Monday, March 19, 2012

China's Dilemma

China has plans to use anti-satellite weapons and cyber-warfare to degrade our military's capabilities:

Department of Defense officials also see China's ambitious space program as another component of Chinese military strategy. By combining the ability to knock down American military satellites while at the same time launching Internet based attacks at American military, government, and commercial Internet activities, China believes it could make up for a lot of current American military superiority. At the very least, the Chinese believe that all this stolen (via the Internet) data and damage to American space satellites would cripple American military power aimed at China.

This is likely true. China will be able to degrade our military with such attacks. But as time goes on, we will recover. And when we recover, we can defeat China.

So when would this capability come in handy? When conflict with America is pretty much assured to happen, of course. But that's a pretty extreme decision to repeat imperial Japan's decision in 1941 to hammer us in order to gain time to sweep up east Asia. China might recall it pissed us off a lot to be hit by a surprise attack rather than make us sue for peace.

A more likely scenario for conflict between America and China is over something else that escalates. We will defend allies in the region and if China attacks one, a big war could follow. Taiwan is one example. (In my own defense of that scenario, even though I don't mention anti-satellite weapons, I wrote it before China demonstrated that capability.) But as I noted before when I addressed those capabilities, China isn't likely to attack us at the outset of an invasion of Taiwan.

Why not? Because China doesn't need to defeat us to defeat Taiwan. China just needs to delay us long enough to defeat Taiwan. And while a cyber- and orbital-Pearl Harbor would knock us back and degrade our capabilities for a while, it would also have the effect of making our decision to intervene for us. If China goes all out and attacks Taiwan, how long would it be before our government--with the executive and legislative branches discussing the issue--decides to use military force to support Taiwan? That alone is going to delay us and China would be wise not to interrupt our dithering. With any luck (for China) we'll be scheduling Congressional hearings while Chinese forces are mopping up resistance in Taipei.

Remember, China says Taiwan is an internal issue. A lot here will agree and argue for restraint. Why would China want to attack us right off the bat and make it an international issue?

So I wouldn't expect China to hit us with their anti-satellite and cyber arsenal until we openly intervene. Let our domestic debates delay us before they use active measures to degrade and delay us further.

Of course, that makes it more important to quietly intervene if we can while we gather our forces. If our submarines can start hammering Chinese invasion assets using weapons that the Taiwanese have, we can deny that we are involved--for a while anyway.

UPDATE: More on the Pearl Cyber attack China would like to carry out:

American electronic warfare officials fear that China has not only stolen many technical details of U.S. military electronics, but has developed and is testing equipment to disrupt or deceive American electronic equipment. This includes communications, radars and signal detectors and jammers.

This is supposed to provide China with days of advantage. I hope we aren't being optimistic on the time frame.

But this should reinforce the idea that China isn't trying to build up forces to defeat us in a war. At least not in the short run. No, their war plans are to defeat a third country who is an ally of ours and delay our intervention long enough in order to complete the defeat of that third country. Messing with our electronics is a prime method of sowing confusion and uncertainty in our forces and keeping us too cautious to invervene in time (or make us vulnerable to crippling losses if we do rush in). Taiwan is the likeliest target but is not the only one.

But China does have to time this just right to buy time rather than provide us with a window on what China can do. Done too early, when we might not be ready to intervene anyway, such a Pearl Cyber attack could allow us to patch the holes and intervene on the timetable we intended all along.