Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two Possibilities

Will China's new carriers make the South China Sea a Chinese lake--as the Chinese assert?

This author thinks that Chinese aircraft carriers will allow China to dominate the South China Sea:

China will have so many aircraft carriers by 2030 that the South China Sea will be “virtually a Chinese lake,” a new U.S. study warns, arguing that the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region was shifting away from the United States.

That's one possibility.

Or, the South China Sea could be a kill sack for China's fleet:

[Consider] what China would face in a fight for the South China Sea.

Japan with American naval and air power would hold the gap from Japan to the Philippines. South Korea would hold Japan's western flank.

Taiwan's air and naval power would also soak up attention, even if Taiwan doesn't want to fight alongside nations who challenge Taiwan's claims along with China's.

The Philippines, while militarily weak, has bases that American naval and air forces practice using in contingencies. Behind Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines stand our Guam bases in a supporting role.

Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore (which will soon host American Littoral Combat Ships) hold the southern end, with Australia also available to bolster new Indian and local forces at the southern end of the South China Sea.

And along the west is our new friend Vietnam, with a strong army that once bested China's attempts to "teach them a lesson" over thirty years ago, and which could be a thorn in the side of any Chinese fleet element operating in the South China Sea. Behind Vietnam stands Thailand, an American ally. American aircraft flying from Thailand, possibly refueling at Vietnamese air bases, could reach the South China Sea.

And this leaves out India, which is no friend of China.

People rightly worry about China's anti-access/area denial weapons that will force our Navy to operate cautiously in the western Pacific in range of those weapons.

But the same kind of anti-ship missiles operated from our ships and planes and bases in those states bordering the South China Sea will pose the same sort of anti-access/area denial weapons to China's surface fleet--as those ships leave their home ports.

Even the Philippines could turn the sea into a shooting gallery:

The Chinese are too numerous and too strong and if they become too aggressive the Philippines will not be able to resist with current and planned forces. That might changes if the Philippines bought affordable weapons that would damage Chinese forces. One way to do this is by using land based anti-ship missiles with enough range and heft to hit Chinese ships. One of the best candidates is from India, which manufactures and offers for export the PJ-10 BrahMos. This three ton missile is 9.4 meter (29 foot) long and 670mm in diameter. It is based on a Russian the Yakhont.

As I've long argued, the Philippines might be able to deter China if the Philippines gets forces powerful enough to need a battle to defeat rather than not rising above an armed incident. Anything that allows the Philippines to resist longer and inflict casualties on China faces Peking with the prospect of escalation that would draw in America.

I worry about China. We need to keep our guard up. But unless China gains control of the states bordering the South China Sea to prevent them from being bases to contest control of the South China Sea, China's carriers won't be a factor in that control.