Threat Tuesday – Liaoning

AFP/Getty Images

China is now officially an aircraft carrier-operating navy with the commissioning of Liaoning on 25 Sept 2012. Though much has been written, I direct you to Andrew Erickson’s column in the Wall Street Journal, “Introducing the ‘Liaoning’: China’s New Aircraft Carrier and What it Means.”

Courtesy Killer Apps/Foreign Policy

Andrew (and many others) point out that the Chinese have yet to meet a major milestone; landing aircraft on the deck. Just one day after being commissioned, photos appeared on the ‘net that may indicate that landings have already happened (see “Who left skidmarks on the flight deck of China’s new aircraft carrier?“)

But does China really need an aircraft carrier? Yet elsewhere in Foreign Policy is an argument entitled “Shipping Out: Are Aircraft Carriers Becoming Obsolete? I will be the first to say that the arguments put forth are very simple and the author shows little real understanding of naval matters; not to mention apparent ignorance of anti-ship ballistic missiles. For a far better analysis of the Chinese naval threat I recommend the latest edition of  Ronald O’Rourke’s Congressional Research Service report China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress. On the issues of China’s aircraft carriers, the report points out:

Although aircraft carriers might have some value for China in Taiwan-related conflict scenarios, they are not considered critical for Chinese operations in such scenarios, because Taiwan is within range of land-based Chinese aircraft. Consequently, most observers believe that China is acquiring carriers primarily for their value in other kinds of operations that are more distant from China’s shores, and to symbolize China’s status as a major world power. DOD states that “Given the fact that Taiwan can be reached by land-based aviation, China’s aircraft carrier program would offer very limited value in a Taiwan scenario and would require additional naval resources for protection. However, it would enable China to extend its naval air capabilities elsewhere.” (p. 20-21)

Regardless of the threat, it will be fun to play out a wargame scenario using Liaoning. Indeed, the Oct 2011 issue of The Naval SITREP from Clash of Arms featured a Harpoon scenario “The Wisdom of Shi Lang” (Shi Lang being what the west originally thought the carrier would be named).

Threat Tuesday – Sino-Japanese Naval War of 2012

PLA Navy aircraft carrier Shi Lang underway

Take a peek at this article over at the Foreign Policy website. Time to get Harpoon 4.1 out and start generating some scenarios! Hmm, Sea of Dragons was published in 1997. So much has changed an update is urgently needed.

If the author is right, and the key factor is the human equation of combat, then no wargame is going to accurately simulate the battles. Without very detailed (and despised) rules for when to break off combat most wargames are “fought to the death” or past the point where a rational commander would stop fighting.

Wargame Wednesday – GPS in Modern Wargames

Recent reporting out of South Korea is talking about a new north Korean threat – GPS jammers. From Yonhap:

In a report submitted to the parliamentary committee on defense, the ministry said North Korea has been developing the new Global Positioning System (GPS) jammer with a range of more than 100 kilometers, among other devices for electronic warfare.

In many wargames, GPS jamming tends to either be ignored or dealt with under Electronic Warfare rules. This is too bad since the modern military’s dependence on GPS is so so heavy that the loss of this critical force enabler could make a difference. Tactical air games like Air Strike were designed in the days before GPS, and even operational level air warfare games like Downtown or Elusive Victory don’t reflect the impact of GPS on the battlefield. I am not a modern ground warfare player so I really can’t talk to how GPS is reflected in those games but how do you replicate the great “end-run” of the First Gulf War without GPS rules?

With the efforts China has put on anti-satellite technology since 2007 when they shot down their own satellite it may be interesting to see how the loss of GPS would influence a modern battlefield. Maybe a variant rule for Red Dragon Rising? Or how about a variant rule for Crisis: Korea 1995?

Wargame Wednesday – Operation Long March

Speculative fiction is great cannon fodder for wargame scenarios.  So is the emergence of new technology.  Indeed, an entire genre of fiction, the “techno-thriller” was spawned out of the desire to play with neat toys.  Thanks to Airpower Australia, we now have a scenario straight out of tomorrows headlines that showcases the new J-20 ‘Black Eagle’ stealth fighter/bomber.

“The events depicted in this NOTAM are “what-if” speculative fiction no different from Clancy’s 1986 novel, “Red Storm Rising”, but the weapons, tactics, operational techniques, targets, and geography depicted are all based on hard facts and as real as it gets.

Operation Long March speculates on a Chinese attack in the western Pacific in 2020.  It is a fairly comprehensive scenario with targets and strike package assignments for not only the J-20 but the DF-21D Ant-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) and PLA Navy submarines.  As the author notes, the total time taken to develop the target list was five hours of open source research.  In his summary, Wing Commander Mills points out:

This NOTAM makes one deadly and incisive point.

Every nation investing in a major military capability does so with the expectation that some day, it could be used. Weapons systems are classified as ‘Defensive’ or ‘Offensive’; some are both.

The large J-20 stealth fighter is, on balance, a modern example of an offensive sledgehammer conceptually similar to America’s now long retired 1960s-developed F/FB-111 fighter-bombers, with considerable capability as demonstrated by this NOTAM.

A Nation that takes a longer view of world events and invests wisely in its military capabilities will have the power to control events in its own interest – be that defensively or offensively.

Be alarmed and be prepared!

I would also add, “Game on!”

Threat Tuesday – Reconsidering the J-20

J-20 in Flight (

After a few weeks and the apparent first test flight of the J-20, some of the initial “drama” is settling down.  I am loathe to say that the initial analysis was “alarmist” or “sensationalist” but time does allow one to step back and consider factors that may not have been recognized in the initial euphoria/fear reaction.

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson over at China Signpost have taken those few moments and reconsidered the J-20.  Their analysis can be found here.  Read it all.  For you lazy ones who like previews, here are the key judgments:

–China’s J-20 fighter has the potential to be a formidable air combat system in the Asia-Pacific region, but a number of technical hurdles will need to be overcome before mass production can commence.

–Key technical capabilities that we await demonstration of are thrust vectoring, sensor fusion, active electronically scanned radars, and a higher level of tanker and AWACS support. Operating a low-observable aircraft also requires major maintenance inputs.

–The Chinese aerospace industry is making rapid technical progress, but the ability to build late-generation, supercruise-capable engines issue in particular will be a key bottleneck that helps decide the J-20’s initial operational capability (IOC) date as a true stealth platform.

Threat Tuesday – J-20 First Flight and Combat Thoughts

So just what do we call the new Chinese stealthy fighter?  Conventional nomenclature calls for it to be named J-XX, the XX being a yet-to-be-identified number.  Many in the West have taken to calling it the J-20.

Just as interesting is the aircraft nickname.  It appears Chinese bloggers may have been the first to tag the aircraft with the nickname “Black Eagle.”  A black eagle is a Asian bird of prey; certainly fitting for a cutting-edge Chinese fighter.  However, I cannot help but laugh that some American bloggers have taken to referring to the plane as the “Chengdu Chicken.”

Being a wargamer, I am curious how to simulate the airplane in a combat scenario.  The recently published Clash of Arms game Persian Incursion has a simple yet demonstrative air combat system as well as the American F-22 and F/A-18 E/F as well as the Chinese J-10 and J-11A (Su-27 Flanker copy).  So let’s play a little what if….

In the game, if a J-10 tries to shoot down an F-22 it can use the PL-12 Active Radar Homing (ARH) or PL-8 Infrared Homing (IRH) missiles.  Although the PL-12 can usually engage a target in “BVR Zone 3” – ranging from 31-40nm, against a Stealthy target it cannot engage until it gets to “BVR Zone 2” (21-30nm) because it cannot see the target.  At this range, the game rates the PL-12 with a 15% chance of a hit.  If using a PL-8 IRH missile, an engagement must take place within the “Dogfight Zone” at a range of 10nm or less.  Here, the PL-8 is credited with a mere 2% chance of a hit.

On the other hand, an F-22 trying to shot down a J-10 can use its AIM-120C-7 ARH missiles at a range of 41-50nm with a 75% chance of a kill.  In a dogfight, the AIM-9M IRH can be used with a 50% chance.   In a F-22 vs J-10 dogfight, the F-22 has a tremendous advantage.

But if you must engage a stealthy target – like the J-20 – the AIM-120C-7 can engage no further out than 21-30nm or the same range a PL-12 can engage your stealthy F-22.

Now we don’t know what sensor suite is on the J-20.  It may not be that advanced, like  Airpower Australia points out:

The intended sensor suite remains unknown. China has yet to demonstrate an AESA radar, or an advanced indigenous Emitter Locating System (ELS). However, these could become available by the time this airframe enters production. Suitable Russian hardware is currently in late development and/or test.

The problem is the Chinese may be able to offset their poor airborne sensor with ground-based systems.  Again, from Airpower Australia:

In the Western world, most intellectual and development effort in air defence radar and missiles since 1991 has been concentrated into two discrete areas, specifically to provide TMD (Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence) capabilities at the upper end, and C-RAM (Counter Rocket Artillery Mortar) capabilities at the lower end. Capabilities to intercept and destroy high performance low observable aircraft and guided munitions have received little if any attention.

Conversely, Russia has since 1991 invested most of its intellectual and material effort in air defence radar and missile development into two very different areas. At the upper tier, counter-stealth radars exploiting VHF-band technology have been developed and some exported, while at the lower end, the focus has been firmly on providing C-PGM (Counter-PGM) capabilities to defeat Western smart munitions. China has followed the Russian lead in IADS capability development, with indigenous and imported Russian technology.

So there is a good chance that if the J-20 was to come out and fight, our air defenses may not know it is there until the Chinese missile hit.

Interpolating some of the data in Persian Incurison, an F/A-18E/F taking on a J-20 would get to trade shots at the same initial range, 21-30nm. The FA-18 would have something like a 20% chance of getting the J-20 (assuming the stealth is not quite as good as the F-22) whereas the J-20 has a 60-85% chance of getting the FA-18.

Hmm…wouldn’t want to be Hornet driver in that scenario….