MRG forwarded me this piece this morning. I had seen it previously and intended to refrain from comment, but… you know. In general, it’s best not to get one’s defense news from the War Nerd; if you’ve been paying attention to the conversation (in this space and elsewhere) you’ve known about Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles for quite some time, and you have a much better handle on the issue than is presented in the linked article. You know, for example, that we *may* be moving from a world in which it’s impossible to hit a moving aircraft carrier with a ballistic missile to a world in which it’s exceedingly difficult to do so. You know that the targeting and intelligence requirements for such a maneuver are immense, and there there are several steps in the identification-launch-terminal guidance-strike sequence that can be disrupted through a variety of counter-measures. You know that the evidence that the Chinese have a DF-21 capable of such targeting (not to mention the intelligence and communications infrastructure necessary to support the launch) is exceedingly thin.
You also know that professional naval officers have been thinking about this possibility considerably longer, and in considerably more detail, than Gary Brecher has. You know that the Chinese ASBM is hardly the first weapon that was supposed to render aircraft carriers obsolete; cruise missiles and submarines are its notional predecessors. You know that the question of the vulnerability of aircraft carriers has been debated ad nauseum in the Navy and in the larger defense community; to characterize this debate as such…
What does that tell you about the distinguished gentlemen with all the ribbons on their chests who’ve been standing up on carrier bridges looking like they know what they’re doing for the past 50 years?
They’re either stupid or so sleazy they’re willing to make a career commanding ships they goddamn well know are floating coffins for thousands of ranks and dozens of the most expensive gold-plated airplanes in the history of the world
… is so detached from the reality of this conversation as to cross into the surreal.
None of this is to say that military organizations don’t buy obsolete weapons or think in hidebound ways. Nor is it to say that the Navy shouldn’t worry about the threat that Chinese ASBMs might pose to aircraft carriers. They should worry, and they are worrying; the Navy (and the attendant civilian research infrastructure) may not develop a sufficient solution to the problem, but that’s rather the nature of competitive military technological development.
Another reason it’s best not to get one’s defense news from Gary Brecher is that he is, in spite of the intensity of his devotion, often wrong. For example, this is about the most wrong thing one could write about the Blockhouse strategy employed in the Chinese Civil War:
Mao’s military advisor was a German communist cadre named Otto Braun. He took a Chinese name, Li De, but as you can imagine he wasn’t likely to pass for a local, being a classic German military type, a long skinny skeleton with big glasses and even bigger plans. Mao had been fighting the kind of brilliant rural guerrilla warfare he’d learned from the Hunan bandit chiefs. One of these bandit chiefs told Mao, “All you need to know about war is: circle around, circle around, circle around.” Mao took that lesson to heart, because he discovered if his guerrillas didn’t keep moving away from the Nationalists’ front, they’d get ground up.
Otto Braun convinced the Chinese Communist leadership that these bandit tactics were too low-down and no-count for the People’s Liberation Army. He got them to adopt a “Blockhouse Strategy” which was basically exactly what Hezbollah’s “bunker strategy” was. Only it didn’t work. The Nationalist forces attacked Mao’s bunkers, sustained huge losses but kept attacking, and eventually wore down the Communist defenses. That was the pattern of warfare up to 1945: accept huge losses to take enemy territory, because when you do, you will be able to neutralize those territories for good. So it pays off. You lose, say, 300 men taking a section of Maoist territory by overrunning those blockhouses. You’ve now gained a peasant population of, say, 100,000. You now get the return on your losses: you immediately kill any Communist sympathizers in the region and force all the young men to sign up with your army at bayonet-point. You’ve made good your casualties because, once you control the enemy territory, you change it for good, turn it from red to blue.
I’ll concede that the Chinese Civil War involved combat between Nationalist and Communists. Most of the rest is wrong, however. The evidence of Braun’s importance to the People’s Liberation Army comes mostly from Braun himself; the most recent scholarly treatments of this part of the war downplay his significance and influence. To the extent that Braun did have any influence, it was in the direction of more concentrated attacks against Nationalist forces, but he was far from the only voice in the PLA to call for more conventional tactics, and it’s silly to grant him such a large role in a debate that had been raging for several years. The reasons that the PLA shifted to more conventional tactics were two-fold; first, the situation changed (which I detail below), and second, everyone in the PLA (including Mao) understood that the Nationalist Army would eventually have to be defeated in conventional combat. The debate was over when the shift from guerrilla to conventional army would need to be made; at no point did the “low down, no count” nature of bandit warfare prove a very relevant consideration for the CCP. Moreover, there’s a touch of colonialist condescension to the notion that a white dude showed up and the CCP started listening to him. Not everyone is T.E. Lawrence.
Most importantly (pay attention..), the Blockhouse strategy was actually employed by the Nationalists, not the Communists. The PLA didn’t build a bunch of bunkers and let the Nationalists come to them; rather, the Nationalists constructed blockhouses with interlocking fields of fire and illumination in order to limit ChiCom mobility. The Nationalist strategy was fabulously successful; by building additional blockhouses, they were able to successively reduce the circle in which the PLA was able to operate. Under these conditions, mobility was simply no longer an option; the formations that could be infiltrated through the blockhouses grew progressively smaller and less effective. This strategy spelled the end of the Jiangxi Soviet and precipitated the Long March. A German advisor did indeed help develop this strategy, but his name was Hans von Seeckt; longtime fans of German military history will recognize him as the de facto chief of the Reichswehr during most of the 1920s. Chiang Kai Shek had contracted with von Seeckt specifically to develop a strategy that could destroy the Jiangxi Soviet, and it worked.
The takeaway is this; read “Brecher,” if you must, for the entertainment value. Don’t, however, assume that he actually knows that much about what he’s talking about. If you want to stay current on military and defense affairs, you can do much worse than subscribing to Danger Room, Defense Tech, War is Boring, Armchair Generalist, Information Dissemination, Ares, the USNI blog, Abu Muqawama, Attackerman, and Small Wars Journal.