How the U.S. plans to defend its “unsinkable aircraft carrier”
Relations between the U.S. and China have recently deteriorated significantly. Diplomatic rhetoric has escalated. Politicians in Washington are calling for tough measures. Military analysts and experts predict various conflict scenarios. Most of them will allegedly occur because of China’s decision to incorporate Taiwan by force into its political system.
However, it should be noted that despite the fact that China has been on the list of the main threats to the United States since the era of the Donald Trump administration, the development of military solutions against China began much earlier. Under Barack Obama, when Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski were actively campaigned for friendship with the Middle Kingdom under the guise of the G-2 or Chimerica, the Pentagon was already working on options for war against China.
Strategies for active containment of China
The oldest and most specific concept for waging war against China is called the Air-Sea Battle. It was introduced by the U.S. Department of Defense more than a decade ago and was based on previous similar doctrines justifying air superiority. For example, as far back as 1992, NATO Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis pointed out the importance of creating combined air and other force strength to ensure victory.
This concept is based on the earler doctrine of “Air-Land Battle”, developed for the European theater of military operations in the 70’s – 80’s to counter the Soviet Union by NATO forces. It is based on deep attacks, but unlike the Cold War concept, Air-Sea Battle describes comprehensive operations in all five spheres (air, land, sea, space and cyberspace) to create an advantage. It also aims to protect one’s rear in the same areas.
In late 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Defense approved the Air-Sea Battle concept as a necessary step in the reform of the U.S. armed forces, for which a special department was established. The introduction of this concept as official doctrine enabled the start of criticism of some provisions to bring it to perfection. Some authors, in particular, suggested that military planning against China should be conducted with a view to contemporary Chinese society, where there are various internal problems: ethnic diversity (more than 50 minorities, among which Uighurs, Tibetans and Mongols have recently shown themselves not very friendly to the political center), trends of regional separatism, imbalance in economic development, especially between coastal and inland regions. That is, the emphasis has already been on China’s internal destabilization as well.
Since 2013, it has been constantly upgraded, which was criticized by Beijing.
At about the same time, an Offshore Control strategy was also under active development. It is based on the use of available means and limited ways to deprive China of the use of the sea inside the first island chain and protect its sea and air space of the first island chain. This establishes its own dominance in the air and sea space outside the island chain. No operations to penetrate into Chinese airspace were to be performed. The prohibition of these actions was interpreted as the need to reduce the possibility of nuclear escalation, as well as to facilitate the initiation of negotiations and the termination of the war. Instead of escalation, this strategy uses economic strangulation to deplete China to the point where it itself would seek to end the war as quickly as possible.
The “prohibition” element of this campaign creates a maritime exclusion zone within the first island chain. The United States will use its dominant submarine force, mines, and limited air assets to secure the zone by sinking incoming ships.
The “defense” element will engage the full range of U.S. military assets to protect those allies who choose to actively assist the United States. The surface fleet and air assets would be away from the Chinese mainland, forcing China to fight at greater distances, allowing U.S. and allied forces to strike as part of an integrated air-sea defense of their own territories.
The “dominance” campaign would be conducted beyond the reach of most Chinese assets by prohibiting shipping in the straits along the Indonesian island chain and the west coast of the Americas. The campaign involves using a combination of air, sea, land and leased commercial platforms to intercept and divert supertankers and container ships needed for China’s economy.
These two strategies are basic to U.S. approaches to warfare against China, which are being adapted as conditions have changed.
Possible future scenarios
To understand the course of thought of the U.S. military, it is interesting to turn to a recent collective paper entitled “Crossing the Strait: China’s Military Prepares for War with Taiwan”, published by the U.S. National Defense University. In it, a number of authors describe the PLA’s modernization that “while the prospects for peaceful unification are narrowing, China’s menu of military intimidation and warfare options is expanding. Peacetime gun rattling, which is most useful in dissuading Taiwan from pursuing de jure independence, has become more routine and varied”.
They believe that Taiwan will be Beijing’s goal as a long-term priority, but specific short-term goals will fluctuate according to changing conditions. The PRC’s calculus with regard to forcing the island will be determined by how Beijing weighs costs, benefits, and risks against specific short-term goals. These estimates will change accordingly over the coming decades, depending on the PRC’s future trajectory.
The authors suggest two main options for a solution, such as:
– a concerted effort to improve Taiwan’s defense capabilities and focus them on increasing the costs and risks associated with the PRC’s military options. These efforts should focus on specific actions to improve military capabilities rather than symbolic measures of U.S. support for Taiwan.
– influence on the CCP leadership to support the possibility of peaceful unification.
The paradox is that China itself is interested in peaceful unification. However, Washington can hardly be trusted that this process is in line with their goal. Otherwise they would not provoke China and continue the militarization of Taiwan and the countries of the region.
When it comes to military strategies, the U.S. is considering several options for China’s actions against Taiwan:
– applying containment;
– gradually establishing a position of military superiority;
– extending China’s administrative control inside Taiwan’s air defense and possibly over some of Taiwan’s outlying islands;
– securing domestic political gains;
– testing U.S. resolve.
Assuming that the PLA will use the full range of capabilities, from missile/air strikes, naval blockade and amphibious assaults to information operations and cyber attacks, the U.S. is accordingly thinking about a possible adequate response.
to be continued