How can China handle US stealth fighters like the F-22 and F-35?

Once the F-22s are airborne, there isn’t anything in the PRC’s military arsenal that can touch them. The F-22 has no peer in air to air combat and F-22s flying from their air bases close to China can shut down any airspace they can cover with their range and munitions.

There’s talk about China’s development of the J-20 and J-31 and how they can go toe to toe with the F-22 but this is incorrect in my opinion: These aircraft were not designed to fight other stealth fighters like the F-22. They were built to use their stealth to engage support aircraft like AWACs, Air refuellers, Recon aircraft and non-stealth combat aircraft using their long range missiles and with their stealth being used to hide them from counter retaliation from F-22s and F-35s in the area as much as possible.

In effect, the J-20 and J-31 are stealth so they can operate in the same airspace as a hostile F-22 with their stealth as a protective measure from the F-22’s radar.

The Chinese media and public may offer up certain military capabilities to assure the nation that they have assets comparable to the F-22 for domestic political consumption, but the Chinese military understands well that there is nothing in their arsenal that can threaten an F-22 once it’s airborne. Any non-stealth assets they have will be shot down before they even get close and the stealth assets are too valuable to be thrown against F-22s, they are better used being preserved for missions against the support infrastructure that surrounds the F-22. With the understanding that the performance of the F-22 would degrade overall if too many support aircraft fall victim to long range missiles from PLAAF stealth fighters.

This doesn’t mean that the PRC has nothing in it’s arsenal to go against the F-22. What they do have is just not the PLAAF, it’s the PRC rocket force.

I have been writing about this subject a bit in the past, so I’ll quote from an older answer here:

However, the US lead in stealth has some major problems that should be addressed. The problem is the basing of these stealth fighters. The US has 6 major bases in Japan and 1 in Guam. The USAF does not use the 80–90 airbases that the Japanese air force uses, and this might be because of how the US wants to control access to it’s stealth fighters but also because it has to equip its bases with perform the complex maintenance that it’s stealth fighters require.

So in theory, there’s only 7 total major bases you can place your stealth fighters at where you can control access to them and also do the whole fancy maintenance they require like re-applying coating etc.

That is…not good, because it means the Chinese don’t have to worry about shooting down these stealth fighters. They just need to concentrate their ballistic missile bombardment on those 7 bases with stealth fighters to knock those bases out or at least interdict operations out of them.

The USAF has realized this problem and are trying to see if they can spread the fighters out a bit more to the 90 bases the Japanese operate but it’s still a work in progress.

There is one other thing: There’s something called the “German Disease” where you get trapped in the idea that as long as you make a VERY high quality platform, it’s gonna be worth 10 of the enemy’s platforms and that’s better than matching the enemy head to head. This is very seductive thinking for a wealthier, more technically advanced power. But it means you are fighting a war with platforms you aren’t willing to lose which is not a good proposition.

The F-22 is a bit of a German Disease for the USAF because there’s only like 170 of them left and they aren’t making any more of them. Each F-22 lost is a permanent loss for the USAF and if a war against China drags on and attrition becomes a factor, a lot of these very high quality assets that the USAF isn’t willing to lose will need to be pulled from the theater after a while once their losses reach 33% per squadron. Now, no one has ever fought the US in a conventional war since Vietnam and managed to drag it out.

But if that does happen, and the US is losing say 2 F-22s a day on average from ballistic missile strikes on bases, losses due to accidents, very rare occasions when an F-22 is show down by the Chinese, this kind of loss rate might start to hurt a month into the conflict. And the USAF would have to withdraw the F-22s at some point so they still have some left in reserve and put the 4.5+ Gens into the missions the F-22s were doing. Very rare a war would last that long with China and for that high a loss rate, but you never know. The F-22s would primarily suffer more from being forced away from their 7 bases in the first island chain and being forced to operate at their max ranges from second island chain bases, but the loss rate from conflict as well in a long war cant be ignored.

Usama Ahmad’s answer to How does the US military currently compare against the Chinese military?

The US may be planning for a short war with China given their preference for Shock and Awe tactics using their overwhelming conventional strength, but as the old axiom goes: Those who plan for short wars tend to lose long ones.

The current concentration of F-22s (and possible F-35s) in seven major basis is not just a threat to the platforms themselves though but the pilots as well.

Recall that the Iranian bombardment of US military bases was done in a way that they deliberately avoided targeting areas where US troops were housed to avoid escalation but they still fired in the proximity of the base to send a message.

This bombardment led to major health issues in US troops stationed on those bases:

A total of 50 U.S. service members suffered traumatic brain injury from this month’s Iranian missile attack on Iraqi bases hosting U.S. troops, the Defense Department said Tuesday.

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, can include concussions. Of the 50 patients, 31 were treated in Iraq and have returned to duty, Army Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said in a statement.

More U.S. service members diagnosed with brain injury from Iran missile attack

F-22 pilots aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, and they are pretty much elite pilots of whom a limited pool exists. The impact on their physical health from being stationed on seven bases under intense ballistic missile bombardment leads to the question of pilot attrition rather than F-22 attrition: That is, can the Chinese cause enough physical degradation in the health of F-22 pilots with constant missile bombardment to the point that there aren’t enough pilots in forward positions left to carry out a large enough number of sorties to make a difference in combat. Say you are into week 2 of the war and approximately 40% of your pilots have suffered brain injuries from the bombardment (if not killed outright). You might have to drop your F-22 sortie rate from say 100 a week to 40 a week to conserve your pilots and your aircraft assets (i’m not even taking into account sorties reduced due to airbase disruptions from the missile strikes).

This has the effect of reducing the effectiveness and presence of the F-22 to make a meaningful difference in the overall war without actually having to shoot down the F-22.

The solution, as mentioned above is to distribute your stealth fighters across the 90 bases the Japanese have and hope this dilutes the effectiveness of Chinese missile strikes but with a significant increase in your resources spent equipping all these bases to carry out the complex maintenance an F-22 requires (the stealth coating itself is a hassle), making sure the bases are secured from PRC spies trying to get close to F-22s and that all of these bases are capable of withstanding a PRC rocket force barrage.

There is of course the option of trying to knock out PRC missile bases on the mainland to reduce the barrage. But for the most part, even with all the US’s recon and surveillance capabilities, I doubt they can stop the movement and operations of these in a meaningful manner:

The PRC ballistic missile force’s primary goal is to make US bases unusable. The short range missiles are aimed at the US bases in Okinawa while the more medium range missiles are designed to disrupt operations from bases in Japan.

And the DF-26 is designed to make even operations from bases like Guam risky if not maybe as disrupted as the other bases.

The PRC ballistic missile threat is in part inspired by the US military’s failure to effectively hunt and destroy SCUDs in Iraq during the first Gulf War. Which leads the PRC to believe that if they have mobile, solid fueled missile systems, they would not be as prone to destruction from US military forces and pose a considerable threat for the duration of any war with the US. These kinds of missiles are hard to hunt, can quickly break from cover, set up and fire before the enemy can fire back at them.

With a mobile missile system like the SCUD, you have a 15 minute window to detect and destroy it once it breaks from cover. This is currently not within the capability of the US military.

Source: Usama Ahmad’s answer to How does the US military currently compare against the Chinese military?

My current feeling is that, for the most part, Japanese and US bases will see a constant stream of attacks from the Chinese Strategic Rocket force that will disrupt and hinder operations for the duration of the war (or till the Chinese run out of missiles).

There are unseen variables here. How well the US changes up their base designs, how well they integrate their airforce elements with Japanese airbases to withstand missile bombardment (particularly after reflecting on the lessons of the Iranian missile strike).

There are also unseen variables on the side of the Chinese: What’s the state of their strategic Rocket Force? The current reports coming out of China are that the Strategic Rocket Force (BTW I think their new name is Strategic Support Force) are the worst in terms of mental and physical health among all the armed forces. They spend long amounts of time underground away from sunlight, exposed to chemicals in the air from rocket fuel which is above the health and safety limit. The morale isn’t exactly peak and unit readiness obviously has to be called into question.

The Chinese are trying to improve this through a number of fronts: Increasing the rotation of troops so they spend less time underground due to shorter stints, more VR based training to help them deal with the stress of war when their positions are being bombed and they are constantly hunted when out on mobile launchers, increased access to mental health facilities.

People often forget that war is at the end of the day fought by people, not just platforms. The same way the Traumatic brain injuries of an F-22 pilot can determine the war, the mental health and lung damage of a PRC Rocket force soldier can also determine it.

The PLAAF has done it’s own bit of upgrading and modernizing their force structures. They have broken down from the soviet era brigade structures to smaller structures called flights (similar to squadrons in the west). They have increased the level of pilot participation in flight planning, increased the pilot autonomy in the air and moved away from ground based interception tactics. They have their own Red vs Blue exercises and VR training programs as well.

However, my guess is that these won’t make difference in preparing the PLAAF for fighting against F-22s for the simple reason that even USAF pilots in F-15s and F-16s who are veterans are unable to beat F-22s in air combat. The tech gap is simply too large.

The only benefit of these modernizations I see is that the J-20 pilots whose job it is to skim around the F-22s, using their stealth to protect themselves from the F-22’s missiles, can carry out more effective missions hunting the support aircraft that support the F-22s.

There are some last issues that could impact how China’s fight against American American stealth fighters will play out:

  1. American Production Lines
  2. American Joint operations with allies

On the issue of production lines:

The F-35 production line right now is 15 aircraft a month at peak production. This is considered low by some standards but to be honest, considering that it’s a very advanced fighter it doesn’t seem to matter much. The problem however, is that this is under the assumption that every single F-35 produced will be deployed against China which is not true because the US has to manage multiple theaters (Russia-Europe, Home Air Bases etc.).

Also, the F-35 is a multi national project, so those 15 F-35s being made every month have to shared between 12 Airforces, 1 Marine Corp and 2 Navies across the planet. Further reducing the number of stealth fighters the US can deploy against China.

Source: Usama Ahmad’s answer to How does the US military currently compare against the Chinese military?

At the moment the US has built around 600 F-35s but not all of them have been deployed against the PRC in the Pacific theater. A good chunk of these have gone to allied forces who might not participate in a war against China or to squadrons the US might not redeploy to the Pacific. The 15 a month production line means it will be some time till the US can field the same hundreds of F-15s/F16s/F-18s that they fielded against Iraq or deployed around Iran.

The F-22 has no production lines anymore so every F-22 lost is a permanent loss.

The PRC on the other hand gets to field every single stealth fighter they build to the Pacific theater and don’t have to share the production lines with allied forces.

But as discussed above, this might be a bit of a moot point since the PRC could deploy their J-20s or J-31s to missions that don’t bring much chance of air to air combat against other stealth fighters.

The second is that the US has to coordinate military activities with allies like Japan and Taiwan. NATO and the US-South Korean militaries are heavily integrated already at the moment but it’s unclear how well the US and Japanese militaries or the US and Taiwanese militaries will work together. The Pentagon bureaucracy is appallingly bad while the US works with militaries world wide, actively integrating them into the overall command structure led by the US for a war against China is a bit of a new thing for them to do.

The PRC, being a single entity, does not face this problem.

Missile Defense and Missile Defeat

The US has begun to understand the lethality of the Chinese missile arsenal and the threat it poses to US naval and airpower assets in the Pacific which is why they have begun to invest in the idea of 2 forms of counter missile operations:

  1. Missile Defense
  2. Missile Defeat

The missile defense aspect is the idea that you have platforms capable of shooting down enemy missiles in a way that moves away from the kinetic interceptor technology of today.

The current interceptor technology of Patriots and THAADs are incredibly expensive which is why you can only deploy them in a low density manner to counter isolated missile launches such as ICBMs from North Korea.

The cost of individual interceptors is so high that you would bankrupt yourself making enough of them to shoot down missiles that cost a fraction of the interceptor’s cost. If you are building 2 $50 million dollar interceptors to shoot down 1 $10 million dollar missile, you are bankrupting yourself.

The only cost effective way to shoot down swarms of Chinese missiles is using energy based weapons but that is not something that’s deployable today as the technology is still being developed.

Missile Defeat is the second form of defense: Where you saturate your conflict zone with sensors so that you can have longer early warnings of missile launches and be able to target them and defeat the missile launches before they actually launch. So basically, solve the problem of the 15 minute window that the US faced when scud hunting in the Iraqi desert.

This is currently being developed as well and is not in a finalized solution.

And of course, the Chinese aren’t sitting around either and will come up with ways to counter energy based missile defense and sensor networks attempting to defeat missile launches.

At the end of the day, the US military is no joke and the F-22 is probably the single most deadliest fighter ever created, probably even more so than the F-35 which funnily enough is crippling the US economy in peacetime with it’s $30–50,000 dollar per hour maintenance cost.

Stealth fighters are great to have in a war but terrible to have in a peace and at a time when US social unrest is at an all time high due to economic inequalities, perhaps the greatest threat to F-22s are congressional budget hearings rather than any weapon in the Chinese arsenal.

Nevertheless, the PRC has been investing heavily in denial weapons that would deny free air and sea access to the US military operating close to the Chinese seaboard (and keep them away from Taiwan).

One potential scenario is that assuming the US doesn’t rebase the F-22s to the 90 Japanese air-fields but keeps them concentrated in the current 8 or so bases they have:

The F-22s would probably not face that many losses from missile strikes but pilot rotation would have be high due to high churn over because of mental/physical strain from constant Chinese missile bombardments on F-22 airfields. F-22s would be more at risk of malfunction due to disruptions in their maintenance routines because of missile strikes. They would probably also fly lower numbers of sorties than optimal because of constant bombardment and these would normally be air defense or air escort sorties for aircraft trying to get closer to the Chinese sea board for recon or to disrupt Chinese air support for any potential invasion of Taiwan. They could also be used for strike missions on the mainland on high value military targets that non-stealth fighters would not be able to reach.

Edit: Thanks to Walter Tak in the comments pointing out that a fully loaded F-22 might only be restricted to hitting coastal targets rather than anything deep inside Chinese territory due to range limitations.

The F-22s would have to face several situations where they were operating at the edge of their combat radius because of the constant threat to air refuellers from Chinese stealth aircraft that would utilize their stealth to hunt for USAF/Japanese AWACS, EW, Recon and Refueling platforms in contested airspace. The F-22s would also be paired with a drone UCAV wingman that the F-22 would control remotely when operating in high-danger environments where the F-22 can’t be risked and a remotely piloted wingman from the invisible F-22 would take on the risk instead (assuming stable links can be maintained in the face of Chinese EW). If such comm links are disrupted, the UCAV would have to operate autonomously using onboard AI.

The longer the war drags on however, the worse it is for the F-22s as the US would have to begin pulling F-22 pilots from squadrons not based in the Pacific as the problem they would face is pilot shortages rather than F-22 shortages. A small but significant number of F-22s might be lost due to destruction on the ground or air crashes due to maintenance disruptions (more so the latter than the former). But the primary issue the USAF would face is that their F-22 pilots on the 8 air bases facing constant missile bombardment would begin to face serious mental and physical health problems due to concussions/mental strain/shell shock. They would need to be rotated out of combat in tours as short as a few days given how intense a US-China open conflict would be. The sortie rate could be maintained as long as pilots are able to recover and cognitively function once returned to combat after their tour. If they don’t and their mental/physical injuries are more permanent or long duration, the F-22 fleet would have to drastically reduce sorties correspondingly.

This strain isn’t a one way thing either: Chinese Rocket Force troops who are in underground silos, launching hundreds of missiles a day, breathing in toxic fumes from rocket fuel and facing constant bombardment of their own from US assets would face similar strains and have to be rotated constantly.

As mentioned earlier, in war we sometimes focus too much on the platform aspect and forget that it’s real human beings fighting it. And the question of the F-22 in the Pacific might ultimately boil down to which side has enough soldiers standing and in fighting condition at the end of the day: A tale as old as war itself

Edit: Thanks to JL Shin for the correction: the Strategic Rocket Force is still separate from the Strategic Support Force and both exist as separate entities so the ballistic missile force referred to in this answer would be the Strategic Rocket force.

The Origins of New US-Turkish Relations

For several years, there has been a significant shift underway in U.S. strategy toward the Middle East, where Washington has consistently sought to avoid combat. The United States is now compelled to seek accommodation with Turkey, a regional power in its own right, based on terms that are geopolitically necessary for both. Their relationship has been turbulent, and while it may continue to be so for a while, it will decline. Their accommodation has nothing to do with mutual affection but rather with mutual necessity. The Turkish incursion into Syria and the U.S. response are part of this adjustment, one that has global origins and regional consequences.

Similarly, the U.S. decision to step aside as Turkey undertook an incursion in northeastern Syria has a geopolitical and strategic origin. The strategic origin is a clash between elements of the Defense Department and the president. The defense community has been shaped by a war that has been underway since 2001. During what is called the Long War, the U.S. has created an alliance structure of various national and subnational groups. Yet the region is still on uneven footing. The Iranians have extended a sphere of influence westward. Iraq is in chaos. The Yemeni civil war still rages, and the original Syrian war has ended, in a very Middle Eastern fashion, indecisively.

A generation of military and defense thinkers have matured fighting wars in the Middle East. The Long War has been their career. Several generations spent their careers expecting Soviet tanks to surge into the Fulda Gap. Cold Warriors believed a world without the Cold War was unthinkable. The same can be said for those shaped by Middle Eastern wars. For the Cold War generation, the NATO alliance was the foundation of their thinking. So too for the Sandbox generation, those whose careers were spent rotating into Iraq or Afghanistan or some other place, the alliances formed and the enemies fought seemed eternal. The idea that the world had moved on, and that Fulda and NATO were less important, was emotionally inconceivable. Any shift in focus and alliance structure was seen as a betrayal.

After the Cold War ended, George H.W. Bush made the decision to stand down the 24-hour B-52 air deployments in the north that were waiting for a Soviet attack. The reality had changed, and Bush made the decision a year after the Eastern European collapse began. He made it early on Sept. 21, 1991, after the Wall came down but before the Soviet Union collapsed. It was a controversial decision. I knew some serious people who thought that we should be open to the possibility that the collapse in Eastern Europe was merely a cover for a Soviet attack and were extremely agitated over the B-52 stand-down.

It is difficult to accept that an era has passed into history. Those who were shaped by that era, cling, through a combination of alarm and nostalgia, to the things that reverberate through their minds. Some (though not Europeans) spoke of a betrayal of Europe, and others deeply regretted that the weapons they had worked so hard to perfect and the strategy and tactics that had emerged over decades would never be tried.

The same has happened in different ways in the Middle East. The almost 20-year deployment has forged patterns of behavior, expectations and obligations not only among individuals but more institutionally throughout the armed forces. But the mission has changed. For now, the Islamic State is vastly diminished, as is al-Qaida. The Sunni rising in Iraq has ended, and even the Syrian civil war is not what it once was. A war against Iran has not begun, may not happen at all, and would not resemble the wars that have been fought in the region hitherto.

This inevitably generates a strategic re-evaluation, which begins by accepting that the prior era is gone. It was wrenching to shift from World War II to the Cold War and from the Cold War to a world that many believed had transcended war, and then to discover that war was suspended and has now resumed. War and strategy pretend to be coolly disengaged, but they are passionate undertakings that don’t readily take to fundamental change. But after the 18 years of war, two things have become clear. The first is that

  1. the modest objective of disrupting terrorism has been achieved, and the second is that
  2. the ultimate goal of creating something approaching liberal democracies was never really possible.


The world has changed greatly since 2001. China has emerged as a major power, and Russia has become more active. Iran, not Sunni jihadists, has become the main challenge in the Middle East and the structure of alliances needed to deal with this has changed radically since Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. In addition, the alliances have changed in terms of capability. The massive deployments in the Middle East have ended, but some troops remain there, and to a section of the American military, the jihadist war remains at the center of their thinking. To them, the alliances created over the past 18 years remain as critical as Belgium’s air force had been during the Cold War.

There is another, increasingly powerful faction in the United States that sees the Middle East as a secondary interest. In many instances, they include Iran in this. This faction sees China or Russia (or both) as the fundamental challenger to the U.S. Its members see the Middle East as a pointless diversion and a drain of American resources.

For them, bringing the conflict to a conclusion was critical. Those who made their careers in this war and in its alliances were appalled. The view of President Donald Trump has been consistent. In general, he thought that the use of military force anywhere must be the exception rather than the rule. He declined to begin combat in North Korea. He did not attack Iran after it shot down an American drone or after it seized oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. After the attack on the Saudi oil facility, he increased Saudi air defenses but refused offensive actions against the Iranians.

Given the shift in American strategy, three missions emerge. The first is the

  1. containment of China. The second is the
  2. containment of Russia. The third is the
  3. containment of Iran. In the case of China, the alliance structure required by the United States is primarily the archipelago stretching from Japan to Indonesia and Singapore – and including South Korea. In dealing with Russia, there are two interests. One is the North European Plain; the other is the Black Sea. Poland is the American ally in the north, Romania in the south. But the inclusion of Turkey in this framework would strengthen the anti-Russia framework. In addition, it would provide a significant counter to Iranian expansion.

Turkey’s importance is clear. It is courted by both Russia and Iran. Turkey is not the country it was a decade ago. Its economy surged and then went into crisis. It has passed through an attempted coup, and internal stress has been massive. But such crises are common in emerging powers. The U.S. had a civil war in the 1860s but by 1900 was producing half of the manufactured goods in the world while boasting a navy second only to the British. Internal crises do not necessarily mean national decline. They can mean strategic emergence.

Turkey’s alignment with Iran and Russia is always tense. Iran and Russia have at various times waged war with Turkey and have consistently seen Iraq as a threat. For the moment, both have other interests and Turkey is prepared to work with them. But Turkey is well aware of history. It is also aware that the U.S. guaranteed Turkish sovereignty in the face of Soviet threats in the Cold War, and that the U.S., unlike Russia and Iran, has no territorial ambitions or needs in Turkey. Already allied through NATO and historical bilateral ties, a relationship with Turkey is in the American interest because it creates a structure that threatens Iran’s line to the Mediterranean and compliments the Romanian-U.S. Black Sea alliance. The U.S. and Turkey are also hostile to the Syrian government. For Turkey, in the long term, Russia and Iran are unpredictable, and they can threaten Turkey when they work together. The American interest in an independent Turkey that blocks Russia and Iran coincides with long-term Turkish interests.

Enter the Kurds

This is where the Kurds come into the equation. Eastern Turkey is Kurdish, and maintaining stability there is a geopolitical imperative for Ankara. Elements of Turkey’s Kurds, grouped around the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have carried out militant attacks. Therefore it is in Turkey’s interest to clear its immediate frontiers from a Kurdish threat. The United States has no overriding interest in doing so and, indeed, has worked together with the Kurds in Iraq and Syria. But for the Turks, having Kurds on their border is an unpredictable threat. American dependency on the Kurds declines as U.S. involvement in the Middle East declines. Turkey becomes much more important to the United States in relation to Iran than the Kurds.

Trump clearly feels that the wars in the Middle East must be wound down and that a relationship with Turkey is critical. The faction that is still focused on the Middle East sees this as a fundamental betrayal of the Kurds. Foreign policy is a ruthless and unsentimental process. The Kurds want to establish a Kurdish nation. The U.S. can’t and doesn’t back that. On occasion, the U.S. will join in a mutually advantageous alliance with the Kurds to achieve certain common goals. But feelings aside, the U.S. has geopolitical interests that sometimes include the Kurds and sometimes don’t – and the same can be said of the Kurds.

At the moment, the issue is not al-Qaida but China and Russia, and Turkey is critical to the U.S. for Russia. The U.S. is critical for Turkey as well, but it cannot simply fall into American arms. It has grown too powerful in the region for that, and it has time to do it right. So Trump’s actions on the Syrian border will result in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington and, in due course, a realignment in the region between the global power and the regional power.


Fulda Gap: Strategic European Lowlands

The Fulda Gap (GermanFulda-Lücke), an area between the Hesse-Thuringian border (the former Inner German border) and Frankfurt am Main, contains two corridors of lowlands through which tanks might have driven in a surprise attack by the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies to gain crossing(s) of the Rhine River. Named for the town of Fulda, the Fulda Gap became seen as strategically important during the Cold War of 1947-1991. The Fulda Gap roughly corresponds to the route along which Napoleon chose to withdraw his armies after defeat (16 – 19 October 1813) at the Battle of Leipzig. Napoleon succeeded in defeating a BavarianAustrian army under Wrede in the Battle of Hanau (30 – 31 October 1813) not far from Frankfurt; from there he escaped back to France.

What’s Trump’s parade really about? His bottomless insecurity.

Well, of course the president who claimed bone spurs to dodge the Vietnam War wants the biggest, bestest military parade ever, with lots of tanks and rockets and flags — zillions of flags — and fighter jets screaming overhead. Why is anyone surprised?

.. anyone who fails to cheer as the bands play and the troops march by will surely be guilty of treason.

.. Trump has already matched North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in dangerous, unhinged rhetoric. Now it appears he hopes to surpass his rival in linear mileage of meaningless military display.

.. It is hard to imagine any other president summoning his generals to demand not a better strategy in Afghanistan, not a detailed plan for success in Syria, but rather an elaborate entertainment that gives him an opportunity to be seen reviewing the troops. In this reality-show presidency, it sounds like the kind of extravaganza that one could imagine as a series finale. If so, bring it on.

.. There is a semi-plausible argument that Trump could consciously use such a patriotic extravaganza as a wedge, the way he has used the national anthem protests in the NFL. It could be a with-me-or-against-me ploy. If you support the parade, you love America; if you don’t, you don’t.

.. But a celebratory military parade with nothing to celebrate could also highlight the gulf between Trump’s campaign promises and his actions. He pledged to wind wars down and bring the troops home; he has done quite the opposite.

.. My guess is that both his narcissism and his authoritarianism are at play in his need to honor himself with a parade.

.. Despite his boastful tweetstorms, the president clearly realizes that his approval ratings are historically low. He is so unpopular that he will not even risk a state visit to London to open the new U.S. Embassy there for fear of being humiliated by mass protests.

.. The campaign-style rallies he so enjoys do not appear well-designed to advance a political agenda; they do, however, boost his spirits and massage his ego.

.. He would be saluted and serenaded to his heart’s content. It would be an egomaniac’s heaven.

.. Trump’s big parade would also be a massive display of power — not so much the nation’s as his own. There is not a soul on Earth who doubts the overwhelming strength of the U.S. military. I can think of one soul, however, who is insecure enough in his own authority that he accuses members of Congress who do not stand and applaud him of treason.