Mon, May 02, 2011 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: China’s new aircraft carrier changes strategic map

RISING THREAT:While it may be years before China’s aircraft carrier provides any real threat, it joins the J-15 fighter jet in ratcheting up the risks for US forces in the region

By J. Michael Cole  /  Staff Reporter

In terms of ordinal performance measures, China’s J-15 and the F/A-18E/F could be about the same, Fisher said. However, when it comes to electronic capabilities — perhaps one of the more important measures in a modern combat environment — the J-15 could soon prove to be uncomfortably competitive, as it will likely also feature an electronically scanned array radar like the latest versions of the F/A-18E/F.

In Fisher’s assessment, the J-15 would also be uncomfortably competitive in terms of the weapons it carries.

“The latest version of the PL-12 air-to-air missile now in PLA service, which is basically comparable to the US Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM, employs a dual-mode seeker or the ability to use both active radar and passive seeker guidance,” he said.

Passive seeking allows a missile to home in on a signal, such as that given by a radar or communications device. Additionally, because it uses less electricity, the missile can achieve greater distance.

According to Fisher, the US will not deploy a dual-mode seeker equipped AIM-120 until its next version.

In addition, the PLA could also have a lead in the development of longer-range ramjet powered air-to-air missiles, which may have pushed the US to accelerate work on a similar program, he said.

“On a plane-versus-plane measurement, the US Navy will not be able to automatically guarantee maritime air superiority once the PLAN works up and deploys its first carrier air wings,” he said.

Although the US Navy could -argue that it no longer fights in the traditional way and that therefore weighing one F/A-18E/F against one J-15 misrepresents the actual balance of power in the electronic age, sustained efforts by the PLA to target the US Navy’s networks could quickly undermine that superiority, Fisher said.

If the PLA can defeat electronic support platforms, which is what ostensibly gives the US Navy an edge on the PLAN, “the F/A-18 pilot will be in a lonely fight rather fast,” he said.

As a guarantor of security for Taiwan and a reassuring source of stability in the Asia-Pacific, the US will have to react proactively to the twin introduction of a Chinese aircraft carrier and PLAN combat aircraft or its credibility and ability to maintain peace in the region will suffer, he said.

“If the US Navy does not commit to the development of a combat aircraft with all-around superiority to the J-15, it will be conceding to China a level of strategic risk and uncertainty not seen since the air battles of the Korean War,” Fisher said, adding that the consequences of such strategic concessions would include diminished deterrence of Chinese military aggression and new political doubts about the viability of US military alliance guarantees.

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