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    US - China potential military confrontation



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    China has a huge firepower advantage over America

    Post  nemrod on Sun Mar 13, 2016 7:36 am

    China has a huge firepower advantage over America

    David Axe

    February 11, 2016

    The U.S. military is considering developing a so-called "arsenal plane" to accompany stealth fighters into combat, hauling large numbers of munitions in order to significantly boost the stealthy planes' firepower.

    The arsenal-plane concept, announced by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in a Feb. 2 speech previewing the Pentagon's 2017 budget proposal, could help solve one of the U.S. military's most intractable military problems — its lack of "magazine depth" compared to more numerous Chinese forces in various Pacific war scenarios.

    But Carter didn't specify what kinds of weapons the arsenal plane might carry and whether they might include air-to-air munitions, which is where America's arguably greatest firepower shortfall exists.

    The arsenal plane, under development by the Defense Department's new Strategic Capabilities Office, "takes one of our oldest aircraft platform and turns it into a flying launchpad for all sorts of different conventional payloads," Carter said.

    "In practice, the arsenal plane will function as a very large airborne magazine, networked to fifth-generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes, essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create whole new capabilities," Carter continued.

    A Pentagon official told Aviation Week that the Strategic Capabilities Office, a kind of incubator for new weapons ideas that Carter established in 2012 during his tenure as deputy defense secretary, is considering adapting the B-1 or the B-52 — or both — for the arsenal role. In the jet age, there have been many proposals to arm bombers with air-to-air weapons.

    The benefit is obvious. At present the U.S. military fields just under 200 stealth fighters, including around 180 Air Force F-22s and just 10 Marine Corps F-35Bs. While more F-35s are in production and the Air Force is on track to declare its F-35As notionally combat-ready in August 2016, even a larger stealth force could still find itself outgunned in an air battle with China over Taiwan or the disputed Spratly Islands in the western Pacific.

    That's because the F-22 carries just eight air-to-air missiles in its weapons bays in a stealthy configuration; the F-35 carries just two. Chinese Su-27 derivatives routinely carry 10 or more air-to-air missiles. And in a Pacific air war, the close proximity of Chinese bases to any likely battle zone means that Beijing will probably be able to keep many more warplanes in the air — potentially hundreds more.

    The end result is a huge firepower advantage for the Chinese. In one 2008 study, the RAND Corporation, a think tank closely aligned with the U.S. Air Force, optimistically assumed that an F-22 would never miss when it fired an AIM-120 missile at a Chinese fighter and, by contrast, Chinese fighters would never hit an F-22 with their own missiles.

    While unrealistic, that handicap didn't actually benefit U.S. forces in the RAND war game. The F-22s and F-35s quickly ran out of missiles and fuel, and surviving Chinese fighters penetrated U.S. aerial defenses and shot down tankers, radar early-warning planes and maritime patrol planes, effectively disabling the American force by depriving it of sensor coverage and range-extending aerial refueling.

    Apparently startled by the findings, the Pentagon has moved to improve the magazine depth of its stealth fighters. Lockheed Martin is reportedly developing a smaller air-to-air missile that F-22s and F-35s could carry in greater numbers.

    In 2011, RAND published a paper encouraging the Pentagon to consider adding 20 large air-to-air missiles to B-1 bombers. Four years later, John Stillion, a former RAND analyst and contributor to the 2008 war game and the 2011 paper, wrote a paper for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C. think tank, proposing that the Pentagon's next fighter should be the size of a bomber and carry 24 air-to-air missiles while also controlling drones hauling their own missiles.

    RAND's paper and Stillion's proposal were hints that the arsenal-plane concept was gaining legitimacy in military circles. But the first arsenal plane could be a fighter rather than a bomber. In 2015 Boeing unveiled a new configuration for existing F-15C fighters that doubles the F-15's standard air-to-air loadout from eight missiles to 16.

    The Air Force is reportedly interested in adopting the Boeing upgrade, and in the meantime has also developed a new datalink pod for the F-15 that allows the older fighter to receive targeting data from the F-22. In theory, non-stealthy F-15s could fly behind F-22s and F-35s during an air battle, firing missiles at targets that the stealth fighters detect while evading detection themselves.

    Carter's arsenal-plane concept is consistent with years of study and technology-development pointing toward a two-tier air-combat force for the near future, one in which stealth fighters act as forward sensors, designating targets for non-stealthy aircraft — F-15s and bombers — carrying much larger payloads.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, both the B-52 and B-1 fleets are undergoing extensive upgrades that include new datalinks.

    To be clear, neither Carter nor Aviation Week‘s source specified whether the arsenal plane would carry air-to-air missiles. It's possible the Pentagon is mostly interested in adding air-to-ground munitions to its stealth strike force.

    But technologically speaking, there's no reason why the arsenal plane couldn't add aerial firepower to America's stealth fighter fleet. Right now the arsenal plane is just a concept, rather than a formal program with a budget line. But the need is obvious and the hardware already exists. With funding and official approval, in a few years' time the F-22 and F-35 could fly into an air-to-air battle with heavily-armed bombers backing them up.

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    Chinese missile swarms could obliterate America in battle

    Post  nemrod on Sun May 29, 2016 10:09 am

    Why Chinese missile swarms could obliterate America in battle

    Robert Beckhusen

    The U.S. Air Force relies on more than 5,000 aircraft to give it unmatched dominance over every other competitor on earth. The U.S. Navy, for its part, counts on more than 3,700 aircraft and 273 deployable battle force ships, which constitute the largest and most technologically advanced sailing branch in the world.

    This much is true  —  no country can possibly hope to challenge the United States with military means on a global scale and win. But key to America's global strength are huge air and naval bases which are vulnerable to being overwhelmed and destroyed by swarms of precision-guided weapons in a limited, regional war.

    The Navy also cannot expect its ships to survive if they come under attack by sufficiently large numbers of cruise missiles and ballistic missiles of the kind now fielded by China. While better protected from missiles than bases, the current breadth of U.S. technology and doctrine cannot compensate for this weakness.

    The result is that the Pentagon must radically rethink its missile defenses, or risk serious losses in the opening hours of a future conflict. But according to a recent report, the solution could be lots of futuristic lasers, guns, and electromagnetic weapons that can engage enormous numbers of incoming missiles at relatively short ranges.

    And lots of drones.

    "Since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon had the luxury of assuming that air and missile attacks on its bases and forces would either not occur or would be within the capacity of the limited defenses it has fielded," analysts Mark Gunzinger and Bryan Clark wrote for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an influential defense policy think tank.

    "These assumptions are no longer valid."

    Gunzinger and Clark's report does not describe anything new for U.S. military planners. Russia, China, and Iran have are investing heavily in missiles with an eye toward targeting American bases. But it's China that is of particular concern, owing to the fact that Beijing is producing very large numbers of highly-accurate and long-range missiles.

    Worse, the United States has fewer options to spread out its bases in the Western Pacific  —  it is largely stuck to islands  —  than it does in Europe or the Middle East, where dispersed "clusters" of bases are more feasible.

    Beijing already fields thousands of cruise missiles and hundreds of ballistic missiles which can hit U.S. bases in South Korea, Okinawa and Guam. The U.S. Air Force has deployed Patriot air-defense batteries to the Western Pacific, but the anticipated target for the Patriot is a lone North Korean ballistic missile.

    The Patriot cannot stand a chance if China throws everything it has at America's installations.

    There is a similar threat facing America's surface ships. The bulk of the United States' cruise-missile defenses are on warships, such as Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with Aegis  —  an advanced suite of radars, command and control computers and anti-air missiles such as the Sea Sparrow, SM-2, SM-3 and SM-6.

    The Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Kidd and USS Pickney in the Pacific Ocean | (U.S. Navy/Courtesy War is Boring)

    This is a formidable defensive weapon system … when your enemy doesn't have a lot of missiles to throw at you. In fact, the Navy designed these systems for engaging a relatively small number of incoming missiles at long ranges. This makes the SM family large, heavy and expensive. Another problem is that the ships' launchers  —  the Mark 41 VLS  —  cannot be rearmed at sea.

    A single Arleigh Burke destroyer has around 90+ air-defense missiles. But not every missile will hit its target. In their report, Gunzinger and Clark note that an attacker could expend 32 anti-ship missiles  —  at a cost of less than $100 million  —  to deplete a destroyer's entire compliment of SM-6s (worth $300 million) given a 70 percent success rate on the part of the defending ship.

    That doesn't include the cost of the destroyer, which is about $2 billion. And all it takes is a single missile to either sink the ship, cripple it, or render it out of action for weeks or months. Even if the destroyer survives, it must return to port and rearm. All told, this tactic means China could, in effect, bankrupt the U.S. Navy over time.

    China's missiles are getting smarter. The YJ-18, in particular, is a very deadly anti-ship missile. Having only appeared in China's arsenal within the past few years, the YJ-18 can travel 290 nautical miles, most of the way at a speed of 0.8 Mach. But once the missile closes toward a target  —  and within range of a defending vessel's weapons  —  it dumps one of its "stages" and accelerates to a speed of Mach 2.5.

    Which makes it difficult for its intended victim to track and destroy it.

    However, there is a way to stop China's missiles from delivering a knockout blow to the U.S. military in the Western Pacific, but it will take years and be expensive, too. The solution is also … complicated.

    The main takeaway from the report  —  the United States can no longer take it for granted that long-range missile interceptors will do the trick. Instead, Gunzinger and Clark propose a mix of tactical tricks and new technologies, including electromagnetic railguns with guided high-velocity projectiles, air-defense lasers and guided artillery rounds like the kind DARPA is developing.

    To make it harder to target U.S. forces, the report suggests dispersing bases when possible and hardening existing ones to force China to expend heavier, more expensive, and longer-range weapons of its own. To strike the missile launchers before they fire, the authors want drones  —  lots of them  —  and stealthy bombers (like the B-21) that can penetrate China's air defenses.

    The United States wouldn't have to abandon air-defense missiles  —  it just can't depend on expensive, longer range variants. Electromagnetic weapons would be enormously expensive to develop (with manufacturing costs in the tens of millions of dollars each), so these will likely be less common than lasers, high-powered microwave weapons, and short-to-medium range missiles that can be fired en masse.

    If this vision ever comes to pass, it would be a major conceptual shift in how the Pentagon conceptualizes anti-missile defenses. Navy warships today include close-in weapons such as Phalanx to hit missiles during the seconds before they strike, but this is a last resort.

    What the report proposes is an networked grid of almost entirely short-range weapons, with the railguns and more affordable  —  and therefore more numerous  —  missiles focusing on striking targets at medium range. With lasers, you're only limited by how much power you can generate. That's a concern for ships, not so much with land bases.

    We also don't how well this would work... unless an actual war breaks out  —  a real-life demonstration we'd be better off without.

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