Future PLA combat aircraft composition


silentlurker

Junior Member
Registered Member
J35=FC31

DF16, DF17, DF21 all have range over 1000km.

I'm calling your post offtopic and garbage because it brings nothing of value to the conversation, relates in no way to the current discussion in the thread, and reads as if you think you know a lot about the Chinese strategy but don't even know the basics.

How would you feel if I popped into a US aircraft development discussion by saying I don't know what a B21 is and surely it would be easy to siege the US because only the long-range missile it has is the Tomahawk?
 

Japhethsdecendent

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Registered Member
According to what I read df-16 is around 1000km, I chose 1000km and under because the number of missiles seems to drop off around there. df-17 is said to be 2000km but that is new so there is probably not a lot of them. There are probably around 200 df-21's and the only figure I could find for df-26 is 22. Also regardless of what the strategy would be geography isn't changing. While I could go into more detail it will be called off topic I just saw some comments leaning in that direction. I am also surprised it seems china isn't ramping up j-20s as fast as I thought they would. What's the rush really nobody is talking about invading the mainland so in that sense china has time. Would j-35 be the answer to f-35B or f-35C?
 

AndrewS

Major
Registered Member
What j-35? I haven't heard of this one. US strategy would probably be to relatively slowly constrict china from outside not start with 1000 km and take the brunt of chinas assault. That would be the smart thing to do. The only conventinal missile that can reach well into it is df-26 if i'm not mistaken and how many of those are there? China would be prickly with those missiles but it's geography makes it easier to siege. Also since most surrounding nations would either be hostile to china or at least permit the US coalition to transit time would not be on china's side. Obviously a quick shove and negotiate tactic would not work in a war of this magnitude.
Your statement that time is not on China's side is questionable.

Note the Chinese economy is already larger than the USA in terms of actual output, when measured using PPP exchange rates.

5 years ago, RAND also did a study which looked at how much China and the USA economies would be hurt in a war.
If you apply that analysis to the figures at the time, yes, China is hurt worse than the USA, but China still ends up with a larger economic output than the USA.

But it has been 5 years since RAND did that old analysis.

And furthermore, China will likely continue increasing its economic lead in the next decade, even if there are significant issues, as per the latest CSBA report.

That naturally will translate into a lot more economic and military influence.
It would also be reasonable to expect China to start spending more than the USA on the military at some point.


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Japhethsdecendent

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Ok i'll bite, Hard to know where economies will be and China's economy is notoriously hard to get accurate numbers. I focus on capabilities and where alliance and supply chain trends are heading. The tracking of military capabilities is easier in some ways so I won't get into economics unless it has to do directly with power projection. From a military standpoint, China has the upperhand in that within around 1,000 km of it's coast and to some extent farther it can launch missiles it has been building up without having to put a platform in danger. The downside is the missiles are making up for shortfalls in other areas like platforms. If interceptors work at all as advertised then these missiles will do damage to bases but salvos will be needed. The number of ballistic missiles able to reach beyond say 2000km is a handful at this time that I can see, from 1000 to 2000km its in the low to mid hundreds.

These missiles will be nasty but they will be depleted quickly and the US's platform advantage will remain. Also there is the geographical advantage for the US. It seems likely other counties like japan, perhaps south korea and certainly Australia will help police chokepoints further into the pacific and probably push further. China's ally situation is murky. The point is it would be bloody dealing with those missiles and the initial chinese defense but eventually the platform advantage will take its toll. Also China is concentrated within the first island chain, china's forces may be slightly cramped up along it's coast limiting their options. Also the platform advantage which china seemed to be closing seems if anything to be the reverse as of late. F-35's churning out like hotcakes and very capable and versatile, also continuing upgrades. F-22's development which was stalled by lack of a competitor has ramped up with mlu coming up. B-2 is ready and b-21 will be here relatively soon as I understand it. I'm sure many here read the news about a US 6th gen confirmed to be flying at some stage but that won't be here within 5 years. There is also missile development that is slated to largely improve within less than 5 years. Also the US has acknowleged the missile problem and has begun fielding lrasm and jassm as well as jsm which will fit in f-35s bay, not to mention the HARM missile upgrade both happening within 3-5 years.

I get that china is more secretive with development but as I understand it there is a large missiles that can't fit in a stealth bay the pl-21. J-20 may get competitive engines at least compared to what is out now. Other than that and the h-20 perhaps coming along maybe within 5 years there seems to be less movement on the chinese side as far as what is published. Since we were talking about ballistic missiles and other things I will talk a little about naval platforms. In terms of numbers the US is at a disadvantage but a lot of those ships are not near as capable. China seems to be ramping up surface combatants more quickly with type-55 but ships are also targets for the air assets I mentioned. Even if you take some US carriers out there are still many left including the smaller pocket carriers with f-35Bs. In short I don't see how these missiles can overcome all that. Also throw in spy-6 for Burke destroyers and the upgrade for sm-6 also in less than 5 years. I thought I saw a j-35 thread I will check that out.
 

Bltizo

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I would also call the F-22 short-ranged.
Okay, I suppose it's all relative.


I understand where you're coming from, but geography negates this reasoning.

Do a cost-benefit calculation for a future 8000km range hypersonic missile ($40M?) launched from mainland China, which can reach all the way to Hawaii or Seattle.

A single missile can blanket a base with 17gram Mach 5 submunitions so that every large aircraft is hit.

So it makes sense to devote multiple missiles with submunitions, if there is even a single large expensive aircraft as a target.

Think any:
B-2 stealth bomber ($700M+)
B-1 conventional bomber ($423M)
KC-46 tanker ($150M)
E-3 AWACS ($270M)
P-8 MPA ($125M)
ISR, ELINT/SIGINT, etc etc

There are literally only a handful of force-multiplier aircraft available for deployment from US carriers.
In comparison, there are over 1000 large force-multiplier aircraft available which use land bases.
No, my reasoning is that relying only on long range missiles as the means of destroying opfor aircraft on the tarmac (regardless of whether they're single large force multipliers or bombers or whether they're distributed force multipliers or distributed UAV systems), you still have to account for an enemy that is able to bring their air force into play.

By all means, one should invest heavily into the ability to destroy opfor aircraft on the ground through the means of OCA (offensive counter air). But if you have not invested in a robust capability to also be able to defeat the enemy's aircraft while they are in the air, then you are screwed if your OCA fails or if the enemy finds a way to defend or mitigate the effects of your OCA.


To properly honor the threat requires you to consider the possibility that your first line optimal solution might fail, and that your backup plan needs to be as strong if not stronger to guarantee success.




If everyone is limited to smaller aircraft, China has many secure rear bases to put up many more aircraft of all types.
In comparison, the US has no secure land bases and only a very limited number of aircraft carriers to work with.
While it is true that China has more air bases in the region, many of its own air bases will also be subject to OCA in the same way that US bases in the region will be subject to OCA.

Operating on the assumption that the PLA will enjoy an air base advantage or a sortie rate advantage in event of a future conflict IMO is rather dangerous.




Plus how will the carriers be resupplied, if the supply ships are being attacked in Hawaii or the West Coast?

That is why I think the US will have a far harder time bringing force-multiplier aircraft to the Western Pacific in the future.

Today, they've already stopped sending large aircraft to Guam for example.
They've stopped sending bombers to Guam, but that's also because they've found they are able to still achieve bomber range effects from CONTUS.

And it will be a long time until the PLA has a robust capability to target and properly deny USN supply lines from Hawaii or the West Coast.


After taking a look at the cost-effectiveness comparisons and where the technology is going, I'm firmly of the view that UCAVs will become the primary platforms for the deployment of sensors and weapons.

And that manned aircraft will be the secondary platform for these functions, whilst they will (initially at least) be the primary C&C platform.

In such a world, the optimal force balance becomes a very large number of UCAVs, but only a modest number of manned stealth fighters.
I agree with you.

But the ratios still matter.
Taking a very simplistic approach, let's say air forces will seek a ratio of 1 manned 5th gen aircraft to 6 UCAVs, which air force is superior?
500 5th gens to 3000 UCAVs?
versus
2000 5th gens to 12,000 UCAVs?

That is what I mean when I ask "what if the competition has not only a larger fleet of 5th gen fighters than you, but also a commensurately larger fleet of loyal wingmen UCAVs than you as well?"


So let's take your example of a competitor with a larger fleet of 5th gen fighters and commensurately larger fleet of loyal wingmen UCAVs.
Geography forces these aircraft to be based close to the Chinese mainland, and makes them vulnerable to ground-attack.
In comparison, China has super hardened bases and secure rear area bases to use.

So China can accept a smaller fleet of 5th gen manned stealth fighters and UCAVs, but build a bigger missile force for land-attack.
You end up with more opposing aircraft destroyed for the same money.
I have nothing against investing in OCA capabilities with the aim of trying to defeat opfor aircraft on the tarmac.

I'm just saying that relying on your OCA to succeed (and/or that the enemy won't be able to use OCA to degrade your bases) is a very dangerous strategic assumption to make, and that you need to also plan your aviation capabilities around an assumption where the enemy's combat air capability may still be significantly or majorly intact.
 

AndrewS

Major
Registered Member
No, my reasoning is that relying only on long range missiles as the means of destroying opfor aircraft on the tarmac (regardless of whether they're single large force multipliers or bombers or whether they're distributed force multipliers or distributed UAV systems), you still have to account for an enemy that is able to bring their air force into play.

By all means, one should invest heavily into the ability to destroy opfor aircraft on the ground through the means of OCA (offensive counter air). But if you have not invested in a robust capability to also be able to defeat the enemy's aircraft while they are in the air, then you are screwed if your OCA fails or if the enemy finds a way to defend or mitigate the effects of your OCA.


To properly honor the threat requires you to consider the possibility that your first line optimal solution might fail, and that your backup plan needs to be as strong if not stronger to guarantee success.
In an ideal world, I agree that is the solution.

But the reality is that the Chinese military budget will still take some time to exceed the US budget, and that the US will have a very large inventory of short-ranged stealth fighters which can be used in an air superiority role, which will be very difficult to defeat symmetrically.

Hence my reasoning is that China should focus on land-attack missiles which bypass those fighters in the air, which does hold the prospect of a much easier victory.

While it is true that China has more air bases in the region, many of its own air bases will also be subject to OCA in the same way that US bases in the region will be subject to OCA.

Operating on the assumption that the PLA will enjoy an air base advantage or a sortie rate advantage in event of a future conflict IMO is rather dangerous.

China has the landmass to allow its airborne platforms to be based at the optimum distance.

In comparison, the First Island Chain doesn't allow that.
You can't decide to use an airbase another 500km or 1000km away, because there is only ocean until you reach Guam which is some 3000km away from China.


We also see numerous studies from the RAND et al, which do say that China will have an airbase and sortie advantage.

So I don't think this assumption is unreasonable.


They've stopped sending bombers to Guam, but that's also because they've found they are able to still achieve bomber range effects from CONTUS.

And it will be a long time until the PLA has a robust capability to target and properly deny USN supply lines from Hawaii or the West Coast.
But look at the sortie and tanker requirements if you can't use Guam.

From Guam to China, a bomber can manage 1 sortie per day and doesn't require tanker support.

But from Hawaii to China, a bomber is looking at half that sortie rate, along with 6 tanker sorties from Hawaii.
From the continental USA, the sortie rate gets even worse. And the tanker requirements becomes horrendous if you can't use Hawaii.

I agree with you.

But the ratios still matter.
Taking a very simplistic approach, let's say air forces will seek a ratio of 1 manned 5th gen aircraft to 6 UCAVs, which air force is superior?
500 5th gens to 3000 UCAVs?
versus
2000 5th gens to 12,000 UCAVs?

That is what I mean when I ask "what if the competition has not only a larger fleet of 5th gen fighters than you, but also a commensurately larger fleet of loyal wingmen UCAVs than you as well?"
I agree.

But the USAF is locking in a force structure and budget for over 2000 5th generation manned stealth fighters like the F-22 or F-35

And personally, I think 6 UCAVs per manned fighter is on the low side.
If UCAVs will become the primary platform for sensing and shooting, I reckon 50-100 UCAVs per manned fighter is feasible.

In that scenario, how is the USAF going to come up with the money to provide the optimal number of UCAVs?

I have nothing against investing in OCA capabilities with the aim of trying to defeat opfor aircraft on the tarmac.

I'm just saying that relying on your OCA to succeed (and/or that the enemy won't be able to use OCA to degrade your bases) is a very dangerous strategic assumption to make, and that you need to also plan your aviation capabilities around an assumption where the enemy's combat air capability may still be significantly or majorly intact.
 

Bltizo

Lieutenant General
Staff member
Super Moderator
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In an ideal world, I agree that is the solution.

But the reality is that the Chinese military budget will still take some time to exceed the US budget, and that the US will have a very large inventory of short-ranged stealth fighters which can be used in an air superiority role, which will be very difficult to defeat symmetrically.

Hence my reasoning is that China should focus on land-attack missiles which bypass those fighters in the air, which does hold the prospect of a much easier victory.
Again, I don't mind talking about force compositions that are a result of real world compromise.
Let's just not talk about those compromises as if they are somehow the first choice procurement options for the PLA.


China has the landmass to allow its airborne platforms to be based at the optimum distance.

In comparison, the First Island Chain doesn't allow that.
You can't decide to use an airbase another 500km or 1000km away, because there is only ocean until you reach Guam which is some 3000km away from China.


We also see numerous studies from the RAND et al, which do say that China will have an airbase and sortie advantage.

So I don't think this assumption is unreasonable.
That leaves aside the question of the degree of OCA each side is able to bring to the table.



But look at the sortie and tanker requirements if you can't use Guam.

From Guam to China, a bomber can manage 1 sortie per day and doesn't require tanker support.

But from Hawaii to China, a bomber is looking at half that sortie rate, along with 6 tanker sorties from Hawaii.
From the continental USA, the sortie rate gets even worse. And the tanker requirements becomes horrendous if you can't use Hawaii.
It doesn't matter if the PLA doesn't have the ability to reliably project air, naval and missile power to those regions against an opponent with robust defenses in those locations.
I'm talking 50-100 aircraft sorties to Guam with multiple hours of time on station kind of sorties.
Repeat missile strikes over the course of days and weeks, with each strike composed of multiple dozens of missiles supported by robust ISR from multiple domains (satellite, air, naval)
Multiple carrier battlegroups and multiple SAGs worth of naval support and preferably a half dozen SSNs or SSGNs worth of underwater support.


I agree.

But the USAF is locking in a force structure and budget for over 2000 5th generation manned stealth fighters like the F-22 or F-35

And personally, I think 6 UCAVs per manned fighter is on the low side.
If UCAVs will become the primary platform for sensing and shooting, I reckon 50-100 UCAVs per manned fighter is feasible.

In that scenario, how is the USAF going to come up with the money to provide the optimal number of UCAVs?
50-100 UCAVs per manned fighter seems ambitious.
Not impossible, but not something I envision in the next 20 years, especially given the complexity of those UCAVs to begin with.

That said, if UCAVs become so cheap that they are able to be procured 50-100 UCAVs per manned fighter, then you can bet the US is not going to compromise on their manned fighter to UCAV ratio either.
 

AndrewS

Major
Registered Member
It doesn't matter if the PLA doesn't have the ability to reliably project air, naval and missile power to those regions against an opponent with robust defenses in those locations.
I'm talking 50-100 aircraft sorties to Guam with multiple hours of time on station kind of sorties.
Repeat missile strikes over the course of days and weeks, with each strike composed of multiple dozens of missiles supported by robust ISR from multiple domains (satellite, air, naval)
Multiple carrier battlegroups and multiple SAGs worth of naval support and preferably a half dozen SSNs or SSGNs worth of underwater support.
Guam doesn't have robust defences against manoeuvring hypersonic glide missiles.
THAAD doesn't cut it, as it was designed for non-manoeuvring ballistic missiles.

Also Guam is only 3000km from Mainland China.
That is within range of current Valkyrie type drones with a range of 6000km which cost $2M.

So if you develop a version with a larger fuel tank, you can expect large number of Chinese UCAVs to sweep Guam and the surrounding areas at regular intervals. Short range stealth fighters like the F-22, F-35, J-20 will struggle to operate at these distances.

50-100 UCAVs per manned fighter seems ambitious.
Not impossible, but not something I envision in the next 20 years, especially given the complexity of those UCAVs to begin with.

That said, if UCAVs become so cheap that they are able to be procured 50-100 UCAVs per manned fighter, then you can bet the US is not going to compromise on their manned fighter to UCAV ratio either.
From engineering point of view, UCAVs are mechanically pretty simple.
The Vakyries are just converted cruise missiles with a landing parachute and a payload bay.
That is why they are so cheap at $2M.

It's the datalinks and training the algorithms to operate the UCAVs which is the difficult part.
But that is a straightforward deep learning software problem.

---

You suggest 6 UCAVs per manned fighter.
But what happens when the other side deploys their own UCAVs?
You end up with a UCAV attrition race, where the side with the most UCAVs wins.

Remember that UCAVs are almost analogous to one-shot guided missiles, so these are going to be expended in very large numbers in order to sweep the skies of opposing UCAVs, in order to reach their actual targets.

---

Run the numbers. If the US has 2000 manned stealth fighters with 50 UCAVs each, that is a total of 100,000 UCAVs.
From a budgetary point of view, that is $200B just in procurement costs.
And today, we already see that the US has accepted there won't be large military budget increases.
Plus the US doesn't have the available landmass nor bases in the Western Pacific to field a larger UCAV force than China.
 

gelgoog

Senior Member
Registered Member
My main gripe with UCAVs is that in non-permissive environments they will be jammed to death.
The loyal wingman concept minimizes that issue because the UCAVs would be operating closer to the command node.
But I don't think you would be able to control the loyal wingman aircraft easily in a single seater. You will need a twin-seat aircraft with a drone operator IMHO. Neither the F-22 nor the F-35 are twin-seat.

I think that as long as China has 4th gens with high power AESA radars, IRST, and HMDs for target acquisition plus the requisite weapons with an adequate communication network and ECM capabilities the stealth aircraft won't be as effective as claimed. At least the F-22 and F-35 in its current configuration won't be. Even less so if the Chinese have a comprehensive radar network with long-wave radar that is stealth resistant.

The Chinese will mainly need their own stealth aircraft to operate outside the envelope of their A2/AD bubble.
That is basically what the Russians are doing and I think is a lot more cost-effective than masses of 5th generation aircraft.

Sure it would be nice to have a twin-seat J-20 attack variant or a single-engine single-seat lower cost stealth fighter but I think those have a lower priority.
 

silentlurker

Junior Member
Registered Member
Does anyone know if any contries have considered low frequency laser controlled drones, to be more resistant to jamming?
 

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