Defense

China’s New Missiles Could Put US Air Superiority At Risk

China appears to be developing an advanced long-range air-to-air missile capable of eliminating critical air assets supporting elite front-line fighters, state media revealed.

Photos from last year’s “Red Sword” aerial combat drill released recently by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force show a J-11B twin-engine fighter jet carrying a large, unidentifiable missile, the China Daily introduced.

The images surfaced a few months after a J-16 fighter was seen carrying the same missile.

The new Chinese missile is believed to be a weapon designed to knock out force multipliers, such as early warning and aerial refueling aircraft. Rear support aircraft improve the effectiveness of front-line units, like America’s F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter.

U.S. air units operate as part of a complex network that is collectively more powerful than any individual unit, meaning that even the most powerful aircraft is only as strong as its weakest link.

China currently uses PL-11 and PL-12 air-to-air missiles, both of which have limited ranges.

Existing PLAAF air-to-air missiles max out at about 100 kilometers, putting vulnerable targets in the rear out of reach. Military experts, however, suspect that China’s new missile may have an operational range of 400 kilometers, giving it a range greater than both American and Russian air-to-air missiles.

The U.S. AIM-120D has a maximum range of about 200 kilometers.

“The successful development of this potential new missile would be a major breakthrough,” Fu Qianshao, an equipment researcher with the PLAAF, told the China Daily.

If China has, in fact, developed such a weapon, it would mean that China has achieved something that no other air force has.

The shape of the missile shown in the pictures is unique.

The missile looks less like an air-to-air missile and more like a surface-to-air missile. It actually bears a strong resemblance to the Chinese HQ-9 and Russian S-300/400 surface-to-air missiles. It might behave more like a surface-to-air missile if deployed in combat.

In this instance, the missile might arc high to achieve greater range and then drop in on weaker rear units.

Such a missile would be consistent with designs in Chinese military research studies.

Fu noted that the missile is large enough to be equipped with high-end radar and guidance systems, which would give a greater edge over both support aircraft and fighters.

The missile may also be built for speed.

Conventional AAMs tend to max out at around Mach 2-4, but the missiles fired by the S-300/400, and therefore probably the HQ-9, SAM systems have a max speed of about Mach 5-6. If the missile can mimic SAM behavior, it might actually be able to move at near hypersonic speeds.

A squadron of F-35s was recently deployed in Japan, and a number of U.S. allies in Asia have expressed an interest in purchasing F-35s to enhance their air combat capabilities.

China’s new missile, assuming it has the capabilities experts and observers suspect, could significantly reduce the advantage U.S. fighter jets presently have over Chinese aerial combat systems.

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