Friday, November 29, 2013

Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth Is

I've noted that I don't think China could beat Japan in a air-naval war over the Senkaku Islands. Analysts think China would have difficulty just patrolling their newly declared air defense zone over the East China Sea.

Did China think that just drawing a dashed line of death around the area would be enough?

China's military could struggle to cope with the demands for intensified surveillance and interception if it tries to enforce the rules in its new air defense zone over islands at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan.

Regional military analysts and diplomats said China's network of air defense radars, surveillance planes and fighter jets would be stretched by extensive patrols across its Air Defense Identification Zone, roughly two-thirds the size of Britain.

It will actually be interesting from an operational perspective to see how China rises or falls to the challenge of patrolling the zone and reacting to aircraft refusing to follow the rules. We, the Japanese, the South Koreans, and the Taiwanese will be watching closely.

I'm not so sure the Chinese thought this through all the way. China risks reducing the regional fear of China's rising power if their actions don't match their words.

Taiwan, especially, which can feel China's lengthening shadow extend across their island, might breathe easier if China fails to maintain an operational tempo capable of maintaining a presence over the East China Sea air defenses identification zone.

And if China's air threat isn't what it is cracked up to be, might not Taiwan have alternatives for air defense? Taiwan is struggling to afford modern warplanes to prevent China from invading Taiwan. They are modernizing their older F-16s, but so far haven't been able to develop their own adequate aircraft or buy newer planes from us.

It occurred to me that we have gunships that turn large transport planes into ground support aircraft. They work very well. Couldn't Taiwan use the same concept for air defense?

Taiwan has AWACS-type planes to watch the Taiwan Strait and Chinese air bases near their coast.

Would it be possible for Taiwan to pair up air-to-air missile-planes consisting of a large transport plane carrying lots of long-range radar-guided missiles?

If Taiwan's E-2s spot a Chinese air armada heading across the strait, the "air gunship" could fire off volleys of air-to-air missiles even as Taiwanese fighters were scrambling. Given that the Chinese aircraft would be closing with Taiwan at high speeds, the air gunships could fire while well out of range of Chinese missiles, counting on the Chinese aircraft to close within the missile range even if the missiles are fired while the Chinese planes are out of range.

If air-to-air volleys and then anti-aircraft missiles fired from the ground disrupted the Chinese air armada before it reaches Taiwan, Taiwan's outnumbered planes would have a far better chance of inflicting damage and surviving to continue the fight.

If Taiwan buys time, we have more time to intervene in time to make a difference.

Heck, could the air gunship idea even be expanded to be a gunship-in-a-box concept the way our Marines went, allowing Taiwan to quickly outfit their civilian airliners in case of war?

For all I know, this concept has been raised and dismissed as unworkable. But it recently occurred to me. And I have a blog.

So there you go.

UPDATE: Just noticed that we and the Japanese flew around the zone and China dispatched fighter aircraft to make their presence known:

China launched two fighter planes Friday to investigate flights by a dozen U.S. and Japanese reconnaissance and military planes in its new maritime air defense zone over the East China Sea, state media said.

We had a pair of recon aircraft. Japan's aircraft included fighter aircraft.

So now both sides have aircraft in the air at the same time. I wouldn't be shocked if a Chinese aircraft opened fire. Perhaps in error. But I would not be shocked if one did.