Future PLA combat aircraft composition


Totoro

Captain
VIP Professional
Stand off missile strike idea as the ultimate solution keeps rearing its head. Yet it's fallacious in many aspects.
Because of the following:

1. Chinese enemies would not have just a few bases available (like on Guam) but possibly 100 + various bases spread over vast swaths of land to operate from, with great majority being closer to China than Guam.

2. Average base mentioned is not a single target but a set of targets numbering dozens different items, each needing some kind of penetrating warhead.

3. Overall number of missiles available to China, that are capable of going over 1000 km is actually not that great. The fact not all can be fired at once as launcher numbers are smaller than missile numbers and the fact the launchers themselves are needed in multiple locations, preclude launches of very large number of missiles at once, at a target. Coupled with missile defenses and possible malfunctions, it's not unexpected that in a notional 24 missile salvo perhaps 10 or so missiles would not hit their targets. (of course this can be much debated)

4. Assets such as tankers would be operating from bases even farther away, if needed. Further lowering the numbers of missiles that could reach so far.

5. Targeting runways is easily done. But runways can get repaired within a day, in most cases.

6. Targeting individual planes is NOT an easy task. Recon flights at sufficient proximity to determine targets are not easily done near such bases. Due to distance, defenses, etc. Determining targets via satellite overflights (let's assume satellites themselves won't be subject to interference) is still far from an easy task. Great majority of Chinese satellites are optical. They do not provide meaningful images during night time. Western pacific is fairly cloudy throughout the year. For example, Tokyo will have overcast weather 50% of the time. Overall average time of clear image availability will be, roughly speaking, 6 hours a day. But not 6 hours of the exact required spot on Earth. Given that pretty much all recon satellites need 90-ish minutes to do an orbit, and that revisit times over the required spots on Earth are usually 3 days or so, there's a high chance a single satellite will need over a week to get a single usable image. Thus, for better coverage, not one but dozens and dozens of satellites would be used.

Great majority of those satellites have decent but still not great resolution. 0.5 to 1 meter. That's NOT good enough to confidently say whether a shape is a real plane or a detailed decoy model.
One can bet one's bum that in war one side will be making thousands of fairly cheap decoys on factory lines, to be brought in by planes/ships/trucks and assembled on site and then easily moved on wheels around the base. Such decoys could cost a few thousand dollars, enough to make them fairly detailed, yet cheap enough to be very dispensable.

6b. Radar satellites can be more useful, both to determine targets and to offer more coverage, undisturbed by night time and clouds. But they're far, far less numerous than optical ones. Which pretty much results in the same issue of target coverage that's simply not that good.

7. target discrimination isn't done automatically. Recon imagery needs to be assessed manually. Sent to a person making decisions. Targeting plan needs to be done and targets need to be input into missiles before launch. While huge, high contrast targets like carriers can be targeted while missile approaches the target - small targets such as individual planes can not. In all likelihood - the whole kill chain from satellite flying over to missile reaching the target would need at least an hour, for a ballistic missile, and several hours for a cruise missile. In that time, many of the targets and decoys alike would be relocated. Pretty much precise times of satellite overflights would be known to the enemy as tracking satellites is a fairly trivial job for a world superpower.

7b. Cruise missiles could have self-retargeting capability against planes on tarmac in certain visibility situations, helping in the issue - but they're not a solution on their own. And they're rather vulnerable. And still not that numerous in Chinese inventory.

Conclusion: China would likely be able to concentrate its assets by doing fuel costly satellite redirections and destructive missile strikes on a single (or a few) bases per day. And do great damage to those. Yet, runways and infrastructure would get repaired and more planes hit than not would in fact be decoys. But it'd take most of its resources to do so. And there'd be dozens and dozens of of similar bases operating at the same time. Not to mention the very same base that was hit would likely need to be hit by a big concentrated recon/targeting/missile strike effort again, and again, every day or two.
 
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Eurofighter

New Member
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With regards to 5th generation fighter procurement for the PLA, I think we are in agreement in the sense that blindly pursuing procurement of any given type of asset is not a good strategy, and because of limitations of resources you have to invest wisely.
BUT I also think that the PLA's current 5th generation fleet and its foreseeable 5th generation procurement in the next few years will be so far from optimal compared to the competition, that even talking about "not cranking out 5th generation fighters" seems like an absolute luxury and strange thing to discuss at this stage. It's the equivalent of being in 1998 when the PLA only hand a small number of Su-27SKs in service and suggesting that the PLA didn't need to crank out 4th generation fighters or shouldn't seek a large fleet of 4th generation fighters.
Now, I think it's logical to talk about how best to balance the books in context of limited budgets, which I have no issue with -- but it needs to be spoken of specifically in the context of limitations of budget, industry, military resources. Let's not stand on ceremony and delude ourselves into thinking that a fleet of mixed 4th and 5th generation fighters is more optimal than a larger fleet of more 5th generation fighters especially in context of where the PLA's fighter composition is today versus what the competition has planned.
Because if the PLA doesn't build a fleet of majority or mostly 5th generation fighters by XYZ year, that is a reflection of its limited budget, industry and resources, not because it chose it as a first choice option in context of the scale of the threat they're facing.
...

Well said. And I agree with you here. And I have never deluded myself, I never doubted the direction China should be heading, i.e. building 5th gen, research/develop next next gen manned/unmanned etc; and eventually all 4th will be phased out. There I have no doubt. But the question is, does it have to be an 5th gen to replace a 4th gen? Not necessarily. Given the economics and with realistic regional threats in mind, for the foreseeable future China's air force remain well served with both 4th and 5th gen systems, without the necessity to achieve numerical parity in terms of 5th in the next 10-20 years; or even ever achieve parity for that matter, as those funds will be better on research/development for the next gen systems. I don't believe that by having "only" 50% 5th gen in next decades will endanger China's strategic standings. To again resort to simple numbers: nobody want to take on a country with say 2000 F35s, but nobody, US included, would want to take on an adversary with 1000 J-20 and 1000 J10/J16s either. China will be in no way be pushed in a corner in the next 20 years because it does not have a full 5th gen air force. Better than reaching parity is to spend that money to ensure you will transition into the next gen faster than the US can while keeping the cost in check. That is for me a more sensible choice.
 

Eurofighter

New Member
Stand off missile strike idea as the ultimate solution keeps rearing its head. Yet it's fallacious in many aspects.
Because of the following:

1. Chinese enemies would not have just a few bases available (like on Guam) but possibly 100 + various bases spread over vast swaths of land to operate from, with great majority being closer to China than Guam.

Let me just react to this. Which 100+ bases for China's adversaries to use? In an actual shooting war between the US and China, and pray to God that never happens, all countries in the region will try to pull as much distance as possible between themsleves and the fighting. Not even Japan is a guaranteed ally of US in this situation. No there are no 100+ bases for the US to use.
 

Totoro

Captain
VIP Professional
It's besides the point, I agree. But if China seriously plans its forces around the likelihood of Japan not being a full ally - then that's suicidal.

On the other hand, I believe there will never be a war if Japan is not US ally. US alone, without Japanese soil, simply doesn't have a chance of bringing any serious amount of hurt to China without suffering just as grave casualties while attacking.
 
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AndrewS

Major
Registered Member
It's besides the point, I agree. But if China seriously plans its forces around the likelihood of Japan not being a full ally - then that's suicidal.

On the other hand, I believe there will never be a war if Japan is not US ally. US alone, without Japanese soil, simply doesn't have a chance of bringing any serious amount of hurt to China without suffering just as grave casualties while attacking.

Let's say 100 airbases were provided by Japan.

The next question is, how are these bases going to be supplied?

Large transport aircraft need long runways, but these are vulnerable and can't hope to provide enough supplies.
Japanese ports will also be under attack by those same missiles.
 

Phead128

Junior Member
Maybe because 187 F-22 raptors with a 15:0 (conservative) kill ratio against 4th gens = 2,805 4th gen fighters, which is more or less equal to entire Chinese air combat fleet (fighter, bomber, attack) combined ?

Now if J-20 can achieve a 17:0 kill ratio as claimed by recent GlobalTimes piece last week, that means China doesn't need to produce that many J-20's against regional airforces equipped with 3rd or 4th gen fighters. Korea and Japan might combined have ~100 5th gen fighters. So China should atleast equal Korea and Japan. If China foresees a conflict with US over Taiwan or Korea, then China should at minimum match US Pacific fleet numbers of 5th gen as a deterrence for intervention. I don't see a reason why China should match US Global numbers for F-35s unless it expects a full-scale war with US in future... which is unlikely.

There is this obsession for people to want to have parity in everything, as if without absolute numerical/generational parity a war cannot be won. But that is simply not true; seriously, look at the history. Simply put: China doesn't need to match the combined total of US/Japan/Korea 5th gen aircrafts 1 on 1 in the asia-pacific in order to achieve her objectives, whatever that may be.

I provided hard numbers like 187 F-22s can defeat 2,805 4th gens with a conservative 15:0 kill ratio.

You just said 187 F-22s will lose to equal number of 93 J-20s and 93 J-16s, even though J-16's will kill ZERO (0) F-22s, and at best, there might be a 1:1 kill ratio between F-22 and J-20 (generous).

The mixed 50/50 4th/5th gen can ONLY work if the "Force multiplication" is over 2X, which is highly doubtful. What source do you have for "system-on-system" force multiplier over 2X?
 

AndrewS

Major
Registered Member
Conclusion: China would likely be able to concentrate its assets by doing fuel costly satellite redirections and destructive missile strikes on a single (or a few) bases per day. And do great damage to those. Yet, runways and infrastructure would get repaired and more planes hit than not would in fact be decoys. But it'd take most of its resources to do so. And there'd be dozens and dozens of of similar bases operating at the same time. Not to mention the very same base that was hit would likely need to be hit by a big concentrated recon/targeting/missile strike effort again, and again, every day or two.

Uh no.

You use missiles for the initial strikes to suppress the Japanese Air Force and obtain air superiority for other assets to attack.
Plus the missiles can be used to cut off Japan from external resupply by cargo aircraft or cargo ships. Without resupply, everything will come to a stop.

That leaves the door open for cheaper munitions to be used afterwards.

Japan is just a bigger version of the Taiwan problem.

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And run your own analysis of operating tankers and bombers further away, say in Hawaii.

A back of the envelope calculation indicates ballistic missile strikes against large aircraft is still very favourable for the attacking force.

If the US can't operate tanker aircraft from Hawaii, that is a huge problem.
 

tamsen_ikard

Junior Member
Registered Member
I provided hard numbers like 187 F-22s can defeat 2,805 4th gens with a conservative 15:0 kill ratio.

You just said 187 F-22s will lose to equal number of 93 J-20s and 93 J-16s, even though J-16's will kill ZERO (0) F-22s, and at best, there might be a 1:1 kill ratio between F-22 and J-20 (generous).

The mixed 50/50 4th/5th gen can ONLY work if the "Force multiplication" is over 2X, which is highly doubtful. What source do you have for "system-on-system" force multiplier over 2X?



Anyone that thinks stealth is the be all and end all of Air combat needs to learn more about how air battles are fought. I suggest you watch some videos on youtube of people flying various planes and fighting in DCS air combat simulator.

The most important in any combat is tactics, not capability.

Stealth is overrated. The only advantage stealth provides is a lower detection range in BVR. A stealthy plane might be detected by an X band radar from 30 miles vs non-stealthy plane at 150 miles. That might seem huge but it is not. First of all, low frequency radar can detect stealth planes from 100s of miles. So, there is no element of surprise here. If a country has low frequency radar in planes or AWACS or even ground based radar, they can easily identify where the planes is.

Once you know where the plane is, there are many tactics you can use to defeat stealth. You can design your radar guided missile to fire without a full lock but low-frequency radar given coordinates. Once they are close enough, the missile can lock on its own. Modern AI allows much more complex logic about these kind of decisions on the fly. With AI you can use image based recognition to lock on targets without using a radar.

Even if you don't have these technologies, you can use superior tactics to defeat stealth. Avoid BVR and just hug to the ground and fly low, thus masking yourself from the planes. You can use terrain features such as mountains to hide. Once stealth planes gets close enough to be detected by your X band radar, you can lock and fire.

You can set up approach from different angles. One group can fight from the front to act as decoy while several groups can engage from the side. Stealth planes have limited number of missiles in their bay and thus, they can be exhausted from missile using decoys and then chased by faster planes from the side or behind.


Discussions about air combat here most of the times boil down to which plane has what new stuff. But there is a reason militaries around the world are not going crazy over stealth. Its just a new capability just like having a more powerful radar which allows early detection. A nice thing to have for sure, and raises the chances of winning. But superior tactics and superior numbers can defeat any equipment.
 

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