Archive for the ‘cyber’ Category

My 2011 Master’s Thesis Now Available: Looking at China’s A2/AD Capabilities and U.S. Perceptions of the Challenge

April 24, 2012

It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally been cleared to post my 2011 master’s thesis, entitled “AMERICAN PERCEPTIONS OF CHINA‘S ANTI-ACCESS AND AREA-DENIAL CAPABILITIES: IMPLICATIONS FOR U.S. MILITARY OPERATIONS IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC.” I completed the research on it in May 2011, defended it in June in front of a thesis committee featuring a pair of highly-regarded defense and security experts in Taiwan (Dr. Wen-cheng Lin of National Sun Yat-sen University, who served as my thesis advisor, and Dr. Andrew N. D. Yang, Taiwan’s currently serving Deputy Minister of National Defense), and then made my post-defense revisions throughout the summer, finally completing the work in September. It’s basically been in various states of review for release since then. I suppose it is only fitting that I am finally able to release it on the occasion of the joint Chinese and Russian naval drills taking place in the Yellow Sea and the anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Enjoy!


The post-Cold War world has created a number of important new challenges to the United States‘ power projection capabilities. The worldwide network of bases and stations that enabled the U.S. to contain the Soviet Union have, in many cases, been made into liabilities. U.S. dependence on fixed, vulnerable ports and airfields for the buildup of combat power, as seen in the 1990-91 Gulf War and 2003 Iraq War, have shown potential foes like China and Iran that it doesn‘t pay to allow penalty-free access and freedom of action in maritime, air, and space commons. In the Western Pacific, China has pursued an anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) strategy, developing capabilities designed to deny U.S. freedom of movement in the region.

This study examines U.S. perceptions of China‘s growing A2/AD capabilities and their implications for U.S. military operations in the Western Pacific through the analysis of authoritative official and unofficial U.S. documents and studies. This work establishes a comprehensive, up-to-date picture of Chinese A2/AD capabilities through American eyes, updating previous comprehensive works in key areas such as the status of China‘s anti-ship ballistic missile, conventional ballistic and cruise missile capabilities and their implications for key U.S. facilities in the region, and new technology and platforms like China‘s first aircraft carrier and stealth aircraft.

The thesis concludes that the U.S. has been slow in reacting to Chinese A2/AD developments and that it is unlikely that continued Chinese military modernization (including the refinement and development of additional A2/AD capabilities) will end in the near future. For the U.S., this means that development and implementation of a truly joint concept for counter-A2/AD operations, as well as the right mix of military capabilities to carry out such operations, cannot be delayed any longer.

View this document on Scribd

On Cyberwar with China, and other recent publications

March 2, 2011
Cyber-attack on

There’s been a glut of military journal releases this week – the stalwart Military Review, featuring an excerpt (PDF) from Bing West‘s new book on Afghanistan; a new issue from the journal Prism, which discusses what are known as “complex operations” (basically, the messy, nation-building-type wars heavy in interagency coordination that have proliferated in the last decade) with an interesting-looking article on human security in complex operations (human security is a newer concept in security studies with the premise that without security at the human level – essentially addressing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at the lowest level – then you aren’t going to be able to achieve any other type of security); and finally a new issue from Strategic Studies Quarterly. Regular readers will recall I examined an article from their last edition on the “new” Korean War and implications for Taiwan. (It came out just about when the NorKos were shelling Yeonpyeong Island and it seemed as if we were about to say goodbye to the 1953 armistice.) The latter contains an article called “Blown to Bits: China’s War in Cyberspace, August–September 2020“. (PDF) OK, you got me – I’m pretty interested in China’s computer network operations capabilities – let’s take a look at this one.

The author, Christopher Bronk, Fellow in Information Technology Policy at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, sets up the fictitious future cyberwar scenario by discussing the development of U.S. information warfare superiority from the 1991 Gulf War to the 1999 Kosovo War. He also mentions the other, more recent bellwethers of possible future cyber conflict, the 2007 and 2008 cyber wars on Estonia and Georgia, respectively. (The belligerent in both instances was thought to be Russia.) In the latter case (Georgia), kinetic conflict was preceded by a cyber “preparation of the battlespace” just as many analysts believe would be the case if the U.S. and China at some point come into a state of military conflict. On the prospects of such an occurrence, Bronk notes

While it is the author’s deepest and most sincere hope that no military conflict will come between China, Japan, India, the United States, or any other states of the Western Pacific and Asia, the massive interest in cyber conflict among these countries leads many to ponder such a struggle.

And so here we are. The scenario he asks us to ponder is this: it is 2020, Taiwan has completed its Finlandization, and the PRC aches for greater conquest in Asia. It sets its sites on Singapore, at the southern end of the Chinese “lake” called the South China Sea and at the eastern mouth of the Strait of Malacca, perhaps the most crucial maritime chokepoint in the Pacific Basin, if not the world. Quite plausibly, China’s actions are spurred by concerns about the security of precious seaborne fossil fuel imports coming through the Indian Ocean.

The author’s intent is not to try to present a litany of details about potential cyberwar that would be impenetrable to anyone not holding an advanced degree in theoretic mathematics or computer science, but instead to consider “how cyberwar might supplant more traditional conflict and how cyber dimensions may alter warfare.”

After laying the groundwork, the scenario begins:

Many a pundit and strategic theorist had wondered what shape unrestrained information warfare might take. The opening hours of China’s virtual war with the United States and its allies over Singapore would confirm many of the worst suspicions of that crowd. Chinese forces were quite clearly working inside the decision loop of the allied forces. Preliminary moves by the PLA in the information space indicated that it could do much damage to enemy communication and computing resources, but a series of hints would reveal that China also likely had compromised, at least to a degree, the encryption mechanisms used to secure US and allied military and diplomatic communications. At times, Beijing most probably held the capacity to have a fairly complete information picture even of very high-level, classified systems, although the reverse was also likely true.

Though the author intended to “stay out of the cyber weeds”, there is a bit of digital undergrowth to deal with, though not too much to detract from his main intent: starting a discussion about whether a forceful political goal can be achieved by cyber means alone. I think this is a lot like the shopworn, discredited thesis popular in the late 1990s that wars could be won by airpower alone that grew from the 1999 Kosovo War – it would be great if the answer was yes, but it’s not.

The scenario demonstrates ably the potential vulnerability of U.S. and allied information nets to cyber attack; the question remains if U.S. decision-makers are willing to take concrete steps now to really protect these vital information channels. Sure, the U.S. has established a formal joint command to deal with cyber issues, but in many cases the lines of responsibility have not been clearly drawn and require further clarification.

Academic update

October 20, 2010
National Sun Yat-sen University

Image via Wikipedia

A few things of note on the academic front:

  1. Had a chance to sit in on a couple very interesting guest lectures recently.  The first was by Andrew N. D. Yang, Taiwan’s Deputy Minister of Defense.  Dr. Yang was (and still is) a professor here at National Sun Yat-sen University, although it is tough with his day job as the MoD’s #2 to make it down to Kaohsiung regularly.  He came to lecture as a part of the “Studies in Chinese Foreign Policy” course I am enrolled in this semester.
  2. Dr. Lin Cheng-yi, a researcher at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, was also recently here at NSYSU to talk about security issues related to the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.  This was as a part of my “National Security and Crisis Management” course.  He shared a lot of good websites for research related to these security issues, some of which I was already familiar with, but also some others that I had not seen yet.  I am going to update the blogroll with a few of his suggestions.

Beyond that, the time has come to engage the ‘ol grey matter on selecting a topic for my master’s thesis.  I’ve put a lot of thought into it, and I think I am going to go with examining the effect of the PRC’s growing anti-access / area denial (sometimes abbreviated A2/AD) capabilities on regional security in East Asia, specifically looking at the so-called anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).  I also considered looking at China’s growing “cyber” capabilities as another potential asymmetric warfighting capability, but in the end, I don’t believe there is sufficient material available in the public domain to properly research it.  My other interest, anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, is really a small player in the asymmetric stable of weapons.  Therefore, I think I will study the ASBM.  Thoughts?

And we’re back! Thoughts on new Cyber Command deputy

July 2, 2010

Closed out the semester at school this week, so I should have more time to post things here now.  First thing I wanted to talk about was a recent general officer announcement that caught my eye yesterday: News Release: Flag Officer Announcements.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced today that the President has made the following nominations:

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle Jr. for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general and assignment as deputy commander, U.S. Cyber Command.  Maj. Gen. Schmidle is currently serving as assistant deputy commandant for programs and resources (programs) in Washington, D.C.

First, this is a good thing for the Marine Corps.  It’s useful for us as an institution to have our senior officers serving at high levels amongst the various combatant and sub-unified commands.  For instance, right now we’ve got one Marine general serving as Commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command, and I know of at least one other Marine three-star (besides the new one announce above) who is serving as a combatant command deputy commander (at Central Command).  Of course, we also have Gen Cartwright, former U.S. Strategic Command commander, who is the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Secondly, the selection of General Schmidle for Deputy, U.S. Cyber Command it a bit odd…I mean, the man is a career pilot!  What specific knowledge about cyber operations does he have?  Well, as it turns out, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot.  Seems that even at the senior officer ranks, it’s often the requirement that a person bring “general-purpose smarts” and adaptability to a position, not that the absolute perfect expert in a particular field or discipline be magically assigned to the job in question.  It’s clear to me that this has long been the case at the junior officer ranks; I am beginning to see that it does not change as one moves up the ladder.

Also, if for some reason you think that I was calling General Schmidle a dummy or disparaging pilots in general, that is most certainly not the case.  A brief glance at Schmidle’s bio shows you that he has a proven record of success in challenging assignments  apart from flying and command jobs that require a fair amount of grey matter activity.  For example, he’s a distinguished graduate of both intermediate and top-level professional military education schools, and he is currently pursuing a PhD from Georgetown during his “off time.”  He’s been involved with some of the Marine Corps’ most prominent warfighting experiments, served as military secretary to a pair of Marine commandants, and most recently, was the Marine Corps’ lead representative for the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.

There’s nothing in there about computer network operations, or any cyber this, that, or the other.  But it won’t matter.  General Schmidle is a well-educated, smart, adaptable leader who will do a great job as the Cyber Command deputy and learn a lot in the process.

Congratulations, Lieutenant General!


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