The Debate

The A2/AD Hit List

The Diplomat’s Editor takes you on a ride through the best work on Anti-Access/Area-Denial.

Over the last several years, research into China’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) strategy in the Pacific Commons has swelled here in the United States and around the world. While such a strategy is certainly not new, interest in its development and evolution has skyrocketed as China and other nations deploy various weapons systems designed to negate the ability of a technologically advanced power to gain access to a conflict zone or contested geographic area during a time of open hostilities.

Just yesterday, in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) director noted that:

“They (China) are also augmenting the over 1,200 conventional short-range ballistic missiles deployed opposite Taiwan with a limited but growing number of conventional  armed, medium-range ballistic missiles, including the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile.”

Mention of the DF-21D, what many feel is the world’s most advanced anti-ship missile, or “carrier-killer,” is important. The weapon is fired from a mobile truck-mounted launcher into the atmosphere, with over-the-horizon (OTH) radar, satellite tracking and possibly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS); each likely providing guidance. The weapon also incorporates a maneuverable warhead. Such weapons systems would be crucial in any A2/AD strategy.

Many nations have invested in anti-ship weapons, but the DF-21D is quite possibly the most advanced system of its kind and has a range that “exceeds 1,500 km .” An August 2011 report by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense declared: “A small quantity of the missiles [was] produced and deployed in 2010, increasing the difficulty of military maneuvers in the region for the U.S. Army.”

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On the flipside, there are a wide range of opinions, ideas and theories as to the motivations, technologies and capabilities concerning China’s A2/AD strategy. Below are my top five articles published on the subject over the last decade. While by no means even close to comprehensive, there is a great deal of information on this subject and this is serves merely as a starting point. Please drop a line in the comment section on what articles, books, or monographs you would put on this list.

International SecurityIs China a Status Quo Power? By Alastair Iain Johnston– (2003, PDF) – “Many commentators wonder whether China is a status quo power that will continue to comply with regional and international norms or whether it is a revisionist power increasingly willing to challenge U.S. hegemony. Iain Johnston of Harvard University responds to the growing chorus of skeptics who contend that China is becoming a greater source of instability and offers evidence of Chinese behavior that, in some cases, suggests more status quo orientation. Johnston bases this conclusion on a set of indicators he uses to assess recent trends in China’s foreign policy.”

While not a direct link to A2/AD, there are some obvious connections that serve a good primer before delving into the subject.

RAND – Entering The Dragon’s Lair: Chinese Anti-Access Strategies and Their Implications for the United States (2007, Book or PDF):  While dated being a few years old, this was one of the first and most comprehensive attempts at covering the subject from various vantage points. This is one of the best places to start for anyone who is interested in the subject.

U.S. Naval War College Review – Using the Land to Control the Sea?  By Andrew Erickson and David D. Yang (2009, PDF) – “For China, the ability to prevent a U.S. carrier strike group from intervening in the event of a Taiwan Strait crisis is critical. Beijing’s immediate strategic concerns have been defi ned with a high level of clarity. The Chinese are interested in achieving an antiship ballistic missile (ASBM) capability because it offers them the prospect of limiting the ability of other nations, particularly the United States, to exert military influence on China’s maritime periphery, which contains several disputed zones of core strategic importance to Beijing.”

OrbisHow the United States Lost the Naval War of 2015 (2010, PDF) By James Kraska – “Years of strategic missteps in oceans policy, naval strategy and a force structure in decline set the stage for U.S. defeat at sea in 2015. After decades of double-digit budget increases, the People’s Liberation Army (Navy) was operating some of the most impressive systems in the world, including a medium-range ballistic missile that could hit a moving aircraft carrier and a super-quiet diesel electric submarine that was stealthier than U.S. nuclear submarines. Coupling this new asymmetric naval force to visionary maritime strategy and oceans policy, China ensured that all elements of national power promoted its goal of dominating the East China Sea. The United States, in contrast, had a declining naval force structured around 10 aircraft carriers spread thinly throughout the globe. With a maritime strategy focused on lower- order partnerships, and a national oceans policy that devalued strategic interests in freedom of navigation, the stage was set for defeat at sea. This article recounts how China destroyed the USS George Washington in the East China Sea in 2015. The political fallout from the disaster ended 75 years of U.S. dominance in the Pacific Ocean and cemented China’s position as the Asian hegemon.”

The Journal of Strategic StudiesChina’s Anti-Access Strategy in Historical and Theoretical Perspective By Thomas Mahnken (2011, Alas, paywall only) – “This article views China’s development of anti-access capabilities against the backdrop of the theory and history of military innovation. It begins with a discussion of the process of military innovation, as well as the indicators that may appear at different stages of that process. It then discusses the barriers to recognizing new ways of war and applies that framework to China’s development of advanced ballistic missiles, to include precision-guided conventional ballistic missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs). It concludes with several suggestions for how to improve the ability to recognize and understand foreign military innovation.”