Nearly 10 years after a RAND study predicted the US side easily beats China in an air war over the Taiwan Straits, the think-tank has published a new monograph online today that reverses its former opinion.
Now, a People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bristling with a newly acquired arsenal -- including Su-27 and J-10 fighters, AA-12 and PL-12 missiles, and short-range ballistic missiles -- defeats the US side. Moreover, the PLAAF defeats the US side with or without F-22s, with or without access to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and with or without the participation of two US carrier battle groups, according to the monograph.
RAND's analysis "suggests that a credible case can be made that the air war for Taiwan could essentially be over before much of the Blue air force has even fired a shot. Threats to Blue air bases and a more evenly matched qualitiative balance combine to paint a very troubling picture."
Personally, I would be careful to trust any military analysis that states -- on two occasions -- the US Marine Corps flies F/A-18E/Fs (... er, no, not in this lifetme). But the overall facts in RAND's air war scenario appear very persuasive, at least to this observer.
In a war over Taiwan, China may think twice about striking sovereign Japanese territory on Okinawa, or sovereign US territory on Guam. But RAND's analysts are prudent to assume that the PLAAF's strategy would seek to maximize its chances of success in a battle over the future of Taiwan.
The scenario assumes a 27:1 kill ratio for the F-22, 4.5:1 kill ratio for the F-15 and a 2.6:1 kill ratio for carrier-based F/A-18E/Fs, which seems to reflect conventional wisdom. But that's not hardly enough. By striking Kadena and Taiwan air bases with missile attacks, the PLAAF can generate 3.7 times more sorties than the blue forces. On the first day, the PLAAF loses 241 jets compared to 147 jets for the Blue forces, including one F-22. But the PLAAF still dramatically outnumbers Blue forces and wins the war of attrition.
Interestingly, the new RAND monograph is not critical at all of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Last year, John Stillon, a senior RAND analyst was fired after he put the think-tank in an awkward position. Stillon's presntation on the results of the Pacific Vision wargame, which were leaked to the press and posted on this blog, noted the F-35 "can't turn, can't climb and can't run". In the new study, RAND says "the F-22 and the still-to-come F-35 can expect to offer meaningful aircraft-on-aircraft technological advantages over what the PLAAF will bring to the fight".