I find myself in what seems like a lockdown that is lasting forever, obsessing about China.
When I was in my first year at college, my hope/dream was to become a doctor and move to China. There was something very mystical about its people and culture. At some point in my adult life (married with two children) I tried to teach myself one of the many dialects of Chinese. That lasted one week. And now I am back again, reading all I can about a country that is becoming more threatening to our national security. And by that I mean that China is a threat not merely to our economic wellbeing but also our physical security. Although China, like the rest of the world, is fighting the coronavirus, it is also experiencing a severe economic crisis. Notwithstanding these daunting domestic issues, it sluffs off international condemnation as it moves aggressively in escalating military tension between China, its neighbors and United States.
Hong Kong, one of several thorns of conflict in China’s mission to lead the world, will not precipitate a war-like international conflict, but will precipitate and escalate the economic conflict between the U.S. and China. The second prong, Taiwan, has been on the Chinese radar screen to be folded into mainland by the year 2030, and that might well precipitate a war between us. There is a treaty that we have with that island nation. Will India and China go to war over a long simmering border dispute that has erupted in gun fire across their common border? I doubt that very much. Air travel between the two nations was banned and tensions increase, and then the ban was loosened. Our focus should be The South China Sea. Tensions there might very well precipitate an armed conflict within the immediate future.
The South China Sea and its control is a critical military and economic component not merely for the wellbeing and support of the Chinese economy and its neighboring nations, but also the world. If there is a military confrontation between the United States and China are we ready to go to war? Don’t answer that question too quickly.
One given in life is that nothing remains a secret forever. For example–scientists might have just witnessed the birth of a new planet for the first time in mankind’s memory. That is exciting news. Another secret just uncovered, is the Pentagon has been conducting secret in house war games against China. The scenarios were different and diverse. Some involved clashes in the South and East China Seas. One – the worst-case scenario – was an out-and-out war in 2030. The results were devastating—we lost at every turn. The conclusions drawn from those military operations have opened a Pandora’s Box– why are we in that untenable military situation.
In a long “REVIEW” article in the recent weekend edition of the WSJ the headline is “The End of U.S. Military Primacy”. Note—there is no question mark at the end of the title. My online dictionary defines “Primacy” as “the state of being first (as in importance, order, or rank)”. My initial reaction when I read the WSJ headline was– could this be true? I had recently learned that the United States presently spends over 1 Trillion Dollars each and every year on our defense– why then is there that headline. My research seeking our “world standing” — our “national security”, “our national defense” has only heightened my anxiety.
Let me begin with two items: The first is date-marked three years ago (May 2017). Keep in mind that this is a three years old report by Air Force General Frank Gorenc. He maintained that “the airpower advantage the United States has enjoyed over Russia and China is shrinking… (This) comes as part of a deluge of commentary on the waning international position of the United States. The U.S. military, it would seem, is at risk of no longer being able to go where it wants, and do what it wants to whomever it wants. Diplomatically, the United States has struggled, as of late, to assemble ‘coalitions of the willing’ interested in following Washington into the maw of every waiting crisis.” This is a daunting statement and was published three years ago. Clearly nothing has changed this stark picture. Our air force now ranks marginally ahead of China.
The Second, currently from the pen of the China Power Project director, Bonnie Glaser at The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think-tank in Washington: “Every simulation (pentagon war game simulation) that has been conducted looking at the threat from China by 2030 have all ended up with the defeat of the US,” The war-games revealed that the U.S. risked “capital losses” even under our present defense efforts. Capital loses is a reference to both our major fighting ships, such as our enormous nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and advanced operational military bases such as those entrenched in Guam and Okinawa (the southernmost of 5 islands that constitute the Japanese nation.)
The results of the Pentagon war games were startling in that in every one of the various war simulations– China won—we lost! How could that be? And this at a time when we may lose the fight to control the future of communications, and the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accuses the United States of pushing China to the brink of a new Cold War.
Christian Brose who had been a staff director of the Senate Armed Services has written in his latest book that the Chinese are not focused on projecting power but rather preventing U.S .world domination and preventing its ascendency. I don’t agree. China is flexing their muscle to expand their economic influence and military power starting in the Pacific Ocean. They are developing precisions weapons to prevent us from mobilizing our armed forces in any action against them as I will discuss later in this commentary. There are two major truths to keep in mind: first, in attacking China, its mainland does not begin and end at Beijing but runs for an additional 2500 miles west toward its heart (more of this later). Two, as David Ignatius has written in reviewing Christian Broses’ book, our military hardware and planning has for years been compromised by political/lobbyist/bureaucratic inertia all compounded by powerful entrenched interests. “The Pentagon is good at doing what it did yesterday, and Congress insists on precisely that. We have been so busy buffing our legacy systems.” The then Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis and then-Navy Secretary, Richard Spencer attempted to have an aircraft removed from service in 2019, because these supercarriers are becoming the relics of the modern era – like the battleships of WW II era. Congress refused. “A lot of (aircraft carrier) capabilities, which excel in attacking low-level non-state threats, don’t survive that well against an opponent with advanced anti-access and area denial capabilities,” wrote Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Dr Malcolm Davis.
Why are parts of our fighter jet, the F-35, built in every state in the Union? Political pork barreling practiced at its worst. Not merely unacceptable but dangerous to our national security.
In any armed confrontation, we learned from the Pentagon war games, that China has the ability to deploy hypersonic weapons. There are additional survivability issues that come clear:
*our spy and communications satellites would immediately be disabled;
* our forward military bases in Guam and Japan would be “inundated” by China’s precise missiles;
*our aircraft carriers would have to sail away from China to escape attack by their DF-21 missiles , the world’s first anti-ship missile which Brose tags as “the carrier killer”;
* our carrier-borne F-35 fighter jets couldn’t reach their targets because the refueling tankers they need would be shot down, and they have an unrefueled combat radius of about 685 miles. Keep in mind that Beijing is physically located at the eastern end of mainland China with its area defense “envelope” (A2AD), extending to about 2500 miles west from that nation’s capital.
The evidence leads to a number of conclusions:
We need inexpensive autonomous weapons at the edge of the fighting perimeter, rather than a few sexy, eye catching ones (the aircraft carriers and marine assault ships) that are vulnerable to successful military attack. Davis also noted, we need to be “spreading offensive capability across greater numbers of smaller vessels.”
There are systems that we already possess, but not in satisfactory numbers and not fully deployed, to make a significant impression in our military force –-the Air Force unmanned XQ-58A, better known as the “Valkyrie” which cost roughly 45 times less than the F-35 fighter jet. We have an unmanned underwater system known as the “Orca” which is amazingly 300 times less in cost as our Virginia-class attack submarine. There should be additional investment in our bomber capabilities in long distance strike platforms– a larger B-21 Raider force, adapting B-1Bs to carry hypersonic weapons.
To underscore these points, China, within the last weeks, conducted an 11 week combat exercise in the Yellow Sea, which is very closer to mainland China than is the South China Sea, so not nearly as provocative. Their message is they are getting ready for a military confrontation with the U.S. and telling us so.
But our robust robot forces, along with other smaller lethal attack forces, are neither sufficient in number nor sufficiently deployed. We should be spreading our offensive strike capability and strength across a larger number of smaller vessels and larger platform bombers. One problem of serious consequences is that we, as a nation, do not have a lobby forceful enough to rival the giant defense contractors allied with political interests in Congress. Jamie Seidel, a military analyst, wrote that “China is not moving slowly” as we are in the development of its modern navy and air force (in addition to cyberspace). That is not a statement that can’t be contradicted. It’s a fact and these truths only exacerbate our lack of readiness to meet China on the world stage in the coming decades.
Dr. Davis noticed a simple truth: “We have the money, the technological base, and the human talent,” What we lack is the will to change.