The U.S. Air Force is planning to modernize its heavy bomber force by fielding a super-stealthy strike aircraft designated B-21 and equipping aged B-52 bombers with stealthy cruise missiles. Both aircraft will be capable of conducting nuclear and non-nuclear missions, which raises serious concerns with regard to China. If Beijing seeks to occupy Taiwan, the Air Force would likely respond by using its bombers to launch conventional strikes against targets inside Chinese airspace. However, the Chinese would have no way of ascertaining whether the bombers were conducting nuclear or non-nuclear strikes until weapons began detonating on target. Their highly centralized nuclear command authority might elect to launch its nuclear weapons for fear of being disarmed. That fear would be exacerbated by the minimal size of the Chinese strategic deterrent, and the inability of their warning system to track where attacking U.S. forces are headed. The Air Force strategy for war with China thus could transform a purely conventional conflict into a nuclear exchange. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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