Category Archives: Asia-Pacific

Analysis relating to USPACOM.

Strategic Architectures

A primer on concepts and their relationships

Five strategic architectures can be applied to U.S.-China confrontation. The nature of how each achieves “victory” differs, and they have unique strengths and weaknesses. 

Inside Out is Air-Sea Battle elevated to a strategy despite self-stated limitations.  It is the DoD’s current vector via the rapid victory requirement dictated in planning scenarios.  In this strategy, the United States applies technological asymmetries to enable small, tailored forces to survive intensely defended approaches and strike vital PRC targets.  This demands operations at the furthest limits of our own power projection while holding the enemy at risk in his most defensible zone.  The risk of failure in this technological arms race is difficult to calculate as both sides depend on secretive “silver bullets.” Once an Inside Out fight begins, each side is likely to locally blind the other via space and cyber attacks, radically limiting control of combat forces and increasing the risk of miscalculation, stagnation, and inadvertent escalation.  This is an unsettling prospect against a nuclear-armed superpower whose redlines are difficult to determine.

Outside In relies on a more classic “peel the onion” approach to dismantle the PRC’s “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) capabilities, without exclusive dependence on penetrating forces attempting a technological coup de grâce.  This approach targets Chinese power projection capability.  As PRC forces disperse beyond their shore based A2/AD zone they diffuse and lose synergistic protection.  This flips the long distances of the Pacific battle-space from an offensive liability to strategic depth.  In addition, while the U.S. military has been exercising its global reach throughout the 20th century, the Chinese have yet to demonstrate commensurate expeditionary air and sea operations.

Hedgehog strategy builds regional allies who complicate the PRC’s hegemonic calculus.  Enhancing the “spines” on the back of nations like Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand can mitigate PRC aspirations in the South China Sea as it blunted Soviet expansion in Europe.  Success looks like multi-lateral networks of lethally equipped partners who enable a favorable balance of power in phase 0.  This checks China’s ability to intimidate Southern neighbors into its sphere of influence.  Failure to invest in strong partnerships in Southeast Asia while reassuring existing alliances in Northeast Asia risks creating the perception of a “paper pivot” that boosts PRC regional clout.

Distant Interdiction exploits China’s massive dependence on foreign commodities.  Called the “Malacca dilemma,” Pacific topography creates natural choke points beyond the reach of PRC power projection. U.S. Air, Naval and amphibious forces could selectively interdict vital commodities (especially oil) to break the PRC’s war making potential.  This strategy can be executed with both lethal and non-lethal techniques, providing unique reversibility.  Logistics interdiction is, by the Chinese own admission, one of their worst vulnerabilities.  


Figure 1 Massive SLOC dependence for oil/LNG – most refineries on East Coast   (credit

No-Man’s Sea exploits our own A2/AD capabilities to make Chinese home waters a mutual exclusion zone.  The U.S. can pen-up both their military and merchant ships, forcing China to expend military capabilities on break-out operations to fetch vital supplies, while their merchant fleet sees the global market reconstitute without them.  The loss of China will hurt the world market, but the loss of the world market could be catastrophic for the PRC.


 Figure 2 Simultaneous application of A2/AD keeps the U.S. out, and the Chinese in (credit

Inside Out appeals to our preferred ways of war, and exploits the defense industrial base’s promotion of war as a contest between hardware rather than strategies. While Inside Out is only exclusive from Outside In, the former demands so much new-tech investment that it may totally strangle resources required to orchestrate the other four. Hedgehog allows the U.S. to engage the PRC in phase 0, where they have thus far demonstrated significant strategic gains.  While Outside In, Distant Interdiction and No-Man’s Sea obviously work together in phases 1-3, they do not attempt to promise Inside Out’s rapid victory.  Instead, they forego technological tempo compression – rife with potential for unpleasant strategic surprise – and accept that any war with a superpower will be measured in months, not days. 

The combined application of these  stratagems amounts to a grand-strategic maneuver campaign, from the Sea of Japan to the Straits of Malacca.  Seeing time and distance as assets rather than liabilities can allow the U.S. to pull apart and separately engage PRC diplomatic, economic and military COGs.  Air-Sea Battle enabling technologies and operational concepts can be useful in multiple strategies, but the United States should trade force design that emphasizes an Inside Out military gambit for a force that enables a more robust gamut of strategic options.

Jeremy Renken is a Major in the U.S. Air Force. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or U.S. Air Force.

Sober Thinking Over a Glass of Air Sea Beer

The supremacy of the conventional projection of U.S. naval power has come under the threat of foreign naval expansion and comparatively low-cost Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) capabilities, namely those of China. As planners finally come to terms with these challenges, a loud and very confusing debate is raging between what many consider the two strategies to counter these threats: “Air-Sea Battle” (ASB) and “Offshore Control” (OSC).

A young ENS Patrick Hipple goes mad listening to the ASB debate and calls in all the airstrikes on himself.
A young ENS Patrick Hipple goes mad listening to the ASB debate and calls in all airstrikes on himself.

If you are lucky, you have missed most of the ASB vs. OSC debate outside the comforting walls of CIMSEC, since it has a high noise-to-signal ratio: many arguments with mislabeled terms.

ASB-detractors decry what they see as an expensive, high-tech campaign to penetrate Chinese airspace and pepper their critical networks with precision strikes. It is often labeled a “strategy,” with its central tenant being an escalatory, wide-spread attack on the mainland using a force that would actually only play into the opponent’s numerical and cyber/space advantages.

Detractors of OSC oppose what they imagine is a “sit back and wait” strategy in which a blockade is utilized to choke the economy of a belligerent China. It is accused of ceding the PRC too much freedom to pursue military objectives and too much time to develop the conditions necessary to consolidate gains before negotiating a lift of the blockade.

The problem is that these views are off-point; the ways in which ASB and OSC have been defined are wrong; the concepts are actually compatible, not oppositional.

ASB is not a “strategy” like a “convoy” is not a strategy. One could compare ASB to a brewery; it takes the water of the Navy, the hops and roasted malt of the Air Force, adds yeast and ferments them together into a delicious stout in which 500lb bombs get dropped from an F-16 onto boats attacking a carrier in a major strait. The military has always talked about acting in a “joint” way, but ASB imagines the capabilities, advantages, and application of taking that a step further: beer, not a cup of barely mixed with water. In spirit, ASB remain very close to its origins in ADM Stravridis’ (USN, Ret.) Naval War College papers (.pdf download).

The official DoD ASB report does talk about “attacks-in-depth” (.pdf download) that detractors claim are escalatory, but ASB is just a toolbox and not nation specific. As with every toolbox, not all tools are used for every job. The Kennedy administration emphasized this idea with “flexible response.” Though the United States had nuclear weapons, we also had other qualitative and quantitative degrees of force for our strategies as appropriate to the scenario. To quote the Old Salt Emeritus, ADM Harvey (USN, Ret.), ASB is “not about dropping JDAMs into downtown Beijing.” You don’t have to drink the whole keg of ASB; you can pour yourself a pint and you can definitely drink it in far more places than the Pacific.

Unlike ASB, OSC is a strategy, one that sees economic strangulation as the means to victory in a war against China. However, wouldn’t any campaign against a major conventional opponent seek at least in part to strangle their economy? Col TX Hammes (USMC, Ret.) created OSC as a sober guard against attacking the Chinese mainland, which he sees as the possible escalatory route nuclear war. He does note in his writings that he would not cede what is called the “first island chain” to a belligerent China and would, where able, attack force projection assets outside the mainland. However, in order to accomplish such a wide campaign…one might want to use ASB. The loud debates miss that actually, ASB and OSC could walk hand-in-hand if properly applied.

The major point of contention is then, not between ASB and OSC, but an operational debate on one side and on the other a debate about the nature of escalation, the capabilities we would retain, and our starting conditions. Arguably, with our pivot to the Pacific and concerns with China, that strategic debate is far more important.

OSC beats ASB as an “answer” in so much as it is an actual strategy against a specific opponent, but Col. Hammes doesn’t get away scot free. Robert McNamara, reflecting on the Vietnam War, said that one of our major flaws was that we assumed our opponents thought the same way we did. Would the PRC see the destruction of military assets and projection power capabilities as more escalatory than shutting down the Chinese economy? Would a “systemic” attack like a blockade be met with an in-kind cyber-attack to bring down the US economy as possible, in ways that a naval exchange in the South China Sea would not? The potential for escalation is difficult to divine, and OSC may not identify the correct tripwires. To be fair however, as GEN Eisenhower said, “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

In applying any “big” strategies, we are challenged by the unknown spark and scale of our conflict: from Taiwan, to the South China Sea, to North Korea. While there are many scenarios where the United States might respond with full-fledged military operations, there are far more that will involve general or targeted low-level escalation (such as the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone).

While we debate a potential high-end conflict, a real conflict of passive-aggressive escalation is occurring now in the East China Sea where the PRC is burrowing under our tripwires to their objective. In “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” the U.S. Navy declared that “preventing wars are as important as winning them.” We want a war-winning strategy, but we don’t want China to gain a position of confidence in which they would force us to use such a plan. Moreover, we don’t want to miss a subtle fait-accompli while we’re waiting for a war that will never come. Suffice it to say, an operational plan that puts American forces shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies, a soft power plan that strengthens political and military alliances and interoperability, and unwavering U.S. regional commitment is at least a start in preventing regional bandwagoning with the PRC.

Matthew Hipple is a surface warfare officer and graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. He is Director of the Online Content and hosts of the Sea Control podcast. His opinions may not reflect those of the United States Navy, Department of Defense, or US Government. Did he mention he was host of the Sea Control podcast? You should start listening to that.

Towards a More Intelligent Debate over Air-Sea Battle

One of the curious aspects of the debate over Air-Sea Battle has been that the arguments taking place often dwell not on substance, but on definitional disagreements. For example, one side will critique ASB out of concerns of strategy or the nature of our relationship with China; the other side will rightly complain that these concerns belong in a separate, well-deserved debate because ASB is an operational concept, not a strategy. CIMSEC has commissioned an entire week on ASB in the hope that we can move past this inescapable logic-loop. On that note, I recently came across two pieces (both published journal articles) that are stand-ins for where we do and do not want this debate to go.

One is a recent article published in the journal Military Review, entitled “A Role for Land Warfare Forces in Overcoming A2/AD,” written by COL Vincent Alcazar and COL Thomas Lafleur, formerly Air Force co-lead and Army strategist for the Air-Sea Battle Office, respectively. Sounds promising! Unfortunately, what followed was a jargon-laced, logically questionable, and utterly indefensible article. In a sentence, they argued that ASB is not sufficient to meet the A2/AD challenge of the future. Instead we should land a Brigade Combat Team on the soil of our future putative enemies to conduct reconnaissance, raids, and seizures of key A2/AD capabilities. What an incredible argument! Without any reference to actual scenarios, concrete adversaries, or political costs this is not just a useless argument, it is a dangerous one, because someone somewhere out there might actually take it seriously. Beyond substantively bad ideas, this article is also marred by poor writing. For example:

Land warfare forces are not an invasion or long-term occupation force, or utilized as the vanguard of a nation-building effort; even “kicking in the door” comes later. Early land warfare force employment against A2/AD is about tailored BCTs and slices of BCTs that enter the neighborhood to shape its places for the joint force subsequently to kick in the doors to the key houses, which themselves constitute key opponent targets. (p. 80)

If you can understand that, I’m not sure I can congratulate you. The entire article reads like this. A final problem is that the article bizarrely confuses strategy, operations, and tactics. One choice quotation: “Nations employing A2/AD have four goals; however, it is inaccurate to conflate these ‘goals’ with ends. Rather, these goals are considered a framework to explain the strategic and operational so what of A2/AD.” (ital. original) (p. 82-83) How are the authors distinguishing “goals” from “ends?” How can you even talk about strategy without referring to specific countries? What does the term “so what” mean? In sum this article indicates to me that even within the ASBO itself people are still confused over definitions, and basic logic. Pardon the overwrought nautical metaphor, but it does not instill in me much confidence that the ship is being steered in the right direction.

Striking a completely different tone, Jonathan Solomon’s recent article published in Strategic Studies Quarterly, “Demystifying Conventional Deterrence: Great-Power Conflict and East Asian Peace,” was a tour de force. Even though I do not necessarily agree with his conclusions, Solomon expertly defends the necessity of Air-Sea Battle and long-range conventional strike systems through a clear and logical (if dense) elucidation of conventional deterrence theory. He also makes criticisms of blockades that proponents of competitors to ASB, like Offshore Control, must contend with: that over-land blockade running or rationing could thwart a blockade; that a blockade might harm third-party allied countries; and that an adversary could put the US in a situation where it had to choose between further escalation or compromising the integrity of the blockade.

But I still have issues with an article even as well written as this. First, the author is largely talking about an “end of the world” scenario in which China initiates a premeditated first strike a la Pearl Harbor. Solomon spends comparatively little time addressing lower-order conventional deterrence/crisis escalation scenarios, except to say that high-end conventional deterrence is still useful between levels of escalation and that U.S. and allied constabulary functions are still necessary. While some argue that China has an incentive in certain situations to conduct a preemptive strike, it seems likely that such a strike would come in the context of an ongoing political crisis rather than as a bolt out of the blue attack. In this case, lower-end deterrence (defusing the crisis) would be more important than higher-end deterrence.

Second, Solomon intelligently lays out example after example of how both conventional and nuclear deterrence could fail due to strategic misperceptions, psychological issues, China becoming more volatile, and the U.S. fiscal situation weakening, etc. But then he pins the solution on confidence-building measures and multi-track diplomacy. But what happens when multi-track diplomacy does NOT work and China continually rejects confidence-building measures? I am actually one of the biggest proponents of Sino-U.S. mil-mil cooperation, but I am NOT confident that, as Solomon puts it, the United States and China “educate” each other about “their respective escalatory threshold perceptions.” (p. 133)

This is why it is important to craft a more conservative deterrence policy that does not depend on having perfect knowledge of the adversaries’ intentions, doctrine, strategic culture, or leadership psychology. As is well documented by history, intelligence has often been catastrophically wrong, and signaling has been imperfectly interpreted or outright failed—such as the fine-tuned signaling intended by U.S. strategic bombing during the Vietnam War, or when the United States thought it was fighting an anti-communist war in Vietnam while the Vietnamese thought they were fighting a nationalist and anti-colonialist war. We absolutely must try to increase transparency and mutual understanding, but we also have to be aware that we could fail, with catastrophic results. It seems as if Solomon is well aware of these issues, but at times he contradicts himself; there is even one section where he suggests “overt, predeclared ‘automaticity’ in [the] deterrent posture,” which clashes with his warnings against misperceptions, etc. (p. 136)

Finally, the author rightly points out that a Chinese first-strike would inflame the Clausewitzian passions of the U.S. and allied publics and would provide a psychological boost to our side. Why then wouldn’t U.S. retaliatory strikes against mainland targets (even if they are only against counterforce targets) not inflame the passions of the Chinese public, making de-escalation on the Chinese side that much more difficult? We have ample evidence of the nationalist sentiments of the Chinese public, and the below-the-surface antipathy towards the United States that could erupt (e.g. the Belgrade embassy bombing). CCP leaders could fear popular revolt if they capitulated, even if they understood themselves to be in a long-term losing situation. The CCP’s interest in maintaining their leadership position may not be the same as China’s national interest. That is a scary thing to consider.

These two articles seem to strike out two different future intellectual trajectories for the military and our national security apparatus. In one, alternative strategies are debated with an eye towards academic theory, well-informed history, and sound logic. In the other, a gob of reheated mush is coated in incomprehensible jargon and delivered to us as “fresh thinking.” Which direction do we want to go? We can have intelligent or unintelligent debates about ASB. The choice will directly influence our national security, and whether we stumble into yet more undesired wars or keep an uneasy peace. It is my hope that this week at CIMSEC will steer us in the right direction.

William Yale is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins SAIS. He has lived in China for two years, and worked at the Naval War College and the U.S. State Department. He tweets @wayale and blogs at

The Chinese Coast Guard to Build World’s Largest Offshore Patrol Vessel – And More

Since its formation in 2013 by the consolidation of four previously independent agencies into a single entity (notably excluding the SAR agency), the Chinese Coast Guard has been experiencing phenomenal growth and has become China’s instrument of choice in its “small stick diplomacy” push to claim most of both the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
They commissioned two 4,000 cutters in January alone. It appears the growth will continue. The Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Company has just been awarded a contract for four new 5,000 ton cutters, and China Ship-building Industry Corporation has been contracted to build two additional surveillance ships, one of 10,000 tons and another of 4,000-tons.
The US Coast Guard’s largest patrol cutters are the 418 foot, 4,500 ton full load Bertholf Class National Security Cutters. The illustration that accompanies the story of the four new 5,000 ton cutters shows a ship, in many ways similar to the National Security Cutter. It appears there is a medium caliber gun on the bow. (This would be a significant but not unexpected change for the Chinese Coast Guard.) There is a frame over what appears to be a stern ramp not unlike that on the NSC. The hull shape also appears similar to the NSC.
Japanese Coast Guard Cutter Shikishima, this class of two are currently the largest offshore patrol vessels in the world. Photo from Japanese Wikipedia; ja:ファイル:JapanCoastGuard Shikishima.jpg
Japanese Coast Guard Cutter Shikishima, this class of two are currently the largest offshore patrol vessels in the world. Photo from Japanese Wikipedia.

The “10,000 ton” cutter is likely to look similar to the Japanese Coast Guard’s two 492 foot, 9,350 full load, Shikishima class high endurance helicopter carrying cutters seen in the illustration above, but they may actually be much larger. Comparing their new ship to the Japanese cutters, the displacement of the Japanese ships was quoted as 6,500 tons, their light displacement. If the 10,000 tons quoted for the Chinese cutter is also light displacement, it could approach 15,000 tons full load. As reported here the new Chinese OPV will have a 76mm gun, two 30mm guns, facilities to support two Z-8 helicopters, and a top speed of 25 knots.

The size of the helicopters is notable. The Z-8 is a large, three engine, 13,000 kg helicopter based on the Aérospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon. The transport version of this helicopter can transport 38 fully equipped troops. The same airframe is also used for SAR, ASW, and vertical replenishment.
Undoubtedly the new vessels tonnage would give it an advantage in any sort of “shoving match” with vessels of other coast guards, but why so large?
The original justification for the Japanese cutters was to escort plutonium shipments between Japan and Europe, but the second cutter was built long after that operation was suspended, so clearly the Japanese saw a different justification for the second ship of the class.
Even so the Chinese ship may prove larger still. Other than prestige, why so large? China’s EEZ is small (877,019 sq km) compared to that of the US (11,351,000 sq km) or even Japan (4,479,358 sq km). Even adding the EEZ of Taiwan and other areas claimed by China, but disputed by others (3,000,000 sq km), the total is only about 3,877,019 sq km, and patrolling it does not require the long transits involved in patrolling the US or even the Japanese EEZ.
10,000 tons is about the size of a WWII attack transport, and with its potential to embark two large helicopters, China’s new large cutter could certainly exceeds the capability of WWII destroyer and destroyer escort based fast transports (APD). Using its helicopters and boats it could quickly land at least an infantry company, as could many of the smaller cutters. Chinese Coast Guard ships are already a common sight throughout the contested areas of the South China and East China Seas. Will Asia wake up some morning to learn there have been Chinese garrisons landed throughout the contested areas, by the now all too familiar Chinese Coast Guard Cutters.
Chuck Hill blogs at He retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life long interest in naval ships and history.