TAIPEI - A new RAND study suggests U.S. air power in the Pacific would be inadequate to thwart a Chinese attack on Taiwan in 2020. The study, entitled "Air Combat Past, Present and Future," by John Stillion and Scott Perdue, says China's anti-access arms and strategy could deny the U.S. the "ability to operate efficiently from nearby bases or seas."
According to the study, U.S. aircraft carriers and air bases would be threatened by Chinese development of anti-ship ballistic missiles, the fielding of diesel and nuclear submarines equipped with torpedoes and SS-N-22 and SS-N-27 anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), fighters and bombers carrying ASCMs and HARMs, and new ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.
Asia & Pacific Rim
The report states that 34 missiles with submunition warheads could cover all parking ramps at Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa.
An "attack like this could damage, destroy or strand 75 percent of aircraft based at Kadena," it says.
In contrast, many Chinese air bases are harder than Kadena, with some "super-hard underground hangers."
To make matters worse, Kadena is the only U.S. air base within 500 nautical miles of the Taiwan Strait, whereas China has 27.
U.S. air bases in South Korea are more than 750 miles distant, and those in Japan are more than 885 miles away. Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, is 1,500 miles away. The result is that sortie rates will be low, with a "huge tanker demand."
The authors suggest China's CETC Y-27 radar, which is similar to Russia's Nebo SVU VHF Digital AESA, could counter U.S. stealth fighter technology. China is likely to outfit its fighters with improved radars and by "2020 even very stealthy targets likely [would be] detectable by Flanker radars at 25+ nm." China is also likely to procure the new Su-35BM fighter by 2020, which will challenge the F-35 and possibly the F-22.
The authors also question the reliability of U.S. beyond-visual-range weapons, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM. U.S. fighters have recorded only 10 AIM-120 kills, none against targets equipped with the kinds of countermeasures carried by Chinese Su-27s and Su-30s. Of the 10, six were beyond-visual-range kills, and it required 13 missiles to get them.
If a conflict breaks out between China and the U.S. over Taiwan, the authors say it is difficult to "predict who will have had the last move in the measure-countermeasure game."
Overall, the authors say, "China could enjoy a 3:1 edge in fighters if we can fly from Kadena - about 10:1 if forced to operate from Andersen. Overcoming these odds requires qualitative superiority of 9:1 or 100:1" - a differential that is "extremely difficult to achieve" against a like power.
If beyond-visual-range missiles work, stealth technology is not countered and air bases are not destroyed, U.S. forces have a chance, but "history suggests there is a limit of about 3:1 where quality can no longer compensate for superior enemy numbers."
A 24-aircraft Su-27/30 regiment can carry around 300 air-to-air missiles (AAMs), whereas 24 F-22s can carry only 192 AAMs and 24 F-35s only 96 AAMs.
Though current numbers assume the F-22 could shoot down 48 Chinese Flankers when "outnumbered 12:1 without loss," these numbers do not take into account a less-than-perfect U.S. beyond-visual-range performance, partial or complete destruction of U.S. air bases and aircraft carriers, possible deployment of a new Chinese stealth fighter around 2020 or 2025, and the possible use of Chinese "robo-fighters" to deplete U.S. "fighters' missile loadout prior to mass attack."
The authors write that Chinese counter stealth, anti-access, countermissile technologies are proliferating and the U.S. military needs "a plan that accounts for this."