The Chinese navy has in recent times focused much attention upon a decidedly more mundane and nonphotogenic arena of naval warfare: sea mines. This focus has, in combination with other asymmetric forms of naval warfare, had a significant impact on the balance of power in East Asia. In tandem with submarine capabilities, it now seems that China is engaged in a significant effort to upgrade its mine warfare prowess.
The prolific and insightful Andrew Erickson suggested in 2009 that by focusing on aircraft carriers and anti-ship missiles, we may be missing the hidden secret of China’s maritime strategy: huge investments in mine warfare.
Is the Liaoning nothing more than a showy distraction, meant to invigorate nationalists at home and deceive observers abroad? This study makes an implicit argument that the received wisdom on China’s strategy is probably a false trail.
If nothing else, Erickson’s study should serve as a reminder that China will use a full spectrum of weapons in its efforts to control the seas, and that we have to be imaginative about what they will do, rather than allow ourselves to be sucked into a seductive narrative about carrier-killing missiles.