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Resourcing the AirSea Battle Concept

In addition to their torpedoes, the submarines pose a threat to the U.S. 7th Fleet by their ability to lay fields of modern sea mines. And the newer Chinese surface combatants are armed with an array of sophisticated anti-ship cruise missiles.

To deter U.S. air strikes, China has been buying the latest Russian and Ukrainian air-defense radar systems and surface-to-air missiles. Although improving steadily with the addition of modern Russian fighters and attack aircraft and Chinese-made copies, the PLAAF is not yet a significant threat.

But a major concern to the United States and its Asian partners is China’s arsenal of about 1,000 short- to medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles, with longer-range and more accurate missiles being added steadily.

That concern was elevated by the Dec. 28, 2010, statement by Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, that he believed China had reached initial operational capability (IOC) with an anti-ship ballistic missile. The DF-21D medium-range missile reportedly has been modified to enable the warhead to maneuver to strike a mobile target.

If effective, that weapon could make it dangerous for U.S. aircraft carriers to close within striking range of China.

The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Tuscon (SSN 770) transits the Sea of Japan (also known as the East Sea) while leading a 13-ship formation. The Republic of Korea and the United States conducted the combined alliance maritime and air readiness Exercise Invincible Spirit in the seas east of the Korean peninsula from July 25-28, 2010. U.S. Navy attack submarines are among the counters to a growning Chinese threat. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam K. Thomas

The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Tuscon (SSN 770) transits the Sea of Japan (also known as the East Sea) while leading a 13-ship formation. The Republic of Korea and the United States conducted the combined alliance maritime and air readiness Exercise Invincible Spirit in the seas east of the Korean peninsula from July 25-28, 2010. U.S. Navy attack submarines are among the counters to a growning Chinese threat. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam K. Thomas

“The anti-access/area-denial capabilities, fully employed, will present a challenge to military operations in the region,” Willard told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper. “That will have to be overcome.” Although U.S. intelligence had known that China was working on the “carrier-killer” missile system for years, its operational readiness had not been expected until late this decade.

Another surprising development was the disclosure in January, via Internet photos, of early tests of the J-20, a modern and stealthy fighter that resembled the U.S. F-22 Raptor.

Defense analysts differed over whether the J-20 was intended to be a counter to U.S. fighters and bombers or a long-range strike aircraft that could launch supersonic anti-ship missiles against U.S. carriers.

And reports from China indicate that the PLA Navy (PLAN) is preparing to put to sea its first aircraft carrier, which it has been developing from the partly built 50,000-ton Soviet ship Varyag. The oil-burning ship, with a ski-jump bow for short takeoff jets, apparently is to be used to train pilots and to develop carrier tactics while China builds its own larger and more capable carriers.

Vice Adm. David Dorsett, deputy chief of naval operations for information dominance and director of naval intelligence, conceded in a session with defense reporters that U.S. intelligence consistently has underestimated China’s speed in developing new capabilities.

But Dorsett said he was “not alarmed” by the recent developments. He questioned just how stealthy the J-20 might be and noted that neither the new fighter nor the refurbished Varyag could be fully operational for a decade. Roughead, in a separate appearance, noted that, “having an aircraft carrier is one thing. Knowing how to operate it and being very competent in those operations is something very different.”

That concern was elevated by the Dec. 28, 2010, statement by Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, that he believed China had reached initial operational capability (IOC) with an anti-ship ballistic missile. The DF-21D medium-range missile reportedly has been modified to enable the warhead to maneuver to strike a mobile target.

Dorsett also pointed out that China had yet to put the DF-21D missile system through an integrated, operational test at sea to show whether it could find and hit a mobile target, like a carrier. He acknowledged that based on its overland tests and the development of extended ISR capabilities, China possibly could hit a moving ship with a salvo of missiles.

But Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, 7th Fleet commander, said that the Navy does not see the DF-21 creating any insurmountable vulnerability for U.S. carriers. “It’s not the Achilles’ heel of our aircraft carriers or our Navy – it is one weapons system, one technology that is out there,” Van Buskirk told the AP in February.

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