As Fouled Anchor posted, don’t forget about cryptology and network security. What good are assets if the enemy can hack systems to disrupt communications and cause temporary (or lasting) confusion?

Meanwhile, Peter Singer of the Brookings Institute and author of Wired for War has posted an article on the Chinese plans to build an aircraft carrier. He observes:

First, their “new” carrier is not all that new. Actually, the Varyag was first laid down back in 1985. Originally planned for the Soviet fleet, it was never completed. Instead, at the Cold War’s end, it was scrapped of all its electronics and engines and sold off to be a floating casino. Even if the Chinese can refurbish it, at best they will be getting an old, untested ship that carries only a third as many planes as a U.S. carrier.

Similarly, the idea that the Chinese can build four new carriers over the next decade is less than realistic. It takes approximately six years to build one of our aircraft carriers, and we have been doing this for more than eight decades. By comparison, the biggest warship the Chinese have yet to build on their own is 17,000 tons, a quarter the size. More importantly, building a ship is not the same as operating it successfully.

I wonder if we should think of their aircraft carrier fleet as part of a sleight of hand trick. While attention is focused on the looming possibility of four aircraft carriers, we lose focus on the imminent threat of network disruption.

Given the costs of the carrier endeavor, I’m not sure this is intentional on the part of the Chinese or that the US Navy is even falling for the hocus pocus. But for blogosphere strategists, hopefully this is a useful paradigm for evaluating the threats.

Posted by Jeffrey Withington in Navy
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  • The PRC’s threats to the USN are asymetric in nature. Attack our communications, long range rocketry, quite subs, etc. PRC carriers are either air cover for expeditionary forces or bluff or both. The PLAN will play to our weaknesses, not strengths.

  • jim

    I’m skeptical the Chinese are so ingenious. Sure, they are investing in the obvious defenses against our military. The anti-access/area denial strategy is pretty straightforward.

    After that I think they are just copying us. They want to be the next Great Power. Great Powers have aircraft carriers. So they want some. People give the Chinese too much credit for being some sort of long term strategic geniuses. Their record for most of the past few centuries isn’t exactly impressive.

    • jwithington

      You’re probably right Jim that they want to copy us. The Washington Post has an article on how Protestantism is growing rapidly in China as

      America grew strong because it was Christian. The more Christian China becomes, the mightier it will be. If you want China to be a truly prosperous country, you must spread the word to nonbelievers. If you are a patriotic Chinese, you have to be a Christian.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    “If you are a patriotic Chinese, you have to be a Christian.”


    Now I’m worried. They’re on to us.

    At least we have a couple of million secret weapons left. Jewish sailors (Rickover),and those with other non-Protestant (Basilone, Dilboy, Sullivan, Inoye, Ivonovich, Wai…) religions.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Now I’m worried. They’re on to us.”

    Look on the bright side. Think how many there’d be if they wanted to be Catholic!

  • Joseph Tan


  • Mike M.

    I would not discount either Varyag or a new-build Chinese CV.

    Remember, Soviet carriers were always an odd hybrid, with considerable displacement alloted to defensive and offensive missiles. The Chinese have probably stripped the SS-N-19 tubes out of Varyag. This in itself will substantially increase space on the hangar deck. Add a deck park that the Soviets were not willing to use due to sub-Arctic weather, and you have a pretty decent air wing.

    And the Chinese bought Varyag as a study. Even if the ship design lessons are How Not To Do It, they are invaluable. And the Chinese learn fast.

    Finally, we like to think that the USN has 80 years of experience operating carriers. This is deceptive. Really, we have more like 20 years of experience…repeated four times. A better comparison is the fact that the Navy started experimenting with carrier operations in 1923. A decade later, carriers were an integral part of the battle fleet. And the Chinese don’t have to make the Really Silly Mistakes we made in the early 1920s – they can watch our TV shows, download our unclassified manuals, hire a few contractors…and come away with a solid foundation that will clip several years off the time required for proficiency.

    The PLAN is serious. As serious as the High Seas Fleet a century earlier…and THEY damned near beat the Royal Navy in World War I.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Great observations. Hope you didn’t mistake my light tone for dismissal. The very points you raise, the PLAN willingness to learn the best and worst lessons from others, makes them a force to be reckoned with, regionally at least.

    Your allusion to comparing the High Seas Fleet with PLAN is also very astute. Two major differences that work in China’s advantage. They are one heck of a lot farther away than Kiel was from Scapa Flow, and the US is not, nor projected to be, in a shipbuilding flurry to maintain superiority over our foes’ fleets.

  • Mike M.

    Unfortunately too true. It is worth remembering the similarities between modern China and Imperial Germany.

    Both are rising powers.

    Both demand ‘respect’, frequently in terms that annoy existing powers.

    Both tend toward hamfistedness in foreign policy.

    Both have significant sea trade.

    Both have sea lanes that go past either a major potential opponent or an ally of a major potential opponent.

    If I sound worried, I am. It’s not that China would deliberately start a war…but I’m a pretty serious student of the Dreadnought era, and recollect that the Great War was fueled by a combination of causes. Everybody had a reason to fight for four months…but when those reasons were combined, the result was a four-year bloodbath.

  • Chuck Hill

    Why assume these are pointed as us? They have lots of other uses. China has several potential enemies they may want to intimidate.

    They need energy. They think they can get it from the South China Sea. They think the South China Sea is theirs and they have on going disputes with about a half dozen nations in that area.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    I would submit that a good deal of those you refer to as China’s potential enemies are our allies. You are likely correct about the South China Sea and China’s quest for energy. There has been increasing opinion that the PLAN and its planned expansion is far more suited for Indonesian waters than for the Straits of Taiwan. Which makes them resemble Japan ca. 1940 in some ways… Japan had the Mandate bases and a world-class Navy to be the bulwark against interference to their expansion. China’s maritime denial capabilities just might be filling the same bill.

    Anyway, probably prudent to build to meet their capabilities, and not try and guess their intentions….

  • Chuck Hill

    URR, I would not disagree, but considering the Chinese rationale for procuring carriers, they probably have multiple objectives. I don’t think distracting the US form its network security is one of them.

    The Chinese will be patient, use intimidation against its neighbors, and probably won’t do anything until we are distracted by something else then quickly sail four carriers, land on some rock of no apparent value (surrounded by a 200 nmi EEZ), feat accompli and we will see reason to fight over it. After all, we’re friends.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “I don’t think distracting the US form its network security is one of them.”

    Me either, Chuck. The PLAN is exactly what they intend it to be.

    As for their cyber capabilities, they have had a goal of cyber disruption for more than a decade, and have some truly worrisome capabilities and functional knowledge of critical US infrastructure and business systems. “Unrestricted Warfare” was written in the late 90s by a couple of PLA colonels. Don’t read it at bedtime.