Winning: China The Superpower

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February15, 2007: Much is made of Chinese weapons that have been either purchased or developed in recent years. But do these things really push China to a point where they can serious contest control of the sea with the United States Navy? The answer is going to make a lot of those hyping China's new systems feel embarrassed.

China's been making huge investments in aircraft, with the J-10, the Su-30MKK, and the JH-7A. These are aircraft on par with Western designs like the F-15E, F-16, and F-18. These aircraft are now beginning to enter service in large numbers. However, the United States not only has large numbers of F-18s, F-16s, and F-15Es, they are deploying the F-22, and within the next five years, will also be introducing the F-35. While the F-22 is expensive, it is a quantum leap over other fighters in terms of its performance. The F-35 offers performance comparable to the F-18, but uses stealth technology to become harder to see. In order to reliably hit (and kill) an aircraft, one must be able to see it somehow.

Some of the other systems that have been mentioned in the Chinese build-up are new Sovremenny-class destroyers. These new ships are much more powerful than the Sovremenny-class vessels in service with Russia and China. One of the new features is a longer-range version of the Sunburn anti-ship missile (with 200 kilometers of range as opposed to 120 kilometers). Another change is the addition of the CADS-N-1 system, which combined two 30mm Gatling guns with the SA-N-11/SA-19 Grisom missile. The longer-ranged missiles are intended to give China a better chance at hitting an American carrier.

That said, China's modern destroyer force will be small, consisting of twelve modern vessels by 2010. The American Pacific Fleet has nearly twice as many comparable destroyers at present, and additional ships will be joining the fleet. The Pacific Fleet also has eleven Ticonderoga-class cruisers, compared to no comparable vessels for China.

Perhaps the biggest gap is in terms of China's performance is in the ability to project air power. The only carriers China really has have been used as floating theme parks. The Minsk, a Kiev-class carrier, has folded as an amusement park. The former Russian carrier Varyag, a Kuznetov-class carrier acquired in 1999, could theoretically be made ready, but that would require significant effort, not to mention engines, electronics, and weapons. The Varyag (now named Shilang), is perhaps best suited as a testbed, since China has never really built a warship that big before, never mind the fact they have never operated an aircraft carrier.

Sounds like a first step, but one must keep in mind that the United States has operated carriers for roughly eight decades, and has fought several wars using them. This is a huge experience advantage that will not be easily overcome by China. That's before one actually bothers counting carriers. The Pacific Fleet has six very modern carriers, each carrying four squadrons of multi-role fighters.

China's buildup is impressive, but it is also too little, too late. They have made advances and have bought new vessels, but the United States has not been sitting still. Even after a decade of relatively low defense spending (1992-2001), and the decommissioning of ships like the Spruance-class destroyers that could still have been valuable, the United States instead has made advances that make it the predominant power in the world. – Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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