Inside the Ring

Jet delay adds to China threat

The threat from Chinese advanced weapons, including new stealth fighters and ballistic missiles, dominated concerns expressed by senior military officers at a Senate hearing this week on the military impact of delays and problems with the new fifth-generation F-35 jet.

Two senior officers in charge of U.S. air power voiced increasing worries that U.S. forces will not be prepared for a future conflict with China, during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee on Tuesday.

Air ForceLt. Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle, deputy chief of staff for operations, said China’s rollout earlier this year of a new J-20 stealth fighter, which has made two or three test flights, is very troubling, along with another joint Russian-Indian stealth jet.

Both aircraft could be sold to Iran and affect a future U.S. intervention there against Tehran’s nuclear program.

“Those are discouraging in that they rolled out in a time that we thought there was maybe a little bit more time, although we weren’t sure of that,” Gen. Carlisle said.

The three-star general’s comments echoed earlier comments by Navy Vice Adm. David J. Dorsett, a senior intelligence official, who said of the J-20 in January that “we have been pretty consistent in underestimating the delivery of Chinese technology and weapons systems.”

U.S. military fighters will remain a pace ahead technologically of both the Chinese and Russian stealth jets. But if there are further F-35 delays, “then that pacing is in jeopardy,” Gen. Carlisle said.

In unusually candid comments on China’s growing military power, Gen. Carlisle said: “You need only look across the Pacific and see what [China] is doing, not just their air force capability, but their surface-to-air [missile] capability, their ballistic missile capability, their anti-ship ballistic missiles,” and new missiles that can reach U.S. bases in Guam and Japan.

“All of those things are incredibly disturbing to us for the future,” Gen. Carlisle said. “And again, … we not only have to be able to defeat those, we have to hold those targets at risk, and that’s where these fifth-generation aircraft come in.”

Asked during the hearing what “keeps you up at night,” Rear Adm. David L. Philman, Navy director of warfare integration, said: “Well, the China scenario is first and foremost, I believe, because they seem to be more advanced and they have the capability out there right now, and their ships at sea and their other anti-access capabilities.”

The Pentagon refers to China’s advanced weapons, including ballistic missiles that hit ships at sea, new submarines, anti-satellite weapons and cyberwarfare capabilities, as “anti-access and area denial” arms.

Adm. Philman said the J-20 rollout is a concern, but with 1,000 test hours on the F-35, the jet is a “far leap ahead from the Chinese fighter that’s flown three times.”

“But they will catch up. They understand. They’re a smart and learning enemy, and if we don’t keep our edge, then we will be behind, or at least lose our advantage,” Adm. Philman said.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and subcommittee chairman, said the Navy and Marine Corps are projecting a shortage of up to 267 warplanes in the coming years for the 10 aircraft carrier wings and three Marine Corps air wings.

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

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