Straining Hard to Find a Peer Threat
Some in the Media will go to great links to justify continuing Cold War building policies, while our troops fight new wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere. For instance, the Wall Street Journal here is trying to “talk up” the threat posed by new and planned Chinese fighters:
China’s fifth-generation efforts date back to the early 1990s and will start with two heavy fighters from China’s two main fighter companies. A Chinese source told me in early 2005 that the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation, famous for developing the fourth-generation J-10 fighter, was considering the development of a medium-weight fifth-generation plane comparable to the F-35. This could mean that Chengdu’s fighter will be built in vertical take-off and aircraft carrier versions. In 2006, the competing Shenyang Aircraft Corporation revealed a concept for a single-engine forward-swept-wing fighter that would be highly maneuverable and potentially stealthy. It seems the PLA envisions two levels to its program: a heavy fighter for maintaining air superiority, and a medium-weight plane that’s cheaper and more versatile.
Even before China’s fifth-generation fighter flies, advances in electronics and engines will enable new “four-plus” generation fighters, like the J-10B that recently began flight testing. These fighters and eventual fifth-generation fighters will pose a more effective challenge to current and future U.S. air forces, and will make obsolete the fourth-generation fighter fleets of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Even if these so-called advanced Chinese fighters performed as expected (they don’t, more in a sec), the idea that Chinese pilots can match Western training methods takes more than a grain of salt to fathom. Our allies having trained alongside seasoned USAF pilots for decades, also enjoy the benefit of our own lessons from numerous and ongoing conflcits, while China hasn’t fought a major air war since Korea.
Back to the planes themselves, here is Strategypage on these “wonder weapons” which aren’t even up to our 30 year old F-16 standards:
The J-10 already has a reputation as a maintenance nightmare, and that the Chinese are having a hard time keeping the aircraft operational in reasonable numbers. But the J-10 is the first modern jet fighter designed and built in China. The aircraft is an attempt to create a modern fighter-bomber that could compete with foreign designs. The experiment was not completely successful.
Work on the J-10 began over twenty years ago, in an attempt to develop an aircraft that could compete with the Russian MiG-29s and Su-27s, and the American F-16. But the first prototype did not fly until 1998. There were problems, and it wasn’t until 2000 that the basic design flaws were fixed. By 2002, nine prototypes had been built, and flight testing was going forward to find, and fix, hundreds of smaller problems. It was a great learning experience for Chinese engineers, but it was becoming apparent that the J10 was not going to be competitive with the Su-27s/30s China was buying from Russia.
In contrast, South Korea has the the F-15K Slam Eagle, an advanced version of the F-15 Strike Eagle, and is seeking a stealth fighter such as the F-22 Raptor or even the recently revealed F-15 Silent Eagle. Japan wants the F-22 as well to replace its 200 venerable Eagles. These Air Forces have been operating 4th Generation planes forever and have the advanced missiles to go along with them, while China has just barely made it into the same company in terms of quality.
So we think our allies are safe enough, leaving out the fact they could count on quick American air support from the only true 5th Generation fighter out there, the F-22 Raptor. And our friends are not standing still anyway seeing as how they are speeding ahead with their own modernization plans, hardly necessary given the current quality of potential adversaries, but ongoing just the same.