Saturday, January 8, 2011

Significant Advances in Chinese Military Capability

Is this a mockup or not? It looks like a real version of China’s long rumored J-XX fifth-gen fighter with a pilot or ground crew member climbing into the cockpit. While Russia is developing a fifth-generation fighter, the Sukhoi PAK-FA, it remains to be seen how long it will take to field the Russian jet. China on the other hand, is on the rise and seems to be quickly getting better and better at everything it does; from cyber war and IT to, perhaps, building and fielding fighters.

Remember in 2009 when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said China would have no stealth fighters by 2020 while the U.S. would have hundreds. Well, he backtracked on that statement earlier this year, saying that the U.S. will have a significant lead in the numbers of stealth jets by the end of the decade. Maybe China wanted to show off the new jet to say this might not be the case? Who knows?

Still, while the airframe looks nearly complete, no one knows what the planes weapons load, engines or avionics and sensor suite will look like. Remember, in the 21st Century, it’s not just about stealth; it’s the sensors, communications and data fusion tools that give fifth generation planes a real edge.

One thing’s for sure, this will give F-35 Joint Strike Fighter backers a boost when arguing why that program is indeed necessary. It may also help stir up more support for the development of sixth-generation air superiority fighters now that the F-22 is nearing the end of its production run of less than 200 planes.

China’s Carrier Killer Ballistic Missiles are Operational

It looks like this is the week China’s military rapidly advancing military tech keeps getting the limelight . First, we saw pics of the Asian giant’s new stealth fighter. Now, it looks like China is one step closer to fielding ballistic missiles aimed at holding U.S. forces throughout the Pacific at bay.

Adm. Robert Willard, the top U.S. officer in the Pacific said this week that China’s new DF-21D anti-ship balistic missiles, with their 900-mile range, have reached an early operational status.

Apparently, the missiles, widely fretted over in Washington as one of the most serious threats to the United States’ ability to project power in the Pacific have reached the equivalent of initial operational capability, Willard said in an interview with the Japanese Newspaper, Asahi Shimbun.

While the U.S. hasn’t seen an “over water” test of the missile, Willard says that the fact that the system is at IOC, means it can likely hit intended targets.
Typically, to have something that would be regarded as in its early operational stage would require that that system be able to accomplish its flight pattern as designed, by and large.

He goes on to say that while the missiles are not yet as serious a threat to American aircraft carriers as submarines are, they do represent one more layer of a complex anti-access, area denial system ranging from advanced surface to air missiles to submarines and the new ballistic missiles which could strike either U.S. allies or its carriers and bases in the region.

The anti-access/area denial systems, can range countries, archipelagos such as Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, so there are many countries in the region that are falling within the envelope of this capability of China. That should be concerning–and we know is concerning–to those countries. While it may be largely designed to assure China of its ability to affect military operations within its regional waters, it is an expanded capability that ranges beyond the first island chain and overlaps countries in the region. For that reason, it is concerning to Southeast Asia, (and) it remains concerning to the United States.

The rise of this type of anti-access technology has caused the Pentagon to begin reevaluating how it will fight a major war under the aegis of the Air-Sea Battle concept (I told you about this concept last month), which calls for the Air Force and Navy to figure out how they will work together to overcome such threats. That plan is being finalized right now, none too soon in light of these latest developments. It remains to be seen whether the concept will me a highly fleshed out plan for fighting in places like the Western Pacific or if it will be a mere vision statement.

One aspect that will likely feature prominently in the Air-Sea Battle concept is the, so-called, family of long range strike systems being eyed by the DoD. The family of systems idea was launched after Defense Secretary Robert Gates shelved the Air Force’s plan to build a new long-range bomber by 2018. Instead, he told the service to look at what capabilities it could develop along with the other services to overcome advanced enemy air defenses. While some sort of penetrating bomber/electronic attack/intelligence plane may be part of this family, it will also likely include stand-off cruise missiles launched by air or sea, and even land based ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets around the globe on very short notice.

While China insists its military tech is being developed for defensive purposes and that China will always work to safeguard “regional peace and stability,” it’s not always clear what that means. For example, China’s military has dramatically increased its penetrations of Japanese airspace, resulting in Japanese fighters being scrambled 44 times this fiscal year; double the total for 2006, according to a different article in Asahi Shimbun.
Special Report

Wars in 2011
(part 6 of a 7 part report)
It's hard to remember a time when Pakistan didn't seem on the brink of collapse. This coming year will likely be no exception. The country faces a humanitarian crisis in its mid-section where floods displaced 10 million people, a security threat from terrorist groups operating on Pakistani soil, and political instability from a weak administration still trying to wield civilian control over the all-powerful military.

The most immediate priority is assisting the millions of people who are still displaced following floods in Pakistan's countryside. The cities could also use attention; 2010 saw the biggest spike in urban terrorist attacks since the war next door in Afghanistan started. Insurgent and terrorist groups now have strongholds not just in the northwestern tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, but in urban centers such as Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta, and Lahore. Yet despite the flurry of attacks on its heartland, Pakistan still seems reluctant to confront the insurgents with full force. So far, military operations against terrorist groups have vacillated between the extremes -- either heavy-handed and haphazard force or ill-conceived peace deals. Further, the criminal justice system has failed totally to preempt, investigate, and convict militants. Violence may well spike again in 2011.

Meanwhile in Islamabad, the civilian leadership under President Asif Ali Zardari has grown unpopular and weak, plagued by corruption and an inability to maintain control of the military leaders. Civilian control over national security policy, in both the domestic and external domains, could help put the criminal genie back in the bottle. Stronger civilian leadership of the humanitarian agenda would also prevent the millions living in regions devastated by the massive monsoon floods of 2010 -- in the conflict-hit zones in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and also in the Pakistani heartland -- from becoming a soft target for militants. However, clashes between the judiciary and Zardari, and the military's propensity to destabilize elected governments, could result in the democratic transition faltering and even failing, with grave consequences for an already fragile state.

If Somalia keeps heading south in 2011, the entire country could fall under Islamist insurgent control. Up to now, the country's U.N.-backed transitional government has withstood attacks from Islamist insurgents only thanks to protection from an African Union peacekeeping force; it remains weak and divided, a national government in name alone. Further, the capital city of Mogadishu is under perpetual siege by militants, a reality that has sent millions fleeing from their homes in this year alone. When the government does make gains on the insurgents, they are counted in mere city blocks, captured one by one.
The largest and most alarming insurgent group is al Shabab, which professes to desire the creation of a strict, conservative Muslim state and portions of whose leadership pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in early 2010. The group already controls most of southern and central Somalia and is currently trying to capture Mogadishu. Meanwhile, Somalia's neighbors fear that al Shabab will begin to export terrorism, as it did for the first time last summer in a series of bombings in Uganda during the World Cup.

That said, Somaliland in the country's northwest is an island of stability and democracy, and Puntland in the northeast is relatively peaceful, if troubled by Islamists and pirate gangs.

The best hope for Somalia is for its forces to exploit the divisions among the insurgency to recapture territory, particularly in Mogadishu. International support, already forthcoming, will help. But so would a lot of luck.  

Long Life and Prosper.....

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