Potential Chinese Anti-Ship Capabilities Between the First and Second Island Chains

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. Read it in its original form here.

By Jon Solomon

There was a pretty lively debate in the comments to Chris Mclachlan’s post last month about the Combat Logistics Force. No one took issue with his observations that the CLF might be undersized for sustaining high-tempo forward U.S. Navy operations in the event of a major Sino-American war. Nor did anyone contest his argument that our replenishment ships lack the basic self-defense capabilities their Cold War-era predecessors carried. Instead, the debate focused on Chris’s assertion that CLF ships ought to be escorted during wartime by a small trans-oceanic surface combatant possessing medium-range anti-air and anti-submarine capabilities.

Needless to say, I agree with Chris’s view. Such an escort would be a necessary part of the overall combined arms solution set to protecting not only CLF assets but also the shipping that would surge reinforcements and materiel to embattled U.S. allies in East Asia, provide steady logistical sustainment to the U.S. and allied forces deployed to or based in those countries, and maintain the flow of vital maritime commerce to and from those countries. One rarely sees any of these four critical tasks acknowledged in discussions within the security studies community. I believe that represents a dangerous analytical oversight, as an American failure to adequately protect its own and its allies’ sea lines of communications in a war with China would be strategically disastrous. In today’s post, I’m going to outline China’s ability to threaten these lines in a notional major war. On Thursday, I’ll outline how the U.S. and its allies might offset that threat.

Chinese Active Defense Layers (Office of Naval Intelligence graphic). Note that the range lines reflect where PLA aircraft and submarines might be expected to operate in wartime based on evidence to date. While PLA aircraft would be unlikely to fly further east from the second layer's line if U.S. and allied air coverage from bases along the Second Island Chain was strong, the same might not be true for PLAN SSNs. Also note that the maritime approaches to Luzon and the northern/central Ryukyus fall within the PLA's middle layer, and Taiwan and the southern Ryukyus within the inner layer.
Chinese Active Defense Layers (Office of Naval Intelligence graphic). Note that the range lines reflect where PLA aircraft and submarines might be expected to operate in wartime based on evidence to date. While PLA aircraft would be unlikely to fly further east from the second layer’s line if U.S. and allied air coverage from bases along the Second Island Chain was strong, the same might not be true for PLAN SSNs. Also note that the maritime approaches to Luzon and the northern/central Ryukyus fall within the PLA’s middle layer, and Taiwan and the southern Ryukyus within the inner layer.

Let’s first look at the strategic geography of the problem. The sea lanes in question pass through the waters between the First Island Chain and the line stretching from Hokkaido through the Bonins and Marianas to the Palaus (e.g,  the “Second Island Chain”). I’ve recently written about the PLAAF’s effective reach into the Western Pacific, and it’s been widely understood for years that late-generation PLAN submarines possess the technological capability to operate for several weeks in these waters before having to return to port. China would be hard-pressed to achieve localized sea control anywhere within this broad area; its own surface combatants and shipping would be just as vulnerable to attack. It wouldn’t need sea control, though, to achieve its probable campaign-level objectives of bogging down (or outright thwarting) an effective U.S. military response, or perhaps inflicting coercive economic pain upon one or more embattled American allies. The use of PLA submarines and strike aircraft to pressure U.S. and allied sea lines of communications would be entirely sufficient. And as Toshi Yoshihara and Martin Murphy point out in their article in the Summer ‘15Naval War College Review, these kinds of PLA operations would be consistent with the Mao-derived maritime strategic theory of “sabotage warfare at sea,” albeit at a much greater distance from China’s shores than the theory originally conceived. Such operations have been widely discussed in Chinese strategic literature over the past two decades.[i]

It bears noting that our East Asian treaty allies like Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines would have inherent roles and responsibilities defending their sea lines of communication. Nevertheless, they probably would not be able to fulfill the mission entirely on their own given their maritime forces’ sizes and capabilities. There would probably need to be a geographical line of responsibility similar to what the U.S. and Great Britain worked out in the Atlantic during the Second World War; shipping protection west of the line would primarily be the ally’s responsibility, and the U.S. would be primarily responsible for shipping protection east of the line. Even so, the U.S. would probably still need to contribute escorts and supporting forces to assist the ally in protecting sea lanes that were within some threshold distance of the Chinese mainland. Shipping protection in the approaches to the Ryukyus, Taiwan, or western Luzon particularly come to mind.

While it is true that U.S. and allied forces could probably pressure the PLA’s ability to push submarines and aircraft through the Ryukyus’ various straits or the Luzon Strait in a war, they would probably not be able to fully seal those doors—at least not during the conflict’s early phases. The biggest reason for this would be the straits’ sheer proximity to the Chinese mainland: PLAAF/PLAN fighters would be readily able to escort their strike aircraft brethren out into the Western Pacific and back, not to mention threaten any U.S. or allied anti-submarine aircraft or surface combatants patrolling the straits. Granted, Chinese fighters would be exposed to any sea-based and mobile land-based area air defense systems covering the straits and their approaches. They might also be confronted by U.S. or allied fighters operating from austere island bases in the vicinity of the straits, or from aircraft carriers or land bases located at various distances “over the horizon” to the east. U.S. and allied defenders could additionally use any number of countertargeting tactics to reduce their susceptibility to attack.

However, even if the PLA could not damage or destroy many of these forces per raid, it could still take actions that effectively suppressed the straits “guardians.” One tactic might be to salvo land-attack or anti-radar missiles to distract the defenders or induce them to keep their “heads down” shortly before or during a straits transit. Another might be to damage runways or austere airstrips as possible in order to constrain the defenders’ air operations; repairs could take precious hours. Electronic attacks and tactical deception could also be used to screen transiting PLA aircraft and submarines. Periodic PLA suppression raids would neither be small undertakings nor without risk to the forces performing them, but they might be sustainable on an as-needed operational tempo for several weeks or months at minimum.

The other factor that would make it impossible to hermetically seal the First Island Chain barrier would be the difficulty in maintaining persistent U.S. or allied submarine coverage in all of the requisite straits. The U.S. presently has thirty-one non-special-purpose SSNs stationed in the Pacific; three are homeported in Guam and twenty in Pearl Harbor. Only a small number would be deployed at sea within quick steaming of the straits, though, unless timely indications and warning of an impending crisis or conflict were received and then acted upon by U.S. leaders. The high-readiness Guam boats would be able to arrive on scene fairly rapidly once sortied, but it would take several more days for them to be reinforced by Pearl Harbor boats—not all of which might be immediately surgeable due to inter-deployment maintenance. Japan could surely contribute a number of its sixteen modern SSs in active service, but again not all of them might be surge-ready at any given time. And while the U.S. and Japanese fleets will be receiving additional boats over the coming decade, it will not be at a rate and scale that would dramatically change the straits coverage math. Hypothetical seabed-mounted sonar arrays in these straits or their approaches might help improve these odds by cueing available U.S. or allied submarines (or other anti-submarine forces) to a PLA submarine transit. The probability of a friendly submarine intercepting a PLA submarine detected this way, though, would depend upon the time between when the cue was broadcast and when it was received by the friendly sub, how the friendly sub’s effective sonar ranges in those waters affected its ability to redetect the trespasser, and whether the friendly sub could cover the distance from its starting point to have a chance at redetection before the cueing data “aged out.” More than one boat might be required to cover any particular strait with a certain margin of confidence; this would be especially true for the wider straits. Nor would anti-submarine patrols in the straits be the two sub fleets’ sole mission at the beginning of a major war: there would be equal if not greater demands for land-attack strikes, anti-submarine and anti-surface patrols inside the First Island Chain, anti-submarine patrols between the two island chain lines, special forces insertion/extraction, and far-forward intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance. U.S. and Japanese submarine coverage of the straits simply could not be absolute.

It would be excellent if U.S. and allied forces could attrite the PLA forces making or supporting straits transits by a few percent each time without suffering equivalent attrition; the cumulative effects on the PLA’s overall warmaking capacity would be significant. But it would take weeks if not months for those effects to really show. That’s why the ability to logistically sustain the land-based forces waging the protracted frontline fight would be so crucial to U.S. war strategy. If the PLA were to inflict enough pressure on these logistical flows, the barrier defense would eventually wither on the vine.

It’s also important to remember that this imperfect barrier would only function in an open war—not during a crisis. Any PLAN submarines sortied prior to the outbreak of open hostilities could in theory patrol between the two island chain lines for campaign-significant amounts of time before having to hazard a trip back through the First Island Chain gauntlet. Modern PLAN SSNs like the Type 093 and its Type 095 follow-on would have an obvious endurance advantage over Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) boats like the Type 041, but even the latter could probably remain underway for a few weeks before requiring a return to port. During that time, the mere fact that PLAN submarines were unlocated in the Western Pacific would undoubtedly affect U.S. operations (and tempo) in theater. The Royal Navy’s experience coping with a single unlocated Argentine submarine during the Falklands War is instructive on that point.

It would not take many PLAN submarines to generate such effects. For instance, let’s assume that the PLAN allocated its Type 041s, Type 093s, and Type 095s for war-opening operations between the two island chain lines while simultaneously holding its Type 035A/B/G, Type 039, and Kilo-class diesel-electric boats back for operations within the East and South China Seas. Let’s also assume China had its planned twenty Type 041s and five Type 093s in commission, plus perhaps five Type 095s as well, when a conflict erupted. Lastly, let’s assume that these boats’ material conditions of readiness were high enough to sortie two-thirds of them into the Western Pacific as the crisis phase peaked. Thirteen AIP boats and six SSNs might not seem like a lot within such a broad expanse. However, as Julian Corbett pointed out a century ago, the most “fertile” areas for hunting ships are “the terminals of departure and destination where trade tends to be crowded, and in a secondary degree the focal points where, owing to the conformation of the land, trade tends to converge.”[ii] If the PLAN followed Corbett’s logic, it might position its submarines in waters the U.S. and its allies would have to traverse to access (or break out of) selected major ports along the First Island Chain during the war’s first weeks. Or it might assign those duties to the Type 041s and deploy its SSNs in the waters just west of the Marianas that shipping from Guam, Hawaii, or the continental U.S. might seek to traverse. Or if the Chinese Ocean Surveillance System’s (COSS) coverage between the island chain lines remained adequate after the war started, China might try to steer its SSNs into mid-transit contact with U.S. or allied shipping.[iii] What’s more, the lingering effects of a PLA conventional first strike against major U.S. and Japanese bases in the Japanese home islands and Okinawa, subsequent PLA suppression operations against U.S. or allied straits-guarding forces along the Ryukyus-Luzon line, and in-theater U.S. and allied anti-submarine-capable forces’ sheer combat load prior to the arrival of reinforcements from the U.S. suggest that at least some PLAN submarines could complete at least one full cycle from their patrol areas to port for replenishment and then back into the Western Pacific before the “happy time” window began to close. This would especially be true for PLAN submarines patrolling the approaches to the Ryukyus, Taiwan, or Luzon.

Add the PLAAF/PLAN strike aircraft threat back into the mix and it should be apparent that U.S. and allied use of the Western Pacific’s surface between the two island chain lines would likely be opposed early in a notional war. The key variables driving China’s anti-shipping potential within these waters would be COSS’s ability to provide PLA aircraft and submarines with actionable targeting cues despite intense U.S. (and possibly allied) efforts to degrade and deceive this system-of-systems, the PLA’s ability to push those forces through contested First Island Chain straits when and where needed, and the operational range and endurance of those forces.

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.

Featured Image: QINGDAO, CHINA – JULY 02: (CHINA OUT) CNS Harbin DDG-112 frigate fires a missile during live-fire drill on Yellow Sea on July 2, 2015 in Qingdao, Shandong Province of China. Naval vessels and soldiers mainly from China people’s Liberation Army Navy North Sea Fleet and part of soldiers of China people’s Liberation Army Navy East Sea Fleet, the Second Artillery Force of the PLA, Chinese PLA Shenyang Military Region and Chinese PLA Jinan Military Region attended the live-fire drill on Yellow Sea on Thursday. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

CIMSEC And The Atlantic Council Launch Fiction Contest On Autonomy And Future War

Contest Publication Dates: October 31 – November 4
Submissions Due: October 21
Winners Announced: November 7

Article Length: 2,000 – 5,000 words
Submit to: Nextwar@cimsec.org
Prizes: $500 Grand Prize, $250 Runner-Up

By Sally DeBoer and August Cole

CIMSEC and The Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project are teaming to host a Fiction Contest on Autonomy and Future War. This contest will explore the nuances of unmanned naval systems employed in combat or crisis through creative fiction. Final Judges August Cole, Larry Bond, and Peter Singer will select one Grand Prize winner and one Runner-Up Prize winner. The Grand Prize winner will receive a cash prize of $500, while the Runner-Up will be awarded a cash prize of $250. A selection of outstanding entries will publish on CIMSEC beginning the week of October 31 with the winners announced on Monday, November 7. 

Autonomy and unmanned systems are increasingly present in today’s Navies – from assets acting in a surveillance, monitoring, or intelligence collection capacity like Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Triton and Hydroid’s REMUS, to low-crew combatants like the Zumwalt-class destroyer which operates with 147 sailors. The rapid pace and development of technologies such as machine learning algorithms indicates that unmanned systems will be able to take on an increasingly decisive role in future conflicts. How will more advanced autonomous and unmanned systems shape the future of naval forces – and what unique challenges will autonomous systems present for future Navy leaders?

Possible topics include (but are by no means limited to) the nature of military leadership in an age of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the ethical challenges of incorporating increasingly capable and automated systems, unique strategic or operational options, challenges, and scenarios afforded to warfighters by unmanned systems, limits or adjustments to Rules of Engagement, and the benefits and challenges associated with delegating authority to unmanned systems across varying degrees of autonomy. In addition, authors may wish to explore how unmanned systems will change shipboard life. 

While the topic of unmanned systems in combat is truly broad, entries should focus on human dynamics such as interactions between warfighters and autonomous systems whether in terms of leadership, shipboard life, decisionmaking, and imposed limits on unmanned systems.

Authors should feel free to be creative in their submission. Formats such as traditional narrative fiction, Captain’s logs, after action reports, and visual art/media are acceptable. 

Interested authors can find creative cues from the Defense Science Board’s recently released report on autonomy, Guru Banavar’s address from the 2015 Nobel Week Dialogue, or from the following quote from Patrick O’Brien’s The Ionian Mission:

“It is only that I dislike the whole notion of subordination. The corporal lurks in almost every bosom, and each man tends to use authority when he has it, thus destroying his natural relationship with his fellows, a disastrous state of affairs for both sides. Do away with subordination and you do away with tyranny: without subordination we should have no Neros, no Tamerlanes, no Buonapartes.’ ‘Stuff,’ said Jack. ‘Subordination is the natural order: there is subordination in Heaven – Thrones and Dominions take precedence over Powers and Principalities, Archangels and ordinary foremast angels; and so it is in the Navy. You have come to the wrong shop for anarchy, brother.”

Submissions should be no less than 2,000 words and no more than 5,000 words. Authors should submit their work via e-mail to nextwar@cimsec.org and must be received no later than October 21. Submissions must be final drafts and will not receive editorial support from CIMSEC or the Atlantic Council other than basic formatting for finalist submissions publishing during the week of October 31. The Fiction Contest will feature in place of a monthly CIMSEC topic week for the month of October. Questions and concerns can be directed to Sally DeBoer at president@cimsec.org.

Sally DeBoer is currently serving as the 2016-2017 President of CIMSEC. She can be reached at president@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 13, 2012) An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator aircraft is transported on an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman by Alan Radecki)

The Military Mind in the Age of Innovation

This article originally featured at The Strategy Bridge and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here

By Brad DeWeesb

Is the “military mind” compatible with the values that make innovation possible?

In 1957 Samuel Huntington defined the “military mind,” or how the military sees the world and interacts with it. His definition of the military mind formed the cornerstone of his broader work on civil-military relations—The Soldier and the State. In that work Huntington claimed the ideal soldier is conservative in the classical sense. That is, the military mind emphasizes the “permanence, irrationality, weakness, and evil in human nature.”[1] More focused on vice than virtue, the military mind is suspect of human cooperation and skeptical of change. For the soldier time is the primary measure of value; the military mind favors the status quo. It is “pessimistic” and “historically inclined…It is, in brief, realistic, and conservative.”[2]

Huntington’s ideal military mind was reverse-engineered; he asked what kind of mind was necessary to defend the country, and concluded that a skeptical worldview was the best insurance in a risky and uncertain world. The military mind had to be skeptical of human nature and progress in order for the military to serve its function effectively. Sixty years after describing the military mind, Huntington’s argument has been deeply woven into the American military culture. And thus Huntington has met his own criteria for value—he withstood the test of time. The Soldier and the State, as part of the military canon, frames the ideal image of ourselves and guides our actions as we seek to maintain that image.[3]

Radical Change Is The Norm In The Age of Innovation.

When Huntington wrote The Soldier and The State, the military mind was meant to balance the mind of a liberal democratic citizen. The civilian mind, in Huntington’s argument, could afford to view the world as cooperative as long as the military mind retained its conservative view. The two minds would coexist but leave each other to their own space. Since then a new variant of the civilian mind has developed—the “innovative mind” is the civilian mind that Huntington envisioned, only adapted for the age of innovation. The age of innovation is the period of hyper-connectivity and information sharing created by the information technology revolution of the 1990s, and it is still unfolding today.  

Radical change is the norm in the age of innovation. The most powerful companies of this generation work with collaborative technology that was largely unheard of one generation ago, and the same will likely be true one generation from now. Today’s Google is built on an internet search algorithm that would have been difficult to imagine just 30 years ago; tomorrow’s Google may well be built on technology that seems like science-fiction today. The companies that succeed tomorrow will rely on experimentation with new ideas, rather than gradual improvement, to build new business. Their experimentation will be fueled by the pace and quality of their collaboration, and by their ability to weave knowledge together from a wide range of sources.  

Warfare in this age of innovation has become increasingly reliant on information technology—the common operating pictures of network-centric warfare is an example. The military mind, then, must increasingly collaborate with the developers of information technology. The question today is whether the military mind can work with a mind characterized by experimentation and collaboration. And, if so, how?

Huntington’s Paradox in the Age of Innovation

Huntington’s military mind is not necessarily opposed to all forms of change. As military affairs became perceptively more complex, Huntington argued that officers should spend much of their time learning: “The intellectual content of the military profession requires the modern officer to devote about one-third of his professional life to formal schooling, probably a higher ratio of educational time to practice than in any other profession.”[4] What Huntington opposed, however, was the transmission of values that undermined the conservative worldview.[5] In his view the military mind could advance technologically as long as its view of human nature remained conservative, as long as it did not view human nature as inherently cooperative.

A military-industrial complex in which the military was the primary buyer allowed for such technological advancement. The military-industrial complex, to name three examples, developed battleships and aircraft carriers for the Navy, fighting vehicles for the Army, and cruise missiles for the Air Force.[6] While private enterprise may have developed key technologies that enabled these innovations—power plants for the Navy’s ships is an example—the military-industrial complex adapted those technologies for operational use, and they did so on a timeline fitted to the military’s capacity for adopting change.

Military changes in the age of innovation will likely happen at a faster pace. In the fields of cyber security, biotechnology, neural analytics, and networked robotics, the military is just one buyer among many. The net effect of being one among many is that innovative minds dictate the pace of change to military minds rather than the reverse.[7, 8] The pace of change, already faster than the military mind is accustomed to, will likely only increase—methods such as machine learning presage a new level of speed in the development of ideas. Putting those ideas to operational use will require the military mind to adopt the values of experimentation and cooperation. The military mind and innovative mind will meet in the rapid and frequent implementation of new technology.[9]

The modern military mind is left with a paradox. On one hand Huntington’s ideal military mind is still necessary. Because of its role in protecting society, the military mind has no choice but to assume the worst: human nature is unchanging and a conservative outlook is the best last resort for defending the country. Yet, if the military mind is to fulfill its function in the innovation age, it has no choice but to rapidly adapt. The military has adapted before, especially in times of acute threat—the military embraced air and tank warfare in World War II, for example.  The difference in the age of innovation is that adaptation will be the norm rather than the result of extreme circumstances. The military mind will be asked to regularly operationalize new technology in an uncertain world. In short, the military mind must be both conservative and open.

Building Common Ground

Managing this paradox is a challenge for the military as a whole, not necessarily individual minds within the military. Some aspects of the military bureaucracy can be wired for adaptability and cooperation, while others can be wired to maintain a conservative outlook. In a broad sense, the employment of force will require a conservative outlook, while the development of force capabilities will require an innovative outlook. The organizational challenge for the military is ensuring that these two minds collaborate without degenerating into acrimonious tribes.  

Collaboration between the two minds can be helped by reform in two general areas. The first area is near-term and tangible, composed of reforms that make it easier for the military mind to do business with the innovation economy. This would include initiatives such as the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) in Silicon Valley and Boston.[10] Fostering direct interaction between end-users and technology developers would be another, as would streamlining the acquisition process to closer approximate the timeline of a start-up.[11]

These solutions, though, can only be partial without a more fundamental change. The second general area of reform would run deeper, to the intellectual roots of the divide between military and innovative minds. The two minds should study the other enough to forge shared meaning. With shared meaning comes a greater possibility for shared motivations. And if not shared motivations, then at least motivations that are mutually understood. Motivations that are mutually understood are less likely to be perceived as threatening. Ironically enough, perhaps the best advice for building this mutual understanding comes from Huntington himself through his emphasis on education.

A Liberal Education Can Endure Technological Change.

Huntington argued that the military profession should begin with a liberal education; his prescription should apply to innovators as well. A liberal education, which is an education in all sides of human nature, can create philosophical common ground between the conservative and cooperative outlook. The exposure of the military and innovation minds to the full range of human nature should be the foundation of a mutual understanding between them. Machiavelli’s The Prince, for example, is an education in the corruptible side of human nature, while Shakespeare’s King Henry IV and King Henry V are a testament to human adaptability.[12]

These are but two examples of how a holistic view of human nature—a liberal, classical education—can build common ground between military and innovative minds. And a liberal education is only one aid to making the military more adaptable for the innovation age. Many other implements will be possible, as long as they fit the general criterion of building common ground between military and innovative minds. A liberal education is a fundamental solution, though, in that it can endure this generation of technological change and the many others that will follow. In a world where change will only come faster, building common ground between military and innovative minds is a national security imperative.

Brad DeWees is a PhD candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a former instructor of political science at the United States Air Force Academy, where he taught courses on American government and Innovation in Government.  His primary career field is as a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) officer. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


[1] Huntington, S.P. (1957). The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Harvard University Press, page 79.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Soldier and The State is regarded as a classic in civil-military relations, something that all subsequent works on civil-military relations must address. For an example of this argument, see here.

[4] Huntington. The Soldier and the State, page 13.

[5] Huntington’s discusses the relation of the military professional ethic to the four major political ideologies of his time: liberalism, fascism, Marxism, and conservatism (pages 89-94). His discussion of liberalism is closest to what is described here as the “innovative mind.” Throughout the discussion Huntington paints liberalism as at odds with the military ethic: liberalism “opposes political, economic, and social restraints upon individual liberty. In contrast, the military ethic holds that man is evil, weak, and irrational and that he must be subordinated to the group” (90).

[6] Previous major military innovations have included changes such as the adoption of battleships from sailing ships, the adoption of carrier warfare, mechanized infantry, nuclear weapons, maneuver warfare, and precision guided munitions.  For a review, see Michael Horowitz, The Diffusion of Military Power: Causes and Consequences for International Politics, Chapter 2.

[7] Lamothe, D. (2016, May 11). “Pentagon Chief Overhauls Silicon Valley Office, Will Open Similar Unit in Boston.”  The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/05/11/pentagon-chief-overhauls-silicon-valley-office-will-open-similar-unit-in-boston/.

[8] Markoff, J. (2016, May 11). “Pentagon Turns to Silicon Valley for Edge in Artificial Intelligence.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/12/technology/artificial-intelligence-as-the-pentagons-latest-weapon.html?_r=0.

[9] The DoD has so far struggled to find common ground with Silicon Valley, with Secretary Carter saying that the DoD is “frequently not rapid and agile enough.”

[10] The Boston office of DIUx was opened in July 2016: http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/857717/secretary-carter-opens-second-diux-location-in-boston-updates-dod-outreach-to-t.

[11] For a review of other issues affecting technology procurement from the innovation economy, see Tucker, P: (2016, April 22). “As Pentagon Dawdles, Silicon Valley Sells Its Newest Tech Abroad.”  Defense One. http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/04/pentagon-dawdles-silicon-valley-sells-its-newest-tech-abroad/127708/.

[12] King Henry IV comes in two parts; together with Richard II and King Henry V they constitute a tetralogy of history plays, recently referred to as the “Hollow Crown Series”: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/the-hollow-crown-shakespeares-history-plays-about-the-series/1747/.

Featured Image: Atlantic Ocean (Apr. 15, 2005) – Air Traffic Controller 3rd Class Jeoffrey Keever writes the status of each aircraft on the status board in Carrier Air Traffic Controller Center (CATCC) aboard USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) during flight operations. The Mayport, Fla., based conventionally powered aircraft carrier Kennedy is currently conducting scheduled carrier qualification in the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Apprentice Antonia Ramos (RELEASED)

Reinforcing China’s Malacca Dilemma

The Red Queen’s Navy

Written by Vidya Sagar Reddy, The Red Queen’s Navy will discuss the The Red Queeninfluence of emerging naval platforms and technologies in the geostrategic contours of the Indo-Pacific region. It identifies relevant historical precedents, forming the basis for various maritime development and security related projects in the region.

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”– The Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll.

By Vidya Sagar Reddy

China has been pressing to complete the Gwadar port in Pakistan and build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), allowing it to be connected over land to an Indian Ocean port. Gwadar and CPEC allow China to circumvent the Strait of Malacca which can be blockaded by rival navies in the event of  conflict, termed as “Malacca Dilemma.” However, the rising activism of Balochistan independence parties could complicate these projects, compelling China to continue to depend on this Strait. This situation certainly bodes well for maintaining regional stability.

As China’s economic power burgeoned, its political class sought to transform the country into a major power by building comprehensive national power, which also requires investing in a sophisticated military. Political narratives were developed citing “historical” facts and figures to re-establish China’s position in the world order. However, China’s attitude towards its neighborhood has become increasingly assertive in  recent years, signaling the rise of a potential regional hegemon. Those countries with stakes in maintaining the peace dividend responded by building alliances and partnerships to counter this security threat.

By signaling the intent to blockade the Strait of Malacca, these regional countries seek to deter China from military adventurism in the region. China’s economic growth is dependent on the seas, both for receiving energy and other raw materials required for low cost manufacturing, as well as the shipping of finished goods to markets in the U.S., Europe, etc. These ships have to pass through the Strait of Malacca situated between Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Therefore a blockade of this Strait will impose energy and trade crises in China that can trickle down to hurt society, and in turn lead to pressure on the political class. Losing the people’s support will undermine the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China and could lead to an internal political transition. In fact, China’s history shows such transitions occurring after wars.

India has established credible naval presence in the Andaman Sea adjacent to the Strait of Malacca and is partnering with the U.S. and other countries in safeguarding it. Such presence can be translated into a formidable blockade. On the other hand, China has yet to showcase its capabilities and willingness to fight to keep this Strait open for its ships. Citing these developments, Hu Jintao termed this situation “Malacca Dilemma.”

His successor Xi Jinping resolved to overcome this dilemma by investing in the One Belt, One Road initiative. China moved determinedly to build ports in the Indian Ocean countries Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been transformed into a blue water navy and is routinely deployed in the Indian Ocean. The docking of PLAN ships and submarines in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the region signals China’s intent to safeguard its energy and trade shipments in the Indian Ocean.

A map depicting China’s sea lines of communication through the Malacca Strait as well as the land route of the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. (SCMP)

The ports in Myanmar and Pakistan have the added advantage of being connected to China via overland routes. This sea/land interspersed connectivity allows China to minimize maritime threats by rerouting its energy and trade over the land. During a conflict, China can focus its forward deployed naval assets f in the Indian Ocean on safeguarding the sea lines of communication connected to its ports in Pakistan and Myanmar instead of stretching those assets across the Ocean. The development of overland routes also serves Beijing’s intention to develop poorer western regions of the country.

China’s projects in Myanmar are proceeding with difficulties, with some of them cancelled due to opposition from local communities and environmental groups. Furthermore, China’s ships have to navigate the Bay of Bengal to reach Myanmar’s port which gives opportunity for rival navies to interdict. More significantly, Myanmar has recently undergone political transition from military rule to a democratically elected government. This transition signaled the country’s willingness to break through international isolation and normalize diplomatic relations with the outside world. As a result, China lost Myanmar as a client state and can expect a review of its projects as the new government balances between competing political and economic narratives in the region.    

The trump card for China remains to be Pakistan. Despite international condemnation and American displeasure for its unwillingness to cease state sponsored terrorism, Pakistan continues to enjoy diplomatic leverage with the U.S., and despite the show of political clout in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Maldives, India is still lacking a credible strategy to curtail Pakistan’s destabilizing behavior in the region.

China has adopted the earlier U.S. policy of hyphenating India with Pakistan and is willing to safeguard its client state’s interests across international forums. It has promised to invest $46 billion in Pakistan to complete the CPEC project. In addition, China is building nuclear plants, co-producing military jets, and will sell eight submarines; all incentives for Pakistan to align its interests with China’s.

In return, China will gain access to the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean, which is connected to the Persian Gulf, through the Gwadar port. The CPEC envisions building the requisite land route from Gwadar to China via the sensitive Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Karakoram mountains, ignoring India’s apprehensions regarding building infrastructure in the disputed territories without consultations.

However, Pakistan itself is not without problems. The Balochistan province where Gwadar is located forms a major part of Pakistan’s territory and is highly rich in natural resources. However, its development needs have long been ignored by Islamabad. The Baloch people argue that neither the Gwadar port will benefit them but can instead lead to further exploitation of the province’s natural resources and affect their livelihoods.

A graphic depicting the various forms of investment, their estimated costs, and proposed infrastructure linkages. (Wall Street Journal)

India is convinced that the Gwadar port and the CPEC projects have underlying strategic intentions while the Baloch people question the veracity of economic benefits that can be derived from these projects to their province. Both parties are concerned about infrastructure build up in those areas considered sensitive for historical or strategic reasons. In this situation, Modi’s reference to Balochistan in his recent Independence Day speech signals India’s willingness to work with the Baloch people to confront the common problem and fulfil mutual interests.

While more details are pending, China is apparently concerned with these developments as its options to connect to the Indian Ocean via land routes fall into jeopardy, forcing continued reliance on the Strait of Malacca. This could be a welcomed development for upholding regional stability as it offers concerned countries an opportunity to maintain strategic deterrence and escalation dominance against China by controlling access to the Strait of Malacca.

Vidya Sagar Reddy is a research assistant in the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative of the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

Featured Image: Crew members work on the Chinese Navy ship Wei Fang as it docks in Myanmar on the outskirts of Yangon on May 23, 2014 (AFP 2016/ SOE THAN WIN)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.