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