Tags: China, Navy, overseas bases, PLAN, QDR
Tomorrow (1 February 2010) brings the much anticipated release of the first of three documents of significant import to the US Navy – the QDR for 2010 (Draft-QDR-2010-predecisional). Language in the draft highlights China as one of several state-actors that have acquired significant anti-access capabilities over the past ten years. Additionally, it points out that:
Chinese military doctrine calls for pre-emptive strikes against an intervening power early in a conflict and places special emphasis on crippling the adversary’s ISR, command and control, and information systems. (draft QDR 2010, p. 32)
The report also notes China’s expanding reach and growing interests abroad, and underscores the need for a two-track approach of engagement and prudent planning:
China’s rapid development of global economic power and political influence, combined with an equally rapid expansion of military capabilities, is one of the central and defining elements of the strategic landscape in the Asian region and, increasingly, global security affairs. China has begun to articulate new military roles, missions, and capabilities in support of its larger regional and global interests, which could enable it to play a more substantial role in the delivery of international public goods. The United States welcomes the rise of a strong, prosperous, and successful China that plays a greater role in world affairs. However, that future is not fixed, and while the United States will seek to maximize positive outcomes and the common benefits that can accrue from cooperation, prudence requires that the United States balance against the possibility that cooperative approaches may fail to prevent disruptive competition and conflict.
The limited transparency of China’s military modernization – in terms of its capabilities, intentions, and investments – remains a source of growing concern in the region, which increases the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation. Our relationship with China must therefore be multi-dimensional in scope and undergirded by a process of building and deepening strategic trust that seeks to reinforce and expand on areas of mutual interest, while sustaining open channels of communication to discuss sources of friction in the bilateral relationship, and manage and ultimately reduce the risk that is inherent to any relationship as broad and complex as that shared by the United States and China. (draft QDR 2010, p. 53)
This is all well and good, especially in light of writings such as this which advocates a very Mahanian view of the Chinese Navy and establishment of overseas bases. Justification, according to the writer, Dr. Shen Dengli, rests on 4 strategic precepts of China’s overseas interests:
With the continuous expansion of China’s overseas business, the governments are more accountable for protecting the overseas interests. There are four responsibilities: the protection of the people and fortunes overseas; the guarantee of smooth trading; the prevention of the overseas intervention which harms the unity of the country and the defense against foreign invasion. The purpose of the tasks is to deter the threats posed on our legal interests.
Guaranteeing these precepts is a function of a comprehensive approach to power that includes a military with wide-ranging capabilities from defense in close to the ability to strike at the attacker’s homeland. We see this being accomplished with the previously mentioned anti-access capabilities China is developing to deny the ability of naval and
air-forces to conduct operations at and inside the first island chain, and at the other extreme, China’s own ongoing nuclear force modernization. And the navy?
Obviously, navy is crucial in safeguarding the security of the country. When our country’s core interests are harmed, the navy is responsible to conduct
retaliatory attack including blocking the enemy’s sea traffic.
Wrapping into a discussion of piracy, the author notes that the concern for overseas bases rests not on piracy issues of Somalia (at the core of the current discussion), but rather a greater threat posed to China’s trade routes:
When the public discusses overseas military bases, they refer to the supply base for the navy escorting the ships cruising in the Gulf of Aden and Somali. The discussion shows people’s enthusiasm in defending the interests of the country. Yet their worries are not the most important reasons for the setup of an overseas military base.
It is true that we are facing the threat posed by terrorism, but different from America, it is not a critical issue. The real threat to us is not posed by the pirates but by the countries which block our trade route. (emphasis added)
The threats also include secessionism outside the Chinese mainland. The situation requires us be able to hit the vulnerable points of our potential opponents by restricting their international waterway. So we need to set up our own blue-water navy and to rely on the overseas military bases to cut the supply costs.
Whom might those countries be? Obviously the US, especially in the case of the “secessionism” issue (code for the Taiwan issue). India too is a major consideration and there has been considerable discussion after the TBM shot earlier this month that it was more directed at India than the US. Of course, India’s announcement toward month’s end of intent to continue with the Agni-III and -IV IRBM and ICBM with language directed at China may have been more than a tacit response as well. The fact that a considerable portion of China’ overseas routes transit the Indian Ocean, especially those tied to her energy imports from Africa and the MidEast combined with India’s avowed intent to expand her presence and denial capabilities in that region underscores not only China’s security concerns, but those of the US as well.
The implications for US naval forces of a widespread network of overseas bases stems not just from the enabling action provided to Chinese naval forces overseas, but a more subtle one of its relationship to the Chinese maritime reconnaissance strike complex (MRSC). An MRSC is geared to the near-real time localization and tracking of high value units. information is fed into the complex from anyone of a number of different nodes – maritime patrol aircraft, satellites (ELINT and IMINT), OTH-R and plain old HUMINT, whether it be from a fishing fleet or a port authority from an overseas base that supports said fleet. It all feeds into a command and control system that in turn, provides the kind of granular targeting accuracy necessary to employ anti-access weapons such as ASBMs or ASCM carrying subs to counter those forward-deployed naval forces. This constitutes a direct challenge to one of the four strategic imperatives cited in the QDR, “prevent and deter attack” and specifically to one of the central tenets to that imperative, namely forward-stationed and rotationally deployed U.S. forces.
The past few years there has been a bit of internecine warfare underway between OSD, the Joint Staff, COCOMs and Services over the future direction and composition of forces. One side has focused on the wars underway in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the more nebulous GWOT and the other on more conventional threats (read: China) and Major Combat Operations, or MCO. The competition, of course, is over scare resources, be they current forces (and especially those High Demand/Low Density ones like ISR platforms) or funding for future forces. The release of the 2010 QDR ostensibly settles that dispute in a not-quite Solomonesque way of dividing up focus and direction by first highlighting the need to win the wars we are currently engaged in, but also preventing and deterring more conventional conflict. The reality of the situation is that the “dog closest to the sled” will get the most attention and focus on threats over the horizon will necessarily blur in the interim. The inherent danger in such a practice is the strategic space it gives potential adversaries to maneuver and accomplish long-term goals – like establishing overseas bases. A navy that faces declining numbers and increasing requirements (as of the end of January, over one-half of all ships in the Navy’s inventory were deployed) will be significantly challenged already. Having to face the prospect of an enlarged and robust MRSC will only exacerbate that condition.
(crossposted at http://steeljawscribe.com)