Is China’s Navy hiding its real secret weapon?

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.

Source: Chinese Mine Warfare: A PLA Navy ‘Assassin’s Mace’ Capability | Andrew S. Erickson

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.


The PLAN figures out expeditionary logistics

Sustained Support: the PLAN Evolves its Expeditionary Logistics Strategy | Andrew S. Erickson

The old saw about military affairs still applies: “amateurs study tactics, armchair generals study strategy, and true professionals study logistics.”

The prolific and erudite Andrew Erickson now delves into the most important question surrounding China’s growing naval expeditionary operations: how it is handling logistics. For a military lacking a significant history of operations with globe-spanning supply lines, the speed with which China can learn this craft will do much to determine both the sustainability and effectiveness of deployments abroad.

It’s not easy to strike that balance and do so cost-effectively: the recent prosecution of USN Captain Donald Dusek underscores the dangers of running an overseas logistics procurement operation, and shipping supplies from home will be expensive and tricky. Projecting power abroad will, for China’s armed forces, prove itself to be a cluster of unanticipated challenges.

On the Rack: Strategic Studies Quarterly

Demilitarized Zone, North Korea

Demilitarized Zone, North Korea (Photo credit: yeowatzup)

Strategic Studies Quarterly
Winter 2012

The SSQ for Winter 2012 is out and on the racks. There is nothing specific about China in this edition, but a couple of articles might capture the imagination of China hands.

USAF Colonel Vincent Alcazar offers some thinking about how to counter “anti-access/area denial” strategies pursued by potential adversaries, including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Interesting to note that Russia is back on the boogey-man board.

RAND’s Bruce Bennett offers some ideas on deterring North Korea from using WMD. What is fascinating about the article is its underlying assumption: deterrence depends on the actions of the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. The hint is clear: US planners no longer feel they can count on China’s help in addressing the Korean nuclear threat.

As always, a half dozen excellent reads. It is telling, though, that most of the contributors in this Air Force publication are not serving or former USAF officers. One wonders if there is a brain drain sapping the formerly deep intellectual pool of America’s air service.


Is Anybody Following as We Pivot?

“Is America Listening to its East Asian Allies?”
David Kang
PacNet, Number 64
Pacific Forum CSIS
October 18, 2012

In a review of Hugh White’s new book The China Choice, David C. Kang of USC suggests that the U.S. attempt to form a loose coalition of nations to counter China’s growing assertiveness may be entirely wrongheaded. Kang notes that the reason erstwhile US allies are not jumping in to line up behind Washington is that they can less afford to irritate Beijing than they can to irritate Washington.

Both Kang and White make cogent points, and their comments add to a growing corpus of commentary questioning the Obama Asia pivot. What is unclear from the review is a more vital question: is the US effort to create a soft containment field around China doomed to fail? Or are Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton, and their teams are simply going about it the wrong way? Are we correct in drawing a thick black line around China in its current borders, implying a Cold War-esque forward-based containment effort? Or should we be thinking more of a realistic approach that accounts for our national will and resources, perhaps stepping back to a line that runs Alaska-Hawaii-Guam-Samoa-Australia?

These are hard, unpleasant questions, not least for the people of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines, all of whom take for granted the iron umbrella provided by the United States. But this is the direction toward which Kang and White are, more subtly than I, driving us.

The Generals’ Guide to Strategy

U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, Vol. 1: Theory of War and Strategy, 5th Ed.
Dr. J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr., ed.
Strategic Studies Institute
Carlisle, PA
June 2012
359 Pages

U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues, Vol. 2: National Security Policy and Strategy, 5th Ed.
Dr. J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr., ed.
Strategic Studies Institute
Carlisle, PA
June 2012

I have a bookshelf full of books on strategy, and I probably paid an average of $12 plus overseas shipping for each of them. To say I appreciate a bargain would be an understatement.

This two-volume set, offered as a free download, is a jewel. These are the textbooks of two of the core strategy courses of the United States Army War College, used to train the future leaders of the United States how to formulate grand strategy. At the very least they offer both insights to U.S. defense thought and a fascinating primer on American grand strategy.

Marketers and Six Hundred Cities

English: The skyline of Shanghai, China.

English: The skyline of Shanghai, China. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Urban world: Cities and the rise of the consuming class
by Richard Dobbs, Jaana Remes, et al;
McKinsey Global Institute, 77 pages

Richard Dobbs and Jaana Remes at the McKinsey Global Institute have just released a survey of the world’s cities that provokes some interest. The core of the report is the authors’ list of 600 municipalities that will drive some 65% of the world’s growth in the coming years. Given the global trend toward urbanization, the conclusion that cities will drive most of the world’s growth doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

What makes the report worthwhile is two features. First, the authors avoid the temptation to be simple boosters, pointing out that the economic importance of cities does not mean that their success as municipalities is foregone. The authors place a deep emphasis on making the growth gradual and sustainable rather than explosive.

Second is the list itself. Anyone selling to consumers around the world and planning on where to focus efforts in distribution and retail needs to have this report close at hand. While 600 cities sounds like a lot, China alone has 550 identified cities, so any list that will narrow down a marketer’s job to as few as 600 cities is a gift.

The report is available on McKinsey’s website.

Getting Navies to Work Together

Naval Command College

Flags of the home nations of the students of the Naval Command College (Photo credit: U.S. Naval War College RI)

“Networking the Global Maritime Partnership” – Stephanie Hszieh, George Galdorisi, Terry McKearney, and Darren Sutton, via U.S. Naval War College | 2012 – Spring.

This is a fascinating article that picks up on the concept first introduced by Chief of Naval Operations (later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Admiral Mike Mullen, wherein we  no longer see the U.S. Navy as operating in a strategic vacuum, but as a component of a “Thousand Ship Navy,” a multinational maritime force of nations who share the same priorities and can therefore be melded into a single, unified force.

I liked Mullen’s idea when he first introduced it six years ago, and I like it more now that the USN is fumbling its warship procurement efforts and other nations are expanding their naval forces (Look at the UK building two aircraft carriers as a part of a fleet renewal program as just one example.) Mullen may not have taken his ideas directly from Thomas P.M. Barnett‘s thinking about a multi-agency, multi-national response to global security challenges (as outlined in his seminal book The Pentagon’s New Map,) but the direction is the same. The U.S. may be sheriff, but it needs deputies to run the town.

The article offers some detailed ideas about the challenges and opportunities in making it happen.

An Alternative to Clausewitz and Sun Tzu


portray of J.F.C. Fuller

Colonel J.F.C. Fuller (Image via Wikipedia)

The Foundations of the Science of War, by Major General J.F.C. Fuller

Fuller was a British officer during the Boer War, the First World War, and the 1920s, but he is one of the most controversial figures in the firmament of 20th century strategy. He was brilliant but arrogant, inquisitive but opinionated, and had rotten political instincts.

Yet despite all of that, he was learned in the conduct of battle and sought to create a unified theory of war in this compilation of his lectures from the British Army’s Staff College at Camberly.

Fuller never quite reaches the level of the great strategists like Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Mahan, and Boyd, but the book serves as an excellent foil against which to pit other theories of war.

Why Culture Matters for Strategists

The words “pithy” and “easy to read” do not always attach themselves to writing coming out of government institutions, but Jiyul Kim’s Cultural Dimensions of Strategy and Policy is the exception that proves the rule. Kim is an engaging writer and has a point to make: in international relations it is not just political and economic power that matter, but culture as well.

To those untouched by the debates among the various schools of political thought, this makes incredible sense. But there are those, alas, who think that culture plays such a secondary or tertiary role in relations between states that it merits little consideration. In many cases, these scholars are the same ones who deride the ideas of Joseph Nye (“Soft Power“) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (“Smart Power“) as insufferably idealistic. As a longtime skeptic of all of the standing schools of foreign policy, I am as yet undecided. But Kim makes a persuasive point, and his paper is an important addition to the literature that argues for the importance of factors beyond guns and butter in international politics.

In fact, I would argue that Kim’s points are more relevant to executives and students of business than it is to political economists. The issue of where national culture and corporate culture create or destroy opportunity as businesses venture abroad is not trivial, but it remains underrated and insufficiently discussed among those of us actually making decisions or advising those who do. Kim’s paper should helps spark your thinking.

Hard Power in an Age of Soft Power

In Hard Power and Soft Power: The Utility of Military Force as an Instrument of Policy in the 21st Century, Professor Colin S. Gray has written what is perhaps one of the most thoughtful contrasts between the virtues of hard power (read “military force”) and soft power written since Joseph Nye fully outlined the concept of Soft Power nearly two decades ago.

Gray is cynical not so much of Nye’s original proposition, but of the growing buzz around soft power as some form of alternative to armed force. Some of Gray’s major points resonate, and suggest that thinking about soft power in Washington and elsewhere is a little “soft.” Specifically, Gray notes that hard power and soft power are not substitutable for each other, and and that military force is not an anachronism.

At the same time, Professor Gray is no mindless advocate of military power, he openly acknowledges the limits of military power. Even better, he tosses a wide critique at military faddists with a quote I am going to have bronzed. “When adopted uncritically and without noticeably perceptive situational awareness, nearly every idea in the strategist’s conceptual arsenal can be dangerous.”

This is a superb work by a strategist of the first order, and it belongs as a companion volume to Nye’s writings or any discussion of strategic communications.

I have a few quibbles, because I feel that Gray overstates at least two of his conclusions, and misses one point that would fit well in his analysis. First, he suggests that strategic competency is less relevant for soft power. I disagree. I would argue that because the western democracies have never generated the means, doctrines, or methodologies to translate grand strategy into the employment of soft power, we are unable to wield such power in a strategic manner. Nye, in identifying strategic power as an axis, has given us a useful starting point, but we have yet to develop the concepts that would allow us to make “strategic communications” truly strategic.

Second, Gray argues that soft power merely “co-opts the readily co-optable.” I respond that soft power operates on longer timelines than most operational art is prepared to consider. Soft power, unlike an air strike, must be built over time, its targets selected, and action taken sometimes years in advance of the actual start of kinetic operations.

Finally, Gray overlooks the soft power aspects of hard power. Respect for the military capabilities of a nation from other nations are a large – and sometimes significant – contributor to a nation’s soft power. Indeed, it was probably the belief in the prowess of the Red Army and its weaponry more than its ideology that contributed to the influence of the Soviet Union in the three decades after the end of World War II.

But these issues do not detract from the book’s core value in the debate over the changing nature of power in the 21st century. This thin volume belongs on every strategist’s bookshelf.

Rethinking Psychological Operations

The theory and practice of military psychological operations find their roots in World War II, and for decades remained largely unchanged. There was good reason for this: the media via which psychological operations were conducted were largely of a broadcast type. Aside from the advent of television, psychological operations were conducted with media that existed since the early 20th Century.

Now that the Internet has become all but pervasive, and mass media have begun to change, the military is being forced to take a step back from the channels of its communications and start to explore the nature of influence before trying to decide how to exert that influence. The result of that overdue introspection is Foundations of Effective Influence Operations.

I am a communicator by profession, and in the fraught, complex, and often dirty world of business in Asia I face challenges that bear notable similarities to those facing Army PsyOps people on the battlefield. As such, I was interested to see what a team of seven really bright RAND scholars could come up with.

The result was both surprising and delightful. Surprising, because the book is so good that it could serve as a capstone or entry-level introduction for anyone studying communications or marketing; delightful, because I found so many of my own conclusions echoed in its pages. My favorite passage:

Put simply, because what we actually do often matters far more than what we say, influence operations frequently will focus on explain- ing and leveraging off tangible actions by casting them in a positive context and thereby building trust with an audience or by countering adversary claims about such actions with factual information that is buttressed by facts on the ground and averred by local opinion leaders whose credibility and trustworthiness is judged to be high.

The other conclusion that hit home with me was that there are no easy formulas that will translate across different situations, much less across cultures, and that artful improvisation in the development of communications campaigns was essential. I’ve long believed that great communications is not a template, and to have that affirmed in this study was edifying indeed.

These glimpses only scratch the surface. There is great depth and much insight in this book that can only be appreciated by reading it.

Fourth-Generation Warfare Debunked

One of the ideas to emerge among security experts and even within the Pentagon after 9/11 is the idea that the events of that day have propelled warfare into a new era of warfare. Distinct from first generation warfare, emphasizing massed manpower, the second generation, which emphasized firepower, and the third, which focused on maneuver, the fourth generation of warfare is, essentially, a form of globalized insurgency.

Historian and strategist Dr. Antulio Echevarria believes that this conception is half-baked, and in Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths argues convincingly for a more critical appraisal of the theory of fourth-generation warfare, and somewhat less convincingly for its rejection.

Anyone following what happened in Iraq and what is happening now in Afghanistan would want to read this brief volume.

Sustaining Key Skills in the UK Military Aircraft Industry

The Ministry of Defense of the United Kingdom commissioned the RAND Corporation in California to help Her Majesty’s Government figure out how, in the face of the growing dominance of US and European aerospace manufacturers, Britain can retain the human infrastructure for a healthy military aircraft industry. This short but pointed book outlines a solution.

This concern is not limited to the UK. British designers have played an important role in the creation of generations of highly successful military fixed-wing aircraft, and the loss of this capability would be a grievous loss to the industry as a whole.

Indeed, what fascinated me most about this book is that worries about “skills retention” in the face of long-cycle industry downsizing extends to a series of industries in the US, Japan, and elsewhere. As this AP article notes:

Centerline Machining & Grinding in Hobart, Wis., which makes custom parts for manufacturers in the paper industry, plans to add to its staff of 26. But it’s struggling to find the skilled tradesmen it needs for jobs paying $18 to $25 an hour.

CEO Sara Dietzen laments that local vocational schools cut back training courses in recent years, having concluded that the future for manufacturing was dim. Not from her view it isn’t. For her company, output is all about speed.

Applying that background, this is a fascinating read, and far more relevant than its limited title suggests.

Rethinking Operations for a Two-speed World

In a new special report, Wharton and the Boston Consulting Group explore how companies need to figure out how to operate in a world where their core markets are developing at radically different paces.

This is an interesting thesis, and will be of varied value depending on the industry, but for any company in the internet and technology businesses trying to bridge the BRIC countries on the one hand and the developed economies on the West on the other, this is an essential read.

My only quibble with the thesis would be the question “is this a two speed world or ten speed world.” Certainly China and the UK are now growing at two different speeds. On the other hand it could also be argued that the pace of market development varies widely among the BRIC countries, to say nothing of the differences among the BRICs, the West, and Africa.

In short, Wharton is taking the first steps in an important direction with this report, helping companies rethink and restructure to address this emerging challenge of globalization. Expect to see more debate along these lines in the future.

Avoiding Technology Surprise for Tomorrow’s Warfighter

Ever since Clayton M. Christensen published his seminal book The Innovator’s Dilemma, executives have understood that technological change can undermine companies and industries with little warning. The challenge, of course, is anticipating, detecting, and addressing disruptive change before the impact undermines the business, costing money and jobs.

For the guys in uniform, unanticipated technological change can be even costlier,  so the Pentagon wants to have an idea of how to better shield itself and the nation from the results of disruption via technology. Avoiding Technology Surprise for Tomorrow’s Warfighter offers the proceedings of a Department of Defense workshop where ways of categorizing, anticipating, and preparing for disruptive technology change were addressed.

You don’t have to be a warfighter to appreciate the results of the symposium, just concerned about technology and disruption. And that should be most of us.

Update: Thanks to James Flanagan from TEDxBeijing for reminding me that Christensen authored The Innovator’s Dilemma, not Kevin Kelly.

Science and Technology Strategies of Six Countries: Implications for the United States

This book is the result of a request by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to the National Research Council (NRC) for a review and analysis of the science and technology industrial policies of six countries, in an effort to understand what impact those policies would have on U.S. national security and competitiveness in the coming two decades. The review covers Brazil, India, Japan, Russia, Singapore, and, of course, China.

The book not only provides a fascinating overview of the science and technology strategies of the countries involved, it is also an interesting look into how the U.S. academy views U.S. science and technology strategy. Of especial interest (apart from the chapter on China, of course) are the final two chapters, covering the implications and recommendations.

Known Unknowns: Unconventional “Strategic Shocks” in Defense Strategy Development

The U.S. Navy target ship USS Utah (AG-16, ex ...

Image via Wikipedia

There was a time when defense planners could anticipate, well in advance with a high degree of accuracy, the kind of threats and adversaries they would face in their next conflict. War Plan Orange, the U.S. Navy’s plan to engage and beat Japan in a Pacific war, had been under study for over 30 years when the attack on Pearl Harbor came, and the war in the Pacific unfolded largely as planners had expected.

Not so in today’s world, as Nathan Freier points out in this book published by the Strategic Studies Institute. Today, attacks from unexpected directions – “strategic shocks” in Pentagon parlance – are the new norm. Freier makes a case why and how defense planning must change from its cold war mode and into a newer, more flexible approach.

There is more than national security policy on the able in this work. “Strategic shocks” are becoming a common challenge in business as well, and for those businesses that actually do try to maintain a longer-term or strategic view of the market (and that tiny fraction that even attempt informal plans to that end), this book is a worthy companion to The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Aerial Interdiction: Air Power and the Land Battle in Three American Wars

When even the Air Force admits that they have not paid enough attention to a field of aerial warfare, you can be assured that they have nearly ignored it.

At the risk of sounding pedantic, a study of military history yields the unfortunate conclusion that air strategists have paid far too much attention in their planning to strategic bombing (reducing the enemy’s political, economic, and communications infrastructure) and air-to-air combat (shooting down the enemy’s fighters and bombers) and not enough to other fields where, perhaps, credit for success could not be attributed to the air arm. Politics does more than empirical evidence or threat analysis to determine doctrine, strategy, tactics, and weapons, and this is a dangerous vulnerability.

Mind you, the Air Force is not alone in this failing – each of the five services (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy, Marines) suffers from this malady in some degree, though the Marines and Coasties, used to making a little go a long way, suffer somewhat less so. To the zoomies’ credit, the historians they fund at the Center for Air Force History are going back and analyzing the lessons of the past to try to keep America’s birdmen from having to relearn some valuable lessons.

What Dr. Eduard Mark has uncovered – much, I am sure, to the chagrin of his blue suited sponsors – is that the Air Force has learned the wrong lessons from its experience in aerial interdiction (defined as the effort to sever enemy forces from their lines of supply, reinforcement, movement, and communication). Worse still, Dr. Mark delivers the scathing conclusion that the Air Force is making the wrong assumptions about hardware, tactics, and acquisition, and that these have dangerously undermined the force’s ability to conduct interdiction.

A fascinating, well-documented read.

Envisioning Future Warfare

A pdf book from the Combat Studies Institute with a mid-1990s perspective on the future of combat. Not necessarily wrong, but clearly we are heading in a very different evolutionary direction than what the armed forces anticipated a decade-and-a-half ago. Should the U.S. Army ever again find itself facing a “near-peer” land power, this book, authored by then-Army Chief of Staff General Gordon Sullivan and Colonel (now Lieutenant General, ret) James M. Dubik will serve as a foundational reference for Pentagon planners and policy makers.

Compound Warfare

In this pdf book from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College explores an area that now demands attention. The combined use of conventional and guerrilla warfare has in the wake of the past decade once again gained acceptance among strategists in the west. In the east, where it was used to such great effect by both Mao Zedong in China and Ho Chi Minh (Hu Zhimin) in Vietnam, the mainland powers are rediscovering the concept and are extending it into their military doctrine.

The book itself examines cases of compound warfare as used over the past 250 years, not only by Mao and Ho, but in the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Angl0-Irish War, and in the Soviet’s fight in Afghanistan. Essential reading for students (and critics) of strategy.