Calculating the power of a fleet is a daunting and imprecise task. In the Washington Naval Treaty, tonnage and gun caliber were used as metrics to set the ratio of capital ships between leading world navies. Capital ships were seen as the supreme arbiters of a naval conflict. The London Naval Treaty established similar rules for tonnage and gun caliber for smaller combatants. The United States Navy counts battle force ships, which includes combat logistics forces, toward its end strength. The battle force ship metric is simple hull count, with T-AKE, PC, LCS, DDG and CVN classes all being counted as equals, despite vastly different mission, size, manning, and capabilities. By a simple measure of hull count from 2018-2019 Jane’s Fighting Ships, the USN has 10 percent fewer warships than Russia, and is half the size of China’s fleet.
However, when tonnage is used as the metric, the picture changes dramatically:
This change is unsurprising. The nature of the fleets are significantly different. The USN tends to operate much larger ships optimized for long range power projection. China and Russia have many missile-armed patrol boats and corvettes compared to the relatively few U.S. Cyclone class PC and corvette-like LCSs.
However, does the metric of tonnage truly measure the power of a fleet? The interwar period treaties considered both tonnage and caliber of guns. These two metrics were related, in that larger guns required a larger vessel to carry them. In general, there also was a direct correlation between the caliber of the gun and its destructive power. Tonnage also affected how much armor could be carried to protect against gun hits. Another metric used to compare warship power was broadside throw weight. This was the total mass of shells a ship could deliver in a broadside against an adversary. A heavier broadside could be expected to triumph against less armed opponents. However, in the modern era, guns have been eclipsed by missiles as the primary weapon of naval combat. While battleships carried far more powerful weapons and were relatively immune to the deck guns of small combatants, the same is not true of missiles today. Very similar if not identical anti-ship missiles are carried by small patrol combatants and mounted on the largest combatants, sometimes in identical quantities (eight being a popular number). While the defensive and damage control capabilities of larger vessels may be greater, it still seems likely that a few missile hits will knock most ships out of action, if not sink them. If missiles are the true measure of a fleet’s combat power, then neither tonnage nor hull count is an appropriate metric, because neither is directly related to a ship’s missile capabilities.
For the sake of this analysis, we will borrow Robert O. Work’s concept of battle force missiles (BFM) from his “To Take and Keep the Lead” monograph. BFMs are missiles that “contribute to battle force missions such as area and local air defense, anti-surface warfare, and anti-submarine warfare. Terminal defense SAMs, which protect only the host ship, are not considered a battle force missile.” Thus, weapons like RAM, ESSM, SA-N-9, Mistral, and HHQ-10 point defense SAMs would not count toward the tally of BFM. ASROC, Harpoon, Tomahawk, Standard Missiles and non-U.S. equivalents do count. Generally speaking, BFMs cannot be reloaded at sea, unlike shorter-range defensive missiles. They are too large and unwieldy. As such, they also serve as a cap on the offensive or defensive power a ship can provide. When BFMs are exhausted, the ship must return to a secure friendly port to rearm.
The ship numbers and missile capacity considered below were taken from Jane’s Fighting Ships 2018-2019 as a standard reference. In some cases, there are issues with overlap. For example, some U.S. Mk 41 VLS cells can carry a BFM, or quad-packed ESSM, which would not count. Russian vessels are able to fire SS-N-16 Starfish anti-submarine missiles from their torpedo tubes. While SS-N-16 (like ASROC) would count as a BFM, Jane’s did not have a magazine capacity of how many were carried by Russian warships. So, this BFM-launched via surface ship torpedo tube was ignored. Submarine heavy weight torpedoes were counted. While they may not be missiles, they are a primary anti-surface warfare weapon and, in some subs, are interchangeable with BFMs for strike or anti-ship missions. Finally, there was not complete data for all classes (e.g. number of torpedoes carried), so data was extrapolated from similar designs. The results of this BFM count are in the chart below.
This accounting of fleet firepower shows the USN has more than twice the BFM of the Chinese PLAN. The gap is even larger if the contribution of carrier-born aircraft is considered. The U.S. has an almost twenty-fold advantage in fixed-wing aircraft operating from ships. Carrier-born aircraft, especially from CATOBAR carriers, can carry multiple BFM and can reload aboard the carrier. In addition, the carrier can have its magazines reloaded at sea, something other ships cannot do with their BFMs. However, it is worth noting that China’s BFM count gained over 1000 missiles since 2017, and the U.S. number has been relatively static.
Using BFM as a fleet metric also allows for different ship sizes. A U.S. Flight IIA Burke class DDG with 96 VLS tubes provides the same BFM capacity as 12 patrol boats with 8 missiles each. Who would win in such an engagement would probably hinge on who had better intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support to target the other first. However, twelve patrol boats also have the advantage of being able to be in multiple places at once and needing at least 12 hits to defeat – far more than the Burke could likely endure. Continuing with Robert Work’s characterization, we can classify ships by their BFM count. Currently, warships have classifications of cruiser, destroyer, frigate, corvette or similar based more on politics than clear distinctions. What Work recommended was similar to the old system of classifying ships by guns. In this case, missiles instead of guns. First-rate warships (>100 BFM), second-rate (90-100 BFM), third-rate (60-89), and on down to unrated warships with negligible missile capability. For this analysis, the author augmented Work’s lower ratings with fourth-rate (40-59 BFM), fifth-rate (20-39 BFM), sixth-rate (6-19 BFM), and unrated as < 6 BFM. This reclassification produces the following fresh perspective:
There is a clear USN preference for heavily armed surface combatants compared to potential adversaries. The one Russian Kirov is rated as a first-rate warship, but is barely a blip compared to the U.S. Ticonderoga-class cruisers. The Chinese Type 055 arriving into service will provide China with first-rate warships as well, but still a fraction of the number the USN has. The two U.S. Zumwalt DDGs in 2019 are third-rate ships-of-the-line, but have scores of better armed compatriots compared to the Chinese third-rate vessels. None have a fifth rate combatant (6-20 BFM) unless it is a submarine.
The chart above could spark concern at the rough parity in attack submarines between the U.S., Russia, and China. However, when broken down by type of submarine, the picture changes. The USN relies exclusively on nuclear-powered submarines to provide longer range, greater speed, and more submerged endurance compared to diesel or air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines. This is because the U.S. plans an “away game” with submarines deployed far from U.S. shores, while Russia and China expect to be using their larger conventional submarine fleets close to home.
When the metric of BFMs (including torpedoes) is applied, the U.S. is also shown to have a significant lead in subsurface firepower. While the U.S. has fewer SSGNs than Russia, they carry far more missiles per submarine. The three Seawolf SSNs also have an extra-large torpedo load, as do Los Angeles and Virginia class SSNs fitted with vertical launch tubes, to give them more weapons than other subs their size. This allows them to stay in the fight longer before returning to reload. Newer Virginia class submarines will have the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) installed, further increasing their firepower.
Of course, any single metric will fail to capture the power of a fleet. Informed opinions will differ on the correct offensive and defensive load mix for a warship, or the qualities of a Harpoon ASCM compared to a P-270 Moskit, 3M-54 Club, or YJ-18. Some of these issues are discussed by Alan Cummings in his 2016 Naval War College Review article on Chinese ASCMs in competitive control. In that article, he shows that for anti-ship firepower, U.S. surface vessels are severely over-matched. However, after 2016, VLS options for surface strike (SM-6 and Maritime Strike Tomahawk) have become feasible. Since the mixture of weapons in a VLS tube battery is variable, the number of cells may now provide a better metric than calculations assuming weapons loads. In addition, one must consider crew quality, training, and readiness as components of fleet power. National character and experience as a sea power also come into play. However, all of these qualities are hard to ascribe metrics to, and arms control treaties and analysts focus on measurable and verifiable metrics.
In the end, a fleet must be measured against what it is expected to do. For power projection abroad, a large number of BFMs (or carriers supporting strikes) would be more capable of performing the mission. Close to home, vessels can more easily return to friendly ports to rearm BFMs, so the total at sea may be less important. Even at equal numbers of BFMs, a fleet concentrating them on a smaller number of high-capacity platforms would be less able to control sea-space than a fleet that spread the same number of missiles over a half-dozen combatants. The more distributed fleet would also be more tolerant of losses. Currently, the USN has its power concentrated in high-end warships, be they carriers, large surface combatants, or nuclear submarines. However, this also makes the USN susceptible to major losses, especially if defenses don’t work as well as expected.
The U.S. has a significant lead in BFMs, but also has global commitments which may drastically reduce how many BFMs can be committed to a particular theater. In the western Pacific, the PLAN is rapidly narrowing this lead. As the United States builds towards a 355-ship Navy, it will need to carefully consider the missions required and, in wartime, the firepower required, to accomplish them.
Commander Keith “Powder” Patton is the Deputy Chair, Strategic and Operational Research Dept (SORD) at the Naval War College. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the official views of the Navy or the Department of Defense.
Featured Image: September 3, 2005. US Navy (USN) Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke Class (flight I); Guided Missile Destroyer, USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) inspect the MK 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) for water to prevent electrical failure. (Photo by: PHAN Adam York, USN)
The following article is adapted from a report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Read the original report here.
By Jordan Wilson
Observers of China’s September 2015 military parade witnessed the surprise introduction of a new road-mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), the DF-26, reported to feature nuclear, conventional, and antiship variants and a range of 3,000–4,000 kilometers (km) (1,800–2,500 miles [mi])1—greater than any of China’s current systems except the ICBMs in its nuclear arsenal. This range would cover U.S. military installations on Guam, roughly 3,000 km (1,800 mi) from the Chinese mainland, prompting some analysts and netizens to refer to the missile as the “Guam Express” or “Guam Killer” (derived from the term “carrier killer” used to refer to China’s shorter-range DF-21D antiship ballistic missile).2 Combined with improved air- and sea-launched cruise missiles and modernizing support systems, the DF-26 would allow China to bring a greater diversity and quality of assets to bear against Guam in a contingency than ever before.
China’s reason for developing capabilities to hold locations in the Pacific at risk can be traced to the domestic political interests of its leaders. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) perceives that its legitimacy in the eyes of China’s citizens is based, in part, on its ability to demonstrate that it is capable of strengthening the nation3 and safeguarding China’s territorial interests and claims.4 Yet the CCP leadership believes the United States’ presence in the Asia Pacific—intended to back the U.S. commitment to defending key interests and upholding global norms in the Asia Pacific, such as the security of allies and partners, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and freedom of navigation5—could interfere with its ability to defend these interests and claims if a regional crisis were to arise.6 This concern has prompted Beijing to develop conventional missile capabilities to target U.S. military facilities in the Asia Pacific in general, and Guam in particular, in order to expand China’s options and improve its capacity to deter or deny U.S. intervention during such a crisis. Guam is referenced in many Chinese academic and military writings as a highly important feature in the purported U.S. “containment” strategy,7 with analysts noting its strategic position,8 and its role as an “anchor” of U.S. forces in the region9 and of the “second island chain”* in particular.10 China has been able to reach Guam with nuclear weapons for decades. It could theoretically employ conventional gravity bombs, naval gunfire, and torpedoes as well, but the same air and naval platforms that would deliver these are now equipped with significantly more advanced cruise missiles. This article thus focuses on the more relevant concerns posed by missiles below the nuclear threshold.
Multiplying Forces Capable of Striking Guam
Several new conventional platforms and weapons systems developed by China in recent years have increased its ability to hold U.S. forces stationed on Guam at risk in a potential conflict:
Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles: The DF-26 is China’s first conventionally-armed IRBM and first conventionally-armed ballistic missile capable of reaching Guam. Its inclusion in the September 2015 parade indicates it has likely been deployed as an operational weapon,11 although only a few have likely been installed thus far. The missile also reportedly has serious accuracy limitations:12 a 2015 report by IHS Jane’s assesses its current circular error probable (CEP)** at intermediate range to be 150–450 meters,13 while China’s DF-15B short-range ballistic missile, for example, is reported to have a CEP of 5–10 meters as a precision guided weapon.14 Practically, this means that many more launches would be required to achieve the same degree of confidence in inflicting damage, pending the improvement of the sensor systems on the missile and the space-based systems providing pre- and post-strike intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and position, navigation, and timing data.
Antiship Ballistic Missiles (ASBMs): The DF-26 ASBM version is, like the DF-21D, unproven against a moving target at sea15 but likely to undergo further development.
Air-Launched Land Attack Cruise Missiles (LACMs): China’s newest and most capable bomber, the H-6K, when equipped with up to six recently-developed air-launched CJ-20 LACMs, gives China the ability to conduct precision airstrikes and potentially reach Guam with air-launched weapons for the first time.16 However, these antiquated bombers*** would have a high probability of being detected and intercepted by U.S. aircraft and anti-aircraft systems.17 Such an attack would also outdistance the range of any Chinese escort fighters, according to a 2015 RAND Corporation study,18 and China’s air refueling fleet is still too small to support large-scale, long-distance air combat.19
Air-Launched Antiship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs): The PLA Navy’s H-6 bombers, including its H-6Ks, can carry up to four of China’s new long-range, supersonic YJ-12 ASCMs,20 but would have the same limitations in employing these weapons.
Sea-Launched Land Attack Cruise Missiles: The PLA Navy currently does not have the ability to strike land targets, but China has likely begun to develop a sea-based LACM capability over the last few years.21 The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has stated that this capability may involve China’s forthcoming Type 095 nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) or new LUYANG-III guided missile destroyer (DDG).22
Sea-Launched Antiship Cruise Missiles: PLA Navy platforms equipped with ASCMs, particularly the new YJ-18, could complicate U.S. naval operations near its Guam facilities, provided the PLA Navy vessels were able to get into position without being detected. China’s quietest submarines, however, are diesel-electric and relatively slow in comparison to other types (see comparison in figure below).
China’s new conventional regional strike weapons, as well as ongoing qualitative improvements to its naval operations and C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) systems, provide Beijing with the ability to hold U.S. forces and installations on Guam at greater risk than in the past, despite remaining challenges and gaps that indicate the level of risk is still low. Overall, the efficiency/vulnerability tradeoff between China’s air and naval forces probably factors into why China pursued a third option by developing DF-26 ballistic missiles. Beijing is working to advance its regional strike capabilities across the board, however, indicating concerns will be posed by ground-, air-, and sea-launched types going forward. To evaluate China’s ability to strike Guam in the future, the areas that should be monitored most closely are increased deployments of DF-26 missiles and qualitative improvements to China’s precision strike capabilities, bomber fleet, in-air refueling capability, and submarine quieting technology.
Implications for the United States
Guam is growing in importance to U.S. strategic interests and any potential warfighting operations in the Asia Pacific, even as China’s ability to strike the island is increasing. The island is home to two U.S. military facilities, Apra Naval Base and Andersen Air Force Base, and hosts a total of about 6,000 military personnel23 (with 5,000 more projected to be moved from Okinawa by 202024), as well as four nuclear attack submarines;25 three Global Hawk UAVs;26 continuous rotations of B1, B-2, and B-52 bombers;27 temporary fighter rotations;28 the largest U.S. weaponry storage in the Pacific;29 and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile battery.30 It is also crucial to U.S. preparations for responding to crises, providing valuable basing capacity31 and a location to which the United States can pull back assets from within China’s precision strike range, if needed.
China’s conventional missile force modernization could complicate the United States’ response in a contingency in which Beijing sought to deny or delay a U.S. intervention. An assessment by the RAND Corporation, for example, estimates that with 50 (hypothetically more accurate) IRBMs, “China could keep Andersen AFB closed to large aircraft for more than eight days (assuming missile reliability of 75 percent and eight-hour repair times), even if the PLA is denied battle damage assessment … With 100 IRBMs, the PLA could make a full sweep of all unsheltered aircraft parking areas and then use the rest of its inventory to keep Andersen shut to large aircraft for 11 days.”32 Of additional concern, China’s leaders could also be more willing to resort to military force in an existing crisis if they believed they could successfully hold Guam at risk, diminishing the United States’ ability to deter escalation, although it is difficult to determine the extent to which better operational capabilities might influence strategic thinking in Beijing.
U.S. experts and analysts have proposed several options that could help mitigate these concerns:
Hardening Facilities on Guam: Investing in improved protection for U.S. assets on Guam could increase the costliness and uncertainty of conventional ballistic and cruise missile strikes against these facilities, and thereby work to disincentivize a first strike and increase regional stability, as noted by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in its 2015 Report to Congress.33 However, this approach is complicated by the likely high costs of such investments,34 and the potential for China to counter them with an even further buildup of its missile arsenal.
Dispersing U.S. Regional Military Facilities: A greater dispersion of U.S. military facilities throughout the Asia Pacific, or access to an increased number of alternate regional ports and airfields, would multiply the number of targets against which China might employ missile strikes and complicate its ability to disrupt U.S. operations in a contingency, particularly through a first strike.35 This approach does face high financial costs, the possibility that China might respond with further missile deployments, and potential difficulties in obtaining approval and financial support from host countries.36 It also runs counter to efforts to reduce long-term dependence on foreign bases. The United States has nonetheless been able to take steps towards this objective, recently securing access to facilities in the Philippines and entering discussions regarding access to airfields in Australia.37
Investments in New Missile Defense Capabilities: Continued U.S. investments in “next-generation” missile defense initiatives such as directed energy and rail gun technologies, as recommended in the Commission’s 2015 Report to Congress,38 could yield better options for defending U.S. bases and platforms from China’s conventional ballistic and cruise missiles. While current missile defense systems such as THAAD—already stationed on Guam—and PAC-3 (the upgraded Patriot missile system) may help to an extent, they are intended to stop North Korean missiles and would likely not completely protect against an attack from China.39
Revisiting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: China’s missile force modernization has contributed to a U.S. policy debate regarding the United States’ participation in the INF Treaty, particularly given Russia’s recent violations of its Treaty obligations.40 Signed by the United States and Soviet Union in 1987, the INF Treaty required “destruction of both parties’ ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,418 miles), along with their launchers and associated support structures and support equipment,” altogether eliminating 846 U.S. and 1,846 Soviet missiles. Although titled a “Nuclear Forces” treaty, INF’s prohibition of conventional systems is the substance of the current debate, as China’s buildup of conventional intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles has been a driving force behind concerns regarding the Treaty in recent years.41 As China has engaged in a relatively low-cost buildup of land-based theater-range conventional missiles, including the DF-26, the United States has been prevented under the Treaty from doing so. As policymakers weigh the costs and benefits of continued U.S. participation, three potential actions would allow the United States to carefully explore these questions while remaining in full compliance with the Treaty: reports examining the potential benefits and costs of incorporating ground-launched short-, medium-, and intermediate-range conventional cruise and ballistic missile systems into the United States’ Asia Pacific defensive force structure;42 research and development activities for conventional INF-accountable cruise and ballistic missiles, in preparation for possible changes;43 and discussions with allies regarding whether they would be open to hosting such systems,44 investing in INF-accountable missiles themselves,45 or joining in advocating for a broadened Treaty at the multilateral or global level.46
Maintaining Superiority in Regional Strike Capabilities: The United States could invest in maintaining its ability to strike an adversary’s launchers and support networks as part of its deterrence posture in the Asia Pacific, aiming to prevent conflicts from beginning and to protect U.S. regional assets should one begin.47 Some experts have specifically noted the high number of LACMs carried by some U.S. attack submarines48 and the potential for U.S. procurement programs such as the Long Range Strike Bomber and Virginia payload module (which increases the missile capacity of the Virginia-class SSN) to provide a higher volume of firepower at a more affordable rate than ground-launched missile forces.49 Policymakers could continuously monitor the performance and sustainability of these and other aspects of the U.S. regional force posture to ensure the United States maintains its military edge.
Beijing’s assessment of Guam’s role in the United States’ regional force posture has made it a focal point of developments in China’s conventional regional strike capabilities, although limitations to these systems render the current risk to U.S. forces on Guam in a potential conflict relatively low. At present, the new DF-26 IRBM headlines China’s expanding capabilities, although it likely will remain extremely inaccurate until China successfully extends its precision strike complex. China could also employ surface- and submarine-launched ASCM attacks, should the platforms be able to move into range undetected; while air-launched ASCM and LACM attacks could reach Guam more quickly, but with a high risk of the bombers being detected and intercepted by U.S. aircraft and anti-aircraft systems. The DF-26 ASBM is still unproven, and China has yet to develop a sea-launched LACM capability. China will likely continue to invest in developing these systems, however, even as Guam’s importance to U.S. strategic interests in the Asia Pacific continues to grow. Options such as hardening facilities on Guam, further dispersing U.S. regional military facilities, continuing investments in “next-generation” missile defense capabilities, revisiting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) Treaty, and maintaining superiority in regional strike capabilities offer potential avenues for addressing these key security concerns.
Jordan Wilson is a Policy Analyst at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, focusing on U.S.-China security and foreign policy issues.
Featured Image: The Los Angeles-class submarine USS Topeka (SSN 754) arrives at its new homeport of U.S. Naval Base Guam in May 2015. Courtesy of Navaltoday.com.
* The first island chain refers to a line of islands running through the Kurile Islands, Japan and the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, and Natuna Besar. The second island chain is farther east, running through the Kurile Islands, Japan, the Bonin Islands, the Mariana Islands, and the Caroline Islands. Bernard D. Cole, The Great Wall at Sea: China’s Navy in the Twenty-First Century, Naval Institute Press, 2010, 174-176.
** CEP is defined as the radius of a circle, centered about the intended point of impact, whose boundary is expected to include the landing points of 50 percent of the rounds. Oleg Yakimenko, “Statistical Analysis of Touchdown Error for Self-Guided Aerial Payload Delivery Systems,” (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Conference, Daytona Beach, FL, March 26, 2013), 1.
*** The H-6 design, on which future versions have been based, is a licensed copy of the ex-Soviet Tu-16 “Badger” medium jet bomber, first flown in 1952. U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century, April 2015, 18; Encyclopedia Britannica, “Tu-16.” http://www.britannica.com/technology/Tu-16.
1. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 372; Andrew S. Erickson, “Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” National Interest, September 3, 2015; and Richard D. Fisher, Jr., “DF–26 IRBM May Have ASM Variant, China Reveals at Military Parade,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, September 2, 2015.
5. White House Office of the Press Secretary, Fact Sheet: Advancing the Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific, November 15, 2015. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/11/16/fact-sheet-advancing-rebalance-asia-and-pacific; Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Carnes Lord, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, 2014, 17, 25; and Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, China’s Search for Security, Columbia University Press, 2012, 357.
6. Alastair Iain Johnston, “The Evolution of Interstate Security Crisis Management Theory and Practice in China,” Naval War College Review 69.1, 2016, 34; Harry J. Kazianis, “America’s Air-Sea Battle Concept: An Attempt to Weaken China’s A2/AD Strategy,” China Policy Institute, 2014, 1-2. http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cpi/documents/policy-papers/cpi-policy-paper-2014-no-4-kazianis.pdf; Lu Zhengtao, “PRC Article Urges PLA to Boost Air-Sea Force Building for Breaking U.S. ‘Island Chain’ Strategy,” China Youth Daily (Chinese edition), November 19, 2013; Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes, Red Star over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy, Naval Institute Press, 2010, 20; and Bi Lei, “Sending an Additional Aircraft Carrier and Stationing Massive Forces: The U.S. Military’s Adjustment of Its Strategic Disposition in the Asia-Pacific Region,” People’s Daily (Chinese edition), August 13, 2004.
7. Song Shu, “Is the DF-26 a ‘Guam Killer?’” Naval Warships (Chinese), December 1, 2014; Li Jie, “U.S. Quickens Construction of ‘Bridgeheads’ of the Second Island Chain,” Global Times (Chinese edition), September 30, 2013; Lin Limin, “A Review of the International Strategic Situation in 2012,” Contemporary International Relations (Chinese), December 2012; Zhang Ming, “Security Governance of the ‘Global Commons’ and China’s Choice,” Contemporary International Relations (Chinese), May 2012; Liu Qing, “New Changes in U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategic Deployment,” Contemporary International Relations (Chinese), May 20, 2011; Liu Ming, “Obama Administration’s Adjustment of East Asia Policy and Its Impact on China,” Contemporary International Relations (Chinese), February 20, 2011; Modern Navy (Chinese), The Island Chains, China’s Navy, October 1, 2007; and Lu Baosheng and Guo Hongjun, “Guam: A Strategic Stronghold on the West Pacific,” China Military Online, June 16, 2003.
8. Qiu Yongzheng, “Second U.S. Aircraft Carrier Likely To Be Deployed to East Asia,” Youth Reference (Chinese), July 21, 2004.
9. Run Jiaqi, “Experts Say China’s Military Power Has Forced the United States to Fall Back from the First Island Chain,” People’s Daily (Chinese edition), October 8, 2014.
10. Andrew S. Erickson and Joel Wuthnow, “Barriers, Springboards and Benchmarks: China Conceptualizes the Pacific ‘Island Chains,’” China Quarterly, January 21, 2016, 9. http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0305741016000011; Li Jie, “U.S. Quickens Construction of ‘Bridgeheads’ of the Second Island Chain,” Global Times (Chinese edition), September 30, 2013; Liu Bin, “The ‘Roadmap’ of the Asia-Pacific Military Bases of the U.S. Military,” People’s Daily (Chinese edition) April 23, 2012; and Modern Navy (Chinese), The Island Chains, China’s Navy, October 1, 2007.
11. Andrew S. Erickson, “Showtime: China Reveals Two ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles,” National Interest, September 3, 2015.
15. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, written testimony of Dennis Gormley, April 22, 2015; and Ronald O’Rourke, “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, June 1, 2015, 6–7.
16. U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015, April 2015, 12, 36, 40; U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Military Modernization and Implications for the United States, written testimony of Lee Fuell, January 30, 2014; and U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Hearing on Nuclear Weapons Modernization in Russia and China: Understanding Impacts to the United States, written testimony of Richard D. Fisher, Jr., October 14, 2011.
22. U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2014, May 2014, 36; U.S. Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2013, May 2013, 6-7.
27. Eric Heginbotham et al., “The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 1996-2017,” RAND Corporation, 2015, 41. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR392/RAND_RR392.pdf; Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Carnes Lord, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, 2014, 20.
29. Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Carnes Lord, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, 2014, 17.
35. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, written testimony of Toshi Yoshihara, April 1, 2015; Marcus Weisgerber, “Pentagon Debates Policy to Strengthen, Disperse Bases,” Defense News, April 13, 2014. http://archive.defensenews.com/article/20140413/DEFREG02/304130017/; Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Carnes Lord, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, 2014, 25, 31.
38. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 566.
39. Andrew S. Erickson and Justin D. Mikolay, “Guam and American Security in the Pacific,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Carnes Lord, eds., Rebalancing U.S. Forces: Basing and Forward Presence in the Asia-Pacific, Naval Institute Press, 2014, 22.
40. Senate Armed Services Committee, Hearing on Worldwide Threats, statement for the record of Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, February 9, 2016, 7. http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Clapper_02-09-16.pdf; U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 370.
41. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 370.
42. Ibid, 566.
43. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Elbridge Colby, April 1, 2015; U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Robert Haddick, April 1, 2015.
44. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, written testimony of Evan Montgomery, April 1, 2015.
45. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Toshi Yoshihara, April 1, 2015; U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Evan Montgomery, April 1, 2015.
46. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Mark Stokes, April 1, 2015.
47. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Chapter 2, Section 3, “China’s Offensive Missile Forces,” in 2015 Annual Report to Congress, November 2015, 368-369.
48. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Dennis Gormley, April 1, 2015.
49. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Offensive Missile Forces, oral testimony of Robert Haddick, April 1, 2015.
Featured Image: USS Topeka at Polaris Point, Guam in 2012. (U.S. Navy)
In May 2015, the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of National Defense released its latest Military Strategy white paper. The paper outlines Beijing’s national security concerns, the mission and strategic tasks of the Chinese armed forces, a series of guidelines to strengthen China’s active defense, and an approach to developing China’s armed forces in preparation to counter challenges. In it, China has also highlighted its nuclear ambitions and strategy in the overall context of expanding and intensifying the preparation for military struggle (PMS):
“China’s armed forces must meet the requirement of being capable of fighting and winning, focus on solving major problems and difficulties, and do solid work and make relentless efforts in practical preparations, in order to enhance their overall capabilities for deterrence and warfighting.”
Nuclear forces are a crucial component in Beijing’s military strategy, and the white paper describes China’s nuclear force as a strategic cornerstone for safeguarding national sovereignty and security. The document stresses how the People’s Liberation Army Second Artillery Force (PLASAF) is placing emphasis on both conventional and nuclear missiles, even for precision long-range strikes, stating that
“the PLASAF will continue to keep an appropriate level of vigilance in peacetime. By observing the principles of combining peacetime and wartime demands, maintaining all time vigilance and being action-ready, it will prefect the integrated, functional, agile, and efficient operational duty system.”
According to the Chinese government, Beijing is developing capabilities to maintain strategic deterrence. It is also preparing itself to be able to carry out a nuclear counter-attack. The White Paper also assures that Beijing is committed to its stance on no-first-use of nuclear weapons. This is distinct from its 2013 White Paper, which made no reference to the no-first-use doctrine, leading many to wonder if Beijing was rethinking its policy. The 2015 document also states that Beijing will not attack any non-nuclear state or nuclear weapons free zone with these weapons.
The document does mention Taiwan, however, and reunification remains crucial to China’s national security. And while Beijing has reiterated its stance on no-first-use doctrine this time, however, the no-first use may not be applicable to territories which Beijing considers its own. Therefore, in case of greater resistance from Taiwan, China’s no-first-use doctrine may not apply.
The document also stresses China’s willingness to limit its nuclear weapons to a minimum level sufficient to ensure its national security interests. Beijing also expresses its unwillingness to involve itself in a nuclear arms race with any country, emphasizing that they will optimize their nuclear force structure; improve strategic early warning, command and control, missile penetration, rapid reaction, and survivability of their forces; and deter other countries from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against China.
China is already working on missile penetration aids and Chinese missiles could be fitted with decoys, chaff, mylar balloons, and sub-munitions. China has also developed missiles flying at depressed and lofted trajectories and is working on multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) and maneuverable re-entry vehicles (MARVs) as penetration aids. Chinese engineers are attempting to overcome a hit-to-kill intercept by enclosing the anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) warheads in a metallic shroud cooled by liquid nitrogen.
With a no-first-use doctrine, the survivability of nuclear forces is crucial and enables a minimum deterrent posture. Beijing has been working on the survivability of its nuclear forces, including replacing liquid fueled missiles with solid, with only the DF-5 and DF-5A liquid fuel missiles left in its arsenal. It has also been working on developing mobile missile systems, dummy silos near silo-based missile sites, and hard and deep tunnels (in the Hebei Mountains, for example).
China is also believed to be concentrating on an early warning system to detect enemy nuclear capable ballistic missiles. This, along with missile and air defense systems, enables Beijing to not only detect incoming ballistic missiles but also to intercept them and launch a counter-strike.
Deep, protected underground tunnels along with the early warning system will only enhance China’s ability to absorb a first strike and retaliate, thereby strengthening Beijing’s no-first-use policy. Possessing a credible early warning system would also limit the need for China to mating its nuclear warheads with delivery systems during peacetime.
China’s sea-based nuclear deterrent also provides survivability for its nuclear force. Beijing has already developed ballistic missile submarines of the Jin and Xia class. The Xia class submarine can fire the JL-1 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and the Jin can fire JL-2 SLBM which is of longer range than the JL-1. According to the Federation of American Scientists, naval facilities have been built to service the new ballistic missile submarine fleet which includes upgrades at naval facilities, submarine hull demagnetization facilities, underground facilities and high bay buildings for missile storage and handling, and covered tunnels and railways to conceal these activities.
While the document highlights concerns over the U.S. re-balancing strategy in the Asia Pacific region, it carefully left out concerns over the U.S. ballistic missile defense systems in Taiwan and Japan. There is also no mention of nuclear arms control and nuclear disarmament as an objective in China’s long-term nuclear strategy. At a time when analysts and practitioners of international security are apprehensive of China’s nuclear weapons and have suggested including it in nuclear arms control measures, the exclusion of any mention of control and disarmament leaves it unclear where the country really stands on the issue.
Debalina Ghoshal is a Research Associate with the Delhi Policy Group. The views expressed in this article are her own.
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With a total displacement of 20,000 tons and a range of almost 15,000 kilometers, the supply ship Panshih will greatly contribute to the ROCN’s expeditionary capabilities, allowing Taiwan to contribute meaningfully to disaster relief or humanitarian operations anywhere in the region. Historically, Taiwan has lacked this capability, fielding only the ROCS Yuen Feng, a troop transport. Although the ROCN has operated another supply ship for some years, ROCS Wu Yi, the Panshih is significantly larger and possesses much more advanced medical facilities. Reportedly, the Panshih is also only the first of its class – a second ship of an identical design is expected for the ROCN in the next few years.
Perhaps the most ideal role for this vessel in the future will be to join relief operations in unstable environments. Taiwan has not contributed much in this area in previous years, with the ROCN focusing almost entirely on defending the Taiwanese coastline from threats across the strait. But there is one success story: in 2011, Taiwan initiated some participation in the European Union’s Operation Atalanta. This constituted an important contribution to international efforts against piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. But this is the lone case of active engagement by the ROCN in any initiative beyond the Taiwan Strait. The Panshih could grant Taiwan more options in this regard, since the deployment of fully fledged combat vessels to an area like the Gulf of Aden could be viewed by domestic audiences as weakening Taiwan’s coastal defenses or otherwise as a misuse of Taiwanese defense resources. A supply ship could be more readily spared so far as the public is concerned.
Lending credence to the idea that the Panshih will be used to support humanitarian operations in failed or failing states, the vessel also has impressive hangar space, capable of storing up to three helicopters. The Taiwanese media has focused on the capacity for the ship to serve as a takeoff and landing platform for anti-submarine helicopters, but it is also certainly possible for the ship to serve as a base for transport helicopters ferrying supplies and specialized personnel to inland locations, while also bringing back patients requiring intensive care at the Panshih’s onboard medical facilities. The ROCN’s 19 Sikorsky S-70C(M) Thunderhawk helicopters offer some possibilities in this regard.
In any case, the ROCN now has in its possession a versatile ship. What remains to be seen are how the ROCN will put it to use in the coming years and to what extent this will reflect Taiwanese foreign policy priorities. With such a sophisticated vessel, it would be a shame for Taiwan to keep it docked as backup for a regional conflict that might never, and hopefully will never, come.
Paul Pryce is a Research Analyst at the Atlantic Council of Canada. His research interests are diverse and include maritime security, NATO affairs, and African regional integration.
This article can be found in its original form at offiziere.chand was republished by permission.