Tag Archives: Pacific

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.

Who Is Ahead In Asia’s Carrier Arms Race?

Asia’s maritime arms race has again highlighted the emerging relevance of aircraft carriers. China, India and Japan made significant progress with their flattops. As all major powers in the region run for more and larger carriers, the question is: Who is ahead?

Japan

Japan Unveils Izumo Class Helicopter Destroyer (Light Aircraft Carrier)Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ah-64 sh-60 (1)    First of all, Tokyo, please stop these ridiculous wordplays. Carriers are carriers and not “helicopter destroyers”, no matter what official spokespersons are saying. Back in the Cold War, nobody believed the Soviet’s heavy flight deck cruisers were actually “cruisers”.

Japan’s present fleet includes two Hyuga-Class and one Izumo-Class helicopter carriers (CVH). Lacking a well deck, they have no amphibious role and are only able to operate helicopters or fixed wing aircraft. Such helicopters can either be used for any number of missions, from Search and Rescue (SAR), surface warfare (SUW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), or troop movements. Moreover, purchasing some V-22 Ospreys is another option for Japan. Recent maneuvers with the US Navy showed, V-22s are able to operate from the Hyugas.

The main issue is whether Japan’s CVH can operate fixed wing STOVL aircraft, in particular Lockheed’s F-35B (STOVL – Short Take-off and Vertical Landing). Japan’s three CVH are not yet ready to host F-35B, though they could easily be converted into smaller carriers to operate V/STOL aircraft. Due to “no obvious technical obstacles“, the only issue left is the political decision.

The the F-35B has been critiqued for the poor performance of its STOVL variant: enormous fuel consumption during takeoff and landing, limited payload, limited range. In the maritime East Asia, distances are not so far that long range would be necessary. The F-35B may be superior to Chinese warplanes as a whole program, because China has presented prototypes rather than a factory-ready mass-produced model of its 5th generation carrier fighters.

Japan’s main obstacle is the complete absence of combat experience since 1945. However, its navy enjoys the opportunity to train with the US and perhaps Britain in the future: countries with proven combat experience. GlobalSecurity.org reports, moreover, that Japan may consider a program for a larger carrier starting in the 2020s. However, there current evidence says that Japan is about to go for STOBAR or CATOBAR carriers. Hence, Japan will play an important role in the carrier arms race. Maybe the F-35B will boost Japanese maritime power, if Tokyo decides to go for it. However, size and nature of Japan’s carrier program will not bring the country into leading position.

South Korea

article-1312184-0B3144C1000005DC-215_964x470Seoul’s flattop program is less developed than Japan’s. The South Korean Navy (ROKN) runs one Dokdo-class helicopter carrier and aims to operate three at the end of the decade. Like Japan, these flattops are said only to operate helicopters, but they could be modified to host F-35B. Drones could also be an option. Unlike Japan, the ROKN’s Dokdo has a well deck and can therefore be used for amphibious operations.

However, even though there are reports about South Korean interests in the F-35B, officially plans for converting the Dokdos into a small carrier have been denied. Such a political move is logical. In the U.S, the F-35B has proved to be a budget disaster and has yet to show its operational capabilities. Fortunately, China has not crossed the threshold of full operational capability; the LIAONING is still relatively green and there are no Chinese indigenous carriers. Seoul has still time to weigh its options.

South Korea will only keep regional military weight if Seoul broadens its pursuit of “blue-water ambitions“. In particular, this means spending much more money on an expeditionary navy to include additional flattops. With its sophisticated shipbuilding industry, South Korea would be able modify the Dokdos to small carriers or develop new indigenous carriers. However, the political consequence would be entrance into the great power competition between the navies of the US, China, India and Japan. The ROKN will definitely not take a lead, but do not count South Korea out. If things in maritime Asia get worse, Seoul made decide to follow the Japanese example.

Australia

2005_S1237_02.JPGThe two forthcoming Canberra-Class LHDs would able to operate F-35B. The ski-jump on prow is credible evidence. However, right now Australia has no intention to go for the F-35B. Needless to say, political landscapes can quickly change. We will see what happens in Canberra after the F-35B has proven its operational abilities and the carrier arms race continues. Australia could also operate UAVs from her carriers.

We will not see high-profile patrols of Australian LHDs in the East and South China Sea. The Royal Australian Navy may use Canberras for joint exercises with the US, Japan, South Korea, or the Philippines. In terms of operations, the use of the LHD will be to underline Australia’s hegemonial role in the Pacific Islands, disaster relief, and potentially in tackling the refugee issue.

Thailand

As long as Thailand does not seriously invest in its single carrier, the Chakri Naruebet will be nothing else than the “Royal Yacht“. Thailand’s carrier rarely operates and the crews have rare practical experience. Do not bet on Thailand. The Thai carrier will only make a difference in disaster relief.


Singapore

Singapore has yet to jump for a flattop. However, due its very limited space for air force bases, the tiny city-state seriously considers an F-35B purchase. In the future, LHD or small Izumo-style carriers could be an option for Singapore. Basing the fighters offshore would save urgently needed space on land. Nevertheless, there is no credible evidence yet that Singapore is really planning to buy warships like the Izumo (if anybody comes across news regarding this issue, please drop me a line). Thus, Singapore remains a known unknown. What would make Singaporean carrier very relevant is its geographic location close to Malacca Strait and southern end of the South China Sea.

Russia

From the four Mistral LHDs Russia’s navy is about to commission, two will be based in the Pacific. There are no indications that Russia is planning to develop a new STOVL aircraft, although the country’s industry would be capable of doing so (Yak-38, YAK-141). Thus, the Mistrals will only be outfitted with helicopters and, therefore, not make a significant difference in the Indo-Pacific’s maritime balance of power.

Moreover, it cannot be ruled out that Russia use the new LHDs in waters other than the Pacific. Recently, the Russian Navy deployed warships from its Pacific Fleet to the Mediterranean for a show of force offshore Syria.

New Russian aircraft carriers are only discussed, but far away from being realized. If the Russians would start to build new carriers, they would first replace the aging Kuznetsov and, thereafter, strengthen their Northern Fleet to protect their interests in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

India

130812065726-01-ins-vikrant-0812-horizontal-galleryThe Indian Navy should definitely be taken into account for a front position. Due to the operational experience of its single operational carrier INS Viraat and its soon to be commissioned two new STOBAR carriers INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, India is now Asia’s number one in maritime aviation. In the 2020’s, an even larger carrier INS Vishal is in the works; perhaps a CATOBAR design, which would provide far better striking capabilities, and maybe even nuclear powered. While future expansion has yet to be determined, in the present India is going to build up a sophisticated three-carrier fleet. The Indian Navy will be able to maintain always one carrier battle group at sea and to project power in the western Pacific.

However, India lacks access to a carrier-capable 5th generation fighter. There is no carrier-version of Indo-Russian Suchoi PAK FA under development. Joining India’s forces in the early 2020, the PAK FA will only be available as a land based fighter. India’s Mig-29 and the potential Rafale are definitely combat capable aircraft, but surely behind the F-35’s abilities and probably, too, behind China’s J-31. Once other Indo-Pacific powers operate their 5th generation fighters from carriers, India will fall behind in quality if not quantity.

In addition, operating different fighter and carrier models, as India is about to do, increases maintenance costs significantly. Nevertheless, just by the numbers of operational vessels and the operational experience, India will take the lead in Asia’s carrier arms race for this decade and maybe also in the early 2020s, but not longer.

China

carrier_liaoningAs much has been written about China, we keep it brief here. Given China’s “Two-Ocean-Strategy”, seeking to operate always one carrier in the Pacific and Indian Ocean, the PLAN will need up to 5-6 flattops. We have physical evidence now for what everybody knew before: Chinas is commencing an indigenous aircraft carrier program. The hot issue is, for which design China will go. Will they re-build LIAONING‘s STOBAR design? Alternatively, will they go straight for a more advanced CATOBAR design?

Probably the first and second indigenous Chinese carrier will be a conventional powered STOBAR flattop. Thereafter, we may either see conventional or even nuclear powered CATOBAR carriers. Beside military requirements, for political prestige Beijing will not accept its carrier fleet to be behind the level of India. Instead, after the “century of humiliation” China will seek for clear superiority over India, Japan, and other potential Asian naval powers.

Who is ahead?

Right now India is definitely ahead due to operational experience and the number of vessels. Regarding technology, Japan is likely to be number one. However, both will be surpassed by China either at the end of his decade or surely within the 2020s. South Korea, Australia, Thailand, and Singapore are economically too weak to be a maritime game changer. However, it will be interesting to watch how these and other countries are seeking for maritime alliances to balance China. Russia will not play a major role in maritime Asia, especially not with carriers, because its core interests are located elsewhere.

 

After Obama scrapped US foreign policy almost entirely in the last years, what will a weakened America do in the Indo-Pacific? States like Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Australia will rely on US security guarantees. However doubts remain as to whether Obama and his successors are willing to deliver should serious conflicts occur. For a clear message to China, the US needs a credible and increased forward presence throughout the Indo-Pacific. Therefore, Washington should leave theaters like the western Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean to the Europeans as much as possible. If necessary, let Europe learn the hard way that in the Indo-Pacific Century, the times of US military bailouts are over and Europe has to do carry its share of the load.

Felix Seidler is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany, and a German security affairs writer. This article appeared in original form at his website, Seidlers Sicherheitspolitik.

Thinking About Prevention, Pt. 3

Musicians from the military bands of China's People's Liberation Army and the U.S. Army take photos during a rehearsal for their joint concert in Beijing in this file photo
“So now that we’re Facebook friends we’re all good, right?”

Last summer I wrote two short pieces (Part 1 here; Part 2 here) about preventing conflict between the U.S. and China in the Pacific, or reeling it in should it occur. In the posts I explained why U.S.-Chinese economic interdependence is not enough in itself to prevent the potential start of a conflict that could escalate with disastrous global consequences, or MEOW (Mutual Economic Obliteration – Worldwide).

I noted that the U.S. can take further steps to decrease the likelihood of conflict, and to bolster mechanisms for inhibiting escalating crises – either by sowing respect (often involving means/military capabilities useful in the event prevention fails) or by building “habits of cooperation”.

In part 3 of this series I had intended to lay out a model that could address the need for the second of these lines of effort, by expanded cooperation between the U.S. and Chinese militaries through humanitarian assistance / disaster response (HA/DR) exercises. Clearly, I put off writing too long.

The first thing that has changed is that LCDR Jason Grower called for a very similar approach in April’s Proceedings. I highly recommend reading Jason’s article in its entirety, but in what follows I will outline some of his more important points and highlight where my own thinking differs or builds upon his framework.  I will also note where recent developments hold promise of expanded cooperation. Let’s first recap why the U.S. should make the effort.

The Need

In the spring of 2012, my U.S. Naval War College class was split into two teams and told to identify a danger facing the U.S. in the Pacific and develop a plan to mitigate it. Team one took the more “traditional” route, identifying China’s growing military capabilities.  Team two looked at the potential second-order perils of regime collapse in North Korea. These hazards included possible blind ‘encounter’ contact between ROK (and/or U.S.) and Chinese forces as they move into to the North to stem refugee flows, secure WMDs, and attempt to stabilize the country.1 More significant than the dangers identified was the fact that the recommended mitigation action – regular HA/DR exercises with China – was roughly the same for both developments, and that both teams arrived at their solution set by following a similar logic.

PreventionWhile much attention has been given to the importance of deterring through strength (“sowing respect”), this primarily prevents conflicts of policy in the event decision makers in Beijing seek to achieve political goals “through other means.” Despite MEOW this is not an impossible scenario, especially in the event of internal power struggles or a PRC regime on the ropes. However, both teams felt that it more likely a conflict would begin out of misunderstanding, mistakes, or the misbehavior of a rogue command or commander – whether in the seas surrounding China or on the Korean Peninsula. Since such an incident would not be prevented through the normal means of MEOW or sowing respect, we therefore turned to the HA/DR exercises as efforts towards building “habits of cooperation,” thought not only “vital to diffusing those instances when misunderstanding and accidents lead to a stand-off with few face-saving options”, but also helpful in de-escalating those conflicts sprung from a different causus belli.

In his article, Jason explains the need for the exercises in several ways. Echoing the focus on building “habits of cooperation”, he states one of the primary purposes of such an HA/DR exercise would be to “heighten understanding between the two militaries and promote stable military-to-military relations.” Further, he believes it would provide an opportunity to “bolster broader U.S.-Chinese ties” and even internal Chinese military-civilian ties.

Such ties help the transformation in relationship from what conflict theorist Johan Galtung calls a ‘negative peace’, in which there is no direct violence, to a ‘positive peace’, in which an attitude shift has allowed the development of a cooperative partnership. Yet it’s important to remember that these ties are just one leg of the prevention triad – even the ties of the Union, where future foes sat side-by-side in the same military academies, could not prevent the U.S. Civil War once policy makers had settled on violence.

To his credit, Jason also looks beyond the strategic implications and discusses the direct impact a Sino-American HA/DR exercise on the affected people in the region, by increasing the “global ability to respond to disasters in the Pacific”. Familiarity between U.S. and Chinese counterparts of each other’s capabilities/standard operating procedures in HA/DR operations is particularly important, as their maritime forces are likely to work elbow-to-elbow in same operational spaces of future calamities – whether Korea or Borneo, and coordination can boost the efficacy of the response. After all, as Jason notes, “to the person whose home was decimated and needs medical care quickly, it makes no difference whether the doctors are Chinese, American, or otherwise.”

The Plan

So how would such an exercise look? I had the chance to sit down with Jason two weeks ago over the Pentagon’s finest lunch option (Peruvian chicken!) and we discussed the concept. We agreed that a “conference”, as advocated as the first step in his article, was necessary but pro forma as part of the build-up to a larger exercise or operation, typically referred to as a planning conference.

Hoping for Habit-Forming
                             Habit-forming

The first question really is whether to tailor it as an operation, an exercise, or both. Both nations already run their own HA operations – China aboard its Peace Ark, and the U.S. with its annual Pacific Partnership operation – performing medical procedures and building health and first-responder partnership capacities. Pacific Partnership this year is co-led by Australia and New Zealand in addition to the U.S., a set-up that demonstrates scalability, an important attribute given the propensity of China to make its participation contingent upon politically sensitive outcomes (arms sales to Taiwan, meetings with the Dalai Lama). In other words the operation can go on without China if necessary. Further, it allows both the U.S. and China to claim equal leadership, and, if conducted with vessels from each nation, should assuage the moral concerns and intelligence-gathering fears of partners and participating NGOs who might hesitate to join in an operation with China.

Nonetheless, in pursuit of building habits of cooperation2 I believe the U.S. and China would get the most bang for their (fiscally constrained) bucks and yuan through a combined large-scale DR exercise. This could be a capstone event at the tail-end of Pacific Partnership that expands involvement for interested nations and focuses on responding to likely disaster contingencies in the region. While China too recently identified HA/DR as promising common ground for expanded U.S.-China military relations3, it’s a sentiment they’ve expressed in the past and one that has not always borne out. Encouragingly, both the U.S. and China are participating in next month’s ASEAN-led disaster response exercise (ADMM-Plus)4, although the degree of participation and interaction between the two nations is not yet clear.

Still there are additional signs of burgeoning ties, including China’s invitation in January to send for the first time a ship to participate to the 2014 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise. Prevention requires more of this. And if China really wanted to show its displeasure with North Korea’s nuclear tests, what better way to do so than participating in a joint HA/DR exercise that either implicitly or explicitly prepared for a post-DPRK Korea?

Scott is a former active duty U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer, and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He now serves as an officer in the Navy Reserve and civilian writer/editor at the Pentagon. Scott is a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College.

Note: The views expressed above are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their governments, militaries, or the Center for International Maritime Security.

1. One solution would be a pre-arranged agreement allowing only ROK troops to move north, or U.S. personnel on a solely humanitarian mission. 
2. As well as planning for a post-DPRK Korean Peninsula.
3. And is one of the few areas of military exchange not prohibited by U.S. law.
4. And perhaps just as importantly, Japan

Law of the S.E.A.

With the recent statements from U.S. Secretary of Defense Panetta and the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) advocating the ratification of the three decade-old UN Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), it is clear that U.S. policy will continue to support a cooperative approach to maritime security.  Besides Secretary Panetta’s detailed justification for UNCLOS in providing “economic jurisdiction” and a seat at the table (sans hypocrisy) for future international maritime dispute resolutions, UNCLOS supports freedom of navigation and access to the global commons (unless restricted by historical treaties such as the Montreux Convention).

Nations' Outer Continental Shelf boundaries and unilateral mining may not extend beyond "constraint lines" defined by UNCLOS.

UNCLOS ratification enshrines the principles of freedom of navigation and access, thereby strengthening the U.S. position in the pacific region and the U.S. pivot to South East Asia (S.E.A.). Ratification supports future S.E.A. diplomatic developments through its focus on the region’s most prominent domain.  Maritime territorial claims continue to inflict tension in S.E.A. and with UNCLOS as the primary legal guidance, the U.S. would be forced to stay on the diplomatic sidelines for a multilateral discussion without ratification.  Yet, U.S. accession and ratification would result in isolation and a decline in future cooperation with those remaining maritime countries that have maintained disputes over UNCLOS and chose not to accept or ratify it, namely:

Cambodia, Colombia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eritrea, Iran, Israel, Libya,  Peru, Syria, Timor-Leste, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela [1] 

Despite the advantages Secretary Panetta and other U.S. advocates cite for the international maritime legal framework and global commons access rights (including the Arctic), the U.S. and other non-ratifying countries have long since acknowledged various negative aspects of the convention: increased non-local environmental policies, International Seabed Authority fees and taxes, international eminent domain grabs of intellectual property (to share new technology used in exploiting the economic opportunities of the expanded maritime domain), and the perception of a requirement to suspend all military-related actions while conducting innocent passage.

Claims submitted by the origina 2009 deadline.

In order to fully address the impact of UNCLOS ratification to S.E.A. regional stability, countries such as the U.S. must weigh the finer points of the treaty and second-order effects its ratification might bring.  As a new signatory, would U.S. diplomatic relations with Turkey and Israel now hinge on ignorance of Greece and Cyprus maritime boundary and Exclusive Economic Zone claims?  As U.S. businesses continue to explore deep sea beds, would the U.S. concede to limited exploitation and research of (traditionally unquestioned) U.S. bodies of water by an international consensus?  How would the U.S. discuss future fish stock trade with South American countries concerned with migratory fish locations beyond 200nm?  Perhaps the U.S. pursuance of UNCLOS to support the pivot to the Pacific truly outweighs these other non-vital diplomatic considerations, but I can’t stop wondering if by doing so, the U.S. may cause yet another pivot among its allies.