China’s recent advancements in space technology and missiles are creating a defensive bubble that will be difficult to penetrate. China has dramatically expanded its firepower, most notably with its satellite networks and missiles, pushing the boundaries of its anti-access/area denial strategy (A2/D2) to new ranges. The news of an air-to-air missile in development, the “PL-XX,” which could target vital air tankers, AEW&C aircraft, JSTARs, and even high-flying unmanned aircraft at a range of 188 miles, could put U.S. fighter jets at a disadvantage. Mike Yeo of DefenseNews writes:
The U.S. Navy is facing growing asymmetric threats, not least of which is from China, and more specifically its anti-access/area denial strategy.
The Pentagon’s annual report on China’ military strength from 2019 describes the A2/AD strategy as a means to “dissuade, deter, or, if required, defeat third-party intervention against a large-scale, theater-wide campaign” mounted by China’s People’s Liberation Army, or PLA. In short, it appears Beijing’s aim is to prevent American and allied military forces from operating freely in the A2/AD airspace and maritime “bubble” around China’s coastline.
China has in recent years worked to extend the range of this bubble beyond the so-called first island chain and into the Western Pacific. The key to this effort is not just longer-range missiles, but also a growing number of space-based sensors.
The U.S. intends to push back China’s already overwhelming advantage in land-based cruise and ballistic missiles now that the Trump administration has backed out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). China’s advantage, which was gained by not being a party to the INF treaty, has shifted the balance of power in the South China Sea. The Pentagon intends to dial back China’s lead in what strategists refer to as the “range war,” says David Lague of Reuters:
The United States has largely stood by in recent decades as China dramatically expanded its military firepower. Now, having shed the constraints of a Cold War-era arms control treaty, the Trump administration is planning to deploy long-range, ground-launched cruise missiles in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Pentagon intends to arm its Marines with versions of the Tomahawk cruise missile now carried on U.S. warships, according to the White House budget requests for 2021 and Congressional testimony in March of senior U.S. military commanders. It is also accelerating deliveries of its first new long-range anti-ship missiles in decades. […]
The U.S. moves are aimed at countering China’s overwhelming advantage in land-based cruise and ballistic missiles. The Pentagon also intends to dial back China’s lead in what strategists refer to as the “range war.” The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s military, has built up a huge force of missiles that mostly outrange those of the U.S. and its regional allies, according to senior U.S. commanders and strategic advisers to the Pentagon, who have been warning that China holds a clear advantage in these weapons.
And, in a radical shift in tactics, the Marines will join forces with the U.S. Navy in attacking an enemy’s warships. Small and mobile units of U.S. Marines armed with anti-ship missiles will become ship killers.
In a conflict, these units will be dispersed at key points in the Western Pacific and along the so-called first island chain, commanders said. The first island chain is the string of islands that run from the Japanese archipelago, through Taiwan, the Philippines and on to Borneo, enclosing China’s coastal seas.
Top U.S. military commanders explained the new tactics to Congress in March in a series of budget hearings. The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General David Berger, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 5 that small units of Marines armed with precision missiles could assist the U.S. Navy to gain control of the seas, particularly in the Western Pacific. “The Tomahawk missile is one of the tools that is going to allow us to do that,” he said.
The Tomahawk – which first gained fame when launched in massed strikes during the 1991 Gulf War – has been carried on U.S. warships and used to attack land targets in recent decades. The Marines would test fire the cruise missile through 2022 with the aim of making it operational the following year, top Pentagon commanders testified.
At first, a relatively small number of land-based cruise missiles will not change the balance of power. But such a shift would send a strong political signal that Washington is preparing to compete with China’s massive arsenal, according to senior U.S. and other Western strategists. Longer term, bigger numbers of these weapons combined with similar Japanese and Taiwanese missiles would pose a serious threat to Chinese forces, they say. The biggest immediate threat to the PLA comes from new, long-range anti-ship missiles now entering service with U.S. Navy and Air Force strike aircraft.
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