Tag Archives: Publication Review

The Paracel Islands and U.S. Interests and Approaches in the South China Sea

Bouchat, Clarence J. The Paracel Islands and U.S. Interests and Approaches in the South China Sea. Carlisle Barracks: United States Army War College Press, 2014, 199pp.

PUB1207By Ching Chang

The Parcel Islands and U.S. Interests and Approaches in the South China Sea is a research report written by Clarence J. Bouchat and published by the U.S. Army War College. Its analysis matches with the recent years’ development of the United States National Security Strategy that has sought to readdress the Asia-Pacific .

Though many events have occurred in the South China Sea, primarily around the Spratly Islands, little attention has been paid to the dispute between the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China over the Paracel Islands since the policy resettlement. Bouchat’s analysis fills the gap for U.S. strategic thinkers and policymakers. The geographical location of the Paracel islands make it a suitable forward base for a substantial military maneuver, either targeting on the Indo-China Peninsula or with the intent of dominating maritime transportation through the South China Sea. For those focused on issues regarding the Sea Lanes of Communication in the East Asia or the larger Asia-Pacific region, a strong command of the geostrategic significance of the Paracel Islands is crucial.

This monograph starts with a thorough discussion of customary international law practices associated with various positions held by parties who claim sovereignty over the territories and waters around the Paracel Islands. Rationales based on historic factors or substantial occupation and governance as well as justifications supported by the subsequently established United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea are considered and reviewed by the author. 

The maritime jurisdiction attached to the islands or reefs of the Paracel Islands are also examined, though no conclusive judgment is ever given by the author in this text. Nonetheless, the author has successfully provided appropriate information for the strategists to conduct strategic calculations, theoretically prepared for government leadership and various decision makers. Particularly, many arguments and international judiciary facts are fairly noted by the author to clarify myriad missing links in the sovereignty claims originated by various parties involved.

Aerial photograph of the Crescent Group, Paracel Islands. Source: Wikipedia.
Aerial photograph of the Crescent Group, Paracel Islands. Source: Wikipedia.

It is also necessary to mention that Bouchat’s masterpiece has been translated into Chinese and published by the National Defense University in the Republic of China. Undeniably, this fact alone is further confirmation of the value of his research. The Republic of China is the first nation that laid claim to the Parcel Islands (after the World War Two), having published its official maps covering the South China Sea with the famous U-shape line in 1947. If no objection was noted within the translated edition of Bouchat’s analysis report, this implies that Bouchat’s conclusions have high degree of credibility. 

It is obvious that the author has never unconditionally endorsed the official positions insisted by the Republic of China’s government. On the contrary, Bouchat has fairly listed all the factual evidences in this work, including those issues that might not be necessarily favorable to any single claimant. Compared with various other publications released by the U.S. Army War College, this research report has successfully justified its value by earning recognition from a party involved with the territorial disputes of the Paracel Islands and the larger waters of the South China Sea.

Further, an interesting feature of this publication is that it also reflects an implicit joint effort through the following formula: an author with an Air Force background contributed a research report on the maritime affairs  published by the Army War College. It proves that we should have no service sectionalism on national security matters. The author and the publisher did contribute a solid argument that a background in the maritime professions should never be a rigid prerequisite on any matter regarding the maritime disputes.

Last but not the least, the most noteworthy feature emphasized by the author is an impartial description of U.S. policies and positions towards the issue. The author honestly pointed out the two different roles, or more precisely, two strategic options, fundamentally conflicting in various occasions faced by the United States on the South China Sea disputes. It is indeed reflecting the integrity of the author as an analyst. 

The United States would like to retain its influences in the Asia-Pacific region; this is a well-known fact. Many nations in this region must strike a careful balance between China and the U.S. How well the United Sates may serve its own interest without a direct clash or conflict with any party within the region is an imminent challenge in near future. The author has presented several perfect inspirations to strategic thinkers. History will eventually disclose whether these planners will appreciate the author’s teachings.

Chang Ching is a Research Fellow with the Society for Strategic Studies, Republic of China. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Featured Image: Bombay Reef, Paracel Islands. Photo number: ISS004-E-7147. Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center.

Reviewing Charles Glasers’ “China-U.S. Grand Bargain”

Guest post for Chinese Military Strategy Week by Peter Marino

In May of this year, the PLA released its most expansive defense White Paper ever. Having now firmly left in the past the original missions of the PLA simply to defend the Chinese mainland, the paper imagines a solidly regional, and even global, role for its armed forces to protect Chinese vital interests in economics and politics. This has understandably put additional pressure on US and Western defense planners to review their own strategic postures towards China and reassess how they intend to position themselves against it, as the post-First Cold War international architecture breaks down and a Second Cold War seems to be coming into focus. Squarely in the middle of any reassessment of U.S. strategic posture towards China would undoubtedly be Taiwan policy. Should the US hold to its commitments under the 1979 Taiwan Relations act? Should it strengthen these commitments? Or should it abandon them altogether? China specialists across the spectrum are weighing in. Today, I take a moment to review one such proposal, by Professor Charles Glaser of the Elliott School.1

[1] Charles L. Glaser. “A U.S.-China Grand Bargain? The Hard Choice between Military Competition and Accommodation.” International Relations 39, No. 4, Spring 2015, 49-90.

Peter Marino holds an MSc in Global Politics from The London School of Economics and is a graduate of Norwich University. He lived in Shanghai from 2003 to 2008 and served as head of China development for London-based Aurigon, Ltd. He founded and sold Quaternion, a political risk startup, and is currently establishing a new Think Tank for International Affairs aimed at promoting engagement with the “Millennial Generation.” He also produces Globalogues, a video blog with commentary on global politics and economics. The views expressed in this article are his own.

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A Survey of Missions for Unmanned Undersea Vehicles: Publication Review

As a closer to last week’s run of UUV articles – a publication review by Sally DeBoer, UUV week’s associate editor.


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Discussion of how the world’s navies will incorporate unmanned underwater vehicles into their doctrine and infrastructure is very broad indeed. Will these technologies be complementary to existing architecture or stand-alone platforms? Will they operate autonomously (indeed, can we even achieve the degree of autonomy required?) or with a man-in-the-loop? Perhaps because the technology is so (relatively) new and (relatively) unestablished, with potential applications so vast, the conversation surrounding it blurs the line between what is and what if.

Conceptualization of the US Navy UUV concept

Thankfully, the meticulous staff at the RAND Corporation’s National Defense Research Institute, sponsored by the US Navy, produced a thorough and carefully researched study in 2009 outlining the most practical and cost-effective applications for underwater technologies. Using the US Navy’s publically-available 2004 UUV Master Plan (an updated version of this document was produced in 2011 but has not been released to the public) as a jumping off point, the authors of the study evaluated the missions advocated for UUVs in terms of military need, technical risks (as practicable), operational risks, cost, and possible alternatives. Analyzing an “unwieldy” set of 40 distinct missions spanning nine categories initially advocated in the 2004 version UUV Master Plan, the study delivers a more focused approach to how the US Navy might best and most effectively incorporate these unmanned systems. Though the UUV Master Plan document is, admittedly, quite out of date (the study itself now more than six years old), the findings therein are still highly relevant to the discussion surrounding the future of unmanned technologies beneath the waves.

Working with the very limited data available on UUVs, the authors of the study considered the technical issues inherent in developing and fielding unmanned underwater systems. Though the full complement of UUV hardware and software is considered in the study, for brevity’s sake this publication review will focus only on two technical factors: autonomy and communications. Intuitively, some missions (such as those of a clandestine or sensitive nature) demand more autonomy than others (like infrastructure monitoring or environmental surveillance). Pertaining to ISR missions, the study suggested that vehicle autonomy limitations would be a significant limiting factor.   AUVs may not, for instance, be able to effectively determine what collected information is time-critical and what information is not. This potential weakness could be a tremendous risk; either the notional AUV would fail to transmit information in a timely manner or it would transmit non-useful information needlessly, risking detection and sacrificing stealth. Without significant development, therefore, lack of autonomy would present a technical challenge and, for some advocated missions, an operational risk.  In the words of the authors “autonomy and bandwidth form a trade-space in which onboard autonomy is traded for reach-back capability and visa-versa.” The study also addressed perhaps the most frequently cited criticism of UUV technologies: communications and connectivity. Submerged UUVs, the study concludes, are limited in their ability to communicate by “the laws of physics,” while surfaced UUV’s ability to communicate are limited by technology (mast height, data output rates) and present yet another trade-off between stealth and connectivity. These communication systems are, in the words of the authors, considered mature, and are unlikely to be significantly improved by additional research and development.

It’s important to note (and probably obvious to readers) that development of technologies to address the challenges of autonomy and communication for UUV platforms are likely completely opaque to this author. The study’s findings, however, seem to match the challenges the US Navy is facing developing UUVs in the years after its publication. The Office of Naval Research’s Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) program awarded a $7.3 million contract to Metron Inc. to develop and field autonomy software, hardware, and sensors. The LDUUV, a pier-launched system, intended for endurance missions of more than seventy days, will need to effectively avoid interference, requiring a high degree of autonomy. A 2011 Office of Naval research brief envisioned that the LDUUV would “enable the realization of fully autonomous UUVs operating in complex near shore environments” concurrent with the development of “leap ahead” technologies in autonomy.  In November of 2014, ONR unveiled a plan to develop an ASW mission package for the LDUUV, pursuing technology development in mission autonomy, situational awareness, and undersea sensors, with emphases on software-in-the-loop and hardware-in-the-loop simulations, and other ASW mission package components. Whether or not intensive R&D will produce the degree of “leap ahead” autonomy necessary for such operations remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, the RAND study’s recommended UUV missions are of particular interest and may dictate the application of funding in a time of scarcity. Put another way, the study’s conclusions provide a cogent and clear roadmap for what the US Navy can do with UUVs as they are and will reasonably become, not how it would like them or envision them to be.

LDUUV Prototype
LDUUV Prototype

So, then, there is the million (multi-billion?) dollar question: what missions are practically and cost-effectively best suited for UUVs, given these limitations, especially if a mismatch between desired technical functionality and funding and actual ability and allotments continues? The authors suggest (in concurrence with CIMSEC’s own Chris Rawley) that UUV technologies are first and foremost best suited for mine countermeasures, followed in priority by missions to deploy leave-behind sensors, near-land or harbor monitoring, oceanography, monitoring undersea infrastructure, ASW tracking, and inspection/identification in an ATFP or homeland defense capacity. These recommendations are based on already-proven UUV capabilities, cost-effectiveness, and demand. UUVs performing these missions, in particular MCM, have seen steady and

Conceptualization of the Knifefish SMCM UUV System
Conceptualization of the Knifefish SMCM UUV System

encouraging progress in the years since the study’s publication. NATO’s Center for Maritime Research and Exploration (CMRE) collected and analyzed data from four UUVs with high-resolution sonar deployed during Multinational Autonomy Experiment (MANEX) 2014. The Littoral Combat Ship’s (LCS) mine-hunting complement includes a pair of Surface Mine Countermeasures (SMCM) UUVs, dubbed Knifefish, that uses its low-frequency broadband synthetic aperture side-scanning sonar to look for floating, suspended, and buried mines and an onboard processor to identify mines from a database. The way ahead for longer-term missions demanding greater autonomy and reach-back over long distances is, for the time being, less clear.

This publication review is truly a very (very!) cursory glance at an incredibly detailed, highly technical study, and in no way does justice to the breadth and depth of the document.  I encourage interested readers to download the original .pdf.  However, the study’s contributions to an overall understanding of how and where UUVs can practically and cost-effectively support naval operations are significant, effectively reckoning the need to develop cutting-edge technologies with sometimes harsh but ever-present operational and financial realities. UUVs will undoubtedly have a significant role in the undersea battle-space in the years to come; RAND’s 2009 study provides keen insight into how that role may develop.

Sally DeBoer is an associate editor for CIMSEC.  She is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and a recent graduate of Norwich University’s Master of Arts in Diplomacy program. She can be reached at Sally.L.DeBoer(at)gmail(dot)com.