Iran in Latin America: Threat or Axis of Annoyance?

Senior Fellow Douglas Farah's analysis of the debate over the level of threat posed by Iran's expanding diplomatic, trade and military presence in Latin America, and its stated ambition to continue to broaden these more

Chinese Naval Modernization: Altering the Balance of Power

Richard Fisher details China's naval modernization program and the potential impacts on U.S. interests in the Western more

PLA and U.S. Arms Racing in the Western Pacific

emailEmail this article
printPrint this article

by Richard Fisher, Jr.
Published on June 29th, 2011


On 18 May 2011, during his recent visit to Washington, D.C., General Chen Bingde, current Chief of the General Staff Department of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), complained that China’s growing economic and military strength had, "unfortunately aroused unfounded suspicion and exaggeration of China's defense and military development.”  General Chen further noted that this, "not only distorts China's strategic intention, and tarnishes our international image, but also pollutes the political environment for Sino-U.S. relations." Chen further stated, “I can tell you that China does not have the capability to challenge the US…To be honest, I feel very sad after visiting (the US), because I think, I feel and I know, how poor our equipment is and how underdeveloped we remain.”[1] Regarding Taiwan he stated, “efforts to enhance our military capabilities is [sic] mainly targeted at separatist forces… We would use peaceful means to resolve the Taiwan question and achieve reunification.” 

These are well-worn Chinese deception and disinformation themes.  Far more than most, General Chen Bingde would want Americans to be misinformed about PLA capabilities and Chinese intentions, as for over 15 years General Chen has been centrally involved in PLA’s side of what is now an arms race in Asia to determine who controls the future of Taiwan and who will dominate power relations in Asia. In 1995 and 1996 General Chen held top command positions in the Nanjing Military Region opposite Taiwan when the PLA fired missiles to intimidate the island’s democratic voters.[2]  Chen likely was personally affronted when President Bill Clinton deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups to counter PLA intimidation. As Chief of the CMC’s General Armaments Department from 2004-2007[3] he was directly involved in the decisions that led to weapons being revealed now and thru this decade, and in his current position he can be considered the PLA’s chief “war fighter.” Should he rise to CMC Vice Chairman or Defense Minister, then far more than his predecessors, General Chen Bingde would be uniquely prepared to lead the Chinese Communist Party leadership through military operations against Taiwan and the United States.  

General Deception: General Chen Bingde say “China does not have the capability to challenge the U.S.,” whereas gathering the very capabilities to do so has been his personal goal for over 15 years. Source: Chinese Internet

Since the March 1996 confrontation the PLA made broad and targeted investments in what American officials have called “anti-access” or “area denial” (A2AD) military capabilities intended to stop U.S. military forces that may seek to thwart a PLA attack on Taiwan.   In the last two years or so, this level of sustained military investment has enabled the PLA to begin fielding military capabilities that could severely constrain the ability of the United States to defend its strategic interests or its friends and allies.  In fact, the United States is now in a multi-front arms race with China.  In some areas the Obama Administration is trying to respond, but in others, for reasons ideological and/or fiscal, it is either failing or refusing to respond.  There is an increasing danger that instead of leading PLA military technical developments and sustaining deterrence, the U.S. instead may increasingly find that it is following PLA developments and losing the ability to deter Chinese aggression, against Taiwan and perhaps against Japan and Korea.  However, while sustaining an American military lead in this arms race with China will require adequate investments, the Obama Administration is preparing for further U.S. defense cuts.[4]  As such, contrary to General Chen’s preference for U.S. rhetorical disarmament regarding the PLA, there is a requirement for far greater candor from U.S. leaders about the PLA’s growing threats in order ensure U.S. defense capabilities will be adequate to deter, counter or defeat them.   

Race No. 1:  Control of Low and High Earth Orbits

Perhaps the most important arms race underway is for the decisive “high ground,” which extends from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to the Moon. After watching their crucial contributions to the success of all recent major American military deployments, the PLA gained a healthy appreciation for the U.S. military dependence on LEO-based communication, surveillance, navigation and early warning satellites.  In the early 1990s the PLA likely made two decisions: 1) it wanted to similarly exploit LEO; and, 2) denying LEO to the U.S. military would be essential to wining a conflict over Taiwan.  Today the PLA controls over ten optical and radar surveillance satellites and is moving ahead with a 35-satellite navigation network. These satellite networks will enable global precision targeting for PLA missiles and aircraft.  Starting in 2005, PLA counter-space investments started yielding results; that year the first PLA SC-19 direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) interceptor likely was tested[5], leading to its successful destruction of a PLA weather satellite on 11 January 2007.  But earlier in 2006, U.S. sources reported that U.S. satellites had been targeted by ground-based lasers.[6] 

Dueling ASATs: The PLA’s likely KT-1 based SC-19 tested on January 1, 2007 was followed by a U.S. ASAT test on February 20, 2008. Source: Chinese Internet and RD Fisher

The U.S. tested an air-launched ASAT in 1985 and tested high powered lasers against a U.S. satellite in 1997, but has not pursued a dedicated anti-satellite weapons program as has China. Despite statements to the contrary, the Bush Administration’s February 2008 shoot-down of an errant U.S. surveillance satellite with a modified U.S. Navy SM-3 missile interceptor was privately described as a response to China’s 2007 ASAT test.[7]  In late January 2009 the Obama White House web page contained a policy statement that President Obama would seek a “ban” on space weapons, in contrast to the Bush Administration that did not believe such “agreements” for space could be verified.[8] In January 2011 the Administration released its National Security Space Strategy, which acknowledges growing threats to U.S. access and use of space, but stresses pursuit of diplomacy, coalitions with allies and private industry, and creating passive means for ensuring use of space.[9] While also acknowledging the need to “deny and defeat” enemy attacks, there is an apparent preference for investing in “resilience,” like distributed functions, rather than U.S. space warfare capabilities that might deter China.  The U.S. Air Force’s Boeing X-37B small space plane could be enlarged and adopted for some military missions, but there is no open source data that it is being so developed and its likely main mission is to be a technology demonstrator. 

Not A Weapon: While it could serve as the basis for a space weapon the X-37B is likely to remain a technology demonstration program as long as the Obama Administration opposes U.S. moves to weaponize space.

But meanwhile the PLA may be developing a new wave of ASAT weapons targeting U.S. assets in LEO.  The SC-19 is likely based on the KT-1 4-stange space launch vehicle (SLV), a derivative of the DF-21 medium range ballistic missile (MRBM), that must be transported by rail or road to its launch intercept position.  But in 2006 the China Aerospace Corporation revealed a program to develop an air-launched small satellite launcher similar to the U.S. Orbital Sciences Pegasus, which could be more rapidly deployed to its launch position by a Xian Aircraft Corporation (XAC) H-6 bomber. 

Air Launched ASAT #1: While there has been no update since its unveiling at the 2006 Zhuhai Airshow, this air launched space launch vehicle could easily be reconfigured for ASAT missions.

Then in late 2009 a wall mural likely created for the then 50th Anniversary of the PLA Air Force depicted a four-turbofan powered transport aircraft using a nose-mounted laser to attack a satellite.  This aircraft is similar to the Boeing AL-1A chemical laser armed Boeing 747 transport, which the Obama Administration cut back in 2009 to only a single prototype.  While U.S. defense officials reportedly were concerned the AL-1A could not be defended in contested airspace in order to shoot down tactical missiles, perhaps the PLA has decided this concept works better as an ASAT weapon rather than an anti-missile platform.[10]  XAC is apparently developing a four-turbofan engine transport aircraft that could carry a chemical laser system. 

Air Launched ASAT # 2: This 2009 mural depiction of a laser armed four-engine aircraft could mean that the PLA sees this concept serving ASAT missions better than anti-missile missions. The XAC transport that could carry the laser seen below. Source: Chinese Internet

In addition the PLA may be developing its own “X-37B,” likely based on the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation’s Shenlong space plane[11], a program that likely has mirrored the pace and scope of the X-37B program, to include a possible brief test flight in 2010, albeit reportedly a suborbital flight.[12]  A larger Shenlong could serve as the basis for an unmanned anti-satellite or ground attack combat platform, a capability that apparently interests the PLA.[13]  By the end of this decade the PLA could achieve its longstanding ambition of having a manned space plane.[14]  This can be expected also to perform passive and active military missions. A possible small shuttle concept from the China Aerospace Corporation (CASC) revealed in late 2006 shows a wing with a sharp double delta, perhaps risky for reentry but useful for maneuvering and then reacceleration back into space.[15] The U.S. Space Shuttle space plane, never revealed to have been equipped for space combat missions, retires in 2011.  NASA is providing funding to the Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser small space plane that could carry a crew of seven[16], though there are no reported military plans for this space craft.

Future military space planes: The Shenlong, a X-37 like program, and a later 2006 CASC medium size manned space plane concept, very likely will perform military missions for the PLA. Source: Chinese Internet

Already, the PLA-controlled manned space program has set ample precedent for ensuring that manned space systems are dual use, or serve military and non-military missions.[17]  All unmanned and manned Shenzhou spacecraft missions have served military missions and this can be expected for the 15-ton Tiangong spacelab to be launched later in 2011, and then the larger 60-ton Space Station expected by 2020.  The Tiangong is already seen with accommodations for cameras or launching micro satellites, while the Chinese space station concept is one of maneuverable modular sections similar to the Soviet Mir[18], which was envisioned to serve as a space battle station.  Funding to continue the International Space Station is not assured after 2020, and it is highly unlikely that ISS partner Russia would allow the U.S. conduct military missions from the ISS. 

LEO Battle Stations?: The PLA’s Tiangong spacelab will be equipped with space for cameras and dispensing payloads, while the PLA’s future space station could easily accommodate 20-ton modules dedicated to space surveillance or combat missions. Source: CCTV and China Daily

Unofficial sources note that China may be planning its first manned Moon mission as early as 2024 and may seek to establish a manned Moon Base by 2049. Chinese sources interviewed at the 2011 Paris Airshow confirm a large manned moon effort is underway.[19] With its recent decision to develop a new 130-ton capable heavy space launch vehicle (SLV),[20] China can move from a 4x CZ-5 SLV Moon configuration to a 2x SLV configuration for Moon and Mars missions,[21]  similar to the U.S. Constellation program cancelled by the Obama Administration for fiscal and policy reasons. The PLA likely views the Moon as strategic “high ground” from which to affect Earth orbits.[22] Chinese sources also express interest in Libration or Lagrangian points, zones of equal gravitational pull between bodies like the Earth and Moon, some of which are strategic locations for communication or logistical support nodes for military or exploration missions.[23]  The current Change-II Moon surveillance satellite will investigate Lagrangian point “L2” as part of its mission,[24] which is the intended location for the U.S. James Webb Space Telescope in 2018. In short, China could be on its way to building a robust Cold War level “space architecture”[25] to assert its interests from Low Earth Orbit to the Moon, whereas by the 2020s the United States could have no space shuttle, no space station and no manned Moon program. 

China’s Constellation: China’s engineers and space officials have decided to pursue an initial two-SLV configuration for reaching the Moon and Mars, using a modified Long March-5 crew launcher and a new heavy SLV, similar to the Constellation program cancelled by the Obama Administration. Source: Chinese Internet

Race No. 2:  U.S. vs. PLA Nuclear Coercion/Deterrent Capabilities

In a second race it appears that the United States is deliberately reducing its ability to deter China’s potential intentions to use nuclear weapons.  Some Chinese officials and Western analysts want U.S. policy makers to regard China nuclear forces as relatively small and as having as its main mission the deterrence of nuclear weapon attacks against China, allowing China to declare a policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons.[26] However, for coercive and potential warfighting missions over Taiwan, it is increasingly apparent that the PLA may not be deterred from using nuclear weapons. PLA strategies may already include the use nuclear of weapons preemptively and in coordination with non-nuclear weapon strikes.  While PLA nuclear strategy remains a secret, a key PLA textbook thought to reflect official strategy strongly hints that China does not need to wait to be attacked first before launching its “nuclear counterattack,” which should be held in “close coordination between the nuclear and conventional forces, as well as between the nuclear counterattack and the political, diplomatic struggles.”[27]  The PLA’s potential intention to use nuclear weapons in the event of a Taiwan conflict was also highlighted in a recent Wen Wei Po article that stated:

“With the focus on defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity, the SAC [Second Artillery Corp] has promoted coordinated development of nuclear and conventional missile troops since the Cold War. It has done this according to the strategic requirement for combining nuclear and conventional weapons as an efficient deterrence. The SAC has constantly enhanced its capability for dual deterrence and dual attack. The corps has made significant contributions in critical periods towards safeguarding national security, combating separatism, and promoting reunification of the country.”[28]

Under the April 2010 New START Treaty with Russia, the U.S. will reduce from 2,200 to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads, and will reduce from 851 to 700 deployed nuclear delivery systems. All land based Minuteman-III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) will be reduced from three warheads to one warhead. With the Administration considering further warhead cuts, it is important to consider that the PLA is now deploying two new nuclear armed mobile land-based ICBMs and may soon deploy a new submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM), and yet another larger mobile land-based ICBM.  Whereas the PLA’s Second Artillery missile force had about 30-40 ICBMs (DF-4 and DF-5) that could reach U.S. targets in 2000, in 2011 that number could exceed 60 missiles (DF-4, DF-5, DF-31 and DF-31A), with estimates the PLA Navy could deploy another 60 JL-2 SLBMs when  an expected five Type 094 nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) enter service, for a potential new near-term total during this decade of 120 missiles. However, the PLA has long been interested in developing multiple warhead capabilities,[29] and Asian military sources have noted that some silo-based DF-5B ICBMs may already be equipped with multiple warheads.[30]  These sources note the DF-31A ICBM could have up to three warheads and a new unidentified heavy mobile ICBM, possibly called the “DF-41,” could carry up to 10 warheads.[31]  Multiple units of this new heavy ICBM could quickly allow the PLA to deploy several hundred warheads.  Higher PLA warhead numbers may mean that the Chinese leadership will consider itself much less restrained by U.S. nuclear weapons, perhaps increasing their temptation to use military force. 

The PLA’s MX ?: Seen in Internet source images since 2007, this new large mobile ICBM may have been identified as the “DF-41” equipped with multiple warheads by an unnamed U.S. Department of Defense official in August 2010. Source: Chinese Internet

The PLA is pursuing two other measures to enhance its strategic deterrence of the United States.  The first is “passive:” the construction of an apparently massive 5,000km network of underground facilities for PLA missile forces dubbed “The Underground Great Wall.”[32] Such tunnels greatly increase missile force survivability but could also conceal a much larger number of missiles. In addition the PLA is investing in “active” missile defense systems, after having spent nearly 30 years campaigning against U.S. missile defense programs.  On 11 January 2010, the PLA conducted a missile interception exercise which the U.S. privately described as having benefitted the PLA anti-missile and ASAT programs.[33]  While the systems involved were likely based on the DF-21 MRBM, the PLA is likely developing new long range surface-to-air missiles that will also be capable of anti-missile missions. The 150-200km range HQ-9 4th generation surface-to-air missile (SAM) will likely be followed by longer range SAMs, with unofficial sources noting that a possible “HQ-19” may have a 400km range.  Asian military sources have noted that by the mid-2020s the PLA may have a national missile defense system.  

Strategic Defense: The PLA likely has a program to develop a national missile defense system, seen in this possible depiction of the 11 January 2010 missile interception (top) and has built extensive underground tunnels to conceal and protect its missile forces. Source: Chinese Internet

With a better assurance of strategic-level deterrence of the U.S., the PLA may decide that it can use its theater nuclear forces earlier in a conflict over Taiwan to much greater effect. The Second Artillery still uses 15-20 older liquid fueled 2,500 to 2,800km range DF-3 medium range ballistic missiles armed with a single 2-3 megaton warhead.  In 2011 The International Institute for Strategic Studies reports that Second Artillery may deploy up to 116 nuclear and non-nuclear armed versions of the DF-21 medium range ballistic missile (MRBM),[34] which include the single nuclear warhead armed 1,700km range DF-21 and the 2,700km range DF-21A, armed with a single smaller 500-600 kiloton warhead.  In a rare public disclosure, a missile company recently stated that by 2015 it will deploy a new 4,000km range intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM).[35] In long-range “dual attack” operations these ballistic missiles could be used with the Second Artillery’s 500+ 1,500-2,000km+ range CJ-10 ground-launched land-attack cruise missiles. It is not known if some CJ-10s are armed with nuclear warheads.

PLA Theater Nukes: Nuclear warhead armed DF-21 MRBMs could see early use during general military operations to attack Taiwan and to defeat U.S. forces seeking to aid Taiwan.

The United States is not developing any new strategic nuclear missiles and due to the 1987 U.S.-Soviet Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, destroyed its Pershing-II MRBMs and has deployed no MRBMs since 1991.  Not being party to the INF Treaty, China has been free to build up its theater nuclear forces.  But as part of its April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) the Obama Administration seeks to further reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security.[36] This is illustrated by the NPR decision to retire the U.S. Navy’s nuclear armed Raytheon Tomahawk (TLAM-N) submarine-launched cruise missile.  The Review decided that future U.S. tactical nuclear capabilities would be limited to B-61 tactical nuclear bombs carried by F-35 strike fighters and bombers,[37] which are much more vulnerable to attack than TLAM-Ns carried by nuclear submarines. This deliberate reduction in tactical nuclear weapons appears to have taken place in full knowledge of China’s increasing regional nuclear forces and the growing requirement to deter the Chinese-assisted nuclear missile arsenals of North Korea and Iran.  As a consequence it is necessary for the U.S. to strengthen its ability to deter Chinese and North Korean use of nuclear weapons.  One way would be to reverse the Administration’s 2010 decision and reintroduce a secure tactical nuclear delivery device to the Asian region.  Another might be to replace or supplement the SM-2/3 family with a new U.S. missile that would be capable of both defensive and long-range attack missions. This would force a reevaluation of U.S. adherence to the INF Treaty, which does nothing to protect U.S. military forces from growing numbers of PLA theater nuclear missiles.  

MAD might work: A new naval missile concept proposed by Boeing, if also made capable of offensive strike missions, might better deter China’s use of nuclear and conventional long-range strike missiles.

Race No. 3: PLA Precision Missiles vs U.S. Energy Weapons and UAVs

A third arms race unfolding between the PLA and the United States concerns the U.S. effort to respond to the PLA’s increasing deployment of very accurate and long-range non-nuclear strike missiles. Conceived in the early 1990s as a quick means to build coercive influence over Taiwan and compensate for its obsolete air force, in terms of variety and mission flexibility, the PLA is now the world’s leading producer of tactical and strategic non-nuclear attack missiles. Their range is pushing U.S. naval operations farther from the Taiwan area of operations, which reduces their combat and deterrence potential. The longer range missiles can reach very high Mach 7 to Mach 10 speeds during parts of their trajectory, which can complicate interception by anti-missiles systems.  Furthermore, the PLA can always produce enough less expensive attacking missiles to overwhelm the more expensive U.S. and Taiwan defensive missiles.  For these reasons the U.S. is investing in energy weapons like lasers and rail guns, which could quickly shift the balance of power back to the defender.  Furthermore, the U.S. is investing in long-range unmanned aircraft to find and strike PLA missile bases.  However, the PLA is also investing in these future weapons as it appears to be tending toward a strategy of missile saturation.  

[Click on chart for larger image.]

Figure 1 illustrates the variety of PLA attack missiles and their varied missions.  A Taiwanese intelligence is estimating that by 2012 the PLA will have 1,800 ballistic and cruise missile pointed at Taiwan.[38]  With expected replacement of older missiles, this number could grow to 2,500 to 3,000 by 2020. This places a great burden on Taiwan’s missile defense forces, which are far more expensive to acquire and maintain than the PLA’s attack missiles. Taiwan has invested in U.S. Raytheon Patriot PAC-2 and PAC-2 missile interceptors, but in 2011 the PLA deployed the longer-range (800-1,000km) and thus faster DF-16 which can better evade defensive missiles. The PLA’s missile forces could devastate Taiwan’s air, naval and army bases before the onslaught of airstrikes, which could be followed by a general amphibious and airborne invasion. It is this growing potential for actual invasion that is causing many strategists in Taiwan consider that the counter-invasion battle may be more important than the air or naval battle; if invasion cannot be assured the PLA may be less willing to consider starting a war.  For its part, over the last decade Taiwan has focused on developing an asymmetric reply: land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) and supersonic anti-ship missiles necessary to counter invasion forces.  

Missile vs. Missile: China continues to add to its missile threats to Taiwan (latest DF-16 on top), which now faces the greatest such threat in the world. Taipei has been left with few options but to build its own missiles, like the supersonic HF-3 anti-ship missile, to deter a potential invasion from China.

Like Taiwan 15 years ago, U.S. forces in Asia are now increasingly the target of new PLA long-range missiles. Inspired by American technology, the PLA so far has developed two types of highly accurate long-range ballistic missiles: the DF-21C radar-guided MRBM that emerged in 2006-2007; and the DF-21D radar/optical guided anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).  The DF-21C carries a finned bi-conic second-stage warhead very similar to the defunct U.S. Pershing-II MRBM, which used a Radar Digital Area Guidance (RADAG) system that correlated radar and pre-loaded digital imagery to achieve high accuracy.  This is not an accident; a U.S. source recently confirmed speculation, first noted by this analyst over a decade ago, that Chinese operatives may have obtained  much of this missile by purchasing trash from U.S. military bases that included Pershing-II parts stocks discarded following the INF Treaty.[39]  However, the new PLA warhead likely uses advances in both radar and computing power to achieve far greater image resolution and thus targeting accuracy.  The DF-21C is likely able to maneuver to avoid interception.  This missile would be ideal for accurate strikes against fuel, command and crew facilities and aircraft hangers to render inoperable U.S. military forces on Okinawa. Up to 36 DF-21C missiles may be deployed in two brigades.[40] The warhead for this missile also arms the DF-15B short-range ballistic missile.

DF-21C and DF-15B: Both utilize a radar guided maneuverable warhead inspired by “purchased” U.S. technology from the U.S. Pershing-II MRBM.

The PLA, however, has taken this concept to a higher level in the DF-21D, the world’s first non-nuclear anti-ship ballistic missile.[41] Taiwanese and U.S. sources report this missile could be deployed in 2011.[42] To solve the very difficult challenge of hitting a moving ship at a distance of over 1,000km, the DF-21D makes use of the PLA’s growing array of space, air and ground-based sensors: optical and radar satellites, AWACS and patrol aircraft and ground-based over-the-horizon (OTH) radar that can reach out to 1,000-2,000km.  Once the target is cued, the DF-21D’s warhead apparently uses a combination of radar and optical sensors to find the target and make final guidance updates, and uses a curved reentry path to reduce its speed to better enable target interception.  Finally, it uses a high explosive, or a radio frequency or cluster warhead that at a minimum can achieve a mission kill.  Internet-sourced pictures of missile target blocks the size of an aircraft carrier,[43] located in Western China, offer a possible indication of the accuracy of these new PLA MRBMs.  ASBMs will likely be employed in coordination with air, ship and submarine-launched cruise missiles strikes.[44]

Carrier Size Bulls-Eyes: Chinese Internet posters have used Google Earth to find missile targets in Western China, some of which could simulate aircraft carrier decks. Source: FYJS Web Page

Part of the U.S. response to the gathering threat to U.S. Navy carrier battle groups posed by PLA ASBMs, submarines and strike aircraft is to simply move the battle group farther from Taiwan.  But as this will stress the range of the carrier’s Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed-Martin F-35C Lightning-II strike fighters, forcing fighters to serve as refuelers, the Navy is developing new carrier-based long-range unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) for strike and surveillance missions, led by the Northrop-Grumman X-47B.  These could have an unrefueled combat radius of about 2,500+km[45] versus about 1,750km for the F/A-18E/F and 1,100+km for the F-35C.[46]  Close in, the U.S. Navy is also taking the lead in developing novel electromagnetic launch technology for “railguns,” that can fire “shotgun” rounds up to speeds of Mach-7, sufficient to shred incoming missiles if placed in their path.  In addition, the Navy is  developing new lasers that can defeat incoming missiles. Both railguns and lasers hold the potential to shift the balance of power to the defender.  Their “rounds” are far cheaper than the PLA’s ballistic missiles and many rounds can be fired at each PLA missile. While early less capable versions of the railgun could be deployed around 2015,[47] it appears that fully capable railguns, laser weapons and UCAVs may not be available until after 2020.  An additional constraint is that the next-generation DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer, designed to accommodate new energy weapons, was cut back to three ships.  There might be consideration of developing a near-term smaller railgun package that could be carried in one or more missile tubes of a nuclear cruise missile submarine, to provide a potentially decisive anti-missile defense for U.S. allies and Taiwan. 

UCAVs and Railguns: Critically needed programs but will they arrive too late? Source: RD Fisher

The PLA, however, is not waiting till then to field a response.  As mentioned earlier, the PLA apparently intends to field a new family of 4,000km range attack missiles by 2015, effectively outranging at least the early version of the U.S. Navy UCAV strike platform.  In addition the PLA appears to be moving toward a strategy of missile saturation, especially against U.S. Navy targets.  In September 2010, the PLA Navy launched a new non-nuclear submarine from its Wuhan shipyard.  This submarine is about one-third larger than the earlier Yuan class SSK, an indication it will undertake more distant missions, but it also features an uncharacteristically large sail structure, at first viewed as intended for carrying anti-ship cruise missiles. But a recent image showing an extension under the hull, under the area of the sail may indicate this submarine carries larger ballistic missiles.  One mission could be a SLBM test platform to replace the PLAN’s elderly Golf class non-nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSB).  Or it could also be configured to carry one or more ASBMs, which would allow the PLA to “bracket” U.S. carrier battle groups with multi-axis land and sea-based ASBM strikes that would have a better chance of overwhelming future carrier defenses.  To this should be added PLA air launched anti-ship missiles from PLA Navy and PLA Air Force fighters, fighter-bombers and bombers.  

Potential SSB ?: A new larger PLAN submarined launched in 2010 may be intended to carry large ballistic missiles, perhaps ASBMs, which would allow the PLA to launch multi-axis ASBM strikes, that in addition to cruise missile and torpedo attacks would saturate the defenses of U.S. naval forces. Source: Chinese Internet

It is also possible that during this decade the PLA Navy could deploy initial railgun and laser weapons.  It is known that the PLA has invested heavily in both technologies.  Chinese work on railguns may extend back to the 1980s, and an unconfirmed report emerged in January 2008 that the PLA had tested a 25kg railgun round in 2006 and was able to deploy a 50kg round with a range over 200nm.[48] Then, in early 2011, an image appeared on a Chinese web page showing what may be an early Chinese small-caliber rail gun. However, it cannot be confirmed that this represented an actual test model or perhaps an engineering model for display purposes.[49] The prospect of an early PLA railgun deployment, however, is important when considering future U.S. offensive and defensive responses. 

Early PLA Railgun?: This image appears to show an early PLA railgun, at least an indication that the PLA may be realizing gains from its investments in this technology. Source: Chinese Internet

Race No. 4:  PLA Submarines vs. U.S. Anti-Submarine Warfare

While the PLA Navy’s high profile investments in new large ships like aircraft carriers and large amphibious ships has gained much attention in the press, naval leaders and U.S. allies are alarmed by the growth of the PLAN’s submarine fleet, in both numbers and sophistication.  While this growing submarine fleet may be ostensibly targeted at imposing a blockade on Taiwan and assisting in its invasion, it casts a larger pall over Asia. For U.S. allies like Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Philippines, plus friends like Singapore and Malaysia, mounting PLA submarine capabilities threaten the unimpeded access to sealanes vital for their economic survival. Meanwhile, fiscal uncertainty in Washington threatens the U.S. ability to sustain its submarine production necessary to sustain deterrence.[50] China’s growing number of capable conventional submarines could increasingly constrain defensive operations near Taiwan by U.S. Navy cruise missile (SSGN) and nuclear attack submarines (SSN).  This challenge also serves to highlight how the U.S. Navy has allowed its anti-submarine assets to atrophy.  This is most unfortunate given that for decades the U.S. Navy has seen in exercises how well run non-nuclear submarines can achieve great success against U.S. surface and sub-surface forces.[51]

[Click on chart for larger image.]

While the PLA will not provide regular public information on the growth of its submarine fleet, or most other aspects of its arsenal, in Figure 2 this analyst attempts to provide an estimate for PLAN submarine growth for the remainder of this decade, based on open-source data.  Uncertainties that would alter this estimate include the degree of success in the PLA Navy’s effort to move new designs into production and the disposition of some older submarines.  Some new information suggests that older submarines like the Type 033 are being retained well past what might be considered their useful age, perhaps as reserve or to perform less rigorous missions during a Taiwan conflict. But what this chart also suggests is that the number of “modern” PLAN submarines, Type 039 and later, could increase by up to 50 percent if current construction rates are maintained.  By 2020, there could be 1.7 modern PLAN submarines for every U.S. attack submarine stationed in the Pacific.  Should the PLAN retain large numbers of older Type 033s and Type 035 SSKs to serve as “bait” to draw in U.S. submarines, then the U.S. may suffer faster submarine attrition.  The numerical comparison improves if one adds Japan’s 16 effective conventional submarines, which was slated to rise to over 20 before the devastating earthquake-tsunami of 11 March 2011.

New Song: While largely reflective of 1980s technology, a SONG was able to surprise a U.S. aircraft carrier in late 2006. Source: Chinese Internet

While open-source data is minimal, it is appears that the PLAN has been able to make significant improvements with each new submarine class.  After initial problems in the 1990s, with the Type 039 SONG, the PLA has been able to master a French/European teardrop hull design with sound suppressing coatings, engine sound isolation and integration of digital sensor, command and control systems.  The top of the sail uses composite materials to reduce radar reflections when it approaches the surface to recharge its batteries or to receive low-frequency communications.  About 13 to 16 are in service, and on 26 October 2006 a Type 039 was able to approach undetected to within torpedo attack distance of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kittyhawk.[52]  The Type 039A/041 YUAN class emerged as a surprise in 2004.  It has a stouter hull design and is widely reported to be equipped with an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system, most likely based on the Swedish Stirling engine. This could enable submerged low speed patrolling for up to two weeks.  A modified version with a more hydrodynamic sail emerged in 2010, and 5 to 8 of an expected 15 have been launched.  Even less is known about the new SSK or SSB launched at Wuhan in September 2010, but its larger size and provision of a crew escape bell point to an intention to give its crew the ability and confidence to conduct open ocean combat operations. 

AIP Yuan?: If it features a Stirling AIP system as reported, the Yuan could patrol for longer periods underwater at slow and quiet speeds. Source: Chinese Internet

The PLAN will use 10 to 12 Russian-made Project 887/636/636M KILO SSKs for this decade.  The 636 and 636M are respectable open ocean combat submarines that are quiet and reflect Russian design priorities to give and take hits.  The 636M features some of the Novator Klub family of anti-ship and land attack cruise missiles.  It should also be expected that at least one new SSK design will emerge later this decade, most likely following the production run for the YUAN class.  This new submarine could be an improved derivative of the 2010 model, perhaps dedicated to ASW missions, perhaps for escorting SSBNs, or a return to a smaller design to begin replacing older Type 035/039 SSKs. 

Nuclear powered attack submarines have proven more difficult for the PLAN.  Though a massive undertaking during the 1990s, the second generation Type 093 SHANG apparently did prove to be a sufficient advance in capability, so after only two Type 093s it will soon be succeeded by the Type 095 class.  Little is known about the improvement incorporated into the Type 095, though it is expected to lead to an SSBN version, called the Type 096.  SSBN escort is likely to be a major mission for PLAN SSNs, as until the PLA is able to secure bases on Taiwan its SSBNs will not have rapid access to deep ocean areas in which to hide, and will have to rely on supporting weapon systems to ensure their survival. 

Part of the PLAN’s pro-submarine forces will include new land and sea-based air assets; aerial refuelable fighters like the Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-11B/BS are already entering PLA Navy Air Force land units. The PLAN also has several platforms to choose from for future anti-submarine/patrol aircraft: the Shaanxi Y-8/9 turboprop transport; COMAC’s C919 twin turbofan regional airliner; and a new large 30-ton bizjet concept recently revealed by AVIC Defense.[53]  The PLA has developed a sonobouy for use by aircraft and UAVs, and apparently, towed-array sonar for use by some destroyers like the Type 052C Luyang-II.  The ex-Varyag carrier is nearing completion and could start training with Shenyang J-15 fighters within the next two years.[54] Figure 3 illustrates the potential for the J-15 to become  performance competitive with the Boeing F/A-18E/F, the most numerous U.S. carrier-based fighter. Future PLAN carriers likely will be equipped with catapults that will enable fighters to realize their full performance and enable ASW and AWACS aircraft to be included in carrier air wings.   These may be supported by future extensive networks of undersea sensors and mobile unmanned sensor vehicles, especially in the contested East and South China Seas. 

J-15 + Carrier: When it begins operations later this decade, the first PLAN carrier will have a main fighter with performance and capabilities that could soon approach the F/A-18E/F, a remarkable achievement for the PLA. Source: Chinese Internet

There is a real prospect that later this decade the U.S. Navy may not just be facing larger numbers of more modern PLAN submarines, but also a network of assets supporting their operations.  Finding and attacking submarines is normally a difficult and hardware-intensive process.  During the Cold War the U.S. Navy developed a large and effective anti-submarine warfare (ASW) system led by ever more capable SSNs plus networks of ships, sea and land-based aircraft, plus undersea sensors, but today these assets are smaller in number.  The number of SSNs has declined, from about 100 in 1987 to 53 today, but their missions have increased.  The number of cruisers has declined from about 37 in 1987 to 22 today, and destroyers have fallen from about 70 to 56.  U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers like the Ticonderoga and Burke classes are among the most powerful warships in the world, stressing air defense and ASW mission, with half the current cruiser/destroyer force spread from Japan (2/7) to Hawaii (3/5) to the West Coast (6/15). About five specialized T-AGOS ships that tow large sonar arrays are based with the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and these have featured in some prominent confrontations with Chinese maritime police and militia forces.  

Poseidon is coming: While the P-8A Poseidon ASW aircraft will provide increasing capability in some respects, it will also face new threats from PLA land and carrier-based long-range fighters. Source: RD Fisher

In the air, about 160 land-based Lockheed-Martin P-3C Orion turboprop-powered ASW aircraft are to be replaced by 112 faster turbofan powered Boeing P-8 Poseidon ASW aircraft.  About 24 USN P-3Cs are based in Japan, which has a force of 80 P-3Cs.  However, the East China Sea where these ASW aircraft would operate will be contested increasingly by gathering PLA land and carrier-based airpower. These threats to land-based ASW aircraft make necessary carrier-based long-range ASW aircraft, but the Lockheed-Martin S-3 Viking stopped ASW missions in 1998 and left carrier air wings in 2008.  A revival of a long-range carrier ASW capability would become urgent if the PLAN is now building ASBM-armed submarines. Well before the arrival of carrier UCAVs, it may be worth considering modifying large fighter fuel tanks to carry sonobouys that can be tended by carrier-based aircraft or UAVs, to supplement land-based aircraft and ship-based helicopter ASW assets. 

Viking is gone: The epitome of carrier-based ASW until 1998, there is now an urgent need for a long-range carrier ASW platform. Source: Internet

Race No. 5:  PLAAF vs. USAF

The PLA and the United States are also engaged in race for air dominance of the Western Pacific.  Currently the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) is realizing the gains of its 20+ year investment in 4th generation combat technologies as it presses ahead with 5th and 6th generation systems.   The PLA Air Force has made clear that it has been charged by the Communist Party leadership to develop a system of “air-space” power.  This will link to many of the elements of the PLA’s space architecture mentioned above, but will also include investments in hypersonic combat system, that could include what Chinese sources call “cross-air vehicles” that can fight in upper atmosphere and LEO.  The latter has been a goal that has eluded the United States since the 1960s due to technological obstacles compounded by sporadic political/funding support.  Though its political/funding support may prove more constant, the PLA will face the same technology obstacles, but it could also choose to exploit near-term technology gains.  But by the middle of this decade the PLA will be fielding significant numbers of world-class 4th and 4+ generation fighters with respectable weapons and force-multiplying electronic and tanker support platforms.  This fact marks the first real post-Cold War challenge to U.S. air dominance in Asia, as it also constrains the air forces of Japan and Taiwan, a condition that will only worsen as 5th generation fighters enter PLAAF units near 2020. 

J-10B with new radar: An upgraded J-10 is emerging, with electronically scanned array radar, new infrared sensor, and perhaps the WS-10A engine in the future. Source: Chinese Internet

In 2011 the PLA may have 500 to 600 3+ to 4th generation Chengdu J-10, Shenyang J-11, 
Xian JH-7, plus Russian-built Su-27/30 multi-role fighters, and the production of the Chinese fighters is going strong.[55]  This number could approach 1,000 by 2020. PLA investments in 4th generation air combat technologies date back to the mid-to-late 1980s, when its main fighter companies were set on different paths: the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation was to develop the “indigenous” J-10 while the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation was to absorb the Russian Sukhoi Su-27 family, called the Shenyang J-11.  After significant outside assistance, from Israel for the J-10,[56] and various Russian sources for both the J-10 and J-11, both fighters are maturing as Chinese products; both have started a second level of development  incorporating PLA advances in electronics and indigenous turbofan engines. 

[Click on chart for larger image.]

The J-10B, first seen March 2009, was revealed in early 2011 to use a Chinese-developed electronically scanned array radar, either an active (AESA) or passive (PESA) radar system.  Russia’s satisfaction with having sold nearly 200 Su-27/30s to the PLA in the 1990s has turned to deep dismay as the PLA brazenly exploited a 1998 co-production agreement to achieve near production independence for this fighter, ending this income source for Russian industry.  The J-11B single seat and J-11BS twin-seat fighters feature upgraded electronics, controls and more recently, new WS-10A turbofans.  In 2005, Russian officials were confident of selling the PLA their Su-33 carrier fighters as the PLA could never master critical elements of its design, but by 2009 they were willing to concede the PLA had done it, yet remained optimistic sales were possible.[58]

J-11B Emerges: A decade after the 1998 co-production agreement, Shenyang ‘s version of this fighter is now in serial production in multiple versions, meaning their numbers will increase rapidly. Source: Chinese Internet

The PLA may also be investing in new strike bombers.  Recently, informal Chinese sources suggested that Shenyang’s “J-16” will upgrade its twin-seat J-11BS with better controls, an AESA radar and more powerful engines to give the PLAAF a strike fighter comparable to the Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle, that can start replacing older Su-30s. Such a fighter might also carry long range land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles. But in 2011 the Xian H-6K, a highly modernized version of the venerable Tupolev Tu-16/Xian H-6 1950s-era medium bomber, is entering units. The H-6K has a more powerful turbofan engine for sufficient range to strike Guam with its 6-to-10 CJ-10K LACMs, and likely will serve as a PGM “bomb truck.”  There are indications that Xian may be developing a stealthy “JH-7B” strike fighter and very likely is developing either a stealthy or supersonic successor to the H-6 .  

Basis for “J-16”?: Reportedly the twin-seat J-11BS will serves as the basis for an upgraded” J-16” that could perform long-range strike missions like the Su-30 and F-15E. Source: Chinese Internet

The last decade has also seen the PLA making great strides in aircraft weapons; the latest PL-12 medium-range air-to-air missile (AAM) features an active-passive guidance system, which allows the missile to fly farther and pose a greater threat to critical U.S. electronics aircraft like AWACS and jamming aircraft.  The PLA’s active-passive PL-12 may have preceded the service introduction of the reportedly also dual-mode guided U.S. Raytheon AIM-120D.[59]  In 2008 informal Chinese sources suggested that main AAM maker Luoyang was developing a longer-range ramjet powered AAM,[60] seemingly confirmed by later images in early 2011. However, though a Luoyang official downplayed efforts to develop long range ramjet-powered AAMs at the November 2011 Zhuhai Airshow,[61] the logic of PLA requirements for long-range attack make compelling the existence of such programs.  Luoyang has also been developing a helmet display sighted hyper-maneuverable 5th generation short-range AAM called the PL-10.

Future AAM ?: Since 2008 a number of images have suggested that the PLA has a ramjet-powered AAM program underway, even though this recently was denied by a well-placed Chinese source. Source: Chinese Internet

Of special importance, in just the last year or so, the Shenyang-Liming WS-10A Taihang turbofan has achieved a level of confidence sufficient to justify production volume to support the production of three versions of the J-11.  A version of this engine is also expected to power a new version of the J-10.  This was a long and hard process for the PLA that stared in the mid-1980s, requiring the surmounting of myriad science, technology and production obstacles, which are a testament to PLA determination.  But this has created the basis for the PLA’s 5th generation turbofan, called the WS-15, plus other smaller combat engine programs and new large high-bypass turbofans for military and civil aircraft.

Engine Success: While assessments differ on its real level of maturity, the fact that the WS-10A Taihang is supporting production of multiple J-11 models signifies that the PLA is confident in this engine. Source Chinese Internet

China’s emerging 4th gen fighter force will also be aided by a modern array of support aircraft, to include three types of AWACS (KJ-2000, KJ-200 and unidentified carrier AWACS) and tanker aircraft, initially a modified version of the H-6 bomber, and then tanker versions of new large airliners.  The larger Il-76 based KJ-2000 and the smaller Y-8 based KJ-200 both feature active phased array radar technology, which offers the potential of developing aerial high-power microwave weapons or cyber strike weapons. Xian apparently is developing a four-engine airliner similar in size to the Boeing 767 that could in the future serve as new platform for AWACS, tanker and laser-ASAT missions.  In addition, the PLA is investing greater resources in realistic training, such as combining fighter and support aircraft into strike packages, coordinating air operations more closely with ground and naval forces, and building dedicated “Blue” opposition force units to simulate foreign air fighting tactics.  For the September 2010 “Peace Mission” exercises of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Khazakstan, for the first time the PLAAF deployed an air combat package consisting of J-10 fighters and H-6 bombers supported by KJ-2000 AWACS and H-6 tankers.   While the U.S. Air Force and Navy have been capable of this level of coordinated air operations since the late 1970s, the PLA’s arrival at this stage of capability poses a real challenge to U.S., Japanese and Taiwanese air forces. 

New Multi-Support Platform?: Famously visited by Premier Wen Jiabao in December 2007, this is a model of a 4-engine transport being developed by XAC that will serve multiple military as well as civilian missions. Source: Chinese Internet

This challenge will accelerate when the PLA starts deploying 5th generation fighters by the end of this decade.  In late December 2010 the PLA allowed a gradual “internet unveiling” of the Chengdu “J-20” 5th gen fighter (called 4th gen by the Chinese) culminating in its “official” first flight[62] on 11 January 2011, coinciding with the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  Numerous internet photos have revealed this fighter to exhibit advanced stealth, planform shaping and flat cockpit shaping similar to that of the Lockheed-Martin F-22, and it uses an internal weapons carriage as does the F-22.  While most observers believe the prototype now flying uses either a version of the 12-ton thrust AL-31 or 13-ton thrust WS-10A, when fitted with a reported 15 to 18 ton thrust “WS-15” turbofan, it will be capable of “supercruise” and have thrust vectoring, which when combined with its “canard” configuration will confer “supermaneuverability.” This level of performance, when combined with radius estimate of 1,500km, means this fighter is intended to challenge the F-22 for Asian air dominance.  In November 2009 an informal but apparently informed Chinese source suggested the PLA would produce up to 300 of this heavy 5th gen fighter.[63]

5th Gen Prototype: On 11 January 2011 Chengdu staged its “official” first flight for its new fighter prototype, which is expected to incorporate larger engines and thrust vectoring when it enters units, perhaps before 2020. Source: Chinese Internet

There is a possibility that the PLA could opt for earlier deployment by using Russian AL-41 turbofans now being used by the Sukhoi PAK-FA 5th gen fighter prototype.  There is also a strong possibility that Chengdu and/or Shenyang are working on a medium weight 5th generation fighter, with some Chinese sources having suggested to the author in 2005 that Chengdu was considering a program similar to the F-35.  There is also the possibility that Chengdu and Shenyang are working on advanced UCAV fighter support concepts, like Shenyang’s Dark Sword concept from 2006.  The PLA could start deploying supporting “pairs” of manned and unmanned 5th generation fighters by the 2020s. 

6th Gen Concept Indicator: Since 2006 there have been multiple model depictions of Shenyang’s “Hidden Sword” aerial combat UCAV, an indication that the PLA may be working on an unmanned “partner” for its 5th generation fighter. Source: Chinese Internet

In October 2009, in conjunction with the celebration of the PLAAF’s 60th Anniversary, current PLAAF Commander General Xu Qiliang was reported to have described this new strategy as "effecting air and space integration, possessing capabilities for both offensive and defensive operations.”[64] In terms of gaining insights regarding doctrine, usual PLA sources have not elaborated significantly on potential PLAAF space combat missions.  However it is conceivable that the PLAAF could control “winged” counter-space platforms, such as aircraft armed with ASAT systems like lasers or air-launched SLVs, perhaps including future military versions of the unmanned Shenlong space plane and follow-on larger manned space planes.  The PLA’s early astronaut corps ostensibly under GAD command has been chosen from PLAAF pilots.

PLA Hypersonic Weapon?: Informal sources suggest the Chengdu Aircraft Co. has already tested a hypersonic aircraft similar to the U.S. X-43A, which could lead to early development of an aircraft or missile launched weapon version. A X-43A shape tested in a Chinese hypersonic wind tunnel and possible hypersonic projectile shape investigated by naval scholars (bottom). . Source: Journal of Astronautics

The PLA is also focused on achieving technology breakthroughs to enable advanced supersonic (up to Mach 4) and hypersonic (Mach 5 and higher) combat.  The 1986 “869 Program” to select a manned space vehicle that resulted in a preference for space plane concepts gave a boost to university and corporate level hypersonic research.  Today the Chengdu and Shenyang Aircraft Corporations likely have multiple hypersonic programs underway, while the China Aerospace Corporation works on a Shuttle-like space plane.  Major Chinese university centers for PLA-funded or directed hypersonic research in aerodynamics, materials and engines include: the Institute of Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Northwestern Polytechnical University; Harbin Institute of Technology; National University of Defense Technology; Beijing University; the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics; the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Nanjing University of Science and Technology.  Informal Chinese sources suggest that the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation has designed and tested a hypersonic test vehicle similar to the hydrogen-powered NASA X-43A[65]. Such a vehicle could be developed into a hypersonic weapon.[66]  Chinese academic literature suggest PLA interest in multiple scramjet-powered and combined engine concepts for atmospheric and LEO capable platforms. A mid-2010 study by researchers at the Institute of Mechanics suggests PLA interest in what could develop into a nearer term option, a Mach 3 speed lifting body platform.[67]   An unmanned or manned version of sufficient size could perform surveillance or strike missions at very high altitudes that would stress current U.S. interception capabilities.

Future Supersonic Bomber Concept ?: Not your usual science project; when the PLA funded Institute of Mechanics tests an aerial platform shape, it is usually contributing to a future military program. These shapes apparently were tested at the Institute of Mechanics. Source: Journal of Astronautics

In light of this emerging PLA airpower buildup, it is disturbing to consider the train of decisions under both the Bush Administration and Obama Administrations that led to the final August 2009 decision to end production of the only U.S. 5th generation air superiority fighter, the Lockheed-Martin F-22A, at only 187 fighters.  Only about 60 of these will be based between Alaska and Hawaii to support Asian deployments, so it will not be long before either the rising numbers of PLA 4th gen fighters, or rising numbers of 5th gen fighters, force U.S. commanders to resist risking this major U.S. asset. While the intention to purchase up to 2,400 F-35s (should it survive mounting fiscal challenges), will provide a significant capability increase for U.S. air forces,  it was also designed to complement the air superiority-optimized F-22.  Supporting U.S. aircraft such as AWACS and tankers could become very early casualties, leaving F-35s to fight alone in conditions where every advantage could matter.  The prospect of their facing 300 or more PLA heavy 5th gen fighters competitive with the F-22, plus lighter 5th gen fighters, plus what may be superior numbers of 4+ gen fighters, is daunting.

U.S. 6th Gen Ideas: In early 2019 Boeing revealed a concept for a manned/unmanned 6th generation fighter team.

In such conditions the U.S. is going to require a next generation air superiority fighter, which is reportedly at a low level of study in both the U.S. Air Force and Navy, and not expected to emerge until the year 2030. So far only Boeing has revealed a 6th generation concept for a manned and unmanned 6th generation fighter.[69]   Clearly, the PLA is not going to accommodate U.S. budgeting schedules, and is going to seek new strengths well before 2030.  The U.S. can accelerate its 6th gen program or pursue near term options, which might include reviving production of an improved F-22 or pursuing a new-version F-35 optimized for air superiority with an uprated engine(s), appropriate aerodynamic modifications plus accommodation for more AAMs.  Already the market is responding to the U.S. inability to offer a commanding 4+ or economical but superior 5th generation fighter, as seen by India’s recent decision to narrow its next fighter choice to the Eurofighter or the Dassault Rafale.  This point is emphasized by rumbles of Japanese interest in the Eurofighter for its next fighter.[70] One ray of hope may be USAF interest in accelerating the development of a new Dual Role Air Dominance Missile (DRADM) an apparent ramjet-powered missile that would enable long-range anti-air or ground attack/anti-radar strikes.[71]  There has also been a program to develop a successor to the AIM-120 about the same size as this AAM. 

Next Gen AAM: The U.S. may soon develop a ramjet powered AAM, which is now sorely needed to counter new PLAAF capabilities. Source: RD Fisher

U.S. interest in hypersonic vehicles dates back to the X-15 rocket plane program of the 1950s and 1960s, with the dream of developing runway-to-space vehicles.  But despite considerable enthusiasm, the development of useful hypersonic vehicles has been stymied by technology road blocks and insufficient political and funding support.  The Reagan Administration’s X-30 National Aerospace Plane was a notable example of ambition succumbing to such realities.  NASA’s X-43A small test vehicle achieved a record speed of Mach 9.8 in November 2004 using difficult-to-store hydrogen as fuel.  The succeeding U.S. Air Force funded X-51A used more practical jet fuels to achieved Mach 4.87 in March 2010 but may be capable of speeds greater than Mach 6.  The Air Force hopes to develop a strike weapon from the X-51A by later this decade, and then develop a new larger unmanned surveillance/strike platform by 2030.  It would use a turbine based combined cycle engine that transitions to a ramjet/scramjet capable of Mach 3-3.5 speeds.[72]  However, this was also the top speed of the Lockheed SR-71 spy plane retired in 1990.  The U.S. company Aerojet is proposing an new combined cycle engine that promises speeds up to Mach 7.[73] It should also be considered that the PLA’s supersonic platform could enter service before 2030.  


While the PLA’s starts building systems like aircraft carriers and large military transports that signify aspirations for military power far beyond the East Asian region in 2020s, it is now ramping up an arms race designed to give it clear military advantages over Taiwan, its U.S. defenders and its neighbors. In key weapons areas like anti-ship ballistic missiles and numbers of modern non-nuclear submarines, and very likely anti-satellite weapons, the PLA is gaining an early edge.  In weapon systems the U.S. in investing in now in order to sustain its deterrent edge, like 5th generation fighters, energy weapons and hypersonic weapons, the PLA could realize such “next generation” capabilities sooner than expected. 

The prospect of America losing this arms race was suggested in an 8 June 2011 editorial in the People’s Daily.  This government mouthpiece warned, “Any action that hurts China's core interests will not only affect China-U.S. relations and damage the peace and stability of Asia, but also cause great harm to the precious common development situation of Asia…Unless the United States can… establish new security systems with Asian countries, it will not be able to continue its post-World War II influence in the Asia-Pacific region…”[74]  Translation: the United States must surrender its security interests in Asia, abandon its allies and submit to Chinese-dictated “security systems” in order to live in peace with China.  As PLA confidence in its new weapons increases such demands from China will grow louder.  As such, if a future CMC Vice Chairman or Defense Minister General Chen Bingde is to remain deterred on the Taiwan Strait and elsewhere, it is incumbent upon the U.S. to win the arms race the PLA is now running. Doing so, however, will require will require close consideration of three hard realities:

First, for China’s leadership power trumps palaver.  In June 2008 Pentagon officials sought to begin a dialogue on nuclear weapons and were told by a PRC Foreign ministry official, “Now is not the time for China to tell others what we have…if China reveals the size of its nuclear arsenal, this would eliminate its deterrent value.”[75] A year after the Obama Administration’s April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review declaration that it would seek a “strategic stability dialogue” to begin addressing strategic nuclear concerns with Beijing, the PRC has agreed to no such dialogue.  Instead, its  31 March 2011 Defense White Paper makes clear that the nuclear powers have to reduce their nuclear arsenals much more before China will consider controlling its nuclear weapons.[76] In addition, the unilateral U.S. decision to retire the nuclear Tomahawk cruise missile prompted no similar PLA reduction in its theater nuclear capabilities. One conclusion is that the PLA remains committed to building up its nuclear forces, so continuing to reduce the U.S nuclear arsenal will only increase risks to U.S. interests in Asia.  Given the degree to which the PLA may be considering including nuclear weapons in a Taiwan war plan, plus China’s continued enabling of North Korea’s growing nuclear capability, it is necessary to reconsider recent New START warhead reductions and the reintroduction of secure tactical nuclear systems to Asian deployed forc

Hu’s Our Friend?: Aging North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il seen with Chinese paramount leader Hu Jintao during Kim’s May 2011 visit to China. Source: Chinese Internet

Second, China remains focused on the high ground even if the United States loses sight of it.  While President Obama’s 2010 decision to cancel President Bush’s plan to return to the Moon may have reflected contrasting leadership priorities and hard fiscal realities, the PLA likely is marveling at a potential American surrender of the ultimate “high ground.”  The PLA clearly is building up to contest control of Low Earth Orbit and likely has made the logical conclusion that doing so will require a PLA-controlled “space architecture” to include dual-use Moon outposts.  As long as China’s goal is strategic power, as in the nuclear realm, no amount of diplomacy will convince it to become transparent or cooperative in space.  Consequently there must be a deterrent response from the democracies that likely must be led by the United States.  Focusing on the longer-term (but near-term less expensive) objective of exploring Mars offers significant scientific and technology development opportunities, but also cedes to China the advantages it may be seeking in the Earth-to-Moon system.  An early U.S. response need not be military.  For example the U.S. could subsidize, while retaining necessary access, a non-military Moon presence to be established in the 2020s led by economically efficient private sector space access providers like Space-X[77] or the Bigelow space station company.[78] The goal would be to set a non-military precedent to deter the PLA from seeking military advantage, which would also allow for rapid defensive responses.  As for LEO the U.S. has no choice but to develop its own deterrent capabilities until China agrees to real verifiable limitations of space weapons.

Cheaper Ticket to the Moon: New space access provider Space-X promises to slash the cost of placing large payloads into LEO or on the Moon, while entrepreneurs like Robert Bigelow offer to build practical Moon bases. This could allow the U.S. to consider at much lower cost, a public-private non military Moon presence that could help deter PLA military exploitation of the Moon. Source: Space-X, Bigelow Inc.

Third, arms races do require that you run in order to win.  U.S. defense spending reductions are not going to convince the PLA to cut Washington any slack and may only encourage the PLA to seek faster advantages.  There is now a need for significant military-technical signals like a new airpower commitment that addresses a gathering PLA strength, or a crash program to deploy an energy weapon that can help U.S. carriers survive ASBMs, or an accelerated development of a new SSGN armed with new MRBMs and energy weapons.  The U.S. also needs to continue to signal its commitment to allies and to remain capable of immediate military reactions to Chinese aggression.  Selling new weapons to Taiwan is not only justified politically and morally, it also gives the U.S. more time to address new PLA threats.  There is no excuse to delay selling Taiwan upgraded F-16 fighters and upgrade packages for its current F-16, while considering Taipei’s need for asymmetric deterrent capabilities such as missiles.  If Japan can’t afford the best U.S. jet fighter for its requirements, why not offer to lease them a certain number while they recover from their recent disaster?  Also, the Philippines will not leave Asia’s geographic strategic fulcrum, and the U.S. does have a treaty alliance with Manila that it can tend to mutual benefit.  Manila needs a navy and an air force to deter increasing Chinese encroachment[79] and Washington needs their positive involvement in regional security.  It is time for Washington to invest more in this alliance.

Unacceptable: On 12 May 2011 two PAF OV-10 turboprop ground support aircraft on patrol over the South China Sea were intercepted by PLA fighters, very likely Sukhoi or Shenyang Su-27/30/J-11s. That the PAF lacks any reasonable air defense fighters should be unacceptable to its only treaty ally.

[1] Tan Yingzi and Li Xing, “Arms Sales Hurt Military Ties, China does not intend to challenge U.S., General says,” China Daily, May 20, 2011.

[2] For an early review of the events of 1995 and 1996 see the author’s “China’s Missiles Over the Taiwan Strait: A Political and Military Assessment,” in James R. Lilley and Chuck Downs, eds., Crisis In The Taiwan Strait, Washington, D.C.: National Defense University and the American Enterprise Institute, 1997, Chapter 7.

[3] For General Chen Bingde’s bio see China Vitea, As Director of the General Armaments Department (GAD), General Chen Bingde was also the leader of China’s space program. It is noteworthy that the three reported PLA anti-satellite (ASAT) tests, including the successful 2007 test, took place under Chen’s watch at GAD.

[4] Viola Gienger, “Gates says military troop cuts may protect F-35, submarines,” Bloomberg, May 24, 2011,

[5] Michael R. Gordon and David S.Cloud, “U.S. Knew of China’s Missile Test, but Kept Silent,” The New York Times, April 23, 2007,

[6] Vago Muradian, "China attempted To Blind U.S. Satellites With Laser," Defense News, September 21, 2006, p. 1, For additional background on PLA laser ASAT weapons see Sean O’Connor, “China’s Other ASAT,”INMINT and Analysis Web Page, November 3, 2009,

[7] Background on the public versus private U.S. rationale was revealed in leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, see, Tim Ross, Holly Watt and Christopher Hope, “WikiLeaks: US and China in military standoff over space missiles,” The Telegraph, February 2, 2011,

[8] Turner Brinton, “Obama Space-Weapon Ban Draws Mixed Response,”, February 5, 2009,,2933,488127,00.html

[9] Department of Defense and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, National Security Space Strategy, Unclassified Summary, January 2011,

[10] Nearly a decade ago the ASAT utility of airborne lasers was recognized by analysts opposed to such use by the United States, see, David Wright and Laura Grego, “Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Capabilities of U.S. Missile Defense Systems,” Union of Concerned Scientists Web Page, December 9, 2002, However, it appears that Russia may be reviving its 1980s airborne laser program for ASAT missions. See, Pavel Podvig, “Is Russia reviving an old laser ASAT project?,” Russian strategic nuclear forces blog, May 27, 2011, For recent photos of the Ilyushin A-50 modified to carry a laser, see; also see, Piotr Butowski and Guillaume Steuer, “Beriev Continues In Special Missions,” Air and Cosmos, June 11, 2011, pgs. 32-33.

[11] For background on the Shenlong see the author’s “Shenlong Space Plane Advances China’s Military Space Potential,” International Assessment and Strategy Center Web Page, December 17, 2007,

[12] On 8 January 2011 a Shaanxi City TV news program revealed that the Shenlong may have made its first flight. This story reported in “Domestically-produced Space Fighter Plane Revealed for the First Time,” Ming Pao, January 11, 2011, translated by World News Connection.

[13] Possible PLA interest in a “space bomber” using kinetic weapons to attack ground targets is indicated by a several academic-engineering articles: Hu Zheng-dong, Guo,Tsai Hung (Department of Aerospace Material Engineering, National University of Defense Technology), “Analytical predictive guidance technology for combat reentry of space based kinetic energy weapons,” Journal of Astronautics, V.30 (2009), N. 3, pgs. 1039-1044; Shen Shi-lu, Feng Shu-xu and Xu Xue-feng, “Analysis of the operational capability and feasibility of the space-to-ground kinetic weapon,” Journal of the Academy of Equipment Command & Technology, V. 17 (2006), N. 1, pgs. 33-37; Ren Zhang and Yuan Gong-xiong, “Study on reentry guidance technique for orbital weapons fighting cabin,” Aerospace Control, v. 23 (2005), N. 2, pgs 4 -7; Yuan Gong-xiong and Ren Zhang. “Reentry guidance laws of space based ground attack weapon system,” Control Technology of Tactical Missile, V.46 (2004), N.3, pgs. 72-76.

[14] Rob Coppinger, “First RLV By 2020?,” Flight International, October 17, 2006,

[15] The extreme heat of reentry would concentrate on the wing angle point, necessitating robust thermal protection. The blended angle of the wing on the U.S. Space Shuttle helps to distribute such thermal stress, but a crack in the wing leading edge thermal protection tiles led to the 1 February 2003 loss of the Shuttle Columbia.

[16] Press Release, “Sierra Nevada Corporation Announces Major Award Under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Program,” April 18, 2011,; Frank Mooring, “Sierra Nevada Building On NASA Design,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, February 19, 2010,

[17] The September 2008 mission of Shenzhou-7 featured a close pass to 45km from the ISS while having just launched a micro-satellite, a possible simulation for a shoot down of the ISS. See, “Closer Look: Shenzhou-7’s Close Pass By the International Space Station,” International Assessment and Strategy Center Web Page, October 9, 2008,

[18] In late April 2011 China’s Manned Space Engineering Office, which is subordinate to the PLA’s General Armaments Department, held a press briefing on the space station, see Xin Dingding, “Countdown begins for space station program,” China Daily, April 26, 2011,

[19] Interview, Paris Airshow, June 20, 2011.

[20] Reports of a new 3,000 ton thrust heavy lift space launch vehicle (SLV) first appeared in the Chinese media in March 2010. The U.S. Saturn-V Moon launcher first stage was capable of 3,470 tons of thrust. See, Xin Dingding, “Rocket to go to moon under design,” China Daily, March 5, 2010, Also see, Bradley Perrett, “China Studies Moon Rocket,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, March 5, 2010.

[21] The evolution of China’s manned Moon launch system from a four-SLV to a two-SLV configuration is illustrated by two key articles. The first by CAST engineers compares the risk associated with 4x and 2x SLV configurations. A second article by Long Lehao, a key Chinese ICBM and SLV designer heavily involved Moon program planning, suggests a 4x CZ-5 SLV configuration to start, then moving to a 2x SLV configuration. Chinese sources interviewed at the 2011 Paris Airshow caution that final decisions have not yet been made. See, Sheng Ying-hua, Zhang Xiao-dong,Liang Jian-Guo and Zhao Jin-Cai (Shanghai Aerospace Engineering Systems Institute), “Flight Mode of Manned Lunar Landing,” Journal of Astronautics, January 2009, pgs. 1-7 ; and Long Lehao, “On Issues of China’s Manned Lunar Exploration,” Missiles and Space Vehicles, December, 2010, pgs. 1-5.

[22] In 2007 high profile Moon program advisor Ouyang Ziyuan told People’s Daily that the Moon would be ideal for observation sites good for “monitoring activities above the earth,” see, “Why Does China Want To Probe The Moon?,” People’s Daily Online, February 7, 2007, Chinese source report the first Change-3 soft Moon lander may contain a small radar and laser range finder for “scientific” missions.

[23] Xu Ming (DFH Satellite Co.), “Overview of Orbital Dynamics and Control for Libration Point Orbits,” Journal of Astronautics, July 2009, pgs. 1299-1313; Xu Ming. Spacecraft orbital dynamics and control based on libration point theories, Ph. D. Dissertation of Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics , Beijing, 2008; Xu Ming and Xu She Jie (School of Astronautics, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics), “The Tracking Laws Relative to Earth-Moon Spacecrafts on the Lissajeou Orbits around L2 Point,” Journal of Astronautics, January 2008, pgs. 59-65.

[24] “Change II is expected to explore “Lagrangian point,” Xinhua, March 2, 2011,; Li Sha Sha and Lu Wang, “Change II lunar exploration mission completed in June,” Sina.Com, May 17, 2011,; and Bradley Perrett, “Over the Moon,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 6, 2011, p. 33.

[25] For a discussion of the historic, strategic and technical aspects of space architecture and myriad other space access issues, see Paul A. Czysz and Claudio Bruno, Future Spacecraft Propulsion Systems, Enabling Technologies for Space Exploration, Second Edition, Chichester, U.K: Praxis Publishing, 2009.

[26] For example, the 2003 PRC National Defense White Paper stated that China, “has always exercised utmost restraint on the development of nuclear weapons, and its nuclear arsenal is kept at the lowest level necessary for self-defense only.” For a recent exposition of the “small and defensive” view see Gregory Kulacki, “China’s Nuclear Arsenal: Status and Evolution,” Union of Concerned Scientists,; For counter arguments see J. Michael Cole, “Analysis: Questions remain on China’s nuclear stance,” The Taipei Times, May 23, 2011,

[27] Peng Guangqian and Yao Youzhi, The Science of Military Strategy (English Edition), Beijing: Military Science Publishing House, 2005, p. 305. The Department of Defense 2009 Military Power of the People’s Republic of China report, noting previous PLA campaigns against India, Russia and Vietnam, notes that “logic suggests the potential for China to engage in military preemption, prevention, or coercion if the use of force protects or advances core interests, including territorial claims (e.g., Taiwan and unresolved border or maritime claims).”

[28] “The Strategic Deterrent Force of the Second Artillery Corps Builds a Shield for the Republic,” Wen Wei Po, May 3, 2011, translated by World News Connection.

[29] The following articles indicate PLA interest in multiple warhead ballistic missiles: Ding Bao-chun and Ye Ming-lan (Beijing Joint Information Technology lnstitute, Beijing l00085, China), “An Optimal Controlling Method for Multiple Independently-targeted Reentry Vehicles,” Tactical Missile Technology, No. 5, 2001; Zhang Yan, Tang Qiangang, Zhang Yi and Kong Tiequan (Department of Aerospace Technology, National University of Defense Technology, Changsha 410073,China), “Predicting Collision and Calculating the Nearest Distance During Missile Separation,” Tactical Missile Technology, No. 4, 2003; Wang Chen and Wang Shi Cheng (The Second Artillery Engineering Academy, Xi’an, 710025), “The Estimation Of Circular Error Probability Of Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles,” Journal of Ballistics, No. 1, 2005; WANG Chen and Wang Shi Cheng (The Second Artillery Engineering Academy, Shanxi Xi' an, 710025,China), “Analysis & Simulation of Control Stability of Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles,” Computer Simulation, No. 6, 2005; Wei Qiyong (Center of Research and Development, CALT, Beijing, 100076), “Influence of Using MIRV on Penetration Capability and System Effectiveness for Land-Based Strategic Missile,” Missiles and Space Vehicles, No. 3, 2004; Wang Chen and Wang Shi Cheng (The Second Artillery Engineering Academy, Shanxi Xi' an, 710025,China), “Analysis & Simulation of Control Stability of Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles,” Computer Simulation, no. 6, 2005; Zhang Hong-bo,Zheng Wei,Zhu Long-kui and Tang Guo-jian (College of Aerospace and Material Engineering,National University of Defense Technology,Changsha 410073,China), “Analysis of the Effectiveness of Multi-Target Penetration in Ballistic Missile Attack,” Journal of Astronautics, No. 2, 2007; Li Rui Kang, Gao Chang Sheng, Jing Wu Shing, Qian Ying Jing (Department of Aerospace Engineering, Harbin Institute of Technology), “Moving Mass Control and Performance Analysis for Aerospace Vehicle,” Journal of Astronautics, September, 2010, pgs. 2165-2171.

[30] Interview, 2010.

[31] Warhead number estimates conveyed to author during interviews in 2007 and 2008. A new mobile ICBM with possible multiple warheads is mentioned in the 2010 Department of Defense PLA Report, p. 2. An August 2010 Kyodo report cites an unnamed U.S. official as having described “the DF-41, a more sophisticated type of ICBM carrying MIRV that can attack multiple targets simultaneously. Details of the development process of the DF-41 are unknown.” See, “Lead: U.S. seeking strategic and nuclear dialogue with China,” Kyodo, August 21, 2010.

[32] For a useful summation of Chinese reports on this project, see Russell Hsiao, “China’s ‘Underground Great Wall’ and Nuclear Deterrence,” The Jamestown Foundation China Brief, December 19, 2009,

[33] Ross, et al., op-cit.

[34] International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 2011, London:Routledge, 2011, p. 230.

[35] Zhang Han and Huang Jingjing, “New missile ‘ready by 2015,’” Global Times, February 18, 2011,

[36] Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review Report, April 2010, pgs. V11, 15,

[37] Ibid., pgs. 27-28.

[38] “China ‘To Target 1,800 Missiles at Taiwan by 2012,” Agence France Presse, May 20, 2011,

[39] The author was first told of the PLA’s interest in a terminally guided DF-21 at the November 1996 Zhuhai Airshow, though the Chinese engineer who made this disclosure refused to comment on the guidance system. After this show a Taiwanese source indicated this missile would be “radar guided.” Then in December 1996 the Chinese intelligence scheme of purchasing trash from U.S. military bases was disclosed, see, Peter Carey, Douglas Pasternak and Penny Loeb, “Weapons Bazaar,” U.S. News and World Report, December 8, 1996, p. 31. For the author’s speculation that this was the source for Pershing-II technology for a possible DF-21 radar guided warhead see, “Foreign Arms Acquisition and PLA Modernization,” in James R. Lilley and David Shambaugh, eds., China’s Military Faces The Future, Washington, D.C.: AEI/M.E. Sharpe, 1999, p. 90.

[40] International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance, 2011, London: Routledge, 2011, p. 230.

[41] There has been excellent research on China’s ASBM, including: Mark Stokes, “China’s Evolving Conventional Strategic Strike Capability,” Project 2049 Web Page, September 14, 2009; Andrew S. Erickson, “Ballistic trajectory—China develops new anti-ship missile,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, January 2010. For Chinese articles indicating research on ASBMs see: Tan Shou Lin, Zhang Da Qiao and Diao Guo Xiu (Second Artillery Engineering College and Unit 96311 of the PLA), “Determination and Evaluation of Effective Range for Terminal Guidance Ballistic Missile Attacking Aircraft Carrier,” Command and Control Simulation, August 2006, pgs 6-9; Zhang Hong, Miao Jiansong, Qi Ziakang, Liu Zhongfei (School of Aerospace Science and Engineering, Beijing Institute of Technology and No. 274 Factory, Taiyuan), “Research on Terminal Guidance Precision of Tactical Ballistic Missile Attacking Aircraft Carrier,” Journal of Projectiles, Rockets, Missiles and Guidance, October 2008, pgs. 1-4; Chen Haidong, Yu Menglun, Xin Wanqing, Li Junhui and Zeng Qingxiang (Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Systems Engineering and Beijing Institute of Special Mechanical and Electronic Devices), “Study for the Guidance Scheme of Reentry Vehicles Attacking slowly Moving Targets,” Missiles and Space Vehicles, No. 6, 2000, pgs. 5-9; and Ni Guo-qiang, Xu Da-qi, Zhou Sheng-bing, Chen Xiao-mei, Gao kun, Xu Ting-fa and Chen Si-ying (Department of Optical Engineering, School of Information Science and Technology, Beijing Institute of Technology), “Study of the visible infrared-imaging seeker for the ground-to-ground missile,” Optical Technique, August 2006, pgs. 169-175.

[42] For DF-21D deployment, see remarks by U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Robert Willard in Yoichi Kato, “U.S. commander Says China aims to be global military power,” Asahi Shimbun, December 28, 2010,; Jimmy Chuang, “New Dongfeng missile a severe threat to Taiwan: NSB Director,” Want China Times, March 17, 2011,; A new MRBM missile unit has been detected and is suspected of using DF-21C, DF-21D or DF-16 missiles, see, J. Michael Cole, “NSB director confirms PRC deployment of new missile unit in Guangdong Province,” The Taipei Times, May 27, 2011,

[43] For example, such images were posted on the FYJS web page on January 22, 2011,

[44] Song Fuzhi (Beijing Electromechanical Engineering Institute), “Cruise Missile is Prior to Ballistic Missile in Attacking Aircraft Carrier,” Tactical Missile Technology, July 2006, pgs. 9-15.

[45] For a figure cited for the Northrop Grumman X-47B see Graham Warwick, “Pictures: Northrop Grumman reveals X-47B UCAV,” Flight International, April 4, 2007,

[46] Radius figures for the F/A-18E/F and F-35C are from Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft.

[47] Interview with industry source, U.S. Navy League Exhibition in Washington, D.C., April 2011.

[48] Prasun Sengupta, “Dangerous Missiles,” Force, January 2008.

[49] See, “Military Technology: The shock of Chinese made guns,” 163 Web Page, January 19, 2011,

[50] Trends and issues concerning both the PLA Navy and U.S. Navy have been extensively chronicled by Ronald O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service, see his “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Naval Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, October 1, 2010, and “Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, April 12, 2011.

[51] U.S. SSNs have been “sunk” in exercises with Australian, Japanese, Canadian and Swedish conventional submarines, see, Roger Thompson, Lessons Not Learned: The U.S. Navy’s Status-Quo Culture, Annapolis Md: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2007, pgs. 24-34; also see, “RSA Submarine ‘Sinks’ All NATO Ships During Exercise Off Cape Coast,” Johannesburg SAPA, September 4, 2007.

[52] Bill Gertz, “China sub secretly stalked US fleet,” The Washington Times, November 13, 2006.

[53] For early reporting on the AVIC Defense bizjet see Bradley Perrett, “What’s Cooking,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, May 23, 2011, p. 38.

[54] David A. Fulghum, Bill Sweetman and Bradley Perrett, “Heavy Contender,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, May 9, 2011, pgs. 35-37.

[55] Chengdu and Shenyang fighter production benefits from recent expansions in production facilities.

[56] The extent of Israeli support for the J-10 has been a matter of some controversy. Recently a Chinese source stated that in 1985 Israel offered the U.S. technology assisted Lavi fighter to assist J-10 development and trained 24 Chinese pilots on the Lavi in 1986, see, Bai Wei, “The tale of the Vigorous Dragon,” Air Forces Monthly, May 2011, p. 86. Following years of U.S. opposition Israel no longer sells significant military technology to China.

[57] Its use of a canted nose cone bulkhead as seen in early 2009 photos lead to early speculation it used a new electronically scanned radar, confirmed by imagery showing the radar face in early 2011. However, some sources note that Chinese development of its critical transmit-and-receive modules may be at an early stage, see, Robert Hewson, “Together in electric beams,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, June 1, 2011, p. 25.

[58] Author interviews, Moscow Airshow, August 2005 and 2009.

[59] Robert Hewson, “China discloses new SD-10 combat capabilities,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, December 1, 2010.

[60] See author, “China’s Emerging 5th Generation Air-to-Air Missiles,” International Assessment and Strategy Center Web Page, February 2, 2008,

[61] Robert Hewson, “Teeth of the Dragon,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, January 19, 2011, p. 24.

[62] It is PLAAF practice to stage “official” first flights of major aircraft for political leaders following unofficial flights that prove the aircraft works. Some unofficial Chinese reports have noted that up to four J-20s had been flying with both Russian and Chinese-built engines by January 2011.

[63] A well regarded “big shrimp” by the name of “Huzhigeng” disclosed this estimate in an interview that was posted on multiple Chinese military issue web pages in early November 2009, see,, November 2, 2009,

[64] As noted in, Zhuang Jingqian, “Beijing Observation: Chinese Air Force Quickens Pace of Strategic Transition, Possibly by Taking Two Steps,” Zhongguo Tongxun She, November 10, 2009 OSC Translation; For discussions of the new Air Force strategy also see, Sun Maoqing, Xu Zhuangzhi and Li Xuanliang, “60th Anniversary of Founding of PLAAF--Expert Interpretation, PLAAF Begins To Realize Five Major System Advances,” Xinhua, November 11, 2009, OCS Translation; Yang Minqing, "Chinese Air Force's New Strategy and New Security Concept", Liaowang (published by Xinhua), November 20, 2009, OSC Translation; Liu Yueshan, "Air Force Combat Strength Boosted To Adapt to Three-Dimensional Operations,” Wen Wei Po Online, November 21, 2009, OSC Translation.

[65] A 2007 study from the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics depicted and described testing an X-43A shape in a hypersonic wind tunnel, see, Zhang Hong Ying, Sun Chu, Cheng Ke Ming, Wu Yi Zhao (Hypersonic Aerodynamics Research Center, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics), “Experimental Investigation of Inlet Start Unstart Influences on the Aerodynamic Characteristic of a Hypersonic Vehicle,” Journal of Astronautics, November 2007, pgs. 1488-1493.

[66] An article by Chinese naval scholars suggests possible anti-ship missions for hypersonic weapons, see, Liu Ji-min, Hou Zhi-kang, Song Gui-bao and Zhu Xu-cheng (Department of Airborne Vehicle Engineering, Naval Aeronautical and Astronautical University), “Blunted Method for Waverider and its Effect on Performance,” Journal of Astronautics, May 2011, pgs. 966-974.

[67] See, Li Wei Dong, Ding Hai He, and Wang Fa Min (Institute of Mechanics, Chinese Academy of Sciences), “Research on Aerodynamic Characteristics of Wave-rider Based Vehicles Flying at Low-Mach States,” Journal of Astronautics, May 2010, pgs. 1283-1287.

[68] For a recent profile of the F-35’s capabilities, see the “F-35 Lightning II Supplement,” Air International, May 2011, pgs. 35-80.

[69] Boeing began mentioning its 6th gen concept in 2008, revealed a concept fighter in early 2009 that was refined by early 2010. Boeing’s concept has likely from the beginning assumed there would be cooperative manned an optionally manned versions of this fighter. Graham Warwick, “Picture: Sneak Peak at 6th Gen?,” Ares, A Defense Technology Blog, May 5, 2009,

[70] Shinichi Saoshiro, “Japan may drop F-35 from shortlist of next mainstay fighter –Kyodo,” Reuters, May 20, 2011,

[71] Steven Trimble, “Raytheon reveals first glimpse of next generation missile,” Flight International, February 18, 2011,

[72] Graham Warwick, “Hyper Hopes,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 6, 2011, p. 61.

[73] Guy Norris and Graham Warwick, “Aerojet Unveils Novel Hypersonics Plan,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 16, 2011,

[74] Ding Gang, senior desk editor, “U.S. should draw lessons from arms race,” People’s Daily, June 8, 2011,

[75] Bill Gertz, “China’s Sun Tzu Secrecy,” The Washington Times, February 16, 2011.

[76] See author’s analysis, “2011 China Defense White Paper: Points of Concern,” International Assessment and Strategy Center Web Page, April 11, 2011,

[77] “Falcon Heavy Overview,” Space-X Web Page,; Space-X has also recently defended from critics its revolutionary low cost prices for space access, which now undercut even Chinese space launch costs, see, “Why the US Can Beat China: The Facts About Space-X Costs,” Space-X Web Page, May 4, 2011,

[78] David Leonard, “Private Moon Bases A Hot Idea for Space Pioneer,” Space.Com, April 14, 2010,

[79] On 12 May 2011 two Philippine Air Force OV-10 Broncos, flying a patrol over the South China Sea, were intercepted by PLA fighters, most likely Su-27 or J-11s. The OV-10 is not a maritime patrol aircraft and also has no ability to defend itself from PLA fighters. See, Jamie Laude, “Chinese Jets Buzz PAF Planes,” The Philippine Star, May 20, 2011, These aircraft may have been monitoring Chinese survey ships near the Iroquois Bank, see, Jun Pasayo, “Chinese Surveillance Ships Roam Phil Waters,” The Philippine Star, June 1, 2011, .

back to top ^

Powered by eResources