China and future wars

Robert Kaplan said some things that got my interest in an interview he did recently on BookTV. He recently spent an amount of time on a US missile cruiser in the Pacific, and believes that the next major military buildup may be in the field of naval power. His remarks are well worth reading:

China is re-emerging as a great power, the way we [United States] emerged as a power in the late 1870s and the 1880s. What happened? We had all this economic dynamism as a result of the industrial north’s victory in the Civil War, and as a result we had Marine landings in the Samoas, in the Hawaiian islands, on the western coast of South America. Because our dyanamic economy, let us go, forced us to go outward to protect new interests, trading interests, and once we were out there in the Samoas and Hawaii suddenly we were interested in Japan and even futher. So we didn’t expand consciously with any nefarious imperialistic motive, it was just a dynamic society and economy forced us outward, and gave us greater ambitions.

You can see that happening in China today. China is not just developing light quiet diesel submarines, but nuclear submarines. Which means it has oceanic, bluewater, i.e. imperial, ambitions throughout the Pacific. They may not be democrats but they want to provide a first world liberating life style for a good chunk of their 1.3 billion citizens, which means protecting energy and sea lanes from the Middle East. And they are not going to depend on the US Navy and the burgeoning Indian Navy to do that….What we are entering upon is a new naval-oriented cold war with China. It need not be violent, it might contain and deter China hopefully without needlessly provoking it. But we will be challenged in the Pacific by the Chinese Navy.

I had Kaplan’s words in mind reading two recent articles.

The first was one in the IHT concerning European and Chinese cooperation over Galileo, the new GPS system. The US is just a little concerned. The piece noted:

Analysts who study the People’s Liberation Army say that the skill China would gain from participating in the system’s development would allow it to close an information gap that now gives the United States the advantage in the precise targeting of missiles and “smart weapons.” The system would also allow Chinese military leaders to greatly improve their command and control of forces in the field.

China’s acquisition of the Galileo system is seen by these analysts as a major setback to U.S. efforts to limit China’s access to advanced military technology. Critics of China’s participation in the Galileo project say that the EU is, in effect, assisting China’s military modernization despite the embargo.

In their latest defense white paper, published in 2004, Chinese military planners make it clear that the use of advanced information technology is a top priority in efforts to make the army a modern force.

“Access to secure navigation satellite signals is absolutely essential to the PLA realizing its vision,” said Rick Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center.

It continued:

Missiles are at the forefront of the Chinese military’s strategy for gaining the upper hand over Taiwan, a democratically governed island that Beijing regards as a renegade province.

Taiwan’s defense minister, Lee Jye, said in Parliament on March 9 that mainland China had 700 missiles aimed at the island.

Modern antiship and antiaircraft missiles are also weapons the Chinese military planners hope would deter any U.S. intervention in a conflict over Taiwan, according to military analysts.

One can see why American strategic interests would be under threat. The second article concerns the state of the US Navy. There has been recent controversy surrounding the stealth DD(X) Destroyer, with Defence Department officials now saying that the total number of ships will be far smaller than originally planned:

The Navy’s new destroyer, the DD(X), is becoming so expensive that it may end up destroying itself. The Navy once wanted 24 of them. Now it thinks it can afford 5 – if that.

The price of the Navy’s new ships, driven upward by old-school politics and the rusty machinery of American shipbuilding, may scuttle the Pentagon’s plans for a 21st-century armada of high-technology aircraft carriers, destroyers and submarines.

Shipbuilding costs “have spiraled out of control,” the Navy’s top admiral, Vern Clark, told Congress last week, rising so high that “we can’t build the Navy that we believe that we need in the 21st century.”

The first two DD(X)’s are now supposed to total $6.3 billion, according to confidential budget documents, up $1.5 billion. A new aircraft carrier, the CVN-21, is estimated at $13.7 billion, up $2 billion. The new Virginia-class submarine now costs $2.5 billion each, up $400 million. All these increases have materialized in the last six months.

The number of ships is also set to drop:

Mr. Dur of Northrop Grumman said that new ships’ costs are going up because the number of ships the Navy wants is going down. Five years ago, the Navy foresaw a fleet as large as 375 warships. Now it says it may go as low as 260.

Mr. Dur said his company invested in equipment and people, expecting the Navy to buy ships at a steady rate. When the Navy’s plans “change dramatically from year to year, the assumptions we make are radically altered,” he said. “That generates extraordinary costs.”

If Congress and the Navy would steadily spend more money buying more ships, he said, the costs for each ship would shrink.

6 thoughts on “China and future wars”

  1. There’s a risk of exaggerating China’s defence capabilities though, which is one reason Bolton, Wolfowitz and others were unimpressed with Nixon’s opening to China.

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