Liaoning At Sea

The Chinese have slavishly copied the US Navy’s techniques and procedures as they learn to operate tactical jets from their first carrier, the Liaoning. Apparently, the also realize the critical importance of releasing “hooah” vids.



Spill thought this was pretty cheesy. I thought it was pretty good, though obviously not “homemade” the way most US vids are.

China Begins Building Second Carrier

Actually, it’s their first domestically built carrier. Their first is a refurbished ex-Soviet carrier.

It will be interesting to see what the differences in the configuration are between Liaoning and the second carrier.

The speculation is that it too will use the “ski ramp” method for launching aircraft. Unlike US carrier with steam catapults, the ski ramp system is much simpler, but also limits the weapons and fuel any jet can launch with. China has worked closely with Brazil (which operates a carrier with steam catapults) so they should have access to the technology. And steam catapults are hardly new. They’ve been around for 60 years. Steam catapults may not be the easiest technology to master, but it is a rather straightforward engineering challenge.

We in the US think of our aircraft carriers almost exclusively in terms of power projection. From Korea, through Vietnam, Desert Storm and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the role of the carrier has been to sit off the enemy coast and send attacks ashore.

But China’s stated strategy is one of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD). That is, they are structuring their forces and doctrine to deny us the ability to conduct operations in certain areas, or make them prohibitively expensive in lives and political support.

If the follow on carriers in Chinese service do use a ski ramp, that would effectively limit their fighters to a loadout of a modest number of air-to-air missiles, and a decent internal fuel load. So if Chinese carriers cannot reasonably be expected to perform War At Sea Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) attacks on our carrier groups, what is their possible doctrine?

Here’s my theory, based solely on PIOMA:

A Chinese carrier battle group of one or two carriers and escorts is intended to provide local air superiority over itself, and execute limited challenges to air superiority over our carrier forces.

China wouldn’t even have to secure air superiority over our carrier group, but instead, merely make credible challenges from time to time, while avoiding being destroyed.

It doesn’t take a lot of credible threat to one of our carriers before a large portion of the sorties generated have to be devoted solely to Combat Air Patrols (CAP) over the carrier for self protection. Indeed, the political consequences of losing a carrier, or even having one badly damaged, would tend to make force protection the first imperative for any US Navy operation. To say our current Navy is rather risk averse is to put it mildly.

And so, with a majority of the sorties of this notional carrier task force devoted to protecting itself, it has essentially become a self-licking ice cream cone. The carrier exists to provide air cover to the fleet, which the fleet is there to support carrier operations. See what I mean?

What do you think?

US-Chinese Tensions in the South China Sea rise

It’s now being reported that last week saw a tense incident between the USS Cowpens*, a Ticonderoga Guided Missile Cruiser, and a Chinese landing ship, where the Chinese LST forced the Cowpens to manuever to avoid collision.

From the Free Beacon:

A Chinese naval vessel tried to force a U.S. guided missile warship to stop in international waters recently, causing a tense military standoff in the latest case of Chinese maritime harassment, according to defense officials.

The guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens, which recently took part in disaster relief operations in the Philippines, was confronted by Chinese warships in the South China Sea near Beijing’s new aircraft carrier Liaoning, according to officials familiar with the incident

“On December 5th, while lawfully operating in international waters in the South China Sea, USS Cowpens and a PLA Navy vessel had an encounter that required maneuvering to avoid a collision,” a Navy official said.

On the one hand, this is quite reminiscent of the bad old days of the Cold War when the Soviets routinely ignored virtually every Rule of the Road in attempts to hassle and annoy US warships. Near misses were common and even the occasional swapping of paint took place.

On the other hand, this is slightly different, as China has long asserted that the entire South China Sea is territorial waters (though absolutely no other country recognizes this, and there is no historical precedent).

It’s not as if the Chinese haven’t done this sort of thing before. In 2001 there was the EP-3E incident, when a Chinese fighter intercepted a routine US surveillance flight (fair enough) but then maneuvered so aggressively it caused a mid-air collision, and the EP-3E had to make an emergency landing in China. The Chinese soon repatriated the US crew, and eventually returned the heavily damaged top-secret spyplane.**

The Free Beacon article also describes the 2009 incident when Chinese assets harassed the USNS Impeccable, an ocean surveillance ship, operating in international waters, again, waters claimed by China as territorial, or at least as part of the  Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Chinese objective here isn’t to provoke a shooting incident. The attempt is to subtlety exert influence. Every time they can force the ships and aircraft of another nation to change their operations, they bolster their claim to the waters, and cause other nations to lose face.

In ordinary times, the US Navy is rather absolutist about the Freedom of Navigation in international waters. The Gulf of Sidra incident, when Ghaddafi claimed those waters were territorial to Libya, arose when the US Navy promptly conducted Freedom of Navigation exercises in those waters. When the Libyans came out to play, they found out they were sorely ill equipeed to challenge the varsity, losing ships, planes and SAM sites in the process.

But will our current administration stand firm in the face of the Chinese? Do more than pass a mild diplomatic note? There is cause for doubt. ADM Locklear, US Pacific Command commander, has sounded conciliatory in the face of Chinese claims. Mind you, when PACOM’s lips are moving (on a diplomatic matter, at least) the Obama administration is speaking.

One fears the current administration’s unwillingness to embrace US strength and resolve will prompt the Chinese to further engage in aggressive behavior, and continue to escalate tensions in the region.

To be sure, this is a fairly minor incident. But failure to curb Chinese actions in the region will embolden them, and increase the chances of a more serious incident, one our current administration is wholly unprepared to face.

**One wonders how the USS Cowpens would have fared were the infamous CAPT Holly Graf still in command.
*After, of course, they had plenty of time to examine every classified bit in minute detail.

Weekend Reading Assignment- 2013 Report To Congress on China

I’m juuuuuust starting to draft a series on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. In the meantime, here’s a copy of the annual report to Congress on the PLA.

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