Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Second Great Pacific War..?

From Future Warfare in the Western Pacific (Biddle and Oelrich, 2016):
"This article thus provides a more systematic assessment of the potential military effectiveness of Chinese A2/AD (anti-access area denial). We ask not whether ASB would be escalatory, but whether it is necessary. That is, to what extent will ongoing technology trends allow either side to deny freedom of movement to the other, and over what area? Will China be able to push U.S. forces far enough from its shores to threaten U.S. alliances? If so, which ones, and how gravely? And what, given this, represents the best military strategy for the United States to adopt for the long term?"
One of the most common complaints I've heard, both here and from other former military types, is that the exclusive concentration of resources on "little war" expeditionary-force and internal defense of client-state governments has left the United States armed forces unable to successfully respond to a peer foe in a conventional war.

Biddle and Oelrich (2016) is an attempt to analyze one element of what may be one of the two potential peer-foe conflicts; a predominantly naval/air war between the United States and its allies against the People's Republic of China (PRC); specifically, what potential does the PRC's pursuit of A2/AD systems - "...missile launchers, command posts, sensors, supply networks, and communication systems..." - have for creating a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" centered around mainland China, one that is robust enough to control the West Pacific rim in the face of a United States assault?

This seems like an interesting enough question to suggest reading the linked paper and discussing in the comments section. So...hopefully you will enjoy the exercise and come in weapons free.


  1. "A2/AD" used to be known as coastal warfare, or coastal defences.

    The fact that the U.S.Navy is concerned about the PRC's "A2/AD" is borne out of ambitions for omnipotence. They want to be able to bomb anyone, anywhere, and the idea that another great power may be able to be powerful at least in its front yard is already a provocation to the USN.

    This is not about U.S. "defense". It's not about deterring or winning wars either. If it was, the USN would look at how to establish and maintain a porous naval blockade, for that's all it takes to gain great bargaining chips for peace talks.

    Instead, the very fact that there's talk about Chinese "A2/AD" shows that the U.S.Military (particularly navy and air force) has gone extremist.

    1. Well, if so, then I'd argue that those services have been pretty extreme for a long time, all the way back to the start of the Cold War. The "missile gap" was supposedly scary because we weren't going to be able to boss the Soviets around - worse, that they could boss US around! Heaven forfend!

      And definitely since the rise of the Reaganauts in the Eighties, when the US was supposed to be stronger than any two regional powers...

      Anyway, I won't disagree that it seems kind of imperial to demand that nobody be able to challenge the USN's ability to go wherever and do whatever it wants. The paper kind of discusses that, in that the supposed "response" to this A2/AD is something called AirSea Battle (ASB), which the authors don't say straight out "that's kinda nuts" but they discuss the tremendous scope of this ASB and the concurrent demand it makes in terms of deep strikes into the Chinese mainland, fraught both in military and geopolitical consequences.

      And, FWIW, they also discuss the potential of a "distant blockade" as a geopolitical tool.

    2. I actually don't think of such behaviour as "imperial".
      Such extremist expectations have taken hold in Europe as well. Just look at the unbelievably ambitious objectives for the occupation of Afghanistan. There was no modesty involved at all, and it wasn't reason but frustration that watered down the expectations.

      The Western World seemingly has lost the ability to be content with achieving a status quo ante peace ASAP in violent conflict, or to at least tell apart "offence" and "defence".

  2. IMHO AirSea operations are not focused solely on China. And they are by no means intended to deny China or any other foreign land the ability to protect its airspace and territorial waters or even its EEZ. I believe the AirSea doctrine specifically calls for access and maneuver in the ”global commons”. It is more intended to be a response to any foreign aggression against American bases, or against our allies, or against those "global commons".

  3. Let's take a break, read the paper, then discuss. Eh?

    1. The paper is a summary of buzzwords and well-established ideas. It's got very little original content.
      It's also using A2/AD inflationary, it seems - I have never seen A2/AD implied as including anti-missile defences before. What I read about A2/AD was always limited to hitting (repulsion) of platforms.

  4. I read it. Seems to me it is BS. They say "AirSea Battle is designed to preserve U.S. access to the Western Pacific ..."

    AirSea Battle (BTW I think DOD has renamed it) was designed for the Black Sea, the Baltic, the Persian Gulf, the Sea of Japan and others as well as for the South China Sea and the Western Pacific. Now since Obama's so-called pivot to Asia there has been more focus on the western Pacific. And with China's military buildup and their turning reefs into island airbases in the Spratly territorial dispute there has certainly been a spotlight on the SCS and training exercises.

    But the fact remains that the basic premise in B & O's article is wrong. AtrSea Battle or whatever it is now called was NOT designed to counter China. Such talk as that irritates the powers to be in the Middle Kingdom and fire up the hawks and jingoists in the PLA.

  5. I am assuming the latest version of ASB vs China was dreamed up by the Air Force to con $$$ out of Congress for new long range bombers. My gut tells me those bombers are not needed.

    If there is any validity to the military effectiveness of A2/AD (a big if IMO), and if hostilities cannot be avoided, we should focus on sensors and targeting systems. They are extremely vulnerable whether based in space, on land, on board ships, or in the air. If they are blind then there is no need to go 2000 kilometers deep into whatever landmass to take out launch systems.

  6. What I got from this was 1) the authors aren't nearly as impressed with the PRC's A2/AD development as the USAF/USN parties using it as a funding incentive, 2) the authors pick up on the vulnerability of the sensors (the targeting radars, basically...) you point out, mike, and 3) that these coastal defense attend work both ways, so the likely outcome isn't that the South China Sea becomes a Chinese lake but that it becomes a "No Man's Sea" for everyone.

    I guess I came away from this with more questions. Specifically;

    1. Is the establishment of a wider PRC sphere of influence in the Western Pacific really a redline for U.S. policy? Why? ISTM that the notion that the USN has to have "control of the commons" is a formula for a lot of needless conflict. The authors take for granted that a USG will ALWAYS insist on uninhibited freedom of action everywhere. That seems ridiculously overweening to me. Thoughts?

    2. The comments on procurement of longer-range SSMs (basically super-HARMs and super-HARPOONs) seem not unreasonable for simple tactical reasons. Both systems predate the current generation of sensors.

    3. The observation re: USN carelessness about EMCON and signal security seem reasonable. I've been concerned for years that the US's experience fighting low-tech opponents is likely to have resulted in real degradation of things like tactical air defense measures and signals.

    Agree that there's a lot of buzzwords in the rest.

    1. "The authors take for granted that a USG will ALWAYS insist on uninhibited freedom of action everywhere. That seems ridiculously overweening to me."

      It's hypocritical nonsense. The USN has never defended the freedom of navigation of Iranians, for example. Instead, many "freedom of navigation" patrols were nothing but poorly excused provocations. See the conflict about the Gulf of Sidra, a region that totally didn't need freedom of navigation enforced, regardless of what the Libyans claimed about that area.
      The USN didn't enforce freedom of navigation for food transports to Germany in 1914-1917 or 1939-1941 either.

      I think years ago I already blogged about how the powers in the region should be expected to provide protection for maritime traffic first and foremost. This means India is responsible for the Indian Ocean, Med NATO for Med, Brazil for SW Atlantic, Malaysia and Indonesia for Strait of Malacca.
      It's overreach and utterly wasteful to think that the USN is responsible for all these regions.

      It's one of the times where Americans need to understand that what's being called "defense" cannot be mere defense if but one country in the world can accomplish it at a time. That's global military domination aspiration, not "defense".