“In the information age we substitute mass for speed, a high degree of simultaneity for sequential action,” he said. “And access is highly valued: access to information, access to ideas, access to the domains of conflict. The Streetfighter concepts are meant to secure access and achieve high speed. That is, to be able to alter initial conditions, develop very high rates of change, stop things before they start…that’s what the military is paid to do.” – VADM Cebrowski (13 Mar 200)

Asymmetric forces and anti-access/area denial have been getting an increasing share of press of late – and for good cause. In the past year or so the poster child for the latest thing in A2/AD, the DF-21D has netted a good portion of that press, a pretty impressive feat for something that by all accounts is somewhere between the final stages of development and IOC. Still, when racking/stacking threats in the present and near future, the reality of the present threats to our naval forces is that the burden falls on cruise missiles, which have seen operational use in a variety of theaters and conditions. Cruise missile capabilities have advanced on par with their supporting technologies — engines, materials, navigation, seekers, etc. From relatively large, slow and medium-altitude threats they have progressed to smaller, faster, longer-range weapons with complex seekers, sophisticated navigation systems and challenging profiles from launch to terminal stages. Concurrent with the improvement in technology has come proliferation across a large number of delivery platforms operating from the shore and above, under and on the surface. In-line with this development, some delivery platforms have emerged, evolved or morphed into optimal platforms for delivering cruise missiles. Among these are the Type 22 Houbei fast attack craft being fielded by the PLAN.

In a separate fora, I received the following brief, which turns out to be a pretty comprehensive look — all from sources on both sides of the Bamboo Curtain of what is rapidly becoming yet another A2/AD challenge for naval planners and commanders in the region. It’s author, George Root (a former Midway-sailor) passes:

“The PLAN’s emphasis on building a very large number of Type 22 Houbei Fast Attack Craft needs more emphasis in Navy and allied thinking. According to in country open sources, by February of last year, the PLAN had fielded over 80 of these vessels and the number is growing. As illustrated in the attached Type 22 focused presentation, just four of these C-803 missile shooters could provide double shooter coverage over the entire Taiwan Strait from the relative tactical safety of the Chinese coastal islands.

In my view, the fact that today, the PLAN could field over 640 mobile 100+nm missiles (80 vessels x 8 C-803s each) in the Chinese mainland littorals should give those interested in China’s growing anti-access capabilities some serious cause for concern.”

PLAN’s Type 22 Houbei FAC _July11_R1

“Streetfighter is alive, and well, and is an inevitability” – VADM Cebrowski

Indeed — but not where originally intended it seems… Your thoughts?

crossposted at steeljawscribe.com

Posted by SteelJaw in Hard Power, Navy
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  • B.Smitty

    Aren’t these just a lot of little targets for air power?

    Why bother with these short-ranged vessels when they could be buying more J-11Bs or Su-30MK2s, or improving their medium- or long-range airpower?

  • Not when your airpower is dealing with large numbers of gen 4/4.5 fighters and triple digit SAMs at extended ranges from their base/CVN’s. The one is layered and complimentary of the other across a range of capabilities. Each has a place and a role to play.

    w/r, SJS

  • Derrick

    How many cruise missiles can the PLAN’s Type 22 Houbei carry?

    I’m not much of a tactician (no combat experience whatsoever), but I thought street fighting was dirty…so perhaps an US sub could hit below the belt by deploying mines near the coast of China in the eventuality the US needed to operate a naval squadron near China’s coast?

    How powerful a warhead can an anti-ship cruise missile carry? How much damage can it deliver? (Assuming it hits above the waterline)

  • B.Smitty

    Short-ranged FACs just don’t seem like much of a bargain.

    What do the FACs provide that an equivalent number of, say, new Su-34s wouldn’t do better? The fighters can cover more ocean, an order of magnitude faster, and cycle through strike sorties in hours rather than days or weeks.

    Or worse, what if they used the money to buy a squadron or two of used Backfires?

  • Byron

    B.Smitty: get your map out; look at the distance between Tapei and the PRC. Look at all the little islands between the two. Then look at the range of the ASuW missiles carried by these FACs.

    They are a threat. One that might not be re-useable, but a threat they are.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    B Smitty,

    What the Chinese understand fully is that, with our greatly reduced numbers of weapons systems, airborne or otherwise, saturation is a numbers game they can win. SJS nails it. Byron, too. Having all those fighters, and SAMs, integrated with ASCM and ADA systems on outlying islands, they can exceed the engagement capacity of our carrier-based and land-based strike aircraft. Hell, many hundreds or thousands of MiG-21s in the numbers they could put up present a challenge by themselves.

    The many hundreds of Type 22s carry potential ship-killers, and have to be accounted for. A tall order for the shrinking capabilities of the US Navy. Red China well understands the A2AD game. And all our potential adversaries are taking copious notes. We would do well to plan accordingly.

  • SJS,
    I see the same thing you do; a layered multi-axis threat with the ability to saturate, operate in a coordinated manner or independent action as needed. The Chinese have studied well and should not be dismissed or poo-poo’d.

    Just because we have not read out own tactical documents and operational canon doesn’t mean other have not.

    +1 to SJS.

  • B.Smitty

    Byron, et al.,

    They certainly are a threat. I just question their cost-effectiveness for the Chinese Navy. Without air superiority or significant AAW escort, they are floating targets for air power. Their CONOPS is to operate under the mainland air defense umbrella, which is getting more formidable by the day.

    What is a Type 22’s range? I’ve seen ~500nm mentioned. That’s around the combat RADIUS of a Su-27/30-derived strike aircraft.

    So why even bother with 36kt Type 22s when similarly priced strike aircraft could do the same job, twice as far out, at 550kts?

    The only thing I can think is maybe they could base some at some of these forward islands that are unsuitable for an airfield.

    IMHO, they’d be better off developing a Type 22 derivative with an ASW fit. Then at least they could help contest our one advantage in the Chinese AA/A2 zone: undersea.

  • Chuck Hill

    Who gets to shoot first?

    Opening salvo–60 Type 22 fir 8 missiles each–480 missiles in bound.

    That ought to be enough to keep us from ever taking carriers back into the strait.

  • Matt Yankee

    Maybe they prefer the boats to the planes out of fear of airstrips being bombed in the opening salvos?

    Reminds me of trying to find SCUDS in the desert. Very hard to find mobile launchers, but easy to find a runway.

    Wouldn’t the ROK be well positioned to utilize a similar strategy in the Yellow Sea with an eye towards directly striking Beijing with large quantities? What is the ROK position regarding aiding a defense of Taiwan?

  • Rich B.

    I fear at times we are witnessing a new generation’s
    battleship mentality” establishing itself, only replacing it with carriers and air power. When is the last time anyone as sat down and attempted to negotiate for assets to support SUW? Modern fleets find establishing effective DCA, arguably an even higher priority, difficult at best. There is a huge struggle between the warfare commanders with our focus on strike warfare combined with smaller air wing size and reduced endurance compared to the past.

    China is building a fleet to support a “great wall at sea” as detailed by Bernard Cole in his book. They do not have to engage us full force; they simply have to make us fear bringing our carriers within striking distance of shore and outside the outer island chain.

    Small craft are notoriously difficult to detect and counter within an archipelago or near land environment. In my own service we have hidden vessels as large as a cruiser against a larger force with combined sea/air assets (and they knew in general where we were located) The ammount of assets required for 100% coverage within the vital area will be prohibitive in a multithreat environment.

    When you consider the tactical limitations placed upon commanders due to ROE, where fleet admirals rely more and more heavy upon the Commander’s Inherent Right of Self Defense to let heated issues resolve themselves due to the growing political concerns. Noone is going to want to shoot first. Even if we could shoot first; look at the current status of our surface to surface engagement capability.

    China’s boats combined with SS/SSNs, layered SAM/SSM and then air power is a strategy we need to look to counter. The days of a fleet sailing into harms way underneath the warm blanket of Aegis has atrophied alongside our ASW capabilities. A CVN commander is going to hesitant or even foolish to enter this bear trap without a systematic clearing of the route ahead of him; and then where is the focus of the threat? ASW, ASUW or AAW? This approach will be slow and ponderous, negating the strength of the Carrier Strike Group. He will be the fish sitting in the proverbial barrel once he passes the outer island chain under our current environment.

    The mobility of such a fast and agile platform may defeat even the most effective search, since it is not just gaining the picture but keeping it.

    We consistantly look at fighting the last war while our near peer/peer competitors are preparing for the next. They can make these boats at a fraction of the cost of the average DDG and give them 10X offensive capability in the ASUW arena and what is our answer to the threat? The answer should not be “we’ll just throw planes at them” What do you tell the CO sitting the bridge of the destroyer or cruiser who has 3-5 of these ships bearing down on him when he is sent alone and unafraid?

  • B.Smitty

    Rich B.,

    Don’t send him alone. Or at all.

    Given the potential to muster HUNDREDS of AShM-equipped fighters in the future, there won’t be anything left for the Type 22s by the time they get in range.

    Unless we can find ways to counter the air and ASBM threat, we shouldn’t even consider sending surface ships close to China in a conflict.

    Matt Yankee,

    Look on page 11 of the brief above. There are 35 Type 22s tied up in nice, neat lines. If you can hit airstrips, you can hit boats at anchor just as easily. A single B-2 pass can destroy the whole bunch.

  • Mike M.

    They’re a problem. Not an insurmountable one, just a threat that has to be rolled back.

    Personally, I think the biggest problem may be lack of anti-ship ordnance on our part. Harpoon is long in the tooth…and how many are left in the inventory?

  • B.Smitty

    Mike M.,

    We have plenty of anti-ship ordinance for dealing with Type 22s. Their air defense consists of a MANPADS launcher and small CIWS. Any LGB will do the trick.

  • Matt Yankee

    With only a dozen sailors per boat I would think they could quickly get them on board and moving quicker than a B-2 could get there. Such a simple plan would also require a US first strike which is unlikely I believe. Better off just sending the B-2s straight to a strategic, highly sensitive target to make the pain unbearable with a steep escalation.

  • B.Smitty

    Matt Yankee,

    Maybe, if they knew the B-2 was coming.

    However the same can be said about scrambling fighters. They can get airborne fairly quickly if you know the threat is inbound (depending on crew readiness, of course).

  • mcx

    I admire B Smitty’s zeal for airpower vs Type 22 strictly in a War at Sea mode, but believe it should be mitigated first by geometric contraints given battlespace and secondly by fusion of capabilities. Type 22s vs airpower, maybe not. But add in a possible DF-21 with any modest OTH capability and throw in SAM sites or Surface assets with capable SAM and we are soon running for cover far out of fighter range to the Type 22.
    Our air forces rely on basing and tanking. Our afloat air forces rely on CVN stationing and tanking. Our tanking and CVN stationing rely on threat denial, perhaps more accurately air superiority if not supremacy. Do we know how to operate in denied environs without control of the skies and little to no regional political support for basing?

  • Matt Yankee

    I like the B-2 idea really. How bout we do it now in response to their cyber attacks. Be proactive. Seriously, I do think we need to kick them in the balls very hard and right now. Enough with their antics and proclamations.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Do we know how to operate in denied environs without control of the skies and little to no regional political support for basing?”

    Nope. But we are gaming it to beat the band. And every war game has some grim facts to face. Among which is the absolutely absurd reliance on air fires, at sea and ashore, in an environment built to take them away.

    With apologies to Bolloc, we have come to embrace the idea that, “Whatever happens, we have got, close air support, and they have not”.

    Except when we won’t. Then we will have to be balanced and proficient, and tactically sound. We shall see.

  • B.Smitty


    The problem as I see it is the Type 22 offers superfluous capabilities for the Chinese. I don’t get what buying a lot of Type 22s does for them.

    We would have to worry about airpower and ASBMs and SSN/SSKs long before we ever got close enough to worry about Type 22s.

    Instead of buying a lot of short-ranged FACs, they should be buying or improving their airpower, IMHO.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    B Smitty,

    Don’t you believe it. US Navy is vulnerable to small boat swarm tactics, and we need to have enough firepower to kill them if they build them in the hundreds, which they will.

    Think of A2AD as an increasing envelope of threats, not as single systems. They are integrated, and phased as to saturate our targeting and engagement capabilities. For which the Type 22 built and employed in large numbers, each with eight ship-killing missiles on board. In the restricted waters of the Taiwan Straits and other strategic locations in WESTPAC, they will need to be reckoned with.

  • Chuck Hill

    Check out slides 24 and 25. Mix them in with a fleet of fishing boats (which might also tow further to sea). Aircraft would probably have to get inside MANPAD range to differentiate targets.

  • Derrick

    How expensive are these Houbei FAC’s? It seems to me it’s relatively cheaper for China to mass produce them than it is for the US to use F-18’s/F-35’s with smart weapons to destroy them?

    In terms of a cost effective way of deterring them, how far along is the US navy in supercavitation technology? According to this article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=warp-drive-underwater, perhaps it may be more cost-effective to produce miniature underwater subs (that use supercavitation to evade anti-submarine weapons) to shoot down the Houbei’s. Plus the mini-subs (which would sort of act like underwater F-18’s) may not be as expensive as fighter jets, and won’t immediately have to face the overwhelming numbers of Chinese anti-aircraft artillery and Chinese air force. Does that even make sense? Is it even realistic? The mini sub-fighters should be able to use supercavitating bullets to shoot the Houbei’s below the waterline and hopefully cause them to sink…Just a wild ass guess at a cheap and conventional way to deter use of the Houbei’s…

    Also, how will the Houbei’s be coordinated? Are they likely to be used in a guerilla warfare hit and run strategy thing, acting very independently like the Nazi U-Boats of WW2, or will they be network centric? If they will be network centric, methods could be used to interfere/disable their electronic communication with their HQ. Wouldn’t that in effect reduce their effectiveness?

    How will the Houbei’s be used in concert with the ASBM? I assumed that when a salvo of ASBMs are fired at a carrier, the Chinese will pull their forces out of the target area to avoid friendly fire casualties, correct?

    To me the Houbei’s are more of a close-in combat type of weapon, not meant for blue-water power projection like a CVN, more for close shore defense or hit and run against ships in between Taiwan and China. Is this a correct understanding?

    Finally, can someone put together a post detailing all of China’s known “military” capabilities, such as ASBMs, Houbei’s, cyberwarfare, etc.? It would be interesting to see what type of peer competitor they are. I guess the DoD probably has some 5000 page document detailing this somewhere online?

    I’m frightened by the fact I’m starting to remember all your confusing anacronyms now…

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Roger that. San Remo Treaty being what it is, and all.

  • As part of the portfolio I am charged with constantly reviewing and analyzing – daily – I see a number of challenges (to use an overworked word) for naval AND air forces. For starters, we need to stop trying to mirror image the PLA. They have closely studied the West’s capabilities, doctrine(s) and real world employments since the Great Awakening post Desert Shield/Storm. There is nothing superfluous about the forces they are building, deploying nor in the spoken and implied messages they are communicating. Just some simple math — go look at the inventory of SM-2 (all flavors)and AAMRAM. Now go count the potential target set. Match the range of our ASuW weapons vs. those of the Chinese ASCMs from C701 to SS-N-27. Look at the vulnerabilities of your forward-based air to a range of ballistic missile threats and then compare the inventory of SM-3, PAC-3 and THAAD, worldwide in comparison. Think about CSGs that numerically, are a shadow of their Cold War selves, both in ships and aircraft, at “keep out” range until the threat of massed cruise- and ballistic missile strikes are rolled back, the loss of shore-based tankers because their supporting infrastructure is whacked and the impact that will have on F-22/F-35 support. Don’t forget the triple-digit SAMs either. It all rolls into a family of systems that is fluid in deployment and application – not just concentric rings like the Soviet model we were going to fight our way through to nuke Kola/Vlad. And note I haven’t even touched on ASW.
    Additionally, as I pointed out in an earlier post, we kid ourselves if we think this is being rolled out just for our “benefit” – consider the perspective of a Vietnam or the Philippines with their competing claims in the SCS. These forces have scalable applicability there as well.
    My intention isn’t to paint the PLA as 10 ft tall – that would be too simplistic and in some respects also plays into their long-range game plan. They have vulnerabilities we can play to our advantage – that I’m not going to go into detail here about. Just open your thought process beyond single dimension warfare. There is a reason that George and I drew from the late VADM Cebrowski’s thoughts about Streetfighter to both open this article and highlight *one* example of its apparent implementation.
    w/r, SJS

  • Derrick

    BTW…this Houbei is a very small boat…how useable would it be in rough weather/typhoon season? Perhaps that’s the secret…send the CVN in during a typhoon…can a CVN sail during a typhoon? How rough of weather can the CVN sail in? Only problem is how to launch the jets in that type of weather…

    Wouldn’t a cruiser be able to sail during a storm? Perhaps that’s one way of avoiding the streetfighter problem…except that it’s highly dependent on weather.