Tag Archives: PLAN

chineseWarship

The Tiger’s Reach: China’s Blue Water Ambitions

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) will deploy ballistic missile submarines on deterrence patrols in the Pacific Ocean later this year, placing them within striking distance of Alaska, Hawaii, and the western United States. This report isn’t too alarming – U.S. Navy ballistic subs regularly deploy on deterrence patrols, and during the Cold War Soviet boomers regularly parked off America’s coasts with little fanfare. The significance of these deployments have less to do with China’s second-strike capability than with extending its reach beyond their regional coastline and moving towards a true blue-water navy.

Sailors of the world, unite.

Sailors of the world, unite.

The PLAN’s operations have typically focused their own neighborhood. China’s naval force, until recently, comprised of craft better suited to Anti-Access/Area Defense (A2/AD) in the surrounding seas and their claimed territory. Quiet diesel submarines, along with hundreds of missile boats and patrol craft, make up a bulk of the Chinese fleet. The Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea and the DF-21D anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) round out China’s robust A2/AD doctrine. Focusing on such a strategy has its advantages – China certainly has an edge over some form of U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia that might threaten China’s interests, including in Taiwan.

While China’s salami-slicing and regional territorial disputes with its neighbors are rightfully garnering attention in the region and throughout the world, they aren’t the only moves up its sleeve. Since the mid-1990s, China has tested its ability to conduct blue water operations, gaining the experience and training they sorely lack. Beginning with multinational exercises with European navies,  the PLAN moved on to Chinese destroyer deployments in the Gulf of Aden in support of anti-Piracy missions there. Protecting Chinese shipping interests in the Middle East is just the beginning of PLAN blue water deployments.

PLAN ships have already deployed within Southeast Asia, including an exercise this month in the vicinity of the Malacca Strait, apparently searching for alternatives to the strait in the event of regional crises which threaten strategic interests. With East African piracy winding down and West African piracy ramping up, Chinese intervention in West Africa is just down the road. Nigeria produces 5-6% of the world’s oil, and China is keen on protecting their economic and shipping interests in West Africa, just as they were in the Gulf of Aden. This doesn’t mean another international coalition to battle piracy; rather, international cooperation and aid to West African nations. While the U.S. has been slow out of the gate on this front, China is already delivering naval patrol vessels to the Nigerian navy. It appears China is more eager to gain influence and protect interests in the region than the U.S., meaning maritime patrols and port visits to the area are not out of the question, especially if China longs for an influential and worldwide deployable naval force.

West Africa, the Pacific deep, and the Straits of Malacca are not the end for PLAN deployments. Chinese forces may soon make an appearance in the Arabian or Red Sea to project power and match wits with the U.S. Navy. While deployment experience and combat training are far behind the U.S., these moves are a step towards gaining legitimacy and experience in worldwide operations. U.S. Naval intelligence projects a Chinese blue water navy by 2020; they are well on their way.

LTJG Brett Davis is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. He also runs the blog ClearedHot and occasionally navigates Twitter. His opinions are his own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.

china_tank

The Future of China’s Expeditionary Operations

China’s top maritime priorities will remain in the East and South China Seas. Nevertheless, extended expeditionary ambitions are real. However, more assertive Chinese behavior on blue-waters does not mean that great power conflict is inevitable. The upcoming East Asia Summit may be a forum for finding solutions.

Back to the USSR?

Global Soviet naval presence in the 1980s

China does not seek an overseas presence as the Soviets did in the 1980s. They simply cannot do it yet. The USSR needed decades to establish a global naval presence. For China, it would not be different. However, the world is watching how China is on the march to reach the status of a ‘medium global force projection navy’, comparable to the British and French. In terms of numbers, but not in terms of quality, Beijing’s navy has already surpassed Paris’ and London’s and the naval armament goes on:

During 2013 alone, over fifty naval ships were laid down, launched, or commissioned, with a similar number expected in 2014. Major qualitative improvements are occurring within naval aviation and the submarine force, which are increasingly capable of striking targets hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland.” (Source: USNI)

Moreover, ‘medium global force projection navy’ does not necessarily mean that there are warships in all oceans. It means that China could globally project power in one or two theaters simultaneously, if its political masters so decide. Besides the question of whether a Chinese naval presence outside the Pacific really would have a serious impact, political prestige must also be taken into account. Britain’s Indian Ocean presence does not make a difference. However, London decides to go there just because they can, and to pretend that Britain is still a global power. Beijing’s political and military elites might feel the same way. Often criticized is China’s military bureaucracy and corruption. However, for naval power projection, it does not matter whether Chinese officers in Xingjang or Tibet are corrupt Maoist bureaucrats.

The PLAN’s second aircraft carrier is under construction. Given a six-year construction time, the new carrier will be commissioned in the early 2020s. Present reports say, moreover, that China aims to build in total at least four carriers. However, except for a research program for nuclear-propulsion, there is not yet credible evidence that one of the carriers will be nuclear-powered. 

PLAN carrier strike groups

Source: China Defense Blog

Accompanied by two destroyers, two frigates and two submarines, China’s carrier has been deployed for the first time to the South China Sea. Militarily, Liaoning‘s trip may just have been an exercise. Politically, however, it was a clear message from Beijing: Our carrier can go to the South China Sea and we are there to stay. This has been the first “show of force” by a Chinese carrier strike group. More will follow. Simple exercises could have been done in closer home waters.

However, the more China invests in carriers, the less money will be available for other capabilities, like cruise missiles or submarines. Criticism on carrier acquisition often ignores that, after World War II, carriers have not been used in open-sea battle between major powers. Instead, carrier operations always targeted weaker countries or supported land operations. Due to the lack of combat experience, the Chinese would never act so irrationally that they would try to take on a US carrier strike group in open battle. If they would, it would end up in a slaughter. Chinese carriers would primarily go for show-of-missions targeted at inferior Indo-Pacific states, like Vietnam or the Philippines.

Moreover, in the earthquake, typhoon, and volcano plagued Indo-Pacific, Chinese carriers are much more likely to go for disaster relief rather than combat. Rather than fighting them, Chinese carriers will join their US counterparts in delivering water, food and medical care. Naval diplomacy and outreach to partners like Brazil will come along, too. However, wherever China’s carriers go, they will have ‘close friends’: US attack submarines.

Indian Ocean deployments

Since 2008 the PLAN has had a permanent naval presence in the Indian Ocean, officially in order to fight piracy. However, one side effect is the build-up of a new overseas presence. To understand what China could (not) do in the Indian Ocean it makes sense to look back at what the Soviets did. Their naval presence in the Indian Ocean (late 1960s – 1991) was normally between 5-10 surface warships and a few submarines. However, there were no Soviet carrier operations, just due to the lack of carriers. Moscow’s intentions were a show of force, surveillance of US activities (like the SIGINT station on Diego Garcia) and, in case of war, to open up an additional naval front to bind US capabilities, raid US supply lines and prevent US SSBN from striking Central Asia.

China faces the same challenges as the Soviets did: Access through vulnerable choke points; no direct supply line by land and therefore the need for bases or port access; no air bases for immediate air support. As a consequence, China’s approach would not be too different from the Soviets’. Even though the Somali pirates are in retreat and international counter-piracy operations will be downsized, China is likely to somehow keep an Indian Ocean presence out of its national interests.

Chinese LPD Changbaishan (Source: USNI)

The recent Indian Ocean exercises of the Chinese LPD Changbaishan accompanied by two destroyers underline Beijing’s extended expeditionary ambitions. That one of the PLAN’s most sophisticated vessels was sent indicates that further intentions exist. However, for a real deployment such a squadron would need supply ships and tankers.

Nevertheless, in India, China’s exercises caused concern about the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Beyond India, weaker Indo-Pacific countries like Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the Philippines, and Vietnam were psychological targets of this show-of-force. In Australia, Changbaishan’s Indian Ocean tour led to the perception of a change in its strategic environment. Although a quick and limited tour, the PLAN’s Indian Ocean exercises obviously already matter.

Thus, we will see at least one, probably two PLAN frigates or destroyers in the Indian Ocean accompanied by a supply ship, maybe even an LPD. Port access may be granted by Pakistan, Yemen, Sri Lanka or Kenya. Thereafter, the PLAN could increase its presence gradually based on the gained experience, e.g. ship refueling on open waters. However, that does not mean that China will start fighting in the Indian Ocean. The most likely missions are counter-piracy, military diplomacy, disaster relief, evacuation of Chinese citizens, and contribution to other international operations.

Chinese SSBN in Sanya (Source: China Defense Blog)

Of the PLAN submarines, probably only SSN will continue to operate in the Indian Ocean, due to their operational range. However, unlike the Soviets there will be no Chinese SSBN west of Malacca Strait. Why send them straight into the range of Indian and US anti-submarine warfare capabilities? In home waters, the Chinese can protect their second strike capability with surface warships and air forces.

However, the good news is that China is not going to freeride on the stability in the Indian Ocean that is provided by others, namely the US. Beyond the discussions about conflict, China`s presence will contribute to safe and secure sea lanes and to stability in the wider Indian Ocean area. They will do so simply because it is in China’s national interest.

Beyond the Indo-Pacific

PLAN missile frigate Yangcheng in the Med (Source)

After numerous friendly visits and a 2011 evacuation operation in Libya, the PLAN is now engaged in a real operation in the Mediterranean (Med’). Together with Danish, Norwegian, British, and Russian warships, one PLAN frigate is protecting Danish and Norwegian freighters transporting Syria’s chemical weapons to a US vessel for the c-weapons’ destruction. China’s Med’ deployment is hardly motivated by altruistic regard for what Europeans call “international responsibility”. Instead, the Chinese are just taking any opportunity they get to gain more operational experience.

In addition, China was only able to deploy to the Med’ due to its Indian Ocean presence. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that the PLAN operates in European homewaters from Cyprus, an EU member state. Interestingly, a Greek follower commented on this blog (comments are in German) that the EU is almost irrelevant in the Eastern Med’. Given his perspective is right, China stepped into a vaccuum provided by Europe. That is how maritime power shifts become real. However, once Syria’s chemical weapons are destroyed, probably in late 2014 or early 2015, China’s Med’ presence will end.

Moreover, we have seen Brazilian-Chinese exercises in the South Atlantic. Brasilia and Beijing seem to be happy with their naval cooperation, which makes its extension very likely. However, aside from the cooperation with Brazil and some friendly port visits, the debate about a Chinese presence in the Atlantic has remained purely hypothetical – and it will remain so for long.

Win wars without fighting

If Peaceful Rise ever was real, it is definitely over. China’s latest Defence White Paper clearly said that China aims to win local wars under the conditions of informationization. Moreover, the White Paper outlined that China would not attack first, but if attacked, it would strike back. However, the White Paper left open what China considers an attack. An attack does not have to be a kinetic strike, but rather China could consider other states’ activities in waters claimed by China as an attack on its national sovereignty.

After China’s soft power was ruined by not immediately responding to the need for disaster relief in the Philippines (they send their hospital ship very late and only after harsh criticism from abroad), China now lets hard power speak. Obviously, Beijing came to the conclusion that it is time to openly pursue a more assertive track, including the use of military power, which does not necessarily mean the use of force.

When talking about China’s military rise, many observers mistake the use of military power for use of military force. Using force is always is always inefficient, due to the costs involved. However, as Sun Tzu outlined, the most efficient way to win a war is not to fight it, but rather allocate military means in a way to impose one’s will on the other side without firing a shot. That is what China is trying to do. They do not follow the Clausewitzian dictum of open war as politics by other means.

China’s ADIZ

China’s recently established ADIZ can be considered a test of this approach. They extended their sphere of influence by the use of military power, but without the use of force. As the test worked quite well from Beijing’s perspective, an ADIZ in the South China Sea could follow. However, China would need much more tanker aircraft for aerial refueling and aircraft carriers for enforcing an ADIZ in the southern South China Sea.

China is now actively seeking – with the use of military power as a means among others – control over areas it has not controlled before. More assertive Chinese behavior and Japanese responses increase the likelihood of unintended conflicts. The US, Japan, and South Korea will have to react to everything China is doing, because they have to save face. For that reason, maritime Asia needs a collective system of conflict prevention.

East Asia Summit: Forum for solutions

Maritime security will be a top geopolitical priority through this decade and beyond. In the 2020s, China and India, both with at least three aircraft carriers, will operate sophisticated blue-water navies. China will project power into the Indian Ocean, while India in response will demonstrate political will in the Western Pacific. Great power conflicts, with or without the use of military force, loom on the horizon, but is not inevitable. Therefore, maritime security will remain on forthcoming East Asia Summit’s (EAS) agenda.

 

Asian countries, in particular China and Japan, should agree to establish military-to-military hotlines for the opportunity to de-escalate unintended naval incidents. In terms of conflict prevention mechanisms, formal treaties are unlikely, because they would be hard to ratify in all states involved. However, by programs for mutual trust building and collective eschewal from un-announced unilateral measures, the EAS could establish a consensus for an informal modus vivendi in maritime Asia. The greatest plus of an informal modus vivendi would be that such an approach would allow all sides to save face.

Moreover, resource exploration (oil, gas, fish, minerals) have to be put on the EAS’ agenda. With ongoing globalization, increasing population, rising wealth and economic growth, sea-borne trade will grow even further, making these global economic lifelines even more vital for everyone. Now under research, deep-sea mining in the Indian and Pacific Ocean is likely to start in the 2020s. Competition over these resources will lead to the necessity to discuss how conflict can be prevented and how these resources can be used in a way that will suit all parties’ interests. If Asia manages to increase maritime interdependence in trade and resources among all countries and for mutual benefit, this makes armed conflict less likely. No country will strike its own lifelines. 

Felix Seidler is a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany, and runs the site Seidlers-Sicherheitspolitik.net (Seidler’s Security Policy).

Follow Felix on Twitter: @SeidersSiPo

The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens, maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.

The “Mighty Moo” Maneuvers Around Trouble

The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens, maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.

The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens (GG-63), maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.

The recent near-collision of a PLA Navy tank landing ship and the missile-guided cruiser USS Cowpens in the South China Sea represents yet another incident in a long line of instances of Chinese gamesmanship with the US Navy extending back to the March 2009 harassment of the USNS Impeccable and the 2001 downing of an EP-3. In each of these cases, the Chinese took issue with the United State conducting surveillance of Chinese military targets at sea or on the Chinese mainland (in this case, the Cowpens was conducting surveillance of the PLAN aircraft carrier Liaoning, which was for the first time conducting exercises in the South China Sea).

All three occurred in the South China Sea, although it is not currently clear from media reports where exactly the most recent confrontation took place. This could prove to be an important distinction. Previously, Beijing justified its escalatory responses to US actions by saying that they interpreted U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to mean that military activities within the Chinese exclusive economic zone (EEZ) were prohibited without the consent of China. The EP-3 and Impeccable incidents both occurred near Hainan Island, inside the Chinese EEZ. If this most recent escalatory move occurred outside the EEZ, it will be particularly interesting to see how China justifies itself. Are they expanding their legal interpretation further by claiming that all military activities conducted in waters within the so-called “nine-dash line” must receive Chinese approval? This of course is conjecture—especially given that as of this writing it also appears from a cursory glance of Chinese-language news websites that neither the PLA nor the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet made a statement. At that point this issue will require the analysis of individuals better trained in the vagaries of Chinese territorial legal disputes than I.

Also pertinent to this debate is the recent admission at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue (by a Chinese military officer no less!) that the PLAN was itself already conducting surveillance of U.S. military installations on Guam and Hawaii within U.S. EEZs around those islands. As Rory Medcalf points out, this clearly contradicts the Chinese legal position on the matter. At what point will this hypocrisy actually catch up with the PLA and necessitate a change in China’s legal position?

Last week at an event at the Wilson Center, Oriana Skylar Mastro suggested that China’s recent announcement of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) fits into a pattern of Chinese “coercive diplomacy,” in which China manipulates risk and intentionally raises the risk of an accident, a view echoed by other analysts in an approach known as salami tactics. In this way, China stops just short of further escalation, and achieves its objectives of slowly chipping away at opposing territorial positions and international legal norms. This analysis is clearly simpatico with her earlier published work regarding the Impeccable incident and the most recent confrontation involving the USS Cowpens. In her paper, Dr. Mastro identified a coordinated Chinese media campaign and legal challenge that accompanied the PLA’s military provocation. She also recommended that in order to prevent further Chinese attempts at escalation, the United States should publicize these events, directly challenge the Chinese legal position, and maintain a strong presence in the area, all things which the United States is now doing (specifically in the Cowpens case, the Department of Defense broke the story).

These are sound responses to Chinese attempts to delegitimize lawful operations in international waters. What should the United States not do? In an article published by the Washington Free Beacon, Bill Gertz quotes a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, Rick Fisher, who suggests that China in this incident is intentionally “looking for a fight” that will “cow the Americans,” and that the United States and Japan should heavily fortify the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in response. Aside from the fact that China certainly is not “looking for a fight,” fortifying the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands would be a terrible idea. The U.S. government does not even take an official position on the islands’ sovereignty! The U.S. response should certainly be firm in insisting that surveillance within foreign EEZs is completely legitimate and lawful; but turning this issue into about something other than surveillance in international waters would be blowing it out of all proportion. The United States should, in contrast to the ways in which China’s behavior is perceived, proceed carefully but resolutely and stick to its guns.

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 williamyale.com.

Choosing Sides or Choosing Peace? U.S. Strategy in the South China Sea Dispute

The National Interest on Monday published an intriguing article by Ted Galen Carpenter discussing the potential implications of President Obama’s current South China Sea (SCS) strategy.  During the East Asia Summit, where the President was forced to send Secretary of State Kerry in his place so he could focus on the government shutdown, Secretary Kerry took a supportive (some would say meddling) position in defense of Manila stating that “all claimants have a responsibility to clarify and align their claims with international law. They can engage in arbitration and other means of peaceful negotiations.”

Although many welcome America’s “pivot” to Asia, many more are trying to grasp what that really means. Does it mean greater military presence, more economic influence? Or, as Carpenter’s article suggests, taking sides in the sovereignty disputes in which most of the tension in the region is moored? Before drawing conclusions that Secretary Kerry’s statement provides some sort of clue, it would be prudent to examine what the arbitration filing actually is and what it requests. 

Reefs and LinesFor background, the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides a dispute-settlement regime that requires signatory States, such as China and the Philippines, to resolve their disputes peacefully: first through negotiation, and then if that doesn’t work, States can choose from four options. These options include submission of the dispute to the International Court of Justice, to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, conciliation, or go to an arbitral tribunal.  Without delving into too much procedural detail, the arbitral tribunal is usually the most attractive because it allows the States to choose who their adjudicators will be. 

So what does supporting Manila’s arbitral filing suggest with regard to interpreting the Obama Administration’s position in the dispute? To figure that out comes down to determining what the Philippines is really asking the arbitral tribunal to do. Whereas the underlying tensions of the dispute relate to which State owns what island, Manila has cleverly requested that the tribunal restrict its judgment to something much more precise. Specifically, the arbitration request doesn’t ask the tribunal to determine ownership on a historical basis per se, but that it only clearly establish the sovereignty rights of the Philippines under UNCLOS due to the claimed non-island status of the reefs and shoals. The Philippines have requested the tribunal to:

a. declare that China’s rights in regard to maritime areas in the SCS, like the rights of the Philippines, are those established by UNCLOS;

b. declare that China’s maritime claims in the SCS based on its so-called “nine-dash line” are contrary to UNCLOS and invalid;

c. require China bring its domestic legislation into conformity with its obligations under UNCLOS;

d. declare that Mischief Reef and McKennan Reef are submerged features that form part of the Continental Shelf of the Philippines under Part VI of the Convention, and that China’s occupation of and construction activities on them violate the sovereign rights of the Philippines;

e. require that China end its occupation of and activities on Mischief Reef and McKennan Reef;

f. declare that Gaven Reef and Subi Reef are submerged features that are not above sea level at high tide, not islands under UNCLOS, not located on China’s Continental Shelf, and China’s occupation and construction activities on these features are unlawful;

g. require China to terminate its occupation of and activities on Gaven Reef and Subi Reef;

h. declare that Scarborough Shoal, Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef and Fiery Cross Reef are submerged features and are “rocks” under Article 121(3) of UNCLOS;

i. require that China refrain from preventing Philippine vessels from exploiting the living resources in the waters adjacent to Scarborough Shoal and Johnson Reef;

j. declare that the Philippines is entitled under UNCLOS to a 12nm territorial sea, a 200nm Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and a Continental Shelf under UNCLOS, measured from its archipelagic baselines;

k. declare that China has unlawfully claimed, and has unlawfully exploited, the living ad non-living resources in the Philippines’ EEZ and Continental Shelf;

l. declare that China has unlawfully interfered with the exercise by the Philippines of its rights to navigation and other rights provided under UNCLOS;

m. require China desist from these unlawful activities.

Note: China has refused the arbitration request.  Annex VII, Article 9 of UNCLOS, however, provides that “if one of the parties to the dispute does not appear before the arbitral tribunal or fails to defend its case, the other party may request the tribunal to continue the proceedings and to make its award. Absence of a party or failure of a party to defend its case shall not constitute a bar to the proceedings.”

Although the Philippines did not request that the tribunal resolve the sovereignty claims directly, it does ask it to determine a very significant issue: whether the disputed features are rocks or islands. In these instances, the Philippines believes determinations that they are not islands would further its aims. For even if China retained ownership it would minimize the extent of China’s territorial claims under international law. This is because under UNCLOS, rocks only get 12nm of territorial seas. Islands, however, get 12nm of territorial seas AND 200nm of an exclusive economic zone. This is why each and every island/rock matters and why there is so much at stake. It’s critical to remember that the fight is not over what is on the island/rock, but the resources in the water column and shelf surrounding the island/rock.

Turning back to the Obama Administration’s SCS strategy, Secretary Kerry’s statement may be interpreted in at least two-ways. The statement could suggest support of Manila’s sovereignty claims and therefore the U.S. would be taking sides. The statement could also suggest support of Manila’s right to argue their claims under international law and therefore the U.S. would be supporting a peaceful settlement of the dispute in an international forum rather than a regional one. Carpenter’s article does an excellent job of describing the potential implications if the U.S. strategy included choosing sides. On the other hand, if the U.S. is supporting Manila’s right to argue their claims under international law, the implications for the U.S. could be a loss of credibility. It continues to remain harmful for the United States, especially in the SCS context, to keep suggesting that this dispute ought to be settled under UNCLOS because the U.S., due to political reasons in the Senate, has yet to ratify this critical treaty.

LT Dennis Harbin is a qualified surface warfare officer and is currently enrolled at Penn State Law in the Navy’s Law Education Program.  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 the U.S. Navy. This article is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.

 

More Than Meets the Eye in Asian Naval Race

(NoteThis article appeared at RealClearDefense and is cross-posted by permission.)

In previous writing about the ongoing East Asian naval race shortly after the launching of the Japanese helicopter destroyer Izumo (DDH-183), I noted that the feverish naval race may be rooted in historical grievances, fierce competition for scarce resources, and the recent sequestration cuts within the Department of Defense, which may make it more difficult for theUnited States to “manage its alliances and strategic partnerships in the region.”

Izumo

As some of my readers have pointed out, I may have appeared somewhat biased against Japan because I did not fully account for other dynamics of the regional naval competition. However, it is not my intention in any way to accuse Japan or its neighbors of espousing expansionist tendencies.  I should, therefore, point out that the factors behind the ongoing naval race may be more complex than they appear at first.

First, it should be noted that Japan’s 4.68 trillion yen  budget ($46.4 billion) pales incomparison to China’s raw defense budget of $166 billion. Though Japan’s recent 40 billion yen ($410 million) increase in its defense budget has been construed by some in neighboring states as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hawkish agenda, Japan’s defense budget is relatively modestwhen compared to that of China’s,  and  hence, insufficient to tip the regional security balance in their favor.

That said, the launching of Japan’s newest ship has provoked controversy over what kind of ship the Izumo really is. Whether the Izumo is a STOBAR (Short-Take-Off But Arrested Recovery), VSTOL (Vertical Short Take-Off and Landing), or CATOBAR (Catapult-Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) type “aircraft carrier” hardly matters. The reason why some of Japan’s neighbors are upset about the Izumo is the fear that Japan may eventually field an F-35B squadron on the ship. In short, it is not Japan’s current capabilities that are provoking uneasiness, but its future naval might.

Indeed, Beijing and Seoul have accused Abe of attempting to repeal the war-renunciation clause within the existing constitution in favor of the “establishment of an army, navy and air force in name.” But both China and South Korea (the Republic of Korea or ROK) share blame for upping the ante for the ongoing naval race.

As Robert Farley, an assistant professor of the Patterson School, noted a few days ago, the Izumo was “hardly the only naval aviation news to emerge over the past week [since]photographic evidence seems to indicate that China is well on its way to a second, indigenous carrier, this one sporting full catapults.”

Not to be left out, the ROK Navy has become a great regional naval power in itself. Like the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, the ROKN also fields an amphibious assault ship, the Dokdo, with a 653 feet-long (199 meters) flight deck. It should be noted that the ship, whichcan supposedly deploy a Marine infantry battalion for any contingencies as they arise, is named after disputed islands claimed by both the ROK and Japan. Moreover, the ROKN hassteadily increased its submarine fleet in response to the growing asymmetric threats emanating from North Korea and Japan’s alleged expansionist tendencies.

ROKS Kim Jwa-jin

While it may be easy to suppose the three East Asian naval powers may be harboring expansionist tendencies, it may also be the case that each is looking to defend its own interests. Indeed, if we trace the origins of this naval race, we can discern that defense budget increases—or  for that matter, acquisition of improved capabilities—by the three East Asian countries were reactions to perceived threats posed by their rivals’ attempts to rearm themselves. Thus, the three states can and should adopt “trust building” diplomatic measures to avert a disastrous regional war.

But the bases for mutual trust remain flimsy at best. Contrary to Trefor Moss’s assertion that neither Japan nor China will go to war because of economic interdependence, economic interdependence does not necessarily translate to trust and cooperation. Furthermore, as Taylor Washburn argues, “major powers have often clashed without escalation.”

Considering the obvious distrust that pervades among the three East Asian naval powers, it is not difficult to understand why I have previously argued that taming the East Asian naval race may require America’s continued diplomatic presence as a disinterested mediator. The United States can no longer afford to appear inflexible in the face of fluid geostrategic dynamics and unrelenting sequestration cuts. Nor can it afford to alienate China by implementing “pivot to Asia” strategy. Not only that, but “leading from behind” to tame the ongoing East Asian naval race just may be the most cost effective way in which to exercise influence in the region.

But most importantly, through this newfound role as peacemaker, the United States can set an example as a peace-loving democratic nation committed to promoting good will within East Asia and to the rest of the world.

An Alternate Naval Typology

 

Frigate...

                                                                             Frigate…

This was inspired by a question raised by Dr. Robert Farley here and here.

Within a navy the terms ‘frigate’ and ‘destroyer’ may have specific meanings, but there is no international standard.  Governments often choose to call a ship a cruiser, destroyer, frigate, or corvette for political reasons, so the terms have lost much of their meaning.  With the Germans building 7,200-ton F125-class ‘frigates’ and the Iranians calling their 1,500-ton Jamaran-class ‘destroyers,’ the naval typology system has lost its ability to inform. 

Cruisers have all but disappeared.  The term has certainly lost its relevance as a step between destroyer and battleship.  In the few cases they do exist, with the sole exception of the Russian “Peter the Great,” they are  functionally virtually indistinguishable from ships called destroyers, and even from some ships called frigates.

All these classes actually form a continuum of capabilities, influenced most strongly by their displacement.  All fight primarily with gun, torpedo, or missile.  All these ships are cruisers in the classic sense of a ship capable of sustained independent operations.  They are all cruisers in the way Julian Corbett used the term, in that they are the ships that exercise sea control by enforcing blockades and protecting friendly commerce while denying it to the enemy.  Additionally these are the ships that most commonly do boardings and fight piracy. 

When the term cruiser first appeared it was a generic term that referred to a range of ship types with their own names.  Frigates, sloops, and brigs might all have been referred to as cruisers.  I’d like to propose a  a return to something closer to the original meaning, to use cruiser as a generic term for surface warships that are not amphibs or aircraft carriers.  I will suggest a further breakdown based on displacement with this example to show how this might be more informative:

Micro-Cruisers   1,000-<2,000 tons
Mini-Cruisers      2,000-<4,000 tons
Light Cruisers     4,000-<8,000 tons
Heavy Cruisers   8,000-<16,000 tons
Battle Cruisers    16,000 tons or more

 

...vs Destroyer.

                                              …vs Destroyer.

For illustrative purposes, below is a comparison of five fleets.  I have included ships of the U.S. and Russian Coast Guard, because they are also capable of doing some cruiser-type work, but added a notation.  The numbers may be suspect.  My sources may not be up to date, but I believe the comparison is generally valid. 

                                           US                        Russia                China     UK     France
Battle Cruisers             –                          1                             —             –          –
Heavy Cruisers            84                       4                            –              –          –
Light Cruisers               3  (CG)              13                          42           17        13
Mini-Cruisers               38  (10 CG)      19  (12 CG)       14             —         11
Micro-Cruiser              27 (CG)             34 (12 CG)        17             4           9
                                            —-                       —-                         —-            —-       —-
TOTAL                           152  (40 CG)   71 (24 CG)         73           21       33

There is no reason this typology could not be used in parallel with existing national or alliance systems that retain the destroyer, frigate, and corvette terms.  The numbers above are based on the following:

US
Battle Cruisers            –
Heavy Cruisers          84
– 22 CG
–  62 Burke
Light Cruisers               3
– 3 Bertholf (CG)
Mini-Cruisers               38
– 28 FFG/LCS              
– 9 Hamilton (CG)
– 1 Alex Haley (CG)
Micro-Cruisers             27
– 13 Bear (CG)
– 14 Reliance (CG)
TOTAL                            152

Russia
Battle Cruisers                 1
– 1 Kirov
Heavy Cruisers                4
– 1 Kara
– 3 Slava
Light Cruisers                 13
– 1 Kashin
– 8 Udaloy
– 4 Sovremennyy
Mini-Cruisers                  19
– 3 Krivak (Navy)
– 6 Krivak (CG)
– 2 Neustrashimyy
– 2 Steregushchy
– 6 Ivan Susanin (CG)
Micro-Cruisers               34
– 2 Gepard
– 20 Grisha (Navy)
– 12 Grisha (CG)
TOTAL                               71

China
Battle Cruisers                 –
Heavy Cruisers                –
Light Cruisers                  42
– 2 Type 052 Luhu
– 4 Soveremenny
– 3 Type 51 B/C
– 9 Type 052 B/C/D
– 17 Type 054
– 9 type 051 Luda
Mini-Cruisers                   14
– 14 Jianghu
Micro-Cruisers                17
– 17 Jianghu
TOTAL                               73

UK
Battle Cruisers                __
Heavy Cruisers               __
Light Cruisers                 17
– 17 Type 45 and Type 23
Mini-Cruisers                   __
Micro-Cruisers                 4
– 4 River-class                __
TOTAL                               21

France
Battle Cruisers                 –
Heavy Cruisers                –
Light Cruisers                  13
– 2 Horizon
– 2 Cassard
– 1 Tourville
– 1 Aquitaine
– 7 Georges Leygues
Mini-Cruisers                    11
– 5 La Fayette
– 6 Floreal
Micro-Cruisers                   9
– 9 D’Estienne d’Orves
TOTAL                                 33

Chuck Hill is a retired Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard. He writes at Chuck Hill’s CG Blog, with the objective of looking, over the longer term, at the budgets, policies, tactics, roles, missions, and their physical expression – the platforms – that allow the Coast Guard to do its job.

A Three-Way In The East China Sea?

Senkaku-Diaoyu-Tiaoyu-Islan

Or are there only two ways of looking at this map?

The conflict over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea illustrates a number of issues in the Asia-Pacific region.  The People’s Republic of China’s expansive maritime claims is the granddaddy, but there are a number of contributing elements – from the challenges of deep-sea resource exploration to the region’s political relationships.  The week before Christmas the Center for National Policy hosted a discussion at their headquarters about a recent Scholars Delegation that took “next generation policy experts and decision makers” to Taipei to meet with officials from the Republic of China, known to most of us as Taiwan.  The delegation met with officials who were generally aligned with the current ruling party in Taiwan, the Kuomintang (or KMT).  The panel discussion in Washington illuminated the fact that the political relationships in Asia aren’t a simple challenge defined by “alliances” and treaties.  Instead, there are cultural and ethnic seams that cut through these relationships based in centuries of history, and encompassing domestic and international politics alike.

The President of Taiwan has put forward a peace proposal for the conflict in the East China Sea, setting aside the question of sovereignty and instead focusing on how to share the economic benefits of resource exploitation in and around the islands.   Many analysts have indicated that the plan is more of an effort to kick the can than anything else.  CIMSEC friend Dr. James Holmes instead has written that “It amounts to hoping that rational calculations of economic self-interest will overrule equally elemental imperatives such as fear of future aggression or the thirst for honor and prestige.”  The proposal raises a question:  Why is the leadership of Taiwan trying to avoid the question sovereignty?  The discussion at CNP helped shed some light on the answer, and it is likely because of those cultural and ethnic seams and centuries of history.

In their comments during the panel discussion, both Dr. Jacqueline Deal and Michael Breen noted that the KMT embodies a strategic paradox that is driving a confused policy for the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.  The KMT, the party once led by Chiang Kai-shek, believes that the Republic of China (ROC) is the rightful government of all of China, both Taiwan and the mainland.  According to their political platform reunification is a given once the People’s Republic of China (PRC) becomes democratic.  Because the KMT sees themselves and the ROC as Chinese, not Taiwanese, the foundation of their policy toward the Senkaku/Diauyo is exactly the same as the PRC: the Diaoyu belong to “China.”

This belief creates a strategy/policy disconnect for the KMT.  Strategic-level decision making becomes difficult because the party’s fundamental political belief can be at odds with the things that will help ensure the economic, political, and military security of the island of Taiwan.  Japan is likely the ROC’s strongest ally in the region, yet on the Senkaku/Diauyo the ROC rhetoric makes it appear that they are siding with the PRC.  Their fishing fleets have engaged in some unconventional tactics with the Japanese Coast Guard, similar to the work of the PRC’s maritime assets.  This likely strengthens the fact that the PRC prefers the “anti-PRC” KMT over the “liberal” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which believes in Taiwanese independence.  Is it any wonder that President Ma Ying-jeou wants to try and avoid the sovereignty issue?  Japan has elected a new conservative government with military expansion on their agenda.  The PRC has initiated maritime aviation patrols of the islands.  Neither side appears willing to set aside the fundamental sovereignty question in the conflict.

There is a large Chinese diaspora all over the world, from the islands of Southeast Asia to the streets of Panama City to Chinatowns of most major U.S. cities.  An audience member at the CNP panel reminded the gathering that there is a strong belief in all these places that the Diaoyu are “Chinese” - the political system that controls them is irrelevant.  The history of the Pacific and the military and political conflicts between the Chinese, Japanese, and the states of Southeast Asia go back centuries.  These cultural realities make the Pacific a complex place.  If the U.S. military thinks that trading the tribal cultures of Southwest Asia for the centuries of history in East Asia will make things simpler, it needs to rethink things.  Will hoping for modern ideals and economics to overwhelm centuries of culture and history work any better in Pacific waters than it did in Middle Eastern sands?

The Firm of Maynard, Cushing, & Ellis does not represent the opinions of anyone that matters. Formed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard RN, Lieutenant William Cushing USN, and Captain Pete Ellis USMC, the firm doesn’t speak for the US Government, the Department of Defense, The Foreign Office, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Department of Silly Walks.