China's Military Power Is Growing: What Should America Do about It?
TNI's Managing Editor, Harry J. Kazianis, speaks with national-security expert Robert Haddick about his new book Fire on the Water: China, America and the Future of the Pacific.
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Mr. Haddick's latest TNI article, "The Real U.S.-China War Asia Should Worry About: The 'Range War.'" The full article can be read here.
The United States and China have found themselves engaged in a “range war” in the western Pacific, a competition over the distances their missiles and aircraft can attack targets. The fielding of new technology by one side is resulting in responses by the other, with the dimensions of the potentially contested space in the Asia-Pacific region growing with each move in this competition. Although the subject of weapons performance and missile tactics may seem tediously arcane, these details will substantially influence the policy options available to both sides during a hypothetical crisis. And the limits of those options may in turn influence the grand strategies of players across the region.
Sixty years ago, Washington’s concern about China’s ability to project firepower was limited to Quemoy and Matsu, two small island groups near the mainland garrisoned by Nationalist forces that occasionally fell under artillery bombardment from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Assistance from the United States, combined with the decrepit state of the PLA’s air and naval power, meant that Nationalist Taiwan was secure, a status that would endure for decades.
We now know that the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis in March 1996 (during which the United States deployed two aircraft-carrier strike groups to the region) and the stunning tactical performance displayed by U.S. forces in the 1991 Persian Gulf War persuaded China’s leaders to embark on a dramatic reform of China’s military power, centered on the development of “counterintervention” naval, air and missiles capabilities. The goal of this program, still ongoing after nearly two decades of effort, is to create a deep PLA-dominated security zone in the western Pacific that will be too hazardous for adversary forces to operate in during a future potential crisis. In 2007, just eleven year after the 1996 crisis, a study from RAND produced for the U.S. Air Force concluded that the U.S. military could lose to the PLA and its “counterintervention” forces should another such crisis occur.
China’s Latest Moves in the “Range War”
Are U.S. forces in the Pacific really “out-sticked” by Chinese missiles and aircraft with greater range? China’s ship- and submarine-launched antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs), such as the YJ-83 (range of 160 kilometers), the SS-N-22 Sunburn (up to 250 km) and the SS-N-27 Sizzler (300 km) outrange the U.S. Navy’s legacy Harpoon ASCM (124 km). In a surface naval battle, U.S. ships might have to endure a volley of Chinese missiles before surviving U.S. ships could sail within range to respond.