Check out this fabulously informative article on Chinese SSBNs. The PLAN is building between four and six Jin-class nuclear ballistic missile subs, which when complete will constitute a deterrent on the same order as that possessed by France or the United Kingdom. According to the author, the Chinese believe that SSBN launched missiles can render a missile defense system useless, at least for the current generation of missile defense technology.
I am curious about what the boats mean for the future of Chinese naval doctrine. Whereas British, French, and US SSBN practice has focused on hiding, Soviet naval doctrine envisioned a layered defense of SSBN home areas. The Soviets believed (correctly) that Western attack submarines could detect their SSBNs, and as such structured air, surface, and subsurface doctrine around the idea of protecting base areas from incursion by US subs and surface vessels. It seems unlikely to me that these Chinese submarines will be able to reliably avoid interception and tracking by US submarines, which makes me wonder whether the PLAN will adopt measures similar to those of the Red Navy in the second half of the Cold War. This is relevant because the Soviet naval buildup was misinterpreted until the late 1970s; it took a long time for the USN to figure out that the expansion of Soviet naval capabilities was, in substantial part, oriented around defense of boomers.
I have a piece up at Comment is Free on the prospects for cooperation between China and the US on managing North Korea. The title, sadly, was not of my invention.
Feng at ID highlights two new bits of data on China’s aircraft carrier program. The first is that the Chinese have carried out significant work on the ex-Varyag, the Kuznetsov class carrier that they purchased several years ago and that has been the source of constant speculation on Chinese intentions. The second, and much more interesting, is that the PLAN has apparently arranged to begin training its carrier pilots on board the Sao Paulo, Brazil’s full deck aircraft carrier.
Aircraft carriers represent a huge investment of time and effort. Apart from the carrier itself and the aircraft, a navy needs to assemble a battlegroup capable of protecting the carrier, and needs to master fixed wing big deck carrier operations. This last is exceptionally complicated, and its difficulty is not to be underestimated. Operating a modern aircraft carrier requires a high level of professionalism and expertise on the part of the pilots, the aircrew, and the ship’s regular complement. For example, taking off from and landing on a carrier is much more complicated than similar operations on land. Pilots also have to master a set of navigational skills that will guarantee they can find their carrier under adverse conditions. The maintenance requirements for aircraft at sea are much greater than for aircraft on land, because of the corrosive effect of seawater. Coordinating an air group at sea is difficult, and coordinating take offs and landings such that sorties can be maximized is very difficult indeed. We know all this because it took the United States quite some time to master jet aircraft operations on big deck carriers. Until the Chinese master such operations, they’re looking forward to large numbers of accidents and carriers of limited effectiveness.
Learning such operations takes a long time. One shortcut to learning from scratch is to borrow knowledge from others. The Royal Navy, which has substantially lost the expertise it once had in aircraft carrier operations, is borrowing from both the French and the Americans. US and French advisors are consulting with the RN, and RN officers are learning on board US and French ships. Chinese options for vicarious learning, however, are limited. The US certainly isn’t interested in doing the Chinese any favors. The French might be interested, but their military interaction with China is limited by EU arms export rules. The Russians don’t have a reputation for being very effective in carrier operations, and in any case they’re likely to lack a sense of humor about the Chinese stealing their aircraft.
Enter Brazil, last of the four countries to operate conventional aircraft from carriers. Sao Paulo, formerly the French Foch, operates A-4 Skyhawks. It appears from this interview that the PLAN has arranged with the Brazilian Navy to train some of its pilots and crews on board Sao Paulo. It’s fair to say that this represents a substantial step forward for Chinese naval aviation. This agreement with Brazil will presumably allow the Chinese access to Brazilian naval aviation experts in addition to the carrier itself. This should accelerate the development of Chinese naval aviation by quite a bit.
The normal caveats apply to this; in the very best case scenario China is decades away from being able to challenge the carriers of the USN with its own. Moreover, conflict between China and the United States, or China and its neighbors, is far from inevitable. Still, the PLAN appears to be serious about naval aviation, and it seems to know what it needs to learn. As a final point, unless this is all part of an elaborate charade on the part of the Chinese, it indicates that in spite of whatever methods the PLAN may have developed to attack US carriers, it still believes that it needs its own CVs.
I’m sure that the Chinese just arrived independently at the idea of having a folding-wing version of the Su-27:
Russia is eyeing China following media reports that an unlicensed variant of the Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-borne multirole fighter has been developed. Sukhoi officials are “closely monitoring that situation but have not said any official position yet,” said Sukhoi spokesman Aleksey Poveshchenko.
Ever since Beijing announced plans earlier this year to build its first aircraft carrier, speculation has been rampant over how the People’s Liberation Army Navy would acquire carrier-borne fighters. Sukhoi’s Su-33, with its folding wings, is the only choice because of the U.S. and European arms embargo to China.
Russian officials, who say China is already illegally copying their Su-27SK fighter jet, have halted negotiations to sell the Su-33. Beijing has not confirmed that it is working on a clone of the Su-27SK – dubbed Flanker by NATO.
“China will not acknowledge to the Russians that these are copies,” said Andrei Chang, a China military analyst at Kanway Information Center. “They say it is an independent domestic production designed solely by themselves.”
China owns an Su-33 prototype, which it obtained from the Ukrainian Research Test and Flying Training Center at Nitka, Chang said.
There’s a lot going on here. For one, it indicates that China’s IP policy remains ad hoc; the PRC will respect IP rights when it is bribed sufficiently to do so, or when it fears retaliation. On this second point, it seems that the Chinese do not fear Russian retaliation, given that they have also been accused of stealing Russian submarine designs. I’m guessing that the Chinese anticipate that in the future purchasing advanced weapon systems from Russia will no longer be a preferred option, in no small part because the next generation of Chinese designs will be more capable than the next generation of Russian.
There are also some interesting IR theory puzzles here. By a standard crude realist account, the Chinese shouldn’t care a whit for Russian licensing rights. By a somewhat more sophisticated realist account, the Chinese leadership will abide by international intellectual property norms to the extent that such norms benefit China. In this account, the PRC would be willing to forego short term gains from IP defection in defense of the larger structure of international IP law if China benefitted sufficiently from that structure. I think that we’re moving in that direction; I suspect that the PRC will become a beneficiary of strict IP interpretation in the short to medium term, if it isn’t already.
In this case, I think you could argue that the Chinese simply don’t see much of a downside from violating Russian IP rights. First, Russia is not considered to be an ideal IP citizen, and so there’s less downside to violating Russian IP rights than to violating French or American. Chinese behavior towards Russia isn’t necessarily understood to be predictive of Chinese behavior towards anyone else. Second, apart from weapons Chinese trade with Russia doesn’t seem to heavily involve the kinds of goods that are dependent on a strict IP regime, although that could change as the mix of Chinese exports increases. Finally, most realists would argue that legal concerns would have the lowest weight in the security sphere; in a straight up cost-benefit calculation, paying the Russians a license fee for the Su-33 just doesn’t pay off, so to speak.
Two final thoughts; there are a myriad of reasons why the Chinese aren’t copying F/A-18s or Rafale’s, but I’m guessing that the PRC would be much more nervous about violating French or US law than Russian, even if they had the capability to build such aicraft. Second, in 10-15 years I suspect that the Chinese are going to become vigorous, assertive enforcers of defense related intellectual property, even as the unlicensed Su-33s start flying off the first Chinese aircraft carriers.
This should prove remarkably interesting; a Zhao Ziyang recorded memoir of his CCP tenure during the 1980s has been smuggled out of China and is being published:
But in this long, enforced retirement, it turns out, Mr. Zhao secretly recorded his own account, on 30 musical cassette tapes that were spirited out of the country by former aides and supporters, of his rise to national power in the 1980s, his battles with the old guard, and his alliance and tussles with Mr. Deng as he loosened Soviet-style controls and helped put China on a path to the dynamic economic power it has become today.
Mr. Zhao also tells how he was outmaneuvered during the lengthy student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in the spring of 1989, setting up his ouster shortly before the military crackdown on June 4 of that year.
We can expect that the account will be self-serving, and that Zhao will paint himself as critical to the process of economic reform and as a lonely voice against violence in 1989. Both of those are to some extent true, but I doubt that Zhao will tell the whole story. Still, any account of the inner workings of the CCP during the 1980s will shed light on the leadership debates and processes that shaped the modern PRC.
But I don’t understand; why are the dolphins fighting on behalf of the Communists? Have the Chinese been training dolphins for combat? Do we face a dolphin gap?
Thousands of dolphins blocked the suspected Somali pirate ships when they were trying to attack Chinese merchant ships passing the Gulf of Aden, the China Radio International reported on Monday.
The Chinese merchant ships escorted by a China’s fleet sailed on the Gulf of Aden when they met some suspected pirate ships. Thousands of dolphins suddenly leaped out of water between pirates and merchants when the pirate ships headed for the China’s.
The suspected pirates ships stopped and then turned away. The pirates could only lament their littleness befor the vast number of dolphins. The spectacular scene continued for a while.
If it weren’t for PETA, we’d have more than enough dolphins to eliminate piracy once and for all. Stoopid liberuls…
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.
Heh. Perhaps Hu Jintao should consider forming an exploratory committee for the 2012 Republican primary…
According to Gallup, Communist, melamine exporting, beating us in the Olympics China is now more popular than Congressional Republicans:
USA Today/Gallup Poll. Feb. 20-22, 2009. N=1,013 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.
“Do you approve or disapprove of the way the Republicans in Congress are handling their job?”
Approve 36%–56% Disapprove
Gallup Poll. Feb. 9-12, 2009. N=1,022 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.
“Next, I’d like your overall opinion of some foreign countries. Is your overall opinion of [see below] very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?”
China: Favorable 41%–51% Unfavorable
An Indian Kilo class submarine spooked Chinese warships that were sent to patrol pirate infested waters in the Gulf of Aden and the two navies engaged in an hour long game of ‘hide and seek’ in international waters last month, Chinese media reports have said.
In the first such incident involving Indian and Chinese warships that has come to light, media reports from China said that its warships ‘forced’ the Indian submarine to surface after over an hour of manoeuvres during which anti submarine choppers were scrambled from the Chinese destroyers.
As Galrahn notes, the “forced” claim doesn’t make much sense; unless the Chinese were firing live ordnance, why would the Indian submarine ever surface. Still, it does suggest a PLAN with potentially better anti-submarine chops than has previously been understood.
The PLAN is using its anti-piracy mission as an opportunity to learn:
Stratfor, a private intelligence agency based in the United States, said in a report that a Chinese antipiracy patrol would afford its navy “some very real opportunities for on-the-job training, covering everything from logistics far from home and combat against seaborne opponents to communications and joint operations with other, more experienced navies.”
The analysis also said the Chinese would probably monitor the way NATO warships, especially those of the United States, “communicate with each other and with their ship-borne helicopters.” The navy will acquire new skills, it said, “under the banner of internationalism.”
Duh-duh-DUH! Right; it would be a tragedy if the PLAN learned how to fight pirates by fighting pirates. Mild alarmism aside, it’s a genuine positive that the PLAN will have the opportunity to learn how to conduct joint operations.