The Concept of ‘Reach’ in Grasping China’s Active Defense Strategy: Part II

This publication was originally featured on Bharat Shakti and is republished with permission. It may be read in its original form here.

By Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan AVSM & Bar, VSM, IN (Ret.)

Editor-in-Chief’s Note

Part I of this two-part article introduced the geoeconomic and geostrategic imperatives that shape China’s geopolitical drives. It also presented the overarching concept of “reach” as an aid to understanding the international import of China’s military strategy. Read Part I here.

In this second and concluding part of the article series the author explores Chinese strategic intent and its ramifications. The article provides an account of the naval facilities China is promoting or constructing on disputed islands among littoral states of the Indian Ocean; assesses China’s economic linkages with African nations; and projects the growth curve of the Chinese Navy, all of which are important to keep in view while analyzing the trajectory of Chinese geo-strategic intent.

By emphasizing the factor of temporal strategic-surprise (in contrast to spatial surprise), the author offers clues to understanding the links between China’s military strategy and her geopolitical international game-moves as they are being played out within a predominantly maritime paradigm. As in the famous Chinese game of Go—perhaps a more apt analogy than chess—the People’s Republic is putting in place the pieces that will shape her desired geopolitical space. The author explores the spatial and temporal dimensions of the Chinese strategy and the related vulnerabilities of the opposing Indian establishment.

In his 2006 dissertation written at the US Army War College then-Lt. Col Christopher J. Pehrson, USAF, termed the Chinese geostrategy the “String of Pearls.” This expression, first used in January 2005 in a report to U.S. military officials prepared by the U.S. consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton, caught the attention of the world’s imagination. Pehrson posited China as a slightly sinister, rising global power, playing a new strategic game, as grandiose in its concept, formulation and execution as the “Great Game” of the 19th century. Despite vehement and frequent denials by Chinese leadership of any such geostrategic machinations designed at the accumulation of enhanced geopolitical and geoeconomic power and influence, the expression rapidly embedded itself into mainstream consciousness.

Image Courtesy: Chinausfocus.com
China’s One Road, One Belt economic infrastructure initiative. (Chinausfocus.com)

As a net result, for over a decade, China has chafed under the opprobrium heaped upon it for a concept that (to be fair) it had never once articulated by the state. However, in a brilliant rebranding exercise by Beijing in 2014, the world’s attention is being increasingly drawn away from the negative connotations associated with the phrase String of Pearls and towards the more benign-sounding 21st century Maritime Silk Route Economic Belt, also known as “One Road, One Belt.” This presents an alternative expression, while it nevertheless covers essentially the very same geostrategic maritime game-plays that Colonel Pehrson explained a decade ago. The new expression emphasizes transregional inclusiveness and evokes the romance of a shared pan-Asian history with the implied promise of a reestablishment of the economic prosperity that the Asian continent’s major civilizational and socio-cultural entities, namely China and India, enjoyed until the 18th century.

Each “pearl” in the String of Pearls construct—or in more contemporary parlance, each “node” along the Maritime Silk Route—is a link in a chain of Chinese geopolitical and geostrategic influence. For example, Hainan Island, with its recently upgraded military facilities and sheltered submarine base, is a pearl/node.

It is by no means necessary for a line joining these pearls/nodes to encompass mainland China in one of the concentric ripples typified by the Island Chains strategy. In fact, since the Maritime Silk Route is a true maritime construct, it is highly unlikely that the nodes would do so.

Image Courtesy: chinahighlights.com
The location of Hainana Province, China. (chinahighlights.com)

Other pearls/nodes include the recent creation of artificial islands in the Paracel and Spratly islands incorporating, inter alia, the ongoing construction/upgrade of airstrips on Woody Island—located in the Paracel Islands, some 300 nm east of Vietnam—as also on Mischief Reef and Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. Additional pearls/nodes have been obtained through Chinese investments in Cambodia and China’s continuing interest in Thailand’s Isthmus of Kra.

China’s development of major maritime infrastructure abroad—the container terminal in Chittagong, Bangladesh; the Maday crude oil terminal in Myanmar’s Kyakpyu port; the development of ports such as Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Gwadar in Pakistan, Bagamoyo in Tanzania, Beira in Mozambique, Walvis Bay in Namibia, Kribi in Cameroon, the Djibouti Multipurpose Port (DMP), and the offer to even develop Chabahar in Iran (checkmated by a belated but vigorous Indian initiative), along with the successful establishment of a military (naval) base in Djibouti—all constitute yet more pearls/nodes. The development of an atoll in the Seychelles, oil infrastructure projects in Sudan and Angola, and the financing of newly discovered massive gas finds in offshore areas of Mozambique, Tanzania and the Comoros, are similarly recently acquired pearls/nodes. Even Australia yields a pearl/node, as does South Africa, thanks to Chinese strategic investment in mining in general and uranium-mining companies in particular, in both countries.

Chinese maritime policing vessel.
Chinese maritime policing vessel. (SCMP.com)

From an Indian perspective, China’s new strategic maritime-constructs (by whichever name) are simultaneously operative on a number of levels, several of which are predominantly economic in nature and portend nothing more than fierce competition. At the geostrategic level, however, the economy is at its apex and is China’s and India’s greatest strength and greatest vulnerability, at the same time; therefore, the economy is the centerpiece of the policy and strategy of both countries. This is precisely why, as the geographical competition space between India and China coincide in the Indian Ocean, there is a very real possibility of competition transforming into conflict, particularly as the adverse effects of climate change on resources and the available land area becomes increasingly more evident.

“Reach” has both spatial and temporal dimensions. The spatial facets of China’s geopolitical moves are evident, as illustrated in the preceding String of Pearls discussion. It is critical for India’s geopolitical and military analysts to also understand the temporal facets of this construct. The terms short term, medium term and long term are seldom used with any degree of digital precision. A nation tends to keep its collective “eye on the ball” in the short term and, by corollary, tends to assign far less urgency to something that is assigned to the long term. This ill-defined differentiation is how strategic surprise may be achieved in the temporal plane. For instance, in China, the short term generally implies 30 to 50 years. This is an epoch that is far in excess of what in India passes as the long term. Consequently, India fails to pay as close attention to developments in China as she might have were the developments to unfold in a duration corresponding to India’s own short term of 2-5 years. This distinction permits China to achieve strategic surprise, and this is as true of military strategy as it is of grand strategy and geoeconomics.

On the one hand, it should be remembered that these strategic constructs are not only about maritime infrastructure projects, involving the construction of ports, pipelines and airfields, though these developments constitute their most obvious and visibly worrisome manifestation. The strategy is equally about new, renewed or reinvigorated geopolitical and diplomatic ties between the People’s Republic of China and nation states across a very wide geographical swath (including the African littoral and the island nations of both the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean). On the other hand, China’s strategic maritime constructs have some important military spin-offs, which closely align to the furtherance of geostrategic reach. Thus, by developing friendly ports of call (if not bases), facilities and favorable economic dependencies in the various pearls/nodes, the logistics involved in the event of an engagement in maritime power-projection are greatly eased.

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Type 904 (Dayun Class) Transport Ship (globalmil.com)

Supplementing the pearls/nodes are the Chinese Navy’s five impressive stores/ammunition supply ships of the Dayun Class (Type 904) and six underway replenishment tankers of the Qiandaohu Class (Type 903A). In addition, China requires ground control stations to meet her satellite-based needs of real-time surveillance. Unlike the United States, China simply does not have adequate ground control/tracking stations within the Indian Ocean to affect requisite ground control and real-time downlinking of her remote-sensing satellites. This forces her to deploy a number of ships (the Yuanwang Class) for this purpose. These constitute a severe vulnerability that China certainly needs to overcome. One way to do so is to establish infrastructure and acceptability along the IOR island states and along the East African littoral, as China is currently attempting to do.

The principal lack in the Chinese strategy to provide military substance to the country’s geoeconomic and geostrategic reach comes in the form of integral air power through aircraft carriers. China is rapidly learning that while one can buy or build an aircraft carrier in only a couple of years, it takes many more years to develop the human, material, logistic and doctrinal skills required for competent and battle worthy carrier-borne aviation. For nearly a decade now, China has demonstrated her ability to sustain persistent military (naval) presence in the Indian Ocean—albeit in a low threat environment. Combat capability is, of course, quite different from mere presence or even the ability to maintain anti-piracy forces, since the threat posed to China by disparate groups of poorly armed, equipped and led pirates can hardly be equated with that posed by a powerful and competent military adversary in times of conflict.

Despite the impressive growth of the Chinese Navy and the vigor of the Chinese military strategy, China may not, in the immediate present, have the combat capability to deploy for any extended period of time in support of its geoeconomic and geostrategic reach were they to be militarily contested by a major navy. However, as James Holmes points out, if India were to continue to cite shortfalls in current Chinese capability and conclude that it will take the PLA Navy at least fifteen years to station a standing, battle worthy naval squadron in the Indian Ocean, this would lull Indians into underplaying Chinese determination and the speed of that country’s military growth. This would carry the very real consequent possibility of India suffering a massive strategic surprise. Is that something that India can afford?

Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan retired as Commandant of the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala. He is an alumnus of the prestigious National Defence College.

Why the Coast Guard Needs LRASM in Peacetime

By Chuck Hill

The Coast Guard has a problem. It is not currently equipped to perform one of its missions, and it appears no other agency is prepared to cover the deficiency. The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) may be a possible solution.

The Mission

One of the Coast Guard’s peacetime missions is Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security (PWCS).

“The PWCS mission entails the protection of the U.S. Maritime Domain and the U.S. Marine Transportation System (MTS)…prevention and disruption of terrorist attacks… Conducting PWCS deters terrorists from using or exploiting the MTS as a means for attacks on U.S. territory, population centers, vessels, critical infrastructure, and key resources.”

The Shortfall

Implicit in this mission is that the service should have the capability to forcibly stop a non-compliant ship, any ship, of any size. If a crew is motivated by simple greed, a .50 caliber machine gun is probably enough to convince them to take their chances in court rather than resist, but if the crew is motivated by a fanatical, or even suicidal belief in a cause, they become much harder to stop.

Terrorist targets are limited only by their imagination. They might include something like the Mumbai attack, an assault on a bridge, an LNG tanker or facility, a nuclear power plant, a passenger ship, an SSBN departing on patrol, or they might use a vessel to bring in a nuclear weapon. 

The Coast Guard is an armed force at all times, but it is certainly not heavily armed. In fact, in terms of stopping a recalcitrant merchant ship, the Coast Guard seems relatively less capable now than they were eighty years ago.

This is because of the rapid growth in the size of merchant ships. Even the largest cutters with their 57 mm and 76 mm guns are far less capable of stopping today’s over 100,000 ton merchant vessels than the cutters of the 1930s, with their 5″ guns were against ships that were typically well under 10,000 tons.

Worse yet, the units that would actually be on scene to attempt to stop and board a ship suspected of being under the control of terrorists is unlikely to include any of the larger cutters because they seldom remain near harbor entrance. Rather, they are frequently sent well off shore. 

The Coast Guard simply does not have the capability to deal with a terrorist attack using a medium to large sized merchant ship, and it currently appears that there is no other organization capable of answering this threat in the 30 or more port complexes terrorists might find worthwhile targets.

Our Friends

Navy surface forces, in U.S. waters, are too geographically concentrated. Navy ships tend to be either in homeport, working up in specific geographic areas, deployed, or in transit to deploy. There are no Navy surface warships homeported in the Gulf of Mexico, on the East Coast north of the New Port News/Norfolk complex, in Alaska, or on the West coast between San Diego and Puget Sound with weapons equal to or better than those on cutters. For many ports, the nearest Navy surface vessel is hundreds of miles away.

Air Force, Navy, Marine, and Army Air are not on standby around the U.S. armed with anti-ship weapons. Of the Air Force, only some strategic aircraft are training for the anti-shipping mission. Fighters and attack aircraft do not. The author suspects the U.S. would not get a timely response from the Air Force to a no notice requirement to stop a maritime target. Units that are not trained for an anti-shipping role cannot be easily pressed into that mission.

A Possible Solution

LRASM, with an over 200 nautical mile range and the ability to strike selected locations on a target ship, could possibly provide an answer. If the U.S. fielded LRASM on all nine National Security Cutters (NSC) and 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) currently planned, its over 200 mile range could cover virtually all of these ports, and likely have a weapon on target within 20 minutes of launch.

How It Might Work

The Coast Guard is developing a Maritime Domain Awareness system. Most likely, it will tap into the Navy’s system and over the horizon radars.

When the maritime domain awareness system detects the approach of a suspicious vessel, a small patrol vessel (WPB or WPC) is assigned to intercept it and conduct a boarding to determine the vessel’s nature and intent.

When the patrol vessel is assigned the intercept, a larger cutter that may be at some distance, but within range, would be directed to provide support in the form of a LRASM launch if necessary.

The patrol craft will transmit video, position, course, and speed during its approach which will allow the start of mission planning for an LRASM launch should it become necessary. The results of the patrol craft’s attempt to board will allow determination of hostile intent.

Once a determination of hostile intent has been made, and deadly force authorized, the supporting cutter can launch its weapon. The patrol craft will continually update the supporting cutter before and during the flight of the LRASM. Navy, Joint, and/or Allied procedures would be used to call for a strike, and should also work with other service’s assets if they are available.

LRASM_TSL_Concept_Lockheed_Martin
LRASM topside launcher concept. The size and weight are comparable to launchers for Harpoon. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

Is It Affordable?

It is likely cutters could be equipped to carry eight missiles, but for peacetime purposes, two per ship would almost certainly meet the Coast Guard’s needs. Since some ships will always be in maintenance with ammunition removed, and others may be deployed where carrying the weapons would be counterproductive. The Coast Guard is unlikely to ever require more than about 50 missiles to meet its peacetime needs. A very rough estimate of LRASM unit cost would be something on the order of $2M to $5M each. That means the total cost of the missiles is likely between $100M and $250M. Adding launchers, control systems, and installations to cost would almost certainly be less than $500M. These costs would be spread over several years. This gives only an order of magnitude estimate, but it is several orders of magnitude less than the cost of other systems being deployed to protect the U.S. from attack.

Since the missiles, their launchers, and control systems are Navy type/Navy Owned equipment, the Navy would be responsible for paying for them. The cost of adding another four missiles per year for the Coast Guard to the Navy’s buy for LRASM could be lost in the rounding errors in the Navy budget.

For the Coast Guard, the program would probably require no more than 150 additional billets ashore and afloat. Not insignificant, but doable.

Conclusion

If the LRASM performs as advertised, its combination of range, warhead, and intelligent targeting may allow the Coast Guard’s small, but widely distributed force to effectively cover virtually the entire U.S. coast. 

 Chuck retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life-long interest in naval ships and history. Chuck writes for his blog, Chuck Hill’s CG blog.

Featured Image: USCG National Security Cutter BERTHOLF. Photo: U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

Deception and the Backfire Bomber: Part Three

The following article is part of our cross-posting partnership with Information Dissemination’s Jon Solomon.  It is republished here with the author’s permission.  It can be read it in its original form here.

Read part one and part two of this series. 

By Jon Solomon

The Great Equalizer: Backfire Raiders’ Own Use of Deception

The key to improving a Soviet maritime bomber raid’s odds of success appears to have been its own use of EW and tactical deception. Tokarev observes that SNAF doctrine developers closely monitored U.S. Navy carriers’ Combat Air Patrol (CAP) tactics and operational patterns, with particular interest on patrol cycle durations and aerial refueling periods, to identify possible windows of vulnerability that could be exploited in a large-scale attack (Tokarev, Pg. 69). He further observes that SNAF doctrine developers concluded U.S. Navy CAP crews were “quite dependent” upon direction by tactical controllers embarked in area air defense-capable surface combatants or E-2 Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft. This meant

“…the task of the attackers could be boiled down to finding a way to fool those officers—either to overload their sensors or, to some degree, relax their sense of danger by posing what were to their minds easily recognizable decoys, which were in reality full, combat-ready strikes. By doing so the planners expected to slow the reactions of the whole air-defense system, directly producing the “golden time” needed to launch the missiles.” (Tokarev, Pg 75)

In practice, this entailed extensive use of chaff to clutter and confuse the E-2s’ and surface combatants’ radar pictures, not to mention to create ‘corridors’ for shielding inbound raiders from radar detection. This probably also involved using elements of the sacrificial reconnaissance-attack group mentioned earlier to draw attention away from the other penetrating pathfinders. Most interestingly, Tokarev mentions that the raid’s main attack group included a “demonstration group.” When combined with his statement that only seventy to eighty of the bombers in an air division-strength raid would be carrying missiles, this suggests some of the bombers might have been specifically intended to attract their opponent’s attention and then withdraw from contact—the very definition of a deceptive demonstration (Tokarev, Pg 73, 77). As a Backfire raid would be conducted from perhaps two or three attack axes, a demonstration group could hypothetically cause a significant portion of available CAP resources—not to mention the carrier group’s overall tactical attention—to be focused towards one sector while the main attack would actually come from other sectors. Any missiles launched by the CAP against the demonstration group (or the reconnaissance-attack group for that matter) would obviously no longer be available when the main attack group arrived on scene. In this way, enough of the main group might survive long enough to actually launch their missiles, and maybe longer still to escape homeward.

The reconnaissance-attack and demonstration groups might also have been used to induce the carrier group to break out of restrictive EMCON and thereby help clarify the situational picture for the rest of the bombers. Enticing warships to light off their air search radars—and for the pre-Aegis combatants, missile-directing radars—would have provided some high confidence indications of which contacts were surface combatants and which were not. A similar effect might result if the Soviet tactics resulted in U.S. and NATO warships ceasing radio-silence as the carrier group oriented itself to defend against the perceived inbound threat. Still, as the carrier and any carrier-simulating decoy ships present might refrain from radiating telltale radars or engaging in telltale radio communications even under these conditions, the raid’s deceptions would not necessarily help pinpoint the carrier. They would, though, reduce the number of contacts requiring direct visual identification by pathfinders—perhaps dramatically. They would also likely help the raid’s air defense suppression group designate targets for jamming or anti-radar missile attack.

None of this should be surprising to those who have read Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. The novel’s famous first battle at sea begins with a Badger group lobbing target drones towards a NATO carrier task force from far outside the latter’s AEW radar coverage. Equipped with ‘radar blip enhancers’ that allow them to simulate bombers, the drones present themselves using a formation and flight profile that easily convinces the task force’s air defenses they are facing an actual raid. The resultant ruse fools the task force’s F-14 fighters into wasting their AIM-54 Phoenix long-range air-to-air missiles against these decoys, essentially denuding the task force of its outer defensive layer. This is readily exploited by a Backfire group approaching from a different axis, with disastrous consequences for the task force’s warships.

Nor should any of this be surprising to students of the first Gulf War. While U.S. Air Force F-117’s were rightly heralded as having penetrated all the way to Baghdad with impunity on Operation Desert Storm’s opening night, their ease in doing so was paved by a joint U.S. Air Force and Navy deception titled SCATHE MEAN. In this little-known mission that closely emulated Clancy’s fictional scenario, the two services launched BQM-74 target drones and ADM-141 Tactical Air Launched Decoys to distract Iraqi Very High Frequency surveillance radar operators from detecting the inbound F-117s, seduce the Iraqis into expending precious Surface to Air Missiles against the bait, and induce these SAM sites into exposing their search and fire control radars to U.S. anti-radar missile attacks.

In Part Four, the ingredients for countering such deceptions.

Jon Solomon is a Senior Systems and Technology Analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. in Alexandria, VA. He can be reached at jfsolo107@gmail.com. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency. These views have not been coordinated with, and are not offered in the interest of, Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. or any of its customers.

Call for Articles: South China Sea Security Topic Week

By Dmitry Filipoff

Week Dates: July 18-22, 2016
Articles Due: July 17, 2016
Article Length: 800-1800 Words (with flexibility)
Submit to: Nextwar@cimsec.org

In mid-July CIMSEC will be launching a topic week on the security situation in the South China Sea. Tensions are on the rise as China continues to defend its nine-dash claim in the South China Sea while most other claimants and regional powers strengthen security cooperation agreements with the United States. Rules based international order is being challenged as numerous militaries in the region modernize with growing defense budgets. 

How may South China Sea disputes animate the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region? How may crises and flashpoints come about, be diffused, or escalate? How can claimants restore trust? How is the regional military balance of power trending, and what would conflict look like? How can rules based order be preserved in Asia’s maritime domain, and what does its violation warrant for the future? 

Contributors are encouraged to answer these questions and more as they seek to understand the complexity of the strategic crossroads that is the South China Sea. Please submit draft contributions to Nextwar@cimsec.org.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. He may be contacted at Nextwar@cimsec.org

Featured Image:  Aerial view of the Yongxing Island, also known as Woody Island in the South China Sea on June 19, 2014 in Sansha, Hainan Province of China. ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

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