What does China’s J-20 fighter aircraft mean this early in its visual discovery?http://the-diplomat.com/2011/01/21/chinas-rise-remilitarizing-japan/
It might not have the right motors. It might not have the right kind of radar or other avionics. It might not have the right kind of integration of other systems. What it will have is growth room.
Someday the J-20 may have some strike ability but it doesn’t have to in its first “block” or “A” model to be of great use to the Chinese.
What China can do with this aircraft as a basic interceptor will have worth. It has the potential to add more depth to integrated air defense along border hot spots. Combined with China’s AWACS, surface sensors, command and control, surface-to-air missile systems, air refueling tankers and other fighter aircraft, it will help deny airspace.
China has many air defense scenarios such as; India, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Russia and the U.S. It also has to back up it’s SCO partners.
What kind of threats will this aircraft–as part of the whole Chinese networked integrated air defense system–have to face? The B-2 bomber, legacy long range bombers, possible bat-wings like the UCAS-N. ISR platforms like the RQ-170, Global Hawk, and manned large-body aircraft. There will be the full range of fighter aircraft to game against; various Flanker variants, F-22, F-35 (if it shows up), PAK-FA (India/Russia), and other classic fighter designs. And, an aircraft like this would also be used for cruise-missile defense. From this snapshot, we can see that a basic J-20 as a defensive interceptor will be valuable.
What kind of stealth ability does the initial model need? Not much. Just enough to make the probability of kill (PK) of the AMRAAM or any other radar missile, useless with a nose-on attack profile. If this can be done, you have taken out a lot of the beyond-visual-range (BVR) combat ability of fighter aircraft. With this, you have just nullified an important tool in U.S. air combat ability. What would the F-22, F-15, F-16, F-18, F-35 (if it ever shows up) be without the AMRAAM?
What kind of systems will the first model of this aircraft have if China follows this path? Anything that is off the shelf today. China has AMRAAM-like BVR weapons. It also has a good high-off-bore-sight dogfight missile. Sensors would be an infra-red search and track, and most likely a mechanical scan radar. The initial jet engine for this aircraft might not be what China wants, but if the aircraft can super-cruise and zip along in the 50,000-65000 feet flight range (have a pilot explain to you the amazing amount of effective ground speed at this height) you will have a weapon that will make anything that is not an F-22 or PAK-FA, obsolete.
Why does any of this matter? I will give you one example. In the future, who cares if the U.S. moves a carrier battle group into what China considers its area of influence? America will only be putting thousands of sailors and billions of dollars of taxpayer hardware at unwarranted risk; all with an obsolete carrier air wing.
China’s ability in this area will grow. With an in-debt U.S. and closing down of important production of the F-22, U.S. and allied air power in the Pacific Rim will shrink. The U.S. will stop becoming a credible deterrent. Pacific Rim allies will see the U.S. as unable to maintain regional security. When push comes to shove, they will listen to China and not the U.S.
As the thuggish Hillary Clinton said, “How do you act tough with your banker?”
Boys Toys Vs. Geography.....
If it’s true that the last stories of the year have offered a glimpse of the trends for what’s to come, then one can only hope that minute-by-minute assessments of the latest developments in Chinese naval capabilities won’t stifle the debate on East Asian security for 2011. There’s a real risk, though, that issues of strategy will just get boiled down to technical discussions about kits and boys’ toys.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t still assess capabilities. On the contrary, studies of the assets and platforms China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is procuring are important for at least three reasons: they offer insights into the priorities of the naval service, a look at the potential of the country’s defence industry, and as a result, an insight into the strategic thinking behind China’s vigorous quest to join the club of the world’s top naval powers.
So, what were the big naval stories of last year? Just before Christmas, Beijing admitted it was building a 50,000-ton, conventionally-powered aircraft carrier to join the fleet in 2014, one year earlier than anticipated. It also said it was planning to press into service a nuclear-powered flat-top by 2020.To add to the drama, Chinese officials went on to confirm that the Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier Varyag was to join the PLAN’s pennant list in 2012 as a training platform.
Right after Christmas, from the columns of the Asahi Shimbun, Adm. Robert Willard, Commander of US Pacific Command, affirmed that China’s anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), also known as the ‘carrier killer’, had now achieved initial operational capability.
These two pieces of information prompted international analysts to swing into action, with the closing days of 2010 seeing the first assessments of the wider implications of these new developments, especially in regard to the ‘carrier killer’. Some went as far as to suggest that these new capabilities are a sign of a future that ‘is arriving much sooner than expected’, one in which China is getting a dangerous step closer to mounting a naval challenge to US regional dominance.
The idea here is that as these capabilities reach full operational status, Beijing will be able to deny access to US carriers in the waters of the basins adjacent to its shores, the East and South China Seas and, as a result, gain control of such areas. Together with the PLAN’s fast growing submarine fleet, these capabilities would, according to some analysts, be the keys to the strategic balance of North and South-east Asia because they’d be enough to offset the advantages of US naval power.
Is this true? Are China’s capabilities turning the tide of regional power? The answer is more complicated than this question implies. First and foremost, by focusing on the ability of Chinese assets to undermine American dominance, the risk is that we forget to account for the importance of one critical factor in any strategic assessment: geography. As Nicholas Spykman eloquently put it in the early 1940s, whilst economic, political and military power evolve over time, ‘the facts of location’ don’t.
In the East China Sea, geography doesn’t favour Chinese ambitions. The Ryukyu and Gōto Islands and the island of Miyakojima are enduring geographic features that complicate any designs the PLAN might have on sealing off and controlling the East China Sea. Before sinking US carriers, Chinese missiles have to deal with Japanese geography.
How does geography favour Japan? In two ways. First of all, these islands offer a critical advantage in monitoring, deterring and eventually bottling-up Chinese naval forces. During the Cold War, Japan’s Self-Defence Forces performed a similar role against the Soviet Union, sealing the country’s three major straits (Tsugaru, Tsushima, and La Pérouse). Today, the construction of advanced facilities for intelligence gathering on the islands of the East China Sea is one clear reminder of their key strategic role and of the Japanese shifting attention south-west.
Secondly, the islands of the archipelago of Japan remain a primary platform for projecting power in the western Pacific. In the 1980s, former Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro made the point that Japan was the United States’ unsinkable ‘carrier’ in the Pacific. About a century earlier, Inagaki Manjiro, a senior Japanese diplomat who had studied British history at Cambridge, made a similar point. He warned counterparts in Britain that if places such as the Ryukyus and Miyakojima were ‘well looked after’ by the Japanese fleet in Sasebo, the core sea lanes of the British Empire in the Pacific would be severely threatened.
Inagaki wasn’t trying to threaten Britain -- on the contrary, he was just making a case for Japan’s strategic position in North-east Asia. And Inagaki’s words didn’t fall on deaf ears, with Britain eventually signing an alliance with Japan in 1902 to secure its interests in the region. And the Japanese proved their point as well, gaining regional sea control in two different wars against China (1894-95) and Russia (1904-05).
So, what does geography tell us about this debate on China’s growing capabilities? In the debates on North-east Asia’s shifting naval balance, geography certainly empowers Japan, lending it the potential to be a decisive player.
Yet depending on the scenario, considerations of the strategic value of geography also apply to other actors. South Korea, with its proximity to the Strait of Tsushima, and Taiwan are also extremely important, and their geography may offset some of the advantages provided by specific capabilities.
All this means that discussions of capabilities can’t be kept in a strategic vacuum, and new assets don’t automatically produce ‘game changers’. More variables need to be considered for any assessment of East Asian military balance to be accurate, and these variables depend, in turn, on specific scenarios. How? And how much? The debate is open.....