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China Won’t Rule The Skies (Page 2 of 2)

By the same token, though, a Chinese Raptor-equivalent would pose less danger to US fifth-generation fighters than might be imagined, because it would lack the sensors and munitions necessary to actually target the US plane.  At least initially, engagements would have to be based on the improbable tactic of using visual sightings and on-board guns, because the stealth features of the F-22 design would render heat-seeking and radar-guided missiles largely useless.

Because the US military has invested decades in understanding how adversaries might seek to foil the stealth features of its aircraft, it’s likely to figure out how to destroy or disable fifth-generation fighters long before the Peoples Liberation Army does.  Despite its recent economic mis-steps, America still accounts for nearly half of all global military spending, and its investment in military technology is many times that of China.  So not only will it probably find early answers to any tactical-aircraft challenge posed by China, but it already is devising fixes to vulnerabilities Chinese scientists may have identified in the F-22’s defences.

Americans have good reason to doubt that their military will still enjoy unfettered access to the Western Pacific in the years ahead.  But the proper response to China’s growing economic and military power is to realistically assess what the People’s Republic might be capable of within current planning horizons.  Fielding fifth-generation fighters in any significant numbers is not a feasible proposition for Beijing.  There are more potent tools within China’s grasp to assert its regional power, and most of those tools can be had sooner than an indigenous force of fifth-generation fighters.

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Dr. Loren Thompson is Chief Operating Officer of the Lexington Institute, located near Washington, D.C.

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