China’s missile swarms vs. America’s lasers, drones and railguns: Who wins?

Artist’s conception of a PLA anti-ship ballistic missile attack on three US Navy carriers


This much is true — no country can possibly hope to challenge the United States with military means on a global scale and win. But key to America’s global strength are huge air and naval bases which are vulnerable to being overwhelmed and destroyed by swarms of precision-guided weapons in a limited, regional war.

The Navy also cannot expect its ships to survive if they come under attack by sufficiently large numbers of cruise missiles and ballistic missiles of the kind now fielded by China. While better protected from missiles than bases, the current breadth of U.S. technology and doctrine cannot compensate for this weakness.

The result is that the Pentagon must radically rethink its missile defenses, or risk serious losses in the opening hours of a future conflict. But according to a recent report, the solution could be lots of futuristic lasers, guns and electromagnetic weapons that can engage enormous numbers of incoming missiles at relatively short ranges.

“Since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon had the luxury of assuming that air and missile attacks on its bases and forces would either not occur or would be within the capacity of the limited defenses it has fielded,” analysts Mark Gunzinger and Bryan Clark wrote for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an influential defense policy think tank.

“These assumptions are no longer valid.”

Gunzinger and Clark’s report does not describe anything new for U.S. military planners. Russia, China and Iran have are investing heavily in missiles with an eye toward targeting American bases. But it’s China that is of particular concern, owing to the fact that Beijing is producing very large numbers of highly-accurate and long-range missiles.

Worse, the United States has fewer options to spread out its bases in the Western Pacific — it is largely stuck to islands — than it does in Europe or the Middle East, where dispersed “clusters” of bases are more feasible.

Beijing already fields thousands of cruise missiles and hundreds of ballistic missiles which can hit U.S. bases in South Korea, Okinawa and Guam. The U.S. Air Force has deployed Patriot air-defense batteries to the Western Pacific, but the anticipated target for the Patriot is a lone North Korean ballistic missile.

The Patriot cannot stand a chance if China throws everything it has at America’s installations.

There is a similar threat facing America’s surface ships. The bulk of the United States’ cruise-missile defenses are on warships, such as Arleigh Burke-class destroyers equipped with Aegis — an advanced suite of radars, command and control computers and anti-air missiles such as the Sea Sparrow, SM-2, SM-3 and SM-6.

Full article: China’s missile swarms vs. America’s lasers, drones and railguns: Who wins? (Asia Times)

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