China working to develop ‘killer robot’ ships to hunt American destroyers, subs, aircraft

Chinese naval developers are working on a “robot” design they claim will be used to hunt American destroyers and submarines in the South China Sea and beyond.

The China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company’s small unmanned JARI USV is a 20-ton, 15-meter surface vessel the company hopes will function like a smaller version of the U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

And while the robot ship is far smaller than the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Type-55 manned destroyers, the mission for the JARI USV is the same: Anti-submarine, anti-surface, and anti-air warfare.

The Chinese shipbuilder China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Company is developing a small unmanned surface vessel that China wants to function essentially like the uninhabited baby brother of a U.S. Arleigh Burke destroyer.

A model of the drone was on display at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi, Defense News reported.

The unmanned ship is equipped with an electro-optical sensor that sits atop a superstructure, as well as a phased array radar, a dipping sonar, eight small vertical launch system cells, a torpedo launcher and a forward mounted machine gun and rocket launcher for surface targets.

A model was displayed at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference.

The U.S. Navy has been pursuing similar designs to serve as surface platforms to be deployed against undersea and surface threats. Also, the Navy seeks to develop and deploy “a network of sensor and shooter drones to penetrate anti-access environments such as the South China Sea,” Defense News reported.

The JARI appears to be the PLAN’s version of a drone ship that would be tasked with a similar mission set.

Defense News further reported:

According to the product video, the drone appears to be modular and reconfigurable for the different mission areas, but it’s unclear what missions are permanently integrated into the system. In the video, JARI is shown alternately shooting down an aerial drone, sinking a submarine, machine-gunning a RHIB full of adversaries trying to steal it (after firing warning shots) and sinking a surface ship that looked a little like a littoral combat ship.

The boat tops out at 42 knots and has a range of about 500 nautical miles.

Last year, when China unveiled the design at a show in Africa, a representative told Navy Recognition that the drone was for use by the PLAN and for foreign sales and that a working prototype was being tested in China.

The Chinese vessel can be controlled by a ‘mother’ ship or a shore station, according to specifications.

It’s unclear where humans would be in the loop in terms of controlling the JARI and firing its weapons.


Internal assessments reveal Chinese leaders don’t think their military is up to task of defeating a modern enemy

Without question, the Chinese military has made substantial technological advances over the past 25 years as the country’s economy grew and as more resources were allocated to modernizing forces.

But translations of internal communications among Chinese civilian and military leaders reveal that there are doubts that the military is capable of meeting and defeating a modern enemy and that these doubts go back for years.

According to an analysis by War on the Rocks which was based on testimony presented to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on February 7, “A large body of evidence in China’s official military and party media indicates the nation’s senior civilian and uniformed leaders recognize significant shortcomings in the warfighting and command capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“However, most of this evidence is not translated into English for public consumption and is not considered in much of the foreign analysis of China’s growing military capabilities. This situation is not new, but goes back for decades,” the analysis says.

Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, who is also the chairman of the Central Military Commission, the scope and frequency of the self-critiques have increased. The critiques indicate that senior Chinese military and Communist party leaders doubt the People’s Liberation Army’s ability to defeat a modern enemy in battle.

In addition, recognition of the PLA’s limitations and inexperience will very likely “moderate China’s near- and mid-term national security objectives” as well as “the manner in which they are pursued,” said the analysis.

The Chinese military’s shortcomings are the primary reason why Beijing seeks to achieve its foreign policy objectives via deterrence and “gray zone” actions that are short of war.

Identifying and overcoming Chinese military limitations began in earnest after the country’s short but bloody war with Vietnam in 1979. The Chinese launched the campaign as a means of “punishing” Hanoi for aligning more closely with Moscow than Beijing following the long war with the United States.

But China suffered 7,000 deaths and many more casualties, after invading Vietnam with about 300,000 troops. Though both sides claimed victory, historians generally note that China ‘lost’ in that Beijing failed to achieve stated geopolitical objectives.

Notes the analysis:

Following every major training event, units in all services of the PLA conduct after-action reviews to identify positive developments and detect specific shortcomings and weaknesses for correction. The results of these internal assessments are passed up the chain of command to the party and government’s highest military policy- and decision-making organization, the Central Military Commission. Some of this process is classified and not revealed to the public, but much of it is reported by the official media, mostly in the Chinese language, directed at an internal audience in China. It includes good, and often bad, news.

While translations differ regarding ‘abbreviations’ of internal critiques, the overall outcome of most assessments remains the same: “The PLA must overcome multiple shortcomings in its combat and leadership capabilities,” War on the Rocks noted.

Self-assessments of PLA capabilities appear to have increased under Xi versus his predecessor, Hu Jintao.

However, “these critiques continue to express skepticism about the PLA’s ability to win a local war and have been expanded to question the combat leadership ability of “some” leaders and the PLA’s loyalty to the party,” the analysis notes.

Xi has made modernizing the Chinese military a priority. Chinese state media has reported that Xi wants the PLA to become a world-class fighting force by 2050.

China Daily reported in October 2017:

Xi said as socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, the building of the national defense and the military has also opened a new chapter. He said the military should make all-out efforts to become a world-class force by 2050 and to strive for the realization of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. 

While technology has improved among PLA ground, air, and naval units, the force overall lacks operational and combat experience. Current vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Zhang Youxia voiced his concerns about this weakness in 2009 when he was Shenyang Military Region commander:

Today, the PLA hasn’t been in actual combat for many years now, yet the fires of war are burning throughout the world. In this area, the gap between the PLA and foreign militaries is growing day by day. This is an actual problem.

The Chinese media calls the PLA’s lack of combat experience the “peace disease,” and frequently urges the armed forces to overcome it by maintaining a high state of readiness much like the U.S. military remains ready to “Fight Tonight.”

As Foreign Policy reported last fall, China’s military is “untested” and could either be a “force or a flop.” The report noted:

Today, China’s military has an increasingly impressive high-tech arsenal, but its ability to use these weapons and equipment remains unclear. There are reasons to be skeptical. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) struggles under the legacy of an obsolete command system, rampant corruption, and training of debatable realism, among other issues.

U.S. Navy stepping up patrols in South China Sea but they aren’t likely to deter China

The Pentagon is stepping up so-called “Freedom of Navigation Operations” — FONOPs — in the South China Sea as a means of meeting and deterring Chinese aggression and expansionism.

The Navy has already carried out two FONOPs this year and officials say more are planned, the South China Morning Post reported.

However, observers say that the increase in U.S. Navy operations isn’t liable to influence Chinese decision-making in the region or deter Beijing from continuing to make outsized claims in the South China Sea.

In January, the USS McCampbell sailed near the Paracel Islands. On February 11, the USS Spruance and the USS Preble sailed near Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, both missions of which triggered predictable angry responses from China.

The U.S. Navy carried out five FONOPs last year and four in 2017, the SCMP noted.

Adm. Phil Davidson, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, suggested last week during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that FONOPs in the South China Sea would be increased in the coming months.

He also said Britain’s naval activity would also increase in the South China Sea along with the activity of other U.S. allies.

China, thus far, is undeterred. In recent months Beijing has dispatched its own warships to the region in an effort to confront U.S. Navy ships. One such confrontation nearly led to a collision between U.S. and Chinese warships.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the U.S. would have to resort to other strategies than simply using FONOPs to deter Beijing.

“While freedom of navigation operations may be one of the ways the US expresses its security commitment to the governments, they will have a negligible effect on Beijing’s continued strategic and economic forays – especially via the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ – throughout the Indo-Pacific region,” he told the paper.

Indeed, he added, “Beijing may likely use the intensified foreign military presence, including joint FONOPs, as a justification for these build-ups.”

Yue Gang, a retired People’s Liberation Army colonel, told the SCMP that neither the U.S. nor China wants to go to war over the South China Sea.

“If the US sent a large number of warships, then China would do the same in order to maintain a balance, so that would increase the risk of confrontation,” he said.

“But China doesn’t want a military conflict in the South China Sea, and the claim America is willing to stage a war against China is an overstatement.”

China preparing to deploy anti-satellite laser weapon by 2020

The Pentagon says that the Chinese military is preparing to deploy an anti-satellite laser weapon that can be used against American satellites and those of Western powers operating in low orbit by 2020.

According to a Defense Intelligence Agency report on emerging space threats, the Chinese “ASAT” weapon will be capable of either damaging or destroying targeted satellites, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

The directed energy weapon is one of several designed for use against space-based targets including ground-based ASAT missiles, cyber attacks, electronic jammers, and small ‘hunter-killer’ satellites that the Chinese plan to use against U.S. satellites in any future conflict, the DIA report says.

“China likely is pursuing laser weapons to disrupt, degrade, or damage sat­ellites and their sensors and possibly already has a limited capability to employ laser systems against satellite sensors,” said the unclassified report.

It added: “China likely will field a ground-based laser weapon that can counter low-orbit space-based sensors by 2020, and by the mid-to-late 2020s, it may field higher power systems that extend the threat to the structures of non-optical satellites.”

The report was the first time the Pentagon’s intelligence agency revealed details of ASAT laser weapons being developed by China.

Beijing’s military has been working to develop ASAT directed energy weapons at least since 2006. That year, the Chinese military used a laser to “dazzle” an orbiting U.S. satellite in what analysts said was a test.

That came about a year before China tested an ASAT missile against an old orbiting weather satellite. The missile destroyed the target, which created an extremely hazardous orbiting field of debris that still threatens existing space-based assets.

While China has also developed additional directed energy weapons, ASAT lasers are considered more advantageous because their effects can be hidden more easily.

The DIA report notes that high energy beams are able to destroy electro-optical detectors used for missile launches, optical systems that track launches, control surfaces, solar panels that power the satellites, and other vital parts as well.

Ground-based laser weapons are estimated to have effective ranges of between 310 and 620 miles and reportedly require 1,000 watts or more of power on average.

Other nations including Russia, Iran, and North Korea are believed to have developed or are developing, ASAT capabilities to knock out American satellites during a conflict.

“China and Russia, in particular, have taken steps to challenge the United States,” the report stated, noting that both countries’ military operating doctrines consider attacks against satellites “as a means to reduce U.S. and allied military effectiveness.”

Space News reported a year ago that both Russia and China were expected to have operational ASAT capabilities including directed energy weapons by next year.

“We assess that, if a future conflict were to occur involving Russia or China, either country would justify attacks against U.S. and allied satellites as necessary to offset any perceived U.S. military advantage derived from military, civil or commercial space systems,” warned the 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, released in February 2018 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Anti-satellite weapons have been a concern since the Cold War. In fact, the U.S. military has been studying “satellite intercept” vehicles since 1957.

In 2016, the U.S. Air Force committed to spending $1.1 billion per year for five years to study ways to defend against ASAT attacks.

“Potential adversaries have taken notice of how we use space and have taken steps to replicate those capabilities for their own use and to devise capabilities to take them away from us if they ever got into a conflict with us,” Winston Beauchamp, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space, told Scout Warrior at the time.

U.S. substantially increasing forces in Pacific to counter ‘massive’ buildup by China

The Pentagon will continue to shift forces to the Pacific to counter what a top commander has deemed a “massive” military buildup by China.

Adm. Philip Davidson, the U.S. Navy’s new Indo-Pacific theater commander, said the U.S. military’s efforts to bolster its presence in the region is necessary to counter aggressive efforts by China to expand its influence and force the region to bend to Beijing’s wishes.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Davidson told members that China’s military buildup consists of large numbers of new, advanced missiles, planes, warships, submarines, and nuclear forces. In addition, he described China as “the greatest long-term threat to a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the Washington Free Beacon reported.

“Through fear and economic pressure, Beijing is working to expand its form of communist-socialist ideology in order to bend, break, and replace the existing rules-based international order,” the PACOM commander said.

“In its place, Beijing seeks to create a new international order led by China and with Chinese characteristics,” Davidson noted further, an outcome that will replace the over 70 years of U.S.-backed peace and stability.

Davidson told the committee the Pentagon was adding additional weapons and forces to the region in response to China’s continued buildup of conventional, nuclear, and “gray zone” forces, the latter amounting to influence operations short of traditional armed conflict. China uses its maritime militia and Coast Guard in this manner.

Currently, PACOM is staffed with approximately 375,000 military and civilian personnel, some 200 warships including five aircraft carrier strike groups, and some 1,100 aircraft, the Free Beacon noted.

“Over the last 20 years, Beijing has undertaken a massive effort to grow and modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” Davidson said.

“The PLA is the principal threat to U.S. interests, U.S. citizens, and our allies inside the first island chain—a term that refers to the islands that run from northern Japan through Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia—and the PLA is quickly increasing its ability to project power and influence beyond the first island chain,” he added.

U.S. allies in the region have grown increasingly concerned over the past couple of years as China has become more aggressive and assertive in the region, constructing islands in the South China Sea and equipping them with surface-to-air missiles, radar systems, and runways for warplanes.

During Davidson’s testimony, Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), the new Armed Services chairman, said the U.S. military needs “urgent change at a significant scale” to deal with China.

“Our military advantage and deterrent edge in the Indo-Pacific is eroding,” Inhofe said. “The Chinese Communist Party leadership in Beijing senses weakness. They are testing our resolve, and if we do not act urgently, they may soon conclude that they can achieve their goals through force. We can’t take that peace for granted.”

Davidson noted that the South China Sea has become the most volatile flashpoint for conflict between the U.S. and her allies and China.

In addition to meeting security concerns, the U.S. has legitimate economic interests in the region as well. Total “trade with regional states in Southeast Asia totaled more than $1.8 trillion in 2017 and more than $1.3 trillion by the third quarter of 2018,” the Free Beacon noted.

Because of the importance of the region for trade and commerce, the U.S. called on China to remove sophisticated missiles from its islands in November, The Diplomat reported.

“The United States called on China to withdraw its missile systems from disputed features in the Spratly Islands, and reaffirmed that all countries should avoid addressing disputes through coercion or intimidation,” the U.S. statement said following the second annual U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue.

Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Central Commission of the Communist Party of China and Politburo member Yang Jiechi responded, “The Chinese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop sending its vessels and military aircraft close to Chinese islands and reefs and stop actions that undermine China’s sovereignty and security interests.”

U.S. Navy chief won’t rule out sending American aircraft carriers through Taiwan Strait

The U.S. Navy’s top admiral said Friday that he has not ruled out sending an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait despite increased riskS due to advanced Chinese military capabilities that now pose greater threats than ever before to American warships.

Adm. John Richardson said there are “no limits” on the types of warships the U.S. Navy could potentially operate in the region, despite China’s growing military capabilities.

The Navy has sent warships through the strategic waterway that divides China and Tawain three times in 2018 as part of its increased operational tempo in the region. However, the Navy hasn’t sent a carrier through the straits in a decade, Reuters reported.

In the ensuing years, China has substantially improved its anti-ship ballistic and cruise missile capabilities, as well as its own naval and air forces.

Nevertheless, Richardson said the U.S. Navy would not be deterred from operating in what are international waters.

“We don’t really see any kind of limitation on whatever type of ship could pass through those waters,” Admiral John Richardson told reporters in Tokyo, when asked if more advanced Chinese weapons posed a risk that was too great.

“We see the Taiwan Strait as another [stretch of] international waters, so that’s why we do the transits,” he added.

U.S. carriers are the pride of the Navy. With onboard compliments of about 80 aircraft and 5,000 sailors and Marines, they are the primary means of Washington’s power projection. That said, in recent years, some defense analysts have begun questioning the future of carriers as improvements in ballistic and hypersonic missiles by near-peer competitor nations evolve.

Richardson’s comments come after Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed earlier this month to use force to reunify the mainland and Taiwan if necessary — even if the U.S. were to intervene.

In October he ordered the military region responsible for monitoriing Taiwan and the South China Sea to “prepare for war.”

Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, meanwhile, has called on the international community to defend the island democracy against Chinese aggression.

DIA report says China pulling ahead of U.S. in key weapons technologies

A new unclassified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency is warning of technological gains against the U.S. military that include pulling ahead of the Pentagon in the development of key weapons systems, particularly China.

“China is building a robust, lethal force with capabilities spanning the air, maritime, space and information domains which will enable China to impose its will in the region,” wrote DIA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, in a preface to the report.

In a briefing to reporters at the Defense Department on Tuesday, a senior Pentagon official said that in terms of ballistic and cruise missile technology,” I would say they [the Chinese] are with the most modern militaries in the world.”

In particular, the official noted, China is leading in hypersonic missile development. Beijing has been testing for years and is close to deploying a maneuverable hypersonic glide vehicle that will sit atop its ballistic missiles.

Also, China has a major advantage over all other military forces around the world with its massive arsenal of 1,200 sophisticated short-range ballistic missiles.

“For a variety of reasons they’re out ahead of the world in medium-and intermediate-range precision strike systems, partly because the United States and Russia that limited them,” the official said, referencing the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

That agreement bans the U.S. and Russia from developing and deploying land-based or ballistic or cruise missiles that have ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (310 – 3,417 miles).

China’s distinct advantage in precision strike capability is another reason why the Trump administration is set to withdraw from the Cold War-era treaty — that, and the fact that Russia is violating the treaty anyway by developing and deploying a land-based cruise missile system.

China, meanwhile, has never been a signatory to the INF agreement and has used it to take full advantage of the restrictions on U.S. and Russian forces.

“From the Chinese perspective, they would hope that it would cause a great threat to U.S. warships,” the DIA official said. “They certainly have developed anti-ship capabilities in a variety of different ways to deal with concerns that they’ve had a couple of decades about the potential for U.S. Navy and other allied navies operating in the region.”

China’s continued, rapid military development is a departure from previous decades when Beijing sought only to defend itself. Now, China seeks to be assertive globally.

“Chinese leaders characterize China’s long-term military modernization program as essential to achieving great power status,” Ashley noted.

“As it continues to grow in strength and confidence, our nation’s leaders will face a China insistent on having a greater voice in global interactions, which at times may be antithetical to U.S. interests,” he wrote.

The South China Sea is already a major point of contention, the DIA official noted. The Chinese built three large islands between 2014-2015 and have since developed and fortified them.

“They have three large airfields on these artificial islands that they created down there where they can base all types of military capabilities down there. They can have a lot of sensors down there. They can support naval operations, and in the future, air operations much further away from China,” the official said.

“They’re able to be present in a more persistent manner than they might have been before, if they had to come all the way down from the mainland or from Hainan Island up nearer the mainland, to get into some sort of a conflict with a regional claimant or with the U.S. or allied forces.”

For Chinese President Xi Jinping, resolve the ‘Taiwan issue’ remains a priority, the official said, adding that he “has made it clear that resolving or making progress, at least, on resolving, from his perspective, the Taiwan situation is a very top priority for him.”

As for whether China will attack Taiwan, the DIA assesses that action is not imminent nor likely in the near-term. The official said China could always launch a suprise attack using is massive arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles — which he said appear to have been built specifically to target Taiwan.

The official also noted that overall, the Chinese military is not on par with U.S. forces, noting that China has “not fought a major war in 40 years.”

“When you talk parity … there is more than just technology involved; there’s experience, there’s experience, there is command structure, there is training, there is proficiency … they have a lot that they need to do,” he said.

Over time, however, China will continue to improve its air, sea, and land forces to a point where, internally, a decision will likely be made that Bejing’s forces are capable enough to use military force regionally, Taiwan being the target.

China’s first domestically-built aircraft carrier finishes sea trials and could be ready for combat within months

China’s first domestically designed and produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A, has finished its fourth rotation of sea trials and could now be ready for its first combat deployment within months.

The South China Morning Post reported the ship could be ready for fleet review by April following 13 days of trials in the Yellow Sea before returning to its home port in Dalian.

The ship, which has not yet been named, is actually China’s second carrier. The first, Liaoning, was actually a Soviet hull but had not been completed by the end of the Cold War. China purchased the hull and completed the vessel, though it has largely been used as a training carrier.

The Type 001A, by comparison, will be the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s first operational carrier.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie told the SCMP sea trials and testing of the ship was nearly finished.

“The vessel has probably completed 80 to 90 percent of the necessary tests,” Li said. “I think it’s possible it can be delivered by the Chinese Navy Day on April 23.”

He added that the ship could be able to take part in the PLA Navy’s fleet review to be held on that date off Qingdao, in Shandong province.

Photos of the ship returning to port circulated online and appeared to show a J-15 multi-role fighter and a helicopter on its deck, the paper reported.

When the ship left port last month, it carried three warplanes and three blast shields that protect flight crews from jet exhaust during take-off.

The ship was launched in April 2017. It will carry 32 J-15 fighter jets – more than the Liaoning’s 26. The 315-meter-long (1,033 feet) Type 001A is steam-turbine powered and has a ski-jump deck, which means that fighters have to carry lighter loads than they normally would if they were launched like fighters from U.S. carriers.

At 70,000 tons displaced, the Type 001A is smaller than the USS Ford-class carriers (100,000 tons), and carry only about half as many aircraft than U.S. carriers (75-plus).

China is building two more carriers and could have as many as five or six by 2030.

Japan’s pre-Pearl Harbor air tactics perfected in war with China

The Japanese air forces, divided into separate army and navy air arms, had developed under the influence of foreign aviation.

In 1911 two Japanese army officers received air training in France, and they were followed by a few more officers during the next two years. In 1919 a French mission comprising some 60 airmen arrived in Japan to assist in army air training; in the same e army established an aviation section. By 1920 the first military aviation school had been opened near Tokyo; two additional schools were established in 1922.

Organizational changes came with the expansion of the Japanese Army Air Force, which soon occupied a place along with the infantry, field artillery, and cavalry. Before the end of the 1930s, the post of Inspector General of Military Aviation had been created, making one commander directly responsible to the Emperor for the training of the air force.

The Japanese Navy Air Force had a similar history in its origin, development, and gradual assumption of importance.

The functions of the two Japanese air forces were clearly divided. The army air force was designed solely to support the army ground forces, while the l air force, in addition to supporting the fleet, was responsible for coastal defense, convoy protection, and sea and antisubmarine patrols. There was apparently little co-operation between the two forces, for they had developed independently and they were under the direction of the respective army and navy commanders who showed little desire to coordinate the activities of the air arms.

In the period of 1937-41, Japanese air power received its first extended test in combat. In 1931 the Japanese army had moved into Manchuria, and from that stronghold drove into China in the summer of 1937. The air forces of the aggressor had virtually an open sky, for the weak Chinese Air Force was unable to offer strong opposition.

Chinese Curtiss Hawk II

Under the stimulus of civil war, from 1911 to 1928, the several factions in China had developed air services consisting of a few obsolete aircraft purchased from abroad. Upon establishment of the central government in 1928, a more stable program was possible, and during the thirties, expansion and improvement of Chinese military aviation were accomplished with the aid of foreign technical advisers.

But the Chinese Air Force was in no sense prepared to meet the relatively modern air force with which the Japanese opened the war in 1937. By the end of the year, the Chinese Air Force had been almost completely destroyed. Assistance from the Soviet Union and other nations enabled the Chinese to continue their air opposition, but their efforts were ineffectual. The lack of a modern training program, inadequate maintenance and repair facilities, and deficiencies in organization accounted for much of the weakness of the Chinese force.

At the outbreak of the conflict in 1937, air combat on both sides was poorly executed, although there was no question as to the courage of either Chinese or Japanese pilots. Bombing was inaccurate, but the Japanese improved with practice and they revealed a talent for modifying their tactics in order to meet changing tactics of their opponents.

Japanese Ki-27 “Kate” fighter

The Chinese, forced to fight a defensive war on their own territory, concentrated on improving their interceptor aviation. in the early days of the fighting, Japanese bombers without pursuit protection made daylight attacks on Nanking and other cities, but following a few disastrous encounters with Chinese pursuit planes, the bombing halted until pursuit planes could be brought from Japan to provide the necessary protection.

Japanese bombing formations, which at first numbered about nine planes, soon increased to an average of twenty-seven planes per wave of bombers. The attacks, against both Chinese troop concentrations and Chinese cities, were usually preceded by one or two reconnaissance planes which gathered weather information and intelligence of enemy air dispositions. Carrier- and shore-based planes of the naval air force operated against the Chinese, particularly in attacks on Chungking and in support of ground troops in the Shanghai and Tsingtao areas.

Japanese “Nell” bombers over China.

The air force of the Japanese army participated on a larger scale, and personnel were rotated frequently in order to give combat experience to more airmen. In the Russo-Manchurian order fighting which broke out in May 1939, the Japanese Army Air Force received a much more severe and devastating test of its strength. The Soviet Air Force, designed primarily as immediate support to the Red Army, administered a resounding defeat to the Japanese force, which committed almost its entire strength to the engagement and lost approximately 500 planes and 150 pilots.

According to the Japanese, their losses were worthwhile because they brought about important changes in organization, training, and tactics. These changes, however, were accompanied by no marked departure from existing concepts of air warfare, and the chief development came in an accelerated rate of expansion.

Japanese Zeros.

As the border fighting ended in September 1939, the poor record of the Japanese Army Air Force led foreign observers to conclude that the army’s force was inferior in both training and efficiency to the naval air force. There was some justification for such a belief. Training in the army flying schools was devoted almost exclusively to pilots, and training of other aircrewmen was largely neglected until their assignment to tactical units.

The navy, on the other hand, gave closer attention to the training of all members of the crew, and by 1941 its training program was designed to turn out annually some 2,500 navigators, bombardiers, gunners, and flight engineers. At the same time, the navy was training about 2,000 pilots a year, while the army was turning out pilots at the rate of approximately 750 a year. In equipment, too, the army air force lagged behind the navy air force. The latter possessed some excellent four-engine patrol bombers, while the army had nothing heavier than a two-engine bomber.

Air operations aboard Japanese carrier Kaga in 1937.

Prior to 7 December 1941, the army air force flew almost exclusively over land, and its longest-range bombers had an operational radius of only some 500 miles. The navy’s force had been trained to operate over water with a radius of about 800 miles. Both forces, however, had a number of well-tried torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and level bombers, reconnaissance and transport planes, and several models of the Zero fighter–a fast, highly maneuverable but somewhat vulnerable plane with a maximum speed of approximately 350 miles per hour.

The planes were hybrids of foreign designs, with German influence being particularly notable after 1936 when Japan threw in her lot with Germany by signing the Anti-Comintern Pact. By 7 December 1941 Japanese air strength consisted of some 27,000 aircraft assigned to fully trained air units.

Approximately 6,000 pilots had been graduated from air schools or training units, 3,500 of which were assigned to the navy and the remainder to the army. About 50 percent of the army pilots had been in combat either in China or in the border fighting against the Soviet Air Force, while 10 percent of land-based navy pilots had participated in the Chinese operations.

Japanese dive bombers prepare to strike U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Some 600 of the best navy pilots were assigned to aircraft carrier units. In contrast to the 200 hours in primary, basic, and advanced training then being given to Air Corps cadets in the United States, the Japanese pilots were receiving about 300 hours in training units before being assigned to tactical units. The average first-line Japanese pilots in 1941 had about 500 flying hours, and the average pilot in the carrier groups which were destined to begin hostilities against the United States had over 800 hours.

Though somewhat discounted by officials of other nations, the Japanese air forces had now reached a peak of efficiency, at any rate in their first-line strength, which gave them a commanding position in the Pacific.

Japan uses skirmish with Chinese troops as pretext to begin World War II

On July 7, 1937, a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops broke out at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking. The cause of the fracas is unknown, but the Japanese government used it as a pretext to launch a full-scale invasion of China.

Hoping to deliver a quick knockout punch, the Japanese furiously bombed Chinese cities and advanced with their better-equipped army. Despite enduring heavy losses, the Chinese regrouped in the interior of their vast land and mounted an entrenched resistance.

Japanese soldiers attack Wanping town in 1937. Public domain.

Reports of the “Rape of Nanking,” the sacking of the Chinese capital reached the American mainland in the summer of 1937. The brutalities prompted President Roosevelt to abandon cooperation with Congressional isolationists to pursue a more forceful approach against the Japanese.

In October 1937, he delivered his famous Quarantine Speech in Chicago. For the first time, Roosevelt advocated collective action to stop the epidemic aggression. But his hopes of igniting American sensibilities failed. Even when a Japanese plane bombed the USS Panay on December 12, there was no cry for a response. The Panay had been stationed in China on the Yangtze River. Japan apologized and paid an indemnity and the incident was soon forgotten, despite the loss of three American lives. Compared to the public response to the sinking of the USS Maine in 1898, the American people hardly mustered a whisper.

Emboldened by western inaction, Hitler’s troops marched into Austria in 1938 and annexed the country. Then Hitler set his eyes upon the Sudetenland, a region in western Czechoslovakia inhabited by 3.5 million Germans. In September the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy met in Munich attempting to diffuse a precarious situation.

Britain and France recognized Hitler’s claim to the Sudetenland and Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia in exchange for the promise of no future aggressions. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to Great Britain triumphantly proclaiming that he had achieved “peace in our time.” It would be one of the most mocked statements of the 20th century.

European appeasement failed six months later, as Hitler mockingly marched his troops into the rest of Czechoslovakia.

In May 1939, Roosevelt urged Congressional leaders to repeal the arms embargo of the earlier Neutrality Acts. Senators from both parties refused the request. Another bombshell crossed the Atlantic on August 24. Adolf Hitler and Soviet leader Josef Stalin agreed to put their mutual hatred aside. Germany and the Soviet Union signed a ten-year non-aggression pact. Hitler was now free to seize the territory Germany had lost to Poland as a result of the Treaty of Versailles. On September 1, 1939, Nazi troops crossed into Poland from the west.

Finally, on September 3, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.

This work by The Independence Hall Association is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.