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US, Japan To Expand Cooperation On Hypersonic Defense After ‘Winning’ The EW Battle Against China

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin on Wednesday agreed to expand cooperation in developing equipment and technologies to counter hypersonic weapons and to begin joint research in this area, Japan’s Defense Ministry said.

“The sides agreed to expand cooperation on equipment and technologies to ensure technological superiority of the [US-Japanese] alliance.

For this reason, the ministers agreed to continue joint research on technologies for countering hypersonic weapons and, based on the progress made, to consider the possibility of joint research on technologies and components,” the ministry said in a statement.

Moreover, the ministers agreed to develop cooperation in the development and use of drones, strengthening supply chains, and cooperation on cybersecurity.

Austin, for his part, reaffirmed Washington’s intention to protect Japan from possible threats with conventional and nuclear capabilities. During the meeting, Austin also discussed with his counterpart China’s actions toward Taiwan and near Japan’s borders, calling them “aggressive” and “provocative,” and Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

It was the first visit of Hamada to Washington and the first meeting with Austin after he succeeded Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.

China's DF-17 Hypersonic Missile
File Image: China’s DF-17 Hypersonic Missile

Battle Of Electronic Warfare

After 26 years of the third Taiwan Strait Crisis, the US military and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly engaged in another electronic battle in the aftermath of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

China’s state-owned broadcaster CCTV reported that the PLA Navy and PLA Air Force carried out “full tracking and surveillance” against the US Air Force (USAF) transport aircraft flying the American delegation led by Pelosi from Malaysia to Taiwan on August 2.

According to PLA Major General Meng Xiangqing of the PLA National Defense University, as cited by CCTV, the purpose of tracking was “deterrence.”

However, the PLA’s tracking efforts which involved the J-16D aircraft and a Type 055 destroyer, failed, as per a report by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP), which cited an unnamed Chinese military source.

“The PLA deployed some electronic warfare aircraft such as the J-16D and warships to try to locate Pelosi’s aircraft, but were not successful,” the source told the SCMP. “Almost all the PLA electronic warfare equipment couldn’t work properly because they were all jammed by electronic interference by the American aircraft strike group sent by the Pentagon to escort her.”

Shenyang J-16D Electronic Attack/Electronic Warfare aircraft (Twitter)

Pelosi’s plane reportedly took a longer and more indirect route, heading southeast toward the Indonesian part of Borneo. The aircraft turned north and flew along the eastern part of the Philippines.

He Yuan Ming, an independent airpower analyst, did not find it surprising that the Type 055 could not detect Pelosi’s aircraft. Ming noted that “the Type 055 (destroyer’s) radar is said to be 500-kilometer (310 miles),” but its “effective range in the real world would be much less.”

“Couple this with the vast operating area as well as the Type 055’s relative newness both in terms of its hardware (capabilities) and software (crew), there should be little surprise that the PLA (naval) cruiser could not locate (Pelosi’s plane),” Ming told the SCMP.

Did The Much-Touted J-16D Fail?

The J-16D is China’s homegrown electronic warfare (EW) aircraft based on the J-16, developed from the Shenyang J-11 and derived from the Russian-made Sukhoi Su-27. The J-16D is considered China’s answer to the American EA-18 Growler.

The aircraft made its first public appearance last year during the Zhuhai Airshow in September 2021, featuring two large EW pods on its wings, designed to disrupt and jam the enemy’s electronic equipment, such as radars and communication systems.

Two different types of jammer pods are seen on the J-16D (Twitter)

EurAsian Times asked Electronic Warfare experts what they thought about the reports of J-16D being jammed by an American aircraft.

Jyh-Shyang Sheu, an Assistant Research Fellow at the Taipei-based Institute for National Defense and Security Research, said that not much is known about the source of the SCMP report. However, he believed that the performance of the American EA-18G is still much better than the Chinese J-16D.

“Although we still need more information about the J-16D, with the photos we have seen, the power generation of its jamming pods is questionable,” Sheu told EurAsian Times while noting that in the Growlers, “we can see power generator for the jamming pod.

“The reason is that electronic warfare needs significant power,” he explained, adding that “the sufficiency of power might be a question if the jamming pods of J-16D still need the power from its engines or internal battery pack.”

Sheu also talked about how the US could keep improving its Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) systems with the experiences from global operations or even combat experiences which could also help the US ECM systems maintain their advantage.

Also, EurAsian Times asked Thomas Withington, an expert on electronic warfare, radar, and military communications, to comment on the overall comparison between the US and China’s EW capabilities.

“My hunch is that US EW capabilities at large currently remain ahead of China’s,” said Withington while noting that the “levels of scientific research, development, and industrialization remain strong in the US. A glance at a global university ranking table and the place of US scientific/technical universities indicates the country’s acumen.”

“That said, I would wager China is catching up fast. The country is pouring significant investment into its scientific base, particularly in technologies essential to EW like artificial intelligence,” Withington further said.

He also noted that China is strongly suspected of industrial and conventional espionage to enrich its scientific knowledge for strategic advantage. “In a nutshell, the US and allied nations cannot and should not take their current lead in electronic warfare for granted,” Withington concluded.

US Colluded With Taiwan, Japan?

Following the conclusion of Pelosi’s Taiwan trip, the PLA launched military drills in the waters surrounding Taiwan.

The drills that lasted nearly a week aimed to showcase PLA’s ability to cut off Taiwan’s ports, attack its most critical military facilities, and block access for outside forces that might come to the island nation’s aid.

On the second day of these military drills, seven US reconnaissance planes were spotted operating close to Taiwan, which included an RC-135V Rivet Joint electronic surveillance aircraft, RC-135S Cobra Ball measurement, and signature intelligence aircraft, three US Navy P-8A Poseidon patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, one USAF Boeing E-3G Sentry airborne early warning and control aircraft and one Lockheed U-2S high altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of Canada-based Kanwa Asian Defense, told the SCMP that these surveillance aircraft must have picked up the activity of PLA Navy’s submarines in waters off Taiwan, during the exercises, despite both sides maintaining silence over the participation of the vessels in the war games.

Furthermore, Chang believes that the US was involved behind the scenes in Japan and Taiwan during these military drills, drawing attention to the ballistic missiles fired by China.

Taiwanese authorities reported that the PLA had fired 11 ballistic missiles into waters to the north, south, and east of the island. At the same time, Japan said that five of those missiles ended up in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

File Image: US Air Force’s RC-135W spy plane

However, China did not reveal how many ballistic missiles it had launched. Therefore, according to Chang, “Taipei and Tokyo’s announcement could be seen as a warning to the mainland that they can detect and track the PLA missiles, which is part of the electronic warfare tactics.”

Chang noted that the missile could have been tracked by the Leshan radar station in Hsinchu county in Taiwan, operating since 2013.

The radar is said to be capable of detecting a missile launch from as far as 5000 kilometers and tracking missiles effectively, even from a distance of 2000 kilometers which covers mainland China and the entire South China Sea.

When asked about the role of the Leshan radar station in tracking Chinese ballistic missiles, Sheu said, “the Pave Paws radar in Leshan is, of course, one of the most important radar systems Taiwan owns. However, Taiwan has many different radar and detection systems that could support detecting and tracking missiles.”

Pave Paws radar in Leshan (Wikipedia)

“I would say the whole system is integrated and works well, that gives Taiwan the ISR capability to keep high situation awareness,” Sheu further explained.

The unnamed Chinese military source told SCMP that the PLA and US military were interested in testing each other’s electronic warfare (EW) strengths, noting that during the Taiwan strait crisis of 1995-96, American forces jammed almost all the PLA’s military radar systems during its missile tests.

“That’s the key reason that prompted China to develop its own BeiDou Satellite Navigation System,” the source said, adding that both sides were keen to size up the other’s strength in the area.

“China and the US wanted to examine each other’s electronic warfare capabilities this time. The PLA is keen to ensure its technology is strong enough to cope with a possible Taiwan contingency.”

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