China’s Steady Gains Could Pose Big Problems

The Chinese government has invested greatly in China’s military capabilities over the past two decades, said Thomas McCabe, a Defense Department aerospace analyst and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, on Tuesday. Speaking at an event sponsored by AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies in Arlington, Va., McCabe said China has made well-documented advances in combat aircraft, such as fighters, but has also changed its perspectives on assets such as air defenses and transport aircraft. The country is on track to field a large force of medium-range ballistic missiles that could threaten all US bases in East Asia and the Western Pacific as well as anti-satellite technology and manned and unmanned space assets by 2020, said McCabe, author of the new Mitchell Institute paper: China’s Air and Space Revolutions. Retired Lt. Gen. Stephen Wood, former 7th Air Force commander, noted in a panel discussion following McCabe’s April 23 presentation that Chinese investments are not aimed at military parity, but at exploiting distances and weaknesses of the United States and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region. As such, the United States needs to think more about how it will operate in potential future scenarios where extreme distances and contested airspace are at issue, in particular how aerial refueling tankers will replenish tactical aircraft in challenged environments, said retired Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, former 8th AF commander.