New advances by China on its J-20 stealth fighter diminishes deterrence across the Taiwan Strait, a leading weapons expert in the US said.
“It is crucial that Washington begins to consider Taiwan’s next-generation requirements for air defense,” International Assessment and Strategy Center (IASC) senior fellow Rick Fisher said.
“Given over a decade’s worth of global technology advances, intensive investment and competent program management, it should come as no surprise that China will be the second nation in the world to start production of stealth fighters,” it said.
“The J-20 will give the People’s Liberation Army Air Force a technological advantage over every other Asian air force. While the J-20 may not be able to supercruise [fly at supersonic speeds without using fuel-thirsty afterburners] with its current Russian AL-31 turbofan engines, its high level of strength, long range and electronic warfare capabilities will make it a very formidable foe for other fighters,” it said.
Fisher told the Taipei Times that the status of the J-20’s engine was critical to determining the plane’s superiority to Taiwan’s modified F-16 planes and how soon the J-20 would be competitive with the US’ top-of-the-line fifth-generation Lockheed F-22A.
He said that Washington should now consider a fifth-generation fighter for Taiwan or the provision of advanced engine and electronics technology to allow the nation to produce its own next-generation fighters.
The United States would have better prospects of prevailing in an attrition campaign designed to defeat a Chinese air offensive over time. Nevertheless, PLA Air Force modernization has made such a campaign more challenging. The number of wings required is shown as medium-shaded bars (seven days) and dark-shaded bars (21 days). Even in the attrition case, the United States would face increasing difficulty meeting its objectives in 2017, as more aircraft would be required, and there would be fewer bases to offer safety from Chinese missiles.
The results should be understood in context. China cannot achieve air superiority in any of these cases, and U.S. fighters achieve high kill ratios throughout. Relaxing the 21-day time requirement would reduce U.S. in-theater force requirements to levels that might be supported more easily by the available basing infrastructure. However, until U.S. forces achieve air superiority, the PLA air forces would largely have a free hand in attacking targets in Taiwan. A ground campaign in Taiwan would likely be decided relatively quickly, and the inability of U.S. air forces to achieve air superiority during that time would deprive U.S. and friendly forces of much-needed air support.
Taiwan or the US would need to base or rapidly deploy 200-300 fifth generation jets in and around Taiwan to grind out an attrition campaign in 2017. 400-500 fifth generation jets would likely be needed in 2019 to achieve the same result.