James Holmes

US Turns A2/AD Guns on China?

Implements of land-based access denial are available. The US should seize it.

Naval Diplomat fellow traveler CDR Salamander is shooing away wacko birds this week. Foremost among these feathered fiends is Congressman Randy Forbes, chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Sal is exercised at the news that Representative Forbes wrote to General Ray Odierno, the U.S. Army chief of staff, inquiring whether ground-pounders plan to procure anti-ship missiles for forward deployment to the Western Pacific.

Prithee, let Odierno’s answer be yes. Sal takes Forbes to task for contemplating placing fixed defenses along North American coastlines, in a throwback to the bad old days of the 19th century. Great as they were, founders like Thomas Jefferson thought forts and coastal gunnery were enough to safeguard U.S. maritime interests. The belief that seagoing commerce can be protected on the cheap was rudely debunked during the War of 1812. Or should have been. Despite some rousing tactical successes in the early stages of that half-forgotten war, Great Britain’s Royal Navy smothered American commerce by the end. British men-of-war imposed an unbreakable blockade. A battle fleet is the republic’s stoutest — forward, and mobile — rampart.

U.S. history, then, has indeed been unkind to passive, immobile defenses. But wait. Though Forbes does represent part of Hampton Roads, Virginia, one doubts he means to position missile launchers to rake the entryway from the Atlantic Ocean into the Chesapeake Bay. No latter-day Jefferson is he. Instead the doughty congressman is urging the army to recover its nautical heritage. Army troopers long defended such Pacific redoubts as Oahu and the Philippines. During the Pacific War, General Douglas MacArthur’s expeditionary forces lumbered across the South Pacific. 70 years ago this month, in fact, MacArthur fulfilled his pledge to return to the Philippines. The Battle of Leyte Gulf put an exclamation point on the South Pacific campaign.

Sea soldiers should put their stamp on Asian history again. The logic is simple. Representative Forbes notes that a team from RAND found last year that most sea lanes crisscrossing the Western Pacific and China seas pass through narrow defiles — straits and narrow seas — that could fall under the shadow of missile batteries. (The congressman callously forgets that a think tank or two hit upon the idea long before those johnny-come-latelies.) China is trying to mount macro-scale anti-access defenses against the U.S. Navy, deterring or defeating efforts to succor U.S. allies in times of strife. Why not repay the favor on the micro level — helping allies deny China’s navy and merchant fleet access to their own waters?

Turnabout’s fair play. Implements of land-based access denial are available. The Japanese armed forces have already fielded mobile anti-ship missiles suitable for deployment to coastal sites or islands. Improved shipkillers are in the works. That sounds like a cost-effective way to compete in the Far East. Until U.S. defense manufacturers deliver a shore-based anti-ship missile, why not buy foreign? Let’s arm U.S. ground troops with existing weaponry, station them at key points in the region, and listen for the weeping and gnashing of teeth from Beijing. Sweet music!!!

Wacko birds may not be as demented as wacko lizards think they are.