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U.S. Assesses Threats From Iran And China

Any discussion on military threats to the United States is invariably focused on the two most identifiable aggressor states, China and Iran. However, which of these states is the greater threat to the US? Are China's geopolitical machinations more worrisome or do Iran's claims of being able to wipe out US bases really have some truth to them?

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Analyzing Threats To The US

Even as the US pursues bettered diplomatic relations across the globe, China and Iran continue to be widely recognized as traditional competitors of the United States. A prominent aspect of this debate is the threat posed by both states to the US in terms of airspace security and relative airpower.

The American Air Force has long been celebrated as the “most powerful Air Force on earth”, an opinion proudly endorsed by U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, who, in a March 2015 lecture at the Johns Hopkins University, shared extensive information about the role that US airpower has played in the Crimean crisis, the battle against ISIS and the Ebola pandemic containment effort. During the course of interactions, Secretary James acknowledged the threat posed to the US by China, labeling the same “very worrying”.

While China has been clearly recognized as a threat to the US, Iran’s development of its ballistic missile force has also thrown up questions about the threats posed to American airbases around the world.

Experts Advise Against Clubbing China And Iran

Analyzing press conferences, official statements and media interactions reveals a tendency on the part of most US officials to club Iran and China together when discussing the airpower threats faced by the US. Experts, however, advise against discussing China and Iran in the same breath, as doing so may lead to an inaccurate appraisal of the states’ individual airpower capacities.

While China and Iran may indeed share some similarities in in their A2/AD strategies, a comparative evaluation of their individual airpower capacities is needed to clearly determine which of the two countries poses a greater threat to American security.

What Is The A2/AD Strategy?

In military speak, an A2/AD strategy or Area Access/ Area Denial strategy is any mechanism or method used by a state to prevent a competitor from capturing or moving across a specific area. Given that A2/AD strategies are not always a hundred per cent effective against restricting all all access to an area, countries will often settle for engaging an enemy in any manner that impedes movement, poses a threat to safety and causes loss of speed.

Since traditional theater ballistic missiles are at the heart of both Chinese and Iranian A2/AD strategies, the question of airpower threats to the US is an inevitable one. While access challenges by themselves are a key concern within military security paradigms, the issue of airspace threats has been raised more...