Category Archives: Book Review

Reviews of recent and upcoming foreign policy and maritime books of merit.

Uncompromising Honor

Weber, David. Uncompromising Honor. Baen, 2018. 784 pp. $28.00/hardcover.

By Mark Vandroff

There is a special challenge in reviewing the fourteenth book in an iconic, best-selling series. The point of a book review is to advise potential readers if they should invest their time and money toward reading the work in question. For true fans of author David Weber, who have thirstily imbibed the first thirteen installments of the Honor Harrington saga, nothing offered in this essay could possibly deter them from immediately engaging with this long-awaited tome.

For those who are not yet smitten by the charms of the science fiction milieu known as the Honorverse, book fourteen, while highly entertaining in its own right, is best experienced as a follow-on to the earlier books in the story. The task of this review is then two-fold; to entice those who have yet to experience David Weber’s art to begin a literary journey that will eventually culminate in the reading of this outstanding book, while at the same time whetting the appetite of the experienced Honorphile before he or she feasts upon Uncompromising Honor.

A Classic and Engrossing Universe

David Weber’s Honorverse consists of fourteen books in the main Honor Harrington series, the four books of the Saganami Island series, the three books of the Crown of Slaves series, and various other short story anthologies, prequels, and novellas. The first book of the Honor Harrington series, On Basilisk Station, introduces the reader to Commander Honor Harrington who serves in the Royal Manticoran Navy during tumultuous times.

The books of the Honor Harrington series explore roughly 22 years of the military, political, and social history of Manticore, its allies, and its adversaries, while following the career of a remarkable woman as she rises through the ranks from command of a light cruiser to service at the highest levels of military and political leadership. The two main companion series explore concurrent events in other parts of the galaxy and provide context and backstory for characters that will eventually impact the main series. While the side series are worthy reading in their own right, they are best experienced as background material to the main storyline.

Several factors combine to make Weber’s books both enjoyable as fiction and profound as works of art. Weber works hard to provide a self-sustaining and consistent universe. As an example, any science fiction has to overcome the problem of the impossibility, as our current understanding of physics dictates, of travelling in excess of the speed of light. David Weber handles this in a well thought-out explanation of “new science” that imposes both capabilities and important limitations on the occupants of his universe. All the fictional technology in the Honorverse is self-consistent and does not allow for easy fixes to wish away problems for either the protagonist or antagonist. Manticore’s technology is superior but not magical, and inventive opponents often craft effective counters.

The wide range of political and social systems extant on the worlds with which Manticore must interact allows Weber to explore many different facets of the human condition. 1900 years after human beings first left Earth in an attempt to colonize habitable planets around the galaxy, a wide variety of social and political structures have arisen on the worlds that humanity now occupies. The Star Kingdom of Manticore is a constitutional monarchy that calls three habitable planets in a binary star system home and maintains a range of alliances with foreign star systems. We discover a planet where the Christian religion ennobles and sustains its population, and another where religious fanaticism has created a planet-wide, Christian version of ISIS. Some democracies produce wise government, responsive to the needs of its citizens and others produce entrenched bureaucracies which exploit their people. Others take the form of imperialist welfare states, forced to conquer for the sake of propping up a broken system while using authoritarian means to stifle dissent. These political entities find themselves entangled in vicious wars and subversion as great power competition makes its way into the space age on a galactic scale.

A map of the Honor Harrington universe (via Honoverse.wikia.com, Click to Expand)

Battles are described in vivid, suspenseful detail. Usually portrayed through the eyes of multiple participants, Weber’s strong writing places the reader on the bridge and in the reactor plant of powerful warships as the crews fight to accomplish their missions and fulfill their duty. A well-crafted formula of naval capability and tactics elegantly combines the sudden destruction of missile warfare with close-range fires reminiscent of the age of sail. Ships often employ signature control, electronic warfare, and drones to gain the upper hand through crafty means. Through this well-formulated vision of space combat Weber thrusts his characters into a wide range of operational encounters and tactical dilemmas that test their ability to command and adapt.

Weber takes the time to create rich backgrounds for multiple characters. The good guys are never entirely perfect and the bad guys are rarely all bad. Weber is also willing to have key characters die along the way and when an important battle is done, readers often feel as if they have lost friends in action. Weber’s characters often have to remain resilient in the face of tremendous loss, lead battered and demoralized crews, and cope with the unsatisfactory taste of bittersweet victory.

War, Deceit, and Honor

Uncompromising Honor picks up at the end of the Second Battle of Manticore and tells the story of what Honorverse fans will likely come to refer to as the Solarian War. The book covers the nine months between July and March in the 1922nd and 1923rd year after humanity began stellar colonization. The Solarian League Navy, unable to defeat Manticore and the rest of its alliance in a battle between the heaviest ships of the wall, embarks upon a campaign of economic warfare against Marticore’s trading partners. Manticore’s response is to cripple the Solarian economy by taking possession of all known galactic wormhole junctions used by merchant ships to reduce their transit times. By seizing control of the geographic chokepoints of galactic commerce Manticore aims to starve the Solarian League of its ability to maintain the industrial production that supports it economy.

These opposing strategies set up the first great battle of Uncompromising Honor, the Battle of Ajay Hyper Bridge. The Solarians, armed with a large fleet of 50 battlecruisers and additional lighter units, need to pass their task force through the Ajay wormhole in order to conduct their assigned system raids. Manticore must hold the wormhole so its supply ships can sustain their deployed forces. The Solarians have numbers on their side and Manticore has superior technology. 78 pages of white-knuckled suspense tell the tale of this key battle in the Solarian War.

The second major battle scene in Uncompromising Honor is the Battle of Hypatia. Hypatia is a star nation that is in the midst of voting to leave the Solarian League. A small task group of Manticoran cruisers and destroyers is in Hypatian space awaiting the results of the plebiscite. Should Hypatia vote to become independent of the Solarian League, the Manticoran ships are ready to deliver the Star Kingdom’s new ambassador to this potential key ally. However, the Solarian League Navy shows up with several dozen battlecruisers with orders to prevent Hypatian secession, even to the point of committing war crimes to achieve their mission.

The choices presented to the Manticoran commander harken back to the solemn “Last View” ceremony at Manticore’s naval academy. Graduating midshipmen are presented with the history of the academy’s namesake, Commodore Edward Saganami, and his final battle against Silesian pirates. In both the Last View and the Battle of Hypatia, Weber masterfully explores the difficult moral obligations of a commander to both his mission and his people. The question of when should a commander risk devastating losses to the forces under his command in order to accomplish a critical mission is on display as both sides grapple to do their duty as they understand it.

Between and after the battles, Weber continues to develop the political and economic storyline of the galaxy. The shadowy Mesan Alignment continues to execute its plan and influence star nations in ways seen and unseen. Characters on Earth, Manticore, Haven, and in the Talbott and Maya Sectors all struggle. Some struggle for power and wealth, some struggle for understanding, and a few noble souls struggle to do the right thing. There are triumphs and tragedies along the way spread out over much of the inhabited galaxy. In the end these struggles and machinations lead to climatic conflicts in the Beowulf system, and finally in the home system of Earth itself.

Despite, or perhaps because of all the military and political action in Uncompromising Honor, it is the human touches that make this book so gripping. We are treated to the planet Grayson’s favorite girl next door (assuming you live next door to a Steadholder’s palace), Lieutenant Abigail Hearns of the Grayson Space Navy, as she goes on her first date with a handsome young man with a questionable background from the Seraphim system in one of Manticore’s more upscale dining establishments. This is also the first of the mainline Honor Harrington books where multiple treecats play important roles and the reader is treated with extensive treecat dialog and monologue. Treecats are the native sentient species of one of the Manticore system’s habitable planets. The close relationship of Honor to her small, furry, cute, and at times lethal, treecat friend Nimitz plays an important role in the plotline of the series. In this book, multiple human characters have important treecat relationships. By the end of Uncompromising Honor, we understand that treecats are not only sentient, but that they bring a unique perspective on understanding humanity in a way that only a non-human species that can experience human feeling could provide.

A Tale Continues…

While Uncompromising Honor does allow for a satisfying conclusion, there is clearly more left to tell and many questions remain tantalizingly unanswered. While David Weber’s fans will greatly enjoy Uncompromising Honor they will be left with the same gripping emotional state at the end of this book as with the others, eagerly awaiting the next installment of this magnificent series.

Captain Mark Vandroff is a 1989 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. His 28 years of commissioned service include duty as both a Surface Warfare and Engineering Duty Officer. He was formerly the Major Program Manager for the DDG 51 program and is currently the Commanding Officer of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock. The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Defense or Department of the Navy.

Featured Image: Adaptation of the cover of the Honor Harrington’s novel Honor Among Enemies by Genkkis via DeviantArt

Flashpoint China, Chinese Air Power and Regional Security

Rupprecht, Andreas. Flashpoint China, Chinese Air Power and Regional Security. Houston: Harpia Publishing, 2016. 80pp. $23.45

By Lieutenant Commander David Barr, USN

Introduction

Since his rise to power six years ago, thousands of analysts and policymakers across the globe have attempted to understand the intentions of, and the mechanisms employed toward, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping’s seemingly expansionist vision for China. That vision, dubbed “The Chinese Dream” by Xi in 2012, solidified his plan for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Although arguably vaguely defined, “The Chinese Dream” has been viewed by some as Xi’s call for rising Chinese influence on the international stage – economically, politically, diplomatically, scientifically, and militarily, i.e., China’s “grand strategy.”

In support of this vision, Xi has embarked on a multitude of political and military reforms and now, backed by one of the world’s most technologically-advanced militaries, Xi is ready to thrust his revitalized China further onto the world stage. During his opening speech to nearly 2,300 party delegates and dignitaries at the October 2017 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xi publicly described the extraordinary complexity of China’s domestic and foreign policy challenges and opportunities: “Currently, conditions domestically and abroad are undergoing deep and complicated changes. Our country is in an important period of strategic opportunity in its development. The outlook is extremely bright; the challenges are also extremely grim.”1

In his new book, Flashpoint China, Chinese Air Power and Regional Security, Andreas Rupprecht, author of Modern Chinese Warplanes: Combat Aircraft and Units of the Chinese Air Force and Naval Aviation, attempts to break out of his comfort zone and succinctly capture the complexities of Chinese foreign policy and the geopolitical environment of the Asia-Pacific Region. The content of Flashpoint China is predominantly focused on Chinese regional security issues; however, in his introductory paragraph, Rupprecht states the goal of Flashpoint China is to “draw upon” Modern Chinese Warplanes and “offer an overview of potential military conflicts along the borders of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).”2 This is a laudable goal, for even attempting to synopsize the complexity of Chinese military history and foreign relations in a mere eighty pages would challenge the most knowledgeable defense and foreign relations expert. Yet for the most part, Rupprecht succeeds. There are some content areas however that could benefit from further research and development.

Following the introduction, Rupprecht utilizes Chapters Two through Five to succinctly introduce the various foreign policy concerns for China in each of its five Theater Commands. Each chapter opens with a succinct description of the nuanced histories behind each foreign policy concern, provides an overview of PLAAF and PLANAF capabilities available to each Theater Command, and closes with well-structured charts of each Theater Command’s PLAAF and PLANAF order of battle. It is through this structured approach that Rupprecht meets his goal of drawing upon Modern Chinese Warplanes and answering the following question: If conflict were to occur at any of the flashpoints, what People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and PLA Naval Air Force (PLANAF) units and platforms are likely to be involved?

Over the last two to three decades China’s entire military force has undergone a rapid and unprecedented military modernization campaign designed to transform it into a regionally-dominant and globally-significant force. To further tie his two books together however, Rupprecht would be remiss to not include an update of what has transpired within and across the PLA between the books’ publication dates (2012 and 2016, respectively) in the introductory section of Flashpoint China, specifically how PLA reforms and the subsequent establishment of the five Theater Commands have affected the PLAAF and PLANAF. Additionally, Rupprecht briefly describes concepts such as China’s “active defense strategy” and “anti-access /aerial denial (A2/AD)” (what the Chinese refer to as “counter-intervention”) capabilities. Counter-intervention represents how China plans to “deny the U.S. [or other foreign] military the ability to operate in China’s littoral waters in case of a crisis.”3 Collectively, these organizational, doctrinal, and operational changes should weigh heavily in a book of this nature yet Rupprecht does not fully incorporate their significance in his work. To do this, the author would need to answer the following question: How would PLAAF and PLANAF platforms and capabilities likely be employed to prevent U.S. or other regional forces from intervening in a conflict at any of the flashpoints?

Some of these geographical areas and issues carry a higher military priority for China. According to the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) in its 2017 Annual Report to Congress, “Taiwan remains the PLA’s main “strategic direction,” one of the geographic areas the leadership identifies as endowed with strategic importance [and represents a “core interest” of China]. Other focus areas include the East China Sea [ECS], the South China Sea [SCS], and China’s borders with India and North Korea.”4 And as the strategic importance of a geographical area increases for China so does its allocation of PLA assets.

For example, the richness and variety of the geopolitical concerns involving the countries presented in Chapter Two of Flashpoint China (Japan, Russia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and South Korea), provide significant examples of historical, current, and potential military conflict for China; however, in Chapter Two Rupprecht doesn’t reflect on the order of  strategic priority and therefore the military significance of the Northern and Central Theater Commands. Instead, Chapter Two opens with a very brief paragraph regarding Mongolia, thereby dampening the impact of the chapter’s “flashpoint” narrative.

Additionally, the sovereignty dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the ECS dominates the military significance of China’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Japan; however, Rupprecht merely allocates a single sentence to the situation: “The dispute over the Senkaku Islands – known as the Diaoyu Islands in China – is meanwhile a matter of heated rhetoric and near-open hostility.”5 Since the historical dispute took a dramatic leap forward in April 2012 following the Japanese purchase of three of the eight islets from their private owner, the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command has assumed primary responsibility for this flashpoint area. Unfortunately, Chapter Two mistakenly assigns PLA responsibility for China’s ongoing dilemma with Japan in the ECS to the Northern and Central Theater Commands: “The PLA subordinates responsibility for Japan and the Korean peninsula to the Northern Theater Command and to the Central Theater Command.”6 When the purchase was made public, the PLA immediately began regularly deploying maritime and airborne patrols from Eastern Theater Command bases into the ECS to assert jurisdiction and sovereignty over the islands. Additionally, as Rupprecht alludes to on page 25, in November 2013, China declared the establishment of its first air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the ECS which included the area over the disputed islands. Subsequently, both the PLAAF and PLANAF established routine airborne patrol patterns and the use of ECS airspace and the straits of the Ryukyu Islands to conduct long-range, integrated strike training with PLA Navy (PLAN) assets in the western Philippine Sea.

A map of the Southern Theater Command’s Area of Responsibility (from Flashpoint China, Chinese Air Power and Regional Security, Click to Expand)

Additionally in Chapter Two, Rupprecht aptly describes the history of Sino-Russian relations: “For years, relations between China and Russia have been described as a ‘tightrope walk’, and have frequently oscillated between close friendship and war.”7 However, the author fails to capture the significance of the military connection between Russia and China, especially as it relates to Rupprecht’s stated theme for this book, for China’s military modernization arguably started with mass acquisitions of Russian military technologies in the early 1990s. Over the ensuing decades, China embarked on a widespread effort to acquire Russian military technologies, reverse-engineer that technology, and then indigenously mass-produce similar technologies adapted to Chinese specifications. That period however may be rapidly coming to a close as many China analysts assess that China has now transitioned from a Russian technology-dependent force to a truly indigenous production force. In fact, China’s most recent procurement of Russia’s technologically-advanced Su-35 FLANKER S fighter aircraft and S-400 strategic-level surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, touched on by Rupprecht on page 18, may be the last significant items on China’s military hardware shopping list.

Another example is found in Chapter Three which Rupprecht opens by stating, “The issue of Taiwan is a very special one for the PRC, and certainly the top priority in regard to the PLA’s modernization drive. This is clearly indicated by the official order of protocol, which lists the responsible Eastern Theater Command first.”8 Although the Eastern Theater may have primary responsibility for the Taiwan issue, the extraordinary political, strategic, and economic significance of the Taiwan dispute represents a “core interest” of China. This fact cannot be overstated. The entire essence of Chinese military modernization efforts over the recent decades have been in direct support of the possible requirement to take back Taiwan by force should alternative means of reunification prove fruitless. As Chinese Communist Party legitimacy would ride on the success or failure of a PLA campaign to “liberate” Taiwan, an effort of this magnitude would involve PLAAF and PLANAF assets from multiple Theater Commands, something Rupprecht’s narrative and order-of-battle charts do not capture.

The geography, the respective sovereignty claims, and the strategic and operational scope of each Theater Command’s responsibilities matter greatly with respect to China and its ambitions. Each chapter ends with a wonderful map that provides a highly informative, geographical illustration of each respective theater. The geographical impact of each chapter’s flashpoints may be better served however by moving each chapter’s map to the beginning of the chapters rather than the end.

Rupprecht’s best work is reflected in Chapter Four. China’s sovereignty claims and the controversial Chinese land reclamation and infrastructure construction activity in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (SCS) presented in Chapter Four are definitely the most contentious issues facing the Southern Theater Command. And here Rupprecht does not disappoint. The author allocates numerous pages to both describe and illustrate the significance of the SCS dispute to China, its regional neighbors, and the U.S. Just as in Modern Chinese Warplanes, Rupprecht has included spectacular, colored photographs of various Chinese aircraft into Flashpoint China. Various PLAAF and PLANAF fighters, reconnaissance and transport aircraft, along with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are presented in wonderful detail throughout the book. Chapter Four however is especially unique for its inclusion of vivid photographs of China’s land reclamation and infrastructure construction activity in the Spratly Islands.

A UAV is showcased in a Chinese military parade (Flashpoint China, Chinese Air Power and Regional Security)

How Chinese, U.S., and regional neighbors approach this issue politically, diplomatically, and militarily carries significant strategic, operational, and tactical implications. History has proven how a single tactical event in the region can carry immediate and substantial strategic implications. For example, the infamous EP-3 incident of 2001 provides just one example of how tactical miscommunication and miscalculation can have significant strategic implications.9 These type of airborne interactions continue on a regular basis as U.S. reconnaissance aircraft operate in international airspace over the SCS. Chinese fighter aircraft routinely intercept the U.S. aircraft, sometimes operating outside the assessed bounds of safe airmanship. Japanese fighters also come into regular contact with Chinese aircraft, regularly scrambling to check Chinese airspace incursions over the ECS and through the Ryukyu Straits. These tactical events often receive attention from the government and military leaders of the respective countries and occasionally result in public demarches.

In a book of this nature, each SCS claimant country deserves its own dedicated section as China’s rise has forced each country’s government to reassess their national security and military means with some countries making substantial increases in their military expenditures. For example, Vietnam is “in the process of addressing its limitations with respect to combating modern threat scenarios with its existing obsolete equipment, and has embarked on military modernization plans over the last few years.”10 Additionally, the 02 May – 15 August 2014 Hai Yeng Shi You 981 oil rig standoff (also referred to as the “CNOOC-981 incident”) provides a real-world event which not only illustrated the contentiousness of the SCS claims between China and Vietnam, but also revealed an operational reaction from the PLA, with specific operational responses from both the PLAAF and PLANAF.11

Finally, the most impactful flashpoint for China in the Western Theater, presented in Chapter Five, regards India. Typically the issue between the two countries revolves around unresolved border disputes; however, much to India’s chagrin, China also continues to advance its military-to-military relationship with India’s rival, Pakistan. This is especially relevant for Rupprecht’s efforts within Flashpoint China as Pakistan’s Air Force and China’s PLAAF conducted the sixth consecutive iteration of the annual “Shaheen” series of joint exercises in 2017. Since its inception in 2011, the Shaheen exercise series has consistently grown in complexity and scope, incorporating a wider variety of PLAAF aircraft and platforms such as multi-role fighters, fighter-bombers, airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, and surface-to-air missile crews and radar operators.

Conclusion

In Flashpoint China Andreas Rupprecht ambitiously attempts to couple the highly complex geopolitical environment surrounding modern day China with the PLAAF and PLANAF’s ever-evolving order of battle and force projection capabilities – an assignment with which even the most renowned scholars would struggle, especially within the allotment of so few pages. Via the well-structured narrative and fabulous photographs, Flashpoint China goes a long way in tackling the question of what PLAAF and PLANAF assets could China bring to the fight should a military conflict occur at any of the presented flashpoints. Readers however would have certainly enjoyed reading the author’s assessment of how might the PLA use its air power in support of Chinese military intervention into these contentious hotbeds. But this may have to wait for another day. Still, if brevity of space and time were the only options available to the author, then Flashpoint China can certainly prove useful as is. However, with even some minor content and structural improvements, the book could prove irreplaceable.

LCDR David Barr is a career intelligence officer and currently serves as instructor with the National Intelligence University’s College of Strategic Intelligence. All statements of facts, analysis, or opinion are the author’s and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Intelligence University, the Department of Defense or any of its components, or the U.S. government.

References

1. Buckley, Chris. “Xi Jinping Opens China’s Party Congress, His Hold Tighter Than Ever”; The New York Times; 17 October 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/17/world/asia/xi-jinping-communist-party-china.html

2. Rupprecht, Andreas. Flashpoint China, Chinese Air Power and Regional Security. Houston: Harpia Publishing, 2016. p. 9.

3. Ibid. p. 15.

4. OSD. Annual Report to Congress: “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017,” OSD, (Annual Report, OSD 2017)

5. Rupprecht, Andreas. Flashpoint China, Chinese Air Power and Regional Security. Houston: Harpia Publishing, 2016. p. 21.

6. Ibid. p. 21.

7. Ibid. P. 17.

8. Ibid. p. 31.

9. Rosenthal, Elisabeth. “U.S. Plane in China After It Collides with Chinese Jet”; The New York Times; 02 April 2001. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/02/world/us-plane-in-china-after-it-collides-with-chinese-jet.html

10. Wood, Laura. “Future of the Vietnam Defense Industry to 2022 – Market Attractiveness, Competitive Landscape and Forecasts – Research and Markets”. Business Wire; 04 October 2017. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20171004006043/en/Future-Vietnam-Defense-Industry-2022—Market

11. Thayer, Carl. “4 Reasons China Removed Oil Rig HYSY-981 Sooner Than Planned”. The Diplomat; 22 July 2014. https://thediplomat.com/2014/07/4-reasons-china-removed-oil-rig-hysy-981-sooner-than-planned/

Featured Image: Two JH-7 fighter bombers attached to an aviation brigade of the air force under the PLA Western Theater Command taxi abreast on the runway before takeoff for a sortie near the Tianshan Mountains in late March, 2018. (eng.chinamil.com.cn/Photo by Wang Xiaofei)

Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation – Aircraft and Units

Rupprecht, Andreas. Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation – Aircraft and Units Houston: Harpia Publishing, 2018. 80pp. $29.95

By Lieutenant Commander David Barr, USN

In the introduction of his latest installment regarding modern Chinese combat aircraft, Andreas Rupprecht correctly assesses the rapid and expansive scope of Chinese air power modernization: “The amount of ‘recent changes’ especially in doctrine, training, and force structure are so numerous that they would easily surpass the available space within one volume, it was decided to separate the naval air component from the regular Air Force and Army Aviation.”1 His thoughtful and deliberate efforts paid off.  In Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation – Aircraft and Units, Rupprecht wisely focuses his efforts solely on Chinese naval aviation, and in the effort, masterfully delivers its stated purpose to “provide an extensively illustrated compact yet comprehensive directory, with in-depth analysis of the organization and equipment of modern Chinese naval air power.”2

In Chapter 1, Rupprecht succinctly explains the origins and history of Chinese naval aviation or what is modernly referred to as the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF). By reading pages 11-14, one will gain an educational understanding of how the PLA historically placed the PLANAF at a lower priority than that of the more prominent and mightier PLA Air Force (PLAAF). And how, like many a younger sibling throughout history, the PLANAF had to make due from hand-me-downs from its bigger brother. Rupprecht dedicates the remainder of the chapter to his assessment of the PLANAF’s future which he briefly describes as “relatively bright” and further predicts that the PLANAF “will probably be the largest beneficiaries of the recent reform and modernization.”3

J-15 landing on Chinese carrier CV-16. (Photo from Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation – Aircraft and Units)

The “recent reform and modernization” to which Rupprecht refers is part of an ongoing and widespread PLA force modernization program which focuses on giving the PLA capabilities to conduct what Chinese military strategists call informatized, integrated joint operations. China’s 2015 defense white paper, released by the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, directs the PLA to “win informatized local wars” with emphasis on struggle in the maritime domain. Additionally, the white paper addresses the need for further development of PLA Navy (PLAN) capabilities in the face of an expanding mission set, stating the PLAN will shift its focus from “offshore waters defense” to the combination of “offshore waters defense” with “open seas protection.”4 This grander vision for the PLAN aligns with China’s perceived need to protect what it considers its “core interests” – safeguarding its national territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in order to ensure Chinese economic and social development. Toward this end, as Rupprecht’s explains through Andrew Erickson in Chapter 6: “The PLAN is more likely to develop a limited power projection that enhances China’s ability to defend its regional interests; to protect expanding overseas interests; to perform non-traditional security missions.”5 It would seem logical therefore to assess that the PLANAF represents a growth industry for the PLAN over the coming decades.

In Chapters 2 through 5 of Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation – Aircraft and Units Rupprecht offers a solid description of how the PLA is slowly and methodically improving the power projection capabilities and training of its naval aviation combat arm. Chapter 2 briefly provides a helpful explanation of aircraft markings and the serial number system utilized by the PLANAF for its various platforms. Chapter 3 supplies ample information regarding new aircraft variants, improved avionics and sensors, and refueling capabilities of the latest PLANAF fighters, fighter-bombers, bombers, transport, special mission aircraft, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Chapter 4 couples the aircraft with ordnance, offering insight into the latest PLANAF air-to-air missiles (AAM), air-to-surface missiles (ASM), guided bombs, electronic warfare (EW) and targeting pods, as well as torpedoes. And, as has become his calling card and his books’ pièce de résistance, Rupprecht once again supports his text with numerous colorful and vivid photographs of the platforms described.

J-15 preparing to take off from CV-16 (Photo from Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation – Aircraft and Units)

At the beginning of Chapter 5, Rupprecht alludes to the notion of “the greatest technology is only as good as the person (or pilot) using it” by stating “the latest developments in tactics and training are probably even more important for the future outcome of any potential operational use” and explains that both the PLAAF and PLANAF have developed less-scripted and more realistic and integrated training for each arm’s respective pilots over the past decade.6 The rest of Chapter 5 outlines the evolution of PLANAF pilot qualifications, training regimens, and platform transition timelines – a critical, yet not widely understood facet of the PLANAF’s modernization effort.

Rupprecht saves the most intriguing issues and subsequently his best writing for Chapters 6 and 7.  Chapter 6, at only four pages long, provides a concise yet wonderful synopsis of the current and future developments within China’s aircraft carrier program.  Most of the chapter’s pages focus solely on the current status and future projections of China’s current aircraft carriers (CV-16, Type 002, and Type 003) and not the associated air wing which currently uses the J-15 multi-role fighter as its centerpiece (best described in Chapter 3). It remains to be seen if the PLAN defines “air wing” like the United States Navy. If so, then a PLAN air wing will theoretically be composed of various airborne platforms that conduct a variety of missions including airborne early warning (such as the KJ-600 featured on page 29), electronic warfare, in-flight refueling, and other specialized aircraft.

The most absorbing content of Chapter 6 (and possibly the book itself) can be found on pages 52-53 in a section entitled “Future Fleet Size and Operational Options.”  Here, Rupprecht’s words echo the sentiments of the late United States naval officer and strategist, Alfred Thayer Mahan, who consistently argued in the late 19th Century that the United States had a maritime destiny and it could only achieve its national greatness through control of the seas. Addressing similar strategic maritime ambitions of the PLA and the role that a viable aircraft carrier fleet could provide toward achieving those ambitions, Rupprecht states, “A carrier fleet is therefore a consequence of China’s rising ambitions both in terms of the role the country wants to play on the international stage, its role as a premier export nation and, more importantly, its role as a regional power. In order to be able to project these ambitions at any time, a spatially and temporally limited ‘Sea Control’ will be required and a carrier fleet will be a significant tool in building its power projection capabilities.”7

Chinese carrier Liaoning (CV-16) (Photo from Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation – Aircraft and Units)

Chapter 7, entitled “Naval Aviation Order of Battle (March 2018)”, provides much more than a tabular depiction of the PLANAF’s order of battle (OOB), as the title suggests. Just as he did in his 2012 Modern Chinese Warplanes: Combat Aircraft and Units of the Chinese Air Force and Naval Aviation, Rupprecht effectively describes and illustrates, via well-structured text and vibrant pictures and charts, both the operational missions and geographical responsibilities of the three Theater Commands that have a corresponding Fleet Naval Aviation Headquarters (Eastern, Southern, and Northern) thus capturing the growing operational impact of the PLANAF. 

Most intriguingly however, on pages 58-60, Rupprecht provides a brief yet highly insightful assessment of the PLANAF’s seemingly inevitable evolution toward developing into a true “blue water” force.  It is here, in this author’s opinion, in combination with pages 52-53 of Chapter 6 previously mentioned, that Rupprecht captures the very essence of the book for these are the pages that present the strategic and operational impetus of why the PLA is continuing down its path of remarkable military modernization – an effort that may leave it as one of the world’s most dominant military forces. This larger strategic context is far too important to get lost in the pages of latter chapters. It may have been better for this level of analysis to be presented and expanded upon in Chapter 1 if not the introduction.

I applaud and endorse Rupprecht’s decision to narrow the scope of Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation – Aircraft and Units in order to focus solely on the naval aviation component of the PLA.  During a time of a growing perception of a major great power competition between the United States and China, his work is both highly relevant and exceptionally timely.  For any military enthusiast or analyst looking to expand his or her understanding of Chinese naval aviation and how it fits into the PLA’s larger regional and global ambitions, this book provides ample substance and striking illustrations. I equally anticipate reading Rupprecht’s other 2018 work entitled Carrier Aviation in the 21st Century: Aircraft Carriers and Their Units in Detail (as mentioned on page 51) and hope he continues to produce these “extensively illustrated compact yet comprehensive” works of art.8

LCDR David Barr is a career intelligence officer and currently serves as instructor with the National Intelligence University’s College of Strategic Intelligence. All statements of facts, analysis, or opinion are the author’s and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Intelligence University, the Department of Defense or any of its components, or the U.S. government.

References

1. Rupprecht, Andreas. Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation – Aircraft and Units. Houston: Harpia Publishing, 2018. p. 7.

2. Ibid. p. 7.

3. Ibid. p. 14.

4. “China’s Military Strategy,” State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, May 2015. 

5. Rupprecht, Andreas. Modern Chinese Warplanes: Chinese Naval Aviation – Aircraft and Units. Houston: Harpia Publishing, 2018. p. 53.

6. Ibid. p. 45.

7. Ibid. P. 53.

8. Ibid. p. 7.

Featured Image: Chinese Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark (via USNI News)

Fleet Tactics Returns – A Conversation with Authors Wayne Hughes and Bob Girrier

By Christopher Nelson

Recently I had the opportunity to correspond with CAPT Wayne Hughes, USN (Ret.) and RADM Robert Girrier, USN (Ret.) about the new edition of Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations. We get into everything from why the littorals matter to how information warfare will shape the future of naval warfare.

Nelson: Admiral Girrier, Fleet Tactics is now in its 3rd Edition. What are some of the new topics in this edition? Is there a particular section you focused on?

Girrier: Picking up where the 2nd edition left off, topics given additional emphasis in this edition are the emergence of unmanned systems (air, surface and sub-surface), artificial intelligence, and information warfare. 

The increasing value and the need for decision superiority is stressed. I did focus on the value-added of unmanned systems serving as complements to existing capabilities, and how – if properly employed – they can take us to a new level of fighting at machine speed. The process of sensing, evaluating, making decisions, and then executing is treated throughout.

Nelson: Artificial Intelligence, Information Warfare, Big Data lots of changes in the world and all of them will affect the future of warfighting. When you were tackling these topics, what were some of the books or resources you went to when trying to understand these new issues? 

Girrier: I drew heavily from my experience standing up the navy staff’s first-ever organization dedicated to unmanned warfare systems, and how we could harness these new capabilities most effectively in step with our existing force. It was a matter of applying the emergence of new technologies to the operational realities we tackle today.

Hughes: It is a long list. Here are some recent sources that emphasis information warfare, writ large, in peace and war, at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels:

John Arquilla, Dubious Battles: Aggression, Defeat, and the International System, 1992

Patrick Beesley, Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939-1945, 1981

Alexander Bordetsky, Stephen Benson, and Wayne Hughes: “Hiding Comms in Plain Sight: Mesh Networking Effects Can Conceal C2 Efforts in Congested Littoral EnvironmentsSignal Magazine, June 2016

Jeffrey Cares and John Dickman, Operations Research for Unmanned Vehicles, 2016

Erik J. Dahl, Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond, 2013

Dorothy Denning, Information Warfare and Security, 1999

Robert P. Girrier, “The Navy’s Mission for UxS,” Presentation January 2016

Robert P. Girrier, “Unmanned Systems: Enhancing Our Warfighting Capabilities Today and In the Future,” Navy Live, November 2015

Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., “A Close Look at the Operational Level of War at Sea,” Naval War College Review, 2012

Tyson B. Meadors, First Gain the Victory: Six Strategic Considerations for Naval Cyber Forces, 2015

Hy Rothstein and Barton Whaley, eds., The Art and Science of Military Deception, 2013

Peter W. Singer and August Cole, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, 2015

James P. Wisecup and the CNO Strategic Studies Group, The Network of Humans and Machines as the Next Capital Ship, July 2016

“Sandy” Woodward and Patrick Robinson, One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, 1992

Nelson: To continue with the topic of technology, in your book, you say everyone should read Elting Morison. Who was he and why should everyone read his work?

Hughes: Elting E. Morison was one of our most astute observers of U. S Navy development, especially in peacetime. He described how USS Wampanoag was designed by master shipbuilder Benjamin Isherwood and commissioned to chase down Confederate raiders and privateers. When she was commissioned in 1869 she was the fastest ship in the world, having steamed for a long distance at 23 knots during her trials. Her speed would not be exceeded by another ship for two decades. But the war was over and so she was laid up and forgotten. There is more to the story, but Morison’s description, and his respect for Navy leadership during its thin years while the nation looked to the west toward California is an early story about complex, fiscally constrained decision-making that is pertinent today.

Nelson: Before I get to the next question, I’d like to quote a paragraph in the latter part of your book about Command and Control:

“Although military leaders at the scene of action and in the chain of command may bridle at the amount of control exercised from Washington in a crisis, the record of fifty years of crisis suggests that such control will continue. Detailed oversight of localized transitory military operations, even those involving shooting, has flowed—and probably will keep flowing directly from the seat of government to the tactical commander at the scene of action—because of its enormous political content.”

Nelson: So here’s my question: Doesn’t this assume that there is connectivity between tactical commanders and naval HQ or Joint HQ during conflict? Because if they lose connectivity or if it is degraded or destroyed, what then? Is it Mission Command?

Hughes: You cite one important reason—enemy interference—but in past and present editions of Fleet Tactics two more contrasting reasons are included describing why connectivity and well-honed skills at mission command are important. In peacetime on the edge of war the HQ including the national command authority in Washington will want to keep a tight rein on the participants out of fear that some major or colonel will be a loose cannon and shoot too soon and start World War IV. But when the shooting starts, a headquarters will be saturated with too many events and if commanders who are accustomed to top-down control wait for directions from on high the orders may not arrive on time. Moreover mission command is necessary in wartime because the local commander, including the ship captain or Marine Company Commander will have a better knowledge of the local enemy and conditions. In the botched Iranian Rescue Mission, some of our helicopters already en route turned back because a dust storm rose which the local meteorologist was aware of, but the weather guessers in Washington were not.

Girrier: Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations acknowledges the reality of crisis operations short of war, and the need to wield combat power with great precision that is completely in step with national intent. At times this may be a connection from higher echelons down to the more tactical level. There are nuances in these circumstances – at the strategic and operational levels – that shift and the on-scene level won’t be aware of…can’t be aware of. 

Conversely, as circumstances deteriorate and connectivity becomes challenged, there is great value in mission command and acting on commander’s intent.  We place great value on initiative and the high quality of our commanders from the tactical to operational levels.  Traversing these levels with agility and speed is critical to combat success.

Nelson: What do you think the 21st Century missile age means for naval warfare? Numerous countries now have long range maritime weapons. Yet do you think we might see a naval war in which range is defeated  not entirely, but largely by decoys and counter C4ISR? Do we then end up in a situation with a destroyer’s Commanding Officer realizing they’ll have to use weapons when they are within visual range of an enemy combatant? 

Girrier: The 21st century missile age brings faster and longer range lethality. At the same time, the areas where we may be called to action – where influence and combat capability is needed – may draw us into the littorals. By virtue of geography, the inherent challenges of targeting, and ever-increasing countermeasures, the ability to survive in these highly lethal environments is possible – it requires great skill, a mix of awareness, speed of decision, and speed of action.

Hughes: Fighting in the missile age is also affected by the effects of clutter of all kinds in coastal waters. Offensive tactics that achieve surprise attacks at relatively short range make littoral waters different from blue waters where we must control the seas and therefore must have strong but expensive defenses.

Nelson: So that’s why the littorals matter?

Girrier: It’s where the sea meets land and where combat effects – from the sea –  can have decisive effects to larger campaigns.

Hughes: Most combat at sea has been in littoral waters for some purpose connected to the land. That has been true since Greek and Roman times and is likely to be just as true in the future. Currently the most likely locations of future battles involving our Navy, including land-sea interactions, are the Baltic, Aegean, and Eastern Mediterranean, the Persian (or “Arabian”) Gulf, the South and East China Seas, and the Yellow Sea. Since a cornerstone of Fleet Tactics was and still is “A ship’s a fool to fight a fort,” today’s naval officers must consider carefully what is meant by a “fort” today.

Nelson: How do we tackle the problem on bridging the divide between the knowledge found in tactical publications and actual operator skill?

Hughes: Achieving operator proficiency is the topic of the book. For example, we have little praise for the principles of war and instead promote the study of constants, trends, and variables over history as the way to avoid preparing to fight the last war. The missile age and the longer range of weapons and sensors have changed the tactical needed to attack effectively first at sea since combat was carrier-centric in World War II. Since our subject is Fleet Tactics the greater emphasis is on achieving tactical success as a fleet commander or commanding officer. However we do not neglect the roles of operators in a command center or CIC. The reader will learn a great deal about the evolution of the Combat Information Center and how it increased the effectiveness of radar and sonar as World War II wore on. We also illustrate by describing the remarkable tactical skills exhibited by the Israeli Navy: commanders, shooters, defenders, deceivers, and the whole crew of each ship when the Israeli navy decisively defeated the Syrian and Egyptian missile ships in the 1973 war. That said, we shy away from speculation about the skills needed in the modern American navy. Instead, we stress the need for more at-sea combat exercises to get our operators ready to fight the age of missile salvos, unmanned vehicles, and information warfare.

Girrier: I would emphasize the timelessness of the ability to “attack effectively first” – this captures it all.  The required end state. The means to achieve that end evolves. Hence the imperative to understand the constants… trends… and variables of warfare. To prevail requires study of the foregoing, plus knowing one’s own capabilities and how to employ them with the utmost degree of effectiveness. Successful leaders will master the fusion of talent plus technology.

Nelson: Could you give us an example of how a net-centric war might look in the future?

Hughes: Network centric warfare is exhibited by today’s carrier battle groups and expeditionary strike groups, both of which must radiate continuously and unfailingly to be effective in the face of an enemy who will detect the radiations and attempt a sudden surprise attack. We emphasize the need to develop the ways and means to conduct our own surprise attacks by offensive action, especially in confined waters where an enemy navy must control his own seas with warships that must radiate to protect his shipping from our almost silent, well-practiced, sneak attacks including submarine attacks. We call this network optional warfare.

Girrier: I agree with Wayne, it’s not all one or the other. The future will likely show that a mix of techniques, capabilities and competencies will be required. That warfare will exhibit hybrid characteristics and one’s agility in traversing disparate approaches will be of great value.

Nelson: You’ve both been writing and publishing for years. If you would, walk us through your writing process. How do you research a topic and bring it to print? Outline? No outline? Pen and paper or straight to the computer?

Girrier: My writing has been fueled by my direct operational experience. What did I know, when did I not know, and what did I wish I knew when I was serving in various positions throughout my career. I compile these nuggets, reflect on their merit (maybe these were things I “should have known” but didn’t place enough value on). Always compose an outline as it helps order my thoughts. Then proceed. I must say, a big part of these projects  – especially when working updates and new editions – is the very serious responsibility of preserving hard-earned lessons. The voice of experience speaking through decades of operations. To update is one thing, maintaining relevance and currency; to preserve the deepest lessons and explain them in readily understood language is perhaps the hardest element in these projects.

Hughes: Taking a macro perspective, my prescription for success was background in four aspects of tactics and combat: (1) Experience at sea. Combat experience at sea helps, and though my ships have only been shot at twice I think the experience of incoming rounds is better yet if you survive them. (2) Knowledge of naval history. I had the joy of teaching it as a lieutenant at the Naval Academy among a cadre of the best historians in the country. (3) Experience with operations analysis, past and present, especially with tours applying it on fleet staffs. And (4) hands-on experience with tactical development to fully exploit new technologies, both onboard ship and on fleet staffs.

Nelson: Admiral Girrier, how did you get involved with Admiral Stavridis and the USNI’s Professional Series books?

Girrier: Admiral Stavridis invited me to join him in this ongoing “professional series” project. It was both an invitation and a call to “get involved” and help make our Navy stronger. I remain deeply grateful for the opportunity. I’ve seen it as both a privilege and a duty.  Our work on the Division Officer’s Guide, Watch Officer’s Guide and Command at Sea has all been pro-bono – I see that as consistent with the mission. It’s a team effort and most recently we’ve brought aboard CAPT Jeff Heames and CDR Tom Ogden (both post CDR-Command officers) contributing to the Division Officer’s Guide and the Watch Officer’s Guide.

Nelson: Gentlemen, I want to close with two questions: What advice would you give naval officers today about how best to prepare for future conflict? And second, what’s the hardest thing the U.S. Navy must tackle to improve either as individual officers or as an organization going forward? 

Girrier: Future arms races and conflict is all about the “race for cognition.” To understand, then act, faster than the adversary. This applies at all levels of conflict. If you own decision superiority, you know when to fight, and when to parry. You must know how, when, and where to create the conditions of tactical overmatch. Cognition means knowing your systems and tactics so completely, that when it comes time to act – your execution is reflexive. This takes training and empowerment of your people, and most importantly – focus and discipline. There are only so many hours in a day, these must be one’s priorities – period.

Hughes: I worked for VADM Ike Kidd when he was Commander First Fleet in San Diego. He emphasized combat readiness if the shooting started tomorrow. Admiral Kidd was influenced by the fact that his father was killed in USS Arizona when she was sunk during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. But Ike also taught everyone to looking ahead at emerging technologies that would change tactics and combat in the future. His last duty was in overseeing the Navy’s technological development. Pertinent to what Bob says about focus and discipline, recently the surface navy suffered serious collisions with merchant ships. Navy officers today should ponder this: if our fighting ships can’t avoid big, slow ships that do not want to hit us, how well are we prepared to avoid small, very fast missiles that do?

Girrier & Hughes: The technology that surrounds us – and is available to our adversaries – must be harnessed and put to the most effective use as rapidly as possible.  Integrating these disruptive technologies challenge our existing systems, procedures, and operational techniques. We are a large and powerful force, with tremendous investment in existing capital assets – that fact can impede true innovation and the adoption of more lethal effects. Our adversaries know this, and are constantly looking at ways to defeat us. Information warfare is evolving very quickly and we must never be complacent in this regard. We must continually adapt, and do so with speed.

Nelson: This was great. Thank you, gentlemen.  

Captain Wayne Hughes, USN (Ret.) served thirty years on active duty, commanding a minesweeper, a destroyer, and a large training command. In retirement has taught, done research, and served as a Dean at the Naval Postgraduate School for over thirty years. He is a distinguished author of the US Naval Institute.

Rear Admiral Robert Girrier, USN (Ret.) is the president of Pacific Forum, a Honolulu-based nonprofit, private foreign policy research institute providing timely, informative, and innovative analysis of political, security and strategic developments in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. He is founder and managing member of StratNav/Strategic Navigation LLC, a consulting company. He is a naval leader with over thirty years’ maritime experience and extensive operations throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific, Europe and Middle East.

Christopher Nelson is a naval officer currently stationed in the Pacific. He is a regular contributor to CIMSEC. The comments and questions here are his own.

Featured Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (Nov. 1, 2017) The guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) launches a SM-2 missile during a live-fire exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Zachary Van Nuys/Released)