Thursday, July 17, 2014

Don't Count On Our Eight-Dashed Line

Do not count on our submarines to deter or defeat China from invading Taiwan. And the fact that China discounts them is reason to worry whether Peking is right or wrong.

We're safe from a Chinese offensive because of 8 forward-deployed attack submarines?

The bad news first. The People's Republic of China now believes it can successfully prevent the United States from intervening in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or some other military assault by Beijing.

Now the good news. China is wrong — and for one major reason. It apparently disregards the decisive power of America's nuclear-powered submarines. ...

Cliff estimated that in wartime, each American submarine would be able to get off "a few torpedo shots" before needing to "withdraw for self-preservation." But assuming eight subs each fire three torpedoes, and just half those torpedoes hit, the American attack boats could destroy all of China's major amphibious ships — and with them, Beijing's capacity for invading Taiwan or seizing a disputed island.

One, I think it is right that China assumes they can deter us long enough to defeat Taiwan. Attacking Japan or Guam draws us (and Japan) into the fight over Taiwan immediately rather than exploiting the time it will take us to decide to intervene to fight with Taiwan.

But the idea that 8 subs can defeat the Chinese invasion assumes way too much.

It assumes all eight are close to Taiwan.

It assumes that all eight subs can quickly target China's relatively few amphibious warfare ships.

It assumes that sinking those amphibious warfare ships ends the invasion threat.

Those assumptions are wrong.

Those eight subs will be stretched from Singapore to Japan--not clustered around the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan is not our only mission.

The idea that China's invasion would be defeated by sinking their amphibious warfare ships requires you to simultaneously believe that China would conduct an invasion successfully with only those few amphibious warfare ships.

In fact, those amphibious warfare ships can lift about a division and that isn't enough to conquer Taiwan. Obviously, if China is invading Taiwan, they have other means thatn those amphibious warfare ships to invade.

Invasion would consist of those amphibious warfare ships, a parachute assault on Taipei, and lots of Chinese troops lifted to Taiwan on civilian ships (including ro-ro ships) and converted obsolete warships, and special forces and light infantry deployed into Taiwan or Taiwan's ports hidden in merchant ships before the invasion.

And the amphibious invasion would go right for Taipei, too, in addition to assaults elsewhere to dilute Taiwan's response and overwhelm their command and control already under cyber, missile, and air attack.

Worse, even if the author is right and our few subs are capable of staking our a perimeter and holding it, the problem is that if China believes the subs can't stop them, we'll have a war. China defines "rational" for their decisions, recall.

I will say that it is good to see that there is recognition that China faces a window of opportunity to exploit their growing relative power, as that article author writes:

If American subs can hold the line for another 20 years, China might age right out of its current, aggressive posture without ever having attacked anyone. That's because economic and demographic trends in China point towards a rapidly aging population, flattening economic growth, and fewer resources available for military modernization.

I agree.

The long run is better for us. The short run is still okay. But I won't sleep better over the medium term because 8 nuclear attack submarines patrol the western Pacific.