US in Western Pacific faces increasing rivalry from China
A report published Saturday by The National Interest, an American conservative bi-monthly international affairs magazine, suggests that backed by its economic might, advances in Chinese armaments are poised to elevate the People’s Liberation Army ( PLA) into a credible rival to U.S. forces in the Western Pacific theater.
These weapons include stealth fighters, missiles and submarines, and are classified by the Pentagon as anti-access/area denial (A2/AD). They are designed to challenge the U.S. presence in the Pacific, a domain seen by China’s leaders as their own turf.
According to the report, the J-20 is China’s first attempt to build a fifth-generation stealth fighter that might be able to challenge the lead in airpower currently enjoyed by the U.S. in the Pacific. Although many details remain murky, the J-20 is a large twin-engine jet believed to have stealth attributes and to be capable of carrying bigger payloads. It boasts an active electronically scanned array radar and an electro-optical targeting system that provides similar combat capabilities to the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The report lists China’s YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise missile as a “deadlier” threat to the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. With a range of 320 kilometers, it can be launched from PLA aircraft, ships and submarines in large salvos at U.S. carrier strike groups, from outside the range of current Aegis ballistic missile defense systems and SM-2 interceptor missiles.
U.S. aircraft also face potential threats from China’s HQ-9 active radar homing surface-to-air missiles, according to the report. With a range of 190 km and speeds of Mach 4.2, the missile can hit targets flying at altitudes as high as 27,400 meters. The capabilities of the HQ-9 have since garnered interest from Turkey, causing objections from the U.S. and other European NATO peers.
The article also notes that while the PLA has yet to establish a very threatening submarine force, it has made tremendous progress in this endeavor in the form of its Yuan- class dieselelectric submarine. Dieselelectric submarines, while not on the leading edge of military weaponry, are highly effective as their low acoustic signature makes them difficult to detect. The Yuan-class is also China’s first submarine to be fitted with an air- independent propulsion system, which gives it extended range underwater while running quieter.