China's Buk-M1-2 SAM
IN ASSESSING THE Chinese military buildup there is a tendency to swing from one extreme to the other--either to minimize the threat or to blow it entirely out of proportion. An example of this can be found in a an October 11 article in the New York Times by David Lague, "http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/11/world/asia/11china.html?_r=2&em&ex=119... target=_blank>China Announces Gain in Air Defense." Drawing on press releases by the Chinese Ministry of Defense, Lague writes:
A senior officer from Chinese Air Force headquarters, Fang Lei, said a seamless network of all-weather air defense radars had been installed to cover all Chinese airspace, according to a report on the Web site of the official military newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily.
The network's detection and surveillance capability was "very close" to those deployed in developed countries and could also assist Chinese forces in offensive operations, the report quoted Mr. Fang as saying.
Lague cites sources that point to China's air defense buildup as a response to Taiwan's development of an long-range land-attack cruise missile (LACM) with the potential to hit Chinese targets as far off as Shanghai. He also notes that the new air defense capability supplements China's already potent offensive missile force (consisting of both LACMs and short-to-medium range ballistic missiles) and growing numbers of modern tactical fighters.
In addition to having a direct effect on the security of Taiwan (by diminishing its ability to respond to a Chinese attack), Lague also notes that it has implications for the United States:
China's arms buildup could also pose challenges to the United States if it is drawn into a conflict with Beijing over Taiwan. The commander of American forces in Japan, Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, told The Associated Press earlier this month that China's air defenses were now almost impenetrable to the American F-15 and F-16 aircraft stationed in Asia.
Only the stealthy F-22 or the Joint Strike Fighter still under development could carry out missions over China, he said.
"Our planes are much older than the planes they would be matched against," Mr. Wright said, the Associated Press reported.
"For the first time in history, we are seeing another nation, in this case China, with newer fighters than we have."
All of which sounds extremely ominous--but just how ominous is it?
China has indeed been building up its air defenses for the past decade, acquiring the latest in Russian air defense missiles and developing some interesting weapon systems of their own. Among these are: