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Belmont Club

The Pacific

November 25th, 2013 - 4:08 pm

A few months ago I was asked to write a short monograph on the general subject of Australian sea power for a journal and wound up examining candidates for the current class of Collins-class submarines. To my own surprise it turned out that an “empty ship” with a lot of energy was the logical candidate for the combatant of the future.

The reason is simple. The major components of modern naval combat are distributed. Therefore building a combatant around a single physical attribute (like AIP propulsion) was risky business because of its limited upgrade potential in the face of future developments. The safest way to go was to make ships upgrdeable, like server racks, or even virtual machines. And that meant any new Collins replacement needed hull space and lots of power.

The 2013 NATO ASW exercise “Proud Manta” was a recent test of underwater robots coordinated through communications gateways like the Wave Glider – a device one part of which rides above the waves in communication with the fleet while the lower half remains submerged to gather signals from other robots.

In this concept of operations, the robotic sensor grid finds, fixes and provides targeting data while the energy-rich USN fleet units – CVNs, SSNs and surface action groups – defend the network and fire the long-range shots. They cover or protect the sensor network in the same way that machine guns cover a terrestrial minefield. In turn, the sensor network allows them to engage previously hidden targets with near impunity. If the weaker power attacks the sensor network, it will expose itself to the fire of the fleet. Just as you can’t dig up the minefield until the covering machine guns are eliminated, neither can a weaker power dismantle the sensor grid without running afoul of the USN’s overwatch. …

High energy and big hulls give the USN the ability to host modular mission packages, enabling them to act like equipment racks in a modern server farm. Warships can be “versioned” to keep them compatible with the information grid by swapping the modules in and out.

The article is due out next year. But a friend sent  me a link to a  piece in Quadrant Magazine describing a hypothetical attack by China on its neighbors that recalled the whole subject. The article is interesting in itself, but the question it raised even more so: what is China’s grand strategy in the event of a conflict with nations in the first island chain?

Nations don’t plan for conflict without a framework, some kind of operational philosophy. During World War 2 the USN based its concepts on War Plan Orange, which envisioned a sequence of controlling time, space and logistics acorss the Pacific. The Japanese had theirs. It was called the Southern Strategy. War Plan Orange won.

So what is China’s idea in the event? That would of course be secret but China’s logical move, I wrote to a friend, was to take out Japan first, since there was no way the PLA could go up against Japan, South Korea and the USA together. However he replied that China might be bold and reverse the process, by going for America first, taking out Guam and Okinawa; basically recreating Pearl Harbor in the 21st century.

The reasoning behind this has many roots in the 2008 Rand Study which indicated that the US would lose in any confrontation with the Chinese. The RAND study was kicked around Canberra during the debate over the acquisition of the F-35.  It basically says that the US Pacific forces are as arthritic as the British were at Singapore and that we might get the same results.

According to the study, U.S. aircraft carriers and air bases would be threatened by Chinese development of anti-ship ballistic missiles, the fielding of diesel and nuclear submarines equipped with torpedoes and SS-N-22 and SS-N-27 anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), fighters and bombers carrying ASCMs and HARMs, and new ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. Related TopicsAmericas Asia & Pacific Rim Air Warfare The report states that 34 missiles with submunition warheads could cover all parking ramps at Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa. An “attack like this could damage, destroy or strand 75 percent of aircraft based at Kadena,” it says. In contrast, many Chinese air bases are harder than Kadena, with some “super-hard underground hangers.” To make matters worse, Kadena is the only U.S. air base within 500 nautical miles of the Taiwan Strait, whereas China has 27. U.S. air bases in South Korea are more than 750 miles distant, and those in Japan are more than 885 miles away. Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, is 1,500 miles away. The result is that sortie rates will be low, with a “huge tanker demand.” The authors suggest China’s CETC Y-27 radar, which is similar to Russia’s Nebo SVU VHF Digital AESA, could counter U.S. stealth fighter technology. China is likely to outfit its fighters with improved radars and by “2020 even very stealthy targets likely [would be] detectable by Flanker radars at 25+ nm.” China is also likely to procure the new Su-35BM fighter by 2020, which will challenge the F-35 and possibly the F-22. The authors also question the reliability of U.S. beyond-visual-range weapons, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM. U.S. fighters have recorded only 10 AIM-120 kills, none against targets equipped with the kinds of countermeasures carried by Chinese Su-27s and Su-30s. Of the 10, six were beyond-visual-range kills, and it required 13 missiles to get them. If a conflict breaks out between China and the U.S. over Taiwan, the authors say it is difficult to “predict who will have had the last move in the measure-countermeasure game.” Overall, the authors say, “China could enjoy a 3:1 edge in fighters if we can fly from Kadena – about 10:1 if forced to operate from Andersen. Overcoming these odds requires qualitative superiority of 9:1 or 100:1″ – a differential that is “extremely difficult to achieve” against a like power. If beyond-visual-range missiles work, stealth technology is not countered and air bases are not destroyed, U.S. forces have a chance, but “history suggests there is a limit of about 3:1 where quality can no longer compensate for superior enemy numbers.” A 24-aircraft Su-27/30 regiment can carry around 300 air-to-air missiles (AAMs), whereas 24 F-22s can carry only 192 AAMs and 24 F-35s only 96 AAMs. Though current numbers assume the F-22 could shoot down 48 Chinese Flankers when “outnumbered 12:1 without loss,” these numbers do not take into account a less-than-perfect U.S. beyond-visual-range performance, partial or complete destruction of U.S. air bases and aircraft carriers, possible deployment of a new Chinese stealth fighter around 2020 or 2025, and the possible use of Chinese “robo-fighters” to deplete U.S. “fighters’ missile loadout prior to mass attack.” The authors write that Chinese counter stealth, anti-access, countermissile technologies are proliferating and the U.S. military needs “a plan that accounts for this.”

Some analysts have even penciled in the conquest of Taiwan for about 2021. However, the current Japanese prime minister takes a more sanguine view. Either that or Abe is courting disaster.  He’s going around fencing China in. The Asahi Shimbun writes: “With visits to all 10 ASEAN nations, Abe’s China containment strategy complete”.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe closed out a two-day visit to Laos and Cambodia, completing a swing to all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to rally support for his push to counter China’s growing presence. …

The prime minister is counting on the Philippines and Vietnam to fall in line with Japan.

Last week, Japan decided to send 1,180 Self-Defense Forces personnel to the typhoon-hit Philippines. It will be one of Japan’s largest international emergency relief missions to date.

“That response is aimed at holding China in check as well,” said a Japanese government source of the deployment.

The conventional wisdom is that the Chinese can overwhelm the JMSDF, especially on its southern flank, the Senkaku Island gap between the Ryukyus.  On the face of things why not? China can act as titanic unsinkable aircraft carrier from which to sortie swarms of aircraft operating from its vast underground airbases; from which to fire sleets of missiles,effectively blanketing Japan itself with fire. James Holmes at Foreign Policy paints the picture.

Japan forms the northern arc of the first island chain that envelops the Asian coastline, forming the eastern frontier of the Yellow and East China seas. No island between the Tsushima Strait (which separates Japan from Korea) and Taiwan lies more than 500 miles off China’s coast. Most, including the Senkakus/Diaoyus, are far closer. Within these cramped waters, any likely battleground would fall within range of shore-based firepower. Both militaries field tactical aircraft that boast the combat radius to strike throughout the Yellow and East China seas and into the Western Pacific. Both possess shore-fired anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and can add their hitting power to the mix.

There are some asymmetries, however. PLA conventional ballistic missiles can strike at land sites throughout Asia, putting Japanese assets at risk before they ever leave port or take to the sky. And China’s Second Artillery Corps, or missile force, has reportedly fielded anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) able to strike at moving ships at sea from the mainland. With a range estimated at more than 900 miles, the ASBM could strike anywhere in the China seas, at seaports throughout the Japanese islands, and far beyond.

Consider the Senkakus, the hardest assets to defend from the Japanese standpoint. They lie near the southwestern tip of the Ryukyu chain, closer to Taiwan than to Okinawa or Japan’s major islands. Defending them from distant bases would be difficult.

In this view Japan hasn’t got a chance. But as he astutely notes, historians have no way of knowing what really counts in modern day naval combat. The last naval conflicts happened too long ago to serve as a useful guide.  Holmes argues that maybe Japan isn’t the sitting duck it is believed to be.

But raw numbers can be misleading, for three main reasons. First, as strategist Edward Luttwak has observed, weapons are like “black boxes” until actually used in combat: no one knows for sure whether they will perform as advertised. Battle, not technical specifications, is the true arbiter of military technology’s value. Accurately forecasting how ships, planes, and missiles will perform amid the stresses and chaos of combat thus verges on impossible. This is especially true, adds Luttwak, when conflict pits an open society against a closed one. Open societies have a habit of debating their military failings in public, whereas closed societies tend to keep their deficiencies out of view. Luttwak was referring to the U.S.-Soviet naval competition, but it applies to Sino-Japanese competition as well. The Soviet Navy appeared imposing on paper. But Soviet warships on the high seas during the Cold War showed unmistakable symptoms of decay, from slipshod shiphandling to rusty hulls. The PLA Navy could be hiding something as well. The quality of the JMSDF’s platforms, and its human capabilities, could partially or wholly offset the PLA’s advantage of numbers.

Japan and China are apples and kumquats. Different beasts. It is possible to say, at the risk of some oversimplification, by examining the “best guesses” of each side, that the Chinese have invested in steel while the US/Japan have invested in the “black boxes”. It’s steel versus black boxes. Many of America’s upgrades are black box upgrades.

Recently, the Air Force announced the deployment of the Global Hawk Block 40s with a new type of radar. These upgrades tend to attract less attention than a new airframe or hull, but from one point of view the radar determines the quality of the system.

Defense One journalists were recently toured through the interior of a Zumwalt Class destroyer. The reporter noticed it looked strange, as if the ship itself had not been designed with people in mind, but for an unseen race of mechanical Krell.

The hallways are too wide. The ceilings are incredibly high. There’s barely an outdoor deck. No bridge tower. No lookout crow’s nests. Flat-screen TV mounts are everywhere. In fact, the only sign that this is a ship are the steep deck ladders and “knee-knocker” air lock doorways sailors and ironworkers duck through from bow to stern. …

Launched just last month, she is an impossibly spaceship-looking trapezoid tower jutting from the still water. The incredibly automated, totally electrical vessel will hold a smaller crew than any destroyer before her. She can house two helicopters that can land in higher seas than ever and then be automatically pulled inside a concealed hanger. There’s room for several drone aircraft. It can power a small city.

I realized what the Defense One was describing was something whose abstract properties I had deduced in my amateurish way. The large, empty, high energy hull. What goes in that hull is not much discussed in open source. But whatever it is has been considered the decisive element; probably stuff that can be swapped in an out as mission packages like expansion cards are changed on a server.

From the new Gerald Fords to the latest LPDs or LCS classes it appears that space and electrical power are the premium attributes of a new warship.

Who wins in the war of apples versus kumquats, steel against black boxes? I don’t know and really don’t want to find out. But as history won’t ask me, my guess is that any conflict would be decided not on the surface of the planet, but in high in space and deep beneath the sea, among the fiber optics and the satellites. The glue that binds the distributed sensor networks and robot swarms of modern combat  is the ether.

No one should underestimate China and yet, despite Beijing’s apparent material preponderance no one should underestimate Nippon.


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Top Rated Comments   
If Obama, Anita Dunn, Carl Davidson and Tom Friedman were told that the US would lose in a provoked conflict with China, what should we expect would be their response.

If Obama, Soros, Ayers and Cloward-Piven were told that America had been weakened to the point that it could not defend itself and her allies...now vulnerable to its enemies, what should we expect would be her reaction.

If Obama, Kerry, Hillary, and Valerie Jarrett were told that Iran and China wanted to form an alliance to put us in a pincer position...based upon their histories, how vigorous would the defense of this nation be...and who would they blame for the conflict?

If Obama, Louis Farrakhan, Don Warden, and Rashid Khalidi were told that Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood were undertaking the alliance with Russia and the backing of China to take out Israel and the US, what do we believe would be the "loyalties" they would exhibit?

My point in this thought exercise is to bring the element so often forgotten into the discussion. Traitorism and treason play a role. In today's America...there is no larger threat.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I was asked to write a short monograph on the general subject of Australian sea power"

Australians won't like to hear it, but after Gillard and Rudd, this would be like writing a monograph on "Luxembourg's Magnificent Tank Battalions".
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
If China is going to attack the United States, chances are that it will attack within three years. The reason is obvious – if one is going to attack the United States, the best time is when the commander in chief is an idiot.

Debkafile is claiming that Obama seeks to raise Iran to major power status, dubbing it the hegemon of the Middle East – over both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Given the present political environment, it would not be surprising if the Obama administration took the side of China against Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia. There may be worse things than Uncle Sam merely abandoning its allies; Asian nations may be better off with no American alliance at all than with a backstabber as an “ally”.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (69)
All Comments   (69)
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'' ... weapons are like “black boxes” until actually used in combat: no one knows for sure whether they will perform as advertised.''

So are personnel. One unmentioned factor is the nature of the soldier/sailer/Marine and how far down the chain of command individual initiative goes. Going by the Soviet example in the Cold War, the Chinese may keep all decisions far up the chain, slowing decisions and response times.

This could be more significant that all the steel and black boxes.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Breaking News from the Wall Street Journal

"Two U.S. B-52 bombers flew over a disputed island chain in the East China Sea without informing Beijing, in a direct challenge to China's expanded air defense zone."

http://online.wsj.com/home-page
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
F*** '*m.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Have you been watching as We the People of the United States have been doing what Jesse Jackson only dreamt about?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHflFFKoaNM

[BTW Jesse, how is Junior adapting to life in the federal pen?]

All these little tin pot dictators, who have been acting out The Lord of the Flies, ought to be ready for some grownups to put in an appearance. Let us remember what nation is The World's Only Superpower.

All those dictators survive by overawing their populations. Once Toto drew back the curtain on the Wizard of Obama, that cute little dog showed the way for other countries. Toto is an Alpha Dog!

Obama is a cipher. He merely follows behind the Big Dog holding his leash, We the People. How many of these nations can feed their own populations? All politics is local. Even Putin does not want the pitchfork and torches crowd on the streets of Moscow.

Now is the time to begin a preference cascade in places like Tehran, Moscow, Beijing etc.

Let freedom ring!
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Chinese central control means just that: the government has most of their important officials and offices centrally located. The Soviet government typified this: the more important the government official, the more likely he was to live close to the city center. Central control more or less dictates that...those guys cannot afford to be out of the picture for long. Contrast that with the US, where the moneyed and powerful prefer life in the suburbs, or exurbs. Exceptions abound, but for the most part, it is much easier to target a central government leadership. There are important targeting asymmetries between the US and China.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
If Obama, Anita Dunn, Carl Davidson and Tom Friedman were told that the US would lose in a provoked conflict with China, what should we expect would be their response.

If Obama, Soros, Ayers and Cloward-Piven were told that America had been weakened to the point that it could not defend itself and her allies...now vulnerable to its enemies, what should we expect would be her reaction.

If Obama, Kerry, Hillary, and Valerie Jarrett were told that Iran and China wanted to form an alliance to put us in a pincer position...based upon their histories, how vigorous would the defense of this nation be...and who would they blame for the conflict?

If Obama, Louis Farrakhan, Don Warden, and Rashid Khalidi were told that Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood were undertaking the alliance with Russia and the backing of China to take out Israel and the US, what do we believe would be the "loyalties" they would exhibit?

My point in this thought exercise is to bring the element so often forgotten into the discussion. Traitorism and treason play a role. In today's America...there is no larger threat.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I was asked to write a short monograph on the general subject of Australian sea power"

Australians won't like to hear it, but after Gillard and Rudd, this would be like writing a monograph on "Luxembourg's Magnificent Tank Battalions".
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, does Luxembourg have a tank?


How cute! :)

44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
AP 11/17 - "A Navy guided missile cruiser hit by a malfunctioning drone during a training exercise returned to San Diego, where investigators will assess the damage and determine what went wrong..."

How much do you want to bet that the drone was programmed to approach the ship very low to test its anti-missile defense? In the best of circumstances defenses can get overwhelmed even when they are working. The only blitzkrieg on the sea is in anti-shipping weaponry. Surface warfare is too slow to fire and maneuver in the open sea in asymmetric engagements for long.

We are headed to an era of less Bismarck's and more PT boats because of the proliferation of unmanned technology and smart weaponry.

I believe China will continue to develop its capability, especially anti-satellite systems and will use their emerging strength to intimidate, and eventually, win any prize without firing a shot. They have done well to buy America off and will continue to do so while militating with the Left against American adventurism. They own Obama. Bill Clinton saw to that.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
--similar to the cruiser hit by own drone, the hair-raising last moments of the USS Tang, in the autumn of 1944, in the Formosa Straits. Tang, night surface attack on enemy convoy, enters the action with 12 torpedos, Eleven run true, Tang sinks six ships including two tankers. Fires last torp, number 24 of the patrol, at a dead in the water but not sinking earlier target. Torp broaches on leaving tube, probably jamming the rudder, starts running in circles. Tang evades, but cannot get out, the circle is small and the torp fast. Visible all the way by phosphorescent wake.

http://www.subsowespac.org/world_war_ii_submarines/uss_tang_ss_306.shtml

43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
China is laying a string of pearls between its home waters and the Persian Gulf. Their strategy will be one of intimidation not engagement. Diplomatic overreach and advantageous concession. They will bluster with 'nuking' LA but they would be pissing in their own soup with that one. San Diego? They wouldn't risk the international condemnation for involving Mexico who would be affected greatly. Seattle, San Francisco? Maybe. No they would attack US space infrastructure in an attempt to blind the US and claim no sovereign rights violated or threaten to do so. Bottle up their capital fleet assets and risk smaller class frigates to escort their tankers claiming attacking them an act of war. My two cents. Well, 1 and 1/2 anyhow.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Their strategy will be one of intimidation not engagement. Diplomatic overreach and advantageous concession."


For now, yes.

But China's pride demands that they defeat America in open war. Nothing less will satisfy them. Nothing less will give them "face" in their own eyes. They crave it like an addict craves a fix, and, like the addict, they will do things to satisfy their craving that make no sense to those who are in their right mind.



Wars are not fought over money nearly as often as they are fought over pride.

44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
'They would bottle up their own capital fleet assets under its coastal umbrella and risk smaller class frigates to escort their tankers claiming attacking them an act of war. '
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problem with the Zumwalt-class ships is their cost. The ships are so expensive that 27 of the planned 30 were cancelled, and the USN has resumed building 1990-era Arleigh Burke-class hulls. And the more numerous "littoral combat ships" are lightly armed ships not apparently intended for serious combat. Read the wikipedia entry on these seagoing pieces of crap, and weep.

As Mao supposedly said quantity has a quality all its own. Since the US has plainly given up on quantity it must therefore be attempting to build better ships than China, assuming it is playing the same game.

In other words, the US is adopting the strategy against China that Japan adopted against the US, before World War II.

How did that work out?

Oh.

44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
"And the more numerous "littoral combat ships" are lightly armed ships not apparently intended for serious combat. Read the wikipedia entry on these seagoing pieces of crap, and weep."

Littoral combat ships are intended for coastal defense. Period.

As for Wikipedia, don't read it at all if you want to be well-informed.

44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
The good thing about wikipedia- at least this article- is the links and quotes. Here are a few about the glorious LCS:

In 2013, Navy Captain Kenneth Coleman, the requirements officer for the program, identified tactical aircraft as a system the LCS would be especially vulnerable to.[101] Vice Admiral Thomas H. Copeman III is reported to be considering an upsized "Super" LCS,[102] that would have space to install needed firepower, because he noted that the 57mm main gun was more suitable to a patrol boat than a frigate.[103][104] Austal’s vice president for sales, Craig Hooper, suggested that the ships should instead be used for UAV operations.[105] Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has called the lack of suitable missions for the LCS "one of its greatest strengths".[106]

Coast defense. Sure.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
"...an impossibly spaceship-looking trapezoid tower jutting from the still water..."

I note that the Zumwalt's first Captain is James "Tiberius" Kirk.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sooner or later there will be a new US Navy ship: the USS Barack Obama. I wonder whom it will attack and how? Perhaps it will be programmed to destroy its home country.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Damn the torpid eaters! Fool esteem ahead!"
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
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