Wednesday 18 June 2008

Observing Chinese Theories of Naval Warfare

If Chinese offensive mining is a concern, the U.S. Navy isn't saying much about it. For example, the Office of Naval Intelligence report, China's Navy (2007), mentions mines 14 times and submarines more than 150 times; the Department of Defense report to Congress, Military Power of the People's Republic of China (2007), similarly mentions mines only twice, while submarines are discussed in 25 places.

Significantly, a recent joint publication of the U.S. Naval Institute and the Naval War College, entitled China's Future Nuclear Submarine Force (2007), in 384 pages of text, has only one passing reference to mines plus a relevant paragraph with the significant heading, "Possible Sale of Russian Mobile Sea Mines to China." Similarly, numerous articles in Proceedings, the Naval War College Review, and other professional publications address the Chinese submarine threat, but China's use of mines is rarely mentioned.

Before we go forward, lets take a look at the professional writings he is discussing here.

Office of Naval Intelligence: China's Navy 2007
Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2007
China's Future Nuclear Submarine Force (2007)

The last one is a tough one. We note the authors of that publication are the primary sources for what we do know about PLAN thinking behind Mine Warfare. Dr. Andrew Erickson, Ph.D., Lyle Goldstein, Ph.D., & William Murray authored an excellent article in Undersea Warfare Magazine Winter 2007, an article we have previously covered, that ironically Norman Palmor goes on to praise at the end of his article. The same authors of that article also contributed an outstanding article in the Winter 08 NWC Review, another article we have previously discussed, that studies Chinese naval theory and literature for tactical and strategic planning.

We find the publications of these men, and not the official publications we are seeing from the Defense establishment, have come to represent the premier sources for PLAN activities for open source naval analysis. What is interesting is that when one studies their work in a strategic context, beyond the tactical analysis of how the Chinese think X platform can do Y, an interesting picture emerges.

Dr. Andrew Erickson, who is an Assistant Professor of the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the Naval War College, gave testimony last year before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, and his comments are worth noting.

We have recently completed a two-year-long study of over 1000 Chinese language articles concerning naval mine warfare (MIW). Our three most important findings are: (1) China has a large inventory of naval mines, many of which are obsolete but still deadly, and somewhat more limited numbers of sophisticated modern mines, some of which are optimized to destroy enemy submarines. (2) We think that China would rely heavily on offensive mining in any Taiwan scenario. (3) If China were able to employ these mines, (and we think that they could), it would greatly hinder operations, for an extended time, in waters where the mines were thought to have been laid. The obvious means of employing mines are through submarines and surface ships. Use of civilian assets should not be discounted. But we also see signs of Chinese recognition of the fact that aircraft offer the best means of quickly laying mines in significant quantity. These aircraft would be useless, however, without air superiority.

He goes on to comment on the Houbei class in his testimony.

Additionally, the Houbei class, or 2208, wave piercing catamarans (based on an Australian ferry design) are an impressive anti-surface weapons system, employing high speed (perhaps 45 knots or so), low observability, and two or four advanced cruise missiles. China is building dozens of these vessels at many shipyards.

Note two or four. Sounds a lot like 2 YJ-62 or 4 YJ-83. Did he confirm what many analysts have been guessing? Perhaps. He goes on to note what other analysts have also noted about the Type 022s, China is building a bunch of them. As you begin to take account of where the PLAN is focusing its forces, we believe a picture emerges that should sound familiar to US naval observers.

China is building large numbers, many believe at least 100, of small, fast missile attack craft. China is building large numbers of quiet, well armed, moderately sophisticated conventional submarines. How many pictures where in one frame multiple conventional PLAN submarines can be seen? Probably several, we posted one we found in 10 seconds in this blog entry. China trains tactics that involve multiple submarines, what we used to call "wolf packs" once upon a time.

China has a large and active mine laying, mine sweeping, and mine command force structure, recently displayed in well represented numbers on Chinese New Year. China is building a sophisticated, complex and redundant series of communication and electronic military stations throughout its area of influence, including along its coast line. China is building a large number of ballistic missiles, and is working on guidance systems for targeting ships (note: precision weapons). China is investing heavily into unmanned aircraft of various types, for various roles, and of various sizes.

Broken down to the basics, China is developing a large force of inexpensive platforms under, on, and above the surface for precision engagement within a battle force network. There is a specific name for that theory of war, and if he were here today, we believe Admiral Cebrowski would recognize it instantly.

Has China adopted "Streetfighter" as its regional anti-access and warfighter strategy at sea? We observe the adaptation to include mine warfare and ballistic missiles, but otherwise it very much looks like Cebrowski's concept. We look at "Streetfighter" as a theory of war centered around the forces that support the battle line. Note we did not mentioned nuclear submarines, frigates, destroyers, amphibious ships, or aircraft carriers; the battle line forces that dominate the US Defense establishments official publications regarding PLAN analysis. We observe SunTzu would have wanted it that way.

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