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Video Above: US Congressman: Navy Needs Drones, Light Amphibious Warship and 5th-Gen Air Supremacy to Counter China

*A top Warrior Maven article. Republished for viewer interest

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) Chinese aircraft carriers, 5th-generation stealth fighters, infantry carriers and drones strike what many regard as a “concerning” resemblance to comparable U.S. platforms.

Not only has there been consistent and well documented concern about Chinese espionage regarding the theft of U.S. technology and many specific weapons specs, but to the simple observer there does seem to be a noticeable pattern. 

Usually several years after a new U.S. platform emerges, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army unveils a strikingly similar platform revealing a troubling degree of nearly identical configuration. 

Now this does not mean the sensors, fire control, weapons system or other less visible technical aspects of a given platform have been copied as well, yet this pattern of apparent “copying” is widespread and very noticeable.

China & US: Weapons Similarities

Several years after the USS Ford-class carriers emerged onto the scene with larger, flatter flight deck, the Chinese abandoned its “ski-jump” aircraft carrier design in favor of something that looks nearly identical to a U.S. Ford-class configuration. 

The now emerging Chinese VT5 “light tank” could easily be seen as a conceptual and technical rip-off of the U.S. Army’s now underway Mobile Protected Firepower program to engineer a faster, more agile and deployable lethal battle tank. 

Similarities between the J-31, J-20 and U.S. 5th Generation stealth aircraft have been discussed for many years now, given the recognizable extent to which the external stealth configuration resembles U.S. stealth renderings such as an F-35 blended wing-body configuration, internal weapons bay and seemingly seamless bolting or connecting of fuselage segments.

China’s Gongi-11 stealth attack drone, revealed in a parade in 2019, seems to almost exactly parallel or combine attributes from the U.S. Navy’s previous X-47B stealthy carrier -launched drone and the existing RQ-170 stealth surveillance drone.

U.S. Navy X-47B Drone

The second X-47B air vehicle made the first catapult launch of an unmanned aircraft from an aircraft carrier

Weapons Applications

The apparent similarities do not seem limited merely to external design but expand to weapons applications as well. 

China’s large, medium-altitude reconnaissance drone, the WJ-700, not only mirrors the U.S. Reaper in appearance but is also armed with an anti-ship missile. A large drone armed with an anti-ship missile may even be an attempt to take weaponization of something like the U.S. Reaper to a new level. The Reaper now fires a wide ranging arsenal of weapons to include the recent addition of the AIM-9X air-to-air missile, yet it does not seem clear that the U.S. now operates a drone armed with an anti-ship missile. 


AIM-9X Sidewinder

Certainly fixed wing aircraft such as a B-1B bomber or fighter jet can shoot something like a Long Range Anti-Ship missile from the air, and Northrop Grumman and DARPA are now engineering a new “Long-shot” armed drone platform to potentially fill this gap.

What is significant about this apparent Chinese pattern of replicating U.S. technology designs, specs and even weapons applications, is the timing with which they appear. Each of the respective copy-cat Chinese systems regularly surface several years behind the U.S. system they appear to be trying to replicate.

China’s effort to steal U.S. weapons technologies, innovations and platform designs is both well known and well documented, yet it is accompanied by an increasing commensurate effort to replicate emerging U.S. strategies, tactics and warfare maneuvers.

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Warfare Maneuvers

The Chinese already appear to be copying the Pentagon’s ongoing effort to architect a multi-domain warfare synergy through air-sea drills and other kinds of war preparation exercises. 

A more recent effort, it seems clear, is an apparent attempt to copy what is arguably the most significant U.S. military program … Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2). The idea is to engineer a meshed network of dispersed yet securely connected combat nodes across a combat area. The intent of JADC2 is, among other things, oriented toward reducing sensor to shooter time to expedite a combat decision-making cycle and stay in front of an adversary.

This relies not only on transmitting information in a secure fashion but also executing data and information processing, organization, analysis and data fusion. It could be described as information driven warfare, an effort to cover dispersed and otherwise disconnected combat platforms or nodes, whether they be fighter jets, bombers, tanks, drones or ground control centers, to one another in real time. 

In order to do this, vast amount of sensor data needs to not only be gathered but properly processed and analyzed so the most pressing and relevant details are identified and transmitted across the force according to mission needs and changing threats. This is part of why so much of JADC2 is being improved through the application of AI-empowered algorithms, computers and databases.

JADC2 could be considered as “defining” in terms of how the Pentagon plans to win future wars … however such a strategic approach may not be being pursued by the U.S. alone. Specifically, China’s well known military modernization push now appears to be copying JADC2 or doing its own version in an effort to expand and expedite networking.

This Chinese concept, which very closely resembles the Pentagon’s JADC2, is discussed in a Chinese newspaper in the context of developing and deploying a new Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) airplane, something which is itself a copy of several U.S. surveillance planes such as the U.S. Navy’s E2D Hawkeye.

U.S. Navy E2D Hawkeye

Five U.S. Navy E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Farbo)

While discussing the maturation of China’s new AWACS, China’s Global Times newspaper quotes its military officials saying that AWACS will “likely not be one single early warning aircraft but a cluster of platforms that can accomplish different missions and build an information network.”

This concept sounds exactly like JADC2 as well as the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System.

“But war is not about just an individual aircraft, but a system, so there should be space, aerial, ground, maritime and underwater platforms integrated together and doing their job, Lu said, noting that this will enhance the joint combat capability based on an information network system,” Lu Jun, chief designer of China's KJ-2000 early warning aircraft, said as quoted in the Global Times.

Video Above: Does the U.S. Have an Appetite for a Military Conflict with China?

Of course however promising a combat strategy may appear, its execution is of course the true test of operational functionality in warfare. Networks need to be hardened, ranges need to be extended, gathered data and sensor information needs to be processed and numerous transport layer avenues of communication need to be refined, demonstrated and ready for operations. This can be SATCOM connectivity, GPS guidance, RF datalink information exchange, software-defined radio or even newer possibilities such as optical or laser communication possibilities.  

The United States has for many years now been developing and emphasizing multi-domain operations with a mind to how new technologies are creating synergies, opening up data sharing networks and inspiring fast-moving and sweeping tactical adjustments to modern warfare preparations. U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force multi-domain task forces have been operating in the Pacific for several years now, exploring new realms of joint combat interoperability, tactics and strategies.

During the Army's several Project Convergence experiments, the U.S. Army ground forces succeeded in exchanging key targeting specifics with overhead F-35Bs in what was a breakthrough air-to-ground and ground-to-air multi-service connectivity demonstration.

Now, surprise surprise a Chinese newspaper reported that the PLA is now linking its Army and Air Force units into a single, unified combat alert duty in an effort to connect air defense radar and communications with PLA ground brigades.

“Thanks to the integration, the Army air defense brigades have become key nodes in Air Force early warning systems, as Army radars are more accurate and make up for blind zones of the Air Force’s early warning network, the report said, noting that the Army also gained a longer detection range that enabled troops to find enemies and prepare for attacks earlier, as the Air Force shares all intelligence through the network,” the Chinese-backed Global Times reported last year. 

Sharing intelligence through a network, as described by the Chinese paper, is something which seems to be an obvious combat strategy, has taken on new meaning and tactical relevance in the age of AI, cyber hardened connectivity, long-range sensors and precision weaponry. Weapons platforms are no longer merely attack systems but also “nodes” on an interconnected information sharing warfare network, forming a “kill web.”

This Chinese move to network air and ground air defenses, may or may not be particularly advanced, as its effectiveness will pertain to the quality of the network transport layers, hardened or “jam-proof” signal transmission, data analysis and organization, near real-time analytics and information processing. All of these things are maturing quickly within the U.S. military which has just within the last year or two hit several new levels of joint interoperability and massively expedited sensor-to-shooter time cycles. The Army’s Integrated Battle Command System, for instance, builds a web relay between otherwise dispersed or disconnected radar nodes, enabling target track sharing which has in several instances shown it can interoperate with air platforms such as an F-35.

It would not seem to be a stretch at all to view these PLA joint-maneuvers as a visible effort to replicate the Pentagon’s emerging Joint All Domain Command and Control program. The relative success of any kind of attempted Chinese multi-domain interoperability, and the way it reshapes combat tactics and maneuver formations, will rely in large measure upon the strength, speed and security of its networks. That is what will be necessary to bring the new tactical landscape to fruition as nodes or combat positions will increasingly be more dispersed, disaggregated and separated by distances and different domains.

Kris Osborn is  President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.