As the military battle and manoeuverings between China and the United States continue to expand, the East Asian superpower apparently has big military plans. The top brass of the United States Air Force has been expressing concern about the potential weaponry that China has at its disposal, which should be considered extremely significant.
The PL-15 air-to-air missile, which has been developed by the Chinese recently, combines a highly sophisticated radar-seeker and powerful rocket motor. This technical jargon has ultimate consequences that are far more comprehensible for the average person. The PL-15 can strike targets from potentially 60 miles away or more, and this is considered to be comparable to American jets, or possibly even superior.
Already there have been comments from the upper echelon of the United States military that such a missile system could provide China with a potential advantage. It is something of a rarity for major United States military personnel to express any form of concern about weaponry possessed by rivals of the nation. The reason for this is quite simple; the United States has been the supreme military power of the 20th century, and the early years of the 21st as well. But China has signalled its intention recently to close the gap on the United States, and the concerns about a new Chinese air-to-air missile underlines the potential of this vast nation.
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It had already been reported by Bloomberg earlier this week that a Chinese nuclear submarine has the potential to target the entirety of the United States mainland, and this is not a threat looming in the distant future, but instead a very real one today. Bloomberg believes that the ballistic missile submarine will be able to strike any point in the United States by the end of 2015.
This news comes at an extremely interesting time, with a major Chinese state visit currently taking place in the United States. It has been notable during this event, that the Chinese leader Xi Jinping has made some extremely bold statements, and there is no doubt that China is feeling more self-confident about its place in the world.
This has been reflected by the fact that the International Monetary Fund now considers China to be the largest economy on the planet. Of course, it is important to emphasize that this statistic is somewhat misleading in itself. The United States has a considerably smaller population than China, and unquestionably remains the most significant economy on the planet. China is closing the gap, developing extremely rapidly militarily, and there is no doubt that this process will exacerbate further in the immediate and longer-term future.
So the reports regarding the missile capabilities of China should certainly be seen in this wider context. According to Gen. Herbert Carlisle, the head of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, the new Chinese missile has outstanding capabilities, and it should be considered a threat by the United States.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, Carlisle emphasiszd the fact that the PL-15 missile does represent a genuine threat to the United States. Carlisle questioned how it would be possible for the United States to counter the threat, and what indeed could be done to meet the existing situation appropriately. There are no answers to these questions at the time of writing, but these are the sort of conundrums that the US defense community is ultimately considering at present.
To emphasize the fact that Carlisle was serious about his comments, the general gave an interview the very next day with Flight Global magazine in which he confirmed his view on the subject. Carlisle stated that it is essential for the United States to be able to exceed the capabilities of the Chinese if the nation is to retain its military predominance.
Having said that, it is important to emphasise that there is no clear evidence that the PL-15 is superior to the United States own main air-to-air weapon, the AIM-120. Clearly this is an extremely sophisticated piece of military hardware, but the concerns about this new Chinese product are not really related to its sophistication.
Instead, it has been suggested by Air Combat Command that China may have the capabilities to employ several PL-15s simultaneously. This would significantly up the ante of this Chinese air-to-air system, suggesting that it could become a real game changer in the geopolitical situation.
J-11 vs F-22
Thus, the PL-15 is already receiving a lot of attention from the United States, particularly as China’s J-11 fighters have the capability to carry in the region of 12 missiles of the size of the PL-15. Two additional smaller missiles could also be added to the jets, providing a powerful haul of 14 in total.
This figure really underlines the concern of US military personnel, as the machinery of the U.S. Air Force actually pales in comparison to the capabilities of this jet. The U.S. Air Force’s top-of-the-line F-22 is generally capable of carrying just six AIM-120 missiles and two shorter-range Sidewinders. It is not usual for that United States to be outdone this way, but China is certainly threatening to do so.
When one considers the development of the Chinese military, it is perhaps not surprising that its leader was so bullish on its military plans. Jinping stated while in the US that China indeed intends to expand militarily on a significant scale, although he was keen to emphasize – as leaders of nations always are! – that this was a defensive decision aimed primarily at securing the Chinese border.
But the increasing capabilities of the Chinese military will be of concern to the United States, as the geopolitical supremacy of the world’s unquestioned superpower of the 20th century is challenged for the first time in decades. This will be a central theme of the 21st century as it continues to unfold.