Thursday, April 17, 2008

Signal Strength

I noted our carrier deployment (thanks to Mad Minerva) in the western Pacific recently that I figured was a precautionary move during Taiwan's elections in case China considered an attack on Taiwan. I didn't think it was routine deployments.

Well, that was the case and the earlier article missed one of the carriers we had out there:

The large display of naval firepower has gone largely unnoticed in the U.S. press, but state-run Chinese news media have called the carrier deployments saber rattling.

The Kitty Hawk strike group is deployed to waters northeast of Taiwan and the Nimitz strike group is in the region southeast of the island, according to defense officials. The Lincoln and its escort warships currently are near Singapore on the way to the Persian Gulf.

A Pacific Command spokesman had no comment, but noted that Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, addressed the Taiwan Strait tension during House Armed Services Committee testimony March 12.

Adm. Keating said he hoped the referendum would fail because "if it passes, China will likely take some significant umbrage at the passage and their response is unpredictable."

"We are prepared for various alternatives at the Pacific Command, military options," Adm. Keating said. "We have forces that are positioning in anticipation of potential activity. I do not foresee it happening, but the Chinese have made it clear to us that they view this referendum with some concern. Should it pass, their response is unpredictable and it could potentially include a military option."

The Lincoln battlegroup had been near Taiwan during the election, too, so we had three carrier battlegroups on station. We apparently didn't think that hosting the summer Olympics would necessarily stay China's hand when it comes to Taiwan.

This deployment demonstrates the increased threat that Chinese military modernization poses as my post linked above discusses. In 1996, we sent two carrier battlegroups to warn off the Chinese who were sending missiles rocketing over Taiwan to intimidate them.

That 1996 deplyment was considered a huge force compared to what we would usually have considered enough of a signal to Chinese air and naval units if they challenged us. Single battlegroups had been the norm for a signal.

This year, we felt we needed three carriers to pose as a credible signal to the Chinese of our will to resist them.

I'm sure it took some planning to put three carriers off Taiwan. And we knew the potential crisis was during a predictable time--the Taiwanese election. How will we get three carriers in position for a crisis China might unleash with no notice?

And how long before we need four carriers to be sure we could survive China's first shot and still hammer them? I guess I will be happier when our light carriers are ready for action with their F-35s to supplement our super carriers.

The Taiwanese need to take note of this trend and increase their forces to buy the increasing amount of time we will need to gather sufficient naval power to blast through the PLAN.

Heck, eventually, if we're serious about defending Taiwan in the face of increasing Chinese power, we will need to deploy air and ground forces on Taiwan itself. Say a fighter wing of F-16s and a Stryker Brigade so that China knows that they can't conquer Taiwan without fighting us.