Video Above: China’s Navy is Larger than the US but can it Compete?
The US Navy’s Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group recently conducted sophisticated communications and anti-submarine training exercises with Japanese Maritime Defense Forces, demonstrating growing solidarity between the two allies and exploring improved interoperability in several key mission areas.
The exercises, which included US units from Commander, Destroyer Squadron 15 (DESRON) and Japan’s JS Teruzuki, sought to solidify the US-Japanese deterrence posture in the Pacific theater which of course pertains in large measure to efforts to contain Chinese provocations and aggression.
“JS Teruzuki and DESRON 15 conducted various training evolutions to include visit board search and seizure (VBSS), Expendable Mobile Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Target (EMATT), and electronic warfare exercises, which demonstrate the commitment of the U.S. and Japan to share information together at sea,” a Navy report on the exercises said.
The training also included the use of a US Navy Carrier Air Wing, a development of added significance in the Pacific given that Japan is now well underway with a large-scale $34 billion F-35 buy. This is extremely significant in a number of respects, because the move not only strengthens Japan’s ability to defend its airspace and conduct surveillance missions but also greatly improves US-Japanese networking potential.
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All F-35s are of course engineered with a common data link called Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) which seamlessly networks all F-35s to one another with a secure, high-speed network enabling fast transmission of time sensitive targeting data and mission-specific intelligence.
Operating roughly 1,000 miles from the Coast of China in some key places, and within about 500 miles from Taiwan from Japan’s Southern Islands, ground-based Japanese F-35s can project massive amounts of power throughout the region and function as a critical deterrent.
Of equal or greater significance, Japan is also buying F-35B Marine Corps variants capable of hovering and vertical take-off-and-landing. This means Japan will have the ability to project 5th-generation stealth aircraft power from amphibious assault ships within the Pacific theater, placing it within striking range of many vital target areas such as Taiwan or the Chinese mainland and coastal areas.
J-31 & J-20
China, however, is building the J-31 carrier launched 5th-generation stealth fighter but does not appear to have a vertical take-off-and-landing F-35B variant. An inability to launch vertically means that J-31s will only be able to launch from carriers, meaning that China will most likely not operate with an ability to project 5th-generation stealth air attack.
Given this, it appears that any kind of Chinese amphibious assault upon Taiwan would not be likely to incorporate sea-launched 5th-generation but will instead need to rely upon its small fleet of land-launched J-20 aircraft. This could put China at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to controlling the skies in support of an amphibious attack, particularly given that both Japan and the US Navy will be in position to operate F-35Bs both independently and networked together.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.