Will China’s Air Force Surpass US Superiority in the Air?

In recent decades, the military power of the United States (US) has benefited from the capabilities of its air force which is more formidable than its enemies. Millions of dollars’ worth of investments by the US Department of Defense or the Pentagon in increasing the capacity of the US Air Force’s fighter aircraft, satellite weapon systems, and cargo planes have made them at the forefront of the world’s military power.

But now, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has modernized its air force. Their leaders and analysts predict that Washington may no longer be proud of the strength of its air force.

Speaking at the Air Force Association Conference last month, General Charles Brown Jr., who is the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, said the PLA has “the largest air fleet in the Pacific region” and they have built up its strength “without our knowledge.” Brown predicts that China’s air force could surpass that of the US by 2035.​

US soldiers stand on the tarmac as a US Air Force plane prepares to take off from the airport in Kabul on August 30, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

US soldiers stand on the tarmac as a US Air Force plane prepares to take off from the airport in Kabul on August 30, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

At the same event, Lieutenant General S. Clinton Hinote, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force, warned that America was not keeping up with China’s capacity building. “In some important areas, we have fallen behind – at the moment. This is not a matter of tomorrow. This is the problem today.”

Hinote told reporters that as a person aware of the evidence of the developments, he believed that China was already on an equal footing in terms of its air force power, and he also warned that “the current situation is more likely to be red (refusing to China). ).”

China's PLA J-16 fighter jets fly at an undisclosed location.  China flew more than 30 military aircraft to Taiwan on October 2, 2021. (Photo: AP)

China’s PLA J-16 fighter jets fly at an undisclosed location. China flew more than 30 military aircraft to Taiwan on October 2, 2021. (Photo: AP)

Show Strength

Last week, China sent nearly 150 warplanes, including the newest J-16 fighter jets and H-6 bomb carriers, to Taiwan’s air defense zone (ADIZ) in a show of military prowess.

“They flew a large group of J-16 fighters. It shows their latest (AU) capacity,” said Eric Heginbotham, international relations researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“They showed a complete fleet. They also sent anti-submarine attack aircraft. So, they showed a lot on that occasion.”

According to an article published on the US Air Force’s official website, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall mentioned China 27 times in his speech to an Air Force conference last month. In comparison, he only mentions Russia once and Afghanistan twice. In August, Kendall, who is the main civilian leader in the US air force, also pledged to develop more cutting-edge technology to “scare China.”

Encouraged by the increased strength shown by the Chinese Air Force, Wang Wei, a senior official with the Chinese Air Force, responded to Kendall’s “scaring of China” statement by inviting the US Air Force to meet in the air.

“A foreign colleague claimed that they wanted to scare the Chinese air force. If they really dare, let’s meet above the clouds!”

US Air Force (USAF) 510th Fighter Squadron F-16 fighter aircraft park on the tarmac at Amari air base March 26, 2015. (Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins)

US Air Force (USAF) 510th Fighter Squadron F-16 fighter aircraft park on the tarmac at Amari air base March 26, 2015. (Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins)

When the Greatness of the US Air Force Can End

The flight of Chinese fighter jets near Taiwan territory last week has shown an increase in the capabilities of the country’s air force. Cristina Garafola, policy researcher at RAND Corporation, said in an email she wrote to FLY, when combined with the strength of the Chinese army, “the increased capability of the Chinese Air Force will exacerbate the complexity of air operations occurring in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Meanwhile, Timothy Health, a senior researcher on defense issues at the same institution, said that although the Chinese Air Force still lags behind in terms of technological and technological warfare capabilities of the US air force, the sizeable number of Chinese troops can pose a threat to the US in its efforts to intervene in the conflict over Taiwan. .

He told Mouab that because of the close distance between Taiwan and China, the Chinese army could use a variety of complementary weapons such as surface-to-air missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles to attack US aircraft and airstrips. “This resistance capacity against intervention can help the Chinese air force even the smallest in the fighting that is taking place near Taiwan.”

Analysts also say that distance will be a determining factor in any air battle that takes place in the Pacific region. Taiwan is only about 161 kilometers from the coast of China. This distance is much closer when compared to the US air bases in Okinawa, Japan, and also Guam, which are more than 7000 kilometers and 2,700 kilometers from Taiwan, respectively.

“The US may be able to control airspace over Taiwan in the short term, but it looks like it would go too far to maintain that control for more than an hour or two,” Peter Layton, an academic at the Griffith Asia Institute in Brisbane, Australia, told Reuters. FLY.

In an interview with Air Force Times Kendall said last month that saying the US military was the dominant force was just an assumption. “Our military might is quite dominant but when (we) are about 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers) from China, that can change,” he said.

A formation of military aircraft, consisting of JL-8 trainer jets, flies over Beijing during a military parade in Tiananmen Square on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.  (Photo: AFP)

A formation of military aircraft, consisting of JL-8 trainer jets, flies over Beijing during a military parade in Tiananmen Square on October 1, 2019, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. (Photo: AFP)

According to Heginbotham of MIT, who focuses on security issues in Asia, less than 15 percent of US Air Force supplies are available in the western Pacific region, and not all US Air Force aircraft fly in the region all the time. “The difference is that there is a possibility that China could challenge (the US) in the region for a certain amount of time,” Heginbotham said in a telephone conversation. FLY.

Calling China a “peak adversary” backed by broad capabilities in its electromagnetic spectrum operations, General Mark Kelly, Commander-in-Chief of Air Combat Command, said last month that the US Air Force could lose the battle against China’s Air Force. He considered China to have succeeded in claiming parts of the South China Sea “without firing a single bullet.”

Supremacy and Superiority

In recent years, several studies have shown that the US Air Force may soon be surpassed by China.

In 2015, a study conducted by the institute think thank California-based RAND Corporation, of which Heginbotham was the lead author on the study, found that while the US maintains its unrivaled air force capabilities, “the Chinese Air Force’s continued development makes it difficult for the US to maintain its political and operational glory. within an effective timeframe, especially in scenarios close to mainland China.”

A US Air Force (USAF) 510 Fighter Squadron pilot exits his F-16 fighter plane at Amari air base.  (Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins)

A US Air Force (USAF) 510 Fighter Squadron pilot exits his F-16 fighter plane at Amari air base. (Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins)

Research on the same subject from the Department of Defense in 2016 noted that the emergence of China’s integrated and connected inter-air and ground-to-air capacity “could threaten the strength of the US air force in maintaining its strength when and where it is needed during operations.” in 2030 and beyond.”

“Research on the strength of the US air force in 2016 provided strong evidence that the US was about to lose its glory in long-range combat,” Layton told FLY. “The US Air Force has an equipment modernization program to address this issue, such as the B-21 bomber and the latest generation Air Dominance fighter jets, but these upgrades are unlikely to have a major impact until 2030.”

Layton said in a blog that the US Air Force’s way of thinking about demonstrating its power has changed since the Cold War ended. While Washington has seen itself as the single greatest power in the world, the term that comes up frequently is “glory in the air.” Today, when the threat is manageable in a given time and place, the goal of the US air force is changing to “air superiority.” [rs/ah]

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