RAND study: Now China wins Taiwan Straits air war

Nearly 10 years after a RAND study predicted the US side easily beatsChina in an air war over the Taiwan Straits, the think-tank haspublished a new monograph online today that reverses its former opinion.

Now,a People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) bristling with a newlyacquired arsenal — including Su-27 and J-10 fighters, AA-12 and PL-12missiles, and short-range ballistic missiles — defeats the US side.Moreover, the PLAAF defeats the US side with or without F-22s, with orwithout access to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and with or without theparticipation of two US carrier battle groups, according to themonograph.

RAND’s analysis “suggests that a credible case can bemade that the air war for Taiwan could essentially be over before muchof the Blue air force has even fired a shot. Threats to Blue air basesand a more evenly matched qualitiative balance combine to paint a verytroubling picture.”

Personally, I would be careful to trust any military analysis that states — on twooccasions — the US Marine Corps flies F/A-18E/Fs (… er, no, not inthis lifetme). But the overall facts in RAND’s air war scenario appearvery persuasive, at least to this observer.

In a war overTaiwan, China may think twice about striking sovereign Japaneseterritory on Okinawa, or sovereign US territory on Guam. But RAND’sanalysts are prudent to assume that the PLAAF’s strategy would seek tomaximize its chances of success in a battle over the future of Taiwan.

Thescenario assumes a 27:1 kill ratio for the F-22, 4.5:1 kill ratio forthe F-15 and a 2.6:1 kill ratio for carrier-based F/A-18E/Fs, whichseems to reflect conventional wisdom. But that’s not hardly enough. Bystriking Kadena and Taiwan air bases with missile attacks, the PLAAFcan generate 3.7 times more sorties than the blue forces. On the firstday, the PLAAF loses 241 jets compared to 147 jets for the Blue forces,including one F-22. But the PLAAF still dramatically outnumbers Blueforces and wins the war of attrition.

Interestingly, the newRAND 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 putthe think-tank in an awkward position. Stillon’s presntation on theresults of the Pacific Vision wargame, which were leaked to the pressand posted on this blog, noted the F-35 “can’t turn, can’t climb andcan’t run”. In the new study, RAND says “the F-22 and the still-to-comeF-35 can expect to offer meaningful aircraft-on-aircraft technologicaladvantages over what the PLAAF will bring to the fight”.


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35 Responses to RAND study: Now China wins Taiwan Straits air war

  1. Johnny 4 August, 2009 at 8:58 pm #

    Document encrypted. Do you have another link?

  2. Stephen Trimble 4 August, 2009 at 9:15 pm #

    Sorry! I’ve posted a new link. Scroll down to where it says “free PDFs” and hit the “full document” link.

  3. Prometheus 4 August, 2009 at 9:19 pm #

    It is simply:

    Fort Worth Texas, after years of change in the Us Aeroindustrty thats all what is left.
    That is the place where future generations of aircraft will be built.
    The Anti-F22 crowd forgets that the thing that killed this plane is politics and money.

    and I will say it again. Never ever will the Af get its 1760 JSF. Can somebody tell me how they will get it?

  4. Sven Ortmann 4 August, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    That’s a description of a battle, not of a war.

  5. Royce 4 August, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    How is it that our 4th generation jets are going to be made into mincemeat by new integrated air defense systems but Chinese jets are going to be able to penetrate a modern IADS even without stealthy aircraft?

  6. solomon 4 August, 2009 at 10:50 pm #

    Thank you Sven. Additionally, the kill ratio of the F-18E/F is less than F-15s? I don’t see that….lastly….what is up with Rand???? This report could have been produced last year with the exact same dynamics and numbers….for that matter two years ago and the results would have been the same…QUESTION. WHY THIS INFO NOW????? seems kinda silly. Rand is losing credibility.

  7. Henry Cobb 5 August, 2009 at 12:19 am #

    Note the missing bits.

    The American DDGs.

    The LCS.

    And the ship attack variant of the tactom that’s been offered.

    One SSGN loaded up with those will turn China’s invasion fleet into the world’s largest artificial reef.

  8. Dan 5 August, 2009 at 1:26 am #

    Solomon, why would the F/A-18E/F have a higher kill ratio than the F-15? The F-15 has a fairly serious kinematic BVR performance advantage from a supersonic accleration/speed/agility standpoint and as such is quite a potent BVR platform. The EF consortium/European industry rate even the lastest block Hornets as a relatively poor competitor in the BVR game and the new F-15 derivatives as much more challenging, especially with their bigger engines+radars – I am lead to believe SILVE results support this viewpoint too. Steve Trimble might have much more on SILVE.

  9. solomon 5 August, 2009 at 1:37 am #

    another excellent point Henry…DDG’s will thin some of that aerial horde too….funny how everytime Rand does an analysis its with the US fighting without all its capabilities.

  10. Obamanite 5 August, 2009 at 1:47 am #

    Haven’t bothered to even look at the report because, as I suspected and has been corroborated by the above posters, these RAND studies tend to be woefully incomplete in their lack of accounting for a systems-wide conflict, more than merely throwing up hordes of fighters against one another. Two CBGs with two Tico-class cruisers each and perhaps 3 or 4 Arleigh Burkes stationed near Taiwan would make life a living hell for any Chinese Sukhois. The so-called grave threat of Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles would be deal with perfunctorily by SM-3s. Chinese subs? Turned to twisted metal at the bottom of the sea floor by escorting American SSNs. You can’t shake a stick at the USN without being badly mauled, and it is a far superior force to anything the Chinese may have to counter it. Also, anything in the RAND report say anything about the fact that SDB-equipped B-2s, each loaded with dozens if not hundreds of said bombs, would rain down the fire of hell on Chinese airbases, and that the vaunted Sukhois would likely be flying only one sortie during said conflict, either because they were shot down or had nowhere left to land? Assuming they even took off in the first place. What’s up with RAND these days? Used to be they were fairly credible, except for the fact, of course, that the architects of the Vietnam War were RAND pointy-headed nincompoops…

  11. alloycowboy 5 August, 2009 at 2:28 am #

    Why would China attack Taiwan when they could just buy it a once property at a time. Much like the Japanese did with Hawaii. Also what would China gain by invading Taiwan more bicycle and laptop computer factories?

  12. Henry Cobb 5 August, 2009 at 3:10 am #


    The F-22s got canceled for more Growlers and yet the American EW advantage hardly shows up.

  13. okinawa 5 August, 2009 at 4:52 am #

    I was lucky enough to see one of the F-22′s at the Kadena America Fest recently…the thing looks like it has alien technology in it…

  14. irtusk 5 August, 2009 at 6:23 am #

    well if you make a few key assumptions:
    1) all Taiwanese air bases are nonfunctional
    2) all Chinese air bases are fully functional
    3) us fighters never use taiwanese bases
    4) us fighters are never replenished across a theoretical 4 day battle

    it’s not hard to see how a Chinese air win follows

    In the real world, none of the assumptions are valid so their entire analysis is garbage.

    they do talk a little about possible attacks on chinese bases, but they never include that in any of their calculations

    OTOH it does demonstrate how a few squadrons of F-35B’s might be awfully handy for Taiwan . . .

    as far as DDGs, well i imagine the chinese sub fleet will make it a very high-risk environment

    a couple SSGNs are probably a more survivable solution to knocking out airfields and the like

  15. Mike Plunkett 5 August, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    By interesting coincidence the August issue of Air Force Magazine, the US Air Force Association publication, features an article entitled ‘Fighting Under Missile Attack’ which explores much the same issue (http://www.airforce-magazine.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2009/August%202009/FightingUnderMissileAttack.aspx). The author is one John Stillion – the same chap mentioned in Stephen’s piece?

  16. SpudmanWP 5 August, 2009 at 6:16 pm #

    I saw the same flaws last night as I read it.

    One that really gets me is that while they make a point that the reason China wins is because of the damage to Taiwanese and US air bases, they leave out our greatest convention weapon for airbase destruction, the B-2.

    Each B-2 could carry 80 JDAMs or 100+ SDBs. With even only 10 sorties a night, this would decimate the Chinese airbases. Throw in Sub-launched cruise missiles, JASSM launching B-1Bs, and nighttime F-22 SDB ops and this is a completely different story.

    Also, the reason that the F-35 is not mentioned is that this is a 2013 scenario.

    We need to sell the F-16s, PAC-3s, and Aegis systems to Taiwan like they requested.

    Taiwan needs to beef up it’s MOBILE S2A assets.

  17. ccL1 6 August, 2009 at 1:15 am #

    Most important question is: would the US military even be involved in a conflict between Taiwan and China?

    Yes, there is the Taiwan Relations Act, but is it worth it for the US to get into a war with a rising superpower just for the sake of Taiwan?

    We can go on all day about “what if”s and why one country is militarily stronger than the other, but if there is ever a military conflict between China and Taiwan, I think the US won’t get involved. The costs outweigh the benefits by a huge margin.

    America has absolutely nothing to gain. Absolutely nothing.

  18. SMSgt Mac 6 August, 2009 at 8:49 am #

    ccL1? Well Kum-bah-frickin’-ya!
    Who cares if we abandon an ally of over a half a century in the Far East? What would be the ramifications that we couldn’t live with? I mean except for encouraging a belligerent China to flex itself a little more here and there pushing around other long-time and emerging security partners. Like South Korea. Or Japan, Or India, Or Australia. Or???

    Read some serious History with a capital H and catch a freakin’ clue. Begin with Thucydides and read at least through Churchill. Unlike the sentiment in the leftard chant, it is APPEASEMENT of tyrants that has never solved anything,

    You are dismissed.

  19. elgatoso 6 August, 2009 at 9:01 am #

    Lease all the f-117 and a couple of hundres of the olders atomic bombs to Taiwan and forget about that air war scenario

  20. ccL1 9 August, 2009 at 5:44 am #

    SMSgt Mac,

    No one said anything about militarily appeasing China. If the US really cared about Taiwan, why not break off relations with the People’s Republic of China and recognize Taiwan (the Republic of China) as the one true China instead?

    The fact is the US doesn’t recognize Taiwan as even a country. The US does recognize the People’s Republic of China though as the one true China. It’s only a matter of time before China economically takes over Taiwan. What will America do then? Invade China? Strike at China? For what? For undertaking free market capitalism in Taiwan?

    I’m sorry, but I don’t subscribe to the Cold War mentality of “commie” = “bad” and “we” = “eternally good”. I’m a subscriber to realpolitik and, like Kissinger, I see opportunity in China. Give them some space, but not too much. I don’t think Taiwan is in America’s interests to defend. South Korea, Japan, India, and Australia are altogether different animals.

    And you are wrong. Taiwan has not been a US ally for half a century. The US stopped recognizing Taiwan as a country in the late 70s. You don’t do that to an ally.

    Can you list any better reasons to aid Taiwan though? But please leave the rhetoric out of it, as it doesn’t help the argument at all.

  21. ccL1 9 August, 2009 at 10:04 pm #

    Also, do allies really do this to each other?


    In case you don’t want to read it, the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense was cheated out of US$160 million after contracting the American military to replace its battle command.

    While President Chen Shui-bian was in office, the auditor told the afternoon paper the Americans inspected Taiwan’s battle command, known as C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.)

    It was considered out of date. A new C4ISR architectural framework (C4ISR AF) had to be installed, the Americans concluded.

    Do allies really bilk each other of money? I’m sorry, I’m not convinced by your Cold War mentality argument. It’s quite honestly obsolete in today’s world, but if you want to continue to hold on to decades old obsolete beliefs, that’s fine. I still respect you for it. Today’s world changes too fast for some, I guess.

  22. SMSgt Mac 10 August, 2009 at 1:37 am #

    Heh. Nice attempt at a rear-guard action, ;-)

    The shabby way we’ve treated Taiwan to-date, in a mistaken belief the PRC can be footsied to death until they get around to becoming a mature (vs old) society is hardly a reason to treat an ally any worse than we have been. All the shabby treatment given Taiwan has happened under the caveat that we would be their protector if the PRC attempted to bring them under submission. Failing to do so would mean not only were we lying about protecting them, but were acting in bad faith all along.

    Re: I’m sorry, but I don’t subscribe to the Cold War mentality of “commie” = “bad” and “we” = “eternally good”. I’m a subscriber to realpolitik and, like Kissinger, I see opportunity in China. Give them some space, but not too much. I don’t think Taiwan is in America’s interests to defend. South Korea, Japan, India, and Australia are altogether different animals.

    As I said nice attempt, but now you’ve exposed your moral flank.

    Realpolitik didn’t tear down the Berlin Wall – directly challenging the Evil Empire did the job. Realpolitik won’t bore the PRC into the dustbin of history. either. ‘Realpolitik’ requires a certain willingness to let people suffer a certain amount under a tyrant’s yoke for our own comfort. It is always interesting to see where its practitioners draw the line for suffering of others such that it is ‘just enough’.

    Sorry for all you ‘Realpolitkos’ out there, but The American Ideal IS the embodiment of ‘good’ in government. Failure to live up to the ideal in America, when it happens, is just that: a ‘failure’. Whereas In too many other places (like the PRC), it is just the ‘norm’.

    Right now I’m also guessing there’s a dearth of philosophical training to go along with that hole in someone’s History background. I’d recommend Adler’s Six Great Ideas as a jumping off point. BTW: You’ll just love the subtitle.

    RE: Link provided.

    Sorry, but extreme disappointment there. Did you actually read the article? Even if the article is ‘accurate’ (doubtful), the worst it could be about is a ‘failed’ program and somebody in Taiwan tried to cover up:
    But the integration was abandoned, because it couldn’t possibly be completed, the official alleged.
    When the effort was terminated, he said, US$160 million had already been spent.
    “Our Ministry of Defense squandered that much taxpayers’ money and tried to cover it up,” the MOA official charged.

    Nondelivery of a good — because of a contractual failure to execute successfully? Gotta be a first (not!). I do wonder if the ‘official’ would have recommended continuing the program and spending more money on the failure instead of terminating the project.

    RE: Leave the ‘rhetoric’ out.

    Heh. Interesting word there. One of my favorites.
    In a classical sense, it means the art of influencing the thought and conduct of an audience. In Joshua Chamberlin’s professorial days, the emphasis was in doing so via the use of logic. In popular use these days of course it more often refers to the unnecessary use of exaggeration and bombast – the definition of ‘unnecessary’ is of course left to the individual (how post-modern!).

    I prefer the first definition. In which case the answer is ‘No’. I suspect however you might like the second definition. In which case the answer is still ‘No’: because truth cannot be exaggerated or told too forcefully.

    ‘Encourage’ the PRC to evolve with strong foreign policy and break up its empire-masquerading-as-a-monolith. Deal with the 4-5 states that rise from its ashes in ways according to the political models they each adopt. Not very Realpolitik, but an admirable goal all-in-all. [Note: Right about at this point here there is usually some small intellect who reads into this that I am advocating an American-style society and government for everyone. I am not.]

    RE: I’m sorry, I’m not convinced by your Cold War mentality argument. It’s quite honestly obsolete in today’s world, but if you want to continue to hold on to decades old obsolete beliefs, that’s fine. I still respect you for it.

    Your Hybris (Another favorite word. Thank you Professor Fears) is palpable, in that you seem to think yourself immune from the lessons of History.

    My ‘mentality’ is far older than the ‘Cold War’ handle to which you seek to simply assign away my views. The world is unchanging in that the most important factor is unchanging – the nature of ‘Man’.
    I’ve seen on many an occasion how this point has been made (often by Prof. Victor Davis Hanson) and still at the end, after being given a litany of examples of this unchanging nature, some ignorant and ahistorical product of pop culture present will say something to the effect of “well I’d like to think mankind has progressed beyond blah blah blah”.

    Don’t live in willful ignorance.


    RE: Today’s world changes too fast for some, I guess.

    At least try to keep up then.

    [this may double post weird--as something odd happened while I was editing on a hotel web connection.]

  23. Obamanite 10 August, 2009 at 2:51 am #

    What ccL1 said. Why in the world would the U.S. go to war over Taiwan??? It wouldn’t, end of story.

  24. SMSgt Mac 11 August, 2009 at 2:19 pm #

    The argument as to why we would intervene is as I have already stated why we should intervene (which BTW is not inconsistent with current official US policy) and the counter-argument offered is essentially: “We wouldn’t because we wouldn’t.”

    This does not mean I wouldn’t concede your point if it were rephrased as “A naive, ineffectual, effete, and Hybris-ridden Administration with a weak Hopey-Changey sense of American exceptionalism/idealism wouldn’t intervene.”

  25. Brad Griggs 20 August, 2009 at 11:10 am #

    SMSgt Mac…

    I was first forwarded a link to this thread by a very dear and intelligent friend of mine here in Australia.

    I enjoyed reading the article, but have just spent the last 20 pouring over these posts, and was particularly by what SMSgt Mac has had to say. SMS Mac, if you would ever take the time to email me I would love to know your educational background. I am generally considered to be ‘intelligent’, but I actually had to get out me dictionary 3 times and call a friend once to understand the depth of what you wrote. Very eloquent, clear, entertaining and unpretentious.

    I certainly do not like the US government attitude towards the wider world at the moment, and to be honest consider them to probably the worlds terrorists at present (no offence to all you yanks….I’ve met some great Americans!).

    In my humble opinion I believe that whether or not US foreign policy does or does not support military intervention as discussed above, the reality of the situation is that the US Government would find a way to justify any action that it considers to be in the best interests of those that control and influence that decision making process.

    Having given my 2 cents worth, I would like very much to close by saying that I appreciate the opportunity to share my opinion in this way, and also say to all previous posters ‘thank you’ for entertaining me and exercising my mind with your varied and often very different opinions.

  26. james Tng 30 October, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    In a war over taiwan US ac that launched tomahawk/terminator missiles will be sunk in a matter of minutes. China is not vietnam or any other insignificant ME country.The US navy maybe free to roam at will and attack these countries.
    The PLA will respond to bases where missiles are launched.This is the 21 st century China.
    Yes I know the US is still all powerful but it won’t wish to provke a war with China just like the lion wont provoke one with the tiegr/leopard.

  27. common sense 1 November, 2009 at 2:54 pm #

    The US says PLA modernisation is offsetting traditional American advantages in power projection.What does the pentagon want china to be?
    Like in the opium war?
    According to US archives,the US wanted to drop atomic bombs on China in 1953,54,58 and Vietnam war.
    If I am not wrong as recently as 1996 and 2002.So if the US were in China’s position would the Americans want to be a non nuclear state and can be bullied by the PLA?
    The Chinese are modernising their defences not to attack the US.It’s the US with power projection who are a threat to China.
    The US has to face reality and know the PLA are going to equip themselves with the means to deter the US.They won’t attack unless the US launches tomahawk missiles at Chinese targets.
    As some enlightened US defence analysts say the PLA is going to throw a monkey wrench into the US decision makers lap.
    Of course the PLA wont win but it’s enough to cause complications .The Taiwan question is the core at the PLA’s upgrade. Can the US guarantee Taiwan’s securty forever as the Chinese get more powerful?
    The Americans are a very enlightened people and shd know better than to interfere in China’s internal affair.
    If the US wants to foil the rise of China the best way is to start a war now when all the aces are with the US.Fortunately there are no Dr strangelove now.
    yes the US will win hands down but the price payable will very immense.No sane US president will ever think about it.

  28. SMSgt Mac 1 November, 2009 at 5:41 pm #

    Of course the PRC is concerned about the US’s ability to project power. In EXACTLY the same way as any organized crime syndicate is concerned about a law enforcement agency.

    Thanks for dropping by and chiming in ‘bravely’ months after the converation wound down and everybody left the room. Kudos to Mr. Trimble for the ‘recent comments’ feature on his main page – it lets the regulars see who is sneaking around after everyone with substantive commentary has moved on.

  29. chicom 3 November, 2009 at 4:55 am #

    If Taiwan ever declares independence,the PLA need not attack the island.There has been talk on the island of hitting HK,Shanghai,the three gorges etc.
    If the Taiwanese even think about doing these things, I fear for the Taiwanese living on the island.
    The PLA is no more the peasant army army ,peoples’ war oriented e.g human wave tactics encountered by GIs in Korea.It’s a modern fighting force capable of nuclear destruction.
    The destruction wreaked by Taiwan is minuscle compared to the immense damage done by the PLA to Taiwan.The US,of course ,can blow up the whole world but it would not because US vital interests are not at a stake.It could of course target the PLA military
    installations but the PLA is no more the PLA of Mao’s time. It could give the US a bloody nose.
    The US has shifted its military focus from Europe to China.
    Yet when the PLA upgrades its defence the Chinese are considered a threat to the region read US because the Chinese can attack US forces tailored to attack China.
    The US uses it ac to attack yet when the PLA has weapons to neutralize the the US ships they are deemed a threat.The reason is obvious. The US forces are primed to attack others but when it can be attacked they are unhappy.
    The Pentagon better note though they can prevail over China they will have to pay a very heavy price.The price is going up every second.
    The US is already in fical difficulties. I wonder how long they can maintian defence budget. Rome went into demise because of the burden of maintaing the Roman army.History could be about to repeat itself no matter what the US does.

  30. Bajabax 28 May, 2010 at 12:05 am #

    Brilliant comments. I enjoyed the different views on a very dangerous situation.
    Bottom line, we owe China too much money! Would you want to hurt your cash cow?

  31. Kswap 31 May, 2010 at 7:36 am #

    Hm, people should know that both Japan and Germany tried to invest in the U.S. in hope of gaining an ally should future wars breaks out, and both failed, there were also heavy U.S. investments in Germany after WW-I, but when the tide turns, U.S. was there doing it’s business as usual, no, I am not selling patriotism, it’s just the way the country goes about doing its business, now imagine these, the stock market might crash another 3 times before 2030, two of them will probably be the current size, and one will be greater by comparison, and every country which are capable of buying some U.S. debt will be buying our national debt, does that necessary means we will be working for them? No, quit the contrary, in fact, it will almost be a guarantee that the Dollar will be the strongest and most secure investment there is, and the funny thing is, when you own a great deal of money to a lot of people, your well-being become everybody’s #1 concern, and after few world economy crashes, the way to measure a nation’s wealth no longer counts upwards, instead, it counts downwards, and the “-” becomes the new “+”, and the more debt you carry, the richer you become? Can this be the fact someday? Maybe, at least according to the current economic games,but what r the possibilities ? You tell me, now the Chinese can buy as much U.S. debt as they like, I don’t care, just remember,debts are like word of bonds, forgive and forget after few wars, without properly balancing its budget, buying the U.S. debt can only turn them into slaves of the Dollars. I am sure they’re aware of this as well. Man made rules are full of flaws, it’s breaking them makes it brilliant.

  32. Piedad Creggett 20 July, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Did that actually fix problem?? I have searching for a solution for ages Cheers

  33. norcold 9182 18 November, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of the central bank, had said earlier on Tuesday that the amount of money racing through the global economy was putting pressure on emerging economies that want to control inflation. And Yao Jian, a commerce ministry spokesman, said at a press conference on Tuesday that the government would tighten scrutiny of foreign investment so as to prevent too much money from pouring into China as foreign investors seek higher returns than are currently available in the West.

  34. Marc 18 February, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Of course, you can always get it free right here and save the money.

    I can’t believe someone is charging for a 3rd party study that is provided free of charge from Rand.

    For shame.


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