How A2/AD Can Defeat China
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How A2/AD Can Defeat China


Most of the debate that has surrounded the emergence of China as a major military player in the Asia-Pacific has focused on the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) development of an anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) strategy and its potential impact on a U.S.-led regional security architecture that remains anchored to old concepts.

As China expands its military capabilities and, alongside those, its claims to various territories within the region, the PLA has developed and fielded a variety of platforms that are intended to deter and delay external intervention by U.S. forces in, say, an armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait. The much-discussed Dong Feng 21D (DF-21D) anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), which could theoretically threaten a U.S. carrier battle group on its way to the region, is at the core of such a strategy.

Far less discussed, however, is the fact that China’s A2/AD strategy, or the likelihood that it will directly affect the course of a conflict, is contingent on a U.S. or allied response along conventional lines. In other words, China’s deterrence/denial efforts assume two things: first, that outside forces would seek to deploy closer to China in order to conduct operations; and second, that such deployments would involve traditional warships, aircraft carriers, fighter aircraft and bombers — in other words, everything that the ill-defined Air-Sea Battle strategy promises to include.

This “asymmetrical” approach provides China with a relatively inexpensive way to counter an opponent’s superior platforms: the PLA can afford to build and deploy several DF-21D launchers, while the U.S. would be loath to risk losing modern surface combatants, let alone a multi-billion-dollar aircraft carrier.

Now a new report by the RAND Corporation proposes turning the tables on China by creating a regional A2/AD alliance, relying principally on anti-ship missiles (ASM), to impose a “far blockade” on China should the latter threaten regional security. Under the plan explored in Employing Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles in the Western Pacific, U.S. forces and partner countries would respond to Chinese aggression by deploying land-based anti-ship cruise missiles with operational ranges of between 100 km and 200 km at various chokepoints — among them the Strait of Malacca, the Straits of Sunda and Lombok and the Java Sea Routes, waters between Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines, as well as sea areas between Japan and South Korea — to keep the PLA Navy (PLAN) vessels (and presumably merchant ships) bottled inside the first island chain.

The presence of such missiles, the report argues, would undermine the ability of PLAN warships, transport vessels, and amphibious craft to safely carry out sea operations in those areas while denying them access into the West Pacific. In addition, the size of the aggregate territory involved in the proposed alliance (optimally Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and perhaps Australia) as well as the number of islets on which ASM launchers could be dispersed, would severely challenge the PLA’s ability to locate such systems and render them inoperable using ballistic missiles, air strikes or sabotage.

By resorting to such a plan, small regional powers would be in a position to wage their own A2/AD strategy against China and to threaten, at a relative low cost, more formidable and far more expensive Chinese naval platforms such as warships, landing helicopter docks, and carriers.

However, creating a multinational ASM strategy would not be without its challenges, nor can its formation be taken for granted. Although a number of ASM systems are currently available and their acquisition within the financial means of even the weakest of the partners involved, their effectiveness would depend on the ability of member states to also receive cueing and targeting data from U.S. sensors, which creates challenges (by no means insurmountable) in terms of ensuring that all the platforms involved can communicate.

Moreover, to avoid fostering the impression in Beijing that the U.S. and regional countries are seeking to keep it bottled in, ASM units probably could not be deployed permanently, and instead should be pre-positioned (presumably on U.S. territory) for rapid deployment amid rising tensions resulting from Chinese aggression or threat thereof. Access to heavy lift capabilities and operational airfields in partner countries would therefore be crucial elements for the success of this strategy.

For obvious reasons, proposing such an alliance would be controversial. Nor can it be assumed, as the report notes, that countries in China’s periphery would be willing to risk Beijing’s ire by joining the effort, unless conditions in the region deteriorate dramatically and the PLA’s posture becomes more aggressive than it is currently.

Moreover, an ASM component alone would be insufficient to ensure the ability of a member country to counter a Chinese attack. While “far blockade” would make the operations of the PLAN more difficult by denying its surface combatants the ability to expand beyond the first island chain or to approach enemy waters, it would have little value against other branches of the Chinese military, such as its air force and the Second Artillery Corps.

That said, as an instrument of deterrence, a flexible multinational ASM partnership could achieve much more, and at a much lower cost, than the longstanding approach of sales by the U.S. of highly expensive (and oftentimes vulnerable) conventional platforms like fighter aircraft and warships to regional allies.

lim hui
January 13, 2014 at 19:38

When a naval power like those is the US is used to project power, that is aggression. Why is the US navy keeps tailing China’s ships in its own backyard? Are the US military satelites not working properly? Is your tactics of ‘Divide and Conquer’ losing its charm? The US is the real threat to the Asia Pacific. As for other South East Asian countries, I think they still remember US is the real imperialist country with track records of agressions in: Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, almost Syria, some African countries and the list goes on. It’s funny the US think the world likes it whereas in reality the world hates the US, the world’s most rotten and hypocrite country.

December 4, 2013 at 00:55

It is funny to assume that other countries want to attack China. Just say Philippines put these anti ship missile (bought or as free gift) and use it to attack China, and managed to sink China navy ship. What will happened next? Of course retaliation, soon medium range ballastic missiles will rained down on Manila, all its airport and harbour. So unless you want a war with China, no one will ever tried to really use the missile, even if they had them (not to say that now they have none). Even a small country with only 10 million people like Iraq can killed 4000 the almighty American soldiers. Any attack on China navy will invite devastating counter attack on their cities, airports and harbours.

November 13, 2013 at 13:11

Yet you chinese people are just MAD (and i'm not talking about the doctrine, If You Know What I Mean) thinking you can resolve everything through nuclear weapons. You chinese people will cause a Terrible counterproductive effect in Asia: Nuclear Arms Race.

You mentioned the so-called MAD doctrine… But well, MAD doesn't avoid small-scale or limited armed conflicts… because MAD in itself prevents that both sides can resort to use WMD… Thus, forcing to limit their conflict in a more ''regular'' way.

If any chinese carrier is sunk, of course China would retaliate… But will avoid escalating things in a Stupid Manner in order to avoid a nuclear war. I must remind you that USA is developed not only in their East or West Coasts… But also Southern and Northern regions. If something happens in any coast, they have many other US states to relocate their population… and of course, They Have The Resources to do so… But what about China??… are you going to relocate dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of millions of chinese to the Himalayas? or to western regions… that year after year are becoming more desertified, or that are less capable to sustain  a huge inflow of people from the East Coast?. The mayority of Han Chinese live in the East Coast… no doubt they are going to pay a High Prize during a nuclear war with the US.

In brief, better cool your head, and think things properly. China will have to live with many challenges in Asia… but if they try to settle everything through nuclear threats, Beijing is going to find itself Totally surrounded by US allies in No Time. Regards~

December 7, 2013 at 13:38

Where does Russia locate? Not threatening to Russia national security?

December 25, 2013 at 22:43

Do you think how many us peple remain afterr nuclea war with china. And we are not your allies .

January 1, 2014 at 13:30

No worry, conventional warheads and airpower are adequate enough for incapacitating a small military force like the Philippians, as a retaliation.

November 13, 2013 at 13:08

This is but one of the tools in the Chinese arsenal though.  They play the long game, and there is no strict definition between war and peace.  And the land they fight for isn't native American territory, so there is really no saying how far the West would go to defend its Asian territories.  America is in serious economic trouble, has tons of money and industry invested in mainland China.  They will always talk large, but how much are they really going to come to the aid of an Asian ally in trouble.  Especially over disputes over outlying islands.  But again, that's China playing the long game.  They will slowly erode 20th century borders throughout Asia, so slow that you barely know it's happening until 20 years later the map looks different.  I seriously doubt they would make an over hostile move on any of the major nations, except perhaps Taiwan (if America buckled sufficiently as is caught up in cleaning up other messes its gotten itself into).  Americans, and the West in general, sees China as an up and coming threat, but I've lived in Asia long enough to know that they see history on a way longer timeline.  The West is worried about the next 20 years, China is hoping to see a redrawn Asian map in 100.

November 13, 2013 at 08:17

With all the hullabaloo about A2/AD I have to ask the question what all the fuss is about? When in history has a strictly defensive doctrine won a war? Never! Not even the first world war, which was a time when the power of defensive capabilities was further ahead of offensive capabilities than at any other time in history. Wars are won on the offensive. You may be able to hold an opponent at bay for a time but eventually your defences will be overcome or circumvented. China cannot hope to be the regional hegemon without possessing the most advanced power projection and offensive capabilities. Without the ability to push US forces out of the western pacific and Asia all the ASBM and other A2/AD tools in the kit are nothing more than the technologically advanced modern versions of barb wire, machine guns, sand bags and howitzers. The US is focused on power projection and the offensive because it can win a war. 

November 13, 2013 at 07:35


Are you kidding us? Please read up on world history before commenting.

1. The entire South Pacific is asking for US to help due to China's agression.

2. Yes, Tibet, Mongols, Germany, Japan and many other countries invaded China in the past, but China ultimately invaded many countries after WW2. And please don't insult us by saying that people who don't speak your language/culture are part of your country.

(1) Invasion of East Turkestan – 1949
(2) Invasion of Tibet -1950
(3) Quemoy and Matsu – 1954-1958
(4) Sino-India Border War – 1962
(5) Sino-Soviet Clashes – 1969-1978
(6) Paracel Islands – 1979
(7) Invasion of Vietnam – 1979
(8) South China Sea -1988-9

January 1, 2014 at 13:16

Brilliantly well said!!! Thought Apaches, Kiowas, French, Spanish, Canadians, Mexicans, Hawaiians and Guam are of different cultures…hm…so are Cubans, Grenadians, Panamanians, Iraqis, Yugoslavians, Afghans…probably…Iranians??? :P

November 13, 2013 at 04:57

China does not have an "A2/AD" strategy – this is a U.S. term derived from our own joint doctine.  However, I agree that China definitely does not want any "third-party" intervening in what China considers its internal affairs.  The annual DOD report on China's military power more precisely calls what you have refered to as A2/AD as "countering third-party (or powerful enemy) intervention."  The "third-party" for most situations involving conflict with China includes the U.S. and its Asia-Pacific allies.

average chinese
November 13, 2013 at 04:22

"By resorting to such a plan, small regional powers would be in a position to wage their own A2/AD strategy against China and to threaten, at a relative low cost, more formidable and far more expensive Chinese naval platforms such as warships, landing helicopter docks, and carriers."

What kind of Cool-Aid are you drinking? Do you honestly believe that Chinese would sit idly and accept the sinking of a Chinese Aircraft Carrier by a missile from any Asian country?

Did you read that a terrible joke by ABC and Jimmy Kimmel — "Kill everyone in China" or "Shall we allow Chinese to live" not only promoted tens of thousands of Chinese American to petition White House and boycott ABC but provoked Chinese government to reveal its nuclear sub fleet for the 1st time in 40 years and all the official news channels to boast (sort of ) that it can wipe out the entire West Coast and East Coast population centers in a 2nd strike nuclear retaliation?


If a terrible racist joke can bring out the worst of nuclear Chinese retaliation plans, can you imagine the wrath of 1.4 billion Chinese after the sinking of a single Chinese Aircraft Carrier? and do you honestly believe that after such an attack Chinese would honor its so-called "no-first-use" nuclear policy and do not immediately, nuclearly destroy any Asian nation that attacked? and do you honestly believe that Chinese would actually be afraid of American nuclear umbrella, with Chinese nuclear parity and MAD capability almost in place?

roger in florida
November 13, 2013 at 03:35

This is very dangerous talk. Any confrontation between US and China that leads to war will be nuclear from the start. China will not be pushed around by any Western power and in fact the Chinese military is eager to take on a Western adversary and defeat them in order to make up for centuries of humiliation. China will blast all A2/AD assetts and then dare the US to respond with nuclear against Chinese mainland. What US govt. will do that, incurring 100 million+ US casualties over a few uninhabited rocks in the East China Sea. If you think the outcry against a "strike of no significance" against Syria was an aberration, wait until a very stupid US govt. risks getting the US into a full scale nuclear war over Asian issues of no consequence whatsoever to the US population.

Attitudes like those expressed in the aricle and repeated through numerous military outlets only proves the need to immediately cut US military spending by 50%.

James Tarsney
November 13, 2013 at 00:57

Has the Rand Corporation calculated how many minutes it would be between the outbreak of war and the decision to use nuclear weapons?  Five, six minutes tops.  The whole discussion has a Dr Strangelove air.

November 12, 2013 at 21:02

Something like this?

Japan Putting Missiles On Pacific Gateway Islands

…The Global Times newspaper, which is close to the ruling Communist Party, reported on its front page Thursday that Japan’s decision to bring the missiles to Miyako was “an unprecedented move that experts say is targeted at blocking the Chinese navy”.

“The missile deployment is mainly set against China and it can pose real threats to the Chinese navy,” Li Jie, an expert on China’s navy, told the paper…

November 12, 2013 at 17:21

There is one major difference which the author failed to note. Chinese A2/AD is designed to counter US's fleet at distance of up to 2,000 km. It meant China can strike US fleet, but US cannot retaliate due to the distance.  The proposed mini-A2/AD is only 200km, which mean they are all within range of numerous type of Chinese missiles from the mainland. Tell me, honestly, the two A2/AD are the same???

talking points
November 12, 2013 at 16:42

bunch of chat room generals. 

talking points
November 12, 2013 at 16:41

A2/AD can be used by anyone against anyone else. this strategy assumes China will attack these countries. China will not.

of couse if any of these countries attacks China, China will be justified to start a war with them. So it might be a good thing for these countries to have a2/ad capability. they might use it agains US in certain situations.

Devindra Sethi
November 12, 2013 at 16:27

The Rand Corporation study envisages MMCB's in my opinion. These mobile missile coast batteries, say type Brahmos, made in INDIA, with a range of 300kms, can effectively lock in the PLAN. A frigate similarly armed and prowling say in EEZ of ASEAN nations,in South China Sea / East Sea, would further affect the warplans of the PLAN. Brahmos has LACM capability too. This could drive back units of DF-21. The air version of BRAMHOS missile would be the last nail in the coffin of the DF-21 units. With supersonic, sea skimming, flight capability, current AMD systems cannot prosecute this small missile fired at long ranges, by SU30MKI / MIG29K fighters. Nirbhay missile too will be in the armoury soon. All in all ASEAN nations have to focus on their requirements and acquire such capabilities from India. Vietnam is taking such steps to protect its territorial waters and EEZ. Phillipines is looking to acquire 2 stealth frigates from India, type project 17.  

November 12, 2013 at 16:04

1. Are we seeing the world belongs to US when Americans can station its war appartus any where?

2. Since when does China become an aggressor when it has never invaded any nation?

The article sums up the attitude of a imperialist superpower, owing every one else and forbid the rise of a 2nd power. Arrogance will not help in our modern world and is bound to fail.

November 12, 2013 at 11:04

I agree. This is the way to counter economic attrition forced by China on others. A timely article as China further develops DF-21 and now has an operationally capable SLBM capable of hitting US territory.

However, it carries additional risks. Chinese warships may also deploy ASMs around chokepoints. For instance the Strait of Malacca, the Straits of Sunda and Lombok are important for other countries as well. By deploying warships carrying ASMs China can bring about a favorable response from the other party (brinkmanship and game theory).

China aggressively develops land routes to Europe and Asia covering most of its trade needs. China-Japan tarde route is immune from blockage as it chokes both nations. So a ASM strategy would worsen the strategic disposition of China's adversaries most. For instance Japan totally depends on sea routes! USA and Canada cannot supply to or import from Japan in the event of war or blockade at the same cost as through the Strait of Malacca.

But India is developing its own A2/AD capabilities targeting China.

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