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March 13, 2018

HMM: America Is Well Within Range of a Big Surprise, So Why Can’t It See?

It is 2020. Tensions have been rising steadily in Northeast Asia. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un resume exchanging insults as North Korea falls into another famine. U.S. attention is focused on the Korean Peninsula. As the United States reinforces its forward-deployed units in Japan and Korea, China begins moving troops toward Taiwan.

Early one Monday morning (Sunday Washington time), Japan, Guam, and Taiwan wake up to a half-dozen small drones orbiting each of their military air bases and several of their commercial airfields. The drones emit no signals. They identify parked aircraft and key command and maintenance nodes and mark them with paint. Having proved their point, they simultaneously scatter and crash in international waters. At the same time, harbormasters throughout Japan, Taiwan, and Guam report the presence of “gliders” surfacing in their ports. Upon examination, they are found to not be visibly armed, but clearly are capable of carrying significant payloads that could disable shipping. Similar devices appear in San Diego, Bremerton, and Pearl Harbor.

Through discrete channels, Beijing informs Washington and Tokyo that it will be occupying Taiwan immediately. Any effort by U.S. forces to engage from Japanese bases will result in drone swarms augmented by cruise and ballistic missiles strikes on U.S. facilities, runways, and ships in port. U.S. preparations to launch military aircraft will result in immediate attack.

China tells Japan that as long as her forces stay out of the fight, they will not be attacked. China also warns that if American aircraft or ships sortie from Japanese ports, China will shut down Japan’s airfields with drones and missiles and its ports with the already deployed smart mines.

When queried by Japanese and U.S. political leaders, military commanders admit they cannot protect their airfields or ports, nor can they preempt the mobile Chinese drone or missile launching systems.

It’s an interesting and dangerous scenario, and one we can hope the Pentagon is already working to defend against.

Then again, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the surprise start of the Korean War to 9/11, some of America’s adversaries attack on the premise that we’ll give in if they hit us hard enough and without warning, that we’ll just give in.

But that premise has been tested and found wanting — hopefully wanting enough to prevent Beijing from launching a costly and unnecessary war.