Hunter Killer: The War with China – The Battle for the Central Pacific

Poyer, David. Hunter Killer: The War with China – The Battle for the Central Pacific. New York City, St. Martin’s Press, 2017, 320 pp. $27.99.

By Michael DeBoer

In Hunter Killer, David Poyer adds a volume to his most famous series, the Tales of the Modern Navy, following his signature character, Daniel Lenson, through intense combat in the Western Pacific. The work, 310 pages in all, is organized into chapters of roughly fifteen pages, each following one of four characters; Lenson, now an admiral commanding a Task Force; SOCM Oberg, a prisoner in Western China; Hector, an immigrant Marine recruit pressed into service in exchange for citizenship; and Lenson’s wife Blair – a policymaker in the Defense Department. The book flows quickly and returns most of the major characters of the Poyer’s previous novel in this series, Onslaught.

Whereas Onslaught, contrary to its name, featured more of a slow-burn run up to major combat, Hunter Killer, contrasting the image of a cerebral and vicious combatant, forwards the beginning of the cataclysm. This takes the form of a Western Pacific where men and units are fed into the maw of combat between two great powers of a poorly-led United States and a militant and expansionist China. The major unit of action is Lenson’s Task Force 76. Like his namesake, a good man in crisis, the story begins with Lenson’s temporary flag promotion to command the amphibious/sea control task force centered on an LHA reconfigured for ASW. Lenson’s command is sent into a central-Pacific hornet’s nest of PRC submarines in a desperate attempt to open sea lanes to the U.S. West Coast and solidify the faltering American logistical train. Inside the engagement envelopes of the Chinese attack-boats, TF-76 (included in it Lenson’s former command Savo Island) fights for life against submarine-launched torpedoes and missiles while trying to maintain the cohesion of the far-flung task force.

Meanwhile, SOCM Oberg begins a horrific trek across the Tan Shian mountains, hauling a rag tag group of escapees and a horribly crippled leg away from a Chinese forced labor camp. Simultaneously, a new character, a Marine recruit named Hector, conducts infantry training with his newfound friends in the Southern California desert prior to shipping out on a risky attack at a vulnerable point in China’s fortress. All this while Lenson’s wife struggles to produce cogent policy against a backdrop of cognitively poor general and flag officers and divisive policy makers. The story is in many ways visceral, the combat fast and furious, and the objectives almost impossible.

One of the most enjoyable portions of Poyer’s work is his strong sense of history. Poyer is clearly well-read, and one can see many of  influences in his work. First, the author is practically begging his readers to pick up James Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno, and both Onslaught and Hunter-Killer feature imagery and emotions of the nouveau-classic. Oberg’s trek through the mountains is reminiscent of Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato, although devoid of the magical realism of the seminal Vietnam-era work. Finally, Lenson’s experiences are vaguely familiar to his namesake’s. Nelson, like Lenson, found himself in increasingly more difficult situations, ending famously at Trafalgar, where it appears the series is headed, in a massive firestorm. Moreover, Nelson and Lenson, in their early careers, were aggressive commanders who lived by the axiom “no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.” Like Nelson, Lenson’s thinking has evolved. He thinks more efficiently, more cerebrally as he makes difficult tactical decisions. Poyer does an excellent job of describing the burdens of command, operating with incomplete information while gambling with subordinates’ lives while attempting to accomplish almost impossible tasks with inadequate resources through the opaque lens of exhaustion.

Finally, Poyer’s volume is a warning.  Through the authenticity of his writing, he reminds the reader that in great power war, technical prowess is not guaranteed, logistics drive operational necessity, at least in a war fought in the Pacific’s vast expanse, that such a war will require the entirety of national effort in a way that this nation has largely forgotten and may be incapable of waging, and that such a war may be closer than many think.  If you liked Ghost Fleet, you’ll love this book, but unlike August Cole and Peter Singer’s work that introduces technical issues through the prism of a story, Poyer approaches war from a historian’s perspective: as the ultimate test of human will regardless of era or technology. 

Michael DeBoer is a Naval Officer and frequent book reviewer for CIMSEC.

Featured Image: Artwork for Battlefield 4. 

Reviewing the U.S. Navy’s LCS Deployments to the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region

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By Swee Lean Collin Koh

The littoral combat ship USS Coronado, upon recent completion of its 14-month Indo-Asia-Pacific stint, marks the conclusion of the U.S. Navy’s third LCS rotational deployment to the region. Thus far, the LCS has not operated without problems, including criticisms about its lack of a potent offensive strike capability.

Designed in two separate variants – the monohulled Freedom, and the trimaran-hulled Independence classes – the LCS forms part of broader plans to forward-deploy the bulk of the U.S. Navy to the region. Following the retirement of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates which used to be the U.S. Navy’s general-purpose workhorse, the LCS represents an alternative platform spanning between a huge, heavily-armed Aegis surface combatant and a small, under-armed Cyclone-class coastal patrol craft which had once engaged the Southeast Asian brownwater navies. The LCS also banks on its modular mission concept, enjoying up to 60-percent of reconfigurable below-decks internal space compared to less than 10-percent on board the Aegis surface combatants.

Of especially significant value is the LCS’s shallow draft, less than four meters compared to over 10 meters of the Aegis destroyer or cruiser, allowing entry into areas that other ships could not in the Indo-Asia-Pacific littorals characterized by archipelagos, congested sea lanes, shallow water, and small ports. “In that arc between the Philippines and Sri Lanka, nearly 50 ports are accessible to larger ships,” Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson, Commander, Task Force 73 described in January 2017 but the LCS, he pointed out, “can dock in well over a thousand ports in the same range of locations.”

Trial and Error: Early LCS Deployments

 The LCS has come a long way since the first vessel, the USS Freedom (LCS-1), debuted in the type’s maiden rotational deployment. But this ship was unfortunately bogged down by systems breakdown, which was attributed to it being “a research and development platform,” even though the ship remained available for 70 percent of the time – on par with most other forward-deployed vessels. Despite its problems, the LCS even managed to render humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the Philippines in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin have since made design changes in follow-on Freedom-class ships, such as improved diesel-electric generators, main reduction gear coolers, and other software modifications.

Following the Freedom, her sister ship of the same class, USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), became the second LCS to be rotated through Southeast Asia. It was also the first LCS to deploy for 16 months under a “3-2-1” manning concept, that is, having three rotational crews to support two LCS and one ship deployed at any time. This envisages fully-trained crews to be swapped roughly every four months, thus allowing it to deploy six months longer than the Freedom which swapped crews only once every 10 months, thus extending LCS forward presence and reducing crew fatigue. The Fort Worth deployment served as a U.S. Navy test-bed for how the LCS can be employed for sustained periods taking into consideration that the small crew size, rotational crew concept, contractor-reliant maintenance structure, and swappable combat systems modules are all relatively unique compared to the rest of the fleet.

Crewing remained a challenge, considering that the Fort Worth was manned by around 100 sailors, compared to 180 on board the Perry-class frigates. Then in January 2016, a machinery problem sullied the LCS’ otherwise noteworthy performance, resulting in the ship being side-lined for extended periods. After a prolonged period of rectification work, the Fort Worth managed to join the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in July. Overall, the Fort Worth fared reasonably well – underway for 185 out of 298 days for its entire deployment – totaling over 18 months with the 7th Fleet. It managed to complete numerous bilateral and multilateral engagements, and assisted in the search-and-rescue operations for AirAsia flight QZ8501 in late 2014.

New Milestones with the USS Coronado

The USS Coronado (LCS-4) arrived in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility in early October 2016 – becoming the first Independence variant to deploy to Southeast Asia. Compared to the Freedom variants, the Coronado possesses more fuel capacity thereby providing increased operational capabilities. It is also equipped with the Surface Warfare mission package, comprising two 11-meter rigid-hulled inflatable boats, two teams for visit, board, search and seizure operations, and two 30mm chain guns. Most significantly, this variant boasts a bigger flight deck allowing for expanded aviation operations including two MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and for the first time on board an LCS to Southeast Asia, an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter.

In response to criticisms about the LCS’ lack of long-range offensive strike capabilities, the Coronado was outfitted with four RGM-84 Harpoon Block-1C anti-ship cruise missiles. This is roughly equivalent to the four YJ-83 missiles typically fitted on board the Chinese Type 056 Jiangdao corvette. The Harpoon is a venerable but aging design despite numerous upgrades. Until new ASCMs such as the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) arrive, the LCS will have to make do with the Harpoon. This armament, hitherto not seen in the Freedom and Fort Worth deployments, represents a step, albeit an interim one, toward bolstering the LCS’ combat capabilities.

The Coronado became a test-bed for surface strike concepts integrating both the newfound missile capability and its organic aviation capacity. The LCS captured the first inverse synthetic aperture radar pictures of surrounding surface contacts with the Fire Scout, marking a critical step toward providing a recognized maritime picture for the LCS, and for over-the-horizon (OTH) Harpoon missile targeting. The first OTH test-fire failed to hit its target in July 2016 during RIMPAC, but following rectification work, in August the following year the Coronado successfully fired a live Harpoon ASCM off Guam in OTH mode using both Fire Scout and MH-60S to provide targeting support.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Aug. 22, 2017) A Harpoon missile launches from the missile deck of the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) off the coast of Guam. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaleb R. Staples/Released)

Compared to the previous LCS deployments, the Coronado also attained several new breakthroughs for the LCS Program. Amongst various skillsets including small-boat defense, the Coronado demonstrated a first for the LCS in integrating special operations forces during RIMPAC 2016. Moreover, the ship was able to complete in just seven days extensive “D” Phase maintenance, the most intrusive period of organizational-level maintenance which normally takes as long as 2.5 weeks for the MH-60S helicopter while deployed – another achievement.  

The Coronado also advanced the 15-4 maintenance concept of shaving the average repair time for maintenance casualties while deployed from 15 to just four days, thus increasing ship availability and readiness, according to Lieutenant Commander Arlo Abrahamson, spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Task Force 73. Furthermore, in June 2017, the LCS conducted an expeditionary preventive maintenance availability in Cam Ranh International Port, Vietnam – marking the first demonstration of such capabilities for the Independence variant to be conducted outside the normal maintenance hub in Singapore – and a similar feat was accomplished in Lumut, Malaysia.

Adding Value to Southeast Asian Maritime Security

Southeast Asian maritime forces may have invested in larger surface combatants such as frigates, but they continue to operate numerous coastal and patrol combatants which mainly operate well within the shallow 12-nautical mile territorial sea limits. With its shallow draft, the LCS gains more opportunities to engage these often obscure Southeast Asian “brownwater” counterparts, availing the crew to the latter’s diverse range of useful experiences and intimate familiarity with the local littoral operating environment. “The LCS is a comparable sized platform to ships of navies across South and Southeast Asia, which provides an opportunity to conduct a variety of operations and missions with partner nations… and our LCS sailors learn just as much from operating with the partner navies of the region – so the learning goes both ways,” Gabrielson wrote.

Such engagements would not have been possible if Southeast Asian brownwater naval elements are unable to venture beyond those littoral confines to train with the U.S. Navy’s large surface combatants. This is also a matter of managing perceptions – a gigantic Aegis destroyer might not make good contrasting optics with the puny Southeast Asian vessels; it could appear too overpowering yet at the same time, excessive for the limited nature and scope of engagements with these much simpler and capability-constrained counterparts.

In all, throughout the entire 14-month deployment to Southeast Asia, the Coronado continued and built on the work done by its predecessors. In its 15 port visits across the Indo-Asia-Pacific, the Coronado called on Cam Ranh and Lumut in July and September 2017 respectively – the first for the LCS. In the Sulu Sea, where kidnap-for-ransom attacks by militants were reported, it conducted coordinated counter-piracy operations with the Philippine Navy. The Coronado implemented ship-rider programs by embarking regional naval officers on board the vessel. It also rehearsed the Code on Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) procedures during Naval Engagement Activity Vietnam – another continuation from its predecessors, such as the Fort Worth which practised the mechanism with Chinese warships during its May 2015 South China Sea routine patrol.

Notably, however, the Coronado adds to Southeast Asian maritime security capacity-building – leveraging upon its capabilities hitherto not found on board its predecessors to enhance interoperability especially in conventional warfighting. Building on the Cooperation Afloat and Readiness Training (CARAT) exercises in August 2015, when several Southeast Asian navies conducted deck landing practice with their helicopters on board the Fort Worth for the first time, the Coronado’s UAS capability brought new value to the interoperability training – in particular OTH targeting.

This capability is especially relevant given the interest lately evinced in Southeast Asia in shipboard UAS capabilities, which constitute a cost-effective force multiplier for budget-conscious regional navies, such as Singapore which retrofitted the ScanEagle UAS on board the modernized Victory-class missile corvettes. In this context, UAS-enabled OTH missile targeting constitutes one of the key focus areas of contemporary Southeast Asian naval warfighting capacity-building. The Republic Singapore Navy refined OTH targeting of Harpoon ASCMs during the inaugural bilateral Exercise Pacific Griffin off Guam in September 2017, and the Coronado participated in the effort.

The significant utility of LCS rotational deployments to the region mean that plans are afoot to ramp up the ship’s presence. In February 2015, the U.S. Navy announced plans to operate four LCS out of Singapore – one at a time – by 2018. The LCS was viewed as “a pillar of future U.S. maritime presence in Southeast Asia,” Abrahamson remarked, adding, “We expect the next LCS to deploy to Southeast Asia in mid-2018 with multiple LCS operating from the region in the near future.”

Inherent Limitations

But given the need to balance between fulfilling an ever-growing list of operational demands in the Indo-Asia-Pacific and enhancing operational safety, especially in the wake of the recent ship collisions, capacity constraints may pose potential challenges. Despite extensive automation on board the LCS which meant less sailors required for daily tasks, thereby allowing a rotational crew concept and keeping ships deployed longer than other platforms, a smaller crew also has less time for maintenance. This was addressed by the U.S. Navy’s implementation of a contractor-reliant LCS maintenance structure. During its deployment, the Fort Worth docked in Singapore once every few weeks to be serviced by the maintenance personnel. To boost LCS availability, the Navy also purchased an expeditionary maintenance capability, which consists of two large shipping containers – one acting as a workstation and the other containing spare parts for the LCS, which can be shipped to most ports worldwide.

However, the small crew size on board the LCS still poses the issue of getting sufficiently qualified crews to man the LCS, in order to keep up with the high operational tempo that characterizes forward deployments to the Indo-Asia-Pacific. For instance, the delay in getting a new crew qualified to replace them after a change in training standards led to the open-ended deployment of the Coronado’s Crew 204. Crew 203, which was supposed to replace Crew 204, required a ship to get underway to qualify under the new standards. Unfortunately at that time, all available Independence  ships were either in overhaul or undergoing repairs – an unintended consequence of a complete reorganization of the LCS Program’s manning system triggered by the earlier spate of LCS engineering woes, such as the breakdowns which afflicted the Freedom and Fort Worth.

Considering that demands for security cooperation missions which typically characterize engagements with Southeast Asian maritime forces will probably increase, and given that the LCS is also required for crew qualifications besides rotational deployments, fleet availability would hinge heavily on the U.S. Navy’s overall scheme for small surface combatants (SSCs) that are tailored for such low-end tasks.

The current LCS Program envisages a total of 40 ships though the U.S. Navy has maintained a requirement for at least 52 to conduct security cooperation exercises with allies and the low-end missions the ship was originally designed for. A total of 29 LCS had been procured through FY2017 and for FY2018, the Navy would procure the 30th and 31st ships. The December 2015 program restructuring saw the reduction of planned annual procurement rate from about three ships to just one or two. As part of its FY2018 budget submission, the Navy decided to shift from procuring LCS to the FFG(X) separately from the LCS Program, starting in FY2020. But the FFG(X) design may or may not be based on one of the existing two LCS designs. This generates uncertainty overall for the SSC scheme.

Conclusion

That said, notwithstanding problems faced by the LCS throughout the three iterations of its rotational deployment, the presence of this type of warship not only fulfilled its intended missions but also opened new vistas for engagement with Indo-Asia-Pacific littoral navies, especially in helping build Southeast Asian maritime security capacity. As pertinently, in such times of troubled peace given the persistent maritime flashpoints and ensuing angst amongst many of the regional governments, the LCS does symbolize Washington’s deepening security commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

Swee Lean Collin Koh is research fellow at the Maritime Security Programme, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Featured Image: The USS Coronado at Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Oct. 16. (Photographer: Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images)

China’s Defense & Foreign Policy Week Concludes on CIMSEC

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By Dmitry Filipoff

Last week CIMSEC published articles analyzing China’s evolving defense and foreign policy, including sea power’s role in China’s strategic ambitions and related lessons from history, maritime strategy for the Indian Ocean, counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S., and major pronouncements on military modernization made by Xi Jinping at the 19th Party Congress. We thank our authors for their excellent contributions, listed below.

The Evolution of the PLA Navy and China’s National Security Interests  by Steve Micallef

“Since the beginning of the 21st century the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has steadily developed into a blue-water force able to rely on an ever increasing amount of modern equipment and platforms. This has been the result of years of intense effort on the part of naval planners in support of a more-forward oriented Chinese foreign and security policy.”

Chinese Maritime Strategy for the Indian Ocean by David Scott

“In expanding naval operations from the South China Sea and Western Pacific into the Indian Ocean, China is pursuing a “two-ocean” (战略, liang ge haiyang) strategy. This is the manifestation of China’s new strategy of “far-seas operations” (远海作战, yuanhai zuozhan) endorsed since the mid-2000s, to be achieved through deployment and berthing facilities across the Indo-Pacific, in part to meet energy security imperatives and thereby achieve “far seas protection” (远海护卫, yuanhai huwei) and power projection by the Chinese Navy.” 

China Looks Seaward to Become a Global Power by Theodore Bazinis

“But it’s not only about statements, the building of a mighty naval force and the emergence of China as a first-class maritime power can be identified as a fundamental indication of her attempts to implement such ambitions. A mighty naval force (a blue water navy) that can provide homeland security, ensure sovereign rights, contest national claims, and secure Chinese interests worldwide (including safeguarding the interests of her allies) constitutes a necessary condition for a world leader.”

China’s Base in Djibouti: Lessons from Germany’s Asian Colonialism by Pawel Behrendt

“The opening of the Chinese military base in Djibouti on August 1st is a landmark event; China finally has its first overseas military outpost. The parallel of similar activities undertaken by the Germans in China at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries is noteworthy for offering lessons on the relationship between force structure, maritime strategy, and overseas basing.”

Why U.S.-China Counterterrorism Cooperation Falters by Jeffrey Payne

“It is past time to recognize that CT cooperation is a remote possibility for the United States and China. Such a realization does not undermine the prospects of cooperation in other areas, nor ignore the threats violent extremists pose to China and its citizens. Discussions of CT simply exist too near the orbit of complex issues in the bilateral relationship that neither party is willing to jettison.”

PRC Defense Policy Noted in the Nineteenth CCP National Congress by Ching Chang

“Frankly speaking, no particular new idea related to the defense policy was disclosed by Xi in this report except two deadlines of force building. However, it is still important for political observers and military analysts to read the above contents for understanding the direction and goals of Chinese military policy.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: Troops train for a military parade in Beijing. (Reuters/ Damir Sagolj)

PRC Defense Policy Noted in the Nineteenth CCP National Congress

China’s Defense and Foreign Policy Topic Week

By Ching Chang

Predicted Event and Statements

The Nineteenth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and its subsequent First Plenary Session of the Central Committee was concluded as scheduled in late October 2017. As predicted, the Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, on behalf of the Eighteenth Central Committee, delivered the working report at the Nineteenth National Congress on October 18, 2017. This report was titled Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era describes all the previous major efforts and achievements completed in the past five years with retrospective perspectives. Nonetheless, certain visions were also noted in the same report.

For instance, in Xi’s report, he has addressed that, “We have initiated a new stage in strengthening and revitalizing the armed forces.” To elaborate this concern more detail, this report noted:

With a view to realizing the Chinese Dream and the dream of building a powerful military, we have developed a strategy for the military under new circumstances, and have made every effort to modernize national defense and the armed forces. We convened the Gutian military political work meeting to revive and pass on the proud traditions and fine conduct of our Party and our armed forces, and have seen a strong improvement in the political integrity of the people’s armed forces. Historic breakthroughs have been made in reforming national defense and the armed forces: a new military structure has been established with the Central Military Commission exercising overall leadership, the theater commands responsible for military operations, and the services focusing on developing capabilities. This represents a revolutionary restructuring of the organization and the services of the people’s armed forces. We have strengthened military training and war preparedness, and undertaken major missions related to the protection of maritime rights, countering terrorism, maintaining stability, disaster rescue and relief, international peacekeeping, escort services in the Gulf of Aden, and humanitarian assistance. We have stepped up weapons and equipment development, and made major progress in enhancing military preparedness. The people’s armed forces have taken solid strides on the path of building a powerful military with Chinese characteristics.”

Later, Xi further emphasized the goal of the Chinese Communist Party, that “… the Party’s goal of building a strong military in the new era is to build the people’s forces into world-class forces that obey the Party’s command, can fight and win, and maintain excellent conduct.” In the eleventh point of his “Fourteen Upholding Issues” titled Upholding Absolute Party Leadership over the People’s Forces, Xi addressed that,

“Building people’s forces that obey the Party’s command, can fight and win, and maintain excellent conduct is strategically important to achieving the two centenary goals and national rejuvenation. To realize the Party’s goal of building a powerful military in the new era, we must fully implement the fundamental principles and systems of Party leadership over the military, and see that Party strategy on strengthening military capabilities for the new era guides work to build national defense and the armed forces. We must continue to enhance the political loyalty of the armed forces, strengthen them through reform and technology, and run them in accordance with law. We must place greater focus on combat, encourage innovation, build systems, increase efficacy and efficiency, and further military-civilian integration.

Finally, in Chapter Ten of Xi’s report titled Staying Committed to the Chinese Path of Building Strong Armed Forces and Fully Advancing the Modernization of National Defense and the Military, Xi repeatedly underscored the following efforts for the future:

“We have reached a new historical starting point in strengthening national defense and the armed forces. Confronted with profound changes in our national security environment and responding to the demands of the day for a strong country with a strong military, we must fully implement the Party’s thinking on strengthening the military for the new era, adapt military strategy to new conditions, build a powerful and modernized army, navy, air force, rocket force, and strategic support force, develop strong and efficient joint operations commanding institutions for theater commands, and create a modern combat system with distinctive Chinese characteristics. Our armed forces must be up to shouldering the missions and tasks of the new era entrusted to them by the Party and the people.

Xi also concluded that, “We will adapt to the trend of a new global military revolution and to national security needs; we will upgrade our military capabilities, and see that, by the year 2020, mechanization is basically achieved, IT application has come a long way, and strategic capabilities have seen a big improvement. In step with our country’s modernization process, we will modernize our military across the board in terms of theory, organizational structure, service personnel, and weaponry. We will make it our mission to see that by 2035, the modernization of our national defense and our forces is basically completed; and that by the mid-21st century our people’s armed forces have been fully transformed into world-class forces.

Regarding the party leadership above the military, Xi insisted that, “We will strengthen Party building in the military. We will launch activities with the theme of passing on the traditions of revolution; stepping up to the task of making the military strong. We will move forward with the development of the military honors system. We will train the revolutionary officers and soldiers of a new era with faith, ability, courage, and integrity, and see that our forces forever preserve their nature, purpose, and character as the forces of the people.” Indeed, it is no surprise to readdress the principle of “party commands the gun” that emphasizes the party leadership within military command authorities.

For deepening national defense and military reform, Xi signified that, “We will continue to deepen national defense and military reform. We will further the reform of major policy systems, including the career officers system and the system for posting civilian personnel in the military. We will push ahead with transformation of military management, and improve and develop our distinctively Chinese socialist military institutions. We must keep it firm in our minds that technology is the core combat capability, encourage innovations in major technologies, and conduct innovations independently. We will strengthen the system for training military personnel, and make our people’s forces more innovative. We will govern the military with strict discipline in every respect, push for a fundamental transformation in the way our military is run, and strengthen the role of rule of law in enhancing national defense and military capabilities.

For the basic goal of the military, Xi also reminded that, “A military is built to fight. Our military must regard combat capability as the criterion to meet in all its work and focus on how to win when it is called on. We will take solid steps to ensure military preparedness for all strategic directions, and make progress in combat readiness in both traditional and new security fields. We will develop new combat forces and support forces, conduct military training under combat conditions, strengthen the application of military strength, speed up development of intelligent military, and improve combat capabilities for joint operations based on network information systems and the ability to fight under multi-dimensional conditions. This will enable us to effectively shape our military posture, manage crises, and deter and win wars.

Of course, Xi also adopted the following statements to boost the morale of the military and armed police force members:

“We should ensure that efforts to make our country prosperous and efforts to make our military strong go hand in hand. We will strengthen unified leadership, top-level design, reform, and innovation. We will speed up implementation of major projects, deepen reform of defense-related science, technology, and industry, achieve greater military-civilian integration, and build integrated national strategies and strategic capabilities. We will improve our national defense mobilization system, and build a strong, well-structured, and modern border defense, coastal defense, and air defense. We will establish an administration for veterans; we will protect the legitimate rights and interests of military personnel and their families; and we will make military service an occupation that enjoys public respect. We will carry out further reforms to build a modernized armed police force.

Eventually, Xi concluded with a sensational statement to readdress his vision of fulfilling the dream of building a powerful military: “Comrades, our military is the people’s military, and our national defense is the responsibility of every one of us. We must raise public awareness about the importance of national defense and strengthen unity between the government and the military and between the people and the military. Let us work together to create a mighty force for realizing the Chinese Dream and the dream of building a powerful military.”

Frankly speaking, no particular new idea related to the defense policy was disclosed by Xi in this report except two deadlines of force building. However, it is still important for political observers and military analysts to read the above contents for understanding the direction and goals of Chinese military policy.

Assessing Future Developments

It is quite hard to digest specific substance on policies from the statements shown above though they were quite inspirational to the members of the People’s Liberation Army. We should understand that a cover-all report of this type delivered in the vital political assembly may not necessarily reflect all the essential details associated with any specific policy. Nevertheless, we may still offer several credible assessments.

The first feature possibly concluded from the aforementioned text is that most present ongoing efforts within the Chinese defense communities will remain unchanged. These efforts include deepening national defense and military reform as well as military-civilian integration. Stability and continuity of the policies around these two dimensions can be expected in the foreseeable future.

The second feature emphasized by Xi is the relationship between the party and military. Particularly, the party leadership over the military has been repeated for several times in Xi’s report. We may also expect this iron rule of the party-military relationship will not change as long as the Chinese Communist Party still retains its governing power in China. Whether this insistence of party leadership may affect the military professionalism of the People’s Liberation Army is an issue worth of continuing observations.

Last but not least; two deadlines, 2020 and 2035, were emphasized for separate objectives in Xi’s report for force building. The details of these efforts require more attention for clarifying the objectives attached to these two deadlines. How this two-stage force building vision possibly affect future developments of the People’s Liberation Army is still obscure to many though plausible speculations have already emerged.

Conclusion: Uncertainties Still Exist

One swallow does not make a summer, neither a single speech, even though it was delivered by the highest PRC leadership, could cover all the contents of the defense policies associated with the People’s Liberation Army. Many policies are fundamentally adaptive and circumstantial. There are many uncertainties around Chinese defense policies before these two newly declared deadlines. Two existing efforts of deepening national defense and military reform as well as civilian-military integration are basically unstoppable for now. The party-military relationship remains compatible to the political culture of the Chinese communist regime for the time being and will likely be retained into the future. Nonetheless, uncertainties remain and nobody may have the crystal ball to tell what exactly the future development of the Chinese defense apparatus entails.

Dr. Ching Chang was a line officer in the Republic of China Navy for more than thirty years. As a very productive commentator on the Chinese military affairs, he is recognized as a leading expert on the Peoples Liberation Army with unique insights on its military thinking.

Featured Image: In this November 3, 2017 photo released by China’s Xinhua news agency, President Xi Jinping (center) visits the Central Military Commission in Beijing as part of an inspection tour. (AP)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

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