Reality Check: US Naval Primacy Is Not Guaranteed

0 Likes
27 comments

Beware of straw men. This is an elementary lesson we professorial types try to get across to our students when discussing essay-writing techniques. By all means, try to identify people whose views differ from yours and answer their criticisms up front. Counterargument, rebuttal. This is a routine part of give-and-take, and a required element of Naval War College essays. The trick is always to present critics’ views fully and fairly. Never quote them selectively, or oversimplify their views. Doing so sets up a caricature, a straw man to be batted down.

Plus, a straw man may read your work — and hit back.

Reporter Otto Kreisher could use a refresher on such finer points. Writing in Air Force Magazine, Kreisher bludgeons a platoon of straw men. The topic: China’s anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). According to him, “The DF-21D missile is a legitimate threat to carrier-based airpower, but at times the concern has bordered on hysteria.”

Hysteria? Someone must be weeping. Teeth are being gnashed, and garments rent asunder!! Well, no. Here’s a sample of what Kreisher considers histrionics, from Naval Diplomat coauthor Toshi Yoshihara. To quote his quotation, this “professor at the Naval War College, in 2010 wrote, ‘China can reach out and hit the US well before the US can get close enough to the mainland to hit back …. It underscores more broadly that the US Navy no longer rules the waves as it has since the end of World War II.’” Sounds ominous, as though our navy has been evicted from Asia.

Take the point about weapons ranges first. A carrier air wing’s range is about 600 nautical miles, the Pentagon’s low-end guesstimate for the ASBM about 900 nautical miles. My back-of-the-envelope arithmetic indicates that … an operational ASBM will be able to reach out and hit U.S. naval forces well before they get close enough to the mainland to hit back. Three hundred miles before, to be precise. That’s a lot of water to traverse under fire — especially when the defender combines ASBMs with subs, patrol craft, and tactical aircraft packing anti-ship cruise missiles. Anything hyperbolic about grade-school math?

Now to the point about American naval mastery. Through the wonders of Google, you can trace Toshi’s (and fellow worrywart Patrick Cronin’s) words to a Fox News story. Kreisher quotes Toshi accurately … except he leaves out the punchline. To wit: “The stark reality is that sea control cannot be taken for granted anymore.”

That puts a different gloss on matters, doesn’t it? The purported hyperbole comes down to a simple range calculation and an observation that the U.S. Navy can no longer assume it holds absolute command of the waters washing up against a rising great power’s shores. American mariners, that is, may have to fight for control of the sea. That adversary’s shore-based weaponry outranges their shipboard weaponry — and will score some hits, probabilities being what they are.

If that’s hysteria, it’s hysteria shared by commanders since time immemorial.

Comments
27
Sentry
December 9, 2013 at 08:34

Lol… The concept that you can launch a df21 at a carrier battle group and presume it would not be regarded as a nuclear strike is beyond stupidity.
Simple fact , one df21 means a nuclear response.

IoFoZo
December 14, 2013 at 06:59

I don’t know Sentry, perhaps it cannot be considered a nuclear strike is because its not a nuclear strike !

Geodkyt
December 18, 2013 at 00:47

Since the DF-21 family has a 300kt nuclear warhead option, and there is no way of confirming what warhead options may be installed on a ballistic missile that has a launch profile consistant with EITHER nuclear or conventional warheads (the DF-21D profile only looks different in terminal acquisition), the only reasonable assumption is to assume it is a nuclear strike.

For a variety of reasons, the most probable response would be an IMMEDIATE “launch on warning” strike at the attacking nation with ICBMs. . . long before the DF-21D goes into terminal acquisition and reveals itself as a (probable — the Chinese COULD refit the warheads to nuclear ones to offset any targeting degradation or ability of CVN point defense intercepting).

So, yes — a DF-21D launch on a US CVN would likely result in AT LEAST an immediate counterforce launch (using ICBMs, likely from USN SSBNs) on China’s ICBM capability. . . including any SSBNs the US could localize.

And China knows that, and is NOT irrational. The DF-21D is a propaganda weapon of little to no effectiveness against a nation with a decent nuclear counterforce capability (especially ICBM).

Geodkyt
December 18, 2013 at 00:59

Wrong. The DF-21 family is nuclear capable, and the Chinese could easily fit a DF-21D with a nuclear warhead without bothering to send Jane’s or The Diplomat a press release first. (Such an option would have significant tactical advantages, including overcoming terminal targeting issues, defeating CVN point defence, or a simple mission kill through shock effect destroying the air wing on deck and in the hangers.) The launch profile would look the same as the DF-21 vairants we already KNOW have 300kt warhead options.

A CVN is a strategic asset — a nuclear attack on one would be seen as a significant counterforce strike, therefore a significant counterforce strike would be ordered on initial launch detection, targeting ALL of China’s long range nuclear assets (land based ICBMs, long range bomber bases, any SSBNs that could be adequately localized, etc.).

The Chinese government KNOWS this, and is basically rational. . . therefore they are HIGHLY unlikely to target the US (or by extension, ANY CV from a counterforce capable nuclear nation like the UK, France, or Russia).

The DF-21D is a “propaganda” weapon, of little utility against a nation like the US, UNLESS the Chinese are launching a nuclear war. But it is really handy to intimidate ignorant politicians in major First World nations and boost Chinese prestige with ignorant politicians in any lesser nation. Since such propaganda coups have been regularly used by nations like Russia (including the old Soviet Union), North Korea, Communist China, and, yes, the United States itself, it scarsely beggars the imagination that the PRC would invest in such an asset, despite it EXTREMELY limited utility and high risk of retaliation if actually used in combat.

geodkyt
December 18, 2013 at 01:01

Exactly. The DF-21 family is nuclear capable, and the Chinese could easily fit a DF-21D with a nuclear warhead without bothering to send Jane’s or The Diplomat a press release first. (Such an option would have significant tactical advantages, including overcoming terminal targeting issues, defeating CVN point defence, or a simple mission kill through shock effect destroying the air wing on deck and in the hangers.) The launch profile would look the same as the DF-21 vairants we already KNOW have 300kt warhead options.

A CVN is a strategic asset — a nuclear attack on one would be seen as a significant counterforce strike, therefore a significant counterforce strike would be ordered on initial launch detection, targeting ALL of China’s long range nuclear assets (land based ICBMs, long range bomber bases, any SSBNs that could be adequately localized, etc.).

The Chinese government KNOWS this, and is basically rational. . . therefore they are HIGHLY unlikely to target the US (or by extension, ANY CV from a counterforce capable nuclear nation like the UK, France, or Russia).

The DF-21D is a “propaganda” weapon, of little utility against a nation like the US, UNLESS the Chinese are launching a nuclear war. But it is really handy to intimidate ignorant politicians in major First World nations and boost Chinese prestige with ignorant politicians in any lesser nation. Since such propaganda coups have been regularly used by nations like Russia (including the old Soviet Union), North Korea, Communist China, and, yes, the United States itself, it scarsely beggars the imagination that the PRC would invest in such an asset, despite it EXTREMELY limited utility and high risk of retaliation if actually used in combat.

Bill
December 27, 2013 at 01:44

Its so nice know that the Chinese military’s leaders’ minds could be so easily read that you guys know what they’re going to do before they actually do it.

Its a case of he knows that you know that he knows etc etc, so in effect its up to the Americans to interpret as they see fit and I don’t think they’d be dumb enough to start a nuclear war just by missiles launched towards an overseas depoloyed carrier group. I’d only see them doing a nuclear response if the missiles were launched towards the US mainland, and even then they’d know what type of missile was launched and if it was the DF21D, then they’d know that it can not possibly reach the US mainland since it only has about a 2000 km range and you need a 10000+ km missile just to even reach Alaska.

Whitehall
December 7, 2013 at 05:05

At Midway, the Army’s B-17 out-ranged the IJN’s carrier based planes. However, their attack was unsuccessful and it took carrier-based aircraft of equal range to the adversary to deliver victory (and some luck1)

As a general rule, the longer the range of a weapon, the less the efficacy.

Our sailors are certainly concerned but some of the hysteria is just a way of getting attention to get funding for developing better countermeasures.

Bob
December 7, 2013 at 04:09

A couple of missiles and anti-access technology doesn’t really help when the U.S. has China encircled by naval bases, airbases, and friendly allies from Vietnam up to Korea. PLAN would have a tough enough time dealing with Taiwan + Japan + Korea much less USN & USAF in theatre. Let’s not forget as well, B2 or B52 cruise missile equipped and surface to surface missiles the u.s. would deploy on chinese missile sites (or via submarine) before deploying a carrier taskforce within range. If the chinese wanted to breakout of their coastal region, where are they going to go and with what force are they going to do it. Safe to say U.S. naval dominance of the Pacific is pretty well assured for at least 2 more decades. (Has anyone even ventured to ask the question with What fuel would the Chinese be able to supply a large overseas fleet during conflict, they aren’t the U.S. with domestic production & a strategic reserve. So many reasons why a single weapon system is Not a game changer, not to mention if all this even happened and they did sink a carrier, at that point that means tactical nukes in theatre, possibly ICBMs deployed in theatre…

madskills
December 7, 2013 at 01:52

The world is changing, what a surprise. A single aircraft carrier is not going to control the coastline of China. We have bombers and missiles we can send to degrade capabilities and that would happen first. So lets breathe in and out slooooowly.

Anon
December 6, 2013 at 20:26

Mr. James,

An aircraft carrier in South China Sea would not be a fixed island like Philippines or Taiwan or Hainan. It would be moving at 30 knots per hour. If you want to locate the carrier, you would need about three to four constellations of more than 40 satellites in each band, which means minimum 140 satellites for entire sea. I don’t think even US has so many military satellites in LEO/HEO. So how would this missile find its targetting data? And what about the precision requirements? You also assume that the air cover or missile cover over carrier including its E2D Hawkey would be simply waiting for the missile to come and hit?? What about the APAR radar and its range? What are all those PAVE PAWS radars installed for?

If this missile is really so successful, then why Russia did not develop it so far?? or Even US did not develop anything like that even during COLD WAR !!

You yellow tech-handicapped experts, can’t you even do some basic sensor and range calculation before posting such nonsense. Or is there some agenda behind all this talking up of Chinese Navy during the sequestration?

Ryokai
December 6, 2013 at 08:21

As David Farragut, Rear Admiral of the Union Navy said during the American Civil War in the Battle of Mobile Bay, ” Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead”. Seriously though, there are ways of foiling ship-based missiles; radar-jamming, false signatures, close-in defence.

American Patriot
December 6, 2013 at 10:36

My point exactly. Has this DF-21D ever been able to hit a rapidly moving target that has access to radar jamming, false signatures, anti-missile missiles, electronic warfare devices, anti missile cannons etc

American Patriot
December 6, 2013 at 08:07

I only have one question to ask: has China’s DF-21D been tested against an actual target before? I remember reading an article here stating it was successfully tested, but that was against a stationary target in the middle of a desert.

I just want some proof that this thing actually has the ability to hit a rapidly moving target that is paired with anti missile defense systems as well.

Drive by
December 6, 2013 at 17:17

Just be patient. The Chinese usually test things to show their displeasure at critical moments. For example, when the U.S. sold Patriot missiles to Taiwan, China promptly conducted a mid-course interception test with their anti-ballistic missile missile. China will test their DF21Ds in due course, when opportunity rises.

MYK
December 7, 2013 at 15:47

As I recall, the only evidence is that China drew an outline of a US carrier in the Goby desert and then blew a couple of craters in the center of it caught by google maps one day.

Who knows if the Chinese just blew up some huge mines or actually test fired their DF-21D on a non-moving target in the Goby desert?

Kinda like the Chinese releasing photos of their impressive J-31 for the world to see, only to hear afterwards that the J-31 is only for export sales. Translation to me equals; “This J-31 isn’t up to par with F-35, so maybe we just sell it as an export fighter to Pakistan like the JF-17.”

After all, the PLAAF hasn’t purchased a single one of the Chinese version of the JF-17 which is called the FC-1 in China.

I mean, if these aircraft aren’t even good enough for the PLAAF, just what makes them believe there are other buyers of such aircraft besides the Pakistani’s?

Pentagon Analyst
December 7, 2013 at 02:46

Naval War College will fail students if they set up a caricature, a straw man in their essays, it seems the Pentagon is full of students flunked out of Naval War College, because DF-21D as an ASBM is a caricature and a straw man they created.

Tony
December 6, 2013 at 05:54

The Chinese ASBM has not been demonstrated to be capable of hitting a moving target.

Drive by
December 6, 2013 at 17:10

Your evidence?

JB
December 10, 2013 at 04:49

Just show the world China’s ably hitting precisely some moving target at sea like the Americans have just done with their autonomous LRASM having successfully scored a direct hit on a mobile maritime target. Words alone are just not enough, pal.

TDog
December 6, 2013 at 05:47

Mr. Holmes,

There’s a lot of mixed signals being sent here. Not one week ago, you wrote an article basically saying China is no threat, that its achievements were not only overblown, but also seriously beneath anyone calling themselves a military. If I’m not mistaken, you summed up the total of their achievements with one word: “Yawn.”

Now we’re supposed to take as given that China’s naval power is a threat to American naval primacy? That we may have to fight China to maintain supremacy of the seas is the lesson you wish to impart now… which strikes me as oddly timed to say the least.

You contradict yourself and with that one must wonder what your motivations are. You may claim nuance or complexity to the issue to deflect claims that your articles border on the simplistic almost every single time you publish something, but the fact is that your inconsistencies do not reveal a mind finely attuned to detail so much as one given to chaotic whims.

The common theme in your body of work is not expertise in the field of foreign or military affairs, but jingoistic feel-good-about-America’s-military ad copy coated with a thin veneer of academic insight. One week China is a pathetic joke that we can all laugh at, the next it’s the paramount challenger to our status as the dominant power in the Pacific that we may have to fight. I suppose the latter position is meant as a sop to those who feel that America is best represented when it adopts the victim’s mentality, but when it’s mixed with overweening pride it is hard to figure out where your convictions truly lay.

Oro Invictus
December 6, 2013 at 08:26

I fail to see such mixed signals; last article, he was noting that the PLAAN has yet to prove, under duress, the many things the CPC and its mouthpieces claim it is capable of while, this article, he is noting that sentiment of a similar vain (that, by some unknown virtue, the US is destined to remain primate in the Western Pacific) should be discouraged vis-a-vis the US.

Indeed, a running theme in your comments seems to be that any article which is (perceived) to be overly positive for the US is nothing but “ego-boosting” and “self-assurance that [the US] is still the best”. I really don’t mean to be rude here, but it seems as if you’re constructing (in a fit of irony, given the content of this article) a straw-man argument that anything significantly positive about the US is nothing but “self-congratulatory rubbish”. You’ll note this isn’t the first time I’ve raised such concerns in that respect about your comments.

This isn’t to say you don’t have a point here, but if you could point to examples of where he is being too self-congratulatory or the like, it would make it much easier to see where you are coming from here and give weight to what you’re saying.

Drive by
December 6, 2013 at 17:08

@TDog,

Well said. I would use one word to describe Western corporate main stream media’s narrative about China: schizophrenic. The author is no exception. I guess it all depends on his mood of the day: Chinese military is either grossly incompetent, or it is the number one treat to the USN.

Historian
December 7, 2013 at 02:13

Actually the Western corporate main stream media is doing nothing new, what they expressed is called Orientalism which is a prevalent thought/view of China starting in 19th century, there were a lot of books on Orientalism written by the western scholars and philosophers in the 19th century, it formed the legitimacy and legal theory and basis for the West to act upon it against China as well as all other non-Westerners on the moral high ground.

The Orientalism is deeply ingrained in the Western culture, particular the elite of the West, they express Orientalism so naturally like breathing air. The western main stream media, think tanks, academies, politicians, etc. are just continuing what their forebears have passed onto them and carrying on their culture.

Teemu Ruskola’s Legal Orientalism is the lock to the West’s behaviour toward China.

9 dashes, 4 dishes, 1 soup
December 6, 2013 at 19:53

It’s not that hard if you put your mind to it. China is both pathetic and dangerous.

Intentions matter. China’s stated intentions toward the United States make it dangerous. Actually, so too does the pathetic incompetence of its government.

See how easy that was?

Major Staffenberg
December 9, 2013 at 18:57

Mr Holmes is just another American Nazi “Goebbels” whose propaganda writings are like prostitutes for sale.

BeWay
December 6, 2013 at 02:48

Plain silly.

America squandered all its wealth indulging in endless wars non-stop for the last half century and yet we have soothsayer who wrote this article, obstinately think that it’s still not enough. Lest they forgot that America is too broke to fight another battle what more with their banker, China. With strategic thinker like Holmes, no wonder America lost more than it gain anything worthwhile.

Bobby
December 10, 2013 at 17:08

Just a reminder : China is just a small investor, voluntarily bought the US-T bond (Just 8% of US national debt), not a banker. The real banker of the US is the American individuals & American institutions (70% of US debt). So, don’t boast too much! The stark reality is China has to earn dollars but America just creates them. Who’d be broke in an arm race, if any? And don’t forget hundred millions of Chinese people have still been living in abject poverty w/o enough food for their family.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
required
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment
required

Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief