I just caught this news while trolling DoD news releases, even though it has been out on the street for almost a month. Major General Thomas L. Conant, USMC, currently Commanding General, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing in California, has been nominated to be the deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. combatant command for this neck of the woods. This is fantastic news, for General Conant has been at PACOM before (as the Director of Strategic Policy Planning [J5]) and is well-versed in the significant issues of the region. Plus, from a service point of view, it gives us (Marines) one more highly-placed general officer in the various regional and functional commands. (Last time I posted on this topic, we were taking the deputy spot at U.S. Cyber Command.)
Posts Tagged ‘United States Department of Defense’
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.
- It will soon be too late to stop the cyberwars (ft.com)
- Cyberwar and the Future of Cyber Conflict (schneier.com)
- Cyberwar Planning? It’ll Take a Catastrophe (wired.com)
Eric Talmadge, “US admiral: Carrier killer won’t stop US Navy,” Washington Post, February 15, 2011
The U.S. military has had its eye on China’s “carrier killer” missile, the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (or ASBM), for some time now, especially the U.S. Navy (understandably, since it’s advertised as a direct counter to the “crown jewel” of the U.S. fleet and a lodestar of U.S. power projection capabilities). The DoD seems to go to pretty extensive lengths to put forth an image of not fearing this weapon, for instance, this today:
However, Vice Adm. Scott van Buskirk, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, told the AP in an interview that the Navy does not see the much-feared weapon as creating any insurmountable vulnerability for the U.S. carriers – the Navy’s crown jewels.
“It’s not the Achilles heel of our aircraft carriers or our Navy – it is one weapons system, one technology that is out there,” Van Buskirk said in an interview this week on the bridge of the USS George Washington, the only carrier that is home-based in the western Pacific.
Admiral Van Buskirk took command of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet last fall. 7th Fleet is the naval command that would be on the front line of a potential maritime conflict with China.
It’s not surprising that the leader of this command would come forth with a strong statement discounting the ASBM – just imagine how it would look if he made a statement saying that there was no realistic defense against the ASBM. (Not exactly confidence-inspiring!)
The truth is that nobody knows for sure if the ASBM will work as advertised. There are a number of extremely high technical hurdles that the Chinese will have to solve in order to achieve a operational, fully capable weapon system. The commander of United States Pacific Command (USPACOM – two echelons of command up the chain from 7th Fleet), Admiral Robert Willard stated in an December 2010 interview that the ASBM has reached a state of development roughly equivalent to what in the U.S. defense establishment is called “initial operational capability.” This means that some units can be expected to have received the equipment and have the ability to employ it. It does not mean, however, that all the pieces of the necessary targeting systems, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) networks and associated technologies are at a sufficient state of development to fully support the weapon. Indeed. many U.S. defense analysts believe that these supporting technologies are about five years away from being fully operational. (It’s probably good to point out right here that the U.S. has been pretty poor at making accurate predictions about when various Chinese military technologies and hardware will come into service – see also the J-20 stealth aircraft, the prospects of the Chinese deploying an aircraft carrier in the near term, etc.)
In the same interview, Admiral Willard stated that a full over-water test of the ASBM system had not yet been observed. There was some speculation last summer that the PRC might do such a test in conjunction with bellicose rhetoric about U.S. naval operations in the Yellow Sea, but it never came to pass. (The U.S. naval operations were part of the combined response – along with the South Koreans – to the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan by North Korea earlier in 2010.)
I’d like to go back to what Admiral Van Buskirk said about the ASBM in the quote above – “It’s not the Achilles heel of our aircraft carriers or our Navy – it is one weapons system, one technology that is out there.” [emphasis added] Very true. But it’s one part that is very provocative, since only China has anything like it, and because it appears to be directly intended to counter a key U.S. strength in an asymmetric fashion.
In recent testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an expert from the RAND Corporation described China’s anti-access approach to be a “system-of-systems”; that China’s ability to effectively employ its joint anti-access strategy in the Western Pacific would be dependent to a great extent on establishing an effective operational system (meaning the right kinds of units, manned with people trained in the right way) to employ its anti-access capabilities (including the ASBM), and at the same time that China still needed to work on full deployment and integration of a host of battle management and ISR networks to be able to effectively target at long distance, for instance, a U.S. aircraft carrier heading toward the Taiwan Strait. I believe this is what Admiral Van Buskirk was alluding to when saying that the ASBM is but one piece of the overall system. The U.S. has to worry about all of the threats, not just one.
A final quote:
Still, van Buskirk said the Navy has no intention of altering its mission because of the new threat and will continue to operate in the seas around Japan, Korea, the Philippines and anywhere else it deems necessary.
“We won’t change these operations because of this specific technology that might be out there,” he told The AP while the USS George Washington was in its home port just south of Tokyo for repairs last week. “But we will carefully monitor and adapt to it.”
I think that to some extent the Navy (and other branches of the U.S. armed forces) have indeed altered their operations in response to threats like the Chinese ASBM (thought it is hard to prove something like this). A greater impact in this realm has almost certainly been exerted by Chinese short- and medium-range missiles, which have been a focus of particular expansion by the Chinese over the past decade (chiefly as an axe to hold over the head of Taiwan). One could in fact argue that a factor in the shift of some U.S. troops from Okinawa in the much more distant U.S. outpost of Guam has been the Chinese ballistic missile threat. Okinawa is well within range of several types of Chinese ballistic missiles and its utility as a platform to support U.S. combat operations in a China contingency could be degraded quite quickly by the wealth of missile capabilities the PRC would potentially be able to lavish upon it. No wonder the U.S. wants to be able to port an aircraft carrier in Guam and is also expanding its air power and ISR profile there.
- U.S. Amiral Says ‘Carrier Killer’ Will Not Slow Navy (foxnews.com)
- US admiral: Carrier killer won’t stop US Navy (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- U.S. Navy successfully flies first autonomous robotic jet (geek.com)
Ronald O’Rourke, “Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, December 9, 2010.
Department of Defense (DOD) development work on high-energy military lasers, which has been underway for decades, has reached the point where lasers capable of countering certain surface and air targets at ranges of about a mile could be made ready for installation on Navy surface ships over the next few years. More powerful shipboard lasers, which could become ready for installation in subsequent years, could provide Navy surface ships with an ability to counter a wider range of surface and air targets at ranges of up to about 10 miles. These more powerful lasers might, among other things, provide Navy surface ships with a terminal-defense capability against certain ballistic missiles, including the anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) that China is believed to be developing.
- Chinese Military Modernization: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States (themoderatevoice.com)
- Airborne Laser Test Bed to Try and Shoot Down Ballistic Missile as Soon as Tonight (slashgear.com)
- US and China launched space weapon tests: documents (alternet.org)
I spent part of my day today reading through the opening section of the new Pentagon report on China‘s military power. Quite frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed by chapter 1, the “annual update” where significant developments related to questions raised by Congress in the fiscal year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act are discussed. Perhaps it is because I have been studying China for the entire time frame this report covers (2009) – there really wasn’t much here that was new to me; or perhaps it was because when I read the previous version (2009) of the China Military Power report in the spring of 2009 I was a fairly new “China watcher”; now most of this seems like old hat. Or maybe it was because every time I read the report talking about things happening in whatever month (say for instance, June), I had to remind myself that since the report is so late in being released this year, they aren’t talking about the month of June that recently ended, but instead the June that is nearly 15 months ago now. So a lot of what is discussed seems a bit stale and out of date. Note to DoD: release the report on time, and this last beef won’t be nearly such an issue.
There aren’t a lot of surprises in chapter 1. That said, here are a few nuggets I found to be interesting. The PRC continues its military buildup unabated, regardless of thawing relations across the Taiwan Strait. (You don’t say.) The PRC continues to add to its arsenal of short range ballistic missiles (SRBM) and cruise missiles aimed at Taiwan. (It was nice to see that the DoD estimate of the number of SRBMs opposite Taiwan in December 2009 to be 1,050 to 1,150; many of the scare-mongering pieces I see currently talk about more like 1,500 SRBMs.) China is developing a host of anti-access, area-denial weapons systems, one of which is the anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), designed to be a U.S. “carrier killer.” In conjunction with developing anti-access technologies, the PRC is also beefing up its over-the-horizon skywave and surface wave radars. These radars are used to help target ships at sea that continue to move after a ballistic missile is launched in their general direction and are used to supplement surveillance satellites. There is a (very) short section in chapter 1 (a single paragraph on page 7) that discusses the PRC’s cyberwarfare capabilities. I hope there is more on this topic later in the report, for otherwise this is a pretty big topic of interest for me that was hardly mentioned in chapter 1.
- Pentagon report: China extending military reach (cnn.com)
- Pentagon hits at Beijing’s military secrecy (ft.com)
- US: China military in secret rise (bbc.co.uk)
- Rising Dragon: China’s Military Power Growing (abcnews.go.com)