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.