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Assessing China's Developing Air Defense

With Tale of the Tape, Johns Hopkins's Stuart Koehl takes a quick look at China's growing Air Defense capabilities without lacking a fair amount of necessary detail. In his latest, he draws appropriate attention to the fact that without full systems integration, any nation's air defense 'whole' is is much less than the often perceived sum of its parts.
Of these, the last [the FT-2000 system] is the most interesting and presents the most serious threat. The first known ground-to-air anti-radiation missile (ARM), it is apparently designed to counter U.S. airborne early warning (AEW) systems such as the E-2C Hawkeye and E-3 AWACS, upon which U.S. air forces rely for "situational awareness." So integral have these AEW systems become to U.S. air warfare that it is difficult to imagine how our forces would operate in their absence. Given the range of the basic SA-10, at the very least the existence of such weapons would force an increase of the "stand-off" range at which we would deploy such aircraft, thereby reducing proportionally the distance they could look into Chinese airspace. The FT-2000 would also be extremely effective against the E-8 JSTARS ground surveillance aircraft, which provides critical targeting data for U.S. long-range precision strike systems.

In addition to these, the Chinese People's Liberation Army is liberally provided with shoulder-fired short-range missiles similar to Stinger, as well as 14.5mm, 23mm and 57mm anti-aircraft guns, which are still deadly to low-flying aircraft.

At face value, then, the Chinese forces have acquired some very formidable air defense systems, but a deeper looks shows that there is much less here than meets the eye. An air defense system is more than a mere aggregation of radars, missile launchers and control stations. To be effective, they must be netted together in an integrated system, so that all the elements can be coordinated, so that potential gaps are covered, and so that the strengths of one system compensate for the weaknesses of another. In such integrated air defense systems, the command, control, communication and intelligence (C3I) system has always proven to be the weakest link. By jamming or destroying area surveillance radars, knocking out command centers, or neutralizing communications links, the system devolves into a collection of independent batteries and battalions, each of which is much less effective than when acting as part of an integrated system.
Give a look today, as China continues to gain from the complications and distractions America faces as a result of full engagement in the conflict at hand.

Related: MissileThreat's 2007 Report: Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, and the Twenty-First Century