As the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) closes the gap with the U.S. Navy, how can the United States optimize its maritime partnership programs?
The consulting firm Wikistrat (where I am a senior analyst) recently ran a simulation on how the United States could better leverage existing maritime partnerships, as well as develop productive new relationships. The simulation included members of a variety of organizations inside and outside the United States, and expected participants to play roles from both U.S. and international perspectives.
On 15 February, the Brazilian Navy announced the retirement of the SAO PAULO aircraft carrier (the former FOCH). Since Argentina has similarly demobilised the 25 DE MAYO, the era of aircraft carriers as capital ships in Latin America might now have come to an end.
With 37 years’ operational service at the time of its acquisition from France, the SAO PAULO has a proud history in the service of two nations, with several attempts made at enhancing its operational capacity. However, Brazilian naval authorities decided that the technical uncertainties involved in so large-scale a programme, coupled with the likely high cost and extended timescale (ten years, according to some observers), made it preferable to retire the carrier.
While a replacement programme has not been altogether ruled out, it would at best take third place in the hierarchy of naval projects, after the nuclear submarine project and the construction of the new NL-class corvettes. Both are less expensive than the putative replacement of the SAO PAULO and acquisition of a modern carrier-compatible aircraft. Even if the carrier were to be modernised, the existing fleet of F-1 (A-4M SKYHAWKs) would reach the end of their service life by the time the programme could be completed.
This will drop the number of navies capable of operating CATOBAR (catapult-assist-take-off-arrestor-recovery) to two; the US and France. Word is that the second domestically built Chinese carrier will have steam catapults, and INS Vishal may have electromagnetic catapults if she ever enters service.
I don’t like the idea of a nuclear submarine project for Brazil; too much overhead for too little return, especially given the defense commitments that Brazil has. I can’t quibble overmuch with the decision to scrap Sao Paulo, though. Refurbishing the carrier would have been expensive, and the acquisition of replacement aircraft for the A-4 Skyhawks (which are approaching the end of their useful lives) would also have cost more than Brazil could credibly spend. As I’ve argued in the past, the best naval investment for Brazil would be a decent-sized amphib, which would give Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) capabilities and command facilities in addition to some high-level warfighting capacity.
Chengdu J-20s. By Alert5 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
In the wake of the phone call between President-Elect Trump and President Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan, a few analysts of the Asia-Pacific tried to make the best of it. The arguments that the Trump call represented a genuine strategic maneuver, and not simply the random hurling of feces, boiled down to two points. The first was that US diplomatic treatment of Taiwan ought to be considered intolerable from the perspective of liberal democratic foreign policy. The second was that the phone call signaled Beijing that the United States was willing to put China’s most tightly-held maritime aspiration in jeopardy. Even if the US did not decide to recognize Taiwan, the move would force Beijing to acknowledge the danger.
I don’t quite hold with either of these, but they aren’t abjectly silly rationales. In the flush of the moment, it was possible to imagine that President Trump did indeed have some vision for what US-China relations should look like, and that he was willing to engage long-standing (for better or worse) taboos in order to push the relationship in a direction.
Make no mistake; I think this is the right move. There are merits to the idea of rethinking the US approach to Taiwan, and there was some logic to trying this in the midst of a Presidential transition, but the risks outweighed the benefits. But it should put paid to the notion that there was any logic or coherence to Trump’s first foray into the US-China relationship. Trump either had no idea what he was doing when he spoke with Tsai Ing-Wen, or had no good sense of the costs and benefits of opening up the snake nest that is US-Taiwan relations.
As long-time readers will know, I don’t take arguments about “reputation,” “resolve,” or “credibility” all that seriously; in addition to all of the problems associated with defining foreign policy in terms of aggressive masculinity, there are simply too many psychological, cultural, and bureaucratic filters to allow messages to have the kind of fined-tuned impact necessary to making the argument work. But a lot of folks still do take credibility seriously, and many of those were harsh critics of President Obama’s decision not to bomb Syria after Assad’s violation of the “red line.” It’s fair to say that if you take credibility seriously, Trump’s phone call with Xi should be deeply disturbing. China made multiple verbal and non-verbal threats to the United States following the call, indicating further action if Trump did not back away from his Taiwan comments; subsequently, Trump backed away. The question of whether B naturally flowed from A is irrelevant; it’s hardly irrational for the Chinese (or for various third party observers) to conclude that Trump’s resolve failed in the face of Chinese power. Again, if you believe (as I do) that the politics of reputational messaging is nonsense all the way down, this won’t bother you. If you’re someone who was deeply troubled by Obama’s failure to bomb a misbehaving Russian proxy, then you should be very concerned about what just went down between Trump and the closest thing that the United States has to a peer competitor.
Jin (Type 094) Class Ballistic Missile Submarine. By CSR Report RL33153 China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress by Ronald O’Rourke dated February 28, 2014 – United States Naval Institute News Blog, Public Domain.
How deeply are Australia’s naval aviation acquisition plans set in stone? With the F-35A on the verge of appearing at the Avalon Air Show, debate over the appropriate version of the Joint Strike Fighter continues.
Australia is purchasing the F-35, and Australia has already acquired two aircraft carriers capable (with modifications) of operating the F-35B. Two years ago, the government conducted a study to examine the potential for purchasing the F-35B and modifying the two Canberra-class amphibs (built in Spain to the same design as the Juan Carlos I), but eventually rejected the proposal as too costly, and too detrimental to other naval objectives.
But the debate continues, and as Australia’s strategic situation seems to be in flux (not least because of the election of U.S. President Donald Trump), longstanding procurement plans may merit reconsideration.
With the stroke of President Donald Trump’s pen, the message of equality and goodwill evaporated. It doesn’t matter if the courts overrule the travel ban against seven Muslim countries, or if the administration changes course, or if every American abroad is able to reassure acquaintances that we don’t all agree.
It may not be an outright Muslim ban, but it sends the message to the very people we need to continue the fight on our side that we don’t see them any differently than our common enemy.
As an infantryman patrolling the streets of Baghdad, every day was a battle for hearts and minds. We had to persuade a populace that a western, well-fed, predominantly Christian military — who received more in care packages from home in a month than their own children may see in a lifetime — truly empathized with and shared their burdens.