Monday, March 23, 2015

Right Answer. Wrong Question

I don't think there is any question that China's navy is not as good as its hardware suggests. But let's not get carried away with dismissing China's navy.

This author has a point. But it is a point that can excuse passivity in the face of danger long past the time it is no longer true. And it may not matter in any likely war scenario.

So is China's navy a paper dragon that we over-estimate?

The history of the inter-war Italian navy, the Regia Marina, which faced a strategic outlook similar to the PLAN and was also confronted by technologically superior naval opponents, provides a great lesson in why overestimating your enemy’s capabilities is maybe just as dangerous as underestimating military power.

In short, miscalculating the fighting strengths of Mussolini’s navy prior to and during World War II diverted precious allied resources from dealing with more important military challenges[.]

No doubt, China's navy is not as good as their shiny new hardware indicates.

But how do we measure such a soft factor if we factor that observation into quantification of China's threat? And a judgment like that can linger on long after it is false.

Remember, there was a time before Pearl Harbor when we thought little of Japan's fleet. Poor eyesight and bad gunnery would cripple the Japanese. And their planes were just made of cheap scrap metal, so don't even worry about their air force. Sure, they're tough. But it would take a year to knock them down.

The key point is that China has the advantage of being right in the theater while we are far from it. Our fleet is spread out globally with only part at sea and all of their fleet is right there.

China has the advantage of initiating war and can ready a set-piece plan to strike us while we are least ready, and mobilize a larger fraction of their fleet to fight what we have forward deployed.

Even if our fleet is far better than China's, they could manage the opening blow when their detailed and practiced plan can be executed with mostly the friction of their own lack of training hindering the attack rather than adding in our counter-measures.

Japan's fleet in 1941 was both better than what we believed and had the benefit of striking the first blows against our less ready fleet available in the theater.

If China does the same, they could knock us back while they achieve their war objectives. That could be the South China Sea, Taiwan, Taiwanese islands in the strait, or Japanese islands in the East China Sea.

Japan certainly swept up more than that after knocking us back in 1941.

We can comfort ourselves that once we gather the rest of our fleet we can defeat the inferior Chinese fleet and supporting air power. But will we?

Yes, Japan counted on us not having the guts to do that. Yet we did drive them back. But China does not have a GDP just a tenth of ours. And Japan did not have nuclear weapons.

So yeah, China's fleet isn't as good as our fleet. I'm confident in saying that. But that shouldn't be the question.

The question is, is their fleet good enough to allow China to achieve their war objectives? On that question, I'm not as confident.

And since the author did not explain what we might do differently if we had a completely accurate picture of China's naval power, I'm not sure what the harm of over-estimating their power (if that is what is happening--is our Navy really not aware of our training and experience edge?) is to our national security.