Here Is How America Can Increase the Pressure on China

October 13, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: ChinaAmericaPLAPLA NavyPLAAFIsland BuildingContainment

Here Is How America Can Increase the Pressure on China

A new maritime pressure strategy.

Figure 2: Overlapping Coverage of Ground-Based Sea-Denial Systems1 (CSBA graphic)

Air denial: Given the long operating distances from airbases primarily located in the Second Island Chain and beyond, U.S. and coalition forces would not be able to continuously contest air superiority in the conflict area. An improved land-based integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) architecture positioned along the archipelagoes of the First Island Chain could help pick up the slack. It would consist of a layered defense of mobile, long-range, wide-area, and short-range point air defense systems employing a mix of missiles, guns, and directed energy capabilities such as lasers and high-power microwaves. Additionally, ISR platforms and fighters partially sheltered behind land-based integrated air defense systems on the First Island Chain could enhance battlespace awareness and plug limited gaps in the air defense perimeter. Penetrating manned and unmanned fighters could also conduct periodic sweeps to contest Chinese air operations.

Information denial: The PLA views information dominance as the most critical condition necessary for victory. As such, counter-C4ISR and information denial operations could have outsized effects in deterring and, if necessary, defeating Chinese aggression. Information denial operations would focus on complicating Chinese ISR, increasing demands for persistent targeting, disrupting communications networks, and ultimately paralyzing China’s centralized decision making. Both inside and outside forces could employ a variety of land-attack, anti-ship, and anti-air weapons to strike Chinese sensors and key nodes to degrade its C4ISR networks. Forces employing electronic warfare, counter-space, and cyber capabilities, augmented by CCD and tactical mobility, could confuse remaining sensors, degrade communications, and overwhelm Chinese information processing and decision-making.

Land attack: Land attack operations would degrade Chinese land-based A2/AD systems—including command and control nodes, sensors, long-range missile launchers, aircraft on the ground, and SAM systems—to create gaps that outside forces could exploit. As with sea denial operations, land-based strikes could be augmented by land-attack cruise missile strikes delivered by submarines, outside air and naval forces conducting standoff attacks with long-range missiles, and stealth aircraft staging attacks from closer in. Now unconstrained by the INF Treaty, the U.S. could regain land-based long-range strike capabilities, forcing China to devote more resources to air and missile defenses. Although not always cost-effective for delivering large salvos, they have considerable value in promptly striking time-sensitive targets such as aircraft on the ground, missile launchers, massed formations, capital ships in port, and critical C4ISR nodes.

Figure 3: Land-Based Long-Range Strike2 (CSBA graphic)

Preserving C4ISR: Attacking China’s C4ISR architecture alone would be insufficient to gain and maintain allied information advantage in a Western Pacific contingency. The U.S. military would also need to preserve friendly C4ISR in the face of Chinese counter-C4ISR capabilities. The U.S. military should thus seek to improve the resiliency of its C4ISR architecture to mitigate the impact of Chinese attacks. But given China’s vast and sophisticated counter-C4ISR capabilities, the U.S. military likely could not prevent disruption or even temporary denial of its networks. Therefore, the U.S. military must be careful not to build an overly centralized theater battle network that must be protected from any significant degradation to function. Rather, the U.S. military should accept that highly contested and degraded information environments will be the norm in future warfare. As such, the U.S. military should develop a C4ISR architecture built for sub-optimal conditions that leverages the inherent strength of the joint force to overcome adversity. In short, the U.S. military should confront China’s highly centralized system designed to operate under the optimal conditions of information dominance with a more resilient U.S. C4ISR system able to continue fighting despite the chaos of the modern battlefield.

Defending forces and bases: Since U.S. forces cannot perfectly hide or defend against China’s planned precision strikes, they must withstand the initial salvo. Hardening key nodes such as communications hubs, fuel stores, and aircraft shelters would help improve resiliency and increase the number of Chinese munitions required to suppress targets. Dispersal of ground and air forces to numerous locations along the First and Second Island Chains would minimize the loss of any large single location. Properly networked, these positions would be mutually reinforcing. Adopting an air defense concept focused on short-and medium-range (10–30 nm) engagements could give defenders greater capacity at less cost. Mobile, distributed launchers such as HIMARS and trailer-mounted containerized launchers would practice disaggregation, tactical mobility, and CCD while operating under IAMD to degrade enemy targeting.

Figure 4: Measures to Improve Resiliency of Inside Forces (CSBA graphic)

Sustaining forces: Inside-Out Defense would require sustaining highly geographically distributed forces operating in austere environments, all while under attack. Ground forces arrayed along the archipelagos of the First Island Chain would leverage pre-positioned stocks of munitions and supplies. Later, combinations of small air and sea assets could work together to resupply and add mobility to these small, dispersed formations. For example, in the near term, offshore support vessels could provide logistical support. In the future, extra-large UUVs—with a payload capacity of 2,000 cubic feet—could transport roughly eight tons of cargo to units operating near the coastline.3 Unmanned surface vessels and dracones could provide additional attritable cargo transport and refueling capabilities. From the air, rotary wing and tactical transport aircraft could operate from austere airfields and sea bases to transport cargo and assist with moving troops.

Recommendations and Costs

Having outlined the Inside-Out Defense concept, CSBA also assessed the current activities of U.S. and allied forces to illuminate where changes are needed most urgently. The report divided the assessment and recommendations into concepts, capabilities, and coordination to reflect Maritime Pressure’s emphasis on the United States pursuing countermoves in the areas of doctrine, technology, and allies, respectively.4 The report estimates that these actions would cost from $8 billion to $13 billion by 2024 depending on the specific investments selected by DoD. Although significant, such costs are affordable—especially if DoD spends less on legacy forces unsuited to contested environments and spends more on the innovative concepts and capabilities proposed in the report.


Develop this report’s approach into a joint operational concept to support a strategy of Maritime Pressure in the Western Pacific. Over the last several years, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force have developed new warfighting concepts that fit comfortably within a strategy of Maritime Pressure. While the Army’s Multi-Domain Operations, Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations and Marine Corps’ Marine Corps Operating Concept, and the Air Force’s Multi-Domain Command and Control each break some new ground, the services still devote too much attention to preserving the traditional American approach to power projection in the Western Pacific. Furthermore, service concept development efforts are relatively disjointed and uncoordinated from one another, and joint operational concept development is currently lacking within DoD.

Experiment with new organizational structures for ground forces in the Pacific. Given that it is forward stationed in the Western Pacific, III MEF and its subordinate units could form the core of the inside forces in an Inside-Out Defense concept. III MEF would also likely need to be augmented as inside forces with U.S. Army units located in the Pacific Theater such as the 25th Infantry Division. However, both formations are maneuver warfare-centric organizations best suited for traditional amphibious or ground combat operations. The Marine Corps and Army should experiment with alternative force designs that take advantage of novel combinations of C2, fires, air defense, security, ISR, engineering, electronic warfare, and sustainment capabilities to permit distributed, multi-domain fires in highly contested environments along the First Island Chain.

Develop sustainment concepts to support a Maritime Pressure strategy. Supporting distributed operations along the First Island Chain requires new concepts for sustaining operations across great distances while under attack. Planners should explore innovative approaches to support distributed units, including greater use of pre-positioned stocks of munitions and sustainment materiel, manned and unmanned air and sea assets for mobility and resupply, and emerging technologies such as 3D printing to fabricate replacement parts.


Accelerate fielding of mobile, land-based, long-range missile capabilities. Ground force contributions to sea denial, air denial, and land attack operations along the First Island Chain require sharper and longer teeth. Current efforts of the Army and Marine Corps to develop and field longer-range, land-based anti-ship and land-attack fires should be accelerated and should incorporate weapons with ranges in excess of 500 km. The Army and Marine Corps should also develop more mobile and longer-range land-based air defense systems to provide wide-area air denial along the First Island Chain with sufficient survivability for inside forces to fight and persist within China’s A2/AD network.

Build a resilient multi-domain C4ISR architecture and develop and field counter-C4ISR capabilities. In a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the battle for information advantage would likely be critical and could potentially prove decisive. The U.S. military should undertake efforts to make its C4ISR architecture more resilient while developing and fielding active and passive counter-C4ISR capabilities such as jammers and CCD.

Integrate all bomber aircraft with payloads for offensive maritime missions. DoD should integrate anti-ship missiles into its entire fleet of bombers. Although anti-surface warfare would be a new mission for these platforms, it would be a return to a role the bomber community played during World War II and the Cold War. These capabilities are currently being fielded with several aircraft such as the B-1B, but integrating them with all platforms possessing comparable ranges would give the United States a more robust capability to attack enemy surface combatants and other high-value maritime targets in highly contested environments at range.