Monday, June 09, 2014

The PLA's Primary Mission

The Department of Defense China report is out.

China's military modernization remains focused on Taiwan:

Dealing with a potential contingency in the Taiwan Strait remains the PLA’s primary mission despite an overall reduction of cross-Strait tensions—a trend that continued following the re-election of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou in January 2012. Should conditions change, the PLA could be called upon to compel Taiwan to abandon possible moves toward independence or to re-unify Taiwan with the mainland by force of arms while deterring or defeating any third-party intervention on Taiwan’s behalf.

"Deterring or defeating" third-party intervention ("third-party" means America, with a likely assist by Japan) is not a sufficient description of China's intent on this aspect of a Taiwan mission. Add a third "D": delay.

As I've droned on repeatedly here, China does not need to defeat America to conquer Taiwan. China needs to defeat Taiwan to conquer Taiwan. And to defeat Taiwan, China only needs to delay our intervention long enough to defeat and conquer Taiwan. This is a far less difficult mission than deterring America or defeating us.

The report goes into China's force modernization efforts. While many will dismiss China's efforts because their defense spending (in US dollars is way behind us), this is actually a situation where purchasing power parity (PPP) matters. China is purchasing most of their military on the local economy and not on the world market where dollar value matters.

In addition to continuing equipment modernization, China is devoting more attention to training their forces for war:

In 2013, the PLA emphasized training under “realistic combat scenarios” and the ability to execute long-range mobility operations. This type of training was highlighted by the MISSION ACTION 2013 series of exercises and the MANEUVER 5 PLA Navy exercise involving all three PLA Navy fleets. MISSION ACTION 2013 was a multi-week exercise led by the Nanjing and Guangzhou Military Regions (MRs) and the PLA Air Force. The exercise emphasized multiple PLA objectives including long-distance mobility and logistics, joint air-ground, and joint air-naval operations under realistic, high-tech conditions, and a series of amphibious landing operations.

Remember, China's military developments remain focused on Taiwan. Yet we are supposedly in a period of thaw in cross-strait relations. Other than Sun Tsu's advice to appear far when actually near, why would China appear to have cordial relations with Taiwan while focusing on Taiwan for their military development?

Denial and deception is one reason:

Contemporary PLA writings also indicate that the Chinese view D&D as a critical enabler of psychological shock and force multiplication effects during a surprise attack, allowing the PLA to offset the advantages of a technologically superior enemy and to reinforce its military superiority against weaker opponents.

Denying they intend to invade Taiwan and deceiving us about their capacity to invade Taiwan would help China overcome weaker Taiwan during the time they can buy by deterring, defeating, or merely delaying American intervention.

I find this amusing:

The PLA is capable of increasingly sophisticated military action against Taiwan. It is possible China would first pursue a measured approach characterized by signaling its readiness to use force, followed by a deliberate buildup of force to optimize the speed of engagement over strategic deception. Another option is that China would sacrifice overt, large-scale preparations in favor of surprise to force rapid military or political resolution before other countries could respond.

Yeah, China might forgo deception efforts that invite us to prepare to counter a Chinese invasion by a measured approach of signalling increased military readiness.

Or the Chinese might try to launch a fast invasion that overwhelms Taiwan before we can react effectively. Yeah, one of the two, no doubt.

We think we could detect Chinese preparations. And we probably could. But how would we interpret the preparations? Could Chinese D & D efforts convince us that the preparations that China can't hide from our surveillance are for a purpose completely unrelated to invading Taiwan?

That's why at one time I was focused on the 2008 Summer Olympics as a prime means of hiding intent.

Obviously, China did not invade. But the general notion isn't so odd. Russia perhaps masked Crimea invasion preparations through their efforts to secure this year's Winter Olympics in Russia, no? And Russia invaded Georgia during those 2008 Summer Olympics, remember. China could come up with a cover story, too, that reassures us that China has no intention of invading Taiwan even as China prepares to do just that.

So, after discussing other "more likely" military threats to Taiwan, I don't take a lot of comfort when this report minimizes the ability of China to hit Taiwan 100 miles off their coast:

Success would depend upon air and sea superiority, rapid buildup and sustainment of supplies on shore, and uninterrupted support. An attempt to invade Taiwan would strain China’s armed forces and invite international intervention. These stresses, combined with China’s combat force attrition and the complexity of urban warfare and counterinsurgency, assuming a successful landing and breakout, make amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk. Taiwan’s investments to harden infrastructure and strengthen defensive capabilities could also decrease China’s ability to achieve its objectives. Moreover, China does not appear to be building the conventional amphibious lift required to support such a campaign.

Jumping to the problems of urban warfare and counter-insurgency is getting ahead of ourselves, isn't it? Doesn't that assume Chinese advances to control Taiwanese population centers? If that's the biggest threat to Chinese victory, the war is over. I highly doubt we'd counter-invade Taiwan.

And if China had any doubt about that, our inability to really do anything to reverse Russia's conquest of Crimea has ended that thought.

Even if we assume that economic problems will punish Russia enough to liberate Crimea, China will surely believe that their superior economic power and integration in the world economy will allow China to brush off any attempts to punish China economically. And China does hold a lot of our debt, which might make us a bit vulnerable to counter-actions.

Sure, Taiwan might improve defenses enough to defeat the Chinese. I'm not saying Chinese victory is assured. Taiwan might fight hard. China might screw up. We and the Japanese might intervene quickly.

But I do not assume that the lack of Chinese conventional amphibious lift is as crucial as the report would like us to believe.

My invasion scenario--which relies on the historic ability of nations without dedicated amphibious warfare assets to do just that--doesn't restrict itself to what China wants us to see concerning their amphibious warfare capabilities. I see broader capabilities, like this "civilian" ship.

I cannot believe that the objective around which China's military is organized--the conquest of Taiwan--is something that the Chinese cannot attempt after years of military progress. I believe China can attempt to invade Taiwan. And if the Chinese are willing to endure the price, China could quite possibly defeat Taiwan before we can intervene in strength.