China: Non-Existent Threat
For most of the post-Soviet era, American military planners have been searching for a peer competitor against which to base war planning and acquisition decisions. This is no easy task, in that there is no plausible scenario in which any state or likely group of states can match our ability to spend money. Regardless, “China!” is generally the chosen answer.
Defense Tech‘s Greg Grant recounts the latest instance of this in a post titled “Debating the Performance Characteristics of a Non-Existent Chinese 5th Gen Fighter.”
Today, the bean counting game is 5th generation fighters: how many we’ll have versus how many the Chinese will have. Of course all of this is based on some rather spurious projections because with our own constantly fluctuating Joint Strike Fighter program we don’t know for certain how many 5th gen fighters we’ll field in another decade, let alone how many the Chinese might be able to build.
We do know this: the number of 5th gen fighters in the Chinese inventory is zero.
U.S. aircraft manufacturers have wrestled with the complicated components of stealth, such as radar absorbent coatings and the complexities of the aircraft’s shape, for many decades. The F-22 program began in the 1980s; it was given Milestone I approval in 1986.
Yet, some assume China is on the cusp of mastering the complexities of stealth on an industrial scale. A recent Reuters story breathlessly claimed that China is developing a 5th generation fighter that “may rival within eight years Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-22 Raptor, the premier U.S. fighter.”
The problem with this is that, well, virtually no one believes this to be the case. Including the SECDEF.
Defense analyst and consultant Loren Thompson penned a recent piece in The Diplomat saying China is a long way from fielding an F-22 equivalent. “Not only does China lack the necessary experience or expertise in a number of relevant technologies, but it has never demonstrated the system-integration skills required to bring all those technologies together in a functioning airframe.”
But, damn it, we should buy us a bunch of really expensive planes, anyway, in case China’s acquisitions cycle explodes geometrically. And a plausible scenario develops in which even a militarily powerful China would have an interest in military confrontation with their most important trading partner.