So many issues I have with this. First of all, yes you can tell the difference between airplanes and cruise missiles.
Clearly I wasn't specific enough about the concept. Take a Nanchang Q-5 or Chengdu J-7. Refit it is as a flying fully-autonomous drone, with a pre-programmed flight mission. The Chinese have already done this. It's very similar to how the US uses old F-4 Phantoms as flying target drones. This will still have the thermal and radar signature of the 3rd-generation aircraft frame. If you pick one up on radar, you have no idea if it's:
A. A human-piloted obsolete fighter on a Combat Air Patrol.
B. An unmanned, unarmed, dummy target.
C. An unmanned, unarmed fighter flying towards your airbase to kamikaze itself into your aircraft shelters.
Drones with any remote control capability are useless. Drones without any remote control are incredibly dangerous - as much to whoever fields them as they are to whoever they're fielded against. Once you send them up, all you can do is hope for the best.
And in China's case, "hope for the best" is either someone shoots it down (preferably wasting a BVR missile) or they fly on their merry way and either a) hit something valuable on the enemy's turf or b) reveal a gap in the enemy's CAP.
And if you're going that route, it better be part of a zerg-rush power projection play over someone else's homeland because otherwise you're likely going to cause more damage to your own people than your enemy
China would most likely employ them in an A2/AD strategy over the Taiwan Straits and the waters around the Senkakus/Okinawa. They're not going to be falling on Chinese cities....and even if they did, this is China we are talking about. Not exactly the most casualty-averse government, and one with a pretty tight grip on the media so they can spin drones falling out of the sky all kinds of ways.
And you don't have to engage them unless they're an actual threat.
See above. How are you going to assess if an autonomous Q-5/J-7 is a threat? Fly close enough to peek into the cockpit and notice there's no pilot?
So a $350,000 missile shooting down $25 Million aircraft; how's that going to work out in their favor?
Q-5, J-7, and J-8 airframes are already paid for. A US QF-4 conversion costs $800,000: (http://www.fencecheck.com/content/index.php?title=The_Final_Mission:_The_USAF%92s_QF-4_Target_Drones). Given the general purchasing power advantage in China I wouldn't be surprised if their conversions cost half that. And the cost-exchange ratio is largely irrelevant if the air campaign lasts days or weeks, and they achieve their operational and strategic objectives in the process.
while hitting air fields, munitions manufacturing sites, softer C&C targets, etc with long range cruise missiles
I haven't seen a Joint Target List for mainland China, but I'm intimately familiar with the Korean Theater. If you expect to significantly degrade the C2 and aviation capability of a country the size of the US, and one equipped with a far more advanced (albeit less dense) IADS than North Korea.....well, that's wishful thinking, to say the least.
then pull all the carrier strike groups into the region (not all together because you don't want to risk nuclear attacks taking out more than one at a time) including the ones on standby to start building sustainable power projection from the coast inland
The combat radius of carrier strike fighters is ~500nm. The combat radius of a JH-7A is 890nm. If you expect to project power inland you'll be well within range of anti-ship strikes, not to mention DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles (assuming they work as designed).
B-2s escorted by F-22s would pound the Hell out of everything the cruise missiles can't tackle
Where do you plan on flying F-22s from? Kadena Air Base? Which has no hardened aircraft shelters and is well within range of TBMs?
But we'd dismantle the conventional military of any foe on the planet quite efficiently and effectively over a period of time. We can end China in a conventional war.
Just found this nifty page on RAND's site, an interactive "scorecard" assessment of US-China parity: http://www.rand.org/paf/projec...
They are estimating Chinese advantages in anti-surface warfare and airbase defense, with rough parity in other fields. Maybe you should submit a point paper to them pointing out how wrong they are.
The J-20 is a half-assed rip-off of American tech and it's primarily a prototype platform
You've done QA/QC on China's aircraft production lines? Please swing by the nearest Intel section so they can update their Threat Assessment. The J-20 is supposed to be officially revealed at the Zhuhai Air Show this week, so we'll soon see how many they plan to put into service.