Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
May 3, 2023
The following headline is very sensational! It reads like that US and China are already in war over Taiwan. But the reality is that no one is seriously advocating any war between the US and China, especially for the people in Taiwan. One must learn some lessons from the US-Russia proxy war in Ukraine: Ukraine suffers the most!
Further, one has to take a deep breath then look at any realistic war scenario between the two superpowers: the US vs China. There are many war games now a days, they are all fully engaged means the war will simultaneously and instantly involve missiles, drones, long range rockets, navy, air force and army etc. The war is also not going to be confined in one pre-defined zone such as the island of Taiwan.
Then one has to realize that when the war is ended, what is the aftermath or legacy, not to dream about winning or losing. For example, if the US follows the suggestions of the following article and throws billions and billions of dollars to beef up the US air force to the extent that US wins the aerial battle over China. But what about the US Navy? How and where the US army will engage the PLA?
Lastly, the US is already facing a debt ceiling soon and we are living on borrowed money (and time.) We are also financing the proxy war in Ukraine, should we finish that job first?
The US Air Force has retreated from Taiwan without a shot fired.
Wed, May 3, 2023 at 4:27 AM PDT
The US Air Force is the biggest and most powerful air force in the world: but maybe not for long. The service is struggling through twin crises – one of money, another of belief in itself – that could narrow its aerial advantage.
At best, the USAF might emerge a smaller but still world-leading force. At worst, it might cede its lead to its most dangerous rival, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). It has already made something that looks awfully like a retreat from the Western Pacific, withdrawing squadrons in the face of the growing Chinese menace.
The USAF isn’t the only American armed service that’s shrinking while its Chinese adversary is growing. After wasting billions of dollars on ships that don’t work, the US Navy is contracting even as Xi Jinping’s fleet is expanding.
The Air Force’s problem is similar. A quarter-century ago, the USAF committed to spending much of its $250 billion annual budget on the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter – a plane which has been beset by cost overruns and reliability problems.
The $400-billion project has eaten the Air Force. The idea, when the F-35 was new, was for the USAF to have nearly 1,800 of the stealthy fighters by this point. Instead, it has fewer than 500.
Every dollar the USAF feeds the F-35 program is a dollar it can’t spend on planes that are affordable and reliable. For two decades, since the F-35 first flew, the Air Force has bought too few new planes. That forced the service to fly its older planes for longer than their designers intended. Those old jets are finally wearing out, and there aren’t enough new ones to fully replace them.
The math has been brutal for the world’s biggest air force, which today operates around 5,200 aircraft of all types. That’s 1,300 more aircraft than the Russian air force has, and 3,200 more than the PLAAF has. The Russian air force is tied up, and losing planes fast, in Russia’s war on Ukraine. But the Chinese air force has all its strength available for a possible attack on Taiwan, and is adding hundreds of new planes every year.
Meanwhile, the USAF is retiring many aircraft and pulling others out of the Western Pacific, increasingly letting the local airpower balance tip towards China.
In all, more than 600 fighters could get the axe before 2030. That might not be a problem if the USAF were buying enough new jets to replace them. But projected budgets cover just 300 or so new F-35s and 100 upgraded Boeing-made F-15EX Eagle IIs.
The USAF fighter fleet could shrink from around 1,900 planes to 1,700 planes in the next few years – a contraction of American air power on a scale that hasn’t occurred in decades.
The retirement of old jets isn’t the only factor in the USAF’s retreat from the Western Pacific. When the service announced, last year, that it would shutter both F-15C/D squadrons at Kadena airbase in Japan – currently the main American fighter hub for a war over Taiwan – the F-15s’ 40 years of constant flying and worsening airframe fatigue weren’t the only factors.
Kadena lies just 350 miles northeast of Taiwan, and roughly the same distance from the Chinese coast. The sprawling base is within range of hundreds of Chinese non-nuclear ballistic missiles.
American long-range bombers – including the new B-21 Raider, scheduled for its first flight later this year – could be critical to a successful defense of Taiwan, CSIS found, but short-range fighters were all but irrelevant in all of the scenarios the think-tank gamed out. They never even got a chance to take off as Chinese missiles rained down.
What’s perhaps most galling about this decision is that the Chinese air force weighed the same problem – and came up with a totally different solution. Chinese air bases are vulnerable to American and Taiwanese missiles, just as American airbases are vulnerable to Chinese missiles. But instead of pulling out the hundreds of fighters it has positioned for a war over Taiwan, the PLAAF dug in.
During a possible war in the Western Pacific, the Chinese air force clearly aims to stand and fight. By contrast, the USAF decided to retreat before the first shot was even fired.
In assuming that fighters no longer matter in a war with China, the Air Force is doubling down on its own failure to build enough new fighters to maintain its overall strength. The organization that should be the biggest advocate for US air power instead has been making the case against air power.
There are practical steps the USAF could take to preserve its air-power advantage, especially against China. The quickest and cheapest is to return permanently-based fighters to Kadena – and spend a few billion dollars building a protective shelter for each plane it plans to stage from the base.
Over the medium term, the solutions get pricier. The USAF should hang on to every viable fighter it has for as long as it can. Maybe those 40-year-old F-15C/Ds are ready to retire. But not everyone agrees that the oldest F-22s should face the axe. And the plan to cull half the workhorse F-15E Strike Eagle fleet has been met with amazement.
Sure, these older planes cost more to upgrade and maintain than factory-fresh jets do. But newly-made jets cost too much up front for the Air Force to buy them in the numbers it needs.
How is grounding hundreds of fighters in order to afford a few pricey new ones justifiable if it means the United States surrendering the sky to China?