Archive for the ‘navy’ Category


US Naval Institute looks at China

April 14, 2014

Proceedings is the monthly journal of the US Naval institute.  The April 2014 issue is focused primarily on the naval challenge that China presents to the US.   Several of the articles are open to the general public, but many require membership with USNI (which includes both a digital and paper subscription to Proceedings – well worth the price of membership for anyone interested in geopolitics).  This issue does a good job of covering many different possible approaches to dealing with China in the Western Pacific.  James R. Holmes argues for a very forward strategy of fortifying and patrolling the First Island Chain, while Milan Vego argues for the less aggressive approach of a distant blockade of Chinese shipping  as it transits from the Indian to Pacific Oceans.

The First and Second Island Chains

The First and Second Island Chains

I strongly recommend reading the entire issue, but these two pieces in particular.  I also read with particular interest the Navy’s dormant plans for transforming Guam into a forward base capable of hosting aircraft carriers.  This would make Guam a clear and early target for preemptive attack . . . which is actually another reason why I believe that Guam should be made a state.  An aggressor would be far more reticent about attacking a US state than it would a territory, IMO.


How the US Lost the Naval War of 2015

April 9, 2014

That is the title of a 2010 journal article by James Kraska:

By 2015, U.S. command of the global commons could no longer be taken for granted. The oceans and the airspace above them had been the exclusive domain of the U.S. Navy and the nation’s edifice of military power for seventy-five years. During the age of U.S. supremacy, the Navy used the oceans as the world’s largest maneuver space to outflank its enemies. Maritime mobility on the surface of the ocean, in the air and under the water was the cornerstone of U.S. military power. The United States was able to utilize its maritime dominance to envelop and topple rogue regimes, as it demonstrated in Grenada and Panama, and use the maritime commons to ferry huge ground armies to the other side of the world and sustain them indefinitely, as it did in Vietnam and twice in Iraq. The unique capability to project decisive power rapidly in any corner of the world gave the United States deterrent power and unrivalled military influence.

All that changed in 2015, when the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, sunk to the bottom of the East China Sea. More than 4,000 sailors and airmen died and the Navy lost eighty aircraft. A ship that would take seven years and $ 9 billion to replace slipped into the waves. The incident upset not just the balance of naval power in Asia, but ushered in a new epoch of international order in which Beijing emerged to displace the United States.

If you have never read Kraska’s article, read it now.  If you have, read it again.  And ponder it while listening to senior US and Chinese officials trade tough talk over maritime disputes in the Western Pacific.


The coming age of naval pluralism?

February 12, 2014

For the past several centuries, naval power has been largely concentrated in the hands of one nation.  First, the British Navy ruled the waves for two full hegemonic cycles, and now the United States has inherited the position.  The British faced several near peers during their run of maritime dominance, but the United States Navy has not faced a serious challenge since sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway.  Today, the US Navy has more ships at sea than the next 13 navies combined.

However, those times may be changing.  The combination of technological advances and diffusion, plus strategic need, is fueling a naval arms race in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere.  Nations around the globe are investing in naval forces at relatively high levels for the first time in decades.  At the same time, the US is facing financial difficulties that are limiting defense spending in substantial ways for the first time since before World War Two.

Prokhor Tebin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Center, believes that this heralds a coming era of “naval pluralism,” in which regional powers will exert local control and the US ability to dominate every ocean on the globe is over.  I do not agree with these conclusion – many of these growing navies will be allies of the US, allowing the USN to share burdens and shift the weight of its naval power where necessary.  Also, the technological edge that the US holds should remain substantial for another decade and a half, at least.


China’s fleet advancing more quickly than anticipated

February 6, 2014

According to a new assessment, China is developing the ability to project naval power far away from its shores much more rapidly than earlier intelligence analysis had projected.

The Office of Naval Intelligence issued an assessment on the Chinese navy as part of testimony to the U.S. China Economic and Security Review. ONI leaders found that China’s navy has evolved from a littoral force to one that is capable of meeting a wide range of missions to include being “increasingly capable of striking targets hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland.” . . .The report explains that more than 50 naval ships were “laid down, launched or commissioned” in 2013 and a similar number is planned for 2014.

Among the newer ships in the the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) are a number of nuclear armed subs that will be able to hit either Alaska or Hawaii from Chinese home waters.  Should they sortie into the western Pacific, they would be able to hit the Western US mainland.  This capability will be operational this year.

Ranges for JL2 missiles from various launch points

Ranges for JL2 missiles from various launch points

Earlier this week, US National Intelligence Director James Clapper said that China’s military build up and assertive foreign policy is driven by a “sense of destiny” and that Chinese leaders believe that their claims over nearly the whole of the South and East China Seas are historically based.   Clapper did not say, but we can easily infer, that China has no intention of backing down from these claims and its military buildup will be used to enforce them, either by force or by intimidation.


Does China have its sights set on naval dominance?

January 21, 2014

Not in the near term, surely, but recent reports indicate that the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) has medium and long term goals that are well beyond regional command.   While the US Navy remains well ahead of China both quantitatively and qualitatively, the diffusion of technology is narrowing the qualitative gap, and the shrinking of US military budgets is narrowing it quantitatively.  Indeed, budget woes are also threatening the qualitative edge – basic R&D and the military industrial base itself are endangered, some claim.

The answer is going to have to be more burden sharing amongst our allies.  Japan is under direct threat from Chinese missile advances – at least 1000 missiles are currently targeted at Tokyo alone, and China plans on building 50,000 new missiles per year in the near future.   Another US ally on the other side of the world – Israel – is also under constant threat of missile attack and has developed systems and tactics to defeat them.  A three way relationship between the US, Israel and Japan combining the technological prowess of all three with the operational experience of Israel should be able to build a real counter to this threat without breaking the budget of any one nation.

In the near and medium terms, at least, if real missile defense can be mastered, then the most serious Chinese naval threat can be muted, and buy another few decades when the US Navy does not have to contest for global control of the seas.



The Backbone of the Chinese Navy

December 16, 2013

While China’s forays into naval aviation and expansion of their submarine service garner most of the media attention, the Chinese Navy has been building large numbers of other types of ships that might prove to be the real backbone of maritime power in the case of war.  Foreign Policy details each of the five key ship types that China is pushing into service.



Canada’s Arctic Grab

December 12, 2013

Canada has made formal claims to an area of the Arctic sea bed equivalent in size to the entire US mountain west.  This will put them in direct dispute with the other four Arctic nations  (Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US) and especially with Russia, an even more eager Arctic claimant.  Read more details at Walter Mead’s American Interest blog, which includes the map below.  I am of the opinion that, while power is still centered elsewhere, the Arctic will the single most important geostrategic region in the globe this century.  It resources are both vast and largely untapped, while the potential for the seasonal opening of new shipping routes is a literal sea change in global maritime calculations.  In this era of diminished resources, the US should fully support both Canadian claims in the Arctic as well as their supremacy in Arctic policy – we need to support this kind of burden sharing wherever it makes sense, and this is a good place to start.

Arctic jurisdictional boundaries


US Navy aviation’s F-35 dilemma

December 9, 2013

The naval variant of the F-35 (F-35c) has had its detractors from the start (the F-35 has a single engine, and naval aviators have long preferred two engines in case of a failure over the ocean), and massive cost overruns and engineering errors have eroded what support it does have.   The F-18 Super Hornet has been a workhorse for the Navy since the 1990s and with upgrades can do many of the things that the F-35c can do, and do it cheaper (currently, we could purchase 3 F-18s for the cost of every F-35c).  Promoters of the F-35 point to two characteristics that the F-18 can never duplicate:  Stealth and shareability.  The first point is largely moot, as continual advancements in sensors will eventually defeat the stealth features of any aircraft.  The second point, however, is stronger.  The F-35c will be flown by most of the US allies in the Indo-Pacific region.  This provides additional capability as Naval F-35s will be able to land and receive support and service all across the region, not just on US aircraft carriers.

In the 80s and 90s, the US could afford to keep both lines open, but no more.  It is an either/or choice.  The F-35 still leads, but congressional seapower advocate Rep. Randy Forbes has recently come out in support of the F-18, which is a serious blow to the F-35 program.

There is no good or easy choice here (personally, I would have chosen a combination of the F-22 and the F-18 over the F-35 to begin with), but maybe the time has come to quit throwing good money after bad.  Cancel at least the Navy version of the F-35, go with the F-18 and get to work on designing a 6th generation fighter.

F-18 E/F, left, and F-35, right

F-18 E/F, left, and F-35, right


China’s Continental End Run

October 21, 2013

Alexandros Peterson and Raffaello Pantucci write in this month’s National Interest about what they call “China’ s Inadvertent Empire” in Central Asia.  They detail the growing economic ties between China and the resource rich but (relatively) sparsely populated and poor nations of the Eurasian Heartland.  While Peterson and Pantucci correctly point out that this is a growing strategic threat – precisely the kind of single power dominance that Halford Mackinder first warned about over a century ago – I do believe that they are underplaying the central organizing role that Beijing policy makers are playing in this Chinese expansionism.  While it is undertaken on an ad hoc basis and has no formal strategic white paper guiding it., there is certainly more than economic opportunism behind it.  The admirals of the PLAN know that their A2/AD strategy designed to push US naval power away from their home waters has no real strategic capability – that the nation’s economic lifeblood courses through sea lines of communication that it will not be able to secure for at least a generation, if ever.  The pipelines, railways, and highways that they are building through the heart of Asia, on the other hand, serve as an end run around US naval power.  It makes obvious sense that, as the world’s most powerful naval force pivots toward Asia, Asia’s most powerful nation would pivot toward the Heartland.   So obvious that to call such a turn “inadvertent” seems naive.

international maritime route

Global Maritime Traffic Flows



Creating a fifth Service Branch . . . and other thoughts on US Defense Reform

October 15, 2013

Admiral James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, argues that the US must create a separate Cyber Force to prepare for conflicts in the near future.

I think we need a complete reform of the services.  I’ve just been playing with it in my head and haven’t done any detailed work on it, but something along the lines of:

  • Drastically shrinking the Army and closing all foreign Army bases.  Turn the reduced force into a territorial service with a much larger (and more active) reserve component.  Combine this Army with the Coast Guard (and perhaps even Air National Guard) to form the Territorial Service.
  • Combine the Air Force and Navy (with a larger Marine Corp as their ground component) into the Strategic Service, dedicated to all projection of force beyond national territory.  Offshore Balancing becomes the national strategic model.
  • Create separate Space and Cyber Services, as these are the realms where the next major war will be won or lost.

Streamlining the services, reducing our global footprint, and focusing on Offshore Balancing should allow a significant reduction in defense spending while at the same time creating a defense infrastructure better suited to likely future conflicts.  The reductions in size and spending would be offset by increases in capabilities.

This would be tough medicine for traditional hawks – and of course the Army – to swallow, but the purpose is to maximize capabilities and to better prepare for a likely major conflict with China (I write “likely” because I write from the perspective of Long Cycle Theory, which predicts it in the not too distant future).  If foreign policy and defense conservatives can sell the vision to the GOP as a whole, then major Defense Reform would be a big carrot to offer the Democrats in return for major Entitlement Reform and allow the nation to get its financial house in order, as well (something that is also needed as the conflict approaches).

The Four Phases of the Long Cycle . . . We are in the coalitioning phase; macrodecision (previously war but possibly Great Power Collapse) is fast approaching

The Four Phases of the Long Cycle . . . We are in the coalitioning phase; macrodecision (previously war but possibly Great Power Collapse) is fast approaching


Britannia rules the waves no more . . . she barely makes an appearance

October 15, 2013

A shocking (and sad) story in Foreign Policy details the decay of the Royal Navy in the post Cold War world.  If Argentina decides to take the Falklands, this time there is likely nothing that Britain can do about it.


Missile vs Missile: Chinese advances, US responses

October 10, 2013

China’s PL13 air to air missile can “run down any potential enemy plane in the world”, including the F-35 which will go operational without an anti-missile defensive capability

But wait . . . Northrop, anticipating this development, has produced (on its own, without an existing government contract), ThNDR, the Threat Nullification Defensive Resource, a sixth generation defensive system that should be able to defeat the PL13.

China has also developed cruise missiles which can be launched from their H-6 heavy bombers, a development that some believe is a bigger threat to US aircraft carriers than their so-called “carrier-killer” land based missiles.

Both types of Chinese missiles are serious threats, but Lockheed continues to upgrade and enhance its Aegis Anti-Missile System, the most advanced anti-ballistic missile system in the world.  Last week, the latest version of Aegis successfully intercepted a medium range ballistic missile.  According to Lockheed:

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA), U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] team successfully intercepted a threat representative, medium-range, separating ballistic missile target using the second generation Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) weapon system and SM-3 Block IB guided missile.

By successfully launching, tracking, and engaging the newest medium-range ballistic missile target configuration during this operational test, known as Flight Test – Standard Missile-22 (FTM-22), Aegis BMD continued to demonstrate its capabilities to defend against the world’s increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile threats.  Building on the success of last month’s test (FTM-21), FTM-22 marked the eleventh time the USS Lake Erie (CG 70) and crew have successfully performed in Navy and MDA at-sea test events against cruise and ballistic missile targets using the second generation Aegis BMD System.






Taiwan Ministry of Defense: PLA will have capability for successful invasion by 2020

October 8, 2013

A Taiwan Ministry of Defense Report leaked to the Want China Times spells out the race against time that the Republic of China seems to be losing:

China plans to enhance its combat capabilities to a level sufficient to mount a full attack against Taiwan by 2020, showing that its military threat to Taiwan has not diminished, the Ministry of National Defense has concluded in a report.

First published in 1992, the 12th National Defense Report says that China has developed and deployed various types of new high-end weapons and has developed cyber attack and defense technologies.

It also has plans to ramp up its combat capabilities needed to launch an all-out attack on Taiwan by 2020, the report says.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force “has stationed a large number of advanced aircraft within unrefueled range of Taiwan, providing them with a significant capability to conduct air superiority and ground operations against Taiwan,” the report says.

Taiwan’s military currently has the capability to defeat a PLA cross-straits attack, but the PRC is gaining numbers and capability faster than Taiwan can keep up.  At the same time, the US Navy, while technologically superior and with many new weapons systems under design, is hindered by national politics and finances and is seeing its ability to intervene slowly diminish, regardless of the vaunted “Asian Pivot.”  At some point, the two lines will cross.  Will it be 2020, 2025?  At this rate, it looks like sooner rather than later.


The Western Front in the Indo-Pacific Naval Arms Race?

September 19, 2013

Daniel Lee at the American Foreign Policy Institute takes a detailed look at Iran’s strategic naval needs and capabilities.  He concludes that Iran is most likely to remain a littoral threat to Persian Gulf shipping, but unlikely to build a blue water navy that will venture deep into the Indian Ocean.  In either case, they remain a threat to regional and world peace and prosperity, and their maritime forces cannot be overlooked as the world focuses on their nuclear ambitions.



China draws new map; adds gasoline to the fire

September 18, 2013

In 2009, China submitted a map to the United Nations in which it claimed sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, trampling on what international law recognizes as the legitimate sovereignty claims of several of her neighbors.  Over the years, China has maintained this claim through informal manners.

9 dash map

China has recently produced a new, 10 dash map which fully encompasses the island of Taiwan and comes very close to the southernmost territorial waters of Japan.   As the Australian Strategic Policy Institute points out, this is certainly a very considered move by the Chinese, and the tenth line might be more than a mere dash – it could be a virtual arrow, pointing toward China’s desire to also lay claim to the East China Sea and Japan’s own Senkaku Islands.


This is a rather provocative move, coming as does in the midst of the multi-nation Indo-Pacific naval arms race.



China’s challenging relations in the Persian Gulf

August 22, 2013

John Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies  (link opens a pdf file) examines the increasingly difficult relations that China is facing in the Persian Gulf:

Even as Iran, Iraq, and the GCC states all seek stronger ties with China, and many seek a greater role for China in the Middle East, China remains cautious. Wary of the Iran-GCC rivalry and keeping a watchful eye on the United States, China continues to seek to avoid becoming entangled in these regional dynamics. With growing domestic energy demands and a less certain U.S. global role, the balance may prove increasingly difficult to strike.

As China’s supply chain stretches it, it inevitably facings more and more challenges in keeping it secure.  It’s navy cannot even dominate its home waters, and several rival navies between China and the Gulf are near peers, peers or superiors in the maritime realm.  China – like every other trading nation – has relied on the US Navy to secure free use of the global maritime commons.   Ironically, China may be the nation least able to afford a diminution of US naval strength, at least in the near and middle terms.


More on the Indo-Pacific Naval Arms Race

August 13, 2013

Last month, I posted a report from a respected maritime industry analyst who believed that the nations of South and Southeast Asia would be spending hundreds of billions of dollars and adding over 1000 naval ships to the total regional inventory over the next two decades.   Yesterday, I summarized some of the larger recent acquisitions - a new nuclear submarine and several new or newly refurbished aircraft carriers (or quasi-carriers, in the case of Japan) by the regions biggest powers China, Japan and India.

But it is not just the large powers . . . news today that some of the second tier powers are busily enhancing their submarine fleets.  First, Vietnam is set to receive six submarines from Russia over the next few years, and the Russians have recently floated the third of those six.   These Russian subs are of a type called “the black hole of the ocean” by US Navy sonar operators, who find them virtually impossible to find and to track.   The first of those subs will go operational by the Vietnam navy later this year.

South Korea is also adding submarines to its own fleet.  It recently launched its 4th in a new class of attack  submarines and is planning an adding 9 more even more advanced boats in coming years, doubling its current sub fleet inventory.


India near to adding two carriers, nuclear sub to naval service

August 12, 2013

India today launched its first indigenously build aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant.   The Vikrant will now undergo several years of sea and air trials before full commissioning in 2017.  The Vikrant is one of two indigenous carriers to be produced by the Cochin shipyard.  The other, the Vishal, is expected to be commissioned by  2020, but that is not the second carrier referred to in the title of this post.  Rather, that references news that the Vikramaditya has passed its sea trials and has begun air trials in Russia’s far north White Sea (Vikramaditya is a former Soviet Navy ship that has been refurbished and updated by Russian shipbuilders for the Indian Navy).   The Vikramaditya is due to be delivered to and commissioned by the Indian Navy later this fall.  Thus, the INS expects to add two modern (or, at least, modernized) carriers to its fleet in the next four years.

In addition to its expanding air wing, the INS is also building a modern sub sea component.  Late last week, India announced that the reactor on its first nuclear submarine had gone critical, indicating that the INS Ahirant can proceed to sea trials and could also see commissioning within a year.

To summarize the recent large scale developments in the Indo-Pacific Naval Arms Race:  2013 will close with China and India both having commissioned refurbished former Soviet aircraft carriers; China has begun construction of its first indigenous carrier; India has launched its first indigenous carrier; India has launched an indigenous nuclear submarine.

Also, Japan has launched a new “helicopter carrier” that is actually larger than all the Indian and Chinese carriers under discussion, and which observers say can be quickly converted to a full carrier capable of launching and retrieving F-35s, making it probably the most impressive addition of all.

INS Vikrant

INS Vikrant

INS Vikramaditya

INS Vikramaditya

INS Arihant

INS Arihant

PLA-N Liaoning

PLA-N Liaoning

JDS Izumo

JDS Izumo

President Obama famously ridiculed Mitt Romney’s fears about a shrinking US Navy during last year’s presidential debates.  Obama is correct that today’s naval ships have substantially more fighting power than they did even 25 years ago . . . but Romney was, in my view, more correct in pointing out that more missions for fewer ships obviates that power.   The world is building up while the US is building down.  It’s not critical . . . yet.  But there is an inflection point lurking out there somewhere . . .


China building new carriers while USN fears further shrinkage

August 6, 2013

Pictures have surfacedof what is likely China’s first indigenous aircraft carrier (a Russian-made carrier was refurbished and launched late last year).  Chinese officials have spoken of plans to build at least two – and possibly several more – carriers in coming years.   Seapower projection will be essential to China’s goal of Western Pacific domination.

china carrier

Of course, it will be years before this carrier takes to sea, and still more years before China develops the tactics, skills and advanced weaponry to seriously challenge the US in the Indo-Pacific.  The US should dominate for the foreseeable future.  Unless we allow our own navy to decay while China builds hers up.  And that may be precisely what is happening.    The Navy has endured a maintenance deficit on its fleet during the 12 years of continuous operations since 911, and now the national fiscal crisis is threatening to extend that deficit even further.  Due to sequestration, maintenance will continue to be delayed and the Navy may have to begin retiring ships early.  While the official plan is for a fleet of over 300 ships by the end of the decade, new estimates are that the Navy may instead shrink closer to 250 ships.   Fortunately, the Navy has farsighted thinkers with creative plans that can deal with this situation, and there  also an array of cheaper, technologically advanced force multipliers that should become available by the end of the decade as well.  The USN should remain the supreme maritime power not only in the Indo-Pacific but also globally, so long as we maintain the necessary discipline and leadership.


Chinese Navy reaches numerical parity with US

July 25, 2013

In 1997, the US Navy had 312 ships on its roster, to 101 for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).  Today, those number are 274 to 268.   While it is true that nearly 30% of the PLAN fleet is made up of older, outmoded vessels, it is also true that their fleet is concentrated in and around home waters, while the US Navy is divided among numerous global duty stations.   Both naval forces are supported by land-based forces – China from its mainland and the US from its network of bases in allied nations.  The US also enjoys the support of a wide array of allies both globally and locally in the Indo-Pacific.  Nonetheless, China is rapidly pursuing its goal of naval domination out to the Second Island Chain.  The PLAN may attain numerical superiority over US and allied nations before decade’s end; constrained by fiscal realities, the US will not be able to add ships, so it will have to rely on relatively cheap technological advancements such as unmanned vehicles, new generation long range missiles and other exotic fare to maintain hegemony over the Western Pacific.


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