdf formFellowship Program Certification]

Applications are due by October 9; the Center will announce selections on October 16. Resident Fellow applicants should be available to commence the fellowship in Washington on November 2.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

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Chinese Aircraft Carriers: A Nightmare for the U.S. Navy?

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In the decades since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. Navy’s carrier strike groups have been the dominant force across the world’s oceans. Even the Soviet Union never really managed to challenge the U.S. Navy’s mastery of the seas. But as of late, there is growing concern that China’s People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) may be stepping up to the plate.

The Soviets mainly focused their efforts on a “sea denial” strategy using a combination of Backfire bombers, submarines and surface combatant armed with long-range anti-ship missiles. The People’s Republic of China also seemed to be focusing purely on developing an anti-access strategy using similar methodology. But like the Soviets toward the end of the Cold War, the Chinese seem to be intent on developing a blue water surface fleet that might one day be able to challenge the U.S. Navy on the high seas.

Picking up where the Soviets left off, China has refurbished the decaying hulk of the Varyag—sister ship to Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov—and recommissioned her as the Liaoning. But the Liaoning is just a starting point—the PLAN appears to be using the ship as a training tool to develop the skills necessary to operate a carrier air wing at sea. It’s a skill that took the U.S. Navy decades to master after much trial and error.

To master the air wing component, China appropriated an early Soviet prototype of the Su-33, which is a carrier-based version of the Flanker air superiority fighter. The Russian aircraft gave the Chinese a leg up in the development of a carrier-based warplane called the J-15. Further, the Chinese are developing a host of support aircraft that will also serve in a future PLAN carrier air wing. Right now, that air wing is composed of twenty-four J-15 fighters, six Z-18F anti-submarine warfare helicopters, four Z-18J airborne early warning helicopters and a pair of Z-9C rescue helicopters.

The Pentagon says in its 2015 report on Chinese military power that Liaoning and its air wing, as currently configured, are not really capable of projecting power over great distances—even if it were fully operational. The ship is too small and is best suited for providing fleet air defense and extending air cover over a fleet operating far from shore. “The Liaoning will not enable long-range power projection similar to U.S. Nimitz-class carriers,” the report states.

The fundamental problem is that even though the J-15 is a better performing aircraft in terms of pure aerodynamic performance compared to the U.S. Navy’s Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the Russian ski-jump design imposes severe limitations on the payload and fuel the Flanker can carry. “Liaoning’s smaller size limits the number of aircraft it can embark, while the ski-jump configuration limits restricts fuel and ordnance load,” the Pentagon report states. That’s not just the Pentagon’s assessment; the Chinese have also acknowledged the issue. Perhaps most telling is that the Soviet Union’s follow-on to the Kuznetsov-class design, Ulyanovsk, incorporated steam catapults.

China is expected to build or may already be building follow-on carriers—and the Pentagon expects that the PLAN might build several—which are likely to be designed to use the J-15’s full capabilities. In the best case scenario, it will take quite some time for the People’s Republic to field a fleet that’s anywhere remotely close to being able to challenge the U.S. Navy. It takes Newport News the better part of a decade to build a single Nimitz or Ford-class supercarrier and that yard has decades of experience. China has no experience building any ship the size of an aircraft carrier—even a moderate-sized one like Liaoning, which was structurally completed in Crimea.

Even if China completes carriers that utilize the full potential of their embarked aircraft, that’s not the only factor to consider. While the Super Hornet might not be the fastest or most maneuverable jet in the sky, it does have excellent sensors and avionics. More importantly, the U.S. Navy’s Super Hornets are not fighting alone. A modern carrier air wing works as an integrated team—especially as Naval Integrated Fire Control—Counter Air (NIFC-CA) becomes operational.

With NIFC-CA, Super Hornets, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, Aegis destroyers, cruisers and the other assets at the strike group commander’s disposal work as a seamless team that sees the same picture. That means than Aegis cruiser can fire a Standard SM-6 missile over the horizon beyond the ship’s line-of-sight by using data from an orbiting E-2D. Another example might be a Super Hornet launching a Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) at a Type 052D destroyer based on an ellipse generated by a flight of EA-18Gs that are using time difference of arrival to triangulate the enemy ship’s position.

The bottom line that China might develop an aircraft carrier, it might develop an air wing and it might even develop a battle group that would go to sea with the flattop, but it’s more than about just the hardware. It will take time for the PLAN to get to level of competency where it can have any real shot at going head-to-head with the U.S. Navy in the Western Pacific. Will they eventually get there? Possibly, but it might take decades.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

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Beware: America's Lethal Precision Strike Advantage Is Slipping Away

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On average, it took 1,000 sorties of B-17 bombers dropping nearly two-and-a-half million pounds of “dumb” bombs to successfully knock out a significant Nazi target in 1944. By contrast, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a B-2 bomber could reliably achieve the same result with a single 2,000 pound “smart” bomb—and then go on to strike up to fifteen more targets in a single mission.

This level of accuracy proved to be an unprecedented and powerful force multiplier and was a central component of the so-called “second offset” strategy in the closing stages of the Cold War. By pushing the technological envelope, the U.S. and its allies could equalize the odds in any defense against the numerically superior Warsaw Pact in a hypothetical conflict. These same technologies were employed to deter aggression from smaller states by credibly holding the depth of their crucial command and logistic networks at risk, all while minimizing risks for civilians—a capability demonstrated in the Gulf War. The United States’ unique advantages in delivering precision strikes thus helped keep the peace in Europe and elsewhere while minimizing the number of American boots on the ground, quickly becoming a bedrock of U.S. combat and deterrence operations the world over.

Twelve years later, the story is very different. According to a  report released this summer by the Center of Strategic and Budgetary Assessment,  the U.S. monopoly on precision guided munitions (PGM) is ending. Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff admit that America’s traditional technological advantage is eroding. In the report, authors  Mark Gunzinger and Bryan Clark lay out the situation in depth, and propose a novel solution for turning the tables and regaining the upper hand. While the entire report is absolutely worth a read, it clocks in at over seventy pages and is packed with charts and technical data. Here is the run-down to get you up to speed on the problem—and the witty solution proposed by Gunzinger and Clark—in under ten minutes.

The Reemerging Salvo Competition:

From countless drone strikes to Operations Odyssey Dawn in Libya and Inherent Resolve today, pinpoint PGM strikes have been a hallmark of U.S. military action for over a decade. Now, potential American adversaries, from Iran and North Korea to Russia and China, have developed significant PGM capabilities of their own—and hordes of countermeasures to defeat American PGM. In any confrontation with these states, they could respond to U.S. strikes with smart bombs of their own. This would lead to what Gunzinger and Clark dub a “salvo competition,” in which the side that gains the upper hand in employing precision strikes will have a disproportionately large tactical advantage.

Gaining that advantage centers on altering what’s known as the Probability of Arrival (PA): the percentage chance that a given PGM will successfully strike its intended target. Gunzinger and Clark suggest that in planning an air campaign, enough ordinance should be allocated to ensure a given target is eliminated with 95 percent certainty.

Operating in uncontested airspace with stealth aircraft or standoff cruise missiles against opponents with weak or nonexistent air defenses, American PGMs have routinely achieved a PA bordering on 90 percent. Factoring in duds and mechanical issues, that B-2 with fifteen PGM would be able to conduct about ten successful strikes at 95 percent certainty of destruction by allocating three smart bombs for every two targets.

In a contested environment, near-peer competitors have a plethora of ways to drive the PA down. Kinetic defenses, from radar-directed close-in weapons systems to advanced surface-to-air missiles, like the S-300 currently being shipped to Iran from Russia, can intercept cruise missiles and potentially pose a threat to stealth aircraft. Electronic decoys and jammers can confuse or attract PGMs in order to prevent them from hitting their targets. Even if the enemy’s defenses can be overcome, their own PGMs could still attack and credibly degrade U.S. targeting networks, airbases, aircraft carriers, and other strike ships.

Gunzinger and Clark demonstrate how, by causing changes in the PA, these defenses have an exponential effect on the amount of PGMs that will need to be expended because of the desire to eliminate targets with 95 percent certainty. If the PA in Operation Iraqi Freedom hypothetically fell from 90 percent to 50 percent, it would have taken 149,250 PGM to strike the same 19,900 targets hit by the 27,800 smart and dumb munitions that were actually used.

Until the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, it remained standing U.S. policy for the military to be able to fight two major wars at once. Yet combating two Iraq-sized states at 50 percent PA would require almost 300,000 smart bombs, roughly equivalent to all the PGM procured by the Department of Defense since 2001. The U.S. would also have to increase the number of sorties generated by a factor of ten—assuming zero aircraft attrition—to carry out all these attacks in thirty days.

Will the Bomber Always Get Through?:

Considering the U.S. Air Force is operating with the smallest and oldest fleet of combat aircraft in its history, increasing sorties by that magnitude with current platforms is hard to imagine: enter the Air Force’s pitch for the Long Range Strike Bomber program. It’s an idea that’s generated controversy about the need for the program or long range strike at all. Considering the potential cost of these bombers (at a minimum, $550 million each), it’s worth musing on alternative platforms for strike.

Attacking targets solely with “long range standoff” PGMs like the Tomahawk is, according to Gunzinger and Clark, prohibitively expensive. The analysts observe that carrying out the 2003 strikes using hypothetical cruise missiles with a PA of 100 percent would have cost $22 billion dollars just to acquire the 18,700 missiles; again, approximately equal to the total outlays on PGMs since 2001. That sum is about 40 percent of the entire American outlay for the War in Iraq in 2003. In addition to their cost, these sorts of PGMs also have difficulty engaging hardened or mobile targets.  Cruise missiles simply can’t get on station fast enough or with enough payload. Their long, subsonic glide paths allow them to be tracked and intercepted relatively easily unless used en masse.

China, Russia and Iran have defenses that are not just a threat to slow cruise missiles. Their formidable (and growing) air defenses make attacks by conventional aircraft dropping direct attack PGM with ranges under 50 nautical miles (nm) seem suicidal. Even if next-gen tactical aircraft like the F-35 could use their stealth to penetrate the air defense bubble, they would probably not have the range to engage high value targets inland. Due to payload limitations and their inability to loiter because of fuel constraints and the air defense threat, they would also struggle to engage highly mobile targets. Even specialized sorties operating in uncontested environments like the Scud Hunts during the First Gulf War had trouble engaging, locating, and destroying targets such as transporter erector launchers (TEL).

That’s a problem, because Chinese-made TELs can set up and fire an anti-access area denial “carrier killer” missile before relocating in under ten minutes. Surface-to-surface missiles threaten the airbases, carriers, and amphibious assault ships that U.S. tactical aircraft need to operate from. Escort cruisers and destroyers can carry long range strike missiles, but because of the inability to reload at sea and the need to devote significant storage to air and missile defense ordinance, their magazine depth and the frequency of strikes are both sharply limited.

As Gunzinger and Clark note, future success in precision strike is directly correlated with the health of the stealth bomber force. There’s a need for stealthy platforms that can gain the element of surprise, and bombers have the ability to approach targets beyond the range of submarine based launchers and survive defensive fire that would deter surface ships or non-stealthy aircraft. Their global range allows them to strike from bases any enemy would be hard pressed to retaliate against. Yet constructing masses of stealth bombers isn’t feasible for the Pentagon, so ways to increase the efficiency—and survivability—of the force have to be found.

Reforming Operational Concepts-Increasing PA on the Cheap:

In an austere budget environment, the hunt for technological silver bullets must be accompanied by a reexamination of underlying operational concepts. At the core of this doctrinal reset is the idea that strike should predominantly be the realm of bomber aircraft, not fighter-bombers.

Due to current stealth bomber designs and the global network of American airbases and tanker aircraft, the United States has a considerable efficiency advantage in its ability to deliver more PGM than either Russia or China if strikes originate from more than 2,500 nm away from targets. Gunzinger and Clark note that the U.S. can deliver far more ordinance per pound of fuel used at these distances. From a survivability perspective, adversaries would be hard pressed to retaliate against bomber strikes at these ranges without going nuclear.

Within 2,500 nm, this efficiency advantage reverses. Inside that range band, ground launched cruise missiles can pound incoming amphibious forces or in–theater airbases with relative impunity. From a logistics standpoint, it’s much easier for a defender operating over their own airspace to generate sorties when compared to U.S. forces reliant on long and easily disrupted air or naval lines of communication. Potential adversaries could bring almost all their forces to bear, as opposed to the pittance of their forces that could operate 2,500nm from their bases and reliably hit targets.

However, some American units will inevitably need to close with their foes, especially tactical aircraft which otherwise wouldn’t have the range to contribute to operations. The authors note that it would be most efficient to have these forces disperse and provide air cover to protect the bombers and intercept incoming enemy strikes.

Protecting these non-stealth assets is mostly a matter of reforming security for the bases from which they operate, whether that’s adopting new air defense protocols for carrier strike groups, moving towards highly mobile forward area refueling points for jump jets like the new F-35B or reorganizing forward positioned airbases into a series of smaller complexes that would each have to be eliminated to knock out the facility.

Even with fighter cover, stealth bombers penetrating contested airspace could have trouble approaching targets due to the growing sophistication of ground based defenses. Stealth isn’t invisibility: given powerful detection and enough time, the bombers can be located and engaged. This is problematic as 96 percent of all American PGMs are direct attack weapons with ranges under 50 nm. Large cruise missiles with ranges exceeding 400 nm comprise most of the remainder. While these sorts of missiles are useful on ships and non-stealthy aircraft that need to stand off from enemy defenses, they are bulky, limiting their utility on bombers and making them easier to destroy mid-flight.

Gunzinger and Clark believe focusing production in these two areas is inefficient, as weapons with a range between 100 and 400 nm fall into a “sweet spot” where the tradeoffs between range, weight, and cost are optimized. Bombers could carry large numbers of these relatively cheap missiles and fire them from a comfortable standoff range without exposing aircrews to the heaviest air defenses.

Toward a New Generation of Short Range Standoff PGM:

Currently, the U.S. arsenal only contains one weapon in this category: the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM). The report advocates both ramping up production of the JASSM and developing additional weapons to present a variety of threats to the enemy. After all, a platform is only as effective as the ordinance it can deliver. Rather than focus on a few exquisite tomahawks, we should design weapons with the “small, smart, and many” concept in mind.

The ultimate goal would be a “tunneling attack.” Imagine a force of stealthy assets like submarines and stealth bombers unleashing a surprise swarm of such small weapons over a narrow front. With short flight times and smaller airframes, it would be much harder to engage these weapons mid-flight compared with a Tomahawk swarm. The air defense system would be temporarily overwhelmed, paving the way for more capable follow-on attacks launched by surface ships or aircraft to penetrate in successive waves through the newly opened tunnel.

There are a host of emerging technologies that could make this tactic more effective. Most promising is an idea advocated by Gunzinger and Clark of creating inter-weapon networks that could build on existing JASSM datalinks to allow the missiles to collaborate and redirect midflight, a technology that could drop the number of weapons needed to engage a target set by a factor of ten. Other weapons seem straight out of science fiction, from hypersonic missiles to high-energy microwave weapons that can disable swaths of enemy electronics to cluster weapons with “brilliant submunitions” that can loiter over an area for hours before engaging.

Such programs are promising, but they currently languish in the science and technology research phase instead of moving forward to low-rate production. Munitions aren’t a hot button topic like platforms—less than half a percent of the defense budget is allocated to PGM procurement and development. Gunzinger and Clark paint a picture of an industrial base reliant on a slew of subcontractors who essentially craft their parts by hand, and thus have very little ability to surge production. But retooling production to focus on “short range standoff” weapons need not be as daunting as it seems. Many direct attack PGM can simply bemodified with short burn rocket engines to extend their range past 100 nm. Nevertheless, any shift in PGM production is not politically expedient, as direct attack smart bombs are useful in low-intensity conflicts like the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Deemphasizing the long-term relevance of a currently useful weapons program, as the Pentagon has already learned with the A-10, is a difficult sell.

The future, however, does not stand still. If the same hesitation toward munitions development had existed twenty years ago, PGM may never have evolved from the humble Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) gravity bomb to Block IV Tomahawk cruise missiles that can accurately deliver a half-ton warhead over a distance of 700 nautical miles. It’s hard to imagine how the campaigns of the last decade would have proceeded without precision strike—or what other conflicts could have arisen without PGM’s utility as a deterrent. Yet, based on current trends, it’s easy to envision a future in which the U.S. military cedes its advantage in strike because it failed to adapt to a changing environment. As the Pentagon grapples for a third offset strategy, no tool should be overlooked, and nothing should be taken for granted.

This piece first appeared in CFR’s blog Defense in Depth here.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 


Xi Jinping's Real Chinese Dream: An 'Imperial' China?

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Since assuming the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership in November 2012, Chinese president Xi Jinping’s great ambitions have become well known. Domestically, he’s advanced the grand goal of what he calls the China Dream: ‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people’. He has surprised virtually every observer by the speed and efficiency with which he’s consolidated power in the party and military. Xi is now seen as China’s most powerful leader after Deng Xiaoping, if not Mao Zedong.

The two major pillars of Xi’s assertive foreign policy—security activism predominantly in the maritime domain, and economic diplomacy by way of the so-called ‘one belt, one road’ policy—suggest that Xi isn’t content with making China a great power in the region and beyond; he also wants to make China a leading and even dominant power in key areas of Asia–Pacific regional relations. Indeed, as a keen student of history, Xi may be trying to restore the role of China in the contemporary East Asian system to its historical height during the era of the Chinese empire (221BC–1911AD).

Is Xi’s China ready to resume the glory of its imperial predecessor? We may compare China today with China during the early Ming dynasty (1368-1424), which achieved an incomplete regional hegemony in East Asia. By GDP, the economic position of Ming China at the height of its power was stronger than that of the U.S. today. But hegemony is about more than material capabilities—it’s the conjunction of material primacy and social legitimacy; the ability to control important international outcomes and some degree of consent and acceptance from other states in the system.

Early Ming China’s neighbors adopted four principal strategies in their response to and dealings with the Ming imperial court. Ranked from the most to the least cooperative, these four strategies are identification, deference, access, and exit. Almost all of Ming China’s neighbors adopted a strategy of deference, whereby they deferred to, but didn’t necessarily accept as legitimate, imperial China’s hierarchical scheme of foreign relations embodied by the tribute system.

Ming China thus only achieved an incomplete hegemony in East Asia. But that’s hardly surprising: every hegemony is incomplete, even in the case of contemporary U.S. hegemony. Ming China never had to confront a systemic, anti-hegemonic response in the form of, say, a counterbalancing coalition characteristic of modern European politics. On the whole, early Ming China’s material primacy in East Asia was also a Chinese hegemony accepted by its neighbors to varying degrees.

An important criterion for measuring Chinese influence today is the type and nature of regional responses to China’s rise. None of China’s neighbours are developing a strategy of identification, not many states are adopting one of deference either. The main strategy adopted by most states today is in fact access, an instrumental attempt to maintain relationships with China in order to obtain economic benefits from China’s rise. Some are also adopting a strategy of exit by downgrading their relationships with China or by switching to closer relationships with other countries, including China’s archrival, the U.S.

The contrast with early Ming China is thus clear and striking. Whereas Ming China succeeded in making deference the major regional strategic response to its power, with a nice addition of identification from Korea, today’s China has only achieved the level of an access strategy, and it is in fact struggling with a number of countries even at that level. Moreover, whereas Ming China never had to face a counterbalancing coalition from its neighbours, such balancing is a constant spectre for today’s China. Current Chinese foreign policy leaves much to be desired, and the PRC still has a long way to go before reaching the glory of its imperial predecessor—if indeed it can ever reach such heights.

The problem isn’t with the trajectory of China’s development, which is still largely sound and positive, but rather,  it’s with the ways in which some Chinese policymakers and analysts perceive China’s strengthening position in the international order and how that power should now be used. A palpable sense of triumphalism emerged in some segments of the Chinese policy and intellectual community after the country’s success through the Global Financial Crisis. Yet, as a senior scholar in Beijing pointed out to me, overestimation of China’s power is much more harmful to China’s interests than underestimation. China faces serious economic headwinds and the constraints on Beijing’s foreign policy have consequently tightened over the past few months. President Xi’s foreign policy remains in search of a foundation, a purpose and an effective strategic approach.

Chinese foreign policy has now entered an important stage of multiple changes and adjustments, and is open to be shaped by a variety of domestic and international factors. It will be wise for Chinese leaders to take a long-term historical perspective when considering the potential of Chinese influence in the region and the limits of current approaches. If they are really historically minded, the strategic goals of China’s Asia–Pacific policy should include both a positive and negative goal—a positive goal of encouraging a new kind of deference from regional states appropriate to the norms and conditions of 21st century world politics, and a negative goal of preventing an implicit or explicit counterbalancing coalition forming against China. Whether they can achieve those goals will depend heavily on their strategic wisdom and foresight.

Feng Zhang is a Fellow in the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting scholar at the Guangdong Institute for International Strategies in Guangzhou, China. His book, Chinese Hegemony: Grand Strategy and International Institutions in East Asian History, was recently published by Stanford University Press and will be launched at the ANU on Tuesday September 22.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons/ 

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China's Strategy to Undermine the U.S. in Asia: Win in the 'Gray Zone'

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China is beating the United States in the “gray zone,” where a state attempts to make gains at the expense of a strategic competitor by using tactics that, while aggressive, remain below the level that usually triggers conventional military retaliation.

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of U.S. strategy in the 1950s under the Eisenhower administration.  Washington attempted to deter the Soviet Union with the doctrine of “massive retaliation,” which served notice that the U.S. might respond disproportionately to an adversary’s conventional military challenge by launching a strategic nuclear attack.  The premise was that the threat of all-out war would intimidate the Soviets from starting a fight at a lower rung of the escalation ladder. The obvious problem was credibility. If an adversary did not believe Washington was willing to invite nuclear war over a relatively minor and peripheral conflict, overreliance on massive retaliation had the effect of leaving the US vulnerable to a salami-slicing policy.  Thus in 1961 the Kennedy administration shifted to the “flexible response” strategy, which aimed to establish U.S. superiority at multiple levels of potential conflict short of nuclear war.

A similar adjustment appears necessary today. The U.S. armed forces are clearly better equipped than any other military for a major war.  This capability, however, is largely sidelined as Beijing demonstrates its skill at finding ways of advancing the Chinese strategic agenda – and undercutting U.S. interests – that are well short of crossing red lines. The Chinese, whose civilization produced Sun Zi’s Art of War, are huge fans of the idea that clever strategy can deliver victory over a materially stronger opponent.

The South China Sea dispute provides several examples of China’s gray zone prowess. In 2012, the Chinese established a permanent presence on previously unoccupied Scarborough Shoal.  This disputed feature is well within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, a US ally. China’s action violated an agreement between Beijing and Manila brokered by Washington. Beijing, however, suffered no consequences beyond diplomatic protests.

China has implemented the tactic of ordnance-free naval combat in the South China Sea. This was evident in 2014 when a large flotilla of PRC escort vessels protected a large Chinese oil rig deployed into a disputed area by ramming Vietnamese boats, sinking one and forcing others to retire for repairs.

To ward off close maritime surveillance, the Chinese have used cost-exchange ratio as a weapon against the United States.  Fishing boats intentionally maneuvering to create the risk of a collision drove off the high-tech but unarmed U.S. surveillance ship Impeccable in 2009. The same Chinese tactic worked in 2013, when an LST played chicken with the U.S. cruiser Cowpens in international waters and forced the U.S. warship to abandon its observation of a Chinese naval exercise involving China’s newly-deployed aircraft carrier. The Chinese ship was probably worth about $200 million, the Cowpens about $1 billion.

China’s rapid construction of artificial islands earlier this year in the disputed Spratly group was Beijing’s latest gray zone victory in the South China Sea. China’s audacity in building what are expected to become military bases in the middle of an international waterway shocked the region, but Washington was left with no response other than Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s lame (and unheeded) demand that the Chinese stop immediately.

U.S.-China gray zone contention is not limited to the South China Sea. The cyber attacks sponsored by the Chinese government also fall into this category. Although a cyber attack could potentially cause death and destruction comparable to a traditional act of war, the issue is new enough that governments have not yet developed standard responses and expectations.  China has taken full and effective advantage of this uncertainty. The U.S. government makes a distinction between strategic and economic cyber theft; the former is fair game, but the latter is criminal and subject to sanctions. Beijing, however, does not seem interested in making this distinction. Taking a “comprehensive” view of “national security,” the CCP regime classifies anything from business news to exposés about the inordinate wealth of senior Party officials as attacks on national security, to be punished accordingly. The flipside of this mentality is to view as justified any activity that helps build up China’s economic power, including theft of intellectual property from foreigners. This is a substantial violation of a principle most 21st century governments worldwide would uphold, yet the U.S. response has been ineffective, drawing only a scolding from Beijing against making “groundless accusations.”

The gains China is realizing through these opportunistic tactics in the gray zone are not comparable to the benefits of winning a hegemonic war, but they are substantial. Beijing pockets tangible winnings such as new islands under Chinese occupation and advanced technical data from rival foreign industries. The PRC also strengthens the perception that Chinese power is waxing while U.S. power wanes, implying that the smart play by the rest of the Asia-Pacific region is to accommodate Beijing and stop relying on U.S. leadership and protection.

In contrast to the United States, Tokyo faced its own gray zone problem with China forthrightly. The PRC began a campaign of continuous incursions by Chinese ships into the territorial waters or contiguous zone of the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in July 2012 in an apparent effort to intimidate Tokyo into recognizing Chinese co-administration of the islands.  Instead of backing down from this risk-acceptant Chinese behavior, Tokyo increased its own ship patrols around the islands and elicited a public reaffirmation from its American ally that the US-Japan mutual security treaty would apply in the case of an attack on the islands.

Observers have recommended both direct and indirect U.S. approaches to Chinese salami-slicing. The direct approach might include U.S. overflights of the artificial islands (literally over them, not near them); arming of the other South China Sea claimants; increased U.S. and partner-country naval patrols in the vicinity; sanctions against Chinese entities caught engaging in cyber theft; and retaliatory US cyber attacks against Chinese targets. Indirect approaches might include stronger pressure on what CCP leaders see as their points of weakness and vulnerability, accompanied by non-public explanations to the Chinese government that the increased pressure is a response to Chinese gray zone aggressiveness and will be dialed back if Beijing is more cooperative.

In any case, the greatest urgency is to apply US intellectual and material assets toward competing with China in the gray zone.  The U.S. can leverage superior U.S. capabilities and the groundswell of regional support for U.S. leadership. The question is whether U.S. strategists can demonstrate the requisite strategic cunning and dexterity.

Denny Roy is a Senior Fellow at the East-West Center. This piece first appeared in PACNET: Newsletter here

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China's Master Plan To Destroy the Stealthy F-22 and F-35 in Battle

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China’s Shengyang J-11 unlicensed derivative of the Russian-developed Su-27 Flanker has become the mainstay of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force  (PLAAF). While the Chinese-built jets are not able to match U.S.-built fighters one-for-one, China is building a lot of them. Down the road, advanced derivatives of the J-11 might become every bit as capable as the most advanced versions of American and allied fourth-generation fighters like the F-15 or F-16. Even fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters might be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Chinese jets and the problems associated with the lack of bases in the Western Pacific.

What Makes The J-11 Special:

There have been many iterations of the J-11. Those range from the original license-built models to the “indigenously” produced A-model to the upgraded B/BS-model, which uses a host of Chinese upgrades and avionics hardware. China continues to develop other versions of the J-11 including the advanced J-15, which is designed to operate off China’s lone aircraft carrier Liaoning,which was purchased incomplete as a derelict from the Nikolayev shipyards in Crimea. Shengyang was aided in the development of the J-15 through the purchase of a Su-33 Flanker prototype from Ukraine.

The J-15, however, was more than just a reverse engineered copy of the original Russian Flanker design. The carrier-based aircraft is expected to feature a host of advanced avionics, including a phased array radar and new infrared search and track system. But while the carrier-variant has gotten a lot of attention, a parallel development that features many of the same advancements seems to be making headway.

The J-11D, which is currently in development, is arguably the most advanced land-based single-seat Chinese version of the Flanker. While it probably is not quite as potent as the Russian Su-35S, it is very comparable in a lot of respects. While almost all information concerning Chinese hardware is suspect, the new J-11D allegedly made its first flight sometime in April. The new variant is purportedly equipped with a new electronically scanned radar—possibly an active electronically scanned array (AESA). But China wouldn’t need the Su-35 if it had developed a working, producible AESA. That could be why China and Russia have been taking so long to work out a deal to buy the Su-35—the People’s Republic has reached a point where it doesn’t need the Russians as much as they used to.

The J-11D is also purported to use radar absorbent materials to help reduce the jet’s signature, possibly a new infrared search-and-track system (IRST) and revamped electronic warfare systems. It also allegedly features an improved version of China’s WS-10 jet engine—but the Chinese have had a lot of difficulties with producing a reliable motor for their aircraft. One reason China is interested in the Su-35 is because of that plane’s engines.

But Would the Jets Ever Meet in the Skies Over Asia?:

While it is certainly important to consider all of the various possible U.S.-China fighter match ups, we must consider another possibility: there is important data points that suggest these planes may never meet in the skies above Asia.

Given the vast distances of the Pacific, land-based Chinese fighters have limited ability to strike at their more distant neighbors, but there is likely to be an “access” problem for U.S. forces in the event of a conflict, especially if when used in conjunction with an integrated air defense system.

If there were to be a war in the Western Pacific, the massive air battles that many might envision, are not likely to take place because the United States and our allies have few bases in the region to host tactical fighters like the F-35. More problematic is that even if jets were to takeoff from bases in Japan like Kadena or Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, the distances are vast. Tankers would come at a premium and would likely to be among the first to be targeted. Moreover, the Chinese are almost certain to attack those air bases with massive barrages of cruise and ballistic missiles—potentially rendering them useless even if structures on the facilities are hardened.

Even if U.S. fighters like the F-22 and F-35 are superior to their Chinese counterparts (and they are), it is meaningless if they don’t have bases to operate from or tankers to refuel from. Further, without intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, those jets couldn’t be properly supported—and it becomes even more difficult when the Chinese attack the space assets and data networks that hold America’s fighting forces together.

The question shouldn’t be if the F-35 would be able to hold it’s own in a dogfight, the real question should be: Are short-range tactical fighters relevant in the Pacific theatre?

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

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