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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Countering China's Anti-Access Strategy: The US Perspective Part I

Image 1: F-22 aircraft visiting Andersen AFB Guam from Joint Base Langley-Eustis VA.


The Obama Administration has initiated the "Pivot" strategy which involves the United States increasing its political, economic, and military presence in the Asia-Pacific region (Moss, 2013). Although the focal point of most discussions is the increased military build-up, the economic and political aspects of the Pivot are fundamental to increasing American soft power in the region. The current perception of many leaders in the PRC (People's Republic of China) military establishment is the Pivot is an attempt by the United States to militarily contain China in a similar manner as the Soviet Union was contained by the West (Stokols, 2013). The US military's effort to "rebalance" the region stems from China's aggressive military modernization program. Since 2003, the budget of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has increased on average by 9.7% each year; current DOD estimates put the PLA's full budget between $135 and $215 billion dollars ($180 billion is often cited).

The major focus of PLA spending is to enact the anti-access island chain strategy. Area denial weapons such as new attack submarines, cruise missiles, surface to air missiles, and anti-ship ballistic missiles have been procured in large numbers by China over the past decade. Power projection assets such as aerial refueling aircraft, fleet replenishment ships/oilers, and aircraft carriers have been largely neglected in comparison from a budgetary standpoint.

In response, the United States is in the midst of developing and procuring an arsenal of weapon systems designed to disable and destroy China's anti-access assets as part of the air/sea battle concept.

"The ASB [Air Sea Battle] Concept’s solution to the A2/AD [anti-access/area denial] challenge in the global commons is to develop networked,   integrated forces capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces (NIA/D3). ASB’s   vision of networked, integrated, and attack-in-depth (NIA) operations requires the application of cross-domain   operations across all the interdependent warfighting domains (air, maritime, land, space, and cyberspace, to   disrupt, destroy, and defeat (D3) A2/AD capabilities and provide maximum operational advantage to friendly joint   and coalition forces." - From summary of Air-Sea Battle Concept and Air-Sea Battle Master Implementation Plan (FY13)

The purpose of this series of articles is to list the existing programs that are most vital to ensuring America's continued access to the Pacific in the event of hostilities with China. A list of eleven prudent recommendations follows the list of weapon systems currently being developed.

Existing Critical US Defense Programs 2013

  1. F-35 Lightning II
  2. Long Range Strike Bomber (LSR-B)
  3. Gerald Ford Class Super Carrier
  4. Ohio Class Replacement Program
  5. GPS III
  6. Aegis Combat System 
  7. KC-46 (KC-X)
  8. Virginia Class Nuclear Attack Submarine
  9. ADM-160 MALD
  10. MQ-4C Triton
  11. Long Range Anti-Ship Missile
  12. Next Generation Jammer
  13. Littoral Combat Ship
  14. UCLASS
The aforementioned programs are each at different stages of development/procurement. However, they are all deemed by the author to be of the highest level of strategic importance to the future security needs of the United States. These systems will be instrumental to countering China's anti-access assets and securing American power projection into the Pacific region. The American strategy will revolve around projecting overwhelming air and sea power.

Recommended US Actions

(1) Cultivate Strategic Alliances 

A worldwide network of bases and logistic assets coupled with the fact that the US Navy's combined tonnage is equal to that of the next 13 largest navies combined allows the United States to project power like no other nation throughout history (Gates, 2010). The United States certainly has the capacity to act unilaterally on many security issues but it pays to work with regional partners and attain the backing of the international community. America's strategy of building long lasting strategic alliances has served it well over the course of the last century.

"The fundamental pattern of international relations is that as a country becomes powerful and asserts itself, others gang up to bring it down. That's what happened to the Habsburg Empire, Napoleonic France, Germany and the Soviet Union.  There is one great exception to this rule in modern history: the United States. America has risen to global might, and yet it has not produced the kind of opposition that many would have predicted. In fact, today it is in the astonishing position of being the world's dominant power while many of the world's next most powerful nations--Britain, France, Germany, Japan--are all allied with it." - Fareed Zakaria, 2013

At present, there is no logical reason why the same historical trend should not apply in the case of China. As China continues to increase its military budget and assert itself in a series of territorial disputes with India, Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines, other powers have taken notice.

"As a group, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand are slated to spend about $1.4 trillion on military programs between 2013 and 2018, an estimated 55% increase over the $919.5 billion the countries spent between 2008 and 2012." - Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN), 2013

A recent Pew research poll, America’s Global Image Remains More Positive than China’s, involving participants from 39 countries shed some light on current relations between China and its regional neighbors. Some important points from the survey for the purpose of this article are: American soft power (e.g. economic, political, technological, and cultural ties) remains very popular abroad - Most Asian countries view the United States favorably and as a partner by significant pluralities - Very few countries held a positive view of China in regards to its military growth and territorial assertiveness.

"Strong majorities in the Philippines (90%), Japan (82%), South Korea (77%) and Indonesia (62%) think that such territorial disputes with China are a big problem for their country. This is particularly the case in the Philippines, where 58% of Filipinos say such friction with China is a very big problem...In a related issue, many of China’s Asian-Pacific neighbors are quite troubled by Beijing’s growing military power. Nearly all Japanese (96%) and South Koreans (91%) and strong majorities of Australians (71%) and Filipinos (68%) think China’s expanding martial capabilities are bad for their country." - Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, 2013

Countries that view territorial disputes with China as a significant problem and countries that view China's rapid military rise as problematic should be considered as possible candidates for further military cooperation and assistance by the US. Cultivating military partnerships with these nations will bring many benefits to US forces: additional manpower, more materiel, shared intelligence, increased deterrence, new training opportunities, greater international backing, more favorable public opinion abroad, and access to new geographically diverse base locations. The Obama Administration has sought to increase military and political ties with Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Australia as part of the Pivot. Recently, the Australian Government has graciously agreed to host 2,500 US Marines in existing Australian bases (New York Times, 2011). Another recent development with regards to the Pivot was made as part of the US-Singapore Strategic Framework Agreement. The Government of Singapore has agreed to allow the United States to station four littoral combat ships in Singapore. Despite the recent gains, there is much more that needs to be done.

The current position of US forces in the Pacific is somewhat tenuous with regards to bases. In order to most effectively project air power, aircraft need to be deployed within 500 nautical miles from their intended target (RAND, 2008). Bases beyond 500 nautical miles away cause a set of logistic problems and reduced sortie generation for aircraft. However, maintaining airbases too close to hostile forces presents its own set of problems, "If they enemy is in range, so are you." The vast majority of US airbases in the Pacific are either too close to China or are far enough away to reduce operational effectiveness. The graph below shows a list of airbases in terms of their proximity to the Taiwan Strait.

RAND image

The United States could better its position if it were to establish new air and naval bases that better meet the aforementioned distance criteria. In particular, reestablishing Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines and a naval presence in Cam Ranh Bay Vietnam would significantly bolster the American presence in the Pacific. Due to the increased belligerence of China in regards to territorial disputes with both Vietnam and the Philippines, the United States has been able to secure some limited rotational force agreements. However, the current measures should be build upon and expanded if possible.

The United States should engage in further cooperation with both the Philippine and Vietnamese militaries by providing training assistance, military advisers, logistic support, access to fairly high-end weapon exports, and even limited technology transfer agreements (if requested). While adopting these hard power measures, methods of increasing soft power within the Philippines and Vietnam should be reviewed. Understandably past historical interactions between the United States and these two countries do not heighten the chances of establishing new bases within these countries. However, these measures would hopefully increase the likelihood of securing permanent bases sometime within the next decade or at the very least demonstrate good will on behalf of the United States and renew the current rotational force agreements. In summary, it is in the best interest of the United States to promote the military standing of both the Philippines and Vietnam at this time and build upon the already established positive perception of the United States in Asia through soft power means.

(2) Reduce Army Funding, Increase Navy and Air Force Funding 

“Since fiscal year 1948, the Army, Navy, and Air Force have on average received 28 percent, 31 percent, and 33 percent, respectively, of DOD’s annual budget. Hot war, cold war, or no war – the allotment of the services’ budgets has remained relatively constant over time.” - Travis Sharp, 2011

Most of the US military establishment foresees the next war to be a high intensity conflict involving the integration of air and sea based assets (e.g. air sea battle concept). In line with this thinking, many strategic planners believe the US Army to be of less importance than the Navy (+ Marines) and Air Force. The reality is the Navy and Air Force need more funding to fulfill their objectives in the re-balancing of the Asia-Pacific while the threat of a major ground campaign in Europe as planned during the Cold War is much less relevant than it used to be. Sequestration is only making the current situation more severe.

“Unready forces, misaligned global posture, inability to keep pace with emerging threats, reduced security cooperation , and failure to maintain a high quality All Volunteer Force are all becoming increasingly likely the longer sequestration in its current form persists.” - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, 2013

With the golden ratio in effect, the USAF and USN budgets would not increase unless all branches of the military received a boost to spending. The current fiscal reality coupled with the absolute gridlock in Congress means ending sequestration, let alone improving the financial outlook of the United States, is a far fetched reality. Therefore, the armed forces will mostly likely have to make due with the current amount of allocated spending. The Army's budget should not be "gutted" but limited cuts to the Army in order to shore up important Navy and Air Force programs would be prudent.

Luckily, there are members of Congress who understand the current budgetary allocation problem:

"The 'fair-share' approach is antithetical to good strategic planning and the Pentagon, whatever the size of its budget, cannot afford to continue on this course...Real strategic choices should not be built on fair budget percentages but on hard calculations about the types of capabilities the Combatant Commanders need to meet the missions we ask them to execute. Instead of talking in terms of percentages, we should seek to answer questions of strategy and budgets by asking what we anticipate the national security environment will look like over the next five, 10 and 20 years...Going forward, the Pentagon needs to better translate its strategic priorities into new resource-allocation priorities. This should mean investing in a mix of capabilities that can operate in environments that are becoming contested by anti-access/area-denial networks. To achieve this, traditional assumptions about how our military conducts sea control, projects power, or operates in the electromagnetic spectrum will need to be challenged. - Congressmen J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Rick Larsen (D-WA), House Armed Services Committee.

(3) Forward Deploy Raptors to Andersen AFB

Image 5: Raptors assigned to the 199th FS based at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Hawaii. A total of 20 Raptors are assigned to the 199th FS.

"The F-22 was envisioned as the the ultimate air superiority fighter against a large enemy force of sophisticated aircraft. It was designed, built, and has evolved into the best air superiority fighter in history." - Lou Drendel, 2010

The USAF intended to acquire 383 Raptors to replace its fleet of F-15C aircraft, procure the F/B-22 to replace the F-15E strike eagle, and acquire nearly 2,000 F-35 JSF aircraft to replace its F-16 fleet (Drendel, pg. 53, 2010). The plan would have continued the USAF's successful high/low fighter mix procurement strategy. However, the tumultuous fiscal situation the United States Government is now suffering from made the implementation of the original procurement plan unfeasible. In a shortsighted move, Raptor production was terminated in 2009 and the USAF received only 187 airframes of which 149 are combat coded at any one time (Schanz, 2011). The remaining 187 airframes represent a crucial component in the USAF's future dedicated aggregate air superiority capabilities alongside 176 older F-15C's which will be retained and upgraded into the early 2030s.  

Due to the limited and fixed number of airframes, deployment of the F-22 must be made in such a way as to maximize the standing of the USAF in the Pacific. The following is the current Raptor deployment (NOTE: aircraft used for training and test and evaluation aircraft stationed at Nellis and Andrews AFB were committed from this list). 

Elmendorf-Richardson AK (30), Pearl Harbor-Hickam HA (20), Langley-Eustis VA (30), Tyndall FL (56) 
- Source: AIR FORCE Magazine, Moving Time, September 2011

The USAF's reasoning for the current Raptor deployment is as follows: 

"The reorganization came in the aftermath of Congress’ termination of the F-22 line in 2009, rendering inefficient the old plans for a broader force structure. Last July, the Air Force first announced its plan to form the most 'effective' basing alignment—essentially requiring the redistribution of aircraft from one F-22 unit to four different Raptor bases...Senior Air Force leadership said they settled on the arrangement after a survey of four Raptor bases, looking at feasibility, timing, cost, and planning factors, which would influence whether or not more F-22s could be supported. Site survey results and 'military judgment' were factors in the decisions, the Air Force said in its July 2010 plan announcement. The plan 'maximizes combat aircraft and squadrons available for contingencies'” - AIR FORCE Magazine, 2011

In effect, the current allocation of Raptors came down to the issue of cost not optimal force deployment for the United States' future security needs. The influential Quadrennial Defense Review report concluded that the United States must allocate more combat assets to the Asia-Pacific region to implement the Pivot. Since the release of the QDR 2010 report, the the Navy, Marine Corps, and Army have all undertaken measures in compliance with the "Pacific first" deployment strategy. The Navy plans to transfer a substantial number of its assets from the Atlantic (mostly from Europe) with the goal of deploying 60% of its total warships to the Pacific by 2020 (Panetta, 2012). The Army also plans to transfer its combat units out of Afghanistan and Iraqi to the Pacific bases (Defense News, 2013). The Marine Corps also plans to station a large contingent of forces in Pacific bases at Guam, Australia, Hawaii, and Japan. Furthermore, the very first F-35B's the Marine Core will receive are to be stationed in Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) at Iwakuni Japan along with new V-22 Osprey aircraft (IHS Janes, 2013). 

The USAF is far behind all other branches of the US Military in terms of complying with the Pivot. The only notable transfers made by the USAF to the Western Pacific are a few RQ-4 Global Hawk and U-2 aircraft. The 20 F-22 aircraft stationed at JB Pearl-Hickam is certainly a welcome move but more Raptors are needed in closer proximity to US Western Pacific allies and China itself. Air Force planning does not sufficiently take into account the current strategic reality faced by the United States with regards to Raptor deployment. 

Image 6: F-22 from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson visiting Andersen AFB Guam.

Therefore, the author strongly recommends the USAF transfer one full squadron (24 aircraft) of F-22's from Tyndall AFB to Andersen AFB in Guam. Such a transfer would likely be impossible without recommendation two, the reduction of US Army funding and transfer to USN and USAF. Out of the four main bases that operate the F-22, Tyndall was the logical choice for receiving the largest contingent of F-22s due to its substantial training infrastructure. However, with more funds available as a result of recommendation two, moving F-22's to Andersen AFB becomes the preferred option. The permanent forward deployment of America's most capable air superiority asset to the Pacific would result in several advantages: confidence of allies in regards to US commitment in the region, increased international training opportunities for Raptor pilots, and most importantly a substantial increase in air-to-air capabilities for US forces deployed to the Pacific.

Of all the bases currently maintained by the United States in the Pacific, Andersen AFB would be the logical site to deploy Raptors from. Guam is arguably the single most important base to US power projection in the Pacific. 

"Guam currently hosts a range of US military facilities, divided between US Navy and US Air Force assets. In the near future, Guam will also have a substantial US Marine Corps presence, as units are relocated from Okinawa in Japan. The US Air Force presence is concentrated at Andersen AFB, home base to the base support 36th Wing, and now hosts a permanent deployment of heavy bombers, rotated through the base from US...Andersen is expanding and upgrading its facilities, including an RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV maintenance complex. In strategic terms, Andersen is a key geographical hub for the US Air Force, as it provides for coverage of South East Asia and Southern China. Moreover, it sits outside the striking radius of most aircraft based on the Asian mainland, unlike the bases in Japan and South Korea. The US Navy’s presence in Guam is no less important strategically, with facilities centred around Apra Harbour, a natural deep-water anchorage on the western coast of Guam...Guam is a critical basing hub for the US Navy, not only hosting the submarine squadrons intended to patrol the West Pacific, but also providing a logistical node for replenishment of surface fleet assets such as carriers and supporting surface combatants with munitions, fuel and other stores and provisions." - Kopp, 2008

Image 7: B-2 Spirit bomber with F-22 escort over Guam. Andersen AFB is one of only three overseas bases capable of supporting the B-2 (the others being Royal Air Force Fairford in the United Kingdom and Diego Garcia). A strike package of 24 Raptors with four B-2 Spirit bombers would provide a powerful deterrent to China.

Due to Guam's vital strategic importance, measures must be taken in order to ensure it is appropriately defended. Andersen has one of the largest airfields in the world and can provide the support assets and infrastructure needed for a squadron of F-22 aircraft. Furthermore, the base is out of range of all but the most long range PLA weapon systems. H-6 Badger bombers coupled with DH-10 missiles are theoretically capable of striking Guam. However, US assets such as the 12 US Army Patriot batteries assigned to the Asia-Pacific and Standard Missile Block IA + Standard Missile Block II launched from Flight IIA Arleigh Burke destroyers are more than capable of intercepting both the DH-10 cruise missiles and the H-6 bombers. However, the current deployment of USAF assets does leave Guam vulnerable to the stealthy J-20.

Many aviation experts, such as Bill Sweetman, believe the J-20 is a long range strike aircraft that would act similar to a "stealth F-111". Strike aircraft in the same class as the F-111 have a combat radius between 1,000 to 1,500 nautical miles meaning the J-20 is potentially capable of striking targets in the second island chain like Guam (Kopp, 2011). The annual report to Congress had a similar assessment of the J-20's capabilities:

"Similarly, current and projected systems such as the J-20 stealth fighter and longer-range conventional ballistic missiles could improve the PLA’s ability to strike regional air bases, logistical facilities, and other ground-based infrastructure...The J-20 will eventually give the PLA Air Force a platform capable of long range, penetrating strikes into complex air defense environments." - ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011

The best counter to the 5th generation J-20's is another 5th generation aircraft such as the F-22. Despite the Chinese aerospace industry's continuing problems in the manufacturing of high performance turbofan engines and AESA radars, the J-20 will outclass existing deployed USAF platforms in the Asia-Pacific such a the F-15C's operated by 44th and 67th FS based at Kadena AFB and the 35th FS and 80th FS which operate F-16C/D's based at Kunsan AFB. US forces in the Asia-Pacific are in desperate need 5th generation capabilities. Although the F-35 will certainly help in this regard, Marine and USAF units will not achieve initial operational capability (IOC) with the Lightning II until 2015 and 2016 with 10 and 12 deployed units respectively at IOC (Aviation Week, 2013). Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense predicts in its annual assessment that the J-20 could reach IOC by 2018. However the US intelligence community has a habit of routinely underestimating the speed and quality of Chinese weapon development programs until after they have made IOC.

Image 8: The Chengdu J-20 is the second stealth aircraft built outside of the United States and makes use of many of the radar reduction measures employed on the F-22 such as planform alignment, chined nose and aligned trapezoidal inlets (although the J-20 makes use of DSI like the F-35). The combination of these shaping techniques coupled with RAM likely grants the J-20 a low observable radar cross section. However, the addition of canards and lack of substantial rear stealth reduction measures means the J-20's stealth characteristics are inferior to both the F-35 and F-22.

The deployment of Raptors to Andersen will ease the transition to the F-35 in the Pacific and will provide immediate 5th generation capabilities to US forces operating near China. At the very least, the USAF should station a constant rotational force of at least 12 F-22 aircraft in the Pacific at all times. The USAF has stationed Raptors at both Kadena and Andersen on rotational deployments in the past. Furthermore, the rotational force option should be well within the USAF's pre-sequestration budget.

 Part II - Increasing US Force Survivability

Recommendations 4-11 will be published in subsequent parts of this series of articles. 

Related Articles from this Blog 

China's Anti Access Strategy Part I
China's Anti Access Strategy Part II: Air Power


  1. America’s Pivot to Asia: A Report Card, Trevor Moss, 2013.
  2. Wheels Up! Has Obama Really Pivoted to Asia? Phillip Saunders and Katrina Fung, 2013.
  3. What China Thinks About Obama's "Asian Pivot", Andrew Stokols, 2013.
  4. Bold Projections Taken Out of Context Overstate China’s Leeway for Military Budget Growth, Defense Industry Daily, 2012.
  5. The military balance, The Economist, 2013.
  6. Annual DoD Report Claims Steady Chinese Military Expansion, Defense News, 2013.
  7. U.S. Asian Allies Raise Regional Stakes With Military Spending, Aviation Week, 2013.
  8. When GPS fails, this speck of an electronic device could step in, University of Mitchigan, 2013.
  10. Time Running Out for Taiwan if Russia Releases S-400 SAM, Defense News, 2013.
  11. Navy’s Top Geek Says Laser Arsenal Is Just Two Years Away, Spencer Ackerman, 2012.
  12. Watch the Navy’s New Ship-Mounted Laser Cannon Kill a Drone, Spencer Ackerman, 2013.
  13. Navy Wants Lasers on Marines’ Trucks to Shoot Down Drones,  Spencer Ackerman, 2013.
  14. The Long Reach of Aegis, Robbin Laird, 2012.
  15. The F-35 and the Future of Power Projection, ROBBIN F. LAIRD and EDWARD T. TIMPERLAKE, 2013. 
  17. America the Isolated? Fareed Zakaria, 2013.,9171,2143560-1,00.html
  18. Air Sea Battle, 2013.
  19. Robert M. Gates, Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition, 2010.
  20. US Department of Defense FY 2014 Budget Takes off in the House, Stalls in the Senate, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.
  21. U.S. Seeks Expanded Role for Military in Philippines, NY Times, 2013.
  22. Rebalance the Pentagon’s Golden Ratio, Travis Sharp, 2011.
  23. The Pentagon’s Fair-Share Budget Strategy, Representative Forbes and Larsen, 2013.
  24. Is this the lightweight fighter of the future? Dave Majumdar, 2013.
  25. The Next Lightweight Fighter July–August 2013 Air & Space Power Journal 39, Col Michael W. Pietrucha, USAF.
  26. White House Must Bolster Pacific Strategy Across Government: Former CNO, HASC Members, Breaking Defense, 2013.
  27. Panetta Outlines New Weaponry for Pacific, NY Times, 2012.
  28. Special Report: Military Logistics US Pacific Shift Has Heavy Logistics Price Tag, Defense News, 2013.
  30. U.S. Plans Naval Shift Toward Asia, WSJ, 2012.
  31. A U.S. Marine Base for Australia Irritates China, NY Times, 2011.
  32. Panetta’s Cam Ranh Bay Visit Symbolizes Growing U.S.-Vietnam Ties, Jim Garamone - American Forces Press Service, 2012.
  33. USMC readies F-35B for service, for deployment to Japan, IHS Janes, 2013.
  34. F-35B Joint Strike Fighters and More V-22 Ospreys Destined For Japanese Bases, Richard Dudely - Defense Update, 2013.
  35. U.S. Increasing Military Presence in the Philippines, Luke Hunt - The Diplomat, 2012.
  36. Guam  Tip of the spear, Carlo Kopp, 2008.
  37. Chengdu J-XX [J-20] Stealth Fighter Prototype A Preliminary Assessment, Carlo Kopp, 2011.
  38. USAF Accepts Limited Capability With 2016 F-35 IOC, Amy Butler - Aviation Week, 2013.
  39. USAF F-22 Raptors participate in Trident Warrior 2013, Dave Majumdar - Flight Global, 2013.
  40. Chengdu J-20 could enter service by 2018, Dave Majumdar - Flight Global, 2012.
  41. Washington Watch, Air Force Maganzine, 2012.
  43. ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, Deparment of Defense, 2011.
  44. B-2 Deployments, Global Security, 2011.
  45. B-2 Shelter System [B2SS] Extra Large Deployable Aircraft Hangar Systems (Formerly: B-2 Shelter Program), Global Security, 2011.
  46. Air Force sent B-2 bomber shelters to forward operating locations in England, Diego Garcia, Assocaiated Press, 2002.
  47. U.S. Plans Naval Shift Toward Asia, WSJ, 2012.
  48. Moving Time, Marc V. Schanz - AIR FORCE Magazine, September 2011.
  49. F-22 Raptor in Action, Lou Drendel, 2011. ISBN-10: 0897476271
  50. CJCS Gen. Dempsey Signals Strategy Change; Cites Sequestration, Decline Of State Power, Technology Spread,   COLIN CLARK -Breaking Defense, 2013. 
  51. Back to the Future: The U.S. Navy Returns to The Philippines, James Hardy - The Diplomat, 2012.
  52. The Philippines’ Search for Strategic Partners, Julio Amador III - The Diplomat, 2013.
  53. America’s Global Image Remains More Positive than China’s, Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, 2013.
  54. Air Force FB-22 Bomber Concept, Christopher Bolkcom - CRS Report for Congress, 2004. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Updates July 2013

Image 1: Japanese F-2 fighter.

Every month or so I try to give viewers an idea of as to what I"m up to. Two articles are currently nearing completion: Defeating China's Anti-Access Strategy: The US Perspective and Implications of the Potential Russia-China Arms Deal. One of the two should be published by Monday. Also I'm experimenting out a gadget on blogger. You can decide which article I prioritize to work on and publish first out of the list given on the top right side bar; I try to be as accommodating to my audience as possible.

Furthermore, I plan to publish a number of shorter opinion pieces in an effort to boost content and hopefully shorten the average lengths of articles. Last time I tried to show my colleagues some of my work, they responded with "cool story brah" and tltr (too long; didn't read). So I'll try and work on not being verbose. I can't help it in some cases though as the topics covered here are often technically complex.

As far as news is concerned, here are a few interesting developments:

  1. U.S. Seeks Expanded Role for Military in Philippines - NY Times 
  2. AIM-9X Block III to Become a BVR Missile - Defense Update
  3. South Korea reopens bidding for stalled fighter jet competition - Reuters
  4. 100th F-35 enters final assembly - Flight Global
  5. KAI Publishes Small KF-X Concept - Aviation Week 
  6. South Korea’s F-X Project and Structural Disarmament - The Diplomat
  7. White House Must Bolster Pacific Strategy Across Government: Former CNO, HASC Members -Breaking Defense 
  8. In Symbolic Move, US Delays Delivery of F-16s to Egypt - Defense News 
  9. RIAT: Multi-role Typhoon 'over-delivering', RAF official claims - Flight Global

Thursday, July 18, 2013

F-35 vs F-15SE: South Korea's F-X III Competition - Part IV The Silent Eagle

Integrated Air Defense Penetration Capabilities 

To Review - Relevant Information From Previous Studies 

  • F-X III finalist must be able to suppress the North Korean IADS with minimal losses
  • F-X III finalist should ideally be capable of supporting the American "Pivot" in the Pacific 
  • The North Korean integrated air defense system (IADS) is obsolete and bares many similarities to the Iraqi IADS which was successfully dismantled by collation forces in 1991. 
  • The silent eagle F-15SE likely has a frontal radar cross section (rcs) in the range of .1-.025m^2 (.05m^2 chosen for simplicity's sake). 
  • The side and rear aspects of the aircraft are not stealthy. 
  • The aircraft remains easily detectable in the IR spectrum. 
  • The F-15SE can bank to a maximum of 15 degrees in either direction. Beyond 15 degrees, the low observable qualities are compromised as a 90 degree surface is exposed to enemy radars (Trimble, 2012, Source 51). 
  • Low probability intercept mode likely in APG-63(V)3 or APG-81(V)1. Radar warning receiver (RWR) passive detection minimal concern in North Korea but Chinese systems are more capable. 
  • The silent eagle does not feature a minimally detectable communication system and uses Link-16 and Have Quick II.  Emission locator systems are capable of detecting these emissions. 
  • North Korean emission locator systems likely non-existent. China does possess these capabilities. 

Boeing markets the low observable features of the silent eagle as a means to operate in high threat environments while enemy air defenses are still active during the opening days of the conflict. Once enemy air defenses have been suppressed, ground crews can modify the silent eagle into its conventional configuration for missions which require extensive ordinance delivery. Boeing's claims in regards to the silent eagle's IADS penetration capabilities will be examined in the case of North Korea. 

The North Korean IADS system is largely comprised of Cold War relics such as the S-75 (SA-2), S-125 (SA-3), and S-200 (SA-5) surface to air missile systems (SAM). Most of these systems rely upon late 1950s to 1960s era radar technology with some 1980s radar systems. According to the Department of Defense and IMINT Analysis, the following radar systems are used by North Korea: P-12/18 (SPOON REST), P-14 (TALL KING), P-35/37 (BAR LOCK), P-80 (BACK NET), 36D6 (TIN SHIELD), JY-8 (WALL RUST), 5N69 (BIG BACK), P-8/10 (KNIFE REST), P-15 (FLAT FACE), P-15M (SQUAT EYE), PRV-11 (SIDE NET), and PRV-13 (ODD PAIR). The highlighted systems appear in the graphs below. 

All image credit for radar detection images goes to Air Power Australia

The most threatening North Korean radar systems to the silent eagle are the P-18 Spoon Rest and the P-14 Tall King. Both the P-18 and P-14 are very high frequency (VHF) radars. VHF radars are less affected by the shaping techniques used by most stealth aircraft which are optimized against the X-band and S-band (most fighter radars and SAM systems utilize one of the two). The F-15SE likely has a radar cross section of ~.05m^2 meaning it would remain undetected until it was 40 nautical miles away from a S-18 Spoon or ~60 nautical miles away from a P-14 Tall King radar system.

In the worst case scenario where North Korean radars manage to locate the silent eagle at 60 nautical miles away, the only system capable of intercepting targets at that range is the S-200 (SA-5). The S-200 is largely incapable of hitting maneuverable aircraft like the F-15SE and is more of a threat to slow ISR assets (O'Connor, 2010, 52). Furthermore, North Korea's stockpile of S-200 interceptors consists of only 38 missiles (Johnson, Barr, Rivait, 2013, 53). The S-75 (SA-2) is more suited to intercepting maneuverable targets but has a limited maximum range of 35km-55km (19-30 nautical miles) depending upon the variant (Federation of American Scientists, 2000). Once the S-200 sites are disabled, the silent eagle can employ standoff weapons against the S-75 sites without fear or reprisal. Even if S-75 interceptors are successfully launched against the F-15SE, DEWS and anti-missile maneuvers should defeat the missile. In Desert Storm one pilot successfully evaded more than five S-75 missiles in one sortie (3:05). 

The F-15SE is capable of destroying the North Korean IADS given the selection of weapons on the DSCA report and the limited capabilities of the SAM systems employed by North Korea. However, more advanced SAM systems such as the S-300, HQ-9, and S-400 are more than capable of intercepting the silent eagle. As part II indicates, how far a stealth aircraft can penetrate into enemy airspace is usually determined by its rear radar cross section which is almost always larger than the front rcs aspect. The rear of the silent eagle is easily detectable to radar as the engine nozzles are completely exposed and planform alignment was not used on the rear flight surfaces. In summary, the silent eagle would be much less effective at suppressing a Chinese IADS system. 

Lethality - Combat History

It was a necessity to create a framework for comparing the relative strengths and weakness of different fighter aircraft. Lethality is a term that I created in order to assess the aggregate dogfighting capabilities of aircraft based from several factors: maneuverability, survivability, avionics, and weapon load/types carried.   A brief combat history of the Eagle primarily from the Israeli and American experiences will be reviewed in order to provide perspective on current South Korean - North Korean air force compositions and potential insights into how a potential air conflict would unfold. Following the combat history section, the modern silent eagle’s lethality will be assessed relative to prominent 4th and 5th generation aircraft.

The conventional strike eagle has achieved only one confirmed air to air kill in its service history which occurred during Desert Storm. The kill was rather unusual as it was accomplished utilizing a laser guided bomb against an Iraqi helicopter which was destroyed in mid-air. The weapons system officer kept the laser designator on the helicopter even after it took-off (Adcock, 2002). However, the conventional Eagle has a 104-0 kill ratio, the highest of any fighter aircraft in the history of aerial warfare. Israeli pilots are responsible for more than half of the total kills credited to the F-15. The engagements between Israeli F-15’s against Lebanese and Syrian aircraft (Mig-17,Mig-21, Mig-23) have a great deal of relevancy to current South Korea-North Korea air force comparisons. Most of the aircraft utilized by the Syrian and Lebanese Air Forces during the 1982 conflict are still in use by North Korea. The disparity in the level of training between the two Korean air forces and the disparity in training between the Syrian-Lebanese air forces and the IAF is also similar. The Israeli's won the air war decisively and eagles accounted for 40 enemy kills. 

"The Israelis put the aircraft to excellent use in the 1982 strike on the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, flying in under E-2C control for a veritable turkey shoot (to use the American term). Prior to the conflict the Israelis killed 141/z Syrian aircraft, mainly MiG-21 Fishbeds, and used the F-15 for top cover on the Osirak reactor raid. The F-15As shot down forty Fishbeds and Floggers in the Lebanese conflict, mainly using AIM-9Ls and Shafrir and Python missiles (IR), and also a photorecce Foxbat B which was downed with an AIM-7F (the film clip of the spinning Foxbat on international television was quite spectacular). The F-15A has three Foxbat kills to its credit, to date." - Kopp, 2005 

American F-15’s are responsible for 36 of the 39 air to air kills during Desert Storm. American pilots have encountered the most advanced Soviet aircraft supplied to North Korea, the Mig-29B, in two conflicts: Desert Storm and Operation Allied Force. In Desert Storm, four Mig-29B aircraft were destroyed by American F-15's (five if the January 19th engagement that resulted in the Mig-29 crashing into the ground counts). Eight years later in Kosovo, another four Mig-29B aircraft were shot down by American F-15C’s. Since the early 1990s, the sensors and weapons on the Eagle have only improved with time while the North Korean Mig-29’s have stagnated technologically. It is exceedingly unlikely that Russia would be willing to supply advanced Mig-29M or Mig-35 variants to North Korea.

In actual combat, the Eagle has definitively defeated the Mig-29B. The only instance where American F-15’s were commonly “defeated” by the Mig-29’s occurred in combat exercises in the 1990s against highly trained Luftwaffe pilots flying the more advanced Mig-29A variant. Although the Eagles had several advantages in terms of maneuverability (the Soviet’s never intended the Mig-29 to be up to par against the F-15 as that was the purpose of the more expensive Su-27), avionics, and beyond visual range missile technology over the Mig-29A, the engagements with the Germans occurred at visual range where the revolutionary helmet mount sights of the German pilots made short work of the Americans. The Soviets were many years ahead of their American counterparts in terms of deploying helmet mounted cueing technology. At the time, the Americans had no deployed equivalent to the Shchel-3UM HMD. The Shchel sight allowed the Germans to preform 45 degree off bore sight shots with their Archer missiles.

PLAAF pilot with Shchel-3UM HMD

However, the 1994 exercises with Germany are of less strategic relevance in the case of current North-South Korean Air force comparisons for following reasons:

  1. American-Israeli HMD’s have surpassed their Russian counterparts by a considerable degree since the end of the Cold War (plus its not even clear if the North Korean air force received Soviet HMDs)
  2. The Luftwaffe Mig-29A pilots are almost certainly more skilled than current North Korean Mig-29B pilots, South Korean pilots will have an extensive training advantage over the KPAF. 
  3. Since the development of the AMRAAM, the prevalence of visual range combat has decreased considerably. From the Vietnam war till just prior to Desert Storm, only a total of 4 in 527 kills worldwide were achieved using bvr radar guided missiles (RAND, 2008, 74). After Desert Storm and the Kosovo conflict, the number of kills achieved at beyond visual range jumped to 24 out of 588 kills (20 out of the 61 new kills). It is clear that both visual range and beyond visual range engagements will occur in a future air war but the historical trend does show an increased effectiveness of beyond visual range missiles. This trend will likely continue into the future with the proliferation of advanced radar guided missiles like the AIM-120D, R-77, and Meteor even with the new developments in electronic countermeasures (ECM).

[Author’s Note: in the interest of not getting grilled by my German audience (again), let me clarify that I think the the aforementioned analysis does not take away from the considerable skill of German pilots. Americans in the aforementioned exercises certainly lost engagements for other factors aside from the Shchel sight (though it was a major advantage). Ich mag die Luftwaffe. Deutsch Jagdfliegern sind ausgezeichnet.  Hopefully that means what I think it means; I’ve only taken a year of German so far :) ]

The two most advanced aircraft in the KPAF, the Mig-23 and Mig-29, have been encountered by American and Israeli F-15 pilots. Both aircraft were routinely defeated by eagle pilots. The complete dominance of the eagle over the Mig-23 and Mig-29 is can be attributed to the considerable skill of Israeli and American pilots and the lack of adequate training of their opponents. However, the training disparity between the eagle's historical opponents is similar to the current KPAF-ROKAF and USAF training disparity.

Lethality – The Silent Eagle

Both the F-35 and F-15SE are more than a match for any North Korean aircraft. The assessment of the F-15SE's "lethality" serves to provide some comparison to the F-35 which will be discussed later. As Part I of the article notes, South Korea's current leadership supports the American Pivot strategy. The silent eagle and F-35 will be compared from a lethality perspective in regards to PLAAF aircraft. The silent eagle will be compared to prominent 4th and 4.5 generation aircraft in the region; the silent eagle will also be compared to emerging 5th generation aircraft from both China.

It is important to examine whether a single criteria is so weak as too inhibit or greatly diminish the aircraft’s overall effectiveness in combat by negatively affecting lethality other traits. No aircraft, not even the Raptor, is invulnerable. Fighter aircraft have a tendency to be stronger in certain types of engagements over others; The pilot who leverages the strengths of his/her aircraft against the relative weakness of the enemy’s aircraft most effectively typically wins the engagement.

"Know and use all the capabilities in your airplane. If you don't, sooner or later, some guy who does use them all will kick your ass." - Lieutenant Dave "Preacher" Pace, USN

Maneuverability: The silent eagle’s vertical maneuverability is impressive to excellent while its horizontal maneuverability is average relative to other 4.5 generation aircraft.  

Avionics: The silent eagle’s avionics package includes some of the most advanced sensors and systems available for export.  The APG-63(V)3 and APG-81(V)1 are considerable more powerful than any other fighter radar available for export when compared to both European and Russian equivalents. The IRST pod is an issue as IRST cannot be utilized in a “stealth” configuration.

Weapons: The silent eagle can accommodate a wide assortment of impressive weapons. The limiting factor is missile load during a stealth configuration. In a stealth configuration, the F-15SE can only internally carry four air to air missiles unless South Korea plans to acquire CUDA at a later date (in which case the F-15SE can carry eight) but CUDA is not mentioned on the DSCA report presented to Congress. The AIM-120 has a demonstrated .47 probability kill (RAND, 2008). Thus, the silent eagle will have to resort to using its cannon on a regular basis in a target rich environment. In a non-stealthy mode, the F-15SE is a missile truck as it could potentially carry at least ten air to air missiles, possibly twelve depending upon the new outer-wing weapon stations. However, in a non-stealthy configuration, the silent eagle is much more vulnerable. 

Survivability: The silent eagle’s modern electronic warfare suite and frontal radar reduction treatments grant it an edge over all other 4.5 generation aircraft currently in development or on the market. However, the F-15SE’s lack of a rear stealth capability is a serious concern in a high threat environment.

Lethality vs. 4th and 4.5 Generation Aircraft 

Image 7: China is in negotiations with Sukhoi for 24 Su-35 aircraft.

The People's Republic Army Air Force (PLAAF) is undertaking several programs to bolster its air power. Most of the additions to the PLAAF in recent years are domestically produced 4th generation platforms, the J-10A/B and J-11A/B. The PLAAF still retains a sizable number of its Russian imported fighter aircraft, the Su-30MKK and the Su-27SK. The original J-10A is similar to the F-16 and acts as a light fighter for the PLAAF while the Su-27SK, Su-30MKK, and J-11A is similar to the F-15 and acts as a heavy fighter aircraft. The level of technological sophistication for most of its fighter fleet is reminiscent of the 1980s.

The PLAAF's recent domestic acquisitions are plagued with technological limitations and reliability/quality control problems. The J-11B, an illegal copy of the Su-27SK, has crashed several times in flight testing (Defense News, 2013, 64). Producing reliable domestically manufactured jet engines also remains difficult for the Chinese aerospace industry and its domestically produced aircraft suffer major performance limitations as a result. The single engine J-10 relies upon the underpowered and unreliable WS-10 engine. In recent Red Sword Blue Sword exercises (China's version of Red Flag), J-10's were completely destroyed by J-11A's (license built copy of the Su-27SK) in mock dogfights. Furthermore, Domestic radar technology, as exemplified by the J-11B's radar, is woefully inadequate when compared to modern ESA and AESA systems:

"China's current domestically produced fighter radars are comparable to late 1980s to early 1990s US fighter radars in terms of both detection power and tracking performance. The pulse doppler radar utilized in the J-11B as of 2006 was capable of tracking six to eight targets and engaging four of them simultaneously [Source 55].  The domestically produced J-10A's radar can track ten targets and engage up to four simultaneously [Source 57]. The  APG-71 radar developed for the F-14D Super Tomcat in the late 1980s and fielded in 1991 could track 24 targets and simultaneously engage six of them [Source 58]." - A Word About Chinese Military Research, Matt, 2013 

The PLAAF's acquisitions from Russia are still formidable but are starting to show their age. The Su-27SK and Su-30MKK are equipped with a NIIP N001 VE and VEP type radars which are obsolete. In the graph below, the green line second from the bottom shows the detection ranges relative to radar cross section figures for the NIIP N001. The Su-27SK and Su-30MKK would be unable to detect the silent eagle until near visual range ~30 nautical miles assuming a .05m^2 rcs.

Image 9: The green line 2nd from the bottom is the NIIP N001 radar which is equipped in the Su-30MKK and Su-27SK (N001VEP N001 and VE respectively). Image credit: Air Power Australia

The Su-27SK and Su-30MKK are equiped with an IRST but the OLS-27 IRST system is also obsolete.

"The baseline OLS-27 IRST can scan a 120x75 degree field of regard, and cover as field of view as narrow as 3x3 degrees but has poor sensitivity with a head on detection ranges cca 8 nautical miles." - Kopp, 2012

The only redeeming quality to the Su-30MKK, Su-27SK, and J-11A when compared to the silent eagle is their extensive weapon storage capacity. The silent eagle can only carry four air to air missiles in a low observable configuration while the aforementioned PLAAF aircraft typically carry eight.

"In a typical interception mission, the aircraft [Su-27SK] carries four R-73 and six R-27 missiles. Alternatively, the aircraft could carry two R-73 missiles, six R-27 missiles, and two KNIRTI SPS-171/L005 Sorbtsiya active jamming electronic countermeasures (ECM) pods on the wing-tips for self-defence." - Sinodefense, 2009

However, the Russian made fire and control systems for the aircraft listed above are not compatible with indigenous Chinese manufactured missiles (Sinodefense, 2009). The aforementioned aircraft are dependent upon Russian imported missiles such as the R-27, R-77, and R-73 missiles. Only the J-11B and J-10A/B are capable of making use of domestically manufactured missiles such as the radar guided PL-12 and IR guided PL-10.

Summary vs Chinese 4th Generation

> superior to, - equal or on par with

  1. Maneuverability: F-15SE - Su-30MKK > Su-27SK - J-11A > J-10A
  2. Avionics: F-15SE > Su-30MKK - Su-27SK - J-11A > J-10A - J-11B
  3. Weapons: Su-30MKK - Su-27SK - J-11A > J-10A - J-11B > F-15SE
  4. Survivability: F-15SE > Su-30MKK - Su-27SK - J-11A > J-10A - J-11B

  • Silent Eagle will have first look, first shot, first kill opportunities against current PLAAF aircraft
  • At visual range, JHMCS II and AIM-9X Block II grants 90° off-bore sight weapon usage vs. 45°-60° off-boresight of Archer and Shchel (depending upon variant, 60° if R-77M)
  • Maneuverability of Su-30MKK superior to F-15E in horizontal but not vertical. F-15C pilots were able to defeat the more advanced Su-30MKI which has thrust vectoring in basic fighter maneuvering exercises. Maneuverability advantage is not so great as to make it impossible for superior pilot.  
  • Avionics of current PLAAF aircraft are obsolete, silent eagle will remain undetected until near visual range. 
  • Limited weapons load in low observable configuration is problematic
Overall, the silent eagle is well equipped to deal with current Chinese 4th generation aircraft.

5th Generation Aircraft 

Although the F-15SE qualifies for the low observable designation from the frontal aspect, it fails to qualify as a true 5th generation aircraft due to its lack of side and rear stealth. China currently has two different 5th generation aircraft in development: the Chengdu J-20 and the Shenyang J-31. The lack of reliable information on the two Chinese aircraft limits any comparison between the Chinese stealth aircraft and the silent eagle. However, the lethality aspects mentioned above will be discussed based on the limited information available and educated inferences based on observable design features.

The true purpose of the J-20 is unknown but three main theories exist amongst aviation experts: a high performance air superiority fighter, a long range strike aircraft, and a counter C2ISR (Command & Control, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) asset. Given the lack of rear stealth on the current J-20 design (engine nozzles are completely exposed), it is unlikely the J-20 will serve as a long range strike aircraft unless the engine nozzles are altered in the post-prototype phase of development. Both the air to air and counter C2ISR asset theories remain plausible given what can be deduced from the current design.

PLA doctrine typically calls for the deployment of both heavy and light fighter types which is demonstrated by the deployment of the 4th generation J-11 and J-10 (Gary Li, 2012). It would be reasonable to assume the J-20 and J-31 continue the light and heavy procurement strategy if not for the fact that AVIC, the Chinese aerospace consortium which Shenyang is part of, states the J-31 is intended to serve as an export only aircraft  (Perrett, Hewson, Johnson, Sweetman, 2013, 71). However, I would not be surprised if the PLAAF acquired the J-31 anyhow.

The J-31 bares an uncanny resemblance to the F-35 which might be more than coincidental.

"In 2009, there was a forced electronic entry into the Joint Strike Fighter program and large Amounts of data were copied. According to present and former employees at the Pentagon, the attack can be traced to China. This could mean did it would be easy for China to defend itself against the aircraft (Which many western countries expect to acquire) and, Assuming the attackers have acquired enough data, They may even be viable to copy parts of it. The American chief of counterintelligence has been reported as saying that 'our networks are being mapped' with reference to American flight traffic control, and also as having warned about a situation in which 'a fighter pilot can not trust his radar.'"- Journal of Strategic Security Volume IV, Issue 2 2011

The same issues listed above for domestic 4th generation fighter production do apply for China's emerging 5th generation fighter aircraft as well. Information in regards to the specifications of the radars featured within the J-20 and J-31 are purely speculative at this time. Given the relative level of technological sophistication featured within the J-11B's radar in 2006 (which was inferior to 1980s Soviet fighter radars), I would tentatively guess Chinese radar manufactures caught up to late 1990s Russian radar technology. The J-31 has a smaller nose cone than the J-20 thus it will have a less capable radar similar to how the Raptor's APG-77 is more powerful than the F-35's APG-81. 

J-20 & J-31 characteristics analysis in regards to F-15SE:

  • Large nose cone of J-20 allows for a large element array radar but China has yet to field an AESA radar system. 
  • Best case scenario for China is a powerful but not stealthy 1,500 element TR AESA. Software for low probability intercept modes problematic
  • Unlikely that J-20 will feature a minimally detectable communication system similar to F-35 MADL. Once again, passive detection evasion remains an issue.
  • Possible inclusion of EOTS.  Both the domestically produced J-11B & J-10B feature an EOTS system. Possible development in J-20 either as upgrade post-deployment or final production variant. PAK FA T-50 prototype features an EOTS but X-35 demonstrator did not feature the EOTS and final F-35 production variant does.

Stealth Characteristics 
  • J-20 and J-31 both employ planform alignment, RAM, and DSI to lower their frontal and side radar cross section. No usage of specially shaped engine nozzles likes F-22 or F-35 means both the J-31 and J-20 lack rear stealth characteristics. 
  • It is unlikely that Chinese have mastered the complex ceramic coatings over the engine and heat sinks used on F-35 to reduce IR. 
  • Both J-20 and J-31 will be vulnerable to IRST systems.  
  • No official figures for rcs have been released, likely that J-20 & J-31 qualify for low observable designation ~.01m^2 
Maneuverability & Performance  
  • Underpowered and unreliable engines for initial production variants. Low engine performance will severely limit maneuverability and dogfighting potential especially with high combat loads. Latter variants or block upgrade could improve engines post deployment (at least ten years from now to get within current Russian counterparts). The best case scenario would involve an engine deal with Russia though it’s very unlikely. Chinese engineers have difficulty reverse engineering 1980s Russian engine technology from Su-27SK (WS-10). Even If the Su-35 deal goes through, it’s unclear if Chinese engineers would be able to effectively reverse engineer the technology from the ALF-41F1A 
  • J-31 prototype uses Russian RD-93 engines (Sweetman, 2012, 71)

Overall, the silent eagle is competitive to Chinese 5th generation aircraft. It is difficult to foresee how a potential engagement would pan out but in general it is safe to assume both the J-20 and J-31 have a lower radar cross section but the F-15SE has a much more powerful radar. Given how large (and heavy) the J-20 airframe is plus its underpowered engines, the silent eagle likely has a maneuverability advantage at least in the vertical. However, the J-20 can carry more weapons internally. The J-20 can carry six missile internally judging from the recently released pictures (center line weapon bay shown below): four in the main weapons bay and one in each of the two side bays.

Author's note: For the sake of brevity and time constraints, comparisons between the silent eagle and the PAK FA were omitted. More information on the PAK FA exists than on the Chinese stealth fighters so if viewers would like to see such an article, I can make it happen. Just let me know in the comments. 


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