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How should the US respond to the Chinese naval build up?

April 6, 2012

Retired Vice Admiral Doug Crowder, writing in the US Naval Institute’s April issue, offers a very perceptive take on the military – and especially the naval – relations between the US and China.  While many observers keep calling on China to be more transparent in their goals and intentions, Admiral Crowder sees a very clear picture – China is building an aggressive maritime military presence that it built for war, not for the mere protection of lines of communication:

The Houbei-class guided-missile fast-attack craft: These are of a modern design, about 225-ton vessels with long-range fourth-generation antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs). In fact, it is only that one mission for which these vessels are really designed. Recent press reports indicate that probably up to 83 of them are in commission, and this force will likely grow to about 100. Their combat range is nominally only about 300 nautical miles. The eight on-board ASCMs, the YJ-83s, have a range of 135-plus nautical miles, providing a potent offensive punch. So to recap, a force of 800 ASCMs could deploy on small, fast, cheap single-mission vessels. How much transparency is required to understand what their mission is?

It is the US, Crowder maintains, which needs to be more transparent.  US policy statements are written very carefully in language that strains not to offend the Chinese and instead hopes to prod them to more openness.  Crowder – and he represents a growing segment of the strategic community – believes the US must start more forcefully pressing China on her goals, and what she intends to do with her rapidly growing war fighting capacity.  China needs to be put on the spot – not that she will give us the answers that we want to hear, but to make it more clear to our allies in the region China is making an absolute play for regional hegemony, and that if they want to resist it, then they need to engage in their own build ups and to support more US activity in the region.

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