China: August 18, 1999

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For the last week, China had issued daily blasts of propaganda regarding it's readiness for war against Taiwan. One day it is amphibious exercises for Chinese marines, the next day it is details on the reserves call up, then there is discussion about Chinese air power. All of these announcements are largely for show. But any talk of Chinese air power, or lack of it, is right on the mark. China cannot hope to take Taiwan back by force unless it can first take control of the air in the area. That will not be easy. Taiwan has a fist line fighter force of 200 modern fighters (most of them U.S. F-16s, the rest French-made  Mirage 2000-5s) China's main air superiority fighter is the untried (in combat) Russian Sukhoi-27. China is also getting more than 70 updated Sukhoi Su-30 fighters from Russia. The Russian aircraft have less capable  electronic gear and weapons than the F-16s.China can barely match the Taiwanese first line fighters with ones of roughly equal capability. Beyond that, China has thousands of older technology aircraft. But an even more critical factor is the number of Chinese airfields within range of Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits.China has thirteen large  airfields within 360 kilometers of  Taiwan. These air bases can hold some  1,200 combat aircraft (according to Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense.) Normally, only about 150 Chinese fighters are stationed at these air bases. Moving in over a thousand additional aircraft, and their support equipment and technicians, would be a pretty clear sign that something was up. China would have to drive the Taiwanese air force from the Straits before launching it's amphibious force. Taiwan has a superior early warning radar system and better communications technology for running a major air battle. The Chinese air force has always been a defensive one. They have no track record of air offensives and little training in that area. The Chinese are working on electronic warfare and missile technology, looking for other ways to destroy Taiwan's current superiority in the air. 

 

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