By Harry J. Kazianis
The purpose of this article is straightforward and scary enough: what if Beijing found itself in a situation where it felt war was inevitable with Washington (a crisis over Taiwan, a crisis in the East or South China Seas etc.)— how would it procede?
Setting the Scene for War:
Before one can set the course for war, we need to get some housekeeping items out of the way.
Step #1: Blind America
As Mr. Miyagi put it best, “If man can’t see, he can’t fight.”
What if Beijing simply degraded and destroyed the ability of U.S. forces to have those advanced eyes and ears and brought back an old foe of U.S. forces— the much hated “fog of war?”
The next blow would come before America could ascertain who was striking at the heart of its best military capabilities— and this one would have China’s fingerprints all over them.
Saturation Strikes: Think Chinese “Shock and Awe” With Lots of Missiles
First China blinds its enemy, than it drops the hammer.
After Beijing is assured Washington and its allies are in C2 and C4ISR hell, the Chinese version of “shock and awe” would be on full display.
Could America and its Allies Take the Heat?
Broadly speaking, the above scenario (which has been greatly simplified for reasons of time and space) is one that U.S. and allied planners have been thinking about since at least the mid 2000s. While things like the operational concept formerly known as Air-Sea Battle and efforts to disperse forces throughout the Pacific attempt to negate these possibilities, how would U.S. forces fair under the fire in the above?
What About Missile Defense?
For years I worshipped at the altar of missile defense, and I still do in many situations (think a North Korean or Iranian single or small missile strike against the U.S. or an ally), however, this is not one of them.
The challenge here is as simple as math itself.
Consider the below when we apply the Chinese missile threat to just naval assets and get a little creative: if Beijing was really slick it could fire off older missiles that were not as accurate towards allied naval vessels— almost like decoys— just to shrink the number of available interceptors:
“Think about it — could we someday see a scenario where American forces at sea with a fixed amount of defensive countermeasures facing an enemy with large numbers of cruise and ballistic weapons that have the potential to simply overwhelm them? Could a potential adversary fire off older weapons that are not as accurate, causing a defensive response that exhausts all available missile interceptors so more advanced weapons with better accuracy can deliver the crushing blow?"
What About Base Hardening?
Another great (and expensive) idea with its own unique set of challenges.
Could U.S. and Allied bases be turned into massive bunkers that have the capability to absorb a Chinese missile barrage and attacks by other means and fire back?
In an interview with John Stillion, a Senior Fellow at CSBA, I asked “How expensive is it to effectively harden a base?”
Due to limitations of time and space, this is just one of many possible scenarios when it comes to Chinese calculations of war and peace and what types of strikes Chinese planners would consider if they decided to make the ultimate choice.
While the above description does sound bleak, there is cause for optimism for the U.S.
Also, as Stillion explained, there are a few ways to blunt such Chinese tactics, but with a caveat:
“The key to operating effectively in the face of a credible precision-strike threat is to find a combination of hardening, dispersal, rapid repair capability, active defenses (like Patriot and THAAD) and distance from the threat that allows sustained, efficient operation of the “sortie factory.”