January 28, 2011

Budget Cuts the J-20 and the Joint Strike Fighter

My milblogging buddy McQ sent me an interesting email the other day in which he wrote:
I spent 28 years in the military, both active and reserves, and during that time we built a military second to none and with a technological edge that has kept us safe and deterred would be bad guys from wanting to test us.

That said, I also know that budget realities mean we have to cut spending - everywhere. And that includes Defense. My concern is we may be considering cutting capability, not just cost. That could be a critical mistake. [Emphasis mine]
An example of this potential mistake can be seen in these two stories at Defense Tech.

Defense Tech: J-20: The Threat We Think it Is? -

I just read an interesting piece from our friends at Aviation Week postulating that China’s J-20 stealth fighter might not be worth all the worry. Here are a some key reasons why:

A: The jet is being developed at a time when Western-made Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars designed to track stealth jets are beginning to proliferate. The U.S. is upgrading its F-15s and most likely a bunch of its F-16s with these powerful radars that have more than twice the range/power of conventional radars and are also good at jamming enemy air defenses. The article also points out that the F-35 may be equipped with radars and sensors aimed at nixing stealth fighters.

B: Both Aviation Week and us here at DT have pointed out that the one of the keys to a modern stealth jet’s effectiveness are its weapons and sensor loads. The J-20 is a big airplane and may have the ability to carry some serious sensors along with the computers and datalinks to process and covertly share the information they collect. The jet’s size also means it could carry some serous weaponry in an internal weapons bay. But, fifth-generation avionics and weapon systems integration can take a long time to master. We don’t know how far along China is in this department.

Guest Op-Ed (John Wagner): J-20 Shows Need for JSF -
Recently DefenseTech ran a piece about the Chinese J-20 “stealth” fighter that points out it may be less troublesome than the initial hype suggested. I put “stealth” in scare quotes for just that reason; we have no idea whether this is a legitimate stealth aircraft or just some fancy sheet metal and paint. We have no clue if they have managed to engineer the sensors and electronic systems needed to fly it or to allow it to go up against our frontline birds.

But that really shouldn’t be giving us a warm fuzzy. If they had actually fielded an aircraft capable of even competing with the F-22 or F-35 it would be keeping everyone responsible for our security up at night. This was still a pretty decent scare and it certainly should remind some folks that the Chinese believe they have surpassed us in the world. Their actions show the truth of that as they build a blue water navy and a blue sky air force and do not recognize any U.S. right to dominate either of those.

While I'm not 100% sold on the Joint Strike Fighter, I agree wholeheartedly that we cannot cut our capabilities to defend ourselves from an aggressive nation. The US has repeatedly failed to learn it's lessons from history, now is not the time to simply cut spending to cut spending, especially if those cuts only save us money at the expense of our safety.

The Chinese are placing themselves economically and militarily in a position superior to the US, and someone on Capital Hill better start paying attention.

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