Thursday, July 08, 2010

States of Mind

I've never doubted that we could do tremendous damage to the Chinese navy and air force if it comes to war. My question has always been whether we can engage in time to save Taiwan from invasion. China is close to Taiwan. We are far. We are stronger than China. Those are the basic factors and adding them up is the big question.

If China can quickly throw a significant force ashore on Taiwan, they might be able to retain a foothold and either conquer Taiwan or partition the island and prepare for another round from their secured area in a future war. The key is making sure that China does not have free use of the Taiwan Strait.

China needs to focus on speed in an invasion to avoid giving America the time to send our Navy and Air Force into battle before China can complete the conquest of Taiwan. China could throw an invasion force across the strait, although it would not be a organized or sophisticated as we would plan an invasion. But they could do it, I think. China's air force and ballistic missile force are now strong enough to at least contest air superiority over the strait to allow an invasion force to get ashore. And China's navy is strong enough to delay our surface naval forces (especially our carriers) from sailing close enough to intervene in the battle.

But we've adapted at least a bit to the Chinese capacity to keep us at arm's length by navalizing our long-rang Tomahawk cruise missiles so they can hit moving sea targets. Surface ships and B-52s flying from Guam could fire quite a few at a Chinese naval armada invading Taiwan.

And while the Chinese may figure they can handle the limited stream of Tomahawks that our surface ships and heavy bombers could send at them, we also have 4 SSGNs that each can carry 154 of those missiles. These stealthy subs converted from our Trident ballistic missile subs could send quite the volley at an invasion fleet, and the Chinese wouldn't have much advance warning.

And if the thought of one of those submarines stalking their invasion armada isn't upsetting enough, we arranged this little show:

That's why alarm bells would have sounded in Beijing June 28 when the Tomahawk-laden 560-foot USS Ohio popped up in the Philippines' Subic Bay. More alarms likely were sounded when the USS Michigan arrived in Pusan, South Korea, the same day. And the klaxons would have maxed out as the USS Florida surfaced the same day at the joint U.S.-British naval base at Diego Garcia, a flyspeck of an island in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese military awoke to find as many as 462 additional Tomahawks deployed by the U.S. in its neighborhood.

I'll say it for you--Holy sh*t!

And we made sure a Hong Kong-based newspaper carried the story on July 4th.

That's one big piece of deterrence, as long as we can make the Chinese wonder where those boats are. Normally we wouldn't have more than two at sea at one time, I'd think. But if the Chinese had to contemplate a volley of over 300 ship-killing missiles savaging their invasion armada, they'd have a lot of thinking to do before deciding to invade Taiwan.

It will surely take time for Washington DC to decide to intervene and even more time before we could put our carriers and bigger surface ships into the fight close to Taiwan. But Guam-based bombers, nuclear attack subs with small numbers of cruise missiles, and the missile-laden SSGNs we have could intervene much more quickly in the naval battle, if they are in the area when the war starts.

Assuming we could pick out the targets at long range and efficiently match single missiles with important Chinese ships (avoiding triple or quadruple targeting some ships while failing to shoot at others), we might be able to sink or disable 200 to 250 ships in an hour or two. Assuming we get three boats in range of the strait. And assuming we make the decision to intervene, of course.

Such a surprise in the middle of an invasion is something we want inside Peking's collective heads. It should haunt them and make them doubt every calculation they've made about loss rates and what they need to prevail in an invasion.

And there's more to come to shake their state of mind.

Although I think in the long term that Chinese proximity will trump our counter-measures, that's a long way off. My warnings over the last 6 years that China could invade Taiwan have never been based on the idea that we are helpless to counter the threat. But stopping China isn't a given--we have to work the problem to stop them.

And the triple-play on June 28th is definitely working the problem. Kudos to the Navy.

UPDATE: I received a number of hits on this post via Twitter. Of late, I've been trying to be better about thanking linkers when I become aware of them. But I'm not on Twitter, and I guess I'm not sure about how to link back since the referrals aren't always really identifiable. Facebook, too, is a problem, for this issue. I've not gotten into Facebook and I haven't even tried Twitter. I sometimes think I might be missing out by not using these two resources. In any case, thanks for the tweet on the Navy signal to China.

UPDATE: Thank you to Mad Minerva for the link.

UPDATE: Sigh. Sometimes you just can't win:

What strikes me too is how the author is going out of his way to avoid acknowledging what is, after all, his president’s decision – “Kudos to the Navy”. (*snickers*)

WTF? One, this was purely a look at the military implications. So yes, I highlighted what the Navy did. I didn't even mention politics, yet someone reads this post and immediately goes out of his way to see a political statement because I didn't sing the praises of the president. Is the Time author to be similarly judged for not mentioning once that Obama ordered the display?

If I ever read that the President specifically ordered this move, I'll offer a second kudos to the President for that. But I suspect that this was a Navy initiative and that the President was simply informed of the plan, with the obvious option of cancelling the deployment if he thought it unwise.

Two, yes, President Obama is my president. That's the way it is. I've never, ever said or implied that he is not simply because I did not vote for him. If you've read this blog regularly it is obvious I'm not thrilled about his election, but haven't been shy about giving him credit. I also don't think I've been prone to denouncing whatever he does without thinking about the case. Nor have I gone overboard in criticism beyond the issue at hand.

Reason number 55 why I don't enable comments.