(SMH) Hugh White—China shifts Pacific waters with its aircraft carrier trials

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Chinese have long understood that America's sea control in the western Pacific has been the military foundation of its strategic primacy in Asia, and that the US Navy's carriers are the key. They have therefore focused the formidable expansion of their naval and air forces over the past 20 years on trying to deprive the US of sea control by developing their capacity to sink American carriers. In this they appear to have been strikingly successful, to the point that US military leaders now acknowledge that their sea control in the western Pacific is slipping away.

But for China, depriving America of sea control is not the same as acquiring it themselves. Its naval strategy has focused on the much more limited aim that strategists call ''sea denial'': the ability to attack an adversary's ships without being able to stop them attacking yours. These days, sea denial can be achieved without putting ships to sea, because land-based aircraft, long-range missiles and submarines can sink ships much more cost-effectively than other ships can. This is what China has done.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationScience & Technology* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign Relations* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.AsiaChinaEurope

8 Comments
Posted August 30, 2011 at 6:14 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

The article (surprisingly) overlooks India’s rapidly-growing blue water navy, which increasingly includes indigenously designed and built ships, not least of which are the ballistic missile submarines that shall soon provide India with a full nuclear-deterrent triad (bombers, boomers, and ICBMs).

In one of its typical unforced errors, the Obama administration has chosen not to strengthen the US - India relationship—perhaps Bush 43’s greatest legacy—by transferring the Kitty Hawk as a gift to India. Kitty Hawk is a top-notch conventional carrier, vastly better than the recycled Russian kludge with which India and China at present both must make do.

The key point in this all, however, is that India are now designing and building their own flat-tops. China are not. Not even close. And anytime after early 2013 even attempting to sink a US carrier would be a phenomenal error on China’s part.

August 30, 9:03 am | [comment link]
2. Cennydd13 wrote:

Another thing to remember is this:  China has no experience in wide-area sea combat and naval campaigning.  Their commanders have nowhere near the experience that Western commanders have…...not even close.  It will require many years to acquire that level of experience; they may have the equipment, but they will need to learn how to effectively use it to their advantage, while we will continue to develop and build new ships and aircraft, along with new technology…..provided, of course, that the Chinese don’t steal our designs first…...and they’re proven masters in the art of espionage.

August 30, 11:35 am | [comment link]
3. evan miller wrote:

#2
And providing our government doesn’t forget that its first responsibility is the defense of the nation, and is guided by that principle when budget decisions are being made.

August 30, 12:01 pm | [comment link]
4. Cennydd13 wrote:

Another suggestion:  When transmitting new ship and aircraft information between government agencies and manufacturers, do it the old-fashioned way: Handcarried by military courier, instead of the computer.  The old saying “Loose lips sink ships” is highly appropriate here.  Don’t computerize engineering drawings…....they’ll get stolen.

August 30, 1:42 pm | [comment link]
5. Publius wrote:

I am a former naval person. The article has some good analysis, but also has some significant errors. Examples:

1. Carriers are massive instruments of military power. They are not merely “symbols”, as the article asserts.

2. Carriers are not easy to find.

3. Carriers are not slow.

4. Carriers are not easy to attack and sink.

5. China’s attainment of “sea denial” is, in effect, China’s “sea control” for all of the countries that are China’s neighbors, including Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Phillipines, Taiwan, the Koreas, and possibly Japan and Indonesia. China’s attempt to attain that power really constitutes China’s attempt to creat hegemony over those countries.

6. China’s attempt to achieve such hegemony risks collision with the United States. Such a collision would devastate China’s trade, which must travel on ships beyond China’s area of sea control and thus is vulnerable to American sea power.

7. China’s attempt to achieve hegemony over its neighbors risks driving them all into an anti-Chinese coalition. Early moves toward this have already happened.

8. As Bart Hall (#1) points out, the article overlooks other countries that could compete with or become enemies of China. India is only one of such countries. If the United States continues to decline, expect other countries to rearm, and to build up their own blue water navies. Do not exclude Russia from the list of possible enemies of China. China’s blue water navy would be handy in a confrontation between China and one of those countries, which would not necessarily involve the United States. .

August 30, 2:14 pm | [comment link]
6. Cennydd13 wrote:

The SEATO Pact needs to be strengthened as well, but we also need to ensure that nations such as the Phillippines aren’t ignored.  Their navy desperately needs a major upgrade, and the only way that’s going to happen will be a transfusion of ships and technology from either the U.S., Japan, or Australia, with the training of sailors needed to effectively operate them.  The Republic of the Phillippines has had a major controversy, with the PRC claiming sovereignty over the Spratly Islands Group and its oil field.  They are Phillippine territory.

August 30, 3:21 pm | [comment link]
7. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) wrote:

Perhaps a bit of context is needed to wrap this up. The third most powerful air force in the world is any single US aircraft carrier. We currently operate eleven.

More to the point, Italy currently fields two carriers, though at 28 kiloton displacement they are little more than minnows. Britain field one, at only 22 kilotons. France has but one, their deGaulle at 42 kilotons, but they can’t seem to keep the thing out of the drydock.

Brazil, Spain, Russia, and Thailand—yes Thailand—have one each, though all but Russia’s have been bought at the Old Navy Flea Market.

India at present has one at sea, and (much more importantly) two others approaching launch. When the Vikramaditya—rebuilt Russian Kiev class boat—enters service in a few months India will become (by tonnage) the #2 carrier force in the world. They also have two indigenous Vikrant class carriers under construction.

In about five years they are likely to have at least four operational carriers, and if the US gets wise about Kitty Hawk it would be five. By decade’s end the US will be able to operate in the Indian Ocean only with India’s approval, which is one powerful reason the Obama administration’s diffidence and disinterest in our relationship with India is so devastatingly clueless.

The Anglosphere will remain a world sea power for generations. The Indian Ocean will be India + Australia + USA. The western Pacific will be those same three nations, plus the honorary Anglosphere member, Japan. Atlantic and eastern Pacific will remain American lakes. An INS Carrier Group (India) port call in Buenos Aires before the end of the decade would be completely unsurprising.

China will perforce remain completely contained.

August 31, 12:31 pm | [comment link]
8. Cennydd13 wrote:

The Chakri Narubet, the Royal Thai Navy’s only aircraft carrier, was built in Spain for Thailand, and is based on a Spanish design, the Principe de Asturias.  She is a fairly new vessel, and was delivered to the RTN in 1979.  Her mission is defense of Thailand’s economic zone, but she could operate in a more traditional role if called upon to do so.

August 31, 5:30 pm | [comment link]
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