The Buzz

Is America's Deadly B-1 Bomber Headed to Australia to Deter China?

The Buzz

Australia woke up to media news this morning that U.S. B-1 strategic bombers would be “coming to Australia to deter Beijing’s South China Sea ambitions.” This referred to a statement made by U.S. Defense Department Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security, David Shear, during a testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. As part of his answer as to what the government was doing in response to China’s assertive behavior in the South China Sea, Shear also stated that the US “will be placing additional Air Force assets in Australia as well,” including B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft. However, a statement by a spokesperson for Defense Minister Kevin Andrews said that the “U.S. Government has contacted us to advise that the official misspoke.’ Thus, the U.S. Embassy in Canberra is likely to correct Shear’s statement.

There is indeed no reason to doubt that Shear simply confused the B-1 bomber with the B-52 bombers which have already rotated (as opposed to being ‘based’ there) through Australian air bases in the North, as part of the US ‘strategic rebalance’ and the U.S.-Australia force posture initiatives agreed upon in 2011 to make U.S. forward military presence in Asia more flexible and sustainable. His full answer to the question merely lists U.S. force posture activities in the broader region that the U.S. has already announced or implemented. This includes for instance the rotational deployment of up to four Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) by 2018 through Singapore. It also would have been counterproductive for the U.S. government to make a unilateral announcement without first having cleared the deployment with the Australian side. Finally, it’s difficult to see what the rotational deployment of a strategic bomber would do to deter China’s current maritime activities in the South China Sea, particular its land reclamation projects in disputed areas.

For all these reasons, the big news is ‘much ado about nothing,’ triggered by Shear’s confusion between the two types of strategic bombers in the U.S. arsenal. The real news is that the issue over China’s behavior in the South China Sea is heating up. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is reportedly considering sending US warships and aircraft to operate within 12 miles or less of the new islands China is building in the South China Sea. Early this week, the PLA frigate Yancheng also closely trailed the USS Forth Worth (LCS) operating in the Spratly Islands. China’s uncompromising behavior to change the territorial status quo in the South China Sea increasingly puts pressure on its neighbors and other regional countries, including Australia, to formulate a response that practically demonstrates shared interests in unfettered access to the high seas.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

TopicsDefense RegionsAsia

India to Launch First Homegrown Aircraft Carrier

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India is set to launch its first indigenous aircraft carrier later this month, according to local media reports.

On Thursday The Hindu reported that India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, will be launched from Cochin Shipyard on May 28.

“All major equipment has gone into the vessel, which has now acquired the shape of an aircraft carrier, with a finished hull. Barring a bit of ongoing work on the superstructure, structural work is all over and the internal compartments have all been welded in,” an official at shipyard was quoted as saying.

The INS Vikrant will displace 40,000 tons and feature a short-take off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) system, rather than the catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch system used by current U.S. aircraft carriers. The ski-slope launch system will limit the INS Vikrant’s ability to launch heavy aircraft from its deck. However, the carrier will reportedly hold some 36 combat jets, which can launch at intervals between 2-3 minutes. The ship is expected to carry the Russian-made Mikoyan MiG 29 K fighter.

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India had previously launched the still uncompleted carrier back in 2013, after phase I of its construction was finished. The upcoming launch marks the completion of its structure. The carrier is set to undergo testing starting in 2017, and—if everything goes to plan—will be inducted into India’s navy sometime in 2018.

India currently operates two aircraft carriers, both of which are foreign built.

The first is the the INS Viraat, an ageing, 55-year-old former British carrier, which is set to be decommissioned next year. Besides the INS Viraat, India’s Navy also operates the the INS Vikramaditya, a refurbished carrier it purchased from Russia for $2.35 billion. The 44,400-ton INS Vikramaditya was commissioned in Russia in 2013, and formally inducted into the Indian Navy back in June of last year.

Also this week, a senior Indian defense council has approved a budget for the country to build its second indigenous aircraft carrier.

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According to local media reports, the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), which is chaired by India’s defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, approved a slew of deals this week, including allocating 30 crore (roughly $5 million) to build India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier. The reports said the funds will go to “commencement of preparatory work for construction of Indian Aircraft Carrier 2.”

Earlier this year, India had said it will fast track production of the 65,000-ton carrier, dubbed the INS Vishal, under its indigenous aircraft carrier-II (IAC-II) project. The project is being accelerated partly to deal with China’s rapidly growing carrier fleet, as well as because of the INS Viraat’s looming decommissioning.

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The INS Vishal may be nuclear powered and boast the more advanced catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch systems. The United States has recently expressed an interest in sharing carrier technology with India.

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

Image: Indian Navy

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Explained: Why China's Cyberwar Strategy is Extremely Dangerous

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There's an “Uber for X,” goes the little ditty, celebrating the ubiquitous infiltration of the online 'sharing economy.' It seems Uber's business model can be turned to virtually all our needs, and a global ecosystem of app buttons has popped up on our smartphones.

As in so many things, however, this ecosystem ends abruptly just north of Hong Kong's Lok Mau Chau border crossing. From there, an entirely different online realm offers a parallel menu of online businesses and brands that adapt – and often improve upon – sharing apps, with Chinese characteristics of course.

And now, proving real life can be sharper than parody, comes the story of Uber's own run-in with Guangzhou legal inspectors, who closed the service down and then promptly started their own officially-approved network. “The new taxi booking system, called Ru Yue, will be led by the local transport authority of Guangzhou – the very same government agency that sent its officials to raid the Guangzhou office of Uber.” There is, quite literally, a China for Uber.

Beijing wants to have its own independent internet ecosystem for reasons of national security and, well, because it can. Its economy is large enough, its population is dynamic and innovative, and its financial system is sufficiently insulated to create a vibrant, self-contained internet. Today China's best companies are reaching across its borders for growth, but for now the most distinctive feature of the Chinese web is its separateness.

One American defense analyst, John Costello, has suggested explictly that Chinese domestic commerce could largely survive in an “autarkic” condition. That worries such people, who believe this isolation might tempt China to act aggressively in cyberspace, with little to fear in a worst-case scenario.
What would such a scenario look like?

It has long been supposed that Chinese authorities have a kill-switch to seal off their internet, indeed they have done exactly this inside restive provinces to suppress information flows. Knowing that cyber-war is “offense dominant,” China could theoretically launch a huge, crippling cyber-attack while pulling up its electronic drawbridge. Objectively speaking, most advanced nation states could do this, at least to some extent. Chinese hawks may well worry about the U.S. pulling the same stunt.
That mutual vulnerability is what's so scary.

More worrying still, Costello notes China's obsession with America's space-based communications network. Space is the real electromagnetic drawbridge. Satellites allow surveillance, sensing and targeting – and ultimately support the remaining internet (physical communications links can be severed easily). Because the U.S. is still dominant in space and so dependent on it, some Chinese analysts boldly talk about bringing American combat capabilities “back to the stone age,” at least for long enough to achieve China's strategic objectives. They think America is a “no satellites, no fight” military.

This is questionable. So is the assumption that the U.S. would passively watch its satellites be preemptively obliterated by another nation, and so is the notion that a first-strike attacker would long enjoy useful orbits clear of debris. If there's a Stone Age, we're all in it together.

Last week's report to Congress on Chinese military capabilities betrays the Pentagon's alarm as Beijing systematically builds anti-space systems. What looks to the Chinese like precautionary capabilities appear threatening in Washington. The security dilemma in space, Costello reminds us, ultimately threatens the ongoing viability of the entire internet ecosystem. If one superpower tears out the eyes of the other and retreats to its highly-degraded terrestrial-only intranet, one has to wonder if its drawbridge could ever be safely lowered again. It would effectively be the end of globalization.

There is a brighter side, fortunately. Most Chinese elites, and hopefully also its young people, understand that such a world – without trade and travel – would be a small one. Those who can remember the 1970s, while perhaps nostalgic for their shattered utopia, hardly yearn for those claustrophobic times. Financial isolation stings too, which is why Russia reacts so harshly to the possibility of being disconnected from the global payments system. The positive forces for greater global integration are strongly beneficial, and even more so for China. So as its officials busily build up the Great Firewall, raid the offices of multinationals, and launch missiles into high orbit, we should hope they consider how well the interconnected Uber world works for us all.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

TopicsDefense RegionsAsia

China's Dangerous $5 Trillion Dollar Bet: A South China Sea ADIZ?

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This week the annual report to the U.S. Congress on China's Military Power was released. It noted Beijing's use of “low-intensity coercion” across the South China Sea and East China Sea. Its assessment stated that:

“China often uses a progression of small, incremental steps to increase its effective control over disputed territories and avoid escalation to military conflict.”

Recently those “incremental steps” have been getting bigger. Southeast Asian states have reacted in turn. 

Beijing's well-reported land reclamation at seven sites in the South China Sea has quickened in pace. According to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, China has “intensified the militarization" of these islands and reefs. This has included the construction of a military-sized airstrip and at least one other non-military airstrip.

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Reports last week that China is already 'practicing' an informal Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over waters disputed with the Philippines have raised the stakes. That report, by a Filipino Vice Admiral to a Senate hearing, noted that China had warned Philippine air force and navy aircraft from flying over disputed waters on at least six occasions.

The formal declaration of a South China Sea ADIZ would be a game changer.

The 2013 East China Sea ADIZ has, according to some analysts, effectively given China "co-administration" over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Yet the East China Sea ADIZ isn't over a strategically crucial sea line of communication through which US$5 trillion of trade passes every year. In response, an unnamed Pentagon official said this week that the US was considering sending forces to secure freedom of navigation through the South China Sea. Such a move wouldn't be unprecedented; the US sent B-52s through the East China Sea ADIZ in 2013

China has previously deployed its navy to secure disputed territory in the South China Sea, including in 1974 in the western Paracels and the 1988 clashes around Johnson South Reef. Its seizure of Mischief Reef has led to development since 1995.

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But the recent assertiveness, including the ramming of Philippine ships around Scarborough Shoal, have enabled de facto control. An International Crisis Group report released this month suggests that the new forceful approach is largely down to Xi Jinping's 'Go big and go fast' foreign-policy style. Interestingly, the report noted dissenting voices among analysts in China who worry about the impact this approach will have on relations with the emerging economic bloc of ASEAN. One analyst said that “If China wants to have little brothers following it, its foreign policy needs to be consistent and predictable.” That consistency has gone missing since Xi Jinping's bullish and forceful approach has gained strength.  

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Southeast Asian states have struggled to respond to China's actions in the South China Sea. Concern grew rapidly after the East China Sea ADIZ, and was felt closer to home last May when Beijing moved the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig, owned by CNOOC a state-run oil company, into Vietnamese EEZ. 

Since then tensions have run high, and Southeast Asian states have boosted military spending in response to China's growing assertiveness.

Data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute showed steady growth between 2010 and 2014 (see Zach Abuza's graphics and summary here), with an average net increase of 37.6%. Total military expenditure among Southeast Asian states in 2014 stood at US$38.2 billion.  That spending has included a significant advancement of Vietnam's capabilities, most notably through the delivery of three  (out of six ordered) Kilo-class submarines armed with land-attack missiles under a US$2 billion deal signed with Russia in 2009. 

The Philippines, meanwhile, is implementing a US$1.82 billion military modernization program, expecting to take delivery in 2017 of two new frigates, two anti-submarine warfare helicopters, three fast coastal patrol vessels and eight amphibious assault vehicles. Overly reliant on the U.S. alliance, Manila's defense capabilities are a long way behind others in the region, and dwarfed by China. 

The need for military modernization has been exacerbated by repeated failure at the ASEAN level, which has seen only watered down communiqués muttering tepid protests. Last month's ASEAN Summit mustered the strongest statement yet, offering that ASEAN was concerned that actions in the South China Sea could 'undermine peace, security and stability'. ASEAN stopped short of naming China. 

At a bilateral level, defense cooperation has deepened. This month saw the first joint naval exercise between Japan and the Philippines. Other regional naval exercises have been stepped up, as has cooperation (both military and economic) between Southeast Asian states and India. This month, the U.S. approved a potential sale of missiles to Indonesia and Malaysia. Others are calling for a "maritime coalition of the willing"

The Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert del Rosario, stated this week at a CSIS event that the outcome of the competition in the South China Sea will determine the international order. The gravity of that competition is not lost on Beijing. Nor should it be lost on the U.S. or other countries in the wider Indo-Pacific. 

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Creative Commons License. 

TopicsDefense RegionsAsia

U.S. Navy 'Fires' Back: A New Strategy to Take on Deadly Challenges

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Naval strategy is in the news: Cooperative Strategy 21 (CS-21R) was released in April; the surface warfare community is discussing its supporting strategy,  ‘Distributed Lethality;’ the Secretary of the Navy released his Navy’s Innovation Vision and the HASC  Subcommittee on Seapower and Force Projection has been active with hearings and testimony from strategists.

It is clear the U.S. Navy has identified serious threats to its post-Cold War operating concepts and is altering its strategies and capabilities to adjust to adaptable future adversaries. This adjustment might be summarized in three imperatives: (1) spread out and increase the adversary’s risk, (2) embrace scalability, and (3) clarify difficult tradeoffs with strategic intent.

Spread Out and Increase the Adversary’s Risk. One of the key additions within CS-21R is the concern of anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) strategies, pursued by China, Iran, and North Korea, and others. In response, CS-21R adds an additional essential naval function, “all domain access.”

When the Cold War ended the U.S. military possessed undisputed dominance as the sole superpower. Without a peer competitor, the U.S. Navy increasingly concentrated its offensive strike capability in the aircraft carrier and built a battlegroup of destroyers, cruisers, and submarines into a ring of steel to defend the carrier.   This concentration of naval power defied a century’s long trend of the ever-thinning battlefield.  From the Napoleonic Wars through World War I, the battlefield was packed shoulder to shoulder; battles at sea were relatively compact as well. As weapons range, accuracy, and lethality continued to increase, the battlefield became more distributed with less platforms and people across a larger and larger area.

The current relatively tightly packed carrier battle group offers a single, paramount target—the aircraft carrier— to a massive barrage of large, accurate long-distance weapons. Conversely, distributed lethality responds to the A2/AD threat by spreading the U.S. navy’s offensive strike capability to a broad array of ships across a larger area of the ocean. The objective is to create a more lethal, mobile, and innovatively employed surface force that is less predictable and more disaggregated. This makes it more difficult for the enemy by increasing the enemy ISR challenge and dispersing enemy weapons focus—they have to look harder and longer and have to engage more targets.

On the innovation front, the U.S. Navy is successfully testing ship-to-ship missiles with dramatically increased range and is discussing how to put offensive capability on every class of ship, including amphibious and support ships.  This would make it exponentially more difficult for the enemy to target the U.S. Navy’s offensive strike capability—if and when it is no longer primarily concentrated on the aircraft carrier.  Attack submarines and yet-to-be developed autonomous undersea weapons systems also put the enemy at greater risk and disperse the navy’s offensive capability. When fielded, the laser weapons system and the electromagnetic rail gun will further increase the U.S. Navy’s weapons capability.

Embrace Scalability. Scalability includes the capacity to engage across the spectrum of conflict in an operationally appropriate and fiscally responsible manner. In the mid-1970s then-Chie fof Naval Operations  (CNO) Admiral Elmo Zumwalt pursued a high-low mix of capability. It was clear a fleet of only expensive, high-end ships would unreasonably limit the size of the fleet. Numbers matter, as evidenced by the U.S. Navy’s current dwindling fleet (down from nearly 600 ships to 289) and the growing challenge to be in the right place at the right time.  However, a large, low-end navy would be unable to conduct high-end missions against peer competitors.

What is painfully apparent today is that high-end weapons and platforms are prohibitively costly when used for lower-end conflicts.  The cost per smart bomb or missile, the hourly operating cost of advanced ships and planes, and the maintenance cost of these exquisite war machines have made fighting low-tech adversaries exceedingly costly.

As an example, the seven-month bombing campaign supporting the intervention in Libya in 2011 cost an estimated $1 billion dollars. Eleven ships of the line, including two destroyers (DDG), two attack submarines (SSN), and one ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) bombarded advanced weapons on Libya’s limited military capability at great expense. There was not, and still is not, a viable low-end capability to provide an alternative.  While it might be true that the F-35 can provide satisfactory air support to ground troops, it is also true that the A-10,Super Tucano, or the Scorpion and the smaller, cheaper weapons deployed from them can do the mission at a fraction of the total cost.

Current CNO Admiral Jon Greenert is pursuing a high-low mix of capability with the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP), the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), the Afloat Staging Base (AFSB – USS Ponce), and the Littoral Combat Ship/Fast Frigate (LCS/FF). These lower-end platforms match the missions, size, and capabilities of our regional naval partners, central to Cooperative Strategy 21 (CS-21R). They can provide support to USMC and Special Operations Forces without dedicating limited amphibious assault ships, relieving high-end capital ships from being committed to smaller scale contingencies.  This not only reduces the cost of small wars but also allows these expensive platforms to focus on near-peer competitors and regional deterrence.   On the innovation front, these low-end platforms can act as mother ships to yet-to-be developed unattended surface and subsurface platforms that could significantly expand the distributed lethality concept.

An example of affordable scalability is the America class-Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) seaframe when outfitted with the F-35 strike aircraft. While the newest LHA and the F-35 are not cheap, they will offer an impressive offensive strike capability at a significantly lower cost than supercarriers. The America-class “mini-carrier” is not a replacement for the supercarrier but, it would relieve a large carrier from lower-end contingencies and expand distributed lethality.   

This high-low mix also contributes to tailored response to hybrid warfare, a combination of regular and irregular coercive tools used in an incremental approach to remain below a threshold of intervention from the U.S. or our allies.  Russia is pursuing hybrid warfare in the Ukraine while China is applying hybrid warfare in the South China Sea.  This incremental approach achieves two objectives: (1) it creates uncertainty so that responses are slow, delayed, and hesitant and (2) it puts the opponent of a hybrid warfare adversary in a difficult position—those who seek to resist a gradualist approach can appear to establish unjustified red-lines and can be accused of over-reaction and dangerous escalation.

A high-low mix would allow the U.S. to respond across the spectrum of conflict while avoiding this perception of over-reaction or putting high-end platforms at risk to Russian or Chinese rapid escalation strategies designed to deter intervention, an integral part of their hybrid strategy. Just as in Admiral Zumwalt’s design, low-end platforms would engage in peacetime, low-end contingency, and ambiguous situations, while high-end platforms would be available to deter or fight and defeat a peer adversary.

On the innovation front, the modular, mission package concept developed for the Littoral Combat Ship can be applied across the spectrum of low-end platforms.  There are sixty non-combatant support and logistics ships including Mobile Landing Platform (ML), Joint High-Speed Vessel (JHSV), Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), and twenty-six Military Sealift Command preposition ships. The modular mission package concept can be expanded and adapted to a broader range of ships and missions, including Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR), medical assistance, ISR, electronic warfare, surface security (counter-piracy), mine warfare, and partner training and support.

Clarify Difficult Tradeoffs with Strategic Intent.  Difficult and risk-laden trade-offs are required. Naval strategy—CS-21R, Distributed Lethality, Navy’s Innovation Vision, and a net assessment of threats and opportunities—should guide these decisions.  Some tasks need more specialization and focus, administrative overhead needs to be prudently reduced, and some missions need to be curtailed or shared by others to focus on strategic payoffs.  All of this entails risk; clarifying the risks and gains of these trade-offs is critical.

Without a major adversarial threat at sea, the post-Cold War navy has accumulated new and varied tasks, roles, and functions.  These additions, while justified individually, have cumulatively reduced focus on core functions and diluted critical expertise.  For example, the U.S. Navy conducts visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) operations with ships’ crew members.  This is a necessary mission, but the assignment of this function should be reviewed.

The current method requires the ship’s crew to receive minimal but time-consuming training in small arms and small unit tactics to the detriment to their core responsibility (e.g. proficiently operating sonar equipment to find enemy submarines). Assigning this mission to an attached element from the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) or the U.S. Marine Corps would provide a much improved, professional, and tailored capability for VBSS while allowing ship’s crew to focus on the warfighting skills of their primary job.

As another example, the surface fleet has aggressively worked to reduce administrative overhead that has accumulated over decades. With each negative event within a staffing process, layers of oversight and additional checks and balances have been implemented. Again, individually this made sense, but cumulatively it added significant time and manpower to routine tasks, slowing productivity and consuming energy and opportunity costs. The surface fleet—implementing the CNO’s guidance to focus on warfighting— has eliminated or streamlined 149 processes or administrative requirements to provide increased time to training in warfighting skills.

Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) is another area where adjusting roles and functions would allow the U.S. Navy to focus more aggressively on all-domain access.  In 2005, no Navy ships were assigned a BMD mission. Because of the noteworthy capabilities of the Aegis destroyers and cruisers, today, eighteen ships support BMD. Moving a significantly larger portion of this mission to shore based locations (Aegis Ashore) would dramatically reduce the cost of BMD; Aegis Ashore costs $750 million per capability while an Aegis Destroyer costs $1.6 to $1.9 billion. This would also allow destroyers and cruisers to focus on offensive all-domain access rather than geographically restrictive defensive missions.  This contributes to distributed lethality and increases the conventional deterrence for those who are pursuing A2/AD strategies against the United States.

The U.S. Navy is on the right course, but many adjustments are required to deter and defeat adaptable future enemies, including non-state violent extremists, rouge nations, and peer-competitors.  However, the U.S. Navy’s innovation efforts, its pursuit of a balanced high-low mix of capabilities, and its focus on warfighting are operationalizing the new strategy. The strategy is not fluff: actions and spending are linked to the words.

This piece first appeared on CFR's blog Defense in Depth here


Face Off: China's Navy Stalks U.S. Ship in South China Sea

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On Monday, a U.S. and Chinese naval ships squared off in the South China Sea.

According to numerous news articles, and seemingly confirmed by the U.S. Navy, the Yancheng, a PLA Navy Type 054A guided-missile frigate closely tracked the USS Fort Worth, a U.S. Navy Freedom-class littoral combat ship, as the latter patrolled the South China Sea near disputed Spratly Islands.

A photo released by the U.S. Navy showed the USS Fort Worth patrolling the area with the Yancheng trailing it in the distance. Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, the commander of America’s 7th Fleet— whose area of operations includes the South China Sea— sought to downplay the significance of the event. “It’s routine for U.S. 7th fleet ships to operate in the South China Sea and also routine for [Chinese] PLAN ships to operate at visual range of us,” Thomas said, Stars and Stripes reported. “Not a day goes by that the U.S. 7th Fleet and the PLAN are not talking to each other.”

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Still, the incident occurred right as the U.S. military is considering sending more ships and planes to patrol areas in the South China Sea that China considers its sovereign territory. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has directed his staff “to look at options that include flying Navy surveillance aircraft over the islands and sending U.S. naval ships to within 12 nautical miles of reefs that have been built up and claimed by the Chinese in an area known as the Spratly Islands.”

The move comes as China’s reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands has expanded reefs from 500 acres last year to as many as 2,000 acres currently. Satellite images has also revealed that China is building airstrips capable of handling fighter jets on some of these artificial islands.

The United States has refused to recognize China’s claims of sovereignty within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands. The UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) gives countries sovereignty over waters within 12 nautical miles from their coast lines. However, it doesn’t afford such rights to artificially created islands.

Still, U.S. military officials speaking with the Wall Street Journal and Reuters had said that the United States has thus far stopped short of breaching the 12 NM perimeter around the fake islands China administers in the Spratly Islands.

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“U.S. planes have flown close to the islands where the building has been taking place, prompting Chinese military officers to radio the approaching U.S. aircraft to notify the pilots that they are nearing Chinese sovereign territory. In response, U.S. pilots have told the Chinese that they are flying through international airspace,” the Wall Street Journal report said.

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It was unclear if the USS Fort Worth had patrolled within 12 NM of any of the artificial islands that China administers in the region. However, some reports said that during the incident the USS Fort Worth radioed the Chinese naval ship to remind it that it was in international waters. The PLAN guided-missile frigate reportedly did not respond to the U.S. Naval vessel.

The report of the new U.S. military proposal earned a sharp rebuke from Chinese officials. “We are severely concerned about relevant remarks made by the American side. We believe the American side needs to make clarification on that,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying just hours after the Wall Street Journal report was first published.

The spokesperson added: “We always uphold the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. But the freedom of navigation definitely does not mean the military vessel or aircraft of a foreign country can willfully enter the territorial waters or airspace of another country. The Chinese side firmly upholds national sovereignty and security.”

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

Image: Flickr/U.S. Pacific Fleet

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Drilling for Oil in the Arctic: An Environmental and Climate Nightmare?

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On Monday, the Obama administration gave Shell conditional permission to move forward with Arctic oil drilling. The New York Times captures a common sentiment well in identifying this as a “tricky intersection of Obama’s energy and climate legacies”. The reality, though, is that this intersection isn’t nearly a fraught as many assume: decisions about offshore drilling in Alaska are indeed difficult, given the local economic and environmental stakes involved, but climate isn’t a central factor.

I’m ambivalent when it comes to federal decisions on offshore Arctic drilling. The Arctic is a special place. I saw that first hand when I visited with the Coast Guard in 2008 – a trip on which I also learned how challenging oil spill response there can be. (I also learned that a buoy tender isn’t the ideal place to spend your first night ever at sea.) Opposing offshore Arctic oil development is a reasonable position. At the same time, with the right precautions, spill risks can be substantially reduced, though inevitably not eliminated. And there’s a federalism issue (perhaps not in the legal sense but in a more basic one): it’s easy to be strident in taking positions from Washington, DC, but this is a much more intimate economic and environmental issue for Alaskans – so presumably their preferences should have some special say.

Navigating these tradeoffs is difficult. But throwing climate change into the mix as a central consideration lacks empirical foundation. (Perhaps that’s why that Times article doesn’t follow through on its headline’s promise.) Yes, at a global level, more oil production means more oil consumption, and hence greater carbon dioxide emissions and worse climate change. But more oil production in one place generally means less oil production elsewhere – that’s how markets and prices work – which substantially blunts the effect. Bill McKibbendrills home the conventional wisdom in a Times op-ed, blaming Obama for “climate denial” by claiming that “you can’t deal with climate on the demand side alone”, backing that up by citing a study that was unable to identify any “climate-friendly scenario in which any oil or gas could be drilled in the Arctic”. True! Also true: that claim was based on looking at a whoppingtwo scenarios. (From the original: “none [of the oil or gas] is produced in any [Arctic] region in either of the 2C scenarios before 2050”.) And, most important, the study never asked what would happen to emissions if the Arctic oil were put off limits. Had it done so, it would have found more oil production elsewhere, and minimal net emissions impact. What the study really found – and what is entirely reasonable – is that if the world gets serious about reducing emissions, oil prices will fall, and companies won’t want to develop most Arctic oil anyhow. That points to demand-side policy, denigrated by many who are painting the Alaska decision as climate apostasy, as critical.

There is one theoretical exception. The United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, and a bunch of other oil producers could team up to jointly restrict oil production. That prospect, of course, makes U.S.-China-India-Europe cooperation to reduce emissions through demand-side policy look like a cakewalk by comparison.

Navigating the local economic and environmental tradeoffs involved in Arctic oil development is difficult enough without turning every decision into a climate litmus test. And getting serious on climate change is plenty tough without pretending that playing fossil fuel whack-a-mole whenever possible will be effective in reducing emissions. We’ll have better policy, and better outcomes, if we don’t make every difficult energy and environment decision about climate change too.

This piece first appeared on CFR’s website here

Image: Creative Commons 3.0

TopicsEnergy Regionsarctic

Watch Out, America: China Launches New Submarine 'Killer'

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China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy commissioned its latest anti-submarine ship, according to local media outlets.

As IHS Jane’s and others reported, citing Chinese state-media outlets, the PLAN officially commissioned its latest Type 056 Jiangdao-class corvette last week. The Huangshi was inducted into service by the PLAN Northern Fleet, the reports said.

Type 056 vessels are 60 meters long and displace 1,500 tons. They “carry one 76 mm main gun, two triple-tube torpedo launchers, and four containerised YJ-83 anti-ship missiles,” IHS Jane’s reported. The report went on to note that the Huangshi’s flight deck enables it to operate a Z-9C helicopter, although the vessel lacks a hanger and therefore its ability to operate helicopters is limited.

Although the Huangshi is the twentieth Type 056 Jiangdao-class corvette that China has commissioned, it is just the fourth of the class to be fitted with towed array and variable depth sonars. This makes it likely that the ship’s primary purpose will be to conduct anti-submarine warfare (ASW).

As IHS Jane’s previously reported of the Type 056 corvettes, “The addition of a VDS will significantly enhance their potential detection capability, specifically when compared to the smaller, rudimentary equipped submarine chasers they are replacing, such as the Type 037 (Hainan) class.”

The launching of the new ships is indicative of China’s growing concern about its paucity of anti-submarine warfare capabilities, particularly further away from its coast. As The National Interest has repeatedly noted, many of the countries locked in maritime disputes with China see submarines as a crucial asymmetric capability they can use to beat back their larger neighbor’s military challenge. Consequentially, there is something of a submarine arms race currently engulfing Asia, with countries as diverse as Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, India, Australia and even Taiwan all seeking to beef up their undersea capabilities.

This is not limited to small Southeast Asian nations or larger regional countries like Japan and India, however. Even many in the United States believe submarines will be essential if Washington is to contend with China’s growing military might. As Dave Majumdar previously argued on The National Interest: “A new class of nuclear-powered guided missile submarines could be the key to maintaining America’s future naval supremacy as new weapons increasingly challenge the dominance of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers.”

In general, the Type 056 corvettes are expected to be increasingly important to China’s navy in the coming years. As Sputnik News, a Russian-state media outlet, has noted, the “Type 056 Corvette was designed in 2012 to replace the older Jianghu class frigates and type 037 model. The Corvette was the first Chinese modular warship that can be deployed as an offshore patrol vessel or multi-role frigate. Designed and built by China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC), Type 056 Corvettes are set to become the backbone of the PLAN, with a class of more than 30 anticipated.”

China’s first Type 056 Corvette entered service in 2012. China has also exported variants of the ship to a number of other countries, including Thailand, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

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

Image: Wikimedia/樱井千一

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Is 'Shock and Awe' Military Strategy Dead?

The Buzz

I was recently asked to give a lecture at ANU about the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). For those born after 1990—of which I encounter a distressingly large number in my professional life these days—RMA was the buzz-phrase du jour for military types entranced by the clinical performance of American forces and technology of the Gulf War in 1991. Predating the popularization of ‘shock and awe‘ by over a decade, the application of advanced sensors, stealth and precision weapons including cruise missiles seemingly heralded a new wave of warfare in which strategic aims could be easily achieved through technology, and with remarkably few losses. (On the winning side at least—the other guys didn’t fare so well.)

So striking was the coalition victory at the time, that embarrassing failures like the ‘great Scud hunt‘ barely registered. And since there was no full-scale invasion of Iraq, the profound difficulties of counterinsurgency, even for RMA-enabled forces, didn’t spoil the celebration. It was difficult for the few hardy souls swimming against the tide to get a hearing. Israeli scholar Martin van Creveld managed to publish a major book arguing that high-tech state on state war was so yesterday about the same time that Iraq was running up the white flag in 1991:

We are entering an era … of warfare between ethnic and religious groups. Even as familiar forms of armed conflict are sinking into the dustbin of the past, radically new ones are raising their heads … Already today the military power fielded by the principal developed societies in both “West” and “East” is … more illusion than substance.

Van Creveld’s timing might have been poor, but his message was eerily prescient viewed from 2015. His prediction of the coming of low-tech adversaries who aren’t state-based, but instead spring from tribal and religious groups was spot on. I well recall him speaking to a packed audience of Australian Defense Force (ADF) capability developers back in the mid-1990s. They were falling over themselves to sign up for the RMA, especially Air Force—always the first in line for new technology. As a budding professional contrarian, I was learning at the feet of the master when he flicked through a few ‘ooh-ah’ slides of precision guided weapons and other sophisticated weaponry before dismissing it contemptuously as ‘high-tech junk’.

As we now know, the past 20 years has been as much van Creveld as RMA. ‘High tech junk’ carried the first phase of the second war against Iraq, but it proved remarkably ineffective in the later insurgency phases, which are arguably still running today. In fact, you don’t hear RMA mentioned much anymore. Partly that’s because fashions change and new buzzwords take over—anyone for network centric warfare?—but partly because it never was what it seemed at the time.

The largely futile hunt for Scuds in the deserts of Iraq in 1991 actually better represented the long-term trends in warfare than did the hideous tactical error of Iraqi forces in concentrating their forces and digging into well-defined positions. That just made them a perfect showcase for the effectiveness of superior ISR in finding them and precision firepower in destroying them. As I’ve written in the past, the trend in warfare over centuries has been towards an ever more rapid deployment of ever more accurate and lethal weaponry. The RMA was simply ‘more of the same’ in those trends. The result has been an ever-greater dispersion of forces in order to limit exposure to the new technologies, resulting in lower daily casualty rates.

When operating against technically sophisticated adversaries, irregular forces take that advice to heart, melting away into the jungle, mountains or the civilian population. Ambushes and raids by small groups who choose the time and place of engagements are the order of the day. Even groups such as ISIL who aim to seize and hold territory can minimize their exposure to coalition air strikes by staying close to civilian centers. They’ve also modified their combat tactics to be less obvious targets when maneuvering in battle.

The response to these tactics can’t be even more investment in ‘silver bullet’ platforms, doubling down on ‘high-tech junk’. The answer to a foe that’s highly dispersed and adaptable isn’t ‘shock and awe’, it’s ‘here and now’—the ability to be there to act decisively when they fleetingly show themselves. If you look at the platforms that have been most effective in the Afghanistan and Iraq–Syria theatres, you’d conclude that the persistence and ability to hit a target with adequate (rather than awesome) force that a Reaper drone brings with it is preferable to the greater firepower but ephemeral presence of a $100 million fast jet. Both use the ISR and precision weapons of RMA, but one does it far more efficiently.

Of course, that’s only one facet of modern warfare. The danger of state-on-state confrontation hasn’t gone away, and there are different challenges to face in that realm. But for reasons I’ll explain in my next post, some of the answers might have more in common with the prosecution of irregular warfare than you’d first think.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here


Get Ready: China Eyes Strategic African Naval Base

The Buzz

China may build a permanent naval base in a strategic African port.

On Sunday, Ismail Omar Guelleh, the president of Djibouti, told AFP that “discussions are ongoing” over Chinai building a military base in his country, adding that Beijing’s presence would be “welcome.” The country also hosts American, French and Japanese military installations.

“France's presence is old, and the Americans found that the position of Djibouti could help in the fight against terrorism in the region," Guelleh said during the interview.

“The Japanese want to protect themselves from piracy — and now the Chinese also want to protect their interests, and they are welcome," he added. The report went on to say that China would likely establish the base at Obock, Djibouti's northern port city.

When asked about the report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying refused to deny its veracity, and in fact stopped just short of confirming it.

“We have noted the relevant report,” Hua said, before adding:

China and Djibouti enjoy traditional friendship. Friendly cooperation between the two sides has achieved constant growth over recent years, with practical cooperation carried out in various fields. What needs to be pointed out is that regional peace and stability serves the interests of all countries and meets the aspirations shared by China, Djibouti and other countries around the world. The Chinese side is ready and obliged to make more contributions to that end (emphasis added).

China has long participated in an international anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden, near where Djibouti is located. As Hayes Brown notes over at Buzzfeed, some in China have previously raised the possibility of Beijing establishing naval bases on the African contentintent. About five years ago, one top Chinese admiral was quoted as saying that ““I think a permanent, stable base would be good for our [anti-piracy] operations.” However, China’s Defense Ministry quickly shot down the idea, stating that: “Some countries have set up overseas supply bases (but) the Chinese fleet is currently supplied at sea and through regular docking (in the Gulf of Aden region).”

Djibouti already hosts Camp Lemonnier, which serves as the primary base of operations for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in the horn of Africa. The base is used primarily to conduct counterterrorism operations in the region, including launching unmanned drone attacks.

Japan opened its own base in Djibouti back in 2011 to bolster its ability to conduct anti-piracy operations in the region. Before then, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) had been using Camp Lemonnier as its base of operations. Earlier this year, Japan’s Defense Ministry announced that it would be expanding the operations it conducts from its lone foreign operational base.

The negotiations over establishing a naval base in Djibouti underscores China’s desire to bolster its presence in Africa. Back in 2014, China and Djibouti inked an agreement that gives the Chinese military access to Djibouti port. China is also heavily invested in infrastructure projects in Djibouti’s landlocked neighbor, Ethiopia.

As I’ve previously argued, China is better positioned to prevail over the United States in their ongoing competition for influence in the region.

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

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ben A. Gonzales​

TopicsSecurity RegionsAfrica