As China dramatically expands its People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) capabilities, the US Navy is increasingly challenged to handle this growing threat, particularly in the Western Pacific. China is now deploying huge numbers of new, capable combatant ships, submarines, and aircraft armed with short and long-range Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs).
The US Navy’s ability to counter China’s mushrooming naval forces with its current surface, subsurface and air fleet — alone — is limited. One answer — bring in the Air Force.
According to Air Force Magazine, the “US Air Force can provide a cost-effective solution to meet the challenges posed by China in the Pacific by renewing training and equipping its bombers for maritime strike missions.”
Or as The National Interest notes, “In particular, the brass want the long-range bombers to help deter Chinese aggression in the Pacific and, in the highly unlikely event of major war, send Beijing’s hundreds of warships to the ocean bottom.”
Air Force Magazine adds:
Air Force bombers can launch large salvos of ASCMs and other weapons at short notice and from multiple directions. Stealth bombers can penetrate the umbrella of Chinese air defenses to threaten and destroy Chinese naval assets. These aircraft can also cue non-stealthy aircraft and other shooters for over-the-horizon strikes, further complicating adversary defensive calculations.
US Air Force bombers offer joint and combined combatant commanders a strong, cost-effective, and efficient deterrent to Chinese naval power; bolster US Navy and allied forces in continuing efforts to counter China; and enhance American national security options to respond to potential Chinese aggression in the Asia-Pacific theater and around the globe.
Specifically, this will entail using long-range B-52, B-1, B-2, and the latest B-21, strategic bombers — armed with Harpoon anti-ship missiles, AGM-158 joint air-to-surface standoff munition (JASSM) weapons, and the latest Long Range Air to Surface Missile (LRASM).
Using Air Force bombers in a maritime strike role will also involve enhanced training for strategic bomber crews in the conventional missions they may not be proficient in — “sea surveillance, mine laying and conventional ‘iron bomb’ missions.”
It will also mean, as The National Interest describes, a lot more low-level “wave top” flying by these huge bombers, “skimming the ocean surface at an altitude of just 80 or 90 feet, lower than the deck of an aircraft carrier.” Using these bombers, weapons, and tactics could give the Air Force a significant ability to help the Navy take down China’s growing fleet.
As retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula says in Air Force Magazine, “Rather than a costly naval buildup that might not achieve the necessary increase in maritime striking power to meet the demands of our national military strategy, an asymmetric—and truly joint—approach is to rely on Air Force bombers to increase US maritime strike capability.”
While we still need to grow the US Navy in size and capability, using Air Force bombers appears to be one great solution to jointly help the Navy counter the Chinese naval threat in the Pacific.