Video Above: If China Invades Taiwan, how will the U.S. React?
In a move which clearly seemed to demonstrate a “show of power” and potentially intimidate Japan, the People’s Liberation Army - Navy sailed its first aircraft carrier through the Miyako Strait just south of Okinawa.
Liaoning Attack Drills
China’s first carrier, the Liaoning, conducted attack drills with J-15 jets in a narrow, yet strategic waterway area in between Okinawa South of Japan and Taiwan, according to a Chinese-government backed Global Times newspaper.
Along with fighter jets, the Chinese exercise also included air attack operations with Z–9 and Z-18 helicopters and large-scale surface support from a new Type 055 stealthy destroyers, two Frigates and a supply ship.
Japan claimed it dispatched the Izumo, its de facto aircraft carrier, and fighter jets to monitor the Chinese naval activities, according to the paper.
Clearly the area near Taiwan and Japan is a position from which the Chinese carrier could easily project power and conduct air attacks against either country. Surrounded by destroyers and frigates, the Chinese operation appeared to be an effort to replicate a U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group in which heavily armed destroyers and frigates help protect carriers to launch attacks.
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Fighter Jets: F-35s, J-15s, J-20s & J-31s
While Japan is known to have about 1 million available soldiers, the country would need to rely upon its Naval presence or even some of its fast-arriving F-35s to counter any Chinese attack. Should Japan have even a small number of F-35s, it would be well positioned to counter Chinese J-15 carrier launched jets from the air. Should any Chinese carrier-supported air attack be launched to quickly take over Okinawa or Southern Japan, it might not be able to establish the kind of air superiority necessary to achieve success.
The Global Times newspaper reports that the J-15 is now substantially upgraded with new radar, weapons pylons and infrared search and track, the jet is fourth generation at best and very unlikely to challenge, or even see an F-35 before it is destroyed from the air. Essentially, Chinese J-15s could be poorly matched against Japanese or South Korean F-35s which could likely establish air superiority pretty fast. This is especially true because China is quickly developing a carrier-launched variant of its 5th-generation J-31 jet.
However, the aircraft is not yet ready for operational service, at least not in sufficient numbers. Yet another complicating or threatening element of this is the Miyako Strait is merely a few hundred miles from mainland China, a distance which does make it reachable by land-launched Chinese 5th-generation J-20 stealth aircraft. A group of Chinese J-15s could present a much more significant threat to Japan and Taiwan if in fact it were supported by Chinese J-20s.
Video Above: Comparing U.S. 5th Generation Fighter Jets, F35 & F22 to China's Fighter Jets, Including the J-20
China’s proximity to Japan and Taiwan, coupled with these air threats and the pace at which China is building aircraft carriers, is likely a key reason why Japan recently secured a multi-billion F-35 buy.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. 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 Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.