by Yoichi Kato, Asahi Shimbun
May 3, 2014 (TSR) – U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Chinese counterpart, Defense Minister Chang Wanquan, reiterated the bilateral agreement to create “the new model of military-to-military relations,” when they appeared together in a joint press conference in Beijing on April 8.
It remains to be seen how these new models of relations will be fleshed out, but it is already clear that what is happening between the two militaries across the Pacific is hardly new. Each is trying to outmaneuver the other. What is perhaps new is the unprecedented intensity and nature of this military rivalry.
Diplomatic niceties were momentarily set aside during the joint news conference between Hagel and Chang.
When Chang was asked about his views on “Japan and the Philippines stirring up troubles,” he forcefully pointed out “the territorial sovereignty issue is China’s core interest,” and went on to emphasize, “We will make no compromise, no concession, no trading, not even a tiny bit of violation is allowed.”
Hagel shot back in responding to a question on China’s unilateral establishment of its own Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea. “That adds to tensions and could eventually get to dangerous conflict,” he said.
On a daily basis, the militaries of the two nations clearly are operating with each other in mind.
On March 25, a daily training exercise started just after noon at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu involving five F-22 stealth fighter jets.
According to Lt. Col. Charles Anthony, public affairs officer of State of Hawaii Department of Defense, these most advanced fighter jets belong to both the 199th Fighter Squadron of the Hawaii Air National Guard (ANG) and the 19th Fighter Squadron of the U.S. Air Force. These two squadrons share their aircraft, train together and eventually fight together. They make a “Total Force Integration” unit, an arrangement to deal with fiscal austerity.
An ANG pilot told me about the exercise that day, “there are three F-22s acting like ‘bad guys’ out there today.” The scenario was, “They (two ‘good guys’) are going to fight their way into enemy territory and drop some simulated bombs and then fight their way back home with mid-air refueling.”
All five F-22s returned in about one hour, and they performed “hot refueling,” refueling with their engines running, as if in an actual combat situation, and then all five immediately took off again for another round of exercises.
Because of their uncontested ability to evade enemy radar, stealth fighter jets have a wide range of missions, including invading enemy airspace to take out anti-air radar systems. That would allow earlier generation, non-stealth F-15 fighter jets to launch ground attacks without fear of being attacked by surface-to-air missiles. The stealth jets serve as the “eyes” for missile-carrying nuclear submarines to deliver attacks on targets that Navy officers on submarines cannot “see.” As an F-22 pilot put it simply, enemy pilots would only become aware of his presence, “when their wingman blows up.”
Although the U.S. military never publicly acknowledges it, when they talk about “bad guys” in the Asia-Pacific context, they most certainly mean the China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
A major threat to the U.S. military in the region is China’s strategy–and its increasing capabilities–of “anti-access, area denial” (A2/AD). Anti-access capability is designed to keep militaries of other nations out of certain areas near China. Area denial strives to negate freedom of operations of an enemy even if the Chinese enemy succeeds in entering the contested area.
At a symposium held in San Diego in mid-February, U.S. Navy Capt. James Fanell, director of intelligence and information operations of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, surprised the audience with a blunt comment:
“In the second half of 2013, the character of China’s naval training changed focus towards realistic maritime combat operations on the high seas. In addition to their longstanding task to restore Taiwan to the mainland, we witnessed the massive amphibious and cross-military region exercise, “Mission Action 2013,” and concluded that the PLA has been given a new task, to be able to conduct a short, sharp, war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea.”
In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces said, “I think he has some valid points.”
The most important factor that enables the United States to maintain its military primacy and also to extend its influence over the Asia-Pacific region is its power projection capabilities.
Beijing’s A2/AD strategy is intended to exploit the weaknesses of these U.S. power projection capabilities and neutralize them, if necessary, by launching attacks using asymmetric means, such as DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles.
In order to deter and counter such potential attacks from China, the United States has devised the “Air-Sea Battle” concept, which would combine the assets and capabilities of all four services, centered on its Navy and Air Force. The purpose of this new operational concept is to maximize their collective strengths and make use of them in a cross-domain manner through land, air, sea and even outer space and cyberspace to deal with emerging new types of threats.
MILITARY EXCHANGES CHANCE TO FEEL OUT OTHER SIDE
During his recent visit to China, Hagel managed to get invited to tour China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in Qingdao naval base.
The captain of that ship, Senior Col. Zhang Zheng of the PLA navy, was no stranger to the American delegation. Zhang was one of the five major commanders who accompanied Adm. Wu Shengli, commander in chief of China’s PLA navy, during his most recent visit to the United States in September 2013.
The presence of Zhang in the delegation at that time surprised the U.S. side, because it is inconceivable for a commanding officer of a naval ship to leave his post for an overseas business trip. They were further perplexed at his rapid-fire questions in fluent English about aircraft carrier operations, when the Chinese delegation was escorted to the USS Carl Vinson.
Zhang’s behavior reinforced in the minds of U.S. Navy leadership that China does not see military-to military exchanges as simply a forum for mutual confidence building, but as opportunities to learn about various weapon systems and the know-how to operate them.
The U.S. side had its own motives for showing some of its most advanced military technology to the PLA leadership. The Chinese group was allowed to board a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, the USS Jefferson City, and a just recently commissioned littoral combat ship (LCS), the USS Fort Worth, which was actually underway off the coast. They were also given a ride on a MV-22 tilt-rotor transport aircraft, when they visited Camp Pendleton, a major Marine Corps base in southern California.
In March 2008, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England defined U.S. objectives on contacts with the PLA. One of them was “prevent conflict by clearly communicating U.S. resolve to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”
A U.S. military source said one of the objectives of letting the Chinese see the latest equipment was not only to gain their trust, but also to let them acknowledge “it is going to be a long time before they are going to be able to do the kinds of operations that the U.S. Navy does or the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force does.”
However, one problem for the United States is uncertainty over whether the Chinese are getting that message.
In autumn 2013, a war game project called Global ‘13 was held at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. The participants were specialists in command and control (C2) from the four military services. Admirals from allied nations, such as Japan and Australia, also participated.
The war game conducted in the previous year revealed shortcomings of the existing C2 structure in dealing with “a high-intensity A2/AD environment.” The objective of the 2013 war game was to pursue a new C2 system, which could solve such problems.
What they meant by “a high-intensity A2/AD environment” was “degraded or denied communication environment” due to attacks or jamming from the enemy on the communication infrastructure. In the worst-case scenario, communication channels were completely cut off.
The U.S. military is heavily reliant on satellites, including commercial ones, for its C2 communications. One major issue is how to deal with degraded or even denied communications in the event that satellites are destroyed by missile attacks or disabled by cyber-attacks. The purpose of the Global ’13 war game was to test the validity of a transfer of C2 authority from a distant high-level command center to a lower-level command post, which is located closer to the actual battlefield. The other elements to be considered were how to overcome the bureaucratic “stovepipes” within and among services and the formulation of cross-domain operations including, land, air, sea, space and cyberspace.
The ultimate goal was to complete the “Air-Sea Battle” concept, which is considered the key element to overcoming A2/AD challenges.
According to a Navy captain in charge of network and communications at the U.S. Seventh Fleet based in Yokosuka, “assured C2” fleet exercises are conducted on the premise that an information blockade was employed by the enemy.
“This would be a scenario where an enemy first degrades our satellite communication and radio frequency links and possibly interrupts GPS signals, which escalates to a near total loss of normal communication paths,” he explained. The captain added, “Of course the goal is always to maintain at least one communication path for operational purposes.”
Similar training exercises are conducted at the stealth fighter jet squadrons in Hawaii. One pilot explained, “We always self-degrade ourselves (during any given day exercise) to maximize what we can get out of each sortie.”
Concerns about the problem have spread to the defense industry as well.
“For over 50 years, the United States and coalition partners, have projected military power, at will, anywhere in the world, to deter and dissuade our adversaries. However, rapid advancement in anti-access and area denial capabilities has altered the battle space calculus dramatically, increasing the adversary’s abilities to disrupt our strategic options.”
This is the opening narration of a publicity video that Raytheon Co., a major U.S. defense contractor, released on the Web. “A2/AD” has become a buzzword of the development of next-generation weapon systems.
Raytheon is developing “Miniature Air-Launched Decoy” (MALD), a cruise missile-based UAV, designed to serve as a decoy to attract enemy anti-air missiles ahead of trailing fighter jets.
Another major defense contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., has been developing a “Long Range Anti-Ship Missile” (LRASM), a stealth cruise missile for use against ships.
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee, explains why this new system is needed. In an interview with RealClearDefense, he said, “We are technically ‘out-sticked’ by Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) right now.”
He went on to explain that the Harpoon anti-ship missile, which not only the U.S. Navy but Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships are widely equipped with, was “designed in the 1970s and now does not have the range or survivability to operate against more sophisticated anti-surface threats we are seeing from the Chinese PLA Navy today.”
Gen. Carlisle of PACAF said, “I think as they (Chinese) continue to develop these capabilities that try to put us farther and farther away, we are continuing to work on our capabilities as well.” And, he concluded, “They understand that, as long as we continue to grow the relationship and partnership with Japan, and that alliance grows, and the strength that it is, that we would deter the PRC from taking any action down that road.”
CHINA DETERMINED TO BECOME U.S. EQUAL
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang emphasized the importance of becoming a maritime superpower in a speech given at the annual session of the National People’s Congress in early March.
Saying China’s maritime advances must be protected, Li spoke of the seas as “our important blue territory.”
China considers not only its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone as its maritime territory, but also the waters extending over its continental shelf. That concept was underscored last November with the establishment of the ADIZ in the East China Sea that includes the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands.
China’s objective is to effectively control the “first island chain,” a line that extends from Okinawa through Taiwan and reaches the Philippines. To ensure that control, China has set as its defense line the “second island chain” that connects the Japanese archipelago with Indonesia through Guam.
The ADIZ was established along the first island chain because “dominance in the waters required dominance in the air,” according to a military expert.
To achieve its objectives, China has undertaken construction of nuclear submarines and its first aircraft carrier. The Chinese air force has also developed its own stealth jet, the Jian-20, as well as drones. It has also deployed highly accurate anti-ship ballistic missiles capable of stopping U.S. aircraft carriers.
“The area in which the Chinese military can exercise its power has expanded,” a prominent Chinese military expert said.
The Chinese military is determined to one day become the equal of the United States.
Yoichi Kato is a national security correspondent for the Asahi Shimbun, and Nanae Kurashige in Beijing.