Wednesday, May 26, 2010

China’s Military Buildup: There’s Method to Their Madness

Those of you who have known me or followed my blogs know that there is one topic I cannot resist discussing. One that scares me as much - no, scares me more, than big government, over spending, immigration, even terrorism. That subject is the long-term threat of Chinese geo-political ambition. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has issued a new report “AirSea Battle: A Point of Departure Operational Concept”. In it, they say that China’s weapon mix is designed to deny U.S. air and maritime freedom of maneuver and access in the western Pacific (WestPac) by targeting bases and ships with precision guided missiles.

According to the report, China’s buildup of increasingly capable anti-access/area-denial “battle networks” will, over time, make the current “American way of war” prohibitively costly. This is shown clearly by China’s development of “carrier killing” anti-ship ballistic missiles, a weapon that potentially threatens the very backbone of American military might and is the cornerstone of our global presence.

The AirSea Battle concept is not about fighting a war with China. It is also not about reducing China’s influence in the Western Pacific. It is an “offsetting strategy” that reaffirms a U.S. commitment to maintaining presence, coalitions and influence in that strategically vital area.

They envision a two-stage campaign. First: to survive what would likely be Chinese preemptive strikes on U.S. and allied bases across the Western Pacific, particularly airfields. It stresses that we should not just trust missile defenses and base hardening. Prompt U.S. counterattacks would immediately go after their reconnaissance strike complex and try to deny China the ability to accurately target fixed installations and ships and conduct battle damage assessment. This “blinding campaign” is at the core of the concept. China’s surveillance and targeting systems are the “Achilles heel” of their anti-access networks. In any WestPac confrontation, one of the Chinese main advantages is its very large and growing arsenal of precision guided missiles; those missile magazines could be rendered useless if they can’t be guided.

If China loses its over the horizon situational awareness, U.S. naval assets regain their freedom of maneuver and ability to close in on the Chinese mainland. Short ranged tactical aircraft could also be moved closer if allied bases weren’t being bombarded with Chinese ballistic missiles. The blinding campaign would include cyber attacks, China’s space assets would be targeted, electronic warfare aircraft would spoof Chinese radars and sensors and seaborne pickets would be targeted.

The blinding campaign would be followed by strikes against fixed and mobile missile launchers using land and sea based manned and unmanned stealthy penetrators. Using stand-off and EW, the U.S. would try and open corridors in PLA air-defenses. Simultaneously, PLA Navy ships and subs would be targeted to prevent them from getting out into the open ocean. If the first phase of the campaign aims to prevent China from achieving a “knock-out blow,” the second phase would aim to win what would possibly be a prolonged conflict.

In the second phase of the campaign the U.S. seizes the initiative by targeting Chinese assets on the mainland and seas, establishing a blockade of sea lines of communication, surging supplies and warfighting material into WestPac and ramping up industrial production of precision guided weapons.

Much of what the report recommends emphasizes stealth, long-range and prompt strike, redundancy and Air Force and Navy interoperability. There is a very extensive list of programmatic and force structure changes in the report, some of which included:

• To mitigate the ballistic missile threat to Guam and other WestPac bases the Air Force should harden its bases on Guam and refurbish bases on Tinian, Saipan and Palua to allow aircraft dispersal and force China to play a shell game with American aircraft; the Air Force-Navy should jointly assess tactical air-based ballistic missile defenses and laser weapons; and BMD exercises should be carried out with Japan.

• The Air Force and Navy should invest in a long range strike capability against time sensitive targets in a cost imposing strategy to force the Chinese armed forces to beef up their own defenses; and the Navy should consider investing in conventionally armed, relatively short range sea-based ballistic missiles, similar to Tomahawk, that could be spread across the fleet’s VLS tubes.

• The Air Force and Navy should develop and field long-range next generation stealthy air platforms, both manned and unmanned, and payloads for these platforms; the Navy version capable of operating off of carriers.

• The Air Force and Navy should jointly develop a long-range precision strike family of systems that include: ISR, EW and strike. The Air Force should develop a stealthy multi-mission, long-range persistent bomber as part of this strike family. The Navy should expedite developing and fielding a carrier-based drone.

• The Air Force and Navy should develop joint command and control mechanisms to enable Air Force aircraft to target enemy ships using Navy surveillance and targeting systems. • The Air Force and Navy should jointly develop a long-range anti-ship missile.

• The Air Force should equip some of its B-2 stealth bombers with an offensive mine laying capability to mine Chinese harbors.

• The Air Force and Navy should significantly increase investment in joint EW platforms both manned and unmanned.

• The Air Force and Navy should increase research and development in laser weapons for land and sea based point defense against missiles.

Today's Fun Picture


Ted Leddy said...

This is a fascinating post Gary. I may quote you on this in the near future. What about both nations conventional nuclear deterrant. Does it not come into play in the scenario above ?

Gary said...

Ted, please, you are always welcome to quote anything I blog, regardless of how ridiculous my opinions may be.

The use of nuclear arms does not really come into play in this scenario except, perhaps, in a strictly limited tactical application against specific targets. If they were used, however, it would be in direct support of the "blinding" objective of the strategy.

The danger is that once nuclear weapons are utilized things could immediately escalate into a broad based strategic conflict and all the rules change. No one wins that one.

Ted Leddy said...

I see. But I would have thought that if hostilies between the US and China ever reached the level described in "Airsea Battle" it would mean nuclear war. What I am trying to say is that I didn't think two nuclear powers would fight a conventional (even if highly advanced) war.

Gary said...

You're absolutely right. In spite of numerous "close calls", no two nuclear powers have come into direct military conflict (except, of course, the limited confrontations between India and Pakistan over Kashmir). The method of choice seems to be fighting smaller wars by proxy in smaller and underdeveloped countries.
Having said that, it is not prudent to assume that will be the only form of confrontation or to be unprepared to fight a non-nuclear engagement. The consequences of full nuclear exchange involving arsenals stocked with literally thousands of warheads is just too horrible to contemplate. The alternative, short of peace, is limited conventional confrontation. Since the Chinese seem determined to prepare for that eventuality it would be best to be prepared for it as well.

Ted Leddy said...

Thanks for the clarification. I understand. By the way great picture from the Arizona memorial. I would love to go there some time.

Gary said...

Thanks, Ted. I try to escape to Hawaii as often as I can and never tire of going out to Pearl Harbor and the Arizona and aboard the USS Missouri which is docked now docked next to the memorial.