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When Will China Surpass the US in Military Air Superiority?

beijingwalker

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When Will China Surpass the US in Military Air Superiority?
October 13, 2021 9:30

For decades, the United States military has benefited from having air superiority over its enemies in all its conflicts around the world. The Pentagon's multibillion-dollar investment in advanced warplanes, weapons systems, satellites and aircraft carriers has made air power a central part of America's global projection of military might.

However, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is rapidly modernizing, and military leaders and analysts say that Washington may no longer be able to always rely on its air superiority.

Speaking at an Air Force Association conference last month, General Charles Brown Jr., chief of staff of the Air Force, said the PLA had what he called "the largest aviation forces in the Pacific" and had developed them "underneath our nose." Brown predicted China could overcome U.S. air superiority by 2035.

At the same event, Lieutenant General S. Clinton Hinote, a deputy chief of staff, warned that the U.S. was not keeping pace with China's advancements. "In a few important areas, we're behind — tonight. This is not a tomorrow problem. This is a today."

Hinote told reporters that as somebody who was aware of the evidence at all classification levels, he believed that China had caught up with the U.S. air power advancements, and he warned "the light is blinking red."

Showing its might

Last week, China sent almost 150 warplanes, including its most advanced J-16 fighter jets and H-6 bombers, into Taiwan's air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, in a complex demonstration of its military might.

"They're putting together packages of fighter aircraft, the J-16 in particular, flown in large numbers. And that's a relatively new capability," said Eric Heginbotham, a principal research scientist at MIT's Center for International Studies. "They're putting complete packages together. They're also sending anti-submarine warfare aircraft up. So, they're showing a lot."

According to an article published on the U.S. Air Force's official website, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall mentioned China 27 times in his closely watched address to the AFA conference last month. In comparison, he mentioned Russia once and Afghanistan three times. Kendall, the top civilian leader of the USAF, also pledged in August to develop more leading technologies that "scare China."

Emboldened by China's newly gained air might, Wang Wei, a senior PLA air force official, responded last month to Kendall's "scare China" comment by inviting the USAF to meet in the sky: "A foreign colleague claimed recently to make the Chinese Air Force feel scared. Well, as long as you are not scared, let us meet in the cloud!"

Where USAF superiority may end

China's flights near Taiwan last week demonstrate the improving capabilities of the PLAAF. Cristina Garafola, an associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, wrote in an email to VOA that when combined with China ground-based air defense forces, "these growing capabilities will increase the complexity of operations in the air domain in the Indo-Pacific."

Timothy Heath, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, said that while the PLAAF still lags the USAF in technological capabilities and warfighting prowess, its large numbers of land-based fighters pose a threat to any U.S. effort to intervene in a fight over Taiwan.

He told VOA that because of its proximity to Taiwan, the PLA can use many complementary weapons, such as surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles, to attack U.S. carriers, air bases and aircraft. "This counter-intervention capability could help even the odds for the PLA air force in a major fight near Taiwan."

Analysts also said distance would be a factor in any air warfare in the Pacific. Taiwan is just 161 kilometers from China's coast, compared with more than 700 kilometers from U.S. airbases in Okinawa, Japan, and more than 2,700 kilometers from Guam.

"The U.S. may gain short-term control of the air over Taiwan, but it's too distant to do this for more than short time periods, such as an hour or two," Peter Layton, a visiting fellow at Griffith Asia Institute in Brisbane, Australia, told VOA.

In an interview last month with Air Force Times, Kendall said it was an assumption that the U.S. was the dominant power. "We're the dominant military power until you get within about 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers) of China, and that starts to change," he said.

According to Heginbotham of MIT, a specialist in Asian security issues, less than 15% of U.S. air inventories are in the western Pacific, and the U.S. does not have all its aircraft flying around the clock. "The difference is probably that China can challenge you at their superiority locally and for certain periods of time." he said in a telephone interview with VOA.

Calling China an "apex peer adversary" with vast capabilities in electromagnetic spectrum operations, General Mark Kelly, the commander of Air Combat Command, said last month that the USAF could lose such a fight. He noted that China has already claimed parts of the South China Sea "without firing a shot."

Supremacy and superiority

Over the years, several studies have found that America may be on track to lose its air superiority over China.

In 2015, a study at the California-based RAND Corporation think tank, of which Heginbotham was the lead author, found that while the U.S. still maintained unparalleled air-to-air capabilities, "continuous improvements to Chinese air capabilities make it increasingly difficult for the United States to achieve air superiority within a politically and operationally effective time frame, especially in a scenario close to the Chinese mainland."

A 2016 Department of Defense study on the same subject noted that emerging integrated and networked air-to-air, surface-to-air capabilities "threaten the Air Force's ability to provide air superiority at the times and places required in the highly contested operational environments of 2030 and beyond."

"The 2016 USAF air superiority study was adamant that the U.S. was on track to lose air superiority in fighting distant wars," Layton told VOA. "The USAF has equipment modernization programs to help address this, like the B-21 and Next Generation Air Dominance fighter, but these are unlikely to make a real difference until the 2030s."

Layton argued in a blog post that the USAF's way of thinking about projecting air power had changed over the years since the Cold War. When Washington saw itself as the world's lone superpower, the common term was "air supremacy." Now, when the air threat is manageable at certain times and places, the objective is "air superiority."

 

Goritoes

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It will take at least a couple of decades.
And in couple of Decades, What US be doing? no research or building new Projects? If China is growing its capabilities so does America, the gap will remain for a good long time, unless Thanos decides to Visits US and mess things up real bad.
 

beijingwalker

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And in couple of Decades, What US be doing? no research or building new Projects? If China is growing its capabilities so does America, the gap will remain for a good long time, unless Thanos decides to Visits US and mess things up real bad.
in a couple of decades China will catch up to then US capability, not current one.
By then it will be AI and new technology based, current conventional tech would have been long something of the past.
 

Ghessan

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China catch US or not but the capability and capacity building is gradually helping China stand against any aggression and the US will think twice before going into a skirmish. with the passage of time the gap surely will get minimal.

Soon China may become technology leader in certain fields surpassing US and there is no stopping to it, they are moving fast and at a generous pace.

the only tool US has, to address China and its advancements, is a war on economic front which they are already working on on a massive scale, still it won't be easy. US will always need EU besides Australia and Japan whereas EU is drifting away.
 

Nasr

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When Will China Surpass the US in Military Air Superiority?
October 13, 2021 9:30

For decades, the United States military has benefited from having air superiority over its enemies in all its conflicts around the world. The Pentagon's multibillion-dollar investment in advanced warplanes, weapons systems, satellites and aircraft carriers has made air power a central part of America's global projection of military might.

However, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is rapidly modernizing, and military leaders and analysts say that Washington may no longer be able to always rely on its air superiority.

Speaking at an Air Force Association conference last month, General Charles Brown Jr., chief of staff of the Air Force, said the PLA had what he called "the largest aviation forces in the Pacific" and had developed them "underneath our nose." Brown predicted China could overcome U.S. air superiority by 2035.

At the same event, Lieutenant General S. Clinton Hinote, a deputy chief of staff, warned that the U.S. was not keeping pace with China's advancements. "In a few important areas, we're behind — tonight. This is not a tomorrow problem. This is a today."

Hinote told reporters that as somebody who was aware of the evidence at all classification levels, he believed that China had caught up with the U.S. air power advancements, and he warned "the light is blinking red."

Showing its might

Last week, China sent almost 150 warplanes, including its most advanced J-16 fighter jets and H-6 bombers, into Taiwan's air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, in a complex demonstration of its military might.

"They're putting together packages of fighter aircraft, the J-16 in particular, flown in large numbers. And that's a relatively new capability," said Eric Heginbotham, a principal research scientist at MIT's Center for International Studies. "They're putting complete packages together. They're also sending anti-submarine warfare aircraft up. So, they're showing a lot."

According to an article published on the U.S. Air Force's official website, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall mentioned China 27 times in his closely watched address to the AFA conference last month. In comparison, he mentioned Russia once and Afghanistan three times. Kendall, the top civilian leader of the USAF, also pledged in August to develop more leading technologies that "scare China."

Emboldened by China's newly gained air might, Wang Wei, a senior PLA air force official, responded last month to Kendall's "scare China" comment by inviting the USAF to meet in the sky: "A foreign colleague claimed recently to make the Chinese Air Force feel scared. Well, as long as you are not scared, let us meet in the cloud!"

Where USAF superiority may end

China's flights near Taiwan last week demonstrate the improving capabilities of the PLAAF. Cristina Garafola, an associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, wrote in an email to VOA that when combined with China ground-based air defense forces, "these growing capabilities will increase the complexity of operations in the air domain in the Indo-Pacific."

Timothy Heath, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, said that while the PLAAF still lags the USAF in technological capabilities and warfighting prowess, its large numbers of land-based fighters pose a threat to any U.S. effort to intervene in a fight over Taiwan.

He told VOA that because of its proximity to Taiwan, the PLA can use many complementary weapons, such as surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles, to attack U.S. carriers, air bases and aircraft. "This counter-intervention capability could help even the odds for the PLA air force in a major fight near Taiwan."

Analysts also said distance would be a factor in any air warfare in the Pacific. Taiwan is just 161 kilometers from China's coast, compared with more than 700 kilometers from U.S. airbases in Okinawa, Japan, and more than 2,700 kilometers from Guam.

"The U.S. may gain short-term control of the air over Taiwan, but it's too distant to do this for more than short time periods, such as an hour or two," Peter Layton, a visiting fellow at Griffith Asia Institute in Brisbane, Australia, told VOA.

In an interview last month with Air Force Times, Kendall said it was an assumption that the U.S. was the dominant power. "We're the dominant military power until you get within about 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers) of China, and that starts to change," he said.

According to Heginbotham of MIT, a specialist in Asian security issues, less than 15% of U.S. air inventories are in the western Pacific, and the U.S. does not have all its aircraft flying around the clock. "The difference is probably that China can challenge you at their superiority locally and for certain periods of time." he said in a telephone interview with VOA.

Calling China an "apex peer adversary" with vast capabilities in electromagnetic spectrum operations, General Mark Kelly, the commander of Air Combat Command, said last month that the USAF could lose such a fight. He noted that China has already claimed parts of the South China Sea "without firing a shot."

Supremacy and superiority

Over the years, several studies have found that America may be on track to lose its air superiority over China.

In 2015, a study at the California-based RAND Corporation think tank, of which Heginbotham was the lead author, found that while the U.S. still maintained unparalleled air-to-air capabilities, "continuous improvements to Chinese air capabilities make it increasingly difficult for the United States to achieve air superiority within a politically and operationally effective time frame, especially in a scenario close to the Chinese mainland."

A 2016 Department of Defense study on the same subject noted that emerging integrated and networked air-to-air, surface-to-air capabilities "threaten the Air Force's ability to provide air superiority at the times and places required in the highly contested operational environments of 2030 and beyond."

"The 2016 USAF air superiority study was adamant that the U.S. was on track to lose air superiority in fighting distant wars," Layton told VOA. "The USAF has equipment modernization programs to help address this, like the B-21 and Next Generation Air Dominance fighter, but these are unlikely to make a real difference until the 2030s."

Layton argued in a blog post that the USAF's way of thinking about projecting air power had changed over the years since the Cold War. When Washington saw itself as the world's lone superpower, the common term was "air supremacy." Now, when the air threat is manageable at certain times and places, the objective is "air superiority."

The question I want answered is with a defense budget of $700 billion plus (some say it's over a trillion), what the heck have they been spending money on? wooden fighters, plastic tanks and cardboard warships? With a defense budget like such as america's, one would think that they are invincible and cannot be defeated. Yet there is a plethora of news articles about aircraft carriers in the docks due to "sequestration," shutdown of USAF's premier Stealth Fighter (F-22 Raptor) production line that cost the american taxpayers $200 million per aircraft and limiting production of the Raptor to just 187 aircraft. Considering the USAF intended to induct as many as 750 Raptors, the number of Raptors to be inducted plummeted by 563 fighters. That gives one an idea of how much the american defense industry has actually deteriorated.

Such news articles about american military conferences or symposiums or whatever they call it these days. Are meant to be scare tactics, designed to convince the american congress as well as the utterly illiterate american public, to back up the military spending to increase further more.

The reality is, China is not stupid nor is it hasty. It is highly doubtful that China would start any war over taiwan's noodling with america and the West. Strategically, China ought to know that time is on their side, not america or the West's. What is imperative for China to do, and this also goes for Russia, is to build strong and robust alliances, particularly in the immediate neighborhood. These partner countries to China and Russia, must "clean house" in order to establish stability which would result in economic stability. I am talking about Iran and Pakistan. The two countries have the potential to be comprehensive allies to China and Russia. Greater interconnectivity between China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan through the Central Asian States gives the region immense power to thwart any Western interference.

Today, america is declining at a steady pace, so is britain and france. Their economic dependence on the Petrodollar makes for an "Achilles Heel" and even though crypto currencies will take over, the death of the West as a global hegemon is certain. The cancer has spread, it's too late now to save or salvage any of them. The real danger is that they would start a global war out of pure desperation. This is where the alliances of Russia and China with Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian States, comes into play. And so this is where China and Russia should concentrate on to some extent, as majority of the work lay in those countries stabilizing themselves politically and socially, and as they do, they would become powerful enough to fight alongside China and Russia against the West.
 

K_Bin_W

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The only area China lags in is the Fabrication tech.. Right now it is at 14nm once its successful with 7 & 5.. Its game over...
 

Qmjd

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What capabiw
It will take at least a couple of decades.
What capability you are talking about china is on mars with usa.
Don't worship america it's about time chinese hold the super power status.
Usa is on downward free fall.
 

Indus Pakistan

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I am talking about Iran and Pakistan.
of them. The real danger is that they would start a global war out of pure desperation. This is where the alliances of Russia and China with Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian States
The big question is can the Chinese make this 'mob' into a unified alliance like America has done with West Europe, Turkey, Japan, Australia? I highly doubt China can get Pakistan and Iran to work together given the religious Sunni/Shia schism which is even apparent on this forum.
 

F-22Raptor

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in a couple of decades China will catch up to then US capability, not current one.
By then it will be AI and new technology based, current conventional tech would have been long something of the past.

Generational technology changes allow for rapid catch up.


The Air Force already has 5 B-21 bombers in production and pilots have already flown a 6th Gen prototype fighter as of last year breaking records in the process. It’s also closing in on 750-1000 5th Gen fighters produced as of today.

China is fighting a losing battle
 

Nasr

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The big question is can the Chinese make this 'mob' into a unified alliance like America has done with West Europe, Turkey, Japan, Australia? I highly doubt China can get Pakistan and Iran to work together given the religious Sunni/Shia schism which is even apparent on this forum.
Well my dear friend, this is where the hard hitting reality comes to fore. We stand at a pivotal moment in history, where there is unmistakable opportunity for Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan to begin working toward a step-by-step understanding of each other. There are two ways to go about this, one which is the pragmatic and plutonic way, where diplomacy is the sort of hooker soliciting favors. The other way, and I know most will hate this one, is to bring together a coordination council where Shia-Sunni rapprochement is established without the influence of any Najdis, Turks or Misrees.

If we are to learn from history, then it teaches us that the enemies of Islam have viscously exploited the Shia-Sunni divide over the last 100 years. The Middle East is riddled with tales of such exploitations and deceit. So it is time now for the Muslims of this region, who neither Arab, nor Turk or Egyptians to bring about a paradigm shift on this Shia-Sunni divide. The first on the chopping block to roll off, are the zealots on either end of the spectrum.
 

Beidou2020

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The Air Force already has 5 B-21 bombers in production and pilots have already flown a 6th Gen prototype fighter as of last year breaking records in the process. It’s also closing in on 750-1000 5th Gen fighters produced as of today.

China is fighting a losing battle
China was focusing on sorting out the domestic engine issues before beginning mass production. Now that domestic engine are in mass production, the production of J-20 will rapidly accelerate. Watch how quickly China closes the numerical gap.
 

Abid123

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Does not matter when. The USA knows that it will lose a conventional war with China and lose badly. The American regime is always looking for war. China is the most peaceful country out of all the global powers. China's last war was in 1979. Thats 42 years ago.

Talking about a possible US-China war in the South China sea. China will win 100%. American aircraft would not even get off the runway before being hit by layers of Chinese missiles. If not your supply chain will be crushed. There is no runway for you to land on. There will be no fighters for you to encounter. American aircraft carriers would be sitting ducks against China's hypersonic missiles such as the DF-17. The US army will die horribly if they dare invade. Surrounding bases would also be erased off the map in an instant resulting in nothing for the planes to land on. To make it worse China's missiles can all be launched in multiple platforms and is mobile and can move after launch rendering any attack useless.
 

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