Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why China’s Navy is a Threat

By James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara

Civilian academics who study military affairs like to hold forth on tactical matters. But this can lead to misguided advice. First of all, Loo deprecates 'an alleged aircraft carrier-killing cruise missile,' suggesting a sea-skimming anti-ship missile with a range of a few score miles. But the anti-ship missile that vexes China-watchers is an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), a weapon whose range, speed and hitting power dwarf that of any cruise missile. Estimates vary, but should the PLA perfect its ASBM, Chinese racketeers could pound away at ships underway up to 2,000 miles away.

Moreover, Loo seems to think the US Pacific Fleet can easily mass overwhelming strength in the South China Sea to beat back a Chinese naval offensive. At first glance this appears reasonable. But at 287 vessels, the US Navy is now smaller in raw numbers than before World War I, and it is dispersed across the globe discharging countless missions.This declining fleet must contend with a PLA Navy that has spent the last 15 years devising capabilities—of which the ASBM represents only one—aimed at exploiting US weaknesses in antisubmarine warfare, mine countermeasures and other niche areas. The result? Chinese mariners can now impose steep costs on the US Pacific Fleet, contesting its ability even to reach a theater of combat like the South China Sea—much less to wage war effectively once there.


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