The Chinese Air Force is working to build a mystery missile which can turn the tables for American air power system. The weapon called PL-XX is a long-range missile which is designed to strike enemy aircraft which are beyond the edge of an air battle point. The target is to shoot down tankers, airborne early warning planes, and other support aircraft on which the US combat jets rely on during the wartime. If the US is deprived of these forces, the air power will operate at a severe disadvantage, and the air battle will be in China’s favour.
PL-XX carries the common PL designation which is common to Chinese air-to-air missiles. It is 18 feet long and is considered to have a range of more than 100 miles. This is usually the typical maximum range of air to air missile. The US warplanes will need plenty of support to reach their wartime potential. An AWACS E-3 Sentry can detect an enemy aircraft at a more extended range and vector in American fighters flying with their radars off. This technique makes them hard to get discovered. AWACS planes also orchestrate the air battles by directing friendly forces against enemy forces. Airborne refuelling tankers also play a vital part to extend the range of short-range fighters such as the F-35.
In the absence of these forces, the US forces will operate at a severe disadvantage. The stealthy fighter jets will be required to fly with their radars constantly on to search for the enemies; this emits electromagnetic radiation that enemy forces can use to detect them. Coordination of the air battle will become more difficult and very less efficient. It is then controlled by individual pilots who are already flying their combat missions. If the planes are deprived of getting refuelled midair, the targets behind the enemy lines will become off-limits, and the fighters will patrol at shorter ranges.
A Chengdu J-20 fighter loaded with PL-XX will fly around US fighters to get behind them and search for a tanker or AWACs plane. If it finds a target the J-20 would launch the missile for long range and then disengage. If the missile misses the target even then the danger will force the US aircraft to fly behind the friendly lines and limiting their effectiveness. PL-XX is similar in concept to the Soviet K-100 missile. It was developed by Novator, and the missile was unique among all air-to-air missiles since it was a two-stage missile. The K-100 used a booster rocket from the ground-based S-300 surface to air missile to give it a range of 186 miles. It was nearly 19.7 feet long and weighed two tons. This gave the missile the ability to engage with targets which were flying from 10 to 98,425 feet and at speeds of up to 2,485 miles per hour.
The US military is aware of the threat to its aircraft and is working to make the support aircraft more survivable in the sky. The Air Force is looking for options to install as defensive systems including lasers. This will contribute to the protection of tankers and other large support aircraft. The US Air Force is also considering developing a new stealthy tanker called KC-Z.
Time will tell how US airforce evolves to this new threat.