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Dogfight! American intelligence against Chinese hypersound

This post was published in VPK. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – In the battle of equivalent aircraft carrier formations and groups, the Chinese side suffers significantly large losses, even with the possible use of promising hypersonic anti-ship missiles.

The key role that determines the course and outcome of combat operations at sea in modern conditions is played not so much by the power and number of strike weapons as by the capabilities of the reconnaissance system in the ocean (sea) theater of operations. Surpassing the enemy in this area, the American fleet gets the opportunity to significantly neutralize the superiority of the Chinese in hypersonic anti-ship missiles

The likely combat strengths of the Chinese and American aircraft carrier formations and groups are known, their strengths and weaknesses are also known. Let’s move on to analyzing the predicted course of battles.

First of all, let’s pay attention to the conditions for their deployment. It is quite obvious that they will take place at a great distance from the territory of both powers, otherwise there is no point in using such forces, coastal-based aviation is enough. The United States, which has on its aircraft carriers almost the entire range of combat and support aircraft in sufficient numbers, is capable of conducting hostilities anywhere. The capabilities of the Americans to support their formations are quite large due to a globally developed basing system and a sufficient number of combat support aircraft with a large range. In assessments, it is worth considering the likelihood of covering the US AUG and AUS by base patrol aircraft and AWACS. At this stage, China does not plan to “project force” in the American sense, its aircraft carriers do not have a sufficient range of support equipment, which makes the AUG and AUS highly dependent on the support of coastal-based aviation, primarily reconnaissance aircraft and AWACS. Therefore, the PLA Navy will strive to take battle with the US AUG and US AUS at such a distance from its shores as to have the support of at least these classes of combat vehicles.

The conclusion suggests itself that the most likely AUG (AUS) oncoming engagement may occur at a distance of 500-1500 kilometers from the coast of China or one of its bases on the territory of other states (for example, in the Indian Ocean, where the actions of the PLA Navy carrier forces are expected in the future). In other conditions, when the Americans try to impose a battle at great distances from coastal bases, the Chinese will seek to evade it, and if this turns out to be impossible, they will solve the problem of the earliest possible withdrawal of their forces from under fire, repelling enemy strikes and inflicting their own on containment.

Consider the options for the oncoming engagement AUG (AUS) and the defensive actions of the Chinese formation on the passage by sea against the attacking Americans.

Step-by-step instructions for the AUG commander

Based on the experience of the aircraft carrier battles of World War II, as well as the Anglo-Argentine conflict over the Falkland Islands, it can be assumed with great certainty that any variant of the battles under consideration will include the following stages.

Opening of the situation and operational deployment of forces. This is a very important stage, during which the most important task of determining the location of the enemy, his combat strength and the operational formation of the group is being solved. On the basis of these data, a probable method of action should be chosen, the objectives of the main and supporting strikes should be determined. If this stage is unsuccessful, the first strikes can be applied to decoys or secondary targets, as happened, for example, in the Coral Sea.

Delivery of preliminary strikes to weaken the enemy and create favorable conditions for the main forces. An example is the battle at Midway Island, when the American torpedo bombers that came forward diverted the Japanese fighters and thereby paved the way for the dive bombers, who decided the outcome of the battle with one blow, destroying three enemy aircraft carriers.

Striking attacks by the main forces while repelling enemy attacks. Here, as a rule, the outcome of the battle is decided. In particular, in the battle of Midway, it was a strike by dive bombers from all three American aircraft carriers.

Further – the development of success in order to inflict maximum damage on the enemy. Thus, a series of strikes after the defeat of three Japanese aircraft carriers destroyed another survivor, sunk or damaged ships of other classes (cruisers, destroyers). In case of failure, the losing side will at this stage seek to divert its forces with minimization of losses. The battle will end with the termination of contact between the opponents, the use of ammunition, as well as with the threat of the appearance of additional forces of one of the parties.

Blow, another blow

Consider a counter engagement AUG at a distance, allowing the PLA Navy to use heavy reconnaissance aircraft and coastal AWACS aircraft. Two options are possible: without taking into account the promising anti-ship missiles “Sinkun-2” and with them (“Chinese hypersound – a call for the USA”). Such missiles may appear in service in the next four to five years, so the option is quite relevant. Due to the smaller number of their carrier-based aircraft and superiority over the North Americans in long-range anti-ship missiles, which the Americans do not have at all, it is logical for the Chinese to rely on a powerful missile strike, while assigning the tasks of support, air defense, diversion of forces and development of success to aircraft.

The opposite is true for the Americans. Their main strength is carrier-based aircraft, while ships with medium-range anti-ship missiles “Harpoon” can be used to finish off the enemy. Taking into account the weakness of the Chinese ASW, the Americans can deliver preliminary strikes against the Chinese compound with submarines. Incidentally, this is exactly how the United States acted against Japan. During the battle in the Philippine Sea, their submarines in the forward echelon of the operational formation of the group inflicted heavy losses on the enemy, in particular by sinking the flagship aircraft carrier Taiho.

To reveal the situation, to identify the location of the aircraft carrier group, the parties will be able to attract diverse forces and assets. The basis of the reconnaissance system of the PLA Navy compound can be two or three nuclear submarines, N-6 reconnaissance aircraft and AWACS aircraft. In addition, data from a ground-based radio intelligence system will be used. In principle, with these means, the Chinese can provide the opening of the situation to the required depth. However, with active opposition, their capabilities will be greatly reduced.

Submarines, with their noise and the presence of the SOSUS underwater surveillance system in the United States, have little chance of reaching the distance of a reliable classification of the main enemy forces. They are more likely to reveal the location of other elements of the battle formation – individual ship groups deployed to the threatened direction. Reconnaissance aircraft will have to approach each other within the range of radio-technical reconnaissance (RTR) and stay there for some time, which makes them vulnerable to US AUG air defense fighters and will require cover by their carrier-based aircraft.

AWACS aircraft will mainly be used in the interests of the formation’s air defense, although, being moved to the threatened direction, they will be able, under favorable conditions, to detect individual ship groups of the enemy’s battle formation. China’s theater of operations O (M) space reconnaissance system using satellites equipped with RTR means can be effective. But the low trajectory of flight presupposes the short duration of being over the target area and the need to link actions to this period.

The situation in the United States is much better. First, the US AUG has its own Hawkeye AWACS, scouts and jammers based on the Hornet carrier-based fighter. Submarines, especially of the fifth generation, are hardly vulnerable even in the near defense zone of an enemy formation. In addition, they can count on the support of AWACS E-3 aircraft of various ground-based modifications. The United States also has an O (M) theater of operations space reconnaissance system. Plus superiority in the number of fighters deployed to counter enemy reconnaissance forces and protect their own.

Quantitative estimates show that under such conditions, the Chinese AUG, with an accuracy acceptable for operational assessments, can only reveal the operational formation of the American formation and the location of naval groups. The chances of causing any damage during this period by the actions of submarines are extremely small. The American AUG with an acceptable probability will reveal the entire operational formation of enemy forces, including the orders of individual ship groups. The positioning accuracy may be sufficient for organizing a strike against them by carrier-based aircraft. At the same time, the submarines are likely to make preliminary launches of “Harpoons” and torpedoes against individual elements of the enemy’s battle formation.

At this stage of the battle, the sides will already suffer certain losses. The Chinese may lose one or two submarines, a surface ship, two or three reconnaissance aircraft and two or four fighters. Americans are less likely to lose one submarine, as well as one or two reconnaissance planes and two to four fighters.

Upon completion of the AUG stage, the United States will most likely remain in full readiness for an attack on an enemy aircraft carrier by the main composition of the carrier-based aviation forces. For the time being, the Chinese can only respond with an air attack on American naval groups advanced to the threatened direction. But it is able to allocate for this at best 8-12 cars. The rest of the air force and training positions will be reserved to repel the anticipated attack.

A strike group of four to six vehicles, armed with four anti-ship missiles per fighter, will be able to disable or even sink one, or even both, destroyers of an advanced anti-missile barrier of an American formation or a ship search and strike group (KPUG). For the US AUG, it is realistic to use up to 34 vehicles to strike a Chinese aircraft carrier. Thus, it can be hit by one or three Harpoon missiles, and one or two escort ships are also likely to sink or disable. However, the Chinese aircraft carrier is likely to retain its combat capability and the ability to operate with its own aircraft.

The Americans will need to uncover the results of the blow and prepare for a second one. The Chinese at maximum speed will push up to four or five destroyers of projects 052D and 052C, and in the future, project 055. A full salvo – 16 YJ-18 anti-ship missiles from each ship (64-80 missiles in total) – with accurate targeting will turn out to be extremely dangerous for an American aircraft carrier. Therefore, the Chinese formation will take all measures so that the destroyer strike group has the necessary data to reach the line of attack.

In turn, the Americans, realizing the threat, put forward their strike group to meet, forcing to spend part of the damaging potential on a secondary target. At the same time, fighters will continue to fight in the air, solving the problem of destroying enemy reconnaissance aircraft and covering their own. The American command, if it becomes clear that the Chinese group has a real chance of reaching a salvo position on an aircraft carrier, can plan a strike by carrier-based aircraft of up to 24-30 aircraft in order to guarantee the defeat of the enemy’s KUG or weaken it so that its attack is no longer serious threats.

The Chinese, on the other hand, will monitor changes in the structure of the US AUG, the movement of battle order groups and take measures to ensure their combat stability. With the forces of carrier-based aircraft (up to 10 vehicles), the PLA AUG can strike at the nominated American strike group and significantly weaken it or even defeat it, incapacitating one or two ships.

Modeling the situation at this stage shows that the Chinese IBM has a good chance of reaching the line of attack with the loss of up to 40-50 percent of its potential. A missile salvo of 30-40 YJ-18 anti-ship missiles, taking into account the possible weakening of the air defense of the American order after previous hostilities, will disable the American aircraft carrier with a probability of 0.2-0.3. The effectiveness of the second strike by US carrier-based fighters (about 24 aircraft) on a Chinese aircraft carrier is estimated at 0.4–0.5. As a result, it will largely lose its combat effectiveness.

And AUG will be forced to withdraw from the battle. The Americans, having lost a significant part of the ship’s personnel and having a damaged aircraft carrier (he still has to get two or three missiles), having used up a significant part of the ammunition, can, in development of success, deliver another blow to the retreating enemy with forces of up to 24 vehicles with a limited anti-ship missile load. After which they will probably stop pursuing the enemy.

Bottom line: the Chinese aircraft carrier will be heavily damaged and disabled or even sunk, the same thing – four to five escort ships, one or two submarines and more than half of carrier-based aircraft. AUG US will lose up to two or three ships from the escort, 17-20 percent of carrier-based aircraft. The American aircraft carrier will receive relatively little or no damage. In other words, the PLA AUG Navy will be defeated and deprived of the ability to continue fighting. US AUG will emerge from the clash only slightly weakened.

However, if Chinese ships and aircraft receive hypersonic anti-ship missiles, the outcome of the battle will be different, albeit without radical differences. The Chinese aircraft carrier will still be seriously damaged. True, the risk of his death is insignificant. The expected losses of the ship’s composition are reduced to three or four ships, and deck aviation – up to 40 percent. The Americans have a significant likelihood that their aircraft carrier will receive serious damage and be disabled. Losses of escort ships will increase by 30-40 percent.

Deck aviation as a result of air battles is likely to miss the same number of vehicles. This is explained by the fact that the main reason for the weakness of the Chinese compound is in its intelligence system, which does not allow timely issuance of data for the use of weapons, including such effective ones as hypersonic anti-ship missiles.

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