Small Wars Journal

What Happens When a Navy Officer Gets Real on China?

What Happens When a Navy Officer Gets Real on China? By Erik Slavin, Stars and Stripes

The Navy’s Pacific Fleet chief of intelligence recently cemented his reputation for blunt assessments of China about as well as the Washington establishment cemented its reputation for sticking to China talking points.

Capt. James Fanell made waves during his 2013 appearance at the U.S. Naval Institute’s West conference, during which he stated that the Chinese PLA Navy’s expansion was focused on sinking an opposing fleet and largely about countering the U.S. Navy.

At this year’s USNI conference, Fanell’s assessment that China is gathering the capability to fight Japan made it to Fox News, The New York Times and several international news outlets.

“[We] concluded that the PLA has been given the new task to be able to conduct a short, sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea, following with what can only be expected a seizure of the Senkakus or even a southern Ryukyu [island] — as some of their academics say,” Fanell said on Feb. 13, according to USNI’s coverage of their event

Read on.

Comments

carl

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 1:11pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

I'll not go tit for tat about the F-35. It has been done all over the defense press for years. I will just make one observation and one warning. The F-35 is way over its projected time of development, it's over budget, over weight, under performance, the C model has yet to trap successfully, the helmet doesn't work yet so it has no gunsight, the number of lines of code in the electronic system is over 20 million and on and on. Maybe they will get it to work someday, but the record thus far is not encouraging. (and even if it works we will have a light bomber trying to be a fighter)

The warning is not to be certain that just because we screw things up royally when building jets doesn't mean the other guy will.

All of which means nothing since Capt Fenel seems to indicate the Red Chinese are tasked to fight the Japanese navy alone, the that navy and the USN.

Move Forward

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 11:55am

In reply to by carl

Perhaps you should read these two articles from War is Boring:

https://medium.com/war-is-boring/d89b9ce721de

https://medium.com/war-is-boring/3acf9d25cd44

The funny thing is that David Axe has written a book bashing the F-35 while evidence of its utility and the complexity of building a stealth aircraft is embedded in both these articles. Infrared search and track capabilities appear to be built directly into the F-35 to assist in finding large, hot, big dual-engined Russian and Chinese aircraft should they survive the initial onslaught of radar missiles fired from beyond visual range.

If building a stealth or any modern aircraft was simple, there would be far more of them flown by many more nations. Instead, only a few western nations can ante up for their cost and perfect their construction...and we are the best at it when the bugs are finally worked out. When you hear airpower advocates say that our ground forces never should have to worry about being engaged from the air...they are correct. We already have invested in the F-22 and F-35 to guarantee such air superiority so that typical threats cannot begin to purchase and maintain similar stealth aircraft with their smaller defense budgets. Instead they build ballistic missiles and IEDs that air-breathing airpower cannot effect.

China has stolen Soviet/Russian designs over the year and tried to steal our designs according to news reports. Counterfeiting an Su-27 variant is a lot different than trying to replicate the stealth of an F-22, F-35, or B-2....especially when you can't even build an engine on your own. So if the Chinese claim to have fielded a J-20 or J-31 squadron in the next few years from a clean-start design...I would be highly skeptical of its true capabilities.

carl

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 10:39pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

I don't know or care what the Indians think of that airplane. We aren't talking about that airplane. We are talking about the J-20 and the J-31. And to rate either one of those directly against the F-22 may be missing the point. My own personal opinion is the J-20 is meant to kill tankers, AWACS and airlifters. All it needs to do that is adequate performance and range. We don't have very many F-22s and they can't be everywhere.

As I say below, I'll make you a bet that the J-20, J-31 or both will reach squadron service before the F-35, I mean real squadron service, not the PR stuff we will do.

And also as I say below, none of what we can do matters if the USN can be sidelined which is the logical thing for the Reds to do before making a move on those islands. Politically sidelined I mean.

Move Forward

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 10:08pm

In reply to by carl

<blockquote>The only stealth airplanes we have are the F-22 and the B-2. Both would most likely deploy from a long way away, Guam and the US respectively. We have very few of either type and those numbers are effectively lessened by how far they would be from the islands. It doesn't matter if you are invisible if you aren't there at all to get in the fight.</blockquote>

Ask the Indians what they think about their version of the Russian T-50. Then consider how many new start aircraft China has developed let alone stealth ones. How many will they have fielded in 5-6 years? How stealthy do you think they will be with canards and speculate on the air-to-air capability of a large J-20 vs an F-22.

I have the RAND study that assumed away naval airpower in the defense of Taiwan and assumed F-22s only at Kadena (in excessive numbers) and Guam. Since then the Rapid Raptor concept has been developed with greater dispersion of smaller numbers of F-22 assets. Add F-35s when fielded and the Naval version thereof and you no longer have the 6 on 36 odds the study assumed.

We sent B-52s over those small Japanese islands in response to the Chinese-declared ADIZ. We probably did not send B-2s because the Chinese would not have detected them.;)

carl

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 1:16pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

Read what you wrote again and note the number of ships you mentioned and how the Army aircraft would depend upon them.

Move Forward

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 11:28am

In reply to by carl

As for offshore control, air deployment of light infantry, Rangers, and Army aircraft to the Philippines and Japan would provide the air mobility to maneuver to sea chokepoints and board commercial ships attempting to bring fuel to or ship products away from China. Other Army aircraft such as Apaches and E-model Guardians could lily pad hop from LCS to LCS and from Joint High Speed Vessels and amphibious ships. The new USS John Glenn and its class of $500 million converted commercial ships could carry Army aircraft and better blend into the sea environment making DF-21D and submarine engagement more difficult.

carl

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 1:22pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

That all sounds great except how do supply all that? Your supplies come in by ship.

Using M-1s as static blast shields and lawn mowers is about the most wasteful use of a resource that I can think of.

But again, all means nothing if the Red Chinese can get us to stand aside and have a go at the Japanese only.

Move Forward

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 12:00pm

In reply to by carl

Why would we want to put MV-22s in Okinawa? Could it be their air assault proximity to those Japanese island chains and Taiwan, or Korea in the opposite direction? However, admittedly such aircraft are vulnerable to surprise missile attack from China. We also saw that Marine aircraft at a large airfield like Camp Leatherneck/Bastion are susceptible to ground attack and mortars.

Army aircraft could be flown into other more isolated northern and central Japanese airfields, make their way to the south or Korea with far less chance of being targeted effectively in more austere assembly areas. Coming from the Philippines toward Taiwan or the South China Sea is another possibility. I have no idea what war plans are over there but having such options is always a possibility.

Then we see this article today:

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2014/02/army-wants-you-build-them-…

What if we built smaller dispersed F-22/F-35 aircraft shelters at multiple allied locations. Build three less costly shelters for the price of one exquisite one (that still won't stop a direct hit) and deploy only one aircraft per three shelters to complicate 2nd Artillery missile targeting. Put a few of these laser trucks there and near our dispersed Army aircraft assembly areas that are off of airfields. Surround the lower cost shelters with concrete T-walls, HESCO, and M1A2 tanks parked on ramps to raise them slightly so their 8' height is now 10-11' and an F-22 is just 16' tall in the tail area.

The laser truck would take out smaller submunitions. The tank armor would stop larger cruise missiles and bombs along with ballistic missile defenses and we would be forward-deploying some of our 5000 tanks to areas where intertheater deployment would otherwise pose a challenge. Now C-17s could intratheater deploy those tanks at some point to local trouble areas. Guam and other islands of the second island chain have overgrown old airfields that tanks also could help restore by plowing away vegetation.

carl

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 10:18pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

The Red Chinese are not starting from scratch. Early models of the J-20 and the J-31 are already flying. Given our track record I would take about even odds that one or both of those airplanes will reach squadron service before the F-35 does.

It doesn't matter that we have a lot of bases, it matters where those bases are. None of them are closer to those islands than the Chinese mainland.

How is ground power, say an infantry company going to assist in offshore control of anything? I don't get it.

Mass multiple CVNs with F-35s when?

Of course none of this matters a bit if the USN isn't involved and it won't be unless we go to war with Red China.

Move Forward

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 9:50pm

In reply to by carl

<blockquote>The F-35, any model thereof, will not reach service for many years yet. My personal guess is about 5 or 6. They may try and fool us by having a monkey model version of the software so as to do something dead simple but real capability is a very long way off if it ever comes at all. Note that the airplane has been in development for years and as of now can't shoot a gun, fire a missile or drop a bomb for real, and we have dozens of the things.</blockquote>The PLAN and PLAAF will continue to be far weaker than the U.S. and its allies in the region during those 5-6 years. Once the F-35 is operational along with additional Virginia subs, it won't matter what they come up with because they will continue to be behind in both numbers and technology. If you consider 5-6 years a long time for the F-35 to field, speculate about the alternative of starting from scratch on a 6th generation fighter, its cost, and the alternative survivability of 4th generation aircraft against current radar-guided missiles let alone those of 20 years from now.

In a recent seminar, a South Korean analyst pointed out that with the exception of Pakistan, China has virtually no bases outside China for a Blue Water Navy. Contrast that with our allied bases for both air and seapower that can be dispersed. Our ground power can disperse after being rapidly airlifted and assist in offshore control and air assault of threatened islands. We can mass multiple CVN and amphibious carriers with both F-35B and C models. The DF-21D has to date been demonstrated on a stationary drawing on the ground. If there are classified means for the DF-21D to find and target our carriers at great range, how long do you think those Chinese ISR assets will be allowed to survive?

carl

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 10:10pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

I said the logical thing for them to do is somehow sideline the USN so they only have to fight the Japanese. Capt. Fenel didn't say they plan to beat both, only the Japanese. If they can keep the USN out, it doesn't matter what we have or where it is, and none of it is very close. Again I say, given the character of our current Commander in Chief, they probably figure they have a good chance of convincing us to stay out.

Move Forward

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 9:39pm

In reply to by carl

<blockquote>If you check Capt. Fenel's presentation from 2013, those lightly armed Coast Guard ships always have PLAN warships backing them up just over the horizon.</blockquote>I saw his earlier presentation when it was current. We have warships and airpower closer than you think. That air and seapower can reinforce and replace any losses in short order if the 2nd Artillery Corps is truly able to launch a complete surprise attack with missiles out of the blue....which is highly unlikely since there would be no motive due to our economic ties and the prospect of awakening a sleeping giant. You saw the wars we went to over 9/11. Can you imagine our response to a lost carrier with thousands dead?

carl

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 1:34pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

To my knowledge there were no Russian or Chinese pilot in North Vietnam's MiGs. They were all North Vietnamese.

I think looking at the geography of the Black Sea and drawing lessons from that to be applied to the Pacific is flawed.

If the Red Chinese were able to occupy Taiwan they would have to control the Taiwan Strait. If they did that they would have had to take the USN out of the picture. If that happened no Ranger, Marine of SOF could get there because no matter how good their training, they can't walk on water nor could their supplies drive over the waves in a truck.

Move Forward

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 11:49am

In reply to by carl

Ah, you caught another goof. That's what happens when you pull a first draft equals final submission effort while trying to get out the door. I forgot all about the eventual Red China involvement in Korea and recall the suspicions that Chinese and Russian pilots were in some of the aircraft over Korea and Vietnam and running North Vietnamese air defenses. The difference is those were WWII experienced pilots whereas today's Russian and Chinese pilot has no such war experience.

Look at Ukraine and Russia's ground involvement as a lesson for the future. Could Russia control the Crimea using sea or airpower alone? Obviously not. Ground forces are required to control the ground where people actually live. We never came close to destroying the Serbian Army in 78 days of air attacks because they remained well-hidden. Milosevic only capitulated due to pressure from his buddies whose businesses were being bombed. Why would Russia care if we bomb Crimean businesses? It was hard to hide Qaddafi's combat forces in Libya which also was an atypical situation. What would stop Russia from seizing all of the Ukraine and then moving on to Poland and Belarus?

There are plenty of places to hide an invading force in some place like the Crimea and hugging civilians is always another option. The latter in Taiwan is why it would be so difficult to bomb the PLA off of Taiwan. Instead we could Offshore Control China to hurt them ecomically. Stop their supplies from reaching the island. Air assaulted force guerilla warfare also would work with Ranger, light Army and Marine general purpose and SOF forces taking it to any PLA occupying force on Taiwan.

carl

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 10:34pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

Boy are you quick.

We fought the PLA directly for almost three years in Korea. We also fought Russian piloted MiGs for about the same length of time over Korea.

I agree with you that our land capability is important. Your examples of the long term benefits of well handled occupations are good ones. But while the Army is important, the Navy is vital. None of those occupations could have been done unless we could supply them, and we could not have done that unless the USN controlled the sea.

I don't understand your last paragraph.

Move Forward

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 10:27pm

In reply to by carl

I meant to say that we never fought China or Russia even in WWII, other than fighting them when engaging surrogates in Korea and Vietnam...fighting that occurred on the ground primarily and resulted in far more Soldier/Marine than Sailor/Airmen casualties. Due to large Armies occupying and helping both Japan and Germany after WWII, they are now two of our largest trading partners and allies. Of course, we don't appear to think we need to perform long-term occupation, stability, peacekeeping, and forward presence on the ground anymore...despite its success in Europe, Japan, Korea, the Balkans, and Sinai.

Hmmm, what are the EBO targets we would hit with naval and airpower to stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I'm not saying we should or would use groundpower either, but hitting roads, bridges, and industry in Kosovo is not as effective when it is an invaded nation you are bombing. Did airpower kick Hussein out of Kuwait or force his surrender in OIF? Would we strike deep into Russia over Ukraine? Sounds stupid right? Why would striking deep into China make any more sense with the specter of nuclear war a possibility?

carl

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 10:06pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

Treaties are good only if there exists the will to enforce them.

Great Britain had a very large and capable navy in WWII. The Germans couldn't eliminate it so they couldn't invade that island. Nor could they successfully blockade the island via U-boat because of the Royal Navy.

We were able to advance across the Pacific in WWII because of the USN. The Japanese were unable to stop us because the USN defeated the IJN. One navy beating the other was the story of the war in the Pacific.

It took only a few years to build up sufficient NAVAL force to invade Europe. The Germans couldn't stop us because they could not contest control of the sea with air or sea power.

Red China can do whatever their relative naval strength allows them to do.

One thing it is well to remember is that big naval fights don't happen very often, only about once every 100 years or so give or take a few. But in order to fight those rare conflicts and win, you have to keep in practice. That looks as if it for nothing but it isn't. It takes a long time to get to be a good navy and you have to keep practicing in order to stay a good navy.

Great Britain can afford to have a little navy because we have a big one. Besides they are lately kind of stupid. How can it be anything but stupid for an island nation not to have any maritime patrol aircraft.

Move Forward

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 9:34pm

In reply to by carl

<blockquote>We are an island, a great big one but still a island. Islands must have navies.</blockquote>Great Britain is an island...and island that has a drastically smaller Navy than the one it once had.

We are a major part of a continent far from China and Russia...the sole nations with substantial navies and air forces. Many nations have substantial Armies to include in the Pacific. We have fought plenty of Armies in the last 64 years but not large navies and air forces because they do not exist in WWII or Cold War numbers except in China and Russia whom we have not fought since WWII (China was then an ally) because nukes deter such war.

Great Britain lasted years in WWII with German Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen (and early drones) a short distance away. Yet it survived because seizing control and retaining that control of an island is not easy. It took us years to prepare for the Normandy invasion. Of course we seized numerous smaller islands far from both the U.S. and Japan but thank God we did not need to try to seize Japan itself in WWII. China could not take Taiwan or tiny Japanese islands that are a hundred (hundreds for other smaller ones) miles away and retain them.

Do you want to be the Chinese leader gambling that the U.S. would not get involved? We have treaties to protect Japan.

carl

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 9:15pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

Where do we start? Anywhere will do I guess so we'll start from the top.

If you check Capt. Fenel's presentation from 2013, those lightly armed Coast Guard ships always have PLAN warships backing them up just over the horizon.

Those islands are just as far or farther from Japan as the are from Red China. Capt. Fenel didn't say anything about an undetected surprise occupation of the islands. He said a fight the object of which was the destruction of Japanese naval forces in the East China Sea.

Guam is a very very long way from those islands.

The F-35, any model thereof, will not reach service for many years yet. My personal guess is about 5 or 6. They may try and fool us by having a monkey model version of the software so as to do something dead simple but real capability is a very long way off if it ever comes at all. Note that the airplane has been in development for years and as of now can't shoot a gun, fire a missile or drop a bomb for real, and we have dozens of the things.

The MiG-25 was not a lousy airplane. What was lousy was our appreciation of its purpose. It was a big, fast, long range interceptor and it was good at that. It was no dogfighter and it wasn't designed to be.

The only stealth airplanes we have are the F-22 and the B-2. Both would most likely deploy from a long way away, Guam and the US respectively. We have very few of either type and those numbers are effectively lessened by how far they would be from the islands. It doesn't matter if you are invisible if you aren't there at all to get in the fight.

I believe it was a diesel sub that they lost.

The Capt said the PLAN's goal is to be able to defeat Japanese forces in the East China Sea. He didn't say they could do it now but that was what they were shooting for. He also didn't say they were looking to defeat Japanese forces and the USN. That says to me that they wouldn't try unless they were fairly certain it would only be the Japanese they were up against. I figure that prudent on their part, and doable too. The chance of them being able to insure the USN stays out is fairly good given the character of our Commander in Chief.

If they were able to keep the USN on the sidelines, they would have a good chance. They may be able to stare down the Japanese without a fight in that case. If there was fighting, the Japanese would have to plan on it not being limited to the East China Sea and would have to spread their forces out accordingly. It would not be a matter of just the islands, the Japanese would be looking at the very least probably an unlimited naval war with Red China and perhaps more.

I don't get your sentence "Lets get real about where true threats lie to actual servicemembers."

The reason the Navy gets so much money and attention is we are a naval power. We could zero out the Army tomorrow and it would be hard but we could survive. We could not last at all without the Navy. We are an island, a great big one but still a island. Islands must have navies.

Move Forward

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 8:15pm

I don't know much about naval warfare nor does much of anyone outside the Navy because there have been so few major naval battles since WWII and most of the shorter U.S. skirmishes occurred primarily in Tom Clancy novels. In addition, much of AirSea Battle remains classified. We are asked to take the word of Think Tank analysts and others that the Chinese threat is so serious that we should divert additional assets to air and sea services. Of course as we just learned, that means shelving our active Army until the next time they are required repeating the cycle of past conflicts where ground combatants suffer long, deadly, austere tours in future wars until ground forces are built-up, trained, and well-armed again.

In the article cited, one looks at the Coast Guard vessel depicted and reads elsewhere that its strongest weapons are 37mm anti-aircraft guns and smaller 14.5mm machine guns. One looks at the map depicted and quickly estimates that the islands involved are anywhere from 200-400+ nautical miles from the Chinese mainland. Perhaps I'm grossly misinformed yet most casual observers would note that no amphibious ship will sneak up or rapidly close on those islands undetected. Neither would it appear likely that any major sea or air battle group would either.

One also notes that the Japanese self-defense forces are not some weak sister like the Philippine Navy and Air Force in the South China Sea. China would not have an easy time either salami-slicing, seizing, let alone holding any distant island against Japan alone let alone with U.S. assistance. Just because an informed Navy Captain assesses that China may desire to fight a sharp, short war does not mean the short part would work out for the PLAN aggressor. It reminds one of the old saying about dogs chasing cars and what happens if it catches one.

Maybe I'm naive, but then perhaps someone can explain to me how a single PLAN carrier, surface, amphibious, or resupply naval vessel would survive attacks by Japanese subs and our Virginia class subs and JSOW-C1 equipped F/A-18Fs before F-35B/C enter the picture. What PLA air assets would take out our F-22s and soon to field F-35s? Who wants to be the PLA troops left behind on that island with no supplies (because we take suppliers out, hence our A2/AD) and lots of bombing occurring BEFORE the Japanese and U.S. Marine amphibious and MV-22 assault to retake said islands.

This reminds me of the old days where everyone decried how serious a threat the MiG-25 was until we actually got a hold of one and found out how lousy it was. We know Chinese aircraft have short-lived engines and their pilots have little combat bombing experience, training flying hours, or air-to-air combat skills. We know their competent aircraft also have large radar and IR signatures and any future "stealth" versions will be fewer in number and less advanced than our own. We know a Chinese nuclear sub with some of their best submariners sunk shortly after leaving port a few years back. We hear about the DF-21D without any explanation of how satellites, UAS, and over-the-horizon radars would survive to find our distant ships. We also know we have immense aerial refueling assets that could support greater stand-off until JSOWs and subs take out the entire surface PLAN and Virginia class takes out their subs. Who is zooming who about the relative strengths of Naval and USAF assets in this region.

And again, who is the dumbie in China that wants to risk nuclear war and nuclear effects on their economy by going to war with their closest trading partners. Lets get real about where true threats lie to actual servicemembers. Ask why the most technically exquisite, strongest, and most funded services with the most costly ships and aircraft require even greater funding while over one hundred thousand real Soldiers/Marines died over the past 64 years. What was that word used at the Bastogne when the Germans asked the 101st General to surrender?