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Analysts: 800 Chinese Missiles Would Damage U.S. Forces, But Not Defeat Them

By | September 18, 2006

      Stealthy U.S. Weapons Platforms Would Benefit Americans

      The vast Chinese missiles arsenal, expanding by perhaps 100 missiles each year, would cause severe damage to U.S. hardware and deaths of large numbers of American personnel in any confrontation with U.S. forces, analysts said.

      But the massed might of some 800 or so missiles that China wields currently wouldn’t defeat U.S. forces, the analysts said, speaking at a panel forum of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington think tank.

      Clearly, against the current non-radar-evading U.S. Navy ships, the missiles that China has trained on the strait between the mainland and Taiwan would “create a lot of deaths and damage” in U.S. forces, said Bernard D. Cole, professor of international history at the National War College, who spoke for himself, not for the college.

      But the damage and casualties would fail to carry the day, and American forces would prevail in a direct conflict against China, Cole predicted. China has passed a law vowing to invade Taiwan and seize it by force unless the island nation capitulates, soon, and submits to rule by Beijing. But the United States has committed to defend Taiwan against attack, urging China to persuade Taiwan to unify with the mainland voluntarily.

      Similarly, Dennis J. Blasko of the Washington-area think tank CNA Corp, a retired Army officer who is with the Center for Strategic Studies “Project Asia” and with the China Studies Center, termed the hundreds of Chinese missiles “a very destructive force. But is it decisive?”

      The answer, he said, is that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) radar-guided missiles would not defeat U.S. forces.

      At the same time, it is clear that any U.S. forces attempting to halt a belligerent PLA attack on Taiwan would be well to use radar-evading weapons platforms.

      “The more stealthy the” platform, the more likely it would be to survive unscathed in a conflict with China, Cole said after the forum.

      Currently, the U.S. Navy deploys non-stealthy weapons platforms, such as the DDG 51 Arleigh Burke Class destroyers and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter aircraft. Some in Congress, though, wish to fund just one or two radar-evading DDG 1000 (formerly DD(X)) destroyers, rather than the seven the Navy now requests, much less the 24 to 30 it once sought. Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC], Raytheon Co. [RTN], General Dynamics Corp. [GD] and Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] would build them.

      These high-technology, all-electric ships also would have unheard-of powers, able to destroy targets perhaps 100 or more miles inland. Non-stealthy battleships of World War II, in contrast, had a range of 16 to 20 miles.

      Lawmakers complain about the cost of the DDG 1000, perhaps $3 billion for the first ship, the Navy estimates, declining to about $2 billion for later copies of the vessel. The legislators would prefer the Navy to order something cheaper.

      While “Arleigh Burkes are more stealthy than their predecessors” in the surface combatant fleet, the DDG 51s can be targeted by radar, Cole noted.

      Further, as far as fighter aircraft, it will be sometime well into the next decade before the Air Force, Marines and Navy amass a substantial number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF), which began development with a huge contract award in 2001 to Lockheed Martin. Others in the JSF program include Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.

      As well, the Air Force is just beginning to form units with a pre-eminent supersonic-cruise, super-stealthy fighter, the F-22A Raptor fighter aircraft, which took two decades to develop. Lockheed also leads the Raptor program. As well, the Air Force also wields stealthy bombers.

      Cole observed that one Navy weapons platform, however, is highly stealthy, easily able to avoid enemy radars: the submarine fleet.

      “Submarines are the ultimate in stealth” assets, Cole said.

      However, the Navy also is running into congressional resistance to funding enough Virginia Class attack submarines. They are produced jointly by GD Electric Boat, which makes half of each sub, and Northrop Grumman Newport News shipbuilding, which makes the other half. Then the halves are joined.

      Some lawmakers decry the $2.6 billion cost per boat, currently funding just one sub per year. But GD and Northrop argue that if Congress would just begin funding construction of two subs annually, volume savings would permit driving the sticker price on each sub to $2 billion or less.

      As well, some members of Congress complain about the $14 billion cost of the first CVN(X), or CVN 78, aircraft carrier. (It began development a decade ago, then called CVN 21). However, $6 billion of that price tag is the development cost of the new carrier, which would cost $8 billion each for later copies, not much more than the $6.5 billion to $7 billion for the old Nimitz Class.

      War With China: Likely?

      A key question here, of course, is just how likely China might be to launch hostilities that would come to involve U.S. forces.

      Here, the answer isn’t conclusive.

      Analysts said that China doesn’t appear to be amassing a military with global reach, ready to challenge the sole superpower, the United States.

      At the same time, the most populous nation is amidst a gigantic military buildup that will give it a powerful regional presence, at the least, and perhaps some ability to maintain regional sea lanes to safeguard its shipments of goods abroad and its imports of energy commodities, analysts indicated.

      The ponderous Chinese trade surplus with the United States, now about $200 billion yearly, has helped it to finance its military buildup. As well, China wishes to protect its gargantuan export shipping to the United States and other nations.

      One analyst predicted that China isn’t likely to confront U.S. military forces in head-on combat, because Sino forces ultimately would lose such a fight. “The United States doesn’t have to worry about” such a conflict, said Litai Xue, research associate with the Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation. He also was a panelist in the Wilson Center forum.

      However, he continued, the gap between U.S. and Chinese military capabilities clearly is narrowing.

      While China isn’t poised for a far-off conflict around the globe, the Asian giant may be “preparing for an armed conflict over Taiwan’s status,” Cole said. China may wish to achieve an ability to deter and defeat any U.S. intervention to protect Taiwan if China launches an invasion, he said. China might be able to overrun Taiwan before U.S. forces closed in on the area.

      Cole and other analysts said this might not involve an all-out Chinese attack on the U.S. Navy, but rather a move by China to delay any U.S. intervention until it is too late, to “prevent Washington from intervening in a timely fashion.”

      Others said China may wish instead to intimidate Taiwanese leaders into surrendering their independence from mainland rule.

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