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Air Force Technical Director Fuell's Congressional Testimony: "Broad Trends in Chinese Air Force and Missile Modernization"

Published January 30, 2014

Lee Fuell, technical director for force modernization & employment at the National Air & Space Intelligence Center, testified on January 30, 2014, at a hearing on China's Military Modernization and its Implications for the United States before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Additional testimonies are available on the Commission's website.


How would China likely employ the PLA Air Force in various Taiwan contingencies and in contingencies in the South China Sea?

We'll answer this question in terms of three possible scenarios:

1. Taiwan PLA operational literature describes several campaign s the Chinese might execute against Taiwan. The chosen military campaign will dictate PLAAF employment concepts, although many of the missions are not particular to any singl e campaign. The two large-scale Taiwan campaigns most often mentioned in PLA writings are blockade or island invasion. For a joint blockade of Taiwan, the PLAAF would be tasked with strikes against Taiwan defenses (described by the Chinese as the "counter-blockade system" and this includes Taiwan airfields, ground - based air defenses, coastal defense cruise missiles, and C4ISR facilities), as well as missions to enforce the blockade, such as enforcing a "no-fly zone." The airstrikes would be preceded by miss ile attacks by the Second Artillery, as well as cyber attacks, special operations, and other unconventional warfare. Additionally, the PLAAF would support the attainment of PLA superiority in the information and maritime domains by attacking Taiwan command capabilities and providing some level of air cover for PLA Navy (PLAN) operations. These blockade missions are in addition to the primary PLAAF mission of airspace defense of China. This mission is accomplished primarily using their Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) and fighter forces, but other PLA services contribute to the effort with electronic warfare, civil air defense, denial and deception, and other measures aimed at resisting precision strike operations. This core mission remain s a strength within the PLAAF, especially in areas of strategic importance, such as Beijing, Shanghai, and along the Taiwan Strait. An island invasion of Taiwan would include the missions described above, but also require the PLAAF to provide air cover to the amphibious units as they transit the strait and to strike Taiwan forces in support of PLA on - island operations. This on - island support would not likely be U.S.-style close air support (CAS), but rather pre-planned air interdiction attacks against Taiw an forces as needed. In addition, PLA airborne forces are subordinate to the PLAAF, so an island invasion would include airborne operations, probably designed to secure a Taiwan airfield or other important facility.

2. South China Sea A South China Sea conflict , particularly one at far reaches such as the Spratly Islands, will stress the ability of the PLAAF to project airpower in a sustained fashion. Limited aerial refueling capabilities, as well as a limited number of other "high demand - low density" assets such as Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance ( C4ISR ) and support aircraft, greatly limits the PLAAF's capability to maintain presence over the expanse of the South China Sea. Depending on the contingency , the PLAAF would likely be called upon to conduct suppression strikes and to provide limited air cover for navy units. The strikes would likely include H-6 bombers employing cruise missiles against pre - planned targets. Fighter air cover will be possible f or short periods during the most critical points of a campaign, but is not likely to be sustainable for long periods. As such, the PLA Navy could provide organic air defense and, as their aircraft carriers become operational in the out years , fighter cover.

3. Counter-Intervention With regard to the Chinese military responses to U.S. intervention in either of these cases (i.e. Taiwan or South China Sea conflicts ), recent Chinese operational literature describes the need for a balanced approach that is tied to the main campaign objectives. This approach seeks to strike a balance between supporting the main campaign by deterring the "Powerful Enemy" and striking at them if necessary, with the need to avoid an expansion of the conflict. This newer literature reflects a departure from past PLA 4 writings that heavily focused on the need for pre-emptive operations against U.S. intervention, and we feel that this demonstr ates, at least to a degree, a growing confidence within the PLA that they can more - readily withstand U.S. involvement (i.e., achieve their main campaign objectives) than in years past. This isn't to say the PRC might not still feel compelled to conduct pre emptive actions against U.S. intervention, particularly in the cyber domain or other less "kinetic" ways; however, the PLA appears to be developing a more mature viewpoint on the broad application of military operations against the U.S. This means that, du ring a major campaign, the PLA will look to focus its operations primarily against Taiwan (or other adversary) and look to deter U.S.intervention or limit the effects of the intervention. Should the PRC decide U.S.intervention is having, or is likely to have, a significant impact on the success of their campaign, the PLAAF and Second Artillery would be tasked with strike s against U.S. forces and facilities. Such attacks would employ significant numbers of available Chinese combat assets and would be well planned and rehearsed. It is likely that they would be accompanied by cyber attacks on U.S.military and other government networks. The speed, reach, and increasing technical sophistication of China's air and missile forces would make them crucial parts of such an operation. Chinese writings, although not specifically directed at the U.S., discuss the importance of attacks on logistics, supply depots, air bases, and ports by air, ballistic and/or cruise missiles, spec ial forces, and other means. The use of these weapons against potential U.S.assets reinforces China's anti - access strategies. Chinese analysts note the importance of military on Okinawa and Guam, and these assets and their supporting infrastructure are likely high priority targets of the PLAAF and Second Artillery.

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