A war probably isn’t coming. It’s not in America’s best interests. Or China’s. Or Russia’s. But the military can’t just opt out of preparing for a conflict, just in case. If the U.S. stumbles into a war with China, that country has an ever-growing arsenal of weapons that will force the U.S. military to adapt — especially the Navy.
Chinese hypersonic glide vehicles could allow conventional missiles to become a much larger threat.
(果壳军事, CC BY-SA 4.0)
1. Hypersonic missiles
China’s primary hypersonic missile play is the DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle, but the country is testing a variety of hypersonic components and has even tested an anti-ship ballistic missile that flies at hypersonic speeds during its final approach to the target.
Glide vehicles, like the DF-ZF, can be fitted to a variety of current missiles, extending their range by up to 50 percent while improving speed. Most of the focus on these weapons so far has been on the strategic level, as hypersonic missiles can carry nukes and bypass most existing defenses, but the missiles are also a huge threat on the tactical level, as they limit the effectiveness of current Navy fleet defenses.
If China and America go toe-to-toe in the Pacific, these hypersonic missiles will greatly threaten the fleet at sea as well as shore installations of the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
The Type 072A LST gives Chinese naval commanders a lot of options.
(樱井千一, CC BY-SA 3.0)
2. Type 072A LST
The Chinese Landing Ship, Tank Type 072A is part of a larger family of landing ships, but it’s really the crown jewel of the fleet — and China owns 15 of them. They can carry up to 10 tanks as well as a hovercraft, four landing craft, 250 soldiers, and a helicopter.
All that cargo can be quickly offloaded on most beaches and the ship’s 30mm gun can defend it throughout the process, allowing an armored or infantry company to disembark from each ship directly into combat. For U.S. troops racing China to occupy strategic islands or to defend American-held ground, these ships mean that China can always quickly exploit any toehold it gains.
The Chinese AG-600, the world’s largest seaplane.
(Alert5, CC BY-SA 4.0)
3. The AG-600, that massive new seaplane
China’s massive new seaplane, the world’s largest by most metrics, including payload, has generated a lot of buzz. It is new, ugly, and a great tool for logistics in areas like the South China Sea. The weapon has few sensors and no weapons, but it has ability to take off from shallow water while carrying up to 13 tons of supplies. So, it could be just the ticket for re-supplying far-flung troops on islands or ships at sea with no carrier on which to land.
There has been widespread speculation about its suitability in an anti-submarine role. While it does have a lot of the traits of a large reconnaissance platform, mostly high range and payload, China’s own media has downplayed the possibility of it serving as an anti-submarine aircraft.
4. Golden Eagle CR500
Not all that much is known yet about the Golden Eagle CR500, but it’s an unmanned helicopter that can carry air-to-ground missiles. The rumor mill gives it a six-hour endurance and a maximum payload of four missiles. If everything works out, this and similar projects give China the capability to hunt U.S. forces ashore from relatively small ships.
Instead of needing to land a company to recon in force or wait for reconnaissance teams to sweep potentially occupied islands, they could send a couple of small ships carrying these bad boys and fly over the islands, engaging targets they find immediately.
5. CH-7 Drone
China’s newly unveiled CH-7 drone appears to be a direct ripoff of the Navy’s X-47B — and it probably is. But the Navy put combat drones on the back burner after pushback from U.S. pilots, potentially allowing China to take the technological edge. The CH-7, like the X-47B, is a carrier-based stealth drone capable of penetrating contested airspace, conducting reconnaissance and, if necessary, fighting its way free.
If it works even a fraction as well as the X-47B, the CH-7 could give China the ability to strike U.S. forces ashore and to disrupt jet formations without risking their own pilots. This could be a game-changer since one of the biggest limits on China’s large military and civilian aviation dreams is its lack of pilots.
6. H-20 Stealth Bomber
China’s new stealth bomber is still under wraps, technically, but information is leaking out and it appears to be a flying wing like the B-2 Spirit. If its radar absorption, spoofing, and infrared masking is anything like the B-2’s, that means that China might be able to fly through American defenses and strike at radars and missile sites in order to open up the skies for conventional aircraft.
The H-20 is nuclear-capable, but its the door-kicking ability of the plane that actually tips the scales in a conventional conflict. U.S. defenses rely on a distributed network of sensors and interceptors, but you can still open a gap to the heart of a carrier strike group with just a few good hits on Ticonderoga cruisers and Arleigh-Burke destroyers.
Chinese Type 56 Corvette
(樱井千一, CC BY-SA 3.0)
7. Type 056 Jiangdao Stealth Corvette
Corvettes are small ships, but what they lack in size and muscle they can make up for in versatility. The Type 056 is no exception, as it displaces only 1,365 tons while capable of carrying four anti-ship cruise missiles, eight surface-to-air missiles, and two torpedo tubes as well as a 76mm main gun and two 30mm guns in support. And they can zip around at 35 mph.
They’re cheap and potent, even if they’re not the kind of big capital ships that fill propaganda ads. They’re lethal enough to pick off amphibious forces and smaller ships, potentially interrupting landings or helping force an opening during a fight between fleets. China commissioned its 41st Type 056 a few months ago.