Singapore hosted the 2017 Shangri-La Dialogue(SLD) from June 2-4. The dialogue was well attended by defense ministers from the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, and France, with other regional countries sending varying levels of defense representation. One conspicuous divergence from previous dialogues was the Chinese delegation, who curiously sent a relatively low-ranking representative. From 2013 to 2016, the Chinese delegation was led by a deputy chief-level People’s Liberation Army (PLA) general officer. This year, Beijing sent Lieutenant General He Lei, the Vice President of the PLA’s Academy of Military Science.
Many have speculated about China’s motives, and Shannon Tiezzi of The Diplomat offers one of the best analyses to date. The focus of this article is to build on the extant analysis and explore whether the deliberate choice produced a diplomatic win or loss for Beijing. To do so, I will recap some of the rhetoric aimed at China during the SLD along with the Chinese response.
Why did China send a “lower-ranking” representative with no formal government position and no apparent defense credential to lead its delegation to Asia’s premier security forum? Tiezzi provided some possible explanations (analytical baseline) in her well-written article titled “Why is China Downgrading Participation in the Shangri-La Dialogue?” She suggested that Beijing’s decision was a preemptive and subtle refutation of the SLD’s agenda, and pointed to a deeper problem that China has with the annual dialogue itself. The stated agenda of “upholding the rules-based regional order, practical measures to avoid conflict at sea, and nuclear dangers in the Asia-Pacific,” made Beijing an easy target of reproach for its provocative actions in the South and East China Seas (ECS/SCS) and perceived inability to curtail Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile development ambitions. Beijing also chooses not to discuss its maritime disputes in any multilateral forum, asserting that bilateral negotiations are the appropriate mechanism debating such contentious issues. The SCS is a recurrent SLD topic – and China, much to its chagrin, has little influence over the non-friendly –and the Chinese might say hostile – agenda.
Besides a desire for bilateral negotiations, other explanations for the lower-ranked SLD representation include Beijing not wanting to undermine its public diplomacy campaign of global governanceand desire to extend its strategic momentum from the inaugural Belt and Road Forum (BRF) in Beijing 14-15 May and the 19th China-European Union (EU) Summit (CES) in Brussels 1-2 June. Since the release of a white paper outlining its updated foreign policies on “Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation” last January, Beijing has pushed a harder strategic narrative of global benevolence. China’s guiding principles for its new altruistic foreign policy are based on its Confucian culture of universal peace and sharing, and are rooted in its belief that the 21st Century is an epoch of globalization and economic interdependence. Ideally, a strategic network will be established in all the regions of the world to achieve “universal peace, international order, and global prosperity.”
China will increasingly be called upon to find solutions to global challenges (and opportunities), such as terrorism, climate change, free trade, and economic development. In his opening BRF remarks, President Xi Jinping stated that “we should build the Belt and Road into a road for peace, road of prosperity, road of opening up, road of innovation, and road for connecting different civilizations.” While at the CES, Premier Li Keqiang said that China and the EU are “contributors and beneficiaries of world multipolarization and process of economic globalization, and under the current situation, China and the EU should confront the instability of the international situation with a stable bilateral cooperation.”
Note: On 2 June, Beijing unexpectedly announced the cancellation of the 2017 Xiangshan Forum – annual regional security conference organized by China and widely seen as a rival (counter) to the SLD – due to pressures at home and abroad. Cited reasons include major leadership reshuffles, clashes with other events, and a desire to allay fears of Asian neighbors.
– Turnbull asserted that Asia’s future peace and prosperity depend on preserving the rules-based regional order that has worked so well for so long. He suggested that China can only expand its strategic influence to match its economic might within the bounds set by the same rules-based regional order; implied that Beijing was undermining that order in Asia by unilaterally seizing or creating territory and militarizing disputed areas; warned that a coercive China would drive its regional neighbors to bolster alliances and partnerships between themselves and the United States; and exhorted his regional neighbors to assume greater responsibility for their own security and prosperity.
– Mattis called out China for disregarding other nations’ interests and international law, militarizing the SCS, and undermining regional stability. He reiterated that the United States would continue “to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and demonstrate resolve through operational presence in the SCS and beyond”; urged China to recognize that North Korea has become a strategic liability and cautioned Beijing that seeking cooperation on Pyongyang did not mean Washington would not challenge Chinese activities in the SCS; and restated the United States’ steadfast commitment to the defense of Taiwan as outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).
– Inada leveled similar criticism against China in her speech. She implied that Beijing bore most of the responsibility for the extant regional instability; criticized China for “unilaterally” altering the status quo in the ECS and SCS and undermining the rules-based regional order; called out China for its continued destabilizing militarization of the SCS; urged Beijing to follow international law and respect last year’s tribunal ruling on the SCS; and expressed support for U.S. freedom of navigation operations in the SCS.
The Chinese response was expectedly swift and coordinated, but ultimately uninspiring. The Chinese delegation held a media briefing on the summit’s sidelines at the end of the second day, defending China’s position as a rising power that abides by international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; repeating longstanding policy positions on Taiwan, North Korea, and SCS; and expressing frustration that Beijing is unfairly singled out for criticism. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs followed the tepid response the next day and called out Mattis and Inada’s statements on the SCS and Taiwan as “irresponsible” and recycled previous talking points:
– China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and their adjacent waters, and stays committed to peacefully resolving disputes with countries directly concerned through negotiation and consultation and upholding peace and stability of the SCS with Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries.
– China respects and safeguards all countries’ freedom of navigation and overflight in the SCS under international law, but definitely opposes certain country’s show of force in the SCS under the pretext of navigation and overflight freedom, challenging and threatening China’s sovereignty and security.
– China builds relevant facilities on the islands and reefs of the Spratly Islands for the purpose of improving the working and living conditions for people stationed there, and better defending its sovereignty and performing China’s international obligations and responsibilities.
– Thanks to the efforts of countries in the region, the situation in the SCS Sea has calmed down and turned positive.
– The Senkaku Islands have been part of China’s territory since ancient times; patrol and law enforcement activities by Chinese government vessels in the relevant waters are justified and legitimate; China is resolute in safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, and will continue with its patrol and law enforcement activities in the future.
– China’s position on the Taiwan question is clear-cut and consistent; China stands firmly against the so-called “TRA” unilaterally made by the United States and requires the United States to honor the One-China policy and the three China-U.S. joint communiqués.
– China is clear and consistent about opposing relevant countries’ deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, and again urge them to immediately stop the deployment.
So What and Now What
Given the circumstances, Beijing may have miscalculated. By downgrading its presence at the SLD, China ceded the strategic narrative and initiative to the United States. Specifically, Beijing yielded Washington and its regional allies and partners a public platform to stake out their strategic positions, counter the Chinese strategic messaging, and further encourage China to become a more responsible global stakeholder that contributes positively to the international system.
All in all, the apparently poor showing at the SLD was a setback for Xi’s 2017 strategic agenda. He wants and needs a successful diplomatic year to build political capital and momentum leading into the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in late 2017. There is widespread speculation that Xi is trying to promote more members of his faction to the Central Committee and the Politburo, a necessary interim step if he wants to change CPC’s rules to serve an unprecedented third term as president (and/or retain his other two titles of general secretary of the CPC and chairman of the Central Military Commission) and maintain power and influence beyond 2022.
Tuan Pham has extensive experience in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, and is widely published in national security affairs. The views expressed therein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government.
Featured Image: Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks during the International Institute for Strategic Studies 16th Asia Security Summit in Singapore on June 2, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)
“Our history is clear that nations with strong allies thrive, and those without them wither. My key words are solvency and security to protect the American people. My priorities as SECDEF are strengthening readiness, strengthening alliances, and bring business reform to DOD.” – General James Mattis (ret.), SECDEF Confirmation Hearing, 1/11/17
At current growth rates, China may become a comparable power to the United States in economic and military terms in the not too distant future. In this future world, China will be less constrained than it is today to attempt to coerce other Asian nations to its will. China’s economy may be slowing at the moment, with significant concerns over sustainability of high debt and growth. Notwithstanding, China is still set to overtake the United States between 2030 and 2045 based on the global power index, which is calculated by Gross Domestic Product, population size, military spending, and technology, as well as new metrics in health, education, and governance. An unbalanced multipolar structure is most prone to deadly conflict compared to a bipolar or balanced multipolar structure.
The execution of the responsibility as the regional balancer requires political will, military capability, and the right grand strategy. While it is difficult to dictate or gauge the political will in an unknown future situation, the U.S. can hedge by building capability and advocating a forward strategy to support partners in the region. One of the ways in which the U.S. can increase joint warfighting capability is through the co-development of defense platforms with key allies such as Japan. Increasing Japan’s warfighting capability is in keeping with a grand strategy of forging an effective maritime balance of power to curb growing threats from revisionist powers such as China and Russia. Production of a common frigate platform would enhance bilateral collective defense by increasing joint interoperability. Designing a ship based on bilateral warfighting requirements would enhance interoperability and concepts of operations in joint warfighting.
The joint development of frigates would deepen the U.S.-Japan security alliance and enhance the regional balance of power to offset China. Operationally, co-development of frigates will increase interoperability, reduce seams in existing naval strategy, and increase fleet size and presence. Industrially, a joint venture will reduce costs of shipbuilding through burden-sharing research and development (R&D), maximizing economy of scale production, and exploiting the comparative advantage in the defense sectors to favor both nations. Logistically, developing a shared platform enhances supply and maintenance capability through interchangeable components, streamlined bilateral inventory, and increased capability to conduct expeditionary repairs of battle damage.
Reducing Seams in Naval Strategy and Forward Presence
A major argument for joint development of a frigate is increasing fleet size of the USN and the JMSDF. The Navy has advocated for a fleet size of 355 ships. The Center for Strategic Budget Assessments (CSBA) recommended 340 ships, and MITRE recommended a total force structure of 414 ships to meet fleet requirements.
One of the main rationales behind these recommendations has been the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), which has increased its naval ship construction on a vast scale to push the U.S. Navy and JMSDF out of the first island chain. China continues to produce the JIANGKAI II-class FFG (Type 054A), with 20 ships currently in the fleet and five in various stages of construction. 25 JIANGDAO-class corvettes FFL (Type 056) are in service and China may build more than 60 of this class, along with 60 HOUBEI-class wave-piercing catamaran guided-missile patrol boats PTG (Type 022) built for operations in China’s “near seas.” Furthermore, the PLAN continues to emphasize anti-surface warfare as its primary focus by modernizing its advanced ASCMs and associated over-the-horizon targeting systems. According to Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt (ret.), by 2020, China will boast the largest navy in the world measured by the number of combatants, submarines, and combat logistics vessels expected to be in service. According to CNAS, China “will be a Blue-Water Naval Power by 2030” approaching 500 ships.
Not only is the PLAN building more frigates and ASCMs, but it also “enjoys home field advantage.” Therefore, despite the PLA’s overall military inferiority vis-à-vis the U.S. military, the U.S. can execute only a partial commitment of forces to Asia due to its global commitments. China can offset a fraction of the U.S. Navy with the combined might of the PLAN, PLA Air Force, and the PLA Rocket Force with anti-ship missiles, combat aircraft, and missile-capable submarines and patrol craft to deny the U.S. access to waters within the first island chain. Thus, the PLA is quickly becoming a balanced force. A balanced and regionally-concentrated force is creating a growing gap in the ability of the U.S. Navy or JMSDF to gain sea control. The USN and JMSDF require more surface combatants to prosecute an effective sea control strategy. One of the best ways to increase fleet size and sea presence is through building a common frigate.
Operational Advantages and Distributed Warfighting
A new class of frigate would be in line with the Chief of Naval Operations ADM Richardson’s vision in “The Future Navy,” that a “355-ship Navy using current technology is insufficient for maintaining maritime superiority. The Navy must also implement new ways of operating our battle fleet, which will comprise new types of ships.” The platform would be an opportunity to solidify the distributed lethality (DL) concept, promulgated by Commander Naval Surface Force’s Surface Force Strategy. DL combines more powerful ships with innovative methods of employing them by dispersing lethal capabilities. The more distributed allied combat power becomes, the more enemy targets are held at risk, and the costs of defense to the adversary becomes higher. Furthermore, the more capable platforms the adversary has to account for, the more widely dispersed its surveillance assets will be, and more diluted its attack densities become. If the U.S. and Japan can increase the number of platforms and employ them in a bilateral DL architecture, it would present a tracking and salvo problem for the enemy. The new Surface Force Strategy requires an increased fleet size to amass greater number of ships forward-deployed and dispersed in theater.
Within a hunter-killer surface action group acting under the DL operational construct, Aegis destroyers and cruisers would protect the frigates from air and distant missile threats, allowing the frigates to focus on the SUW/ASW mission sets. The ship’s self-defense systems can provide point or limited area defense against closer air and missile threats. The main mission of the sea control frigate, however, will be to help deliver payloads integrated into the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture through Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). Payloads launched by any ship in USN or JMSDF can be terminally guided by nodes in the CEC. The JMSDF is already moving toward integrating a greater portion of its fleet into the U.S. NIFC-CA architecture through combat systems modification to existing ships.
A Frigate for High-Threat Sea Control
The U.S. and Japan should consider a joint venture to develop a common frigate, displacing roughly 4000-5000 tons, whose primary missions are anti-surface warfare (SUW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and limited-area air defense/anti-air warfare AD/AAW. In addition to increasing interoperability, a frigate dedicated to these sea control missions would reduce mission shortfalls in the current naval strategy and fleet architecture. Aegis platforms, such as the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (DDG) and Ticonderoga-class cruisers (CG), must perform myriad missions such as theater ballistic missile defense (BMD) and air defense (AD) of the strike groups, in addition to theater ASW and SUW. While half of the CGs undergo modernization and the cruiser’s long-term replacement is undecided, and where the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) do not yet provide robust SUW and ASW capabilities, the DDGs must shoulder a larger share of the burden of those missions. Thus, the Navy would benefit from a dedicated and capable platform to conduct SUW and ASW for achieving sea control and burden-sharing with Aegis platforms. A new class of frigate would be in line with the Chief of Naval Operations ADM Richardson’s vision in “The Future Navy,” that a “355-ship Navy using current technology is insufficient for maintaining maritime superiority. The Navy must also implement new ways of operating our battle fleet, which will comprise new types of ships.”
The frigate could escort ESGs, CSGs, logistics ships, and maritime commerce. A limited AD capability would fill the gap in protecting Aegis ships while the latter performs BMD missions, as well as escorting high-value units such as amphibious ships LHD/LHA, LPDs, and aircraft carriers (CVN). These specializations would benefit the planners’ ability to achieve sea control by enhancing the expeditionary and carrier strike groups’ defensive and offensive capabilities. It could also highlight the ability of future JMSDF frigates to integrate into U.S. CSGs, ESGs, and surface action groups (SAG) as practiced by its vessels in exercises such as Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) and ANNUALEX.
In a contingency, it is necessary to protect commercial shipping, logistics ships, and pre-positioned supply ships, which are the Achilles’ heel of the fleet. These links in fleet logistics chain are critical to sustaining long-duration operations and maintaining the economic well-being of maritime nations such as Japan and the U.S. Therefore, a sufficient number of frigates would be necessary to provide protection to logistics ships. As far as small combatant vessels, the Navy currently operates eight LCS from a peak of 115 frigates during the Cold War in 1987.
A frigate would require a powerful radar to be able to provide an adequate air defense umbrella to protect a strike group or a convoy. There is some potential in making the next-generation frigate with a scalable Aegis radar such as the SPY-1F. The JMSDF Akizuki-class and Asahi-class destroyers are modern multi-mission capable ships, with a non-Aegis phased-array radar that provide limited AAW capability. Similarly, the next-generation frigate could incorporate a scaled down version of the more modern Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) if the trade-offs in budget and technical specifications warrant the extra investment.
As for the ASW mission, the future frigate should be equipped with an active sonar, a towed passive sonar, an MH-60R (ASW-capable), and a long-range anti-submarine rocket (ASROC) system. A modern hull-mounted sonar connected to the future combat system could integrate the data acquired by towed or variable-depth sonars. It should also be built on a modular design with enough rack space set aside for future growth of systems to accommodate future mission modules. Therefore, the future frigate should have a greater length and beam compared to the LCS to accommodate more space for sensors, unmanned platforms, and combat systems. This should not be confused with a modular concept of the LCS where ASW, SUW, or mine warfare modules can be laboriously swapped out in port in a time-consuming process. The future frigate should focus on ASW/SUW superiority with limited area AD capabilities, and not have to change mission modules to complete this task. These frigates also would not replace the LCS. The LCS could continue to play a niche role in the SAGs as a carrier for drones and UAV/USV/UUV. Thus, the protection of the LCS from attacks will be an important factor, which will fall on the DDGs and future frigates to contribute.
Payloads and sensors have as much importance as platforms in the network-centric distributed lethality concept. Effective joint warfighting requires not just cooperation in platform development, but also requires an emphasis on payload and sensor development. The U.S. and Japan should explore joint R&D of the following payloads in the future frigate: Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), Naval Strike Missile, and the surface-to-surface Hellfire missile. Out of these options or a combination thereof, the U.S. and Japan may find the replacement to the U.S. Navy’s RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile and the JMSDF’s Type 90 ship-to-ship missile in service since 1992.
The selection of payloads for the next frigate should be based on bilateral requirements of roles and missions. Furthermore, discussions should also involve offensive and defensive options in non-kinetic electronic warfare (EW) and cyber capabilities for joint development. Effective EW and cyber capabilities will increase the options for commanding officers and task force commanders to achieve the desired effect on the operating environment. A joint development will provide both fleet commanders options to achieve this effect.
As far as increasing fleet size with next-generation frigates, how many frigates is enough? Based on global commitments for the U.S. Navy and regional commitments for the JMSDF, 60 frigates for the USN and 20 frigates for the JMSDF would be justified. By building 60 frigates, the U.S. Navy would be able to forward-deploy at least one-third (20 frigates) to the Western Pacific. The frigates should be dispersed and forward-deployed to U.S. naval bases in Japan, Guam, Singapore, and Hawaii as well as those on 7-month deployments from the continental U.S. The JMSDF would also build 20 frigates of the same class. Taken together, there would be a total of 40 frigates of the class in the Western Pacific between the USN and JMSDF. This ratio parity (1:1) would benefit the planners’ ability to conduct joint task force operational planning as well as factoring in collective self-defense considerations. 40 frigates would create enough mass to establish a distributed and forward sea presence, and when required, gain sea control with Aegis DDGs in hunter-killer SAGs.
Meanwhile, the JMSDF has not built 20 ships of any combatant class. Setting the goal high with 20 vessels of the next frigate would be an important milestone for the JMSDF toward increasing its fleet size in a meaningful way. The JMSDF recently announced that, to speed up vessel production and increase patrol presence in the East China Sea, it would build two frigates per year compared to one destroyer per year. It appears the JMSDF is also realigning its strategy and procurement to cope with the changing security environment in East Asia.
Industrial Advantages of Joint Development
Bilateral development of the next frigate will enjoy industrial advantages in burden-sharing R&D, maximizing economy of scale production, and exploiting the comparative advantage of the U.S. and Japanese defense sectors. Burden-sharing R&D through cooperative development helps to reduce risks. Barry Posen, director of the MIT Security Studies Program, advocates burden-sharing as a central issue of alliance diplomacy. Joint R&D mitigates risk through technology flow between two countries. Any newly developed or discovered technologies can be shared as part of the platform’s development. Thus, U.S. and Japan can tailor regulations on technology flow and export control laws to suit the scope of this bilateral development project to ensure seamless integration and manage risk.
Moreover, maximizing economies of scale production would help mitigate the rising costs of producing warships and weapons systems under unilateral R&D. Economy of scale coproduction or co-development program would be “consistent with Congress’ preference for allied cooperation in arms development (Nunn Amendment), by reducing acquisition costs and freeing resources for other burden sharing.” A joint development with a close U.S. ally with a similar technology base and history of shared platforms development would make sense to cut costs, share technology, and hedge R&D risk. The U.S. and Japan have begun to move in the direction of cooperative development. In 2014, the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, and Japan Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida, announced that the Defense Ministry and the DOD would hold studies to jointly develop a new high speed vessel under the bilateral Mutual Defense Assistance (MDA) agreement. Although not many details were released to the public on this agreement, the studies may have centered on the LCS as a possible platform to base the bilateral project. A joint frigate project should be designed on a platform that addresses all of the LCS’ deficiencies and that meets bilateral requirements to achieve sea control via SUW/ASW superiority and distributed lethality.
Leveraging the economy of scale through joint development would also help Japan as its defense systems have also become more expensive to develop unilaterally. Many Japanese firms view international defense business as unstable and unproven in terms of profitability. However, recent JMSDF Chief of Maritime Staff, ADM Takei, saw opportunities for cooperative development as Japanese defense industry has high-end technology, but lacks expertise and experience. ADM Takei believed there is much potential for subsidiaries of major Japanese corporations that specialize in defense production to cooperate with U.S. defense firms to partner in the development or become a supplier of parts for U.S.-made equipment. Thus, by cooperating in shipbuilding, the U.S. and Japan would benefit from reduced costs of production of components and systems by taking advantage of economies of scale.
Joint development will also leverage the comparative advantage of the respective industrial sectors to favor both nations. For example, if the U.S. produces something relatively better or cheaper than Japan such as the weapons, radar, or combat systems, the U.S. could take the lead in developing and building the systems for both countries. Conversely, if Japan produces a section or component of the ship better or cheaper than the U.S. (e.g., auxiliaries, propulsion, or hull), Japan could take the lead in developing it for both countries. However, domestic constituency and laws may prevent efficient production based on comparative advantages in the U.S. and Japan. The Buy American Act of 1933 requires the U.S. government to give preference to products made in the United States.
In light of cultural and historical opposition to buying foreign-made ships in both countries, a practical solution would be if both countries produced its own hulls in their domestic shipyards based on the same design. This would preserve American and Japanese shipbuilding and defense jobs in their home constituencies. Comparative advantage production, though, should be sought in auxiliary/propulsion systems, weapons, and radars to make the venture as joint and cost-effective as possible. Cost savings would not be as great if both countries produced its own ships; however, there is still a net positive effect derived from increased interoperability, joint R&D, and common maintenance practice from a shared platform. This would ultimately translate to increased collective security for both countries and a stronger alliance which cannot be measured solely by monetary savings.
Logistical and Maintenance Advantages
U.S.-Japan joint frigate development offers maintenance and logistical advantages. The USN and JMSDF utilize similar logistics hubs currently in forward-deployed bases in Japan. The U.S. and Japan can find efficiency by leveraging existing logistics chains and maintenance facilities by building a platform based on shared components. Theoretically, a JMSDF frigate could be serviced in a USN repair facility, while a USN frigate could be maintained in a JMSDF repair facility if the platform is essentially built on the same blueprint. This may help reduce maintenance backlogs by making efficient use of USN and JMSDF repair yards. Furthermore, the use of common components would make parts more interchangeable and would also derive efficiency in stockpiling spares usable by both fleets.
Recently, the JMSDF and USN participated in a first of a kind exchange of maintenance parts between USS Stethem (DDG-63) and destroyer JS Ikazuchi (DD-107) during Exercise MultiSail 17 in Guam. It was the first time in which U.S. and Japan used the existing acquisition and cross-servicing agreements (ACSA) to exchange goods between ships. The significance was that ACSA transfers are usually conducted at the fleet depot or combatant command (PACOM) levels, and not at the unit level. As U.S. and Japan devise creative ways to increase interoperability, commonalities in provisions, fuel, transportation, ammunition, and equipment would add to the ease of streamlining the acquisition and exchange process. Ships built on the same blueprint would in theory have all these in common.
Common parts and maintenance would also improve theater operational logistics in the Fifth and Seventh Fleet AORs. For counter-piracy deployments to the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, the JMSDF would be able to utilize U.S. logistics hubs in Djibouti, Bahrain, Diego Garcia, Perth, and Singapore to obtain parts more readily or perform emergency repairs. Guam, Japan, and Hawaii could be hubs in the Pacific to deliver common parts or perform maintenance on the shared frigate platform. The U.S. can expand its parts base and utilize ACSA to accept payment in kind or monetary reimbursement. Most importantly, the benefit to warfighters is that vessels would not be beholden solely to the logistics systems of their own country. Rather, ships can rely on a bilateral inventory and maintenance availability leading to enhanced collective security and a closer alliance.
Damage Repairs in Overseas Ports
Besides regular maintenance, the doctrinal shift to a more offensive strategy of distributed lethality requires that the Navy address the potential for a surge in battle damage. There is a potential for an upsurge in battle damage as ships are more widely dispersed with a greater offensive posture, which may lead to a distributed vulnerability to taking casualties. This prospect requires the Navy to focus on increasing the repair capability of naval platforms in forward ports. Therefore, the need to conduct expeditionary repair, or the ability to swiftly repair naval ships that take on battle damage, becomes more important and challenging. The four repair facilities in the Pacific best positioned to repair ships that receive damage are located in Guam, San Diego, Everett, and Pearl Harbor, as well as at the joint U.S.-Japanese ship repair service in Yokosuka, Japan. A common U.S.-Japan platform that shares the same design and components would be better able to repair battle damage in forward repair facilities in an expeditionary and expeditious manner. Spreading the battle repair capability across the theater reduces risks in the offensively-postured DL concept.
The U.S. Navy and JMSDF have achieved strong interoperability through years of conducting bilateral exercises. Having both nations producing their own warships and then achieving close interoperability through joint operations remain a convincing argument to maintain the status quo. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) have been useful mechanisms to transfer U.S. technology and reaping the benefit of technology flowback from Japanese R&D. The current system of Japan license-producing U.S. systems has preserved Japan’s status as an important client of U.S. defense systems.
The Fighter Support Experimental (FS-X) co-development project in the 1980s showed that terms and conditions of technology transfer and flowback must be equitably worked out, or Japan may also balk at pursuing a joint development with the U.S. Japan received U.S. assistance for the first time in the design and development of an advanced fighter. The Japanese saw co-development as a next stage in the process toward indigenous production, as the technical data packages transferred not only manufacturing processes or “know-how,” but full design process or “know-why” as well. Prominent politicians, however, such as the former-Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, clamored in op-ed pieces for Japan to step out from “Uncle Sam’s shadow” and pursue an independent development vice a joint development.” Speaking for many of the Japanese policy elites who shared his sentiments, the FSX would “give away [Japan’s] most advanced defense technology to the United States but pay licensing and patent fees for each piece of technology we use. Washington refuses to give us the know-how we need most, attaches a battery of restrictions to the rest and denies us commercial spinoffs.” If the terms of co-development such as technology flowback and terms and conditions of tech transfer are not equitably worked out, Japan may also balk at pursuing a joint development with the U.S.
These arguments have strong logic, but they still have flaws. Japan has followed the license-production model of producing U.S. systems for decades following WWII. To provide a few examples, Japan has produced the F-104 fighter, SH-60 helicopter, P-3C Orion anti-submarine patrol craft, and Patriot missiles under license. In many instances, Japanese engineers made significant improvements and enhancements to U.S. designs. While license-production has advantages in guaranteeing technology flowback, it only works if the platform being license-produced is already a proven effective platform. In the case of frigates, there is no such platform yet. The LCS has too many issues for it to be a viable future frigate that could replace JMSDF’s light escort destroyers. With no viable alternative to the future frigate design, the U.S. risks “going at it alone” on a program that has already consumed precious time and resources on the problematic LCS program. It is unlikely that Japan would want to produce or buy an ineffective and problematic platform.
Finally, the age of Japan license-producing U.S. weapon systems is increasingly an outmoded framework. While there is no ally with whom the U.S. has more commonality in defense hardware than Japan, these programs function in a manner largely detached from any real strategic vision. The transfer of leading edge U.S. systems (coproduction of the F-15 fighter, the sale of Aegis-equipped warships, even the transfer of 767-based AWACS early warning aircraft) was carried out in an episodic and disjointed manner. What is needed is a joint R&D program based on bilateral operational requirements from the outset, which nests with the Surface Force Strategy of the 21st century to ensure joint interoperability. In order for Japan to break the model of “U.S. as patron / supplier – Japan as client / recipient,” Japan must also step up defense R&D and burden-share on a future platform that will mutually benefit the security of the Pacific. The U.S. must also be open to the idea of cooperative partnership in ship development and production that would benefit the U.S. primarily through greater security, and distance itself from the notion that co-development would only benefit Japan.
A Frigate for the 21st Century
Cooperative development of the future frigate would mutually benefit the U.S. and Japan and the security of the Pacific for the greater part of the 21st century. A common platform would enhance interoperability by basing its design on bilateral operational requirements and integrating it into Surface Force Strategy’s distributed lethality concept. Furthermore, this strategy would reduce seams in the current strategy by burden-sharing sea control responsibilities with existing platforms, principally the Arleigh Burke DDGs, and increase the size of USN and JMSDF fleets by factoring in joint planning and collective self-defense considerations.
In an age of limited resources and persistent cost growth in unilateral defense programs, a joint development program offers solutions by reducing cost through burden-sharing R&D, leveraging economies of scale and comparative advantage to favor both nations. A shared platform would enhance operational logistics and maintenance through the use of same components, streamlining bilateral inventory, and enhancing expeditionary repair capability. Therefore, the joint development of a frigate would improve operational, industrial, and logistical capabilities of the alliance in a concrete manner. Ultimately, this project would enhance the U.S.-Japan collective defense and security to counterbalance China’s revisionist policy in the maritime sphere.
Joint frigate development is not only a good idea, but it is also an achievable and realistic proposition. If increasing fleet size is a necessity for U.S. and Japan, why not choose the most financially pragmatic and feasible option? Relative declines in defense budgets rule out the ability of any country to be completely autonomous in defense acquisitions. Cooperative development and production have become a necessity—not an indulgence. Thus, a practical strategy that utilizes the resources of more than one country effectively will gain the advantage over adversaries that commit only their own industry. It would behoove the U.S. and Japan to prepare for a future contingency during peacetime by forging a stronger alliance through developing an effective platform that increases fleet size and interoperability, brings defense industries closer, and improves logistics and maintenance.
The U.S. and Japan’s security relationship has developed into a robust alliance spanning the breadth of all instruments of national policy and interests. In the next phase of the alliance, the U.S. and Japan should undertake a major cooperative shipbuilding project that broadly encompasses the industrial might of these two nations, to safeguard the maritime commons that underwrites the security of the Pacific and the global economy. Let that project be the joint development of the next generation multi-mission frigate that will serve for the majority of the 21st century.
LCDR Jason Yuki Osuga is a graduate of the Advanced Strategist Program at the Naval War College, and is the prospective Naval Attaché to Japan.
 John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2014), 363.
 “Red Ink Rising,” The Economist, March 3, 2016. Accessed on April 16, 2017 in http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21693963-china-cannot-escape-economic-reckoning-debt-binge-brings-red-ink-rising
 National Intelligence Council, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” NIC 2012-001, December 2012, 16. Accessed on https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/GlobalTrends_2030.pdf
 Mearsheimer, 335.
 Robert D. Blackwell and Ashley J. Tellis, “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China,” Council on Foreign Relations, Council Special Report No. 72, March 2015, 39.
 “Secretary of the Navy Announces Need for 355-ship Navy,” 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA), December 14, 2016. Accessed on April 10, 2017 in http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=98160
 Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Big Wars, Small Ships: CSBA’s Alternative Navy Praised by Sen. McCain,” Breaking Defense, February 09, 2017.
 Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” April 26, 2016, 66.
 Ibid, 27.
 Ibid, 26.
 Michael McDevitt, “Beijing’s Dream: Becoming a Maritime Superpower,” National Interest, July 1, 2016, cited in Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes, “China’s Rising Sea Power,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, November 5, 2016, 95.
 Patrick M. Cronin, Mira Rapp-Hooper, Harry Krejsa, Alex Sullivan, “Beyond the San Hai: The Challenge of China’s Blue-Water Navy,” Center for a New American Security (CNAS), May 2017, 2.
 Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes, “China’s Rising Sea Power,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, November 5, 2016, 95.
 Yoshihara and Holmes, 95.
 Yoshihara and Holmes, 95.
 Interview with Professor Toshi Yoshihara, November 06, 2016.
 Chief of Naval Operations, ADM John Richardson, “The Future Navy,” May 17, 2017. Accessed on May 21, 2017 in http://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/cno/Richardson/Resource/TheFutureNavy.pdf
 Commander, Naval Surface Force, “Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control,” January 9, 2017.
 VADM Thomas Rowden, RADM Peter Gumataotao, RADM Peter Fanta, “Distributed Lethality,” Proceedings, 141, no. 1 (2015): 5.
 Commander, Naval Surface Force, “Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control,” January 9, 2017.
 Jeffrey McConnell, “Naval Integrated Fire Control–Counter Air Capability Based System of Systems Engineering,” Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division, November 14, 2013.
 Sam LaGrone, “Planned Japan[ese] Self Defense Force Aircraft Buys, Destroyer Upgrades Could Tie Into U.S. Navy’s Networked Battle Force,” USNI News, June 10, 2015.
 “US Navy’s Cruiser Problem — Service Struggles Over Modernization, Replacements,” Defense News, July 7, 2014. Accessed April 22, 2017 in http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/archives/2014/07/07/us-navy-s-cruiser-problem-service-struggles-over-modernization-replacements/78531650/
 Government Accountability Office, “Littoral Combat Ship and Frigate: Congress Faced with Critical Acquisition Decisions,” GAO-17-262T, December 1, 2016, 1. Accessed on APR 06, 2017 in http://www.gao.gov/assets/690/681333.pdf
 Chief of Naval Operations, ADM John Richardson, “The Future Navy,” May 17, 2017. Accessed on May 21, 2017 in http://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/cno/Richardson/Resource/TheFutureNavy.pdf
 Naval History and Heritage Command, “U.S. Ship Force Levels: 1886-present,” U.S. Navy, accessed March 4, 2017, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/us-ship-force-levels.html. Graph courtesy of LCDR Benjamin Amdur.
 Interview with Professor Toshi Yoshihara, Strategy and Policy Dept., Naval War College, November 06, 2017.
 ADM Jonathan Greenert, “Payloads over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” Proceedings, 138, no. 7 (2012): 16, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1032965033?accountid=322 (accessed January 12, 2017).
 Eric Wertheim, The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World: Their Ships, Aircraft, and Systems. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2007), 374.
 Nobuhiro Kubo, “Japan to Speed up Frigate Build to Reinforce East China Sea,” Reuters, February 17, 2017, accessed on March 4, 2017 in http://in.reuters.com/article/japan-navy-frigates-idINKBN15W150.
 Mina Pollman, “Discussion on Grand Strategy and International Order with Barry Posen,” January 6, 2017, accessed on https://cimsec.org/barry-posen-draft/30281.
 Richard J. Samuels, Rich Nation, Strong Army:National Security and the Technological Transformation of Japan, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, 1994), 239
 J. Michael Cole, “US, Japan to Jointly Develop Littoral Combat Ship,” The Diplomat, March 7, 2014. Accessed on January 5, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2014/03/us-japan-to-jointly-develop-littoral-combat-ship/
 Gidget Fuentes, “Japan’s Maritime Chief Takei: U.S. Industry, Military Key to Address Western Pacific Security Threats,” United States Naval Institute News, February 22, 2016. Accessed on January 5, 2016, https://news.usni.org/2016/02/22/japans-maritime-chief-takei-u-s-industry-military-key-to-address-western-pacific-security-threats.
 Interview with Professor Toshi Yoshihara, Naval War College, S&P Dept., November 06, 2017.
 Megan Eckstein, “U.S., Japanese Destroyers Conduct First-Of-Kind Parts Swaps During Interoperability Exercise,” USNI News, March 17, 2017. Accessed on March 31, 2017 in https://news.usni.org/2017/03/17/u-s-japanese-destroyers-conduct-first-ever-parts-swaps.
 Christopher Cedros, “Distributed Lethality and the Importance of Ship Repair,” The Strategy Bridge, February 14, 2017.
 Samuels, 238.
 Samuels, 241.
 Shintaro Ishihara, “FSX – Japan’s Last Bad Deal,” New York Times, January 14, 1990. Accessed on April 20, 2017 in http://www.nytimes.com/1990/01/14/business/forum-fsx-japan-s-last-bad-deal.html
 Samuels, 276.
 Gregg A. Rubinstein, “Armaments Cooperation in U.S.-Japan Security Relations,” in Pacific Forum CSIS (ed.), United States Japan Strategic Dialogue: Beyond the Defense Guidelines, Honolulu, 2001, 90.
 Rubinstein, 91.
 Rubinstein, 91.
 Rubinstein, 92.
Featured Image: Japanese Kongo-class destroyer (JSDF/MOD photo)
The following is a two-part series on China’s possible reactions to the Arbitration Ruling in its dispute with the Philippines. In Part I, the military implications of China’s recent and possible future actions are analyzed. Part II will look at the likely outcome of China using economic and legal leverage to register its displeasure with the ruling.
By Mark E. Rosen
The Arbitration Panel’s ruling against China on July 12 was a stinging blow to China’s international prestige. China advanced a narrative that it had historic rights to nearly the entirety of the South China Sea (SCS), and that it could prevent states like the Philippines and Vietnam from fishing in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and drilling for oil near their coasts. China also maintained, through its actions, the right to engage in island building and fishing practices which caused severe damage to the marine environment. Since these activities occurred inside of its Nine Dashed Line Claim (9DL), China felt justified in these “internal matters” and told its neighbors in almost evangelical terms that the SCS is their patrimony and that no country or international body has a right to mess in their domestic affairs. On all these counts, the Tribunal disagreed and issued a strong rebuke of China’s activities.
The few positive signs that China is receptive to peaceful resolution and has moved past the ruling have been overtaken by a number of very disturbing trends which, regardless of which path China ultimately takes, puts it on a collision course with Japan, the United States, or even a much broader group of states. Unless something dramatic emerges as a result of the secret conclave in Beidaihe, the negative developments seem to overwhelmingly demonstrate that China’s gaze is only focused on settling scores with the U.S., Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, because these states are responsible for its legal embarrassment and loss of face within ASEAN.
China’s Negative Reactions to the Ruling
Immediately after the ruling, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a detailed repudiation of the ruling on July 12; declaring that the ruling was “null and void,” “has no binding force,” and that “China neither accepts nor recognizes it.” It also stated that the Philippine’s actions in filing the action were “unilateral” and a “violation of international law,” because the Philippines deviated from its legal commitment in the 2002 ASEAN Declaration of Conduct (DOC) to resolve differences via negotiations. China, in the same breath, reaffirmed its commitment to international law and to peace and stability in the South China Sea. Two days later, the Chinese state media declared the permanent court of arbitration a “puppet” of external forces and that “China will take all necessary measures to protect its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.” Since then, the following developments have taken place:
On July 13, China sent civilian aircraft to two new airports on Mischief Reef and Subi Reef. This action was taken in spite of the Tribunal’s ruling that Mischief Reef is a low-tide elevation and part of the Philippine continental shelf, and Subi Reef is a low tide elevation and part of the territorial sea of Itu Aba. In both cases, low-tide elevations cannot be appropriated by China.
On July 13, China’s vice foreign minister asserted, “If our security is being threatened, of course we have the right to demarcate a [air defense identification] zone.”
On July 15, China posted images of its recent overflight of the highly contested Scarborough Shoal by nuclear capable H-6K bombers (and escorts) and announced that such patrols would be a “Regular Practice.” This announcement came the same day as the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson was visiting his Chinese counterpart, Adm. Wu Shengli.
On July 18, Press reports cited Adm. Wu Shengli as warning the U.S. CNO that future U.S. freedom of navigation operations “will only backfire” and that Beijing will complete its planned land reclamation and reef reclamation and has made “sufficient preparations” to deal with any sovereignty infringements.
On July 19, China’s vice minister of commerce Gao Yan told reporters that trade relations between China and the Philippines were “mutually beneficial,” and added that the government did not endorse calls within China to boycott Philippine products. There were also reports of Chinese activities smashing iPhones and massing protests in front of KFC restaurants in several cities.
On July 24, ASEAN failed to achieve consensus to issue a statement on the Tribunal decision after China’s ally, Cambodia, broke away from a consensus document that was being proposed by the Philippines, Vietnam, and others.
On July 25, the United States, Australia, and Japan held a Trilateral Strategic Dialogue and issued a statement expressing “their strong support for the rule of law and called on China and the Philippines to abide by the Arbitral Tribunal’s Award of July 12 in the Philippines-China arbitration, which is final and legally binding on both parties.” The ministers also expressed opposition to any coercive or unilateral actions that could alter the status quo including future land reclamation activities.
On July 27, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed the Trilateral statement and charged that the statement was not constructive and was “fanning the flames.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang also charged that the U.S., Australia, and Japan have been adopting double standards towards international law which they adopt when it “fits their needs.”
On July 28, The Chinese Defense Ministry announced plans to hold a joint military exercise with Russia in the SCS in September; the first such bilateral exercise in that body of water.
On August 1, China held a significant live fire drill in the East China Sea (ECS) that included the firing of “dozens” of missiles and torpedoes. (AP, Aug 2, 2016). There were also reports that six PRC coast guard vessels and over 200 fishing vessels swarmed in the vicinity of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
On August 2, Japan’s Ministry of Defense published a white paper describing China’s position on the SCS an object of “deep concern.” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Japan’s paper “full of malice,” “lousy clichés,” and “irresponsible” and a smokescreen to obscure Japan’s expansionist arms policies. This exchange of statements was then followed by North Korea’s firing of a ballistic missile into Japan’s EEZ on August 3. When the UN Security Council sought to condemn North Korea’s actions, China “curtailed” the Security Council’s actions.
On August 2, China’s Supreme People’s Court clarified China’s 2014 Fishing Regulation to the effect that those that engage in illegal activities inside of the waters claimed by China will be arrested and tried as criminals. This decision settled past differences of opinion as to whether China’s EEZ and Territorial Seas empowered Chinese officials to pursue criminal liability for those involved in illegal hunting or fishing in China’s jurisdictional seas. The practical import is that fishing within the 9DL area will be met with vessel seizure and imprisonment.
On August 2, Malaysia joined Indonesia in announcing that they would sink any foreign ships that are fishing in their claimed waters. This statement was a veiled threat to China that had allowed its “fishing militia” to fish in waters claimed by both countries.
On August 6, China sent bombers and fighter jets on patrol in the vicinity of “Scarborough Shoals.” China announced that these flights would be a “regular practice” to “normalize South China Sea combat patrols” to safeguard its sovereignty interests.
Converging Flash Points
Much like current U.S. presidential campaign antics, it is hard to imagine what is likely to happen next in the high stakes poker game being played out in Asian waters. Taking into account what has happened to date and where China believes that it has leverage, there are three possible ways in which China might lash out: military, economic, and legal.
Possible Military Moves by China: The Senkakus
The statements by China’s Chief of the Naval Staff and its military activity near the Senkakus suggest that China is employing tactics of intimidation to get Japan to back away from its recent statements over the Tribunal’s decision. It may also be the case that the presence of swarming vessels in and around the Senkakus and the North Korean missile shot (presumably with tacit PRC approval) suggest that China is trying to goad Japan to militarily respond or back off its claims.
The Senkakus have always been the powder keg of Asia because it features the two leading powers in Asia: one ascending and one arguably in decline both competing on the world stage. Both are rivals for dominance over a tiny scrap of land and associated maritime space which, given the implications for access to fisheries and oil and gas, is not irrational. This is somewhat ironic because the Tribunal decision in China v. the Philippines takes away much of the incentive for the two states to fight over these rocks since they would be enclaved within the continental shelf of one of the two states; most likely Japan. In that case, the rocks themselves and the surrounding territorial sea have much less value that the large continental shelf projections of each country and aren’t worth fighting over. (See, Fixing the Senkaku/Diaoyu Problem Once and For All ).
It is somewhat curious that China is lashing out at Japan, given that the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue has been rather quiet until recently and the SCS is China’s current problem. Regardless, China would do well to revisit its strategic objectives, especially since the United States declared in April of 2014 that Japan is the lawful administrator of the islands and are within the scope of Article 5 of the 1961 Mutual Defense Treaty. The reaffirmation of solidarity between U.S., Australia, and Japan in the July 25 Trilateral declaration likely provides Tokyo the fortitude it needs to militarily respond if China continues to operate provocatively near the Senkakus.
Another important point in this calculus is Japanese President Shinzo Abe. Abe stated in 2015 that Japan is a “maritime state” and can “only ensure its own peace and security by actively engaging in efforts to make the entire world a more peaceful and secure place.” Japan’s record 2016 military budget of roughly $42 billion is further evidence of that goal. Japan has a combatant fleet of 131 vessels, including 3 aircraft carriers, 43 destroyers, and 17 submarines using frontline U.S. tactics and systems. China has substantially more hulls and submarines, but most naval analysts interviewed by the author cite the excellent Japanese submarine force as a likely game changer.
More important is the will to fight. Japan, as noted, has been greatly increasing its military spending even though its economy has been in the doldrums. According to the OECD, output growth has been slowed by a drop in demand from China and other Asian countries and by sluggish private consumption. This indicates that if Japan is pushed to the point that it must militarily respond, it has three valid reasons for using instant and overwhelming force now. First, Japan’s economy is too fragile to become involved in a protracted war with China. It would need to win fast and win big to reestablish economic dominance within Asia. If China is not dealt a mortal blow and forced to capitulate, it will use its economic leverage to coerce states to suspend trading with Japan. Japan’s trading economy cannot easily weather a suspension of its trade relations – even if the U.S. and Australia remain in their corner. Second, Japan cannot win a military war of attrition with China: it suffers from a lack of hulls, aircraft, personnel, and production capacity.
Like Israel did in the 1967 six-day attack on Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, Japan would feel compelled to use its current qualitative advantages to deliver a massive blow to Chinese maritime and air forces to dissuade Beijing from further military incursions in the ECS. In a few years, the military edge could shift to China because of its massive building plans. Third, Japanese domestic politics today would likely support a massive strike. This starts with Japan’s new self-defense law which entered into force in March of 2016 and allows Japan to engage in limited coalition warfare. Also, a 2012 Public Opinion Poll by the Cabinet Office shows a nose-dive in Japanese attitudes towards China. According to a 2013 paper by Stimson Center Analyst Yuki Tatsumi Chinese economic ascendancy has been a source of friction as has been the influx of Chinese citizens into Japan as members of the workforce or as tourists. People complain of the increases in crime by Chinese living and working in Japan and bad manners. Finally, the Japanese public is extremely well read and are likely becoming unnerved and physically threatened by the constant scrambling of Japanese fighters (200 times alone in April – June) to intercept Chinese aircraft, ballistic missile tests by China’s “Puppet” in Pyongyang, and live fire exercises in the Senkakus.
China needs to ask itself what it is trying to achieve in the ECS. If its intent is to beat Tokyo into submission or lure it into a limited and protracted war of attrition to undermine public support for Abe, it seems very unlikely that Tokyo will take the bait. However, if its intent is to successfully provoke a full-scale military attack, they are likely to be very disappointed, particularly since U.S. forces will be present to backstop the protection of Japan’s homeland. They may also be gravely miscalculating that Japan will only respond to Beijing’s move in a piecemeal fashion. Japan has an excellent and professional Navy – especially its submarine force – and could deliver a knock-out punch to much of China’s maritime forces.
Possible Military Moves by China: An Actual or De Facto South China Sea ADIZ
Until the combat patrols on August 6 near Scarborough Shoal, Beijing’s recent attention seemed focused on the East China Sea. However, while Chinese threats to establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the SCS seemed to have died down, the possibility cannot be reasonably excluded. The question then becomes: does an ADIZ advance China’s campaign to assert its sovereignty in the South China Sea? If China concludes that an ADIZ will send the correct signal that it has sovereignty claims in the SCS, the next concerns are the likely responses and whether or not they can succeed.
The United States was the first country to establish an ADIZ during the height of the Cold War as a way of providing notice to Soviet flights entering the zone near the United States that the United States reserved the right to undertake a radio challenge or dispatch fighter aircraft to ascertain the incoming flights course and intentions if it was not flying on a predetermined flight plan. The United States now has four ADIZs in operation: the U.S. ADIZ (Continental U.S.); Alaska ADIZ, Guam ADIZ, and Hawaii ADIZ. Upwards of 20 other countries have established these zones adjacent to their coastlines. These zones do not seek to restrict freedoms of navigation or overflight; their sole purpose is to ascertain a particular flights intention to reassure the coastal state that no surprise attack is being launched. When China established its ADIZ in late 2013 over the contested Senkaku islands, it was diplomatically protested because it was overbroad and inappropriate to defend an uninhabited rock as a sort of occupation measure. China’s ECS ADIZ was also criticized for including civil aircraft flying on established flight plans.
ADIZs have no explicit foundation in UNCLOS or other international instruments, yet they are regarded as customary and lawful when used for the limited purpose of identifying aircraft near a country’s coastline, not to deny such aircraft their lawful rights of overflight. For this reason, the United States and other countries protested the Chinese ADIZ, since it was established to “control and react to aircraft entering the zone” and warned that aircraft flying in the ECS Zone “must comply” with the requirements to provide detailed identification data and “comply with the instructions” of the zone controller.
The same legal issues in China’s ECS zone would apply in a SCS Zone. Depending on how it was actually constituted, it would certainly be provocative because it is not associated mainland protection but rather protection of mostly uninhabited rocks and islets from surprise attack. As it relates to military aircraft lawfully operating in the SCS, there is a fear that China will seek to limit military flights to corridors that they can instrument and hold at risk with missiles. There are also the impacts of a large SCS ADIZ and the impact on civil aviation. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the South China Sea is a “Main Truck” for all traffic on “all routes” and there are concerns that added reporting and routing by Chinese civil authorities will impede international air traffic.
The last possibility is that China, through deeds and action, will establish a de facto ADIZ as an adjunct of its promised combat air patrols. It might simply declare that all aircraft flying in the SCS have to provide flight information to Chinese Military authorities or risk interception or being shot down.
In the last analysis, if China were to establish an actual or de facto ADIZ encompassing the SCS and used the same sort of rules as its ECS ADIZ, the United States will almost certainly protest the action and fly combat aircraft into those portions of the ADIZ which are illegitimate. Australia and France are two other states that are also unlikely to stand idly by if a SCS ADIZ is established because of Australia’s longstanding commitment to UNCLOS, order at sea, and also because of the verbal barrage which it received from China following the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue statement. Also, this support from Australia is consistent with the U.S./Australia Security Treaty of 1952 in which security guarantees are triggered by an “armed attack in the Pacific Area on any of the Parties.” Finally, France announced at the Shangri-La Dialogue Forum in June that it would, on its own right, conduct “regular and visible” patrols in the South China Sea. This is logical, because France frequently operates in those waters in conjunction with the protection of its vast South Pacific Territories. The French defense minister has also urged the EU to also join in these patrols to reinforce “a rules-based maritime order.” Great Britain, Vietnam, and India are other countries voicing public support for the ruling and could conceivably contribute to a “FON Coalition.”
If China goes forward with an ADIZ, it is very reasonable to expect that the United States, France, Australia and even Japan will mount FON-like operations to protest with the zone’s establishment. If these operations are “regular and visible” as suggested by France, China would need to ask itself whether or not it is is achieving its political objectives when foreign aircraft can operate with impunity in their new ADIZ. Also, if China continues to engage in persistent combat patrols around Scarborough Shoal, then a declaration that the United States that regards Scarborough to be within the scope of the “metropolitan territory” of the Philippines under Article V of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty is both possible and a fresh challenge to Beijing that would cause it embarrassment.
China puts itself greatly at risk if it moves forward with an ADIZ or something resembling it given the widespread international support for the Tribunal Ruling, abhorrence with China’s behavior towards its neighbors, and general concern that China’s bad behavior be deterred. Now that the U.S. has bed down rights in five bases in the Philippines adjacent to the South China Sea, it has gained a significant military advantage in being able to operate fixed wing combat aircraft from land locations to conduct its own FON operations or combat patrols that don’t put a carrier at risk. China’s ADIZ gamble might have paid off if only the United States were involved so that it could “declare victory” in a future contacts with U.S. ships or aircraft such as the EP3 incident. However, given the threat dynamic and the potential to trigger alliance support from Australia and France, China will hopefully conclude that it will be biting off more than it can chew by going down the ADIZ path or, as noted above, further provoking Japan in the East China Sea.
A maritime and international lawyer, Mark E. Rosen is the SVP and General Counsel of CNA and holds an adjunct faculty appointment at George Washington School of Law. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of CNA or any of its sponsors.
Featured Image:Japanese submarine Oyashio arrives at the former U.S. naval base in Subic bay. (AFP)
Welcome to part one of the May 2016 members’ roundup. Over the past two weeks CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including the complexities associated with improving U.S. missile defense, the continued modernization of Chinese missile forces, the North Korean nuclear threat, China’s response to U.S. laser based weapons, and finally, defense spending concerns within the NATO alliance.
Beginning the roundup at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Bryan Clark with CSBA colleague Mark Gunzinger provide a comprehensive report discussing the necessity for the U.S. to rebalance and restructure the military’s air and missile defensesystems. The report explains that the DoD’s emphasis on long-range surface-to-air interceptors used to defeat a small salvo of anti-ship cruise missiles or a handful of ballistic missiles launched by rogue states have failed to provide the capacity to defend theater forces against large salvos of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and other precision-guided munitions (PGMs). Mr. Clark highlights that the layered missile defense approach favored by U.S. forces, focused on countering incoming threats as far away as possible, lacks the resources to sustain operations against multiple strikes – meaning U.S. defenses could become quickly exhausted in notional conflict where missile threats are frequent and continuous.
Harry Kazianis, for The National Interest, discusses the Chinese DF-26 ballistic missile, noting how analyses of the capabilities and regional implications of the anti-ship variant were not adequately included in the Pentagon’s annual China military report. Mr. Kazianis highlights that the 2500-mile range of the missile should be a serious concern for regional U.S. surface combatants, particularly if combined with the more reliable DF-21Ds and other anti-ship cruise missiles launched from air, land or maritime platforms as part of a large saturation strike. He explains how this capability may allow for China to develop an extremely effective anti-access strategy beyond the first-island chain, thereby severely restricting U.S. ability to conduct operations uncontested near or in support of its regional allies.
Ankit Panda, for The Diplomat, provides an analysis on an upcoming trilateral missile defense exercise being conducted by the U.S., Japan and South Korea. All three navies will participate in the exercise using Aegis-equipped guided missile cruisers, focusing on a response to a notional ballistic missile attack from North Korea. Mr. Panda explains that although recent Japanese-South Korean bilateral relations have been characterized as difficult, the increasingly dangerous North Korean security threat combined with Washington acting as a mediator and leader in trilateral operations has contributed to a steady improvement in cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo.
In a second article at The Diplomat, Mr. Panda examines the development of Pyongyang’s nuclear strategy by focusing on Kim Jong-un’s latest iteration of the country’s nuclear use policies at the 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea. The article suggests that outlining a concrete North Korean nuclear strategy is highly problematic considering several unknown strategic variables, including Pyongyang’s conception of sovereignty violation, positions on first use and the role of second or first strike capabilities surrounding regime security objectives.
To conclude the roundup, Kyle Mizokami for Popular Mechanics discusses the deployment of the Norwegian-designed Naval Strike Missile to the USS FreedomLittoral Combat Ship. The weapon system will provide the small ship with an increased surface-to-surface combat capacity while additional deployments of the missile to other vessels are likely to follow – supporting the U.S. Navy’s interest in implementing the distributed lethality concept across the fleet.
Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the first part of May:
Charles Hill, for his Coast Guard Blog, discusses the development of the Spike missile by the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake. He explains how the missile is capable of intercepting small, fast and highly maneuverable threats, including an ability to deliver Counter-Swarm Small Boat defense capabilities for the Surface Fleet. Also for his blog, Mr. Hill examines Russia’s intentions to develop a missile armed Arctic Patrol Vessel.
Dave Majumdar, for The National Interest, explains different components of the U.S. Navy’s submarine fleet and how it has maintained its technological superiority over capable undersea adversaries, namely Russia. A significant aspect of this technological edge has come from the Navy’s incremental improvement of the Virginia-class attack boat.