Interrupting election coverage for this all-important update on the structure of the East Asian arms trade:
An arms relationship represents both an economic and a political commitment. What’s at stake in making such a commitment? While Sino-U.S. competition likely won’t descend into the kind of alliance structure that predominated during the Cold War, some navies could nevertheless find themselves on the “wrong side” of political competition in the Western Pacific, which could leave them vulnerable. Committing to one supplier creates a relationship of dependency, with the client needing to stay in the good graces of the patron in order to maintain access to spares, munitions, and modernization kits. The smaller navies of Southeast Asia need to decide how best to develop force structures in a future which may see competition between the United States and China.
Everyone I know sent me a link related to this event. First things first, congratulations to the PLAN and to the people of China on turning a half-finished hulk into a major, if limited, warship. Some thoughts from around the internets:
- Andrew Erickson has been on the Liaoning beat for a while. This is an excellent summation of the issues at stake, including the risks that Liaoning presents to the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Here’s a useful link-filled post to a host of analytical pieces. See here for a short history of the project and of its antecedents.
- Stephen Walt sounds the alarm about alarm sounding. I dunno that we need the quotes around “aircraft carrier;” while it’s true enough that Liaoning currently lacks any fixed wing fighter aircraft, she surely does represent a major leap ahead in Chinese naval ambitions.
- Feng has some extended thoughts about the reconstruction of Liaoning, noting that the Chinese managed a remarkable refurbishment in a time frame that should make the Russians (who are still futzing about with INS Vikramaditya). Especially given that Kuznetsov is going in for a major refit soon, I doubt we’ll see Russia operating more carriers at any one time than China again in our lifetime. See also this post on how economic slowdown in the PRC may affect Chinese defense spending.
- Brian Killough provides a useful corrective to the “it’s a useless, floating parking lot” meme by pointing out Liaoning’s obvious prestige value, as well as her value as a training and experimental ship.
- David Axe discusses a stealth fighter that may eventually fly off Liaoning.
My latest at the Diplomat discussed efforts to make military services play nice with one another:
I’ve belabored the organizational aspects of China’s system of anti-access systems because bureaucratic boundaries matter. AirSea Battle seeks, above all, to iron out the wrinkles that could prevent tight cooperation between the United States Navy and the United States Air Force. Years of hard won experience have demonstrated that military organizations don’t necessarily play well together; they have different priorities, different practices, and often different system of communication that generate friction and detract from overall capability. The history of USN and USAF collaboration in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, and the Gulf is littered with stories of hostility, rivalry, and miscommunication. The Pentagon understands this, and over the years has enacted a plethora of reforms (not least the Goldwater-Nichols Act) to ensure that the Air Force and the Navy can operate effectively together.
As of yet there is little indication that the PLAN, PLAAF, and 2nd Artillery have developed the practices necessary to ensure an efficient, effective partnership in battle.
When workers are rioting because their lives are so awful that there’s absolutely nothing to lose, it’s pretty bloody awful. Let’s just hope international pressure continues to push Apple to “work with Foxconn” to improve conditions. After all, what power does one of the world’s most influential corporations really have to dictate the conditions of work for its manufacturers??? And of course, since consumers clearly won’t pay a penny more to acquire the coolness of an Apple product, the idea of creating work conditions that would make suicide nets unnecessary is obviously impossible……
I have a new weekly gig at The Diplomat. First offering:
Reports on Monday indicated that the PLAN has finally settled on a name for its aircraft carrier, heretofore known as the ex-Varyag. While speculation included names such as “Beijing,” “Mao Zedong,” and “Shi Lang,” the PLAN instead decided to adopt a relatively conventional naming strategy, dubbing the refurbished Soviet-era carrier “Liaoning” in honor of the province that has hosted the warship’s refit.
Most analysts agree that China will pursue the construction of additional aircraft carriers, but at this point the opacity of Chinese defense planning has not revealed how many ships the PLAN intends to operate. In a recent article for Globe Magazine, a Chinese security scholar and major general argued that China needs up to five carriers to manage its maritime security…
Two Indian Air Force pilots who flew Chinese Defence Minister Gen Liang Guanglie in a special aircraft from Mumbai to Delhi on Wednesday received an unusual gift from the visiting dignitary.
The pilots were given two envelopes on their arrival in Delhi. On opening the envelopes, they found Rs 50,000 in Indian currency in each.
Sources said the captain of the aircraft informed Air Headquarters, and it was decided the cash would be deposited in the government depository. The cash could not be returned due to diplomatic sensitivities, they added.
Liang, who is on a five-day visit to India, arrived in Mumbai on Sunday.
I’m guessing that accepting the… gratuity would have resulted in more than the standard level of professional jeopardy that such transactions involve. The IAF also has a strong reputation for professionalism. I wonder what would have happened if the situation had been reversed…
I have two largely unrelated pieces that both involve China. First, in the Diplomat:
As a regularly scheduled biennial exercise, RIMPAC happens regardless of the extant political situation in the Pacific. However, the absence of the People’s Liberation Army Navy – and the participation of Russia and India for the first time – combined with new tensions in the South China Sea, leaves the unavoidable impression that these exercises are geared towards managing the increasing naval power of China.
This year’s RIMPAC exercise took place against the backdrop of an unusually open debate about the future of U.S. maritime strategy in East Asia. The Obama administration’s “pivot” pledges a redistribution of U.S. military effort to the Western Pacific. The development of AirSea Battle, at least at tactical and operational levels, promises to enhance the ability of assets from different organizations to cooperate. China has viewed these debates with considerable concern.
And then in the Global Times:
The broader problem is that sponsorship of militant networks can have wide-ranging, unpredictable outcomes. Elements of the US supported mujahedeen eventually came to constitute part of the Taliban, giving harbor to enemies of the US. Pakistani support of the Taliban as well as other militant networks has led to many terrorist attacks in Pakistan and India. In the future, jihadist networks may undertake major attacks in Xinjiang and other parts of China.
Whether or not elements of the Pakistani Taliban are using Afghanistan as a safe haven, border conflicts will continue to create problems between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US…. Heavily armed bands of young, enthusiastic men undercut state power and authority, however attractive such networks may appear in the short term. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India should take note, just as China and the US should closely monitor the development of new militant groups along the Durand Line.
James Holmes asks us to crowdsource a name for China’s “it’s new to you” aircraft carrier, having correctly noted that “ex-Varyag” is getting old:
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 Indisputable Sovereign 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!!
My first thought, obviously, was to check out the major Chinese-origin ship names in Starfleet. Know what I found? A single vessel (USS Yangtze, a glorified shuttlecraft) has been christened with a Chinese name. Dozens of Native American names, plenty of Japanese, lotsa European, even a few Indian, but only one (insulting, really) Chinese name.
UPDATE: A good rant ruined by fictional facts.
James Holmes on INS Vikramaditya vs. The Chinese-carrier-to-be-named-later:
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.