Our friends in Beijing are evidently having a hard time settling on a name, though. Shi Lang, for a long-ago conqueror of Taiwan. When word got out, the ensuing uproar apparently convinced China’s leaders they were being a tad heavy-handed—especially when they were cultivating an era of good feelings across the Taiwan Strait. Since then the poor ship has gone by “ex-Varyag,” truly an undignified moniker to grace China’s first operational carrier.
That’s where you can help. What kind of name should the ship have? Should it overawe all who behold it, sporting a name like IndisputableSovereign of the Sea? Should it emphasize the cuddly side of Chinese sea power, with something like Panda Bear or Hello Kitty? Or something else? Please tell us! Enter your response in the comments below. Our crack editorial team will judge the responses and publish the winner next week. The prize will be … a date with editor Harry Kazianis!!
And to be sure, the Varyag will reportedly carry about 26 fixed-wing combat aircraft—the official People’s Daily speculated that J-15s will operate from its deck for the first time during the ongoing shakedown—and about 24 helicopters. (I hem-and-haw on the exact figures because an air wing’s composition is not fixed. The U.S. Navy has experimented with various configurations over the years.) TheVikramaditya/Gorshkov’s complement is a more modest 16 tactical aircraft—Mig-29Ks were part of the package deal for the ship—and 10 helicopters. The Chinese carrier’s fighter/attack force, then, is over half-again as large as its Indian counterpart’s. Quantity isn’t everything, but it is important in air-to-air combat. Advantage: China….
Indians seem to excel at air power. U.S. Air Force pilots who face off against their Indian counterparts in mock combat rave about the skills and panache of Indian airmen. And while the Vikramaditya is a new class of flattop and the MiG-29K a new aircraft for the Indian Navy, carrier operations are nothing new for the navy. The service has operated at least one flattop for over half a century. For example, INS Viraat, a Centaur-class vessel built for Britain’s Royal Navy, has served in the Indian fleet for a quarter-century. In short, Indian mariners are steeped in a naval-aviation culture that the Chinese are only starting to instill. Advantage: India.
The second half is worth emphasizing. Whatever size advantages the ex-Varyag may have, the Indians have fifty years of experience operating aircraft carriers, which matters a lot for the extraordinarily complicated tasks associated with naval aviation. Moreover, whatever problems INS Vikramaditya may have, I’m pretty sure that in the short term her major combat and propulsion systems will be more reliable than those of ex-Varyag, which have been pieced together by a navy with no experience of building or operating a warship of that size.
With regards to the skill of the airmen, it’s certainly true that Indian pilots have a better reputation that their Chinese counterparts, having had more success in combat and in major exercises with foreign partners. It’s hard to say how that would play out in the short term, however, given that the recent Indian experience with carrier aircraft has come in the form of Harriers, rather than fixed-wing MiG-29s. But because pilot quality is most often about developing an effective system of selection and training, and because we’re considerably more confident that India has developed such a system than China, it’s probably fair to count pilot quality as a point in India’s favor. However, it’s also worth noting that neither the Indian nor the Chinese carrier will be well-equipped to conduct strike operations; the ski-jump takeoff format substantially limits aircraft payload.
The more interesting issue might be this; news stories of China’s new carrier have abounded, along with solemn State Department expressions of concern over “what China might do with it’s aircraft carrier.” At the same time, very few people who don’t specialize in the field seem to know that India is getting a new carrier, building two more, and enjoys half a century of experience with naval aviation.
Chinese Aerospace Power is a collection of essays generated at a December 2008 colloquium organized by the Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute. The collection is held together by a common focus on maritime oriented Chinese aerospace military capabilities. Edited by Andrew Erickson, CAP is part of a series of similar volumes on Chinese maritime military issues. Taken together, the essays supply a vision of how the United States and the People’s Republic of China envision high technology warfare against one another. In some sense this would remain asymmetric warfare; the PLA would attack perceived US weaknesses using means that the US itself does not normally employ, including ground based cruise missiles and conventional ballistic missiles. However, conflict between the modern PLA and the modern US military establishment would look much more “symmetric” than any conflict that the United States has been involved in since the Vietnam War. The battlespace would horizontally extend deep into China and into the Pacific, and vertically extend between space and the sea floor.
CAP avoids treating any particular system as the key to Chinese military power. Even the much touted ASBMs are placed within context of other Chinese capabilities, and of the role they’d be expected to play within the system of anti-access systems. Another element of this system that has received less attention than it should is the PLA’s collection of land attack cruise missiles (detailed in a chapter by Michael Chase), which provide a similar but somewhat more manageable threat to US bases and ships in the region. Together with the ballistic missiles, the cruise missiles have the potential to overwhelm air defense capabilities, especially given the limitations on total number of SAMs carried by US air defense ships. A chapter by Toshi Yoshihara tracks Chinese views of the development of sea based anti-ballistic missile defense in the United States and Japan, with the upshot that China views such systems as a genuine, but potentially manageable, problem.
CAP also highlights some areas in which technological and doctrinal development has lagged. In particular, the PLAN appears roughly a generation behind in aerial anti-submarine warfare, even allowing the decay of US capabilities over the past decades. This includes both fixed wing maritime surveillance aircraft and ship-borne helicopters. Indeed, the development of helicopter technology and doctrine in the PLA has lagged in general, with total numbers of rotary aircraft running behind international standards. This may have been due to some uncertainty regarding how responsibility for helicopters is divided between the PLAAF and ground combat organizations. In the future, it will be worth watching PLA-assisted disaster relief operations (both domestic and international) to track continued development of rotary aircraft capabilities.
CAP includes some discussion of Chinese carrier aviation, but this is not a major focus. In short, it will take some time for the Chinese to perfect carrier aviation, and between now and and the presumed endpoint (modern, fixed wing carrier capabilities with 3-5 active platforms) there is much time and money to be spent, as well as many choices to be made. The Shi Lang gives some indication of what these choices may be (ski jump carriers launching mainly air superiority aircraft) but it’s still possible for the PLAN to go in other directions. In particular, Chinese development of big deck amphibious warships will be very interesting to watch; these warships are likely to carry helicopters for the foreseeable future, but Chinese development of some kind of equivalent to the F-35B isn’t out of the question in the long term. Again, people will be paying a lot of attention to China’s use of naval aviation assets in disaster relief operations. Aircraft carriers obviously represent a move in a different direction than the anti-access capabilities represented by cruise and ballistic missiles; even ski-jump carriers are power projection tools, designed to provide cover over task forces deployed at distance.
Given my own focus on how the configuration of military institutions affects policy, strategy, and procurement, I read the essays that touched upon the role played by the PLA Second Artillery Corps with great interest. The Second Artillery is responsible for ballistic missile development and deployment, and has become both a partner and bureaucratic competitor for the PLAAF and the PLAN. The Second Artillery historically had primary responsibility for nuclear deterrence against the Soviet Union and the United States, and accordingly controlled Chinese ballistic missile forces. Over time, however, a potential conventional role for the SAC in a conflict over Taiwan developed. With improved targeting technology, conventional SAC ballistic missiles could disable airfields and other critical military targets in the first hours of war. Later, the potential use of Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles would give the SAC a role in deterring US intervention.
There are two interesting stories here. The first is a basic institutional logic about how a bureaucracy develops capabilities beyond its core mission. Not entirely without prodding, the SAC has created a non-nuclear mission for itself, and indeed would be expected to play a critical and decisive role in superpower conflict without direct reliance on nuclear weapons. When a (quasi) service is built around ballistic missiles, it finds new and innovative ways of using ballistic missiles, especially when it needs such innovations to maintain political and bureaucratic relevance. In this case, the SAC has pursued innovations that have potentially decisive effect at the operational and strategic levels. Institutional design has consequences; build a service around bombers, and you get interesting bomber technology and doctrine, build it around missiles and you get interesting missile developments.
The second is an inevitable counter-part to the first; divisions of responsibility between bureaucratic organizations invariably create conflicts between those organizations. We know less about conflicts between the PLAAF and the SAC than we do about those between the USAF and USN, but such conflicts definitely exist, and often appear to coalesce around control of information technology. Modern warfare is extremely hungry with regards to information, communications, and bandwidth, and the PLAN, PLAAF, and SAC all want access to and control of the platforms and capabilities that create and distribute information.
In an actual war context, we don’t know how these conflicts would play out. PLA anti-access capabilities involves use of a system of systems designed to deter and defeat efforts to penetrate sea and air space near the Chinese littoral. These systems include diesel electric submarines, surface launched cruise missiles, land launched cruise missiles (targeting both enemy ships and enemy airbases), air launched cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. On the surface this seems an exceedingly imposing collection of capabilities. In actual fighting, coordination between services and capabilities would prove extremely demanding. Interservice conflict invariably produces friction, notwithstanding “jointness” or whatever term the Chinese may use to describe the concept of interservice operations. The collection does an excellent job of highlighting where the rifts lay, and describing the effect that they’ve had on planning and procurement.
More broadly, the discussion of interservice conflict in the Chinese context highlights both the contingency of specific configurations of military power, and the policy impact of particular institutional choices. As I have labored to argue, there is nothing natural or necessarily optimal about the current distribution of responsibilities across US military services; other countries make much different choices, even when they face similar security environments. More importantly, the choice of configuration has a big impact on how doctrine, technology, and procurement will play out. Military bureaucracies almost invariably compete with one another, with the most serious issues arising when mission requirements cross service boundaries. China now faces a situation where exceedingly complex operational tasks are divided between three “services,” an issue that may prove problematic if push ever comes to shove.
As with all such collections, some entries are stronger than others. There are very few clunkers, however, and anyone interested in the subject will have their own favorites. Some of the essays could be difficult for a layman to penetrate, but an understanding of the arguments has value beyond the evaluation of Chinese military capabilities. These essays shine a light on how China is thinking about fighting the United States, deterring US intervention in regional conflict, and shaping US behavior in the Western Pacific. Given that the book is the product of a Naval War College colloquium and that it includes the work of many individuals close to the development of USN doctrine and strategy, it also gives good indication of how the United States views the prospect of war against China. It bears note that the book is relevant whether or not we evaluate a war between China and the United States as likely; the technologies, doctrines, and procurement priorities outlined will guide US and Chinese policy for at least a generation, and calculations regarding the likelihood and likely course of war will guide how the two nations related to one another diplomatically.
For those with even more interest in the subject, here’s a talk on the book by Andrew Erickson:
Most of this is hogwash. The idea that an enormous multinational corporation which just had one of the most profitable quarters in the history of any corporation in the history of the human race is completely incapable of paying its workers a living wage would be laughable if it it didn’t shill for immorality. Take this paragraph for instance:
The truth is that an entire consumer electronics industry depends on these factories for their livelihoods; the dozens of companies and millions of people that have made a handsome living on the spread of mobile technology, gaming consoles, and high-definition televisions into everyone’s lives. And China depends on the demand for its manufacturing services driven by Western consumers who want quality goods at a low price, knowing that few other operations are able to hit those targets as consistently as its homegrown manufacturing base.
OK, but how does this get in the way of paying a decent wage. Apple prices are not low and people are desperate to own its products, but even given the general principle that people want to buy things for cheap, it’s not at all clear that you can’t provide reasonably priced goods and pay people good wages. We did this during the great period of unionization in this country after World War II; admittedly, our level of consumer spending was not so high as it is today, but people also witnessed rapidly increasing consumer power during those years. Even outside of that, given Apple’s gargantuan profits, there’s no way they can’t ensure better working conditions through throwing their considerable corporate weight around. Those contractors do whatever the corporations want them to do. They want so much product at so much cost. And they get it to them. This does not have to be a constant downward. If the corporations want the contractors to pay more, that will happen.
Krazit’s one point worth serious discussion is the role of the Chinese government, who may well be obfuscating any information coming out about their workers’ lives and who could theoretically provide a structural barrier to a corporation wanting to pay its workers more (assuming any of us take seriously the idea that Apple executives really care all that much about how these workers live, which I most certainly do not). If China truly sees its future as providing cheap manufacturing labor, I can see why it might want to discourage one company from paying too much in the fear of driving off other companies. But that’s happening already. As China begins transitioning to a more mature and wealthy society and as workers get sick of dying in factories and having babies born with cancer, companies are moving to Bangladesh, Vietnam, and other nations with working conditions even more wretched. And while I don’t doubt the power of the Chinese government, I do not at all buy the presumption that Apple is somehow helpless to improve their workers’ lives in the face of the Chinese government. This is patently absurd.
Apple could do any number of things if it were serious about allowing its workers to live better lives. It could slightly reduce profits and earmark this money specifically for workers’ wages. It could open its own factory in China, hiring skilled technicians and creating a modern version of a company town (a scenario also ripe for abuse, but it isn’t worse than the present situation). It could then allow western reporters, environmental consultations, human rights groups, and whoever else full access to that factory. Even if you take Krazit’s point seriously that they jobs can’t leave China because that’s where the expertise lies (which begs the question of how computers were made before they were in China and what will happen when computer companies move their factories to nations with ever-more degraded labor), it hardly means that corporations are helpless to do anything at all about their workers. It’s that they don’t really want to do so.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s military-industrial complex sustained the massive Soviet military institution, which regularly gobbled up 15-25 percent of the nation’s GDP. In an odd and unexpected twist to the end of the Cold War, the Russian arms industry has turned to sustaining itself by arming a pair of Asian giants: Arms exports to China and India have proven lucrative for Russia — and have even had a synergistic and competitive quality. The unease each country has felt due to the other increasing its military capability has led to higher revenues for Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-owned arms exporter. For the post-Cold War Russian arms industry, this trade has represented a boon, helping to replace lost customers in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Russian military itself. However, this situation is almost certainly unsustainable in the long run, as both China and India appear to be outgrowing their dependence on the Russian military-industrial complex. This will spell trouble for Russia, which has had great difficulty developing exports based on anything other than arms or energy.
So you’ve probably seen something about Paul Kane’s “Sell Taiwan” op-ed in the New York Times; effectively, Kane’s suggestion would mean that the US would guarantee non-intervention in any PRC-ROC dispute in exchange for forgiveness of a portion of the Chinese held US debt. I’m not sure exactly how the economics would work out, other than to say that the effects would probably be minimal. But “selling” Taiwan would also relieve the US of the (self-imposed) responsibility of defending Taiwan from China, potentially creating the conditions for a more stable strategic framework in East Asia.
Kane argues that the op-ed was intended as satire, designed to force us to think through our foreign policy values and commitments. While the attempt seems somewhat clumsy to me (and the rejoinders to his critics even more clumsy), I think there’s considerable value in these exercises. As I’ve mentioned before, I always assign David Brin’s Thor Meets Captain America to my National Security Policy course, along with Arnold Wolfers’ National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol and Charles Lindblom’s The Science of Muddling Through. The Brin brings the process of choosing between values into relief, and opens the door to questions such as “under what circumstances would we exchange Florida for peace and security?” And so the responses to Kane’s hypothetical about Taiwan could range widely between discussions of Taiwan’s direct military value, of its reputation value, and of the intrinsic value of defending a democracy from an authoritarian state. These then could lead to productive conversations about the relation between military, reputational, and intrinsic value, how they interact, and so forth. These are not bad conversations to have, even if you doubt the wisdom of selling out the ROC.
Last night I accidentally watched the bulk of the GOP national security debate. There was certainly a degree of entertainment value, and there’s something to be said for being part of a community of live tweeters. Rick Perry made Michelle Bachmann make sense on Pakistan, Newt tried to play the front-runner, Ron Paul got some interesting applause lines, and as Dan Drezner and a few others noted, no one talked about China until the very end. Fortunately, today’s column is about why we should talk about China:
President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Australia highlighted, in a very deliberate way, a decision to shift U.S. attention and resources away from the Middle East and toward East Asia. Obama’s remarks to the Australian Parliament, combined with his announcement of a new basing agreement at Darwin, on Australia’s northern coast, framed several days of discussions on the role that the United States would play in Asian power politics. Sam Roggeveen of the Lowy Institute of International Politics, an Australian foreign policy think tank, suggested that Obama’s speech in Canberra was as important and consequential as the Cairo speech of 2009. Of course, the speech itself is only worth as much as the underlying changes in policy that follow. In concrete terms, what does it mean when Obama that, “as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future”? And how will we know that the United States is following through on this commitment?
Last week the Global Times e-interviewed me about the possibility of war between the United States and China. Here’s the result, along with answers to the same questions from Major General Luo Yuan, deputy secretary-general of the PLA Academy of Military Sciences.
There is no ready solution to this problem, because it lies at the heart of all diplomatic activity. Absent exceptional intelligence work, the motivation and resolve of diplomatic partners will always remain something of a mystery. A dense set of relationships and interactions undoubtedly helps create transparency, as interlocutors become familiar enough with each other to recognize the difference between real red lines and their rhetorical doppelgangers. This density of interactions involves not just high-level diplomatic meetings, but also commercial and military relationships. The RAND authors suggest that the United States work to commit itself to the defense and support of regional allies. While such a policy might threaten China with encirclement, it could also help reduce uncertainty; public commitments manifested through strong bilateral relationships are difficult to abandon, even in a crisis. However, even a policy of commitment is only as valuable as the capabilities devoted to its maintenance, and the U.S. advantage over China in this regard will become strained over the coming decades.