Warplanes: China's Plan To Destroy American Air Superiority


September 24, 2007: American air power has dominated the skies for over sixty years. That's unique in the history of airpower, although similar to the two century run the Royal Navy had in dominating the world's oceans from the 18th century into World War II . At that point the U.S. Navy grew enormously, while the Royal Navy shrank. The Royal Navy lost its position because another the Americans came along with more money, and similar capabilities in operating warships at sea.

America's air superiority also came first, from sheer numbers. The warplanes of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines accounted for the largest air fleet in the world. In addition, the pilots were also the best trained and equipped. Moreover, like the Royal Navy, American aviators were resourceful and energetic, and able to quickly recover from mistakes. For example, at the start of World War II, American warplanes were not as well designed as those used by Japan and Germany. But within two years, that all turned around. Meanwhile, American pilots and commanders quickly adapted, and made the most of inferior aircraft. Same thing happened during the Korean war, when, early on, the Russian MiG-15 was found to be better than expected. During the Vietnam war, American tactics were initially inferior, but that soon changed.

When you have periods of long dominance, your opponents have an incentive to try harder, and be bold with new technology and tactics. The Royal Navy ran into this during World War I, when they found German battleships had superior design features. The German use of submarines was also a shock, and something of a setback. But in both cases, the British quickly recovered. It's not enough to be the biggest, you also have to be the fastest in adapting to new situations.

The most dangerous area these days, for getting caught short, is high tech. U.S. warplanes depend a lot on stealthiness, and the use of missiles, software and electronic counter-measures. If the enemy figures out something you are clueless about, or obtains your secrets, while protecting his own, the opening battles could be very ugly. In reality, these surprises are damaging, but very rarely result in a wipeout. But there is more dependence on technological secrets, than at any time in the past. This is probably why China has announced that its military strategy seeks to exploit this angle.

Future wars, nevertheless, will still come down to who has the most stuff, and who is best trained to use whatever they got. China is beginning to go down that road, obtaining first rate warplanes, and spending the money to let pilots fly often enough to become lethal.


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