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As Beijing conducts military drills around Taiwan following a controversial visit to the island by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it is harnessing far more powerful naval, air and missile capabilities than it has. it deployed a quarter of a century ago during the last major crisis around the autonomous island.
The military drills, which began hours after Pelosi left on Wednesday and are expected to continue through the weekend, are a stark reminder of how far China’s military has come since 1995-96, when Beijing fired volleys of missiles near Taiwan and conducted naval operations exercises, including amphibious operations of the type that would be required for a full-scale invasion of the island.
At the time, the Chinese military “was more 1970s, early 1980s” in terms of capability and modernization, says Anthony Cordesman, national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It was “ineffective as a fighting force”, he says.
Not anymore, experts say. The Chinese navy has evolved from a coastal patrol force essentially to a fleet that includes aircraft carriers and submarines and is capable of operating far from the mainland. Its combat aircraft, although not as capable as the latest American models, are not far behind them.
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The current generation of Chinese fighter jets are still based on Soviet designs, primarily the Su-27 and its successor, the Su-35, from the 1970s and 1980s, says Robert Haddick, a visiting senior fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. and author of Fire on the Water: China, America and the Future of the Pacific. “But they’ve been upgraded, upgraded, upgraded throughout that time,” he says.
“The Su-35 is roughly equivalent to the US Air Force’s F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft” and can carry a variety of anti-ship and land-attack weapons in addition to air-to-air capability , Haddick said.
The planes have better avionics, better radar and better weapons than their Soviet-era counterparts, says Lonnie Henley, a retired intelligence officer and lecturer at the University’s Elliot School of International Affairs. GeorgeWashington.
He says a small number of more sophisticated aircraft that China says have stealth capability and would also be ready to fly. “They look like a stealth fighter,” he says, but acknowledges that it’s hard to tell at this point whether they’re anywhere near the reduced radar signature of aircraft such as NATO’s F-35.
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China’s gains make it a growing threat to US operations in the Pacific
Meanwhile, Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles “are more capable than those of the United States [and] more numerous,” according to Haddick.
“Now they pose a serious threat to US naval operations west of Guam,” where a major US naval base is located, he said.
In the event of war fire, US surface ships, including their aircraft carriers, could find themselves in the crosshairs, he said. The same goes for Chinese aircraft carriers, two of which are currently considered “combat ready” and a third being equipped.
“They’re smaller carriers” compared to the American behemoths, Haddick says. But unlike the United States, China is not trying to project its naval power globally. At least not yet, he said. Aircraft carriers “are not designed to reach the United States”, according to Haddick, but “if you combine them with the deployments [China has] made on Pacific islands, they certainly represent a capability that is a threat.”
Beijing’s Type 055 destroyer, “the largest surface combatant currently under construction in the world”, is compared to its American and British counterparts.
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says China’s underground capabilities are also a concern for US war planners. “Their diesel submarine fleet has come a long way,” he says, acknowledging that it’s “not as good on the high seas as our capability because it’s not primarily a nuclear-powered fleet.”
“But for the noisy waters of the Western Pacific not too far from home territory,” says O’Hanlon, the subs “would certainly be one of their big aces in the hole”.
China is close to the United States in cyber and space
China’s space and cyber capabilities could also prove formidable in the event of war, O’Hanlon said. “Their ability to interfere with our space operations, their ability to target using their own space capabilities and certainly their cyber warfare capabilities are all, I would say, only half a level below ours and capable of causing some pretty serious problems. .”
Yet China has not been embroiled in a civil war since 1979, when it clashed with Vietnam. His troops are untested in combat.
“You never know until the action actually happens whether the training program was so adequate or not,” Haddick says. “And so it remains a mystery even to the Chinese themselves, I’m sure.”