ComNavOps is not an expert on Chinese fighter aircraft by any means (is anyone, really?). Still, it’s hard not to be impressed and concerned by both the range of aircraft being developed and the rate of progress. The J-20 and J-31, for example, appear to be on par or better than the F-22 and F-35, respectively, at least on paper. Honestly, if I had to choose between the J-31 or the F-35 at this point, I’d opt for the J-31. It’s likely to reach operational service sooner!
Of course, we can’t discuss this any further without recognizing that the Chinese aircraft capabilities are all manufacturer’s claims. None have been demonstrated or proven publicly. The capabilities may or may not be achievable. Just because an aircraft looks stealthy and lethal doesn’t mean it is. The LCS was going to win wars single-handed – on paper. The JSF was going to be the world’s greatest aircraft in service a decade ago and yet we still haven’t achieved Initial Operation Capability after two decades of development.
Nonetheless, the Chinese appear to have recognized that the area of interest to them, the first island chain, requires operating over a thousand mile distance and they’re developing very long range aircraft and missiles to do so. The
, on the other hand, is saddled with a short range F-35 as the cornerstone of its future air power and has been very slow to recognize the tyranny of distance and limited basing. US
As we discuss BAMS and carriers and A2/AD and LCS and whatever else, it’s obvious that we’re still mired in a very nonchalant mindset. Vague statements like, “We’ll just provide protection for our high value assets.” Illustrate the lack of critical thinking being exercised in our combat discussions. Conversely, the Chinese are clearly gearing up for a high end war and have recognized that that combat will occur over vast ocean distances. The winner of that war will be the one who has developed the ability to conduct long range combat.
This nonchalant mindset is not just limited to civilian commentators, such as us. It infects our professional military as evidenced by the continued pursuit of an F-35 that is already outclassed, a new LCS that has inherent structural flaws that no amount of additional weapons can compensate for, shrinking fleets, shrinking air wings, etc. It’s also evidenced by the weapon systems that we aren’t pursuing such as a conventional Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, a truly long range air superiority fighter, a supersonic long range cruise missile, a powerful cruiser replacement, a useful modern frigate, a connector to get Marines ashore, and dozens of other high end systems needed for the A2/AD fight.
There’s another interesting aspect at play here with regards to Chinese fighter development and that’s developmental-OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). You may recall that OODA is the theory developed by USAF Col. John Boyd that states that the winner of an air-to-air engagement is the one who can get “inside” the other’s decision making process, the OODA loop (I’ll leave it to you to investigate the OODA loop for yourself).
The OODA concept has since been applied to tactics and strategy, in general. Consider, now, though, that
is “inside” our OODA aircraft development loop. They’re producing more advanced aircraft in a faster cycle than we are (again, with the caveat that we’re talking about paper claims). Being inside our developmental loop is potentially quite troubling. The implication is that we can’t maintain a technological edge because they can produce the same technology in a shorter time frame. China
Do yourself a favor and do some research into the Chinese fighter program. I guarantee it will alter your view of the value and worth of our own efforts – and not for the better.
On a related note, the ground combat side of things is just as troubling and maybe more so.
is gearing up for high end, armored combat while we are gearing down for police actions, crisis response, humanitarian assistance, light infantry, and mobility. If those two ground forces meet, I’d want to in the high end, heavy armor force. Unfortunately, my passport says I’m on the other side. China
We can’t intelligently discuss our own weapons and systems without understanding our enemy’s. I encourage everyone to take some time and do a bit of research. You’ll find it a bit scary but necessary.