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Friday, August 30, 2013

Opinion - Syria: A No Win Situation for the United States?

[UPDATED 8/31/2013]

Tomahawk launch from Arleigh Burke class destroyer

Its been widely reported the Obama Administration is considering "punitive strikes" against the Assad Government in response to the August 21st chemical weapon attack near Damascus. The proposed strike against Syria would target the delivery systems of chemical weapons rather than the storehouses of chemical agents themselves in addition to destroying critical command and control nodes for the Syrian military. The expressed intent of these strikes by the Administration is to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons not an attempt at regime change or direct intervention in support of the Syrian rebels. The issue is not whether or not the United States has the military capabilities necessary to conduct an operation of this nature. Even with the effects of the Sequester and no support from NATO allies, US armed forces have more than enough assets in the region to conduct a unilateral cruise missile strike. Although the exact number of Tomahawks each Arleigh Burke class destroyer carries is classified, it is estimated each destroyer typically carries 45 missiles (Defense News, 2013). A total of five US destroyers are in the region: the USS Stout is en route to join the four already stationed destroyers near Syria. The following chart from Global Security shows US assets in the region:

The real issue is, to what extent, if at all, does a punitive strike against Assad advance US interests?

Historically speaking, "punitive strikes" have not benefited the United States. The Clinton Administration conducted at least two punitive strikes both of which occurred in 1998: Operation Desert Fox against Iraq and Operation Infinite Reach against Al Qaeda targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. Both of these operations were largely ineffective and were a precursor to major military operations involving US ground troops followed shortly thereafter partially as a result of the failure of these punitive strikes.

"...the Clinton administration launched four days of cruise missile and bombing strikes against Iraq. Saddam Hussein's regime had failed to comply with United Nations resolutions and weapons inspectors for a year. The goal was to 'degrade' Baghdad's ability to manufacture weapons of mass destruction and to destabilize Hussein's hold on power. The impact was negligible. Hussein held on for five more years, until the George W. Bush administration launched a ground invasion that cost hundreds of billions of dollars and nearly 4,500 American lives over the next eight years." - Robin Wright, 2013

Operation Infinite Reach which was launched in response to the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Al Qaeda training camps, facilities, and Osama Bin Laden were targeted by US Tomahawk cruise missiles. The operation was largely a failure as both Bin Laden managed to escape (possibly due to Pakistani intelligence tipping him off) and Al Qaeda continued to remain a credible threat to the United States. These previous examples of punitive strikes are relevant for the possible mission in Syria as they provide a realistic perspective of what to expect.

The notion that the United States can conduct a short, highly successful militarily campaign with little resources over a period of days and proceed to easily exit shortly thereafter has little historical precedent. The United States has a habit of entering conflicts incrementally with the end result negatively affecting the national interests of the country. Fareed Zakaria summarizes the historical trend first observed by scholar Samuel Huntington in regards to incremental US involvement:

"In the mid-1980s, the scholar Samuel Huntington pondered why the United States, the world’s dominant power — which had won two world wars, deterred the Soviet Union and maintained global peace — was so bad at smaller military intervention. Since World War II, he noted, the United States had engaged militarily in a series of conflicts around the world, and in almost every case the outcome had been inconclusive, muddled or worse.

Huntington concluded that we rarely entered conflicts actually trying to win. Instead, he reasoned, U.S. military intervention has usually been sparked by a crisis, which put pressure on Washington to do something. But Americans rarely saw the problem as one that justified getting fully committed. So, we would join the fight in incremental ways and hope that this would change the outcome. It rarely does. (More recent conflicts where we have succeeded — the 1990 Persian Gulf War, Grenada and Panama — were all ones where we did fight to win, used massive force and achieved a quick, early knockout.)" - Fareed Zakaria, 2013

Already the United States has started the process of incremental involvement within Syria as a result of increased aid given to rebel forces. A punitive strike would further commit the United States in the Syrian conflict even if the intent is not to directly aid the rebels by striking Assad. Direct support of Syrian rebels is not necessarily in the best interests of the US. In a letter to Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y,  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, concluded that even if the rebels prevailed, they would not support US interests in the region and should consequently not receive major US support.

'"Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides...It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not." - Martin Dempsey, 2013

Toppling the Assad Government by directly supporting the rebels is not in the interest of the United States if it means a radical Islamist government replaces the Assad Government. Moderate elements within the of the Free Syrian Army do not represent the entirety of rebel forces fighting in Syria. Within the last two years, the number of  foreign fighters under the command of radical Islamist groups has noticeably surged. Although Jabhat al-Nusra, an official affiliate of Al Qaeda operating within Syria, is often named by media reports, several radical Islamic groups exist within Syria: the Islamist State in Iraq and the Levant, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Ahrar Al-Sham, Abdullah Azzam brigades, Fatah al-Islam and Jordanian Salafi-jihadists (O’Bagy, 2012). This is not to say radical Islamists makeup the majority of rebel groups in Syria, but their influence has increased considerably over time and their effectiveness in combat relative to other rebel units is also noteworthy.

Source: Jihad in Syria, Elizabeth O’Bagy, 2012

By launching cruise missiles at key command and control sites, the United States would be "unintentionally" aiding rebel forces including Islamist extremists. At the moment, many analysts give the edge on the ground to Assad. Since the reinforcement of 15,000 Hezbollah troops from Lebanon, regime forces have gained momentum and have started to retake lost territory. Recently, regime forces have seized the strategically important city of Qusayr which effectively provides Assad's forces greater access to the Iran backed Hezbollah forces (Malas, Dagher, Barnes, 2013). Depending upon the intensity of the strike, Assad will be weakened and loose momentum but its highly improbable that a cruise missile strike alone would be enough to dislodge Assad even with a follow-up of coordinated rebel attacks. It is probable that the effect of the strike will lengthen then conflict, not shorten it. So what does Obama hope to accomplish with a punitive strike?

Source: Wall Street Journal

 The only individual that has explained a viable and coherent interpretation of US strategy in regards to Syria, that I have come across, is Daniel Drezner from Foreign Policy:

"the goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible.  This is exactly what the last two years have accomplished.... at an appalling toll in lives lost. This policy doesn't require any course correction... so long as rebels are holding their own or winning. The moment that U.S. armed forces would be required to sustain the balance, the costs of this policy go up dramatically, far outweighing the benefits.  So I suspect the Obama administration will continue to pursue all measures short of committing U.S. forces in any way in order to sustain the rebels." -Daniel W. Drezner

Although morally deplorable, Drezner's interpretation of US policy, if in fact it is the position of the Obama Administration, does advance US interests in a number of important ways:

  • Iran continues to commit resources in Syria and grows weaker the longer the conflict persists 
  • The more foreign Islamist fighters the Syrian conflict draws, less new foreign fighters participate in insurgency operations within US allied nations e.g. Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc. (overflow to Iraq is a potential issue however)
  • Hezbollah is predominantly concerned with Syrian conflict rather than conducting new operations against Israel 
  • A weaker Syrian Government would prove advantageous in a conflict between Israel and Iran or the United States and Iran as Syria is the only true regional ally of Iran 

The caveat of Drezner's interpretation of US policy is cost. A cruise missile strike is unlikely to put the lives of US military personnel at risk but the financial costs of such an operation are considerable. In conclusion, the United States should only conduct a cruise missile strike in Syria if cost is kept much lower than the ~$600 million dollars spent on Operation Odyssey Dawn. The strikes will aid US interest's from Drezner's perspective as it will likely prolong the conflict (weakening Iran) but its not entirely clear Obama is trying to weaken Iran by aiding the rebels. The harsh reality is, the sectarian conflict in Syria is likely to continue for a decade. The Alawite sect minority that controls the Syrian regime (Assad and most high ranking Syrian Government officials are Alawite) is the last of three minority ruled dictatorships in the Middle East. The civil war within Lebanon lasted 15 years and the civil war in Iraq lasted ten years and the violence still continues even after the US withdraw. Once again, Fareed Zakaria does an excellent job explaining the current situation in Syria and why the violence will continue for the foreseeable future:

After this cruise missile strike, the United States MUST NOT commit further resources to Syria aside from limited aid to rebels; the benefits of major US involvement simply does not outweigh the potential costs. It would have been preferable to not enter Syria in the first place but the ultimatum issue by the President puts American credibility on the line which affects America's entire sphere of foreign policy relations e.g. China. Many argue the cost of being perceived as flimsy and not following through with issued ultimatums is of little consequence. Global perceptions, especially among the adversaries and competitors of the United States matters a great deal. For example, when Reagan was first elected into office, the Soviet Union did perceive him to be a great threat. In 1981 he fired 11,000 air traffic controllers who were on strike after threatening to fire them if they did not return to work. Regan's decision to fire air traffic controllers and follow through with his ultimatum had a surprisingly large effect on Soviet relations:

"The Soviet Union was watching. They saw how the American president dealt with a national security issue, saw that his rhetorical toughness could be matched by tough action. They absorbed this, and thought about it. That's why George Shultz, Reagan's last and most effective secretary of state, said that the PATCO decision was the most important foreign policy decision Ronald Reagan ever made.” - Cody Carlson, 2012

The Soviet Union subsequently took Reagan more seriously on national security matters thereafter. The fact is, credibility of the presidency and the country itself is now on the line and US credibility has effects on every other aspect of US foreign policy. Most significantly, China is watching. How will US ultimatum's and warnings given to China in the future be perceived if we don't follow through with our statements?

I realize the United States lost too much blood and treasure in Iraq for little gain, the country needs to recover over the next decade and focus more on domestic development. Furthermore, the fight for democracy within Syria is ultimately the responsibility of the Syrian people, not the responsibility of the United States. However, as the President said, there is a cost to doing nothing. There are no "win win" options for the United States in regards to Syria, only realpolitik strategic calculations to determine how best to minimize loss.

  1. Obama’s Syria policy is full of contradictions, Fareed Zakaria, 2013.
  2. Chemical Arms Tactics Examined, Margaret Coker, 2013.
  3. Syria: One More Reason for a Return of Grand Strategy, Lazarus, 2013.
  4. British Prime Minister David Cameron loses parliamentary vote on Syria.
  5. Syrian Rebel Commanders Fear Aftermath of Airstrikes, Jay Solomon, 2013.
  6. US Military Has Myriad Ways to Strike Syria in Potential Operation, Michael Lipin, 2013.
  7. The risk of taking on Syria, Robin Wright, 2013.,0,7387106.story
  8. Jihad in Syria, Elizabeth O’Bagy, 2012. 
  9. Why Obama is arming Syria's rebels: it's the realism, stupid, Daniel W. Drezner, 2013.
  10. Dempsey: Syrian rebels won't back U.S. interests, Aamer Madhani, 2013.
  11. This week in history: Ronald Reagan fires 11,345 air traffic controllers, Cody Carlson, 2012. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Countering China's Anti-Access Strategy: The US Perspective Part II - Increasing US Force Survivability

Artistic depiction of a Chinese DF-21D missile attack against a United States carrier strike group. Image credit: Chinese military review.

Author's Note: Part I emphasized how the United States seeks to maintain continued access into the Pacific but the reasoning behind why the US needs to maintain access was not sufficiently explained. Thus, in order for audience members to better understand the reasoning behind certain recommendations, a short explanation of current PLA thinking and strategy is given below. For more information into current PLA military planning and strategies, refer to the further reading section at the end of the article. Furthermore, a glossary section is included near the end of the article for your convenience.

In order to most effectively counter China's anti-access strategy, one must first understand the People's Liberation Army (PLA) strategy to "dealing" with US and allied forces in the event of hostilities. Two main scenarios dominate the discussion for how the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC) enter a war and the island chain strategy applies for both scenarios. The first scenario involves a conflict between Japan and the PRC over disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands; the second scenario revolves around a PRC invasion of Taiwan (Department of Defense, 2013). In either scenario, US forces will initially be at a significant numerical disadvantage in the early stages of the conflict. Hence the United States will attempt to bolster its presence mostly through its vast network of regional logistic assets (e.g. air fields, naval bases, strategic airlift, etc.) and through its carrier strike groups. The PRC would seek to quickly disable already deployed US Western Pacific forces and cut them off from reviving any reinforcements by deploying its arsenal of denial (AD) weapons. By disabling key US logistic hubs, the ability for the United States to effectively project power into the Pacific will be severely limited.

"As part of its planning for military contingencies, China continues to develop measures to deter or counter third-party intervention, particularly by the United States. China’s approach to dealing with this challenge is manifested in a sustained effort to develop the capability to attack, at long ranges, military forces that might deploy or operate within the western Pacific, which the DoD characterizes as 'anti-access' and 'area denial' (A2/AD) capabilities...China’s leaders in 2012 sustained investment in advanced short- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles, counter-space weapons, and military cyberspace capabilities that appear designed to enable anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) missions (what PLA strategists refer to as 'counter-intervention operations')." - ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2013

The island chain/A2 strategy's goal is to keep US forces from intervening in any regional conflict by inhibiting the ability of the United States to project power into the Western Pacific out to the second island chain marked on the map below.

The primary purpose of recommendation five is to ensure that US Western Pacific forces can survive long enough for the United States to reinforce its presence in the region. Part III of this series will focus on how best to ensure the US reinforcements can successfully penetrate through both island chains with minimal causalities.

Increasing the Survivability of Facilities & Logistic Assets 

M2A2 and M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) in Busan South Korea

However the conflict between the United State and the PRC initially begins, a probable first move on behalf of the PRC would be to disable US air power in the region as quickly as possible. Despite the multitude of advancements made in both the quality of personnel and equipment in the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in recent years, PRC strategic planners know PACAF (USAF forces assigned to the Pacific) will retain the technological and training edge for some time. The PLA's solution to this problem is clever: launch hundreds of conventional ballistic missiles carrying either high explosive or cluster munition warheads at US regional bases,  PLAAF units can then proceed to mop-up the survivors (RAND, 2008). Qualitatively superior aircraft are of little use to PACAF when they are destroyed on the ground.

"China’s ballistic missile inventory is especially concerning if we consider the threat that they would pose when armed with specialized warheads. Stillion and Orletsky found that missiles armed with submunitions are much more effective at attacking unsheltered aircraft than missiles armed with unitary warheads. Aircraft are soft targets – large overpressures are not required to render them inoperable, only some fragmentation damage. Further, the relatively large size of an airplane (vs. a human target) means that a tight dispersal pattern is not necessary – a submunition warhead attacking parked aircraft can cover a large area: 'An 1,100-pound M-9 (DF-15) ballistic-missile warhead covers almost eight times the area when using a submunition warhead than when using a unitary warhead.'” - Gons, 2010

During the Second Taiwanese Strait Crisis in 1996, the PLA had between 30 to 50 SRBMs. As a result of China's military modernization program, the PLA now fields over 1,000 SRBMs. Not only has the PLA increased the number of conventional ballistics (SRBMs, IRBMs, and MRBMs). China has also increased the range, accuracy, and payloads of its missiles. Image credit: DOD

Rather than engaging the qualitatively superior PACAF outright on even footing, it makes much more sense for PLA forces to destroy PACAF before they could effectively mobilize or even get aircraft into the sky. RAND, a respected think tank, conducted a study examining a hypothetical PLA ballistic missile attack on Kadena Air Force base (AFB) Japan and Andersen AFB Guam. RAND determined that over 50% of PACAF aircraft based at Andersen and Kadena would be destroyed by the simulated cluster munition missile attack launched by the PLA.

Image Credit: RAND

The existing missile defense for PACAF bases is largely comprised of a multitude of US anti-ballistic missile interceptors: 12 Patriot missile units, several Standard Missile IIIA + Aegis equipped destroyers, and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile batteries soon to be based at Guam. However, the sheer number of missiles the PLA will likely launch will overwhelm the aforementioned defense systems. The current generation of anti-ballistic missile interceptors are better suited for defeating rudimentary ballistic missiles launched in limited quantities by rogue nation states rather than intercepting waves of hundreds of ballistic missiles employing countermeasures and decoys specifically designed to defeat anti-ballistic missile interceptor radars (Federation of American Scientists, 2002). Even if the current generation of interceptors could reliably defeat the decoys employed by the new generation of PLA missiles, the issue of cost effectiveness remains. Even with two decades of research and development, the current generation of interceptors are often more costly than ballistic missiles themselves. The United States cannot realistically procure enough kinetic interceptors to fully counter a substantial PLA missile attack. Thus, the PRC's missile attack will be mitigated but not stopped by existing intercepting systems.

The author strongly recommends the United States invests and procures a variety of passive defensive systems to counter the PLA missile threat rather than continuing to rely upon only active defense systems, such as kinetic interceptors. In particular, the United States should procure new advanced early warning radars, GPS jamming & spoofing equipment, and harden pacific bases. The combination of these measures would greatly minimize the effectiveness of a large scale PLA missile strike.

Advanced early warning radars:

click here for interactive version graphic shown above

Forward deployed early warning radars would be extremely valuable to US forces in the event of hostilities the PRC. An network of geographically expansive radar stations could warn US and allied forces of an impending PLA missile attack and grant a precious few minutes to prepare (move aircraft and personel into shelters, launch taxing aircraft,etc). When it comes to detection power in early warning radars, "bigger is better". The 105 foot tall AN/FPS-115 Pave Paws radar system is among the most powerful radar systems ever developed and is capable of tracking ballistic missiles from a range maximum range 3,000 nautical miles (Federation of American Scientists, 2002). Taiwan recently deployed its own AN/FPS-115 radar system purchased from the United States for $1.4 billion dollars. Given its advantageous geographic position, the Taiwanese Pave Paws radar has coverage of nearly all of China. It is highly probable the United States has arrangements with the Taiwanese Government to share the information collected by the Pave Paws (Allen Thomson, 2013). The Pave Paws system would provide a six to ten minute warning to Taiwan of an incoming PLA missile attack (Ackerman, 2013).

The closest PLA missile units to both Taiwan and US forces are deployed near the 31st Army group in Xiamen (distance from Taiwan to Xiamen is roughly 180 to 200 nautical miles). The closest US forces to China should have a roughly 15 minute warning of an incoming PLA missile strike assuming:
  1. Flight time of missiles is six minutes for 200 nautical miles from Xiamen to Taiwan = 2000 nautical miles per hour
  2. US forces based at Kadena (the closest US base to China and Taiwan) is 537 nautical miles (995 km) from Xiamen
  3. 537nm/2000nm per hour = .2685 hours = ~16 minutes 

Taiwanese PAVE PAWS system

Although large fixed sites such as the Taiwanese Pave Paws have immense capabilities, they are likely to be destroyed in the first wave of a PRC attack. Smaller, more mobile but less capable theatre range radars such as the AN/TPY-2 and 3DELRR have a higher likelihood of surviving multiple attacks. The United States should proceed with current plans to deploy a second AN/TPY-2 to Japan in addition to investigating other possible deployment sites for more early warning radars, particularly on Okinawa. Advanced ship mounted ballistic missile defense radars such as the planned Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) on DDG-51 Flight III destroyers and possibly the DDG-1000 would be very useful for providing missile defense warning. If the AMDR were fitted to stealth DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyers, the United States would possess a mobile and highly survivable early missile defense warning capability for PACAF forces.

 Harden Western-Pacific Bases:

An example of a heavily hardened US Cold War facility, Bitburg air base in Germany. Note the inclusion of several redundant runways and hardened aircraft shelters.

The process of hardening an airfield or base is achieved though the combination of several construction techniques with the goal of making the facility as resilient as possible to enemy attack. During the Cold War, the United States constructed a series of hardened airfields and command and control centers in Western Europe in preparation for war with the Soviet Union. US bases in other geographic regions, such as those in the Pacific, were considered to be much less important and not worth the effort of hardening (RAND, 2010). As the United States continues to shift its strategic priorities from Europe to the Pacific, US Pacific bases should be hardened in a similar manner as US-European bases to reflect their increased importance in their role to US deterrence. If the PLA believes it can easily knock out US regional air power in the opening days of the war though ballistic missile strikes, the US deterrent will be greatly weakened. Hardening Pacific bases in the Western Pacific in conjunction with the aforementioned measures above will greatly increase the resilience of US forces against PLA ballistic missile strikes.

Reasoning behind base hardening:

“Runways and taxiways are inherently exposed and thus also attractive targets. Because runways and taxiways can be rapidly repaired given adequate earthmoving machinery, personnel, and materials, most targeteers regard damage inflicted to runways and taxiways to be temporary and will plan to reattack frequently enough to keep an airbase closed. In the battle for the control of the air, an initial play would be to cut runways and taxiways to bottle up aircraft in shelters or revetments, with subsequent sorties planned to pick off the stranded aircraft…Mindful of this military engineers soon evolved techniques to make this strategy difficult to execute. Redundant runways, the use of longer runways than otherwise required, the use of taxiways as auxiliary runways, and variously redundant taxiway schemes were adopted. Mostly the aim of these was to force an opponent to deploy a much larger number of munitions to effect a shutdown of flying operations at such a base…Other techniques to harden airbase surfaces included the use of specialized concrete compositions, which would include aggregates or additives to increase the toughness of the concrete, making it harder to fracture even with a specialized runway busting munition. The Soviets used blast furnace slag extensively for high strength concretes.” – Karlo Kopp Air Power Australia

High value E-3 AWACS aircraft parked at Kadena. Note lack of  protection except for simple barriers. These aircraft would almost certainly be lost in a major PLA missile attack.

After a missile attack, restoring operational capability to an airfield as soon as possible will be key to ensuring the effectiveness of the forces that survive the initial missile attack. US Army engineers have found a number of solutions to repairing damaged airfields since World War II:

"Time is of the essence when repairing spalls, cracks and craters caused by enemy fire on military airfields. For decades, engineers have been searching for the most efficient and effective means to perform these repairs. Solutions have ranged from landing mats developed during World War II to a host of materials and systems investigated during the Cold War, ranging from flexible and rigid caps over debris backfill to structural systems that bridge the advances have pushed rapid-setting concrete to the forefront as a viable alternative for crater repair. Although the product has been used by the military for years to repair areas less than a cubic foot, technological advances—offering faster set times, higher early strengths and better durability under heavy loads—have made rapid-setting concrete a viable alternative for repairing larger craters. These advances have also made a variety of rapid-setting concrete products widely available off the shelf." - Chris Davis, 2009

STOVL aircraft like the F-35B and AV-8B Harrier II will be able to operate from damaged runways and will be able to protect US airbases while Army engineers repair airfields for conventional aircraft. The USMC plans to station its first F-35B's from Air Station Iwakuni (Japan) in 2015. Image credit: Lockheed Martin

Overall, PACAF airbases are incredibly vulnerable to a PLA missile attack and do not incorporate sufficient levels of hardening to ensure the protection of US aircraft. For example, Kadena air base has a total of 15 hardened aircraft shelters for its dozens of aircraft. Hardening US pacific bases would require a substantial investment to purchase: redundant runways, reinforced concrete aircraft shelters, underground fuel storage sites, and hardened runways. As the DOD budget continues to decline, it will be more feasible to implement a modest hardening program for PACAF bases rather than a large scale pan-Pacific hardening program. In a minimalist hardening effort, bases closest in proximity to China should receive priority for new hardened aircraft shelters capable of protecting aircraft from cluster munitions. In addition, fuel depots should be moved underground and runway repair materials/equipment should be prepositioned in protected shelters in the event the need to be utilized. Hardening PACAF airfields is vital to creating an effective deterrence to counter the PLA missile threat as it would prevent an early PLA knock out of US regional air power.

GPS jamming & spoofing equipment:

The PRC has made significant progress on its SRBM modernization program with the addition of advanced GPS guided missiles like the DF-15.

The PRC will no longer be dependent upon the Russian GLONASS GPS system once the indigenous Beidou GPS system becomes fully operational in 2020 (Shachtman, 2010). As Beidou becomes more capable, it is likely that more Chinese weapon systems will become more dependent on GPS guidance. This trend can already be observed in the more modern Chinese short and medium range ballistic missiles. Although GPS can dramatically improve the accuracy of munitions, GPS can be easily jammed or disabled. Most of the more modern PLA short range ballistic missiles typically carry two guidance systems: a standard inertial guidance system and a GPS based guidance system. Once the GPS has been jammed, the missile will revert to its back-up inertial guidance system which is far less accurate. For example:

"The basic variant DongFeng 11 uses an inertial guidance + terminal radar guidance, giving a circular error probability (CEP) of 500~600m . The improved DongFeng 11A uses inertial/GPS guidance system with optical correlation terminal targeting, resulting in an greater accuracy of below 200m CEP." - Sinodefense,

Without GPS guidance, even the most advanced Chinese ballistic missiles, such as the DF-21, become much less accurate.

Another method of defeating GPS guidance is through a spoofing attack.

"The goal of such attacks is either to prevent a position lock (blocking and jamming), or to feed the receiver false information so that it computes an erroneous time or location (spoofing). GPS receivers are generally aware of when blocking or jamming is occurring because they have a loss of signal. Spoofing, however, is a   surreptitious attack. Currently, no countermeasures are in use for detecting spoofing attacks." - Jon S. Warner, Ph.D. and Roger G. Johnston, Ph.D., DHS Vulnerability Assessment Team, 2003

However, it should be noted that GPS spoofing attacks are more complicated to preform than merely jamming the GPS signal. The combination of one or both of the aforementioned techniques would likely be sufficient to cause a degradation of  at least 300-400 meters (inertial guidance) in accuracy. Without GPS guidance, individual hardened aircraft shelters could not be successfully targeted with unitary warheads. A large saturation attack with cluster munitions would be unable to destroy aircraft within the hardened shelters.

Although any singular passive defensive measure listed above can be countered, if employed in tandem with one another, the combination passive defensive systems will significantly increase the difficulty of quickly knocking out US air power in the Pacific region with a ballistic missile strike. Early warning radars will alert US personnel of an incoming attack which will in turn give ground crews and pilots an opportunity to save as many aircraft as possible by parking them in hardened hangars/shelters or by initiating immediate taking-off. GPS jamming and spoofing equipment will greatly diminish the accuracy of the incoming missiles that are not defeated by kinetic interceptors meaning the likelihood of a direct hit on a hardened hangar is substantially reduced. Damage to hardened runways will be minimal unless specialized runway cratering bombs are dropped. Even so, with the right preparation, runway damage can be easily repaired within a period of hours. Repairs will be possible as STOVL aircraft, such as the F-35B, will provide a capable air defense while the airfields are being repaired. Depending upon the location of the air base, its likely that surface to air missile batteries such as Guidance Enhanced Missile TBM (GEM-T) PAC-2 Patriot or Type 3 Chū-SAM will supplement the STOVL defense.

Patriot PAC-2 missile battery. The United States has a total of 12 PAC-2 and PAC-3 batteries deployed to the Pacific. "Each Fire Unit consists of up to 16 M901 Launching Stations with a total of 64 PAC-2 Missiles [or four times that number of PAC-3], along with an Antenna Mast Group, a Radar Set AN/MPQ-53 phased array, an Electric Power Plant, and an AN/MSQ-104 Engagement Control Station. Each US Army Patriot battalion consists of four firing units [batteries] doctrinally armed with six launchers. Each launcher is either Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-2 capable or PAC-3 capable, the difference being in numberand type of missiles or interceptors that it can fire. PAC-3 launchers are capable of holding four PAC-3 pods, each of which holds four PAC-3 interceptors. PAC-2 launchers are capable of holding four PAC-2 pods, each of which holds one PAC-2 interceptor. In total, a battery fully armed with PAC-3 launchers and PAC-3 interceptors could ideally control a total of 96 interceptors, whereas a fully PAC-2 armed battery could control a total of 24 interceptors." - Global Security, 2013


  1. DongFeng 21C (CSS-5 Mod-3) Medium-Range Ballistic Missile, Sinodefense, 2009.
  2. DongFeng 21 (CSS-5) Medium-Range Ballistic Missile, Sinodefense, 2009.
  3. DongFeng 11 (CSS-7) Short-Range Ballistic Missile, Sinodefense, 2009.
  4. Targets and Decoys, Federation of American Scientists, 2002.
  7. Latest Launch Brings China Closer to ‘GPS’ of Its Own, NOAH SHACHTMAN, 2010.
  8. GPS Spoofing Countermeasures, Jon S. Warner, Ph.D. and Roger G. Johnston, Ph.D., CPP  Vulnerability Assessment Team  Los Alamos National Laboratory, 2003.
  9. A Cold War in the East China Sea? J. Michael Cole, 2013.
  10. China Hacking of U.S. Antimissile Designs May Have Looked at Decoy Issue: Physicist, Rachel Oswald, 2013.
  11. Japan Explores War Scenarios with China, J. Michael Cole, 2013.
  12. AN/FPS-115 PAVE PAWS Radar, Federation of American Scientists, 2000.
  13. AN/TPY-2  Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance – Model 2, Rathyeon, 2009. 
  15. U.S., Japan Begin Coordination on Second Radar Installation, Department of Defense, 2012.
  16. AN/TPY-2: America’s Portable Missile Defense Radar, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.
  17. Army Navy / Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TPY-2), Missile Defense Agency, 2013.
  18. There Isn't an ICBM Around that Can Sneak Past This Radar Array, ANDREW TARANTOLA, 2013.
  19. "Task One":  Airbase Survivability/Recoverability Assessment, Major David L. John USMC, 1989.
  20. Upgraded Early Warning Radar Analysis, Missile Defense Agency, 2013.
  21. Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, 2012.
  23. Access Challenges and   Implications for Airpower   in the Western Pacific  Eric Stephen Gons, 2010
  24. DongFeng 15 (CSS-6) Short-Range Ballistic Missile, Sinodefense, 2009.
  25. Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report, United States Department of Defense, 2010.
  26. Patriot TMD Deployment, Global Security, 2013.

Raptors near hardened shelters at Kadena air base, Japan. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

F-15SE Wins Korean F-X III?

There is some degree of contradiction between news sources but it appears as if the F-15 silent eagle has won the F-X III competition by default as both the F-35 and Eurofighter might have been eliminated. The F-35 was reportedly eliminated by some sources as the $10.8 billion dollar Lockheed Martin proposal exceeded the budgetary limit of $7.4 allocated to F-X III. Requests to increased the budget of F-X III made on behalf of the DAPA (Defense Acquisition Program Administration) were denied by the South Korean Government.

"The DAPA procurement agency will only confirm that at least 1 bidder was within the budget, but Yonhap News Agency confirms that the F-35 disqualified itself by bidding over budget. The Korea Times cites an unnamed “industry source” who says that Eurofighter and Boeing both bid within the limits" - Defense Industry Daily, 2013

Its important to note Lockheed has yet to formally receive a notification by the DAPA and Lockheed maintains it continues to work with the South Korean Government to find an appropriate solution.

"'The F-35 is still in the race technically for the final evaluations, but the aircraft is eliminated in reality if the DAPA announcement has no lies,' said Shin In-kyun, an analyst at the Korea Defense Network, a private defense think tank...'We’ll keep watching the situations until the DAPA’s selection committee ends,' a Lockheed official said. 'This fighter selection program is critical for the Republic of Korea’s national interests for the next 30 or 40 years ahead, and the F-35 is the only future-oriented aircraft meeting the needs.'" - Defense News, 2013

Some news sources claim that both the Eurofighter and the silent eagle remain in the competition but other media sources claim the Eurofighter was eliminated due to unilateral bidding changes made on behalf of EADS which disqualify it from F-X III.

"EADS is known as the company to have stepped out of the race, according to sources in Seoul. 'We disqualified the concerned company and will consider the remaining one firm as a candidate in the committee for defense procurement projects,' the DAPA said in a release, citing 'flaws found in the bidding documents' as reasons of the elimination.  Although the DAPA required the bidders to submit prices for 15 two-seater jets and 45 single-seat jets, EADS reduced the number of double-seater aircraft to six, and offered prices based on the British pound, according to a company official." - YONHAP News Agency, 2013

If its true that the Eurofighter has also been eliminated, than the silent eagle won by default rather than by its own merits. Both the other contenders failed to meet contract criteria on budget and documentation rather than on a scrupulous performance based evaluation which is somewhat disappointing. Although many, including myself, believed the F-35 would win the F-X III competition, its not totally surprising if the silent eagle wins the contract. The shared commonality between South Korea's existing F-15K fleet and the silent eagle is a major benefit for Boeing. Last year Boeing announced it would set up a maintenance, repair, and overhaul facility (MRO) Daegu-Gyeongbuk Free Economic Zone to support South Korea's 60 F-15Ks. Its likely that the new silent eagles would be able to take advantage of the planned infrastructure facilities and reduce costs. Furthermore, Boeing has pledged more than $1.2 billion dollars in parts and manufacturing for the silent eagle to assist South Korea.

Given the amount of contradiction between news sources and the fact that the F-35 is still technically in the race, its not safe for Boeing to celebrate just yet. Furthermore, many South Korean Air Force (ROKAF) officials have repeatedly expressed a preference for F-35 over the other F-X III contenders (Defense News, 2013). Its worthwhile to wait and see before definitely giving the win to the silent eagle even if the initial reports look promising for Boeing. Fighter procurement contracts can often be a mess resulting from budgetary, technical, and post-contract bidding related issues (e.g. India's MMRCA, Brazil's F-X2, and the UAE's Rafale contract).

For a detailed technical evaluation of the F-15SE:

Related Articles

  1. F-35 vs F-15SE: South Korea's F-X III Competition - Part I The North Korean Threat
  2. F-35 vs F-15SE: South Korea's F-X III Competition - Part II The Silent Eagle
  3. F-35 vs F-15SE: South Korea's F-X III Competition - Part III The Silent Eagle
  4. F-35 vs F-15SE: South Korea's F-X III Competition - Part IV The Silent Eagle


  1. Lockheed says S. Korea jet fighter contest not over, Reuters, 2013.
  2. Korea’s F-X Multi-Role Fighter Buys: Phases 2 & 3, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.
  3. (2nd LD) Boeing's F-15SE reportedly chosen as final candidate for S. Korea's next fighter plane, YONHAP, 2013.
  4. Sources: F-35 Bid Exceeds S. Korean Fighter Budget, Defense News, 2013.
  5. EADS’ bid to sell fighter jets is thrown out, Korean Joongang Daily, 2013.
  6. Boeing to set up F-15K MRO centre in S Korea, Greg Waldron, 2012.

F-35A, Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Author's Note: The new segment in the Defeating China's Anti-Access Strategy will be released later this week. Thank you for your continued patience. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Quick Thoughts: Japanese 5th Generation Aircraft?

I came across an interesting video posted on the Aviationist website. The CGI video shows a mix of Japanese 5th generation aircraft destroying Chinese forces in 2035. Although the video is certainly entertaining, the status of Japan's 5th generation domestic fighter program, the ATD-X, is far from materializing into anything. The planned ATD-X demonstrator is basically an F-22A; the program was created in part as a result of the export ban on the F-22 by the United States Congress. Japan's aerospace industry is a classic example of how NOT to develop new fighter aircraft. Japanese Government policy in regards to prioritizing domestic aerospace development has historically produced aircraft at exorbitant prices with little to no added benefit in capabilities.

"Japan is still trying to dig itself out of the financial hole resulting from its last national fighter, the ill-starred F-2. That warplane began development in the late 1980s as a ‘Japanization’ of the Lockheed Martin F-16, adding a bigger wing and better electronics. But the modifications, performed by Mitsubishi, proved difficult. And the limited production run – fewer than 100 copies over 20 years – made it impossible for Mitsubishi to achieve economies of scale. It’s been claimed that an F-2 costs four times as much as an F-16, without providing anywhere near a fourfold increase in capability." - David Axe, 2011

The F-2 program is just one of many minimally effective Japanese domestic aerospace development programs. In 2008 Japan cancelled its order of licence built (Fuji Heavy Industries) AH-64D Apaches from 62 to just 14 as each helicopter had a unit price of $85 million dollars; Boeing produced AH-64D's cost less than $30 million per unit. The Japanese defense industry is ill-suited to take on an aerospace mega project like the ATD-X. The Japanese military budget is limited to 1% of GDP meaning the ATD-X is doomed if past aerospace projects are any indication.

"ATD-X could eventually set Japan back $100 billion once design, production, maintenance and operations were factored in. Assuming a 40-year service life for the plane, that would mean the Shinshin could consume more than 5 percent of Japan’s roughly $50-billion-a-year defence budget – and produce just a few dozen copies." - David Axe, 2011

Its worth noting that the ATD-X won't start development in earnest until 2016-2017 meaning a final product (designated F-3) won't be viable until at least the mid 2020s and deployment in the late 2020s. By the time the F-3 fighter enters service it will be of little use. American 6th generation aircraft such as the F/A-XX and the Lockheed concept shown below are planned to enter service by 2030-2035.

If Japan really wants to develop a domestic 5th generation program, they need to make substantial reforms to their defense industry. As far as both intellectual capital and monetary resources are concerned, only the United States, China, and Russia are in a position to develop 5th generation aircraft for the foreseeable future. The prudent path forward for Japan is to learn as much as it can from co-producing the F-35 before attempting to create a new ultra ambitious aerospace program of its own.

The only 5th generation fighter program that stands a reasonable degree of success outside of China, Russia and the United States is the South Korean KF-X program. Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) is much more practical in its ambition when compared to Japan's ATD-X program. The KF-X-E concept is intended replace the the KF-16 by 2030 and features a relaxed low observable design.

"Retention of the single tail on the KF-X-E is emblematic of the limited ambition of the designers, who appear to have aimed at achieving a level of stealth above that of the Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet but well below that of the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35. The latter two, like other stealth aircraft, have canted twin tail fins." - Bradley Perrett, Bill Sweetman, 2013

KAI knows that the KF-X-E will enter service at a time where the F-35 is the dominant 5th generation export, thus its strategy is to market the KF-X-E as a 5th generation Gripen of sorts: a low cost, lower performance fighter for lower budget militaries. The KF-X program still has a very long way to go and could easily fail but other foreign stealth fighter programs are even more dubious.

Before anyone shouts at me for forgetting India, I didn't. India is trying to develop the 5th generation advanced medium combat aircraft. Given the myriad of problems with the comparatively technologically simple 4th generation HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) Tejas, I seriously doubt HAL is in any position to develop 5th generation aircraft without substantial Russian assistance in the near future. Even with Russian cooperation, the current 5th generation FGFA order was cut from 200 to 144 due to price overruns.  



Author's Note: I wrote this article in about 1 hour as opposed to a week just for the purpose of getting out content while I work on major articles. Let me know what you think, if this more relaxed style of writing is acceptable to you, I can put out more content more frequently (I would still continue the more substantial more in depth type articles as well). 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Implications of the Potential Russia-China Arms Deal

Author's Note: This article is a direct response to an audience member's request. Defeating China's Anti-Access (A2) Strategy: The US Perspective Part II will be out by next week. The poll results gave a plurality to China's Anti Access Strategy: Submarine Force with 6/13 votes. I'll start work on it shortly. I might use future polls just to see what you guys think on certain issues for the sake of my own curiosity. 

Russia and China are in the process of negotiating the sale of 24 advanced Sukhoi Su-35 air superiority fighters, four advanced air independent propulsion (AIP) equipped Lada class diesel electric attack submarines, and an unknown quantity of formidable S-400 (SA-21 Growler) surface to air missile systems (SAM).  Each weapon system will be discussed in detail and its potential impact on the region will be assessed.


The S-400 or SA-21 "Growler" is arguably the most formidable surface to air missile system in the world. The S-400 is an evolution of the S-300 system and employs modern X-band active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars and four types of missiles. The 92N2E Grave Stone AESA radar is powerful enough to pose a problem for some low observable aircraft and non-stealthy aircraft don't stand a chance at evading detection without proper electronic and cyber warfare support.

"The 92N6E Grave Stone will automatically prioritize targets, compute Launch Acceptable Regions for missile launches, launch missiles, capture missiles, and provide midcourse guidance commands to missiles while tracking the target and missile. Missile guidance modes include pure command link, semi-active homing, and Track via Missile (TVM) / Seeker Aided Ground Guidance (SAGG), where missile semi-active seeker outputs are downlinked to the Grave Stone to support the computation of missile uplink steering commands. The radar can track 100 targets in Track While Scan mode, and perform precision tracking of six targets concurrently for missile engagements. data exchanges between the 92N6E Grave Stone and 30K6E battle management system are fully automatic." - Kopp, 2012

APA image

The deployment of the S-400 would be problematic for the United States as 4th generation aircraft would be unable to safely operate near China (which is already the case but to a lesser extent with the S-300 PMU2 and HQ-9) but the USAF maintains the capability to overcome the S-400 with stealth aircraft. The LSR-B, B-2, F-22, and F-35 should all be stealthy enough to destroy S-400 sites if equipped with the right munitions. For example, the F-35 is cited to have a frontal radar cross section around .0015m^2 and a rear of .01m^2 (Global Security, 2011). Thus, the F-35 would be able to approach the 92N2E Grave Stone without being detected until 40 nautical miles (after weapons release the F-35 will have to turn around exposing the larger rear rcs hence 40 nm not 20 nm). If the F-35 is equipped with the GBU-39/B small diameter bombs (SDB) which have a stand-off range in excess of 60 nautical miles (Boeing, 2013), the F-35 is more than capable of getting the job done. However, the F-35 would be unable to use JDAMs to destroy S-400 sites as the stand-off range is insufficient. The Raptor is considerably stealthier than the F-35 with a frontal radar cross section of .0001m^2 with a side and rear of between .01-.001m^2 (Air Power Australia, 2011). Thus, the Raptor might be able to employ JDAM's against S-400 sites if it drops the 1,000 pound JDAM's from altitude and at maximum supercruise speed of mach 1.5-1.8 which gives a standoff range of at least 24 nautical miles (Hanlon, 2006). However, using SDB's would likely be preferred as it gives a much greater margin of safety for F-22 pilots.  

However, the Taiwanese Air Force (ROCAF) will be severely effected by the deployment of the S-400:

"At present, China’s land-based mobile air defense missile systems, HQ-9 and S-300, can reach only a small sliver of northwestern Taiwan. Though a clear advantage during a war over control of the middle line of the Taiwan Strait, it is not complete air dominance of the island itself.  However, with the planned purchase of the 400-kilometer-range Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, China will for the first time have complete air defense coverage of Taiwan.  Ongoing negotiations with the Chinese on S-400 were confirmed by Russian officials last year, said Vasily Kashin, a researcher with Moscow’s Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies." - Defense News, 2013 

Image retrieved via Air Power Australia

The S-400 SAM system utilizes four missiles that are employed at different ranges. The longest range missile, the 40N6 missile, has a maximum range of 215 nautical miles (400 km) and it employs both an active and semi-active radar seeker. However, these missiles are typically reserved for intercepting high value AWACS, JSTARS, and electronic jammer assets rather than fighter aircraft (Kopp, 2012). The mainstay of the S-400 system is the Fakel 48N6E3/48N6DM missile which has a range of 130 nautical miles and is illustrated above. The other two missile types employed by the S-400 are shorter range missiles are the 9M96E and 9M96E2 which are designed to hit low and medium altitude aircraft. The 96M6E is equivalent to the PAC-3 with a range of 21.6 nautical miles while the 9M96E2 has a range of 64.8 nautical miles (Kopp, 2012). Due to the backlog in Russian orders, Fakel could deliver S-400 systems to China by 2017 at the earliest (Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2013). Its likely China would forward deploy any S-400 batteries it acquires to the 31st Army Group, Xiamen, Fujian province, in the Nanjing military region if its deployment of S-300 PMU2 batteries are any indication (Defense News, 2013). Fujian province contains the closest Chinese territory relative to Taiwan as seen on the DOD image below.

List of Taiwanese air bases relative to distance from Xiamen SAM sites (Current S-300PMU2 sites located near 31st Army group depicted in green on DOD image). Note: not all Taiwanese air base locations listed but all are within 215 nautical miles (400 km) of Xiamen.

Xiamen - Chiayi 140 nautical miles (261 km)
Xiamen - Hsinchu 160 nautical miles (294 km)
Xiamen - Taoyuan 176 nautical miles miless (328 km)
Xiamen - Taipei  192 nautical miles (356 km)
Xiamen - Hualien  193 nautical miles (358 km)
Xiamen - Taitung 196 nautical miles (361 km)

Taiwanese AWACS aircraft will not be safe from 40N6 missiles even if they operate from the farthest available ROCAF airbases. Fighter aircraft such as the F-CK-1 and F-16A/B Block 20 should be relatively safe as it is unlikely People's Liberation Army (PLA) forces would waste their limited number of expensive 40N6 missiles on comparatively lower value targets. A standard S-400 battery is equipped with a total of 32 missiles and it is likely that the bulk of these missiles are the 48N6E3/48N6DM, 9M96E, and 9M96E2. However, it is worth noting that the 92N2E Grave Stone radar is powerful enough to track the positions of ROCAF fighters as they fly over Taiwan and relay the information to other PLA or People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) assets.



The Su-35 is the latest evolution of the venerable Su-27 Flanker series of aircraft. The combination of a reduced radar cross section, supermaneuverability, IRST, off-bore sight weapon capability, and a powerful Irbis-E passively scanned electronic scanned array radar makes the "Flanker-E" (NATO designation) the most formidable non-Western fighter aircraft currently in production. The sale of Su-35 aircraft will most severely impact the Taiwanese Air Force (ROCAF). If the deal goes through, the actual deliveries of Su-35 aircraft to China coincides with the retirement of nearly 70% of the Taiwanese air force (Kan, 2012).

"Though 24 to 48 fighters are not a significant threat to US forces, they pose a problem for Taiwan as it retires 56 Mirage 2000 fighters and roughly 50 F-5s...there has been a significant push by Taiwan to procure 66 F-16C/D fighters to counter reductions. Effective lobbying by China within the US government has blocked new F-16 sales to Taiwan." - Defense News, 2012

Furthermore, from a quality perspective, the Su-35 outclasses both of the most advanced fighter aircraft of the Taiwanese Air Force: the F-CK-1 Ching-kuo and F-16A Block 20. The $5.3 billion dollar upgrade package for Taiwan's existing 145 F-16A aircraft will mitigate recent acquisitions of the PLAAF to some extent but not fully equalize the balance of power. If policy makers in Washington desire to off-set both the quantitative and qualitative decline of the ROCAF relative to the PLAAF, the sale of either new F-16C/D Block 50/52+ or F/A-18E/F Super Hornets is required. Defense Industry Daily notes the current upgrade package which is seen as a compromise has the potential of being the worst possible solution.

"They attempted to thread the needle by offering more advanced technology than the equipment in F-16 Block 52s, which have been sold to countries like China’s ally, Pakistan. The question is whether this is actually a worst-of-all-possible worlds outcome: showing weakness abroad on Taiwan, failing to extend the F-16 production line and American jobs at home, and offering cutting-edge technology that risks falling into the hands of Chinese intelligence."

However, the sale of new aircraft to Taiwan is not necessarily recommended by the author as it has the potential to be highly detrimental to current PRC-USA relations.

Taiwanese  F-CK-1 Ching-kuo aircraft

Although most observers agree the immediate strategic impact of a singular new Chinese fighter squadron is limited for the United States, the sale will allow Chinese engineers to inspect some of the most recent advancements in Russian engine technology. Despite the numerous reliability and performance based problems with existing reverse engineered copies of Russian Flanker systems, Chinese aerospace engineers gained invaluable insight into Russian systems from the last sale of Flankers to the PLAAF in the 1990s. The lessons learned from the original Russian Flankers was applied to indigenous fighter development programs like the J-10, J-11B, and J-15 to at least a moderate degree of success.

"In September 2010, for instance, Reuben Johnson reported in Jane’s Defense Weekly that PLAAF Overhaul Plant Number 5719 had developed an upgrade for the AL-31F that extended its service life from 900 to 1,500 flight hours. Russian specialists viewed this achievement as 'another example of how the technology sold to the Chinese during the 1990s has now been fully assimilated by them. It is only a matter of time before the engines that China produces will be as good as or better than anything designed here in Russia.'” - Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, 2012

The engine of the Su-35, the AL-41FA1 in particular is sought by China. Many observers note that an engine of the AL-41FA1 caliber is necessary to power the heavy J-20 airframe. Some note that even if the J-20 is equipped with twin 32,000 pound afterburning AL-41FA1 engines, the J-20 will not meet its full potential.

"It’s not obvious from the grainy photos of the J-20 what engines the plane currently uses, but it’s probably safe to assume they’re Russian AL-31Fs — still the best engines China reliably has access to. However, the AL-31F is clearly inadequate for the apparently heavy J-20. Even the up-rated 117S version of the AL-31F 'would likely not be sufficient to extract the full performance potential of this advanced airframe,' Kopp and Goon wrote. To perform at its best, the J-20 will probably need purpose-designed motors. And developing those could take a long, long time." - David Axe, 2011

Given China's current problems with the WS-10 engine (domestic copy of ALF-31), its unlikely they will be able to fully reverse engineer the 117S in the near future. However, obtaining 117S engines would at the very least accelerate the progress of domestic engine development programs.

"China’s current pursuit of an Su-35 purchase agreement with Russia primarily reflects a desire to gain access to the NPO Saturn/Lyulka117S engine, a next-generation follow-on to the Su-27’s AL-31F engine, to try to reduce development time for Chinese engine programs."  - Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, 2012

If China gains momentum in its domestic jet engine development programs, the implications have the potential to be significant for the USAF. US and allied forces in the region enjoy a significant advantage in terms of both the reliability and performance of their turbofan engines. Even if Chinese engineers produce a final product that inferior to the 117S, domestically produced Chinese engines will close the gap with Western and Russian manufactures by a considerable margin.

J-20 from the rear

Lada Class Attack Submarines

The sale of Lada class submarines would give Chinese submarine manufactures a glimpse at Russian air independent propulsion technology (AIP). The addition of AIP to China's domestic submarine force would be very problematic for US and allied nations in the region.

Why AIP is important:

One of the inherent disadvantages to diesel electric submarines is the engine requires air for the engine to function meaning the submarine has to surface intermittently for air. While at the surface, the submarine is vulnerable to detection. The solution in older diesel submarines was to incorporate large lead batteries that could be charged by the engine; the use of these batteries would permit the submarine to function for a few hours without having to surface for air. Snorkels could also be used to feed the engine air while remaining under water but the submarine still had to remain fairly close to the surface. The next generation of diesel electric submarines incorporate greatly enhanced AIP capability which enables them to remain underwater for much longer periods of time (Whitman, 2001). AIP is most often achieved in modern diesel electric submarines with the addition of fuel cells (e.g. hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells). Depending upon the speed at which the submarine is traveling while AIP is activated, the AIP equipped submarine could remain submerged for more than a week as opposed to hours. As an added benefit, the use of fuel cells greatly reduces the noise generated by boat as the engine is not used for propulsion while AIP is activated.

The addition of Lada class submarine is the most recent example of China's Navy modernization program.

"In the 1990s, the PLA(N) began to acquire a variety of advanced aircraft, submarines and surface ships, as well as associated modern weapons, sensors and combat systems. Using a combination of imported technology, reverse engineering, and indigenous development, the PRC rapidly narrowed the technology and capability gaps between the PLA(N) and modern navies...Currently, the submarine force consists of six nuclear attack submarines, three nuclear ballistic missile submarines, and 53 diesel attack submarines. Over the next 10 to 15 years, primarily due to the introduction of new diesel-electric and air independent power (AlP) submarines, the force is expected to increase incrementally in size to approximately 75 submarines." - Office of Naval Intelligence, 2009

While China has been aggressively expanding the capabilities of its submarine force, the Taiwanese Navy has technologically stagnated in comparison. Taiwan's most modern submarine, the Hai Lung-class, are based off of the US Barbel-class submarine which was originally designed in the 1950s (the last diesel electric submarines produced by the United States). The other two submarines operated by the Taiwanese Navy are one Trench class submarine (upgraded to Guppy II standard) and an upgraded Balao-class submarine produced during World War II.  Taiwan's need for capable diesel electric attack submarines is arguably more pressing than its need for new F-16C/D Block 50/52+ aircraft due to the deployment of PAC-2, PAC-3, Skybow II, and Skybow III missiles batteries.

"Shuai Hua-ming, a key legislator in the LY’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, visited Washington on February 10-11, and reaffirmed Taiwan’s need for subs. In an address to the United States on May 12, 2011, President Ma reiterated Taiwan’s need to buy F- 16C/D fighters and submarines, primarily for leverage in political negotiations with Beijing. Some, such as former Pentagon official Mark Stokes, have cited submarines for Taiwan’s survival, credible deterrence and asymmetrical advantages. In January 2013, President Ma said that Taiwan’s aging submarines need replacements, when he met with a congressional delegation led by Representatives Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who saw one of Taiwan’s two 1940s-era ex-U.S. Guppy II class subs at a naval base a day earlier." - Shirley A. Kan - Congressional Research Service, 2013

A capable submarine force would tremendously bolster Taiwan's chances of delaying or crippling a PRC maritime invasion force.

"Submarines are capable of either destroying efforts to cross the strait, or strangling Chinese trade as it moves through Southeast Asia’s key choke points. Modern missiles give them vastly longer offensive reach, and modern submarines are very difficult to find and target once they put to sea. For a nation like Taiwan, they’re the ultimate conventional deterrent against invasion." -  Defense Industry Daily, 2013

Taiwan is the most negatively affected by the Chinese purchase of new Russian arms. However, purchase of this magnitude might be able to convenience the United States Congress to approve of further weapon sales. However, the sale of new submarines to Taiwan would be difficult as the United States no longer manufactures diesel electric submarines and no country aside from the United States has dared to sell weapons to Taiwan within the last decade. 


  1. China Purchasing Russian Jets and Subs? Harry Kazianis - The Diplomat, 2013.
  2. China to buy Lada-class subs, Su-35 fighters from Russia, Choi Chi-yuk, 2013.
  3. China's New Jet, Radar Complicate US Posture, WENDELL MINNICK - Defense News, 2013.
  4. China Tries To Expand Control as Taiwan Resists: Report, WENDELL MINNICK - Defense News, 2012.
  5. CRS Report Reviews Taiwan Security, U.S. Relations, WENDELL MINNICK - Defense News, 2012.
  6. Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990, Shirly A. Khan - Congressional Reserach Service, 2012.
  7. Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990, Shirly A. Khan - Congressional Reserach Service, 2013.
  8. Import or Die: Taiwan’s (Un?)Stalled Force Modernization, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.
  9. Raytheon Looks At Options For Long-Range AIM-9, Bill Sweetman - Aviation Week, 2013.
  10. AIM-9X Block III to Become a BVR Missile, Defense Update, 2013.
  11. U.S. Navy Follows U.K. Lead On Infrared Systems, Bill Sweetman - Aviation Week, 2013.
  12. 6 Weapons That Love the New Pentagon Budget, Spencer Ackerman, 2013.
  13. Taiwan Gives Up On Partial F-16C/D Release, WENDELL MINNICK - Defense News, 2013.
  14. Lockheed Awarded Taiwan F-16 Upgrade, WENDELL MINNICK - Defense News, 2013.
  15. Still-Vigorous Asian Budgets Focus on Naval, Air Forces. WENDELL MINNICK - Defense News, 2013.
  16. Time Running Out for Taiwan if Russia Releases S-400 SAM, WENDELL MINNICK - Defense News, 2013.
  17. F-16 Fighting Falcon, General Dynamics.
  18. Russia’s SU-35 Super-Flanker: Mystery Fighter No More, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.
  19. The “Long Pole in the Tent”: China’s Military Jet Engines, Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, 2012.
  20. Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks: Taiwan’s F-16 Upgrade, James Hardy, 2012.
  21. China’s Jet Fighter Surprise, David Axe, 2013.
  22. Chengdu J-XX [J-20] Stealth Fighter Prototype A Preliminary Assessment, Carlo Kopp & Peter Goon, 2011.
  23. F-35 Design, Global Security, 2011.‎
  25. Nanjing Military Region, Global Security, 2013.
  26. F-22 scores direct hit in supersonic, high-altitude JDAM drop, Mike Hanlon, 2006.
  28. Russia’s PAK-FA versus the F-22 and F-35, Peter Goon & Carlo Kopp, 2009.
  29. Almaz-Antey 40R6 / S-400 Triumf  Self Propelled Air Defence System / SA-21, Carlo Kopp, 2012.
  30. Small Diameter Bomb, Boeing, 2013.
  31. AIR-INDEPENDENT PROPULSION, Edward C. Whitman, 2001.