As the deadline to deal with defense spending sequestration nears, the opponents of a strong defense are trying to lull the American people into a false sense of security by downplaying and vastly understating the threats posed to America’s security by Russia, China, and others, and such lowballing of these threats is supposed to justify cuts to America’s defense.
But they are lying, and in this article, I’ll show you why.
The fact is that over the last 12 years (and in China’s case, over the last 22 years), America’s potential adversaries, including Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran, have been conducting military buildups that far exceed their legitimate self-defense requirements. I will demonstrate their military capabilities country by country and explain why they threaten the US.
Russia’s biggest military asset is its vast nuclear arsenal. Although reduced since the Soviet times, it’s still huge. Russia currently has 1,492 deployed and hundreds of additional nondeployed strategic nuclear warheads, all of which can be delivered to the US. Since the ratification of New START, which obligates only the US (not Russia) to reduce its nuclear arsenal, Russia has been building up its strategic arsenal up to New START limits, exactly as it said it intended to when New START was ratified in early 2011.
Russia currently has up to 472 intercontinental ballistic missiles: 58 SS-18, 132 SS-19, 144 SS-25, 74 SS-27, and 18 RS-24 ICBMs. The US has 450. Thus, Russia already has somewhat more ICBMs than the US is allowed to have under New START (434 vs 420). Russia plans to procure 400 new ICBMs by 2020 and to develop two new ICBM types – including a new heavy ICBM, the “Son of Satan”, i.e. a replacement for the SS-18 Satan. More on Russia’s nuclear modernization programs here.
The Russian Navy has 13 operational SSBNs (4 Delta III class, 7 Delta IV class, 1 Borei class, and 1 Typhoon class) ballistic missile submarines, with 16 missile tubes each. Their SLBMs have a range of over 10,000 kilometers, meaning they can reach any target in the CONUS while being in their home waters or even in homeport, and have had that capability since the late 1980s.
Russia’s Dalnaya Aviatsya (Long Range Aviation) has 63 Tu-95 and at least 16 Tu-160 intercontinental nuclear-capable bombers, each of which is capable of delivering multiple nuclear-tipped missiles and nuclear freefall bombs. Russia resumed their strategic flights in 2007 and since then, American, Canadian, and European fighters have often had to scramble and intercept them near American, Canadian, and European airspace. Russian bombers and their support aircraft have also held multiple exercises since 2007, most recently in June and July 2012 near Alaska and California, when the Russians said they were “practicing attacking the enemy”.
Russia’s Dalnaya Aviatsya also has 151 (171 according to Sean O’Connor) Tu-22M strategic bombers (plus another 93 in reserve) which, with aerial refueling, have intercontinental range, and yet, they are not counted as intercontinental bombers under New START (nor were they under SALT-II). The Russians made the Tu-22M air-refuelable despite Brezhnev’s promises (which Jimmy Carter bought) that they wouldn’t. To refuel them, Russia has Il-78 tankers.
Moscow has now begun producing additional Tu-160s from stockpiled components and is developing a next-generation strategic bomber, the PAK DA (Prospektivnoi Aviatsonnyi Kompleks Dalnoy Aviatsii).
Russia is now procuring Su-34 bombers to partially replace the Tu-22M fleet, with 16 in service and 200 planned in total, which will free the Russians to sell some Tu-22Ms to China (which has already tried to buy them once).
Russia also has a tremendous lead over the US in tactical nuclear weapons: it has untold thousands of them, while the US has only ca. 400, all of them old nuclear bombs in urgent need of modernization. Russia’s tactical nukes can be delivered by a wide range of systems: short-range BMs, torpedoes, artillery, and a wide range of Tupolev and Sukhoi aircraft.
Russia’s huge tactical nuclear arsenal (estimated by the Obama Administration to be 10 times larger than America’s) can be delivered by a very wide range of delivery systems, including short-ranged ballistic missiles, ship- and air-launched cruise missiles, surface warships (nuclear depth charges), artillery pieces, tactical strike aircraft (e.g. Su-24s, Su-25s, Su-27s/30s/33s/35s, and Su-34s). Russia has at least 1,040-2,000 deployed tactical nuclear warheads (according to various estimates listed here on p. 6), and 2,000-4,000 tactical nuclear warheads in total according to ASDEF for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn Creedon (p. 6).
Russia currently plans to significantly grow its arsenal of ICBMs and bombers. This year, the Russian Government tripled ICBM production, and by 2020, it will procure 400 new ICBMs – partly to grow the fleet and partly to replace older ICBMs. It is also developing a new heavy ICBM (to replace the SS-18 Satan), a new 100-ton missile with a “global range” and a conventional warhead, a new middle weight ICBM called the Avangard, and a new rail-based ICBM (which will likely be an RS-24 Yars derivative). None of these ICBMs will be limited by New START. Russia is also building additional Tu-160 bombers from stockpiled components. Because Russia was below New START ceilings, and because that pathetic treaty has many loopholes large enough to drive a truck through them, Russia is allowed to significantly build up its strategic arsenal. The US is not.
In tactical fighter aviation, Russia has several hundred modern, capable fighters: 293 Su-27, 15 Su-30, and 9 Su-35S Flankers, with a total of 30 Su-30s and 48 Su-35s on order. These enjoy parity with the F-15 and are decisively superior to the F-16 and the F/A-18, which have decisively inferior thrust/weight and wingloading ratios, radar, turning capability, and combat radius. The F/A-18 is inferior, and the F-16 barely equal, to the MiG-29, a Russian fighter first flown in the late 1970s, widely exported, and still in use (226 in Russian inventory) and being upgraded. The Russians are now developing (together with India) the Sukhoi PAKFA, a stealthy 5th generation fighter almost equal to the F-22 Raptor and decisively superior to all other Western fighters, current and planned, including the F-35. It is intended for high number production, with several hundred to be ordered by Moscow and Delhi, and sure to be exported around the world just like previous Russian fighters, including Flankers, were.
Russia’s SAM system network is even more deadly. In addition to very capable Soviet SAM systems such as the mobile Kub (SA-6 Gainful) and Buk (SA-11/SA-17 Grizzly), Russia also has deployed a large number of modern (1990s and 2000s’ era) S-300 systems which can easily detect and shoot down all nonstealthy aircraft, and a growing number of S-400 systems, which were first deployed in 2004. Their radars and missiles have ranges measured in hundreds of kilometers, and are cued by a very extensive network of radars.
Russia has also deployed huge numbers of modern point-defense systems such as the Tunguska, the Tor-M1, and the Pantsir-S1, which defend the forementioned SAM systems and other assets from precision guided munitions such as cruise and anti-air-defense missiles. This means that the default tactic of attacking enemy targets with cruise missiles like the Tomahawk and the ALCM or SAM systems with the AGM-88 HARM is no longer feasible. AirPowerAustralia rightly says it is “bankrupt.”
Russia is now developing an even more lethal, long-ranged SAM system, the S-500, which will also be a BMD system.
Russia’s Navy has 67 submarines of all kinds, including 24 nuclear-powered attack subs, 9 nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines, 14 ballistic missile subs (with a collective capacity to launch 224 SLBMs with 2240 warheads), and 31 conventional attack subs, mostly a growing fleet of Kilo- and Lada-class subs with air-independent propulsion which makes them quieter than most nuclear submarines. Russian nuclear and conventional submarines are quieter than any in the world except those of the Virginia and Seawolf classes. Yet, many American defense cutters want to cut or even stop Virginia class submarine production.
Graph source: Office of Naval Intelligence.
Russia’s destroyers and cruisers, including 4 nuclear-propelled ones, can launch many anti-ship cruise missiles to sink American warships. Arleigh Burke and Ticonderoga class combatants can protect against this threat, yet, under the Obama Administration’s plans, 7 of the youngest Ticonderogas are to be decommissioned prematurely with 20 years of service life remaining.
Russia’s hackers, meanwhile, pose a significant threat to US computer networks, although their attacks have not been as prominent as Chinese hackers’ attacks.
China, a nascent superpower, poses a military threat no smaller than Russia.
While pro-disarmament organizations (which have an incentive to lowball China’s nuclear arsenal and thus lie) and US intelligence agencies lead by pro-China bureaucrats have been vastly understating the size of Beijing’s arsenal, it’s real size is at least 1,800 warheads (as estimated by retired Russian general Viktor Yesin, who maintains close ties to the Kremlin), and up to 3,000 warheads, as estimated by Professor Philip Karber of Georgetown University.
1) 36 MIRVable DF-5, 30-40 MIRVable DF-31/31A, and an unknown number of MIRVable DF-41 ICBMs. The DF-41 can carry 10 warheads; the DF-31, up to 4; the DF-5 can carry an unknown number, but certainly at least two, since it can also carry a single 5 megaton warhead. Thus, China has at least 67 (and probably many more) ICBMs capable of reaching the US. The figure of 30 DF-31/31A ICBMs comes from 2009; since then, the DF-31 fleet has certainly grown significantly.
2) 72-144 SLBMs deployed on 6 ballistic missile submarines, 5 Jin class boats and one Xia class sub. The old Xia class sub will soon be replaced by a 6th Jin. Each of them can carry 12, and up to 24 (on Jin class boats), SLBMs. The Jins’ missiles can carry 4 warheads each. Since all of them are nuclear-powered, they can sail anywhere. The Jins’ missiles, MIRVable JL-2s, have an 8000 km range, allowing them to target anything on America’s West Coast when positioned just slightly east of 150E longitude. They can target Seattle and NB Kitsap while still being west of Hokkaido.
3) 440 nuclear-capable H-6K, JH-7, and Q-5 bombers, with 1 warhead each. The turbofan-powered H-6K and JH-7 can also carry nuclear- and conventional-armed cruise missiles with multiple-thousand-kilometer range.
4) 20-40 MIRVable DF-3 and 80 DF-21 MRBMs, as well as 20 MIRVable DF-4 IRBMs with a 7,000 km range. This allows them to target Hawaii and all targets throughout Asia, but (excepting the DF-4) not Guam or Australia.
5) A large number of DF-11, DF-15, and DF-16 SRBMs (with 1,600 stationed opposite Taiwan) and DH-10 cruise missiles. whose range is 4000 kms. Some of them may be nuclear-armed.
In total, China has 1,800 nuclear warheads according to former Russian strategic missile force chief of staff Gen. Viktor Yesin. China, of course, has the means to deliver far more than 1,800 warheads.
The Chinese Air Force has the following modern fighters: 200 J-10s, 76 Su-27s, 76 Su-30MKKs, 140 J-11s, and 360 modernized J-8II interceptors produced in the 1980s. Yet, GlobalSecurity.org says China plans to order hundreds more Flankers, and AirPowerAustralia projects that by 2015 China will have 550 Flankers. Beijing is also in talks to buy Su-35 and Su-33 fighters from Russia. Flankers are, of course, nuclear-capable.
China is now developing three new fighters. The first, the J-15, will be a modern Flanker variant intended to operate from China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning (on which it has already performed takeoffs and landings). The second, J-20, first flown in January 2011, will be a stealthy 5th generation air superiority fighter, long range interceptor, and theater strike jet which can also serve as a reconnaissance and ASAT weapon launching plane. The third, J-31, will be a smaller, more agile stealthy air superiority fighter capable of operating from land bases and aircraft carriers alike. The J-20 is to enter service in 2017-2019, and the J-31 in 2020 or later.
The J-20 and J-31 are also sure to be exported; China’s J-10, J-11, and JF-17 are also on offer for export.
The venerable F-15 can barely hold parity against China’s Flankers and J-10,, as it flies much faster and much higher but is outclassed in terms of radar and airframe age, and barely holds parity in agility, with similar T/W and wing loading ratios as these Chinese fighters. Even the F-15, however, will be outclassed against the J-20 and J-31.
The J-20, analyzed here, here, and here by APA, will be the best air superiority fighter in the world, ex aequo with the F-22, when it enters service. Its T/W and wing loading ratios are better than anyone else’s except the F-22s and the PAKFAs (as well as the Typhoon’s and the Rafale’s in terms of wing loading); its stealth shaping is far better than the F-35’s or the PAKFA’s, emulating F-22 design closely; and with lots of internal space, it can carry much fuel and ammo. Its size and design allow it to be both a fighter and a medium range strike jet, holding all American bases in East Asia (but not Guam) vulnerable. It could also be developed into an electronic warfare, anti-satellite warfare, and reconnaissance plane (if specialized variants are built), just like the F-111 was. (The J-20’s size is similar to that of the F-111.) Being very stealthy, the J-20 will be very difficult for S/X/K/Ku-band, and even for L-band and UHF/VHF, radars to detect.
The J-31 is an upgraded replica of the F-35, and can take off from land bases and carriers alike (it has a double wheel in the frontal section, like all other carrier-based planes). As China’s AVIC company has declared, it will be exported to anyone capable of paying for it.
China’s air force is also likely to acquire new long-range bombers in the mold of Russia’s Dalnaya Aviatsiya, and with former PLAAF commander Gen. Xu Qiliang (an outspoken advocate of airpower) now serving as Central Military Commission Vice Chairman, i.e. the highest-ranking PLA officer, the PLAAF will have significant leverage to advocate for a more modern bomber fleet, and a spokesman (Gen. Xu) lobbying for it at the top of the CMC. In 2001, China almost acquired a fleet of used Russian Tu-95 and Tu-22M bombers, and the proposal was cancelled only because China’s influential domestic aerospace industry lobbied for modernizations to the Xian H-6 bomber instead and the PLA Navy lobbied for funds for aircraft carriers. Now, with its defense budget several times larger than it was in 2001, China will have more than enough money to acquire intercontinental bombers, especially since Tu-95s and Tu-22Ms will soon become surplus as Russia acquires Su-34 medium-range and PAK DA intercontinental bombers.
China’s navy has 68 submarines, including 6 SSBNs (1 Xia class and 5 Jin class boats). Most of China’s conventional subs are ultra-quiet, AIP-equipped diesel-powered attack submarines which can easily avoid detection. One of them, a Song class sub, stalked the USS Kitty Hawk in 2006 and surfaced just 5 miles away from the carrier, ready to launch torpedoes, while previously completely avoiding detection. Had it not surfaced, the USN would’ve never even known it was there, or that it was so close to the carrier. China’s nuclear submarines are far quieter than their noisy Han- and Xia-class predecessors were, and could circumnavigate the world without having to resurface.
China’s surface fleet is no less powerful. It consists of 14 modern destroyers (plus 5 additional ones under construction, including 2 Type 052C and 3 Type 052D vessels) and 19 modern frigates (with another 7 under construction). Their destroyers include the newest Type 052D Luyang III class of destroyers, the newest Chinese class, equipped with the Zhonghuashendun (AKA Chinese Aegis) combat system. It has 64 Vertical Launch System cells capable of launching SAMs, anti-ship, and anti-submarine missiles, and has a 130mm main gun, as well as smaller guns and CIWS. The armament of other Chinese destroyers is no less formidable. Building so many modern ships so fast has made China a world class shipbuilder, the Diplomat website warns. Chinese destroyers have modern air defense systems: some have navalized versions of the HQ-16/SA-17 Grizzly (Russian Buk) system, others a naval variant of the modern HQ-9 air defense system, and others a naval variant of the S-300, the SA-N-20. Thus, Chinese destroyers can easily shoot down nonstealthy aircraft and missiles. More on China’s newest destroyers here.
On top of that, China has a very large fleet of missile/attack boats and an arsenal of at least 100,000 naval mines. This will pose a serious threat to America’s already-overworked surface combatant and mine countermeasure ship fleets, most of which is deployed in the Persian Gulf.
Which brings me to China’s air defense systems.
Just 12 years ago, China’s air defense network was mostly obsolete, consisting mostly of SA-2 and HQ-2 short-range air defense systems. This has changed. China now has a huge, impressive arsenal of S-300 series (both S-300P and S-300V series) and HQ-9 highly mobile long-range air defense systems whose radars are highly resistant (nearly immune) to jamming and which can detect and shoot down aircraft and missiles (including cruise missiles) from a long range. (Russia, of course, has an even more impressive and more extensive arsenal of S-300 series, S-400 (deployed in 2007), and heavily upgraded legacy Soviet air defense systems like the Buk (SA-11/17 Grizzly)). On ships, China has deployed, as stated above, modern HQ-9 and HQ-16 air defense systems. With SAM systems like these, China can declare and enforce no-fly zone over all of Taiwan anytime it wants to. These air defense systems also make China’s (and Russia’s) airspace firmly closed to all nonstealthy aircraft, leaving only the B-2, the F-22, the F-35, and the planned Next Generation Bomber as the only aircraft which can enter that airspace safely and survive in it. Their long range air defense systems can defend themselves against anti-SAM missiles like the AGM-88 HARM and against cruise missiles, and to aid in such defense, they’re protected by short-range air defense systems such as the KS-1. These systems’ radar is also highly resistant to jamming.
China’s anti-ship and anti-land conventional missiles are no less deadly. The deadliest are arguably the ChangJian-10 (CJ-10) and the DongHai-10 (DH-1o) land attack cruise missiles, which have a range of 4,000 kms, i.e. enough to reach Guam. An aircraft-carried variant has a range of 2,000 kms. The HongNiao-3 has a range of 2,000 kms. Their anti-ship missiles have ranges varying up to 550 kms, but they can be launched from various platforms, including ships and aircraft. China also has the DF-21D ASBM with a range of 2,700 kms.
While the Danger Room’s claim that China’s plan to beat the US is “missiles, missiles, and missiles” is a huge exaggeration, missiles comprise a large, deadly, and cheap part of China’s arsenal, and if used against anyone, would devastate the victim due to payload, range, accuracy (low CEPs for modern missiles), and speed. If scheduled defense cuts, including sequestration and Obama’s planned nuclear arsenal cuts, continue, China and Russia will both individually overtake the US militarily in all capabilities and in total military power by no later than the early 2020s, and probably earlier.
North Korea is not a global peer competitor to the US. However, on a regional scale, it is a huge military threat.
It maintains a large, though mostly outdated, conventional force. But its real strength is its ballistic missile force. North Korea has hundreds of SRBMs capable of reaching all targets in South Korea and Western Japan, and further hundreds of MRBMs with enough range to reach all of Japan (including Okinawa). It also has an unknown number (probably dozens) of Musudan (BM25, AKA Taepodong-X) and Taepodong-1 IRBMs with a range of 4,000 kms (enough to reach targets as far as Singapore) and has now demonstrated an ICBM capability with its Unha-3 missile that successfully delivered a satellite to the Earth’s orbit. This demonstrates that North Korea has overcome the tech hurdles that contributed to the failures of its previous ICBM tests. North Korea now has a capability to deliver nuclear warheads to the US if it has managed to miniaturize them, and there’s no reason to believe it hasn’t. William C. Triplett warns that it’s a matter of one year before it happens.
Besides its small nuclear arsenal (13 warheads), Pyongyang also has 2,000-2,500 metric tons of chemical weapons and quite possibly biological weapons as well. To deliver chemical munitions, it has ballistic missiles as well as a large artillery fleet aimed at South Korea.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s suicide midget submarines pose a threat to ships, while its air defense systems – not as modern as Russia’s or China’s, but nonetheless long-ranged and jamming-resistant – can shoot down any nonstealthy aircraft. Thus, its airspace, like that of Russia and China, is firmly closed to any nonstealthy aircraft. Only B-2s and F-22s can safely operate in it.
Iran’s most powerful weapons are its ballistic missiles. The most numerous in its inventory are Fateh-110, Zelzal, Scud, Hwasong, and Shahab-1 and -2 SRBMs, with a range not exceeding 1,000 kms. Because Middle Eastern states are so close to each other, ballistic missile flight times in that region are measured in single minutes. Iran’s SRBMs could thus be used as first strike weapons.
Iran also has a number of MRBMs of various types (Sejjil, Ashoura, Shahab-3) with ranges between 2,000 and 2,500 kms, i.e. enough to reach all of Eastern and Southern Europe.
According to one leaked US State Department cable published by Wikileaks, Iran also has bought 19 Taepodong-X (BM25 Musudan) IRBMs (which have a range of 4,000 kms) from North Korea. If that is true – and it likely is – Iran already has the means to target all of Europe, including Dublin, Lisbon, and Madrid.
Iran’s nuclear weapons programme is accelerating. It is now installing additional centrifuges which will allow it to 1) produce more enriched uranium faster; and 2) enrich enough uranium to weapons-grade (i.e. to 90%) by next summer. This would mean Iran would, by next summer, have enough highly-enriched uranium for a single nuclear warhead (although it would then still have to build a miniaturized warhead to be able to mate it with a ballistic missile).
The most hotly disputed issue is that of an Iranian ICBM program. Disarmament advocates and missile defense opponents falsely claim that Iran will not have an ICBM capable of reaching the US for many years to come and that an East Coast missile defense site is unneeded. They’re wrong, however. The US intelligence community has consistently projected that Iran will attain such capability by 2015 (although that does not mean testing such a missile). While the CRS says Iran is “unlikely” to reach such capability by 2015 without significant foreign assistance, such assistance is likely to be provided by China and/or North Korea, both of whom are notorious proliferators of ballistic missile technology. Furthermore, the year 2015 is just 2 years and 15 days away. The year 2017 is just 4 years and 15 days away. Even if Iran’s ICBM development slips by a year or two, this still leaves the US little time to build an EC missile defense site – which means the decision to build it must be made now.
Also, according to experts such as Gordon Chang and lawmakers such as Sen. Schumer, Iran IS actually being heavily aided in its long range missile development effort by China. Chang says that China has even sold Iran a DF-31 ICBM.
What about America’s defense capabilities? Can’t we protect America with what we already have?
The answer is no, we can’t. Here’s why.
The only aircraft in the US military’s entire fleet capable of surviving in contested airspace are 180 F-22 fighters and 20 B-2 bombers. Because in-theater bases would likely be attacked with missiles by China, North Korea, or Iran, that leaves the US with only 20 aircraft (B-2s) that can strike from over the horizon AND survive in enemy airspace. B-52 and B-1 bombers and F-15, F-16, and F/A-18 aircraft have huge radar signatures and would be extremely easy for enemy air defense systems to shoot down.
The USN has shrunk dramatically over the last 20 years, from almost 600 ships in 1989 and over 300 in the 1990s to just 287 today. The Navy has only 10 carriers, 33% fewer than at the Cold War’s end (15). With so few ships and so many missions and commitments, the Navy can meet only 59% of Combatant Commanders’ requests for ships and only 61% of their requests for submarines. The DOD now wants to scrap 7 among the Navy’s youngest Ticonderoga class cruisers, which means giving up more firepower than that provided by the UK’s entire surface combatant fleet. The world hasn’t shrunk at all since 1991, and neither have America’s commitments and missions – in fact, the world has become more dangerous and more missions have arisen – yet, the Navy’s ship fleet has shrunk by more than half.
The USN has only 29 amphibious ships, meaning it cannot transport more than one Marine Brigade into a theater with its supplies.
As a result of underfunding the Navy, even without sequestration or any other further defense cuts, the USN’s surface combatant and submarine fleets will decline precipitously over the next 2 decades.
America’s ASW capability has declined dramatically over the last 2 decades, primarily because the GWOT misled politicians and bureaucrats into thinking that capabilities not needed to fight terrorists were not needed at all. Consequently, ASW capabilities were underfunded, and now, the USN can’t detect Chinese Song class submarines.
America’s entire nuclear deterrent is overdue for a wholesale modernization, yet disarmament advocates, now falsely posing as fiscal conservatives, are clamoring for that effort to be dramatically reduced or even cancelled. This would cause the nuclear deterrent to wear out completely through atrophy even without any new cuts. The fact is that America needs to replace all three legs of its nuclear triad – ICBMs, bombers, and submarines – and doing so would cost very little. A single ICBM costs only $70 mn; a single Next Gen Bomber will cost only $440-$550 mn; and a single new SSBN would cost only $2.4 bn if derived from the Virginia class of attack submarines. The US also needs to modernize its warheads (starting with the B61 tactical warhead providing a nuclear umbrella to America’s allies, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, threatened by Russia’s huge tactical nuclear arsenal and its repeated, frequent threats to use nuclear weapons preemptively against them). The facilities which design, produce, and maintain America’s nuclear warheads also need to be modernized or replaced. The current facilities date back to the Manhattan Project’s days. Yet, disarmament activists want America to forego any such modernization.
Therefore, any further deep defense cuts – whether by sequestration” or in a “targeted”/”strategic” manner, will gut the US military and pave the way for both China and Russia to become militarily superior to the US, in all aspects, by no later than the early 2020s, and probably earlier than that. And this is not an exaggeration.
If further deep defense cuts are made, 10 years from now, I will be proven right.