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China and America's Dueling South China Sea Papers

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Beijing is fast approaching a Dec. 15 deadline to submit its defense in the arbitration case against its South China Sea claims brought by the Philippines. That case, brought under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’s (UNCLOS) compulsory dispute mechanism, is summarized here. The Chinese government has no intention of taking part in it, or refuting the Philippines’ 4,000 pages of evidence and arguments, but it has made sure that the five judges hearing the case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration take China’s arguments against their jurisdiction into account.

To that end, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Dec. 7 released a position paper laying out China’s legal objections to the case. Two days earlier the US State Department released a long-awaited analysis of the legality of Beijing’s South China Sea claims through its Limits in the Sea series. The timing of these two releases, both in relation to each other and to the next stage of the arbitration case, suggest that policymakers in Beijing and Washington recognize the value of occupying the legal high ground in the South China Sea and are eager to influence the arbitral tribunal even if they are not directly engaging in the case.

What does China's position paper say?

The core of the Chinese position paper lays out Beijing's arguments for why the arbitral tribunal at The Hague lacks jurisdiction in the Philippines' case. China contends that:

1. At its heart the case is not about interpreting UNCLOS, but about territorial sovereignty - who owns what features - over which UNCLOS has no jurisdiction. This argument is not compelling, at least not in China's formulation that to rule on any of the Philippines' points, the court "would inevitably have to determine, directly or indirectly, the sovereignty over both the maritime features in question and other maritime features in the South China Sea."

2. Even if the case were about UNCLOS, the Philippines had no right to bring it. China argues that the Philippines bound itself in both bilateral statements and especially in the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) to only resolve disputes through negotiation. Whether or not any such binding obligation was made is highly suspect, but Manila could easily argue that Chinese violations have nullified the DOC regardless.

China also argues that the Philippines has not met the UNCLOS requirement to only pursue compulsory arbitration after failing to reach a bilateral accord. Beijing insists that despite decades of discussions, "the two countries have never engaged in negotiations with regard to the subject-matter of the arbitration," and even if they did, UNCLOS does not specify a time limit for such negotiations. If accepted, this line of reasoning would preclude a country from ever using compulsory dispute resolution no matter how long another claimant stonewalls discussions.

1. Even if Manila did have the right, China is exempted from compulsory arbitration. This is Beijing's most compelling argument. It rests on China's 2006 declaration, as allowed by UNCLOS, that it is exempt from arbitration on certain topics including maritime delimitation. The Philippines has done an admirable job of framing its case as being about China's obligation to clarify the nine-dash line and about the status of features, not about delimiting disputed waters.

But Manila's argument is not a slam dunk. Most worrying for the Philippines is that its lawyers felt compelled to include an argument about the status of Itu Aba, the largest of the Spratly Islands, in its March 30 submissions to the court. Were the tribunal to rule Itu Aba (or any other feature) an island legally capable of generating a continental shelf, then it would likely undermine parts of the Philippine case, especially those pertaining to low-tide elevations. But it is noteworthy that China's position paper does not detail this point, leaving it to the arbitral judges to connect the dots.

1. Even if China were not exempt, the use of a special arbitral tribunal in cases in which a state has not selected one of the other options for arbitration permitted by UNCLOS violates international law. This is essentially questioning an UNCLOS provision to which China agreed in 1996. It is the least compelling of China's arguments, not least because it is hard to fathom that a court established under the provisions of UNCLOS would feel empowered to overturn the only sensible interpretation of one of those provisions.

It is telling that amid its arguments against the court's jurisdiction, China also touches on the merits of the case (despite insisting in the introduction that it will not do so). In particular, it makes an argument about the ability of a state to make a claim of sovereignty over a low-tide elevation, despite acknowledging that the International Court of Justice in 2012 ruled that such a claim is not permissible. China also defends its actions at Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Shoal since 2012, which the Philippines describe as employing the threat of force. Yet the position paper does not address either the status of those features the Philippines identifies as rocks rather than islands, nor does it defend the nine-dash line as a claim to maritime space in accord with UNCLOS - both indicative of the weakness of China's legal position on those points.

What does the US study say?

The State Department's Limits in the Sea studies have examined the maritime claims of dozens of nations, including Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The latest report does not touch on the validity of territorial claims over islands in the South China Sea, reiterating the US position of neutrality.

The study's main finding is that "China has not clarified the legal basis or nature of its claim." The study points out that the nine-dash line lacks "geographical consistency and precision," which it underscores by overlaying several Chinese maps showing significant variation in the placement of the dashes. It offers some support for aspects of the Philippine case covering Chinese-occupied rocks and low-tide elevations. At its core, the analysis offers a refutation of the nine-dash line as a valid maritime claim, and thus aligns with the heart of the Philippines' case.

The State Department presents three possible interpretations of the nine-dash line and analyzes their legality. Each of these interpretations are simultaneously supported and contradicted by various Chinese legislation and official pronouncements:

1. A claim to islands and the waters they would generate. The study finds that this could be a legally consistent definition of the nine-dash line but points out that it has major caveats. For one, "states and international courts and tribunals typically accord very small islands far from a mainland coast equal or less weight than opposing coastlines." This means that China could at best justify an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extending to a median line between its claimed islands and its Southeast Asian neighbors' coastlines.

2. A maritime boundary. The State Department points out that the nine-dash line extends too far beyond any coastline or island to be legally justifiable as the boundary of an EEZ, and certainly not territorial waters. The study also charges that the claim's lack of precision and unilateral declaration fail to meet the basic requirements of a legal maritime boundary.

3. A claim to historic title or rights. This is the most complicated of the legal justifications put forward by Chinese scholars regarding the nine-dash line. The State Department rightly points out that UNCLOS "limits the relevance of historic claims to bays and territorial sea delimitation" near a nation's coast. Nothing in the convention justifies a historical claim of sovereignty or extensive rights far from a coastline.

And contrary to some Chinese scholars' assertions that customary law predating UNCLOS would allow such a claim, the State Department rightly insists that the convention takes precedence. To prove the point, it cites the International Court of Justice's ruling that the advent of EEZs "overrides the prior usage and rights of other States in that area" - a clear refutation of China's claims to historic rights over fisheries and hydrocarbons.

What is next for the arbitration tribunal?

China will not submit anything on Dec. 15 in response to the tribunal's deadline. This means the judges will take it upon themselves to consider the counterarguments that Beijing would have made. This is why the Chinese position paper's release is so important. It has been timed to ensure that the judges ask the right questions, from China's perspective. Experts in China know that Beijing will lose on at least one point if the case goes the distance. The nine-dash line in its current form does not meet any of the requirements of a legal maritime claim - a point the new US study underscores - and requires clarification.

That is why China, even while refusing to officially take part in the proceedings, has invested considerable energy in developing a legal case against jurisdiction. Despite its bluster, Beijing does not want to flout an international tribunal's ruling and incur the opportunity costs that come with being seen as an irresponsible player in the international system.

As a next step, the court will ask the Philippine legal team to respond to questions and possible objections regarding its March submission. Those questions will likely cover many of the points raised in China's position paper, among others, since the judges will not rule on such a high-profile and controversial case unless they feel it is airtight.

Once the Philippines responds - a task that will take several months - the judges will consider the questions of jurisdiction and merits in the case. They seem ready to consider both at once, which should speed up the proceedings. There is no set timetable for a decision, and there might be more than one request to the Philippines for clarification of points. But by late 2015, and perhaps earlier, the court should make its decision - potentially the most impactful by any tribunal established under UNCLOS.

Gregory B. Poling is a Fellow with the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at CSIS. Follow him on Twitter @GregPoling. This article originally appeared on the CSIS Asia policy blog, cogitASIA and CSIS PACNET newsletter here.

TopicsSouth China Sea RegionsAsia-Pacific

Chinese Official: J-31 Stealth Fighter Could ‘Definitely Take Down’ F-35

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The president of a leading Chinese defense company boasted that China’s J-31 stealth fighter jet could definitely take down the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Appearing on China’s state broadcaster on Tuesday, Lin Zuoming, president of Aviation Industry Corp of China (Avic), the state-owned Chinese defense company that manufactures the J-31, boldly declared that “When it [the J-31] takes to the sky, it could definitely take down the F-35. It's a certainty.”

It is widely believed that the J-31 is modeled in part off of stolen F-35 technology.

Lin went on to say that the J-31 would compete with the F-35 in the global marketplace, painting China’s second stealth fighter as a low-cost alternative to the U.S. made fifth generation jet.

"The next-generation air forces that are unable to buy the F-35 have no way to build themselves up. We don't believe the situation should be that way," Lin said, Reuters reported. He added, “The world should be balanced. Good things shouldn't all be pushed to one party."

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The J-31, which is alternatively referred to as the Falcon Hawk, Falcon Eagle, Shenyang FC-31, and F-60/J-21, is a twin-engine (Russian RD-93s) jet that conducted its first flight sometime in 2012. The jet did not make its first public appearance until the Zhuhai Air Show in China last month. At the show, the jet made a demonstration flight but was not put on display at the air show, however.

Long before the Zhuhai Air Show, Chinese officials began comparing the J-31 to the F-35, and suggesting it could compete with the Joint Strike Fighter in international markets. In August 2013, for example, the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, carried an article that postulated that the J-31 “represents a serious threat to U.S. arms manufacturers.” It went on to say, “Experts predict that the J-31 will make rapid inroads in the international market in the future, and will undoubtedly steal the limelight from the F-35.”

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As to the J-31’s ability to take down American and allied F-35s, most experts agree it’s too early to tell, although the J-31 received largely negative reviews at the air show last month. For instance, a senior U.S. pilot told USNI News at the time that, once operational, the J-31 could probably challenge America’s fourth generation unstealthy American fighters.

“They’ll probably be a handful right off the bat for all of our fourth gen stuff,” the pilot was quoted as saying.

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On the other hand, the same pilot added, “I think they’ll eventually be on par with our fifth gen jets — as they should be, because industrial espionage is alive and well.”

Similarly, frequent TNI contributor Robert Farley said, “Will Chinese fighters be as ‘stealthy’ as Western fighters? We won’t know that for another five or 10 years.”

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/Russavia/CC by-SA 4.0.

TopicsmilitarySecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Senate Torture Report Resolves Nothing

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Call it a political witch-hunt, a mixed report, or a thorough accounting of the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation program, but the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report released today is sure to dominate Washington discourse during the last week of the 113th Congress.

The committee’s report, led and directed by Chairwoman Diane Feinstein and supported by her Democratic colleagues, was a very long time in the making.  What was at first a bipartisan project in the Intelligence Committee—where Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly agreed to create an exhaustive review of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques for the public record—culminated six years later into a product that divided the two parties on an incredibly important historical question: did the United States sanction torture in order to gather information to save American lives and protect the U.S. homeland? 

Unfortunately, despite a report that is 6,700 pages long and that cost at least $40 million to produce, Americans will never definitively find the answer to that question.  As impressive and documented as the Senate Intelligence Committee report is—and it is, indeed, highly impressive in its breath, detail, and organization—there will still be corners of the American public and vast segments of the U.S. Government that vehemently disagree with the numerous conclusions listed in the document.  Sen. Diane Feinstein no doubt speaks for many Americans when she said on the Senate floor today that the CIA’s interrogation program was “morally, legally and administratively misguided,” and “far more brutal than people were led to believe,” but she doesn’t speak for all Americans—particularly those CIA officers who participated intimately in the interrogations and other officials who remain convinced that EITs were immensely important in protecting American lives.

Former Directors George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden, along with the former architect of the EIT program, Jose Rodriguez, have already come out swinging.  On the same day that Feinstein publicly released the executive summary of the report, the Tenet-Goss-Hayden team published a scathing op-ed in The Wall Street Journal rebutting the claim that the CIA leadership deliberately lied to the White House, Congress, and to its own Inspector General on the scope, scale, merit, and effectiveness of the program.  In his own op-ed for The Washington Post, Rodriguez—who has been a vocal supporter of the EIT program and has written a book arguing that these “Hard Measures” were a necessary solution in dangerous times—blasted committee Democrats for attempting to re-write history, criticizing techniques that they once accepted immediately after the 9/11 attacks, and for casting the men and women of the CIA in a humiliating light for all the world to see.

The point for highlighting all of this dissent is that, regardless of what the Senate Intelligence Committee report says and the conclusions that are ingrained in the study, there will continue to be a considerable segment of the U.S. Government—including a whole lot of Republican lawmakers—who view waterboarding, 24-hour interrogations, sleep deprivation, and months of detainee isolation as tactics that were critical in protecting the United States another 9/11-style attack.  Whether this is right or wrong is beside the point: the belief is out there.  The CIA and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee would not have released their own reports on the same day as Feinstein’s executive summary if this weren’t the case.

Whether you believe that EITs were a horrible travesty and a permanent stain on an otherwise unblemished U.S. human rights record, or a program that was absolutely indispensable to keep the nation safe, I believe we can all agree on one thing: the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency immediately after September 11 were—and remain—in an unfathomably difficult position.  The officers, analysts, scientists, and managers of the agency are expected to perform their jobs with the utmost perfection in incredibly rigid time constraints, and are expected to do so without making a mistake that could potentially hurt the strategic position of the United States or result in the deaths of Americans at home or abroad.  And these men and women are mandated to do this every single day they trek to agency headquarters or start their workday in the one of hundreds of CIA stations located in dangerously hostile areas. 

While we hold people accountable for a tumultuous and divisive period in U.S. history, we should never lose sight of the low or mid-level operator or analyst doing the type of work that keeps the United States the most powerful country on the planet.  And, when mistakes are made, the agency—and the United States large—acknowledges them and cleans them up. 

Daniel R. DePetris is an analyst at Wikistrat, Inc., a geostrategicconsulting firm, and a freelance researcher. He has also written for, Small Wars Journal and The Diplomat. You can follow him on Twitter: @DanDePetris. 

Image: Flickr/Medill DC/ CC by 2.0

TopicsPoliticsIntelligence RegionsUnited States

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Love Affair With Xi Jinping

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has recently stirred up controversy by advising his employees to read Chinese President Xi Jinping’s book The Governance of China, because he wants them to “understand socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The book appeared prominently placed on his desk during a recent visit from China’s Internet czar Lu Wei, and he apparently has bought a number of copies to share with others. (To be clear—and I am assuming Mr. Zuckerberg realizes this—Xi’s book is not a book that he, himself, wrote; it is a collection of his speeches and interviews.) For the free publicity he is providing the Chinese leader, Zuckerberg has been widely condemned on the Chinese Internet. Given Zuckerberg’s position as the CEO of one of America’s leading technology firms, it is worth exploring whether such criticism is deserved.

First, is Zuckerberg sucking up to Beijing? Clearly the answer is yes. Like many U.S. business leaders, he wants access to the Chinese market for Facebook, which he currently does not have: it is banned in China. So, Zuckerberg has undertaken a charm offensive of sorts: speaking Chinese to a group of students at Tsinghua University; telling his employees to read Xi’s book; and, most recently, hosting Lu Wei—who may be doing more to stifle Internet freedom than anyone in China—at his Facebook offices in Silicon Valley. This is little more than what countless American CEOs have done over the past decades—unappealing perhaps in its sycophancy, but basically the price of doing business in China. Every CEO has to decide for him/herself how deeply to kowtow.

Second, does Zuckerberg support the ideals that Xi espouses in his book? There is no evidence that this is the case—unless one wants to refer back to Facebook’s fairly serious problems with invading people’s privacy by tracking their online activity, making public people’s personal information, or sharing people’s purchasing habits with their friends. Zuckerberg has made no explicit reference to anything in Xi’s book, and it is not clear that anything in the book particularly resonated with him. He has merely told people to read the book to understand socialism with Chinese characteristics. (Frankly, I don’t think that people who read the book will come away with an understanding of socialism with Chinese characteristics—it is an ever moving target of political opportunism—but it is worth a try.)

As far as I can discern, Zuckerberg has merely suggested that people in the United States should know what the leader of China is thinking and where he plans to take the country. I agree with him. Xi is president of one of the world’s largest and most powerful countries, and his vision for his country’s future is squarely at odds with many U.S. interests. Arguably, there is no other foreign leader—save perhaps North Korea’s Kim Jong-un or Russia’s Vladimir Putin—whose views Americans should better understand. I don’t think that it is necessary that everyone read the whole book—it runs five-hundred fairly tedious pages; most people can get the gist from reading a few well-chosen speeches from the volume.

For Americans interested in reading the book, the Beijing Review magazine has been sending emails out to people offering complimentary copies. They can be reached at Otherwise, you can read a humorous take I posted a few months back or the not-so-humorous version Xinhua news agency translated and published (without my permission) last week. Either way, understanding the future of China under Xi Jinping is worth a few minutes of every American’s time.

This piece was first posted on CFR’s blog Asia Unbound here.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsFacebook RegionsChina

Great Britain To Develop Naval Base at Bahrain

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The British Defense Secretary’s announcement of plans to develop a naval base at Bahrain may be confirmation that the United Kingdom’s policy as to the nature and extent of its overseas defense commitments is at last being settled.

There are some important parallels here to the challenges that Australia is facing in its own force structure and military posture, particularly in relation to our interaction with the United States. Britain’s key problem, as it finally comes to terms with the limits of its military capability, is determining where it can make the most difference, not only in its own right, but in support of the alliance with the United States.

The long-term implications of America’s "pivot" to the Pacific at a time when the US military machine is under increasing fiscal pressure are inescapable. Not only will Europe have to do without the levels of American military presence that it has grown accustomed to over nearly seventy years, but the United Kingdom in particular must decide where it can contribute in ways that are significant in military effects, rather than "flags in the sand." The British armed forces have a lot of capability, but—in relative terms—much less than in previous decades, as is apparently becoming clear with the current RAF operations in the Middle East. Choices must be made and it’s logical that those be for capabilities which the remainder of Western European states lack and for deployments for which they have little inclination.

Britain has long claimed global interests and the intent to maintain global military capabilities. No British government, particularly one with the Conservatives as the major partner within the coalition, will openly depart from those ambitions in the current complex strategic environment. Indeed, as shown with East Timor in 1999, the 2013 Philippine typhoon and, most recently, the search for MH 370, the British will always try to do what they can if there are urgent needs in the Indo-Pacific. But that’s not the same as a commitment to a permanent presence, or to reinforcing a presence for indefinite periods when required.

By comparison, the UK Defense Secretary’s declaration that Britain “will now be based again in the Gulf for the long term” was unequivocal. There’s real sense in that. A UK maritime task group can swing between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean relatively quickly, while air and land forces have extensive experience of deploying into the Middle East. With its long term interests in the Middle East—as well as the close interconnection of events there with the situation in the Near East and Europe—Britain may well now have determined that the Persian Gulf and the north-western Indian Ocean represent the geographic limits of what can best be termed the ‘beat’ of the British armed forces. That’s likely to be particularly true for the Royal Navy, centred as it will be on the two new Queen Elizabeth class carriers with the F-35B, the Type 45 air-defense ships and the seven Astute-class nuclear submarines.

This is a logical approach for the British, one which has the potential to reduce the American burden by freeing up carrier battle groups and other forces for operations in the Indo-Pacific—and for that reason welcome to Washington. It’s also one which, although the British face their own difficult decisions in their next Strategic Defense and Security Review in 2015, has the merit of being affordable in the long term. We need to be thinking in similar ways in Australia.

James Goldrick is a fellow of the RAN’s Sea Power Centre and an adjunct professor at UNSW Canberra, Australian Defense Force Academy. This piece first appeared in ASPI's The Strategist here

Image: Creative Commons. 

TopicsDefense RegionsEurope

Asia's Space Race is Underway

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The term “space race” entered our lexicon in the 1960s to describe the competitive nature of the space programs of the US and the Soviet Union, who were not the world's only space powers but certainly the dominant ones. The term fit the situation well. There were clearly defined objectives and milestones for their space programs. There was also a clearly defined struggle for hegemony on earth. Metrics were easy to define and observe.

Decades later, analysts struggle with the term “space race” and its application to a handful of rapidly rising space programs in Asia. Some find it uncomfortable to use the words, as they bring the bitterness of the Cold War with them. It's also fair to say that we are dealing with a different time, a different region, and a vastly different geopolitical context. It's wrong to just crudely map a 60s-style paradigm to the present.

Nevertheless, there is a space race in Asia. It is taking place among Asian powers and the world at large.

The latter stages of the 20th century witnessed a rapid and astonishing rise of industrial, technological and economic power across Asia. Countries that had been defeated and colonized by the technologically superior powers of the West were rising. They were determined to lift themselves out of poverty and also guard themselves against the mistakes of the past. Rivalries within Asia, both recent and ancient, have driven some of this progress.

Asian space programs have been fueled by these developments for decades, although it largely escaped the attention of the wider world. The programs were relatively modest in comparison to their superpower rivals, and were focused on practical outcomes. Asia needed satellites to map farmland and connect dispersed peoples through telecommunications. There would be no robots to Mars, at least initially.

Thus, China, India and Japan ran world-class space programs for a long period without arousing much interest in the West. Japan's strategic and political ties to America made it a partner in the International Space Station. Otherwise, there was only a modest degree of interaction beyond Asia itself. The turn of the millennium has escalated Asian spaceflight to fever pitch. Analysts can no longer deny that an Asian 'space race' is in full swing.

China launched an astronaut in 2003. Recently, Beijing has slowly confirmed that it plans to land astronauts on the moon around 2030 (as this analyst has long professed to so many selectively deaf ears in the West). The rise of China's astronaut program sent a normally calm and methodical Indian space program into panic. Within weeks, an Indian astronaut capsule will fly a short test mission. Yet India lacks a reliable rocket to launch astronauts. China waited until it had mastered rocketry before developing its Shenzhou spacecraft. India seems to be putting the cart before the horse, which could lead to safety problems in the future.

Elsewhere in Asia, we have a South Korean satellite program that builds on that nation's strong electronics base. Korea uses its own satellites for domestic applications, but they are launched on foreign rockets. A Korean astronaut, Soyeon Yi, flew to the International Space Station and became one of South Korea's most successful cultural ambassadors. But the program also reflects panic. South Korea ran a haphazard and ill-managed program to develop its own satellite launch vehicle. This involved a crude attempt to label a Russian-built “Angara” booster as a Korean rocket. When the rocket developed technical trouble on the launchpad, the Koreans could make no progress until parts were delivered from Russia. South Korea now speaks of grandiose plans to build a truly indigenous launch vehicle and land a robot on the moon. There's a long timeline for these programs and it is not clear if some of these plans will outlive the Park Administration.

North Korea has attracted considerable attention for reasons that don't need to be repeated here. Ironically, North Korea beat South Korea for the title of the first indigenously launched satellite on the peninsula.

Space programs are found in most Southeast Asian nations with mature economies and technological bases. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and others have satellites in orbit. Some even build their own.

The  principal actor in this saga beyond Asia is the US. It is crude but not inaccurate to say that America's space program is flagging, and China sees itself in a position to challenge US dominance in space. A Chinese Space Station could begin operations as the International Space Station enters its twilight years. China has plans for robot missions to Mars. It is developing new boosters capable of supporting astronaut flights to the moon. Yet America is simply unprepared to deal with China in space, and has enforced astonishingly hostile policies towards Beijing. Co-operation is taboo; Chinese scientists have even been excluded from mundane scientific conferences. The wider international community looks on, bewildered.

This convoluted situation will evolve rapidly and unpredictably over the next two decades, which will be critical for spaceflight and international relations as a whole. Much of Asia's spaceflight boom is driven by practical needs. Everyone uses satellites. But there's also a quest for prestige on a domestic and an international scale. Despite the fact that Asian governments are less keen to openly speak of a "space race," they are clearly all engaged in one.

This piece was first posted on The Interpreter, which is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSpace RegionsAsia-Pacific

Everything You Need to Know about Tunisia's Elections

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Since the ouster of long-time dictator Zine El Abedine Ben Ali in 2011, Tunisia has been the bellwether for the revolutions that have rocked the Middle East. Three years into their revolution, Tunisians stand at a crossroads: a choice between “protecting” the revolution and sacrificing some revolutionary gains for the sake of stability. Last month’s presidential elections are, in the eyes of many hopeful Tunisians, the capstone to a tumultuous period of post-revolutionary instability.

Over twenty candidates ran in the first round elections, but to many external observers and Tunisians it was a race between two candidates that embody the fierce debate occurring within the country.

In one camp is the establishment candidate: Beji Caid Essebsi. A remnant of not only Ben Ali’s government but the government of his predecessor Habib Bourgiba, Essebsi has campaigned on providing Tunisians with a modicum of security after three years of uncertainty. Tunisians view the 88-year-old with hesitancy: his party, Nidaa Tounes, benefitted from a recent ruling that allowed former regime officials to run in elections. Leftist and secular, Essebsi’s party won a plurality of parliamentary seats in elections last month, garnering 86 seats out of 217. His campaign has been anything but clean, however, and rivals have blasted him for engaging in smear tactics. Earlier this week, he accused his opponent, Moncef Marzouki, of being the candidate of “jihadist Salafists,” a comment that sparked protests in southern cities.

Marzouki, on the other hand, is a doctor and long-time human rights activist who spent many of the pre-revolution years in exile in France before returning to become interim president. Despite his commitment to the principles of the revolution, many Tunisians hold him responsible for the country’s lack of economic growth. His campaign is one of counterattacks and reactions: he’s blasted Essebsi for the smear tactics, and he’s only just starting to court female and youth voters. He’s also filed suits against Essebsi for allegedly buying votes. His party, the Congress for the Republic, is also top-heavy, with much of its success credited to supporters of Ennahda, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Tunisian wing that decided not to field a candidate for the presidency and instead threw its weight behind Marzouki. 

In the first round of voting, Essebsi prevailed, garnering 39 percent of the vote to Marzouki’s 33 percent. A leftist candidate, Hamma Hamami, who garnered 7 percent of the vote, appears ready to play kingmaker in the upcoming runoff elections between the two frontrunners. Already, both sides are courting endorsements: last week Essebsi earned the endorsement of Slim Riahi, a businessman who garnered five percent of the votes in the first round.

The official campaign window for the December 21 runoff election is from the ninth to the nineteenth of this month, and both candidates are likely to focus their messages on the three issues that most concern Tunisians at the moment. The first of these is the security situation, both internal and external. Internally, many Tunisians are worried about the growing threat of domestic terror. Tunisia, after all, is sending the most fighters to join the ranks of the Islamic State. Moreover, shootouts are now common, the southern border with Libya is largely porous, and an influx of Libyan refugees has stretched resources.

Ennahda, which critics accuse of creating an environment conducive to terrorism, has tried to blame the former regime, and by extension, Essebsi. As Meherzia Labidi, Ennahda’s leading official in parliament, told me last week: “I cannot stand seeing young Tunisians in line voting here and in Syria cutting off heads. The radicalization of the youth is the legacy of Ben Ali’s dictatorship.”

Essebsi’s response has been to shift the focus to external actors. Nidaa Tounes spokesman Lazhar Akremi told The National Interest: “The threat from outside Tunisia—specifically in Mali and Libya—is more dangerous than the domestic underground. The military is not prepared to deal with these external factors. Ben Ali’s intelligence structure was focused on the internal, and now the threats are external. New forces will have to be created to deal with this.”

The second pressing issue for Tunisians is the economy. The Nida Tounes spokesman cited above told me that Tunisia would need at least $30 million a year just to maintain basic infrastructure. Recent studies show that the policies that produced the stagnant economy under Ben Ali are still firmly in place. Some candidates are therefore staking their campaign on the issue. Hamouda Ben Slama, an independent candidate and former official under Bourgiba, told me that Tunisia doesn’t necessarily need U.S. aid; it needs the U.S. to help improve Tunisian exports and encourage foreign investment. Tunisians of all stripes are frustrated that their economic progress has lagged far behind the political.

Beyond security and economic issues, Tunisians are considered with social issues. Many of these social issues predate the revolution, including the stratification of wealth, the disparity between the urban north and rural south, Islamism versus secularism. That being said, all these issues have been exacerbated by a post-revolutionary system that has lacked stability in the three years since Ben Ali’s ouster. Both Essebsi and Marzouki are looking to ease the social anxiety in the country, but their fiery rhetoric leaves much to be desired.

The next few weeks will see the most heated political activity in Tunisia’s modern history. Both Essebsi and Marzouki are doubling down on their power bases: Essebsi in the urban north, Marzouki in the rural south. Both are dialing up attacks on each other. They know which issues matter to Tunisians now, and they realize that their success in the runoff election depends on assuaging those fears.

Grant Rumley is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Image: Flickr/Atlantic Council/CC by 2.0

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Asia Get Ready: Is This China’s Vision of Future Aircraft Carrier Designs?

The Buzz

A high-caliber model manufacturer may just have provided a unique glimpse into the Chinese vision of aircraft carriers to come.

To stimulate discussion in China-watching circles, it is useful to assess the commercial enterprise’s three new indigenous carrier models (more pictures are available on my personal homepage here) critically and consider their possible significance before watching for other indicators of how things will ultimately unfold in reality. At very least, this offers a great solution for last-minute holiday gift shopping.

The dimensions and specifications of China’s first aircraft carrier CV16 (Liaoning) are well-known. Based on the Russian Project 11436 hull Varyag, it was long visible under refitting in Dalian Naval Shipyard before finally going to sea in 2011.

Now Jinshuai Model Crafts, based in Zhanjiang City, Jiashan District, is displaying models of putative hulls 17, 18, and 19 on its website and catalogs. These models provide clues to a vital question: what direction will China’s domestic aircraft carrier design and production take? In short, the models suggest: China will progress as quickly as possible to a large nuclear-powered design, similar to a Nimitz- or Ford-class hull with Chinese characteristics, and let deck aviation capabilities grow into the gargantuan new platform as they become able to do so.

Why take the time to analyze these depictions seriously? First, while other models have appeared, to this author’s knowledge this is the first representation of hulls 17-19. The idea of a trio is particularly interesting, because various Chinese sources have described CV16 as merely a training carrier, while stating that China needs at least three fully-functional aircraft carriers. According to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Science Research Fellow Du Wenlong, this is so that “one is always available for operational missions, while the second is used for training and the third is resupplied and retrofitted.” Second, Jinshuai Model Crafts purports to be a cut above the rest. Located near the South Sea Fleet Headquarters in Zhanjiang, it produces a wide range of meticulously detailed models of PLA Navy (PLAN) vessels. The company claims to have produced models given as official gifts by PLA attachés, for fleet visits, and in conjunction with naval diplomacy in the Gulf of Aden—something that would seem to require a track record of at least somewhat passable plausibility. Finally, this company would seem to have an economic incentive to maximize sales by offering the most accurate and forward-looking items possible. It likely has access to contacts and information to help ensure that its representations of platforms are as realistic as possible, particularly in their broader parameters. Where the model builder may be “winging it” a bit with these aircraft carrier models concerns associated weapons systems, sensors, and aircraft. Here, their description is less than official and appears to be influenced by Internet speculation.

Explicit caveat up front: Unless otherwise stated, specifications for weapons and sensors listed below are not from the models themselves, but from nameplates accompanying models of CV17 and CV18. Nameplate data regarding overall carrier dimensions and performance parameters are plausible, but nameplate data regarding weapons and sensors are often inconsistent with what is depicted on the model. These nameplate data are nevertheless included here to offer grist for further discussion and analysis. That is the larger purpose of this writing: not to offer conclusions that go beyond the limited and sometimes contradictory paraphernalia marketed by Jinshuai Model Crafts thus far, but rather to stimulate deeper examination of China’s ongoing development of a highly complex, symbolic system of systems for the seas and air above them.

Like Liaoning, CV17 also has a ski jump. The nameplate accompanying the model cites a length of 315 m, width of 75 m, draft of 9 m, and cruising speed of 31 knots. CV17 is credited with a standard displacement of 65,000 tons and a full displacement of 80,000 tons. These figures seem plausible.

Rather than representing a mere Chinese copy of the Project 11437 Ul’yanovsk-class-derived carrier, however, CV17’s smokestack shape and exhaust stack arrangement suggests a transition to all gas turbines, or even a diesel/gas turbine combination, instead of nuclear reactors and steam turbines. In another sign of intended design improvements, the model boasts a hydrodynamic projected bulbous bow.

One curiosity in the CV17 model is its incorporation of both a ski-jump and two catapults. While certainly odd from a U.S. perspective, this is not completely outlandish and even makes some sense for China’s “narrow-the-gap-from-behind-” or, ideally, “catch up-” style development of carrier operations. Such a setup could offer a platform for pilots to start working on catapult launches before transitioning to a full-up flattop carrier. Additionally, the relative position of indicated catapult tracks (dark red lines) and related blast deflectors really do not make sense. This might be attributed to a lack of knowledge on the model builder’s part.

Far less clear are the associated systems. Roughly 70 carrier-based aircraft are posited: J-15 fighters, Ka-28 airborne early warning (AEW) helicopters, Z-9 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) utility helicopters, Z-8 transport helicopters, and Ka-31 early warning helicopters. The following items of weaponry are listed: 4 sets of 24 Red Flag [HQ]-16 anti-aircraft missiles, the FL12000 short-range air defense missile-artillery close-in air defense system (sea-based Red Flag [HQ]-10 and -1130), four 30 mm automatic guns, three 12-tube anti-submarine, anti-torpedo launchers, and seven chaff rocket launchers. The exact weapons fit needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but a multi-layer air defense fit is consistent with the Project 11437 design. Also, it is puzzling to see weapons with export designator names mixed in, though it is not inconceivable that China could use them with the indigenous designation being unknown.

It is with the CV18 model that things really get interesting. Advertised as an “indigenously produced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” the catapult-equipped flattop closely resembles the U.S. Ford class in configuration, with a similar hull layout and the island far back. Yet there are also echoes of the Nimitz class, familiar to me through my nine days delivering lectures and briefings aboard the flagship USS Nimitz (CVN 68) in April 2013. As with the CV17 model, the positions of the blast deflectors and catapult positions on CV18 can be attributed to a lack of knowledge by the model builder.

This hull is 330 m long and 76 m wide (no draft is given). Standard displacement is 88,000 tons, full displacement is 101,800 tons. All these parameters are similar to those Jane’s gives for both Nimitz and Ford. Nimitz carriers are 332.9 m long and 76.8 m wide, Ford carriers 332.8 m long and 78.0 m wide; the actual deck dimensions are similar. Broadly speaking, CV18’s listed speed, hull form, and reactors are a bit closer to Nimitz’s, while the exterior depicted in the model is a closer to that of the Ford-class. Given China’s penchant for foreign technology collection, copying, incorporation, and multi-source emulation, this may well not be coincidental.

Here is how the model shop imagines China will exploit atomic power and move from CVs to CVNs: Two pressurized water reactors will provide nuclear propulsion. Each reactor drives two sets of main turbines, for a total of four turbines, which connect with four shafts delivering 260,000 hp. One turbine per shaft is conservative, but consistent with U.S. practice.

Total power is 194 megawatts (MW)—presumably not thermal output, but power after all inefficiencies are accounted for; cruising speed 33 knots. This implies the ability to cruise as fast as Nimitz on 15MW less power. This seems optimistic, though theoretically plausible, given the model’s somewhat-lower-drag bow. Puzzlingly, however, whereas the Ford’s bow represents the latest in civilian hydrodynamics—not just bulbous and projecting, but also tipping up—CV18’s bow more closely resembles Liaoning (Project 11436)’s style than CV17’s.

There are also four sets of emergency diesel engines for a total of 8MW. China has considerable experience with low-RPM diesels through its civilian merchant ship production. Implementing this in practice would make CV18-19 the first hulls of only the second class in the world to have both a nuclear power and a conventional propulsion plant arrangement, the existing example being the Russian Kirov class.

In a sign that the model shop may be trying to fill blank space, and orders, CV18’s ~70 carrier-based aircraft are identical to CV17’s, with the following exceptions. Attack UAVs are added, while Ka-31 early warning helicopters are eliminated, presumably because more-advanced JZY-01 airborne warning and control system (AWACs) aircraft can take off from the flat deck. On the actual CV18 model itself, the relevant aircraft on the flight deck has two engines and is consistent with the JZY-01. This aircraft might in theory be outfitted with a smaller variant of the KJ-2000’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

Weaponry listed on the CV18 model’s nameplate is similar to that on CV17’s: 6 sets of 30 mm single-tube artillery, four sets of HHQ-10 point defense missiles, and—somewhat speculatively—four sets of laser anti-missile systems. However, only two sets of HHQ-10 are actually seen on the model, on the forward sponsons. The model clearly shows the same Gatling gun installation as on Liaoning with four H/PJ-14 or the Type 1130. Electronic equipment listed on the nameplate includes a “battle of chaff induced injection device” and a SLQ29 radar warning and jamming system. The last is puzzling, as it is an old U.S. Cold War era system. Perhaps the model shop’s designers needed to add one last detail in time for holiday orders?

As for the model of CV19, it appears identical to that of CV18. The goal seems to be to develop a “Ford class with Chinese characteristics,” and then build additional hull(s).

Weighing the Evidence

There are problems with these models—and particularly their nameplates, to be sure, but the models do suggest a development path. A design concept appears to be gelling that incorporates three elevators, point defenses, and moving the island aft. Jinshuai Model Crafts’ rendition of CV17 resembles a plausible embodiment of a near-term Chinese effort to surpass the Project 11436 class with indigenous effort, particularly with regard to the propulsion plant and bow shape. CV18 and 19, by contrast, appear to be aspirational: an extrapolation based on what China likely wants to do in the future. To paraphrase paramount leader Xi Jinping, this is the “Chinese carrier dream.” And in today’s China, such dreams sell both Party politics and ship models. But even Chinese possession of specific carrier plans is no guarantee of success. Depending on how CV17 actually proceeds and what Chinese naval architects and shipbuilders learn in the process, CV18 and CV19 could end up quite different in reality—different by design.

Developing a Sino-Ford class would require a great leap forward for elements of Chinese naval architecture and engineering. Bending metal and developing the characteristic hull should be well within the means of China’s shipbuilding industry, but reactors are a different story altogether. While it has made tremendous advances in recent years, and has closed the gap with Russia in key areas, China remains behind in propulsion, metallurgy, and certain specialized physical manufacturing processes. Beijing can import French and German diesels and Ukrainian gas turbines for its navy, but must build naval nuclear reactors on its own. This imposes serious limitations. Most civilian technology is not directly applicable: land-based power plant cores are far too large for confined ship spaces. Case in point: the high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGCR) on which Chinese experts have conducted substantial research require far greater volume for a given power rating than water-based reactors. Additionally, highly-enriched fuel is essential for long core life.

To power such a large ship, at the listed maximum speed, with only two reactors requires an increase in power by about a factor of five or six—a non-trivial increase given that nuclear power plants on surface ships remain volume-limited. Still buying foreign designs for its civilian power sector, China has not yet developed, much less demonstrated, naval nuclear reactors of the required size, density, and overall capability.

The Way Ahead?

If the model shop’s projections are—broadly—reasonable in aggregate, how might we expect China to build and develop these carriers?

Given its status as an improved version of CV16, CV17 would likely be produced in Dalian to capitalize on local experience and production synergies accumulated over several years ofVaryag’s extensive rebuilding into Liaoning. The timetable reported by a local Liaoning Province official suggests that production of CV17 is already underway. Of course, similar words from a PLAN official or shipyard manager would be more demonstrably authoritative. If CV17 production is indeed already underway in Dalian, grand block sections could be under development surreptitiously, but something too large to cover should soon become visible to foreign satellites. As of October 2014, however, Google Earth showed only merchant vessels in Dalian’s graving docks. In addition, nothing has appeared in any of the graving docks at Shanghai’s Changxing Island Shipyard. The facility has made a prototype cross-section similar in configuration to one seen from a Queen Elizabeth-class carrier. But the prototype hull section remains standing in the storage area in front of one of the docks. No additional work appears to have been done on it. Here, the shipyard, currently-out-of-place with respect to carrier production, appears intent to prove that it is capable too. Perhaps that is yet another sign that things will soon become more interesting for foreign observers of Dalian’s naval shipyard production.

A larger question concerns where the Sino-Ford class would be constructed. Given its cutting-edge new-build facilities and ample space for dedicated military production (in contrast to old, cramped Dalian), Shanghai’s Changxing Island looks promising. But wherever future Chinese nuclear-powered carrier(s) are constructed, their production will represent the first manufacturing of nuclear-powered vessels outside the Huludao submarine production facility on the Yellow Sea. Even if engineers from Huludao are dispatched to offer their expertise as Johnny Appleseeds of Chinese naval nuclear development, this will be a challenging new endeavor for China.

What This Might Mean

Beijing’s path to indigenous carrier development appears to be narrowing and firming up. The desired destination is clearer, even as the journey remains arduous, and the timeline and milestones uncertain. In its typical pattern of emulating and drawing on foreign designs, China appears to be going for the gold standard—the U.S. standard, that is—as quickly as reasonably possible. Top-tier must-haves appear to include American-size hulls, nuclear propulsion, catapults, and advanced wire arrestor gear. Developing new hulls and nuclear propulsion is the first step, improved aircraft can be added in later. As a self-styled great sea power, Beijing is determined to be second to none, even if much work remains to be done to truly get there.

In this regard, a U.S. naval aviator and scholar sounds a note of caution. “It is fascinating that China would throw resources at such ships,” Capt. Robert Rubel (USN-Ret.), former Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, U.S. Naval War College, told the author. “I know China can build ships more cheaply than the United States can, but such ships will nevertheless be extremely expensive up front, and even more so over time. Without a global naval strategy of exercising command of the sea like the United States has had, the large nuclear aircraft carrier does not have the same meaning to China as ours do to us. These ships may have occasional operational utility in responding to disasters and maybe intimidating to regional neighbors with which China has island and maritime claims disputes, but otherwise they seem to be an attempt to create prestige by cutting metal.”

With respect to these larger questions, the models themselves obviously cannot provide conclusive answers. Chinese shipbuilders and strategists alike have much to contemplate. Only time, and more authoritative data sources, will tell what their options are, and how they choose to exercise them. In the meantime, however, there’s at least one crystal-clear take away: if you haven’t finished your holiday shopping yet, click here immediately to peruse Jinshuai Model Crafts’ many offerings. Such commercial dynamism, which the Soviet Union never enjoyed in any form, may ultimately offer greater indications of China’s ability to support and sustain the production and deployment of new aircraft carriers and other mighty ships upon the sea than any word Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergey Georgiyevich Gorshkov could ever put to paper.

And that is why it’s worth at least briefly pondering the latest in injection molding from a civilian shop in southern China.

Editor's Note: The above is being republished with the author's consent. You can read the original version with additional photos of the models here

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

The Sanctions Delusion

The Buzz

The United States is overestimating its leverage with sanctions in negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran—a gamble bound to fail. A second deadline has slipped without a comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, and hawkish rhetoric in the U.S. underscores a growing pessimism for successful negotiations by the next deadline in June 2015. Calls to strengthen sanctions highlight waning Congressional support for the talks, and buttress a narrow and unrealistic narrative that economic deprivation will force concessions. Any new sanctions, especially those proposed under the draconian Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, threaten to derail negotiations while providing cannon fodder for Iran’s hardliners.

A growing narrative in Washington, which attributes Iran’s willingness to negotiate entirely to sanctions, argues that the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) extension undermines U.S. negotiating leverage and provides Iran with ample opportunity to revive its declining economy. The JPA, which was signed over a year ago, provides Iran with access to approximately $700 million per month in oil revenues, which will continue through the seven-month extension.

True, sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking industries have caused inflation to soar amid declining oil exports, and there is little doubt that Iran is looking for relief. At the same time, other factors are contributing to Iran’s economic malice, including former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic mismanagement and declining oil prices.  Furthermore, despite relatively poor economic indicators, the International Monetary Fund predicts almost two percent GDP growth for Iran in 2014, primarily from non-oil exports, conservation of currency reserves, and growth in domestic manufacturing. All of these began before the harshest sanctions went into effect, and well before Iran reaped any benefits from the JPA.

Similarly, although Iranian businessmen acknowledge sanctions’ biting sting, they still remain connected to global commerce, albeit with increased transaction costs. Sanctions evasion, like water, will always find the path of least resistance. Moreover, sanctions have allowed Iran’s state-owned enterprises, which mostly benefit the Supreme Leader and connected members of the regime, to enjoy non-competitive domestic growth and indigenization. Strengthening sanctions at this point only serves to further concentrate economic power within Iran’s political elite and weaken U.S. leverage to negotiate a successful agreement.

U.S. sanctions against Iran weave punitive and preventive measures across an array of statutes, executive orders, and regulatory actions. Iran will likely demand the most severe of these sanctions-- those enacted since 2012 that target the financial, energy, shipping and insurance sectors-- be lifted first. It is unlikely, however, that President Obama will waive the most damaging sanctions without firm assurances that Iran is in compliance on its nuclear program. He will also likely keep in place those enacted to address terrorism and humanitarian issues. This, of course, leaves room for Iranian hardliners to capitalize on the narrative that sanctions are unrelated to the nuclear issue, and will persist even if the negotiations are successful.

More than thirty years of trade embargos and financial sanctions are failing to produce Iranian concessions on its nuclear program, and despite almost complete financial isolation, Iran continues to demonstrate a surprising level of resilience. Entertaining a narrative about further strengthening sanctions only emboldens Iranian hardliners, isolates global financial institutions, and damages the legitimacy of the nuclear negotiations.

Aaron Arnold is an Associate of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Image: State Department

TopicsDiplomacy RegionsMiddle East

The Operational Art of Air-Sea Battle

The Buzz

Air-Sea Battle is described as a limited objective concept by the Department of Defense.[1] Some critics have argued that Air-Sea Battle must be more than a limited objective concept, possibly a war plan or a strategy. Others have argued that it is less than a concept and is just a meaningless set of buzzwords. From a military planner’s perspective, Air-Sea Battle is a piece of art – operational art that describes the “broad actions the force must take to achieve the desired military end state.”[2]

Joint doctrine uses operational art to begin the military planning process by developing an “operational approach.” An operational approach is based on an understanding of the military environment and the problem facing the commander.[3] Air-Sea Battle describes an operational approach to address the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) problem and is “limited” in objective to the access required to conduct concurrent or follow-on actions, not decisive defeat of an adversary. If faced with an operational A2/AD challenge, a combatant commander may build on the operational approach described by Air-Sea Battle to design a war plan suited to the specific region and situation. This is an important distinction, especially for those who believe Air-Sea Battle is focused on a specific country. No matter what specific operational plan is used, Air-Sea Battle’s operational approaches can be applied if access and freedom of action in the global commons is at risk.

Why Air-Sea Battle is Important: The A2/AD Mission. Understanding strategic goals and the military missions that support them is an important first step in developing an operational approach.[4] The 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance assigned the ability to project power despite anti-access/area denial challenges as a distinct mission for the U.S. armed forces.[5] Countering A2/AD challenges is separate from and in addition to the traditional, conventional mission to deter and defeat aggression because of the complexity and paradigm-breaking challenge created by A2/AD capabilities. The Defense Strategic Guidance directs the implementation of the Joint Operational Access Concept as one of the ways to address A2/AD challenges. Joint Operational Access Concept begins to describe the A2/AD environment and then refers to the Air-Sea Battle Concept to address specific aspects of A2/AD.

The Air-Sea Battle Concept in turn applies military operational art to A2/AD: an understanding of the A2/AD operational environment, the specific problems posed by A2/AD, and an operational approach that envisions how a commander can mitigate the risks of the A2/AD environment and continue to operate in the global commons. The name “Air-Sea Battle” is derived from the air and maritime domains traditionally associated with the global commons and the new assumption that U.S. forces must fight to achieve and maintain access in those domains.[6] This simple etymology of the Air-Sea Battle Concept in Department of Defense writings clearly defines the intent of Air-Sea Battle and should not be confused with think tank and other commentator “sources.”

Envisioning the A2/AD Operating Environment. Air-Sea Battle was directed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to shake-up the institutional inertia generated by uncontested access.[7] The A2/AD operating environment will be one where U.S. forces will not only fight to get to the fight but also fight to sustain access and the ability to maneuver in all domains. A2/AD presents a layered, multi-domain, integrated system-of-systems that gives potential adversaries a new dimension of strategic depth. While U.S. forces have always expected to be contested in theater when they maneuver within the operating range of adversary organic capabilities, the ability to merely move and sustain forces from homeports and bases to and across distant theaters will now be contested as well.

In addition to the increased technological sophistication of military capabilities on land, at sea, and in the air, the nascent development of potentially hostile space and cyberspace capabilities expands the access challenge across all five warfighting domains. Friendly forces in the air, sea, land, space and cyberspace domains are now threatened not only physically but also through the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace. The expectation that command and control structures will be attacked through the disruption of friendly communications and decision-making architectures is probably the most-significant change from today’s warfighting paradigm. In short, our traditional understanding of the phases of conflict, the definition of battlespace, our access to and ability to maneuver within domains, and our expected operational tempo will all be challenged.

Maintaining freedom of action in the global commons requires overcoming the physical threats of long-range missiles, torpedoes, mines, and other threats as well as maintaining our ability to command, control, and communicate with the forces from the strategic to the tactical levels. Initial analysis led some to conclude that only through striking the land-based hosts of these threat capabilities would the U.S. be able to maintain access.[8] The Joint Operational Access Concept acknowledges the risks associated with that approach.[9] To provide national leadership and military commanders with an array of viable options, Air-Sea Battle promotes operational art, not prescriptive solutions and advocates the innovative use of existing technology and potential future developments as the means to maintain U.S. qualitative superiority in the global commons.

Defining the A2/AD Problem. The Air-Sea Battle Concept defines the A2/AD problem and desired end-state as “capabilities (that) challenge U.S. freedom of action by causing U.S. forces to operate with higher levels of risk and at greater distance from areas of interest. U.S. forces must maintain freedom of action by shaping the A2/AD environment to enable concurrent or follow-on operations.”[10] In short, the A2/AD environment consists of threats to movement, threats to maneuver, and threats to command and control.

For example, capabilities in space and cyberspace as well as terrorist tactics may threaten the movement of deploying forces, logistics forces and follow-on forces from home bases to theater. These threats will challenge our understanding of the phasing of conflict. In addition, increased area denial capabilities are directly and indirectly challenging the long-range air and missile capabilities of U.S. forces, specifically to negate U.S. stand-off capability and driving a change to our understanding of battlespace and operating areas by making our current frames of reference obsolete. Finally, adversaries are preparing to contest the domains of space and cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum in order to create a degraded or denied communications environment that directly challenges U.S. reliance on ”reach back” communications and theater level command and control. This will greatly impact our ability to dictate the tempo of battle. The effect of these A2/AD capabilities is summarized in the Concept: “(t)he range and scale of possible effects from these capabilities presents a military problem that threatens the U.S. and allied expeditionary warfare model of power projection and maneuver.”[11]

An Operational Approach to A2/AD. An operational approach is a “commander’s description of the broad actions the force must take to achieve the desired military end state.”[12] It is a “visualization of how the operation should transform current conditions into the desired conditions at end state.”[13] The Joint force uses operational approaches to provide the foundation for planning guidance, to provide a model for execution and assessment and to enable a better understanding of the operational environment and of the problem.[14] Air-Sea Battle provides an operational approach to A2/AD.

Air-Sea Battle’s operational approach to the A2/AD challenge in the global commons is a networked, integrated force capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces (NIA/D3).[15] As defined above, the A2/AD problem at its core is about sophisticated threats to movement, maneuver and command and control. Readers of the Concept document will find the broad framework of Air-Sea Battle as it addresses A2/AD threats. The individual parts of Air-Sea Battle are briefly summarized as follows, but the reader is cautioned to view them not as individual lines of effort but as strands woven together when a commander is designing a plan:

Networked. “Networked” describes not only the communications pathways but also the authorities and relationships needed to enable commanders faced with threats to their decision-making process. Cross-domain operations are conducted by integrating capabilities from multiple interdependent warfighting domains to support, shape, or achieve objectives in other domains. The Joint Operational Access Concept advocates for cross-domain synergy, which goes beyond the merely additive, de-conflicted capabilities of today where commander’s must “reach back” for space, cyber and long-range fires.[16] Cross-domain operations will go a step further to exploit asymmetric advantages in specific domains to create positive and potentially cascading effects in other domains, as commanded at the operational level.

Integrated. “Integrated” reflects three emerging trends that will challenge the current U.S. understanding of the opening phase of war with A2/AD adversaries. First, an adversary can initiate military activities with little or no indications or warning. Second, forward deployed friendly forces will likely be in the A2/AD environment at the commencement of hostilities and, third, adversaries will likely attack U.S. and allied territory supporting operations against adversary forces. In other words, the U.S. will no longer have the luxury to build up combat power in an area, perform detailed rehearsals and integration activities, and then conduct operations as desired.[17] To overcome this, forces must train against A2/AD capabilities together, as an integrated Joint and combined force, for cross-domain operations prior to deploying to theater. This pre-deployment Joint and combined training is called pre-integration.

Attack-in-depth. “Attack-in-depth” includes offensive and defensive fires and includes both kinetic and non-kinetic means to attack an adversary’s critical vulnerabilities without requiring systematic destruction of the enemy’s defenses. This is a significant departure from today’s rollback methodology that relies on uncontested communications and the ability to establish air superiority, or dominance in any other domain. The attack-in-depth methodology seeks to create and exploit corridors and windows of control that are temporal in nature and limited in geography. At the tactical level, Air-Sea Battle’s attack-in-depth methodology provides a unique lens to consider the A2/AD threat. Air-Sea Battle analyzes adversary effects chains, or an adversary’s process of finding, fixing, tracking, targeting, engaging and assessing an attack on U.S. forces. The insight from this analysis contributes to the operational approach of Air-Sea Battle.

Disrupt C4ISR. “Disrupting” adversary effects chains focuses on impacting an adversary’s decision-making ability, referred to as Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR). Ideally, friendly efforts to disrupt an adversary’s decision-making will preclude attacks on friendly forces. For example, commanders faced with threats to planned “movement” into theater should consider disruptive offensive operations to combat the adversary’s ability to track and locate forces in transit using all five domains.

Destroy and Defeat. The “Destroy and Defeat” operational tasks focus the commander on adversary A2/AD platforms and weapons systems that threaten forces in theater as they maneuver.[18] Destroying or neutralizing adversary weapons systems enhances friendly survivability and provides freedom of action. In terms of access, destroying adversary platforms regains access and defeating employed weapons sustains it.

The Air-Sea Battle Concept document, and not the blogosphere, should be read in detail for a deeper understanding of how the operational art of Air-Sea Battle addresses the A2/AD problem. As stated in the unclassified version of the concept, for those with appropriate clearances and need to know, there a growing body of work that explores subordinate tactical concepts and mission essential tasks that will be required for Air-Sea Battle to evolve from operational art, to operational design, to concepts of operations and operational plans.

Historical Analogy: War Plan Orange. Air-Sea Battle is not a strategy or a war plan; however, there is a particularly appropriate analogy to Air-Sea Battle in the development of War Plan Orange during the interwar years. There are striking similarities in the institutional changes driven by the changing operational environment as well as the specific time-distance-resistance military problem confronted by planners in the Pacific then and in the global commons today.

First, the era of uncontested power projection for U.S. forces may well be over – Air-Sea Battle assumes U.S. forces will have to fight to get to the fight – an assumption also made by the planners of War Plan Orange. Similar to the historical evolution of War Plan Orange, Air-Sea Battle’s development is driving institutional changes to better understand the challenges of potential future fights. Edward Miller’s book, War Plan Orange, explores what he called “the American way of planning” in detail and perhaps future historians will compare the “color” planning efforts of the pre-World War II era and the overall effort to explore the anti-access and area denial challenge through the Air-Sea Battle Concept, the Joint Operational Access Concept, and others.[19] War Plan Orange’s many iterations included the Through Ticket and the Royal Road, evolutions in the plans that accounted for better understanding and new insights between the Services. Air-Sea Battle represents a similar evolution in 21st century warfare.

Second, the defining military problem faced by Army and Navy planners working on War Plan Orange in the decades preceding World War II was largely one of geography, where access to the high seas and international airspace was defined by the air and maritime distance between bases and the Pacific islands. The same geographic considerations bound Air-Sea Battle in the global commons, but with the added complexity of access to non-sovereign cyberspace, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. Air-Sea Battle is in the vanguard of a likely long-term effort to address a similar problem of time, distance and resistance associated with A2/AD.

In conclusion, Air-Sea Battle describes an operational approach that, for military planners, helps make sense of the A2/AD operating environment, defines the military problem of A2/AD, and describes the characteristics needed in the future force and the broad actions U.S. and allied forces must take to achieve access in the global commons. For every complaint about Air-Sea Battle generated inside the Beltway, there are numerous requests for support from the Fleets and Forces in how to approach the growing challenge of advanced A2/AD capabilities. Further, the operational approach of Air-Sea Battle promotes mutual understanding and unity of effort not just forward in the Fleets and Forces but among the Services in their Title 10 force development roles. Air-Sea Battle’s operational framework is being used to find the solutions necessary for the U.S. military to continue to operate forward and project power wherever an A2/AD challenge emerges.[20]

CDR John Callaway, U.S. Navy, is a strategic planner assigned to the Air-Sea Battle Office. He is a graduate of Georgetown University, Harvard’s Kennedy School, and the National War College. The opinions expressed here are his own. This piece first appeared in July on the CIMSEC website here.

Image: US Navy Flickr. 

[1] Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges, May 2013, p.4

[2] Joint Pub 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, 11 August 2011, p.III-5

[3] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-6

[4] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-7

[5] Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, January 2012, pp.4-5

[6] The “Air-Sea Battle” name is attributed to various sources, including former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Andrew Marshall, Andrew Krepinevich’s “AirSea Battle” or to Admiral James Stavridis’ 1992 war college paper. While it does not take much imagination to jump from AirLand Battle to Air-Sea Battle, perhaps the credit really belongs with the Atari Corporation which launched a video game called Air-Sea Battle in 1977.

[7] Air-Sea Battle, p.1

[8] See reports authored by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments on this topic. These reports preceded and are often confused with the actual Department of Defense Air-Sea Battle Concept.

[9] Joint Operational Access Concept, Department of Defense, 17 Jan 2012, p.24 (footnote) and p.38

[10] Air-Sea Battle, p.3

[11] Air-Sea Battle, p.2

[12] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-5

[13] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-5-III-6

[14] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-13

[15] Air-Sea Battle, p.4

[16] Air-Sea Battle, p.5

[17] Air-Sea Battle, p.2

[18] Air-Sea Battle, pp.7-8

[19] Miller, Edward S., War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan 1897-1945, (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD: 1991.) As an interesting aside, and potentially a strategic message about the willingness of the United States to work with those formerly considered competitors and adversaries, planners from more than one country targeted by a “color plan” are included in the Air-Sea Battle implementation effort.

[20] Air-Sea Battle, p.13

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