US Eyeing Asian Arms Race?


It was dubbed by some defence analysts as a ‘game-changer.’ Earlier this year, Russia’s newest fighter aircraft rolled down a runway in the country’s Far East for its 47-minute debut flight.

The 72-foot-long, twin-engine T-50 fighter bears a striking resemblance to the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, widely considered the most lethal air-to-air fighter aircraft ever produced—so lethal that US law prohibits its export. Yet the United States is buying just 187 F-22s, in order to husband resources for buying larger numbers of the smaller and less powerful F-35 fighters.

The problem, according to two Australian defence analysts, is that in the absence of more F-22s, other US aircraft and ground and naval forces could be ‘slaughtered en-masse in a shooting war’ by enemy T-50s.

The result, suggest Peter Goon and Carlo Kopp writing for the think-tank Air Power Australia, would be no less than a fundamental shift in the strategic balance, as decades of US military superiority crumble—all due to the advent of single weapon systems.

The only solution, Goon and Kopp contend, is for the United States to cancel the F-35, develop a new version of the F-22, and sell the new ‘Raptor II’ to its closest allies, including Japan and Australia. In other words, initiate a regional arms race.

This assessment might seem alarmist, but it’s one shared by lawmakers, military officers and industry officials from the United States and its allies, especially in the Pacific.

High-tech planes, high-stakes posturing, high rhetoric. Welcome to the world of fighter-jet diplomacy. It’s a world where appearances matter as much as substance.

The Fighter Effect
High-performance jet aircraft are unique in the arsenals of world air forces. More than any other weapon—except possibly the aircraft carrier—air-to-air fighters represent power. They have a symbolic effect far outweighing their actual military utility, and for good reason. They are sleek. They are loud. They look and sound like state power. Many nations buy pricey fighter squadrons for their prestige value alone. Why else would Saudi Arabia possess one of the world’s biggest modern fighter fleets?

But dogfighters are rarely used for the purpose for which they were designed, since this involves massive, industrial warfare—a thankfully diminishing likelihood in an age of ‘irregular’ threats such as terrorists, insurgents and pirates.

The F-22, built by Lockheed Martin, has been in service for five years and has yet to fire a shot in anger. In four decades, the F-22′s predecessor, the Boeing F-15, has shot down just 36 enemy aircraft in US service: Thirty-two Iraqi planes and four Serbian ones. Many of the Iraqi aircraft were caught trying to flee to Iran, ironically in order to escape American F-15s.

September 5, 2010 at 04:44

The only major difference between the F/A-22 Raptor n the PAK FA will be the all-aspect stealth of the former versus the frontal-aspect-only stealth of the latter, which will be be similar to that of the F-35 Lightening II. The biggest advantage of the PAK FA will be its price compared to the Raptor. I think the strategy is to position it in between the F-35 n F/A-22. However, the PAK FA will evolve gradually through block upgrades towards its full potential from PAK FA to PAK FA-M through to PAK FA-BM as has been the case with all Russian aircraft and will not be a perfect plane at its launch unlike the American counterparts.

April 6, 2010 at 20:40

PAK-FA is already in many ways superior to F-35 and is a death dealer to Super Hornet, Typhoon and all other gen 4+ aircraft due to superior kinematics and range alone. It will not take 2 decades to finish PAK-FA since the actual project PAK-FA began in 2002 and planned to finish in 2015-2018 so that makes shorter time then you expect. Indian version will be made with Indian software codes and less sensitive parts then Russian and will be a 2-seater. Once the PAK-FA is completed it will most likely be at least equal to F-22 while besting it in some ways. The overall product will be overall a perfect enemy to F-22 – fast, stealth, extremely agile, with good enough mission avionics to fight it on at least equal terms.

Current Su-35S is already highly superior to everything out there bar F-22 and even then its only the all-aspect stealth that gives F-22 its massive advantage as well as rather small advantage in other key aspects which are not so massive as to amount to a decisive lead overall. Put them F-22 and Su-35S in a WVR combat an it will be the pilot that will decide the outcome since at close ranges (approx 30mi.) the radar power of Su-35S is high enough to detect and track F-22 and Su-35S will have some advantage due to 3D TVC.

March 13, 2010 at 23:40

“The T-50 is an unarmed, incomplete prototype” … so is the F-35.

March 10, 2010 at 02:36

Chinese defense policy in the 21st Century is looking much like US defense policy at the end of the Cold War: prod the competition into spending more than they can afford on defense, and win without a fight when their economy collapses as a result. Articles like this play along nicely.

South Indian
March 9, 2010 at 22:38

India is not a warmongering country. So when Indians buy weapons its intention is not threaten or intimidate any country.

Indians want to buy American planes to absorb some technology. It is buying planes from Russia to assure Russia that India is not going to be one of the allies like Australia or UK. India wants to be called a partner to USA and to Russia. Indians don’t like to be someone’s ally.

India will make sure that it does not give any impression that it’s getting Pro-American or Pro-Russian.
India is telling USA that it needs to transfer technology to have good business with India. If USA does not transfer technology it will be happy to get it from France, Israel and Russia.

USA should make sure that to have some influence on Indian geopolitics should sell India some of its Hi-Tech war machines.At the end of the day India wants to buy what it wants to buy, if USA sells India what India wants , USA can have a say in India’s future geopolitics.

March 9, 2010 at 19:59

Of course, the Saudi fleet (along with the UAE’s impressive arsenal) is aimed at no other than Iran.

George Howard
March 9, 2010 at 04:54

“Why else would Saudi Arabia possess one of the world’s biggest modern fighter fleets?”

The Saudis live in a pretty dangerous neighborhood.

[...] US Eyeing Asian Arms Race? Sparking one might be the best chance the US has of maintaining its traditional air combat superiority, says David Axe. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)links for 2009-09-01Today’s NewsIn Today’s NewsGates Cites Arab-Kurd Progress in Iraq [...]

Arthur E. Johnson
March 8, 2010 at 20:46

Same thing as with ICBM’s. But this particular article is quite unacceptable. Full of unproven statements. I’m disappointed. As well as with Mr. Cobbs unprofessional comments about a prototype state aircraft.

March 8, 2010 at 18:39

All of this assumes ( a dangerous word ) that China will continue to fund our economy or if they will just pull the plug and let us go down in flames as Eric suggests.

Or, if they might already have the improved version on the boards or even in the factories. It does not take 20 years for a non-democratic government to get something done, but it does take money, something China and Russia are both sitting on…Russian oil and China’s US Government bonds. This is not America’s Century…it is Asia’s.

Peter Jones
March 8, 2010 at 13:23

This article has substance however, it touches insufficiently on the following:

There has already been a regional arms race in the Indo-Pacific for quite some years, caused by communist China’s reequipping of its armed forces with state of the art weapons systems, and an increase in the number and effectiveness of its nuclear warheads and delivery systems.

In addition to its new fighters the Chinese built upgrades of Russian s400 SAM and radar systems outclass everything but the b2 and the f22, the f35 is already obsolete against the su35 equipped l band radar in many directional aspects, the Chinese built indigenous stealth fighters and probably Chinese built t 50 fighters in the short term will certainly outclass the f35 in every way.

As this all seriously affects the balance of power countries like Australia will be forced not only to buy Russian/Indian rather than American if they wish to have even a half credible defense (and therefore the possibility of some political independence) they may well feel forced to move allegiance somewhat reluctantly to China and away from the US, as the US will not be in a position to defend them or to be a provider of first class weapons systems they can use to promote their own defense and therefore independence.

Contrast this with the Obama administration wanting to reduce further the united states nuclear arsenal.

This coupled with communist China’s more publicly aggressive policies such as the second island chain policy , published in the peoples daily a few years ago, which categorically details their willingness to attack Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia etc if we were to help defend Taiwan against attack by communist china.

To this end they have begun equipping their air force with updated long range Russian strike bombers, tankers and AWACS aircraft specifically to strike the Australian mainland or our oil and gas platforms with conventional or nuclear warheads.

The bush administration deliberately ignored this, by using a combination of internal censorship within the US DOD, and the usual very poor standard of understanding of military/geopolitical matters by US journalists and media in general, combined with the the naturally occurring, high level of self focus (rampant parochialism) by the US voting public, it was successful in keeping people focused on the war on terror, at the expense of the really important balance of power which is after all vital to the maintenance of peace with Taiwan as an obvious flashpoint.

Which in many ways is like the tribal wars the British fought between ww1 and ww2, instead of focusing on the long term geopolitical balance between China, Russia and emerging powers like India, which is and always was of far more importance to the well being of the people of the US and their allies in this region.

The US is not alone in this of course, Australian governments for years have allowed bureaucrats in the DOD here to intimidate serving officers into accepting decisions on the purchase of equipment which is far less capable
for our combat needs than the armed forces require.
Those who have pointed out that, (in colloquial terms) “The emperor has no clothes on”, have had their careers wrecked or have retired knowing they had no future in our defense forces.

These decisions whilst disastrous for the defense capability of the nation , have been advantageous for the careers of the bureaucrats, because combat capability is far less important to them than looking like they are saving money, and telling politicians what they want to hear.

Saving money, and making politically popular selections, against the advice of the experts enhances their careers, whilst arguing for a more expensive, but actually far more combat effective equipment is likely not to be what treasury wants to hear, and therefore politically unpopular, and politically unpopular views are not likly to further the career of a public servant,which is the focus of their mindset.

The US navy has reached point where their carrier air arm has been so emasculated by the deliberate failure (as a matter of DOD Policy) to develop effective stealth interceptors, (for long range first ring of defense as a replacement for the F14) stealth strike and stealth high agility fighters, that in any air battle with current SU35 series fighters they would lose convincingly.

When you couple this with the retirement of the SA3 Viking anti-sub warfare aircraft (with no replacement)the US navy is untenable as an offensive or defensive force if it is forced to confront china conventionally in order to meet its commitments to safeguard its pacific allies.

All of this is bad enough but successive US governments have failed to fund and develop radar and defensive armament systems which can prevent the easily achievable swamping of each ship with twelve or more incoming missiles simultaneously, officially the DOD has been hiding behind the statistic that it can shoot down 90 percent of incoming threats however gulf war experience dictates that 50 percent is much closer to the mark and that enough multiple simultaneous incoming warheads, will overcome the current radar and computer directed systems ability to cope with the scope of the attack, (much the same way as the Australian army’s mortar locating radars failed in combat during the Vietnam war, due to their inability to cope with many potential incoming targets simultaneously.

Whereas when it was introduced the f16 was technologically and aerodynamically superior to any opposing aircraft, the f35 when introduced will be aerodynamically inferior to those older su 35 aircraft already in service, with a much smaller payload due to stealth requirements, lower speeds, much shorter combat range and some stealth best when oncoming and most vulnerable when running away.

In short apart from some new hi tech capabilities in its cockpit the aircraft brings nothing new in terms of its aerodynamic or stealth performance and is if anything a large step backward, not a step forward unlike the f16 was all those years ago.

Therefore in Australian service the aircraft is likely to be “NO REPLACEMENT AT ALL” for the f111, not much use as an air superiority fighter, but ok at supporting troops in contact, in as much as it can drop a couple of bombs with great precision, as long as it does not face effective modern short or long range ground based antiaircraft systems without the support of US f22s to protect it.

It has some chance of surviving combat with su35s as long as they have to come to the f35s at long range and do not have much loiter time left.

If the f35s have to go on the attack they will be vulnerable to faster longer range fighter aircraft which when networked with long range modern radar systems and air to air missile systems will be able to kill refueling tankers at long range and if the tankers are withdrawn prior to destruction, the f35s will not have the fuel reserves to escape, let alone the ability to escape by using airspeed in which they are inferior.

An f22 even if low on fuel would have the advantage of its all aspect all radar wavelength effective stealth and under those circumstances would not be an easy target, and with its high speed could outdistance its attackers, even if refueling were not forthcoming.

Eric Palmer
March 7, 2010 at 16:23

Unfortunately the F-35 is no where near showing that it works. And even if it does; at what price? And then; define “works”. The F-35 was designed to go places that the F-22 has cleared of the bigger threats. With the U.S. Federal budget gone bust (41 cents of every dollar being borrowed money). Along with retirement of the F-22 starting some time in the 2020′s, U.S. air power domination will have reached its end.

[...] Read the rest at The Diplomat. [...]

Henry Cobb
March 6, 2010 at 13:13

The T-50 is an unarmed, incomplete prototype for the PAK-FA so it would rather strange if the T-50 was widely exported.

The big question is if the PAK-FA will be deployed in 2015 with minimal changes over the T-50 and so an even match for the Super Hornet and Eurofighter and hopeless against the F-35? Or will the Russians sit down with the Indians and start the development of a fighter that could take on the F-22 with some chance of success? If so they will require a lot of money and two decades to do so.


Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief