Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What's In A Name?

The recent issue of Proceedings has an article (1) suggesting the need for a name change for AirSea Battle (ASB).  The author feels that the name, specifically the word “Battle”, is too provocative.

The article cites the origination of AirSea Battle from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis (CSBA) as the root of the problem – the problem, the author feels, being that AirSea Battle described a conflict with China, specifically the A2/AD aspects of that conflict, and that naming the enemy serves only to antagonize the enemy, China.  The author goes on to note that the Pentagon has developed their own version of ASB (Pentagon-ASB or PASB) subsequent to the CSBA’s version and that China is not even named in the document.  While the actual document is classified, the public version of PASB combined with the comments from CNO Greenert and other members of Navy leadership suggest a document that is focused on inter-service communications and some type of nebulous cross-service capabilities swap.  The article, for example, cites an example of a helo dropping a sonobuoy to alert a submarine to launch a Tomahawk missile.  Why a helo would be positioned atop a submarine but a Tomahawk armed Burke/Tico would not is not explained.  Other previously cited  examples include such gems as having an Army ground unit control a Standard missile launched from a ship (why would the Army have a better radar picture than the ship?) and a B-2 bomber launching air-to-air missiles (really?! – we’re going to risk a billion dollar bomber, of which we only have 20, playing air-to-air tag?!).  To be fair, a friend of ComNavOps has actually suggested several worthwhile examples of inter-service communications and compatibilities though none have been suggested by DoD or the Navy.

The point of this post is not to debate ASB but to note that the PASB version appears to be a watered down description of capabilities, mostly defensive in nature, and largely of quite dubious value, whose main focus seems to be avoidance of confrontation with China.  Actually, ComNavOps believes the PASB to be mainly an exercise in budget justification, but I digress.

The focus on not upsetting the enemy is what is known as appeasement.  The history, and failure, of appeasement policies is well documented so I won’t belabor the point any further.  The takeaway from this post is the observation that appeasement has become so ingrained in our armed forces that a Navy Commander saw fit to write a six page article – an article, you’ll note, that had to have been reviewed and approved by upper level Navy leadership - suggesting a name change for ASB so as not to upset China.  Wow!?!!

For those who may not see the obvious analogy, consider the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the resultant AirLand Battle (ALB).  ALB did not attempt to water down our military stance to avoid upsetting the Soviets.  Instead, ALB publicly made it plain to the Soviet Union that we had a plan for dealing with them and that they would pay a heavy price if they opted to initiate hostilities. 

This is dealing with Bullies 101.  You don’t appease a bully, you punch him in the nose.  Instead, we’re tiptoeing around He Who Must Not Be Named.  Sorry, my bad.  That was Voldemort from the Harry Potter series.  I meant to say The Country That Must Not Be Named. 

C’mon, Navy, have the courage to at least speak the enemy’s name out loud.  Once you achieve that prodigious feat of intestinal fortitude, then tell The Country That Must Not Be Named what you’ll do to him if he steps out of line.  Of course, if the consequence of misbehaving is facing the mighty LCS then maybe I do understand why we’re opting for appeasement.  We should also make clear the benefits of not stepping out of line but that’s for the diplomats, not the Navy.

By the way, here are the name changes the author suggests in the article:

Air-Sea Capability
Air-Sea Connectivity

What’s next, some weak, inoffensive slogan like “A Global Force for Good”?  Oh wait …

(1) U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, “The First Rule of Air-Sea Battle”, Cmdr. David Forman, USN, p.26, April 2014


  1. The difference between the USSR and China is that China is far more important economically to the globe than the USSR ever was. Also, China is arguably seen as less of a threat to most of its neighbours than the USSR was to most of western europe (in the westpac region it is arguably only Japan and the Philippines, possibly Vietnam as well, who are most nervous about China).

    Of course, also consider that the US was in a far superior economic position relative to the USSR than it currently is with China, and the sino-US economic balance may only continue to shift further in coming years if most projections are believed.

    The question the US must ask is whether they will accept a strategy where a dispute of a few uninhabited rocks between China and Japan or the Philippines is worth risking putting the entire might of the pacific deployed USN, USAF, USMC to bear that may eventually escalate to loss of major fleets and bases on both sides and perhaps potential conventional strikes on the Chinese mainland.

    Because if strikes on the Chinese mainland are a serious part of US strategy then the Chinese would inevitably expedite and expand their nuclear modernization and slowly change their nuclear posture, leading to Cold War 2.0, which won't be beneficial to anyone.

    The other option of course, is for a less confrontational strategy -- "appeasement" if one wants to call it that -- where China is eventually allowed to have a larger stake in the western pacific and eventually seek its own version of a Monroe Doctrine in its immediate neighbourhood.
    If the US is unwilling to see a China who can dominate east asia the same way the US dominates north and south america, then a more confrontational strategy is the way to go -- but the short to medium term consequence is tension, and money wasted on arms, proxy wars and geopolitics.

    1. Rick Joe, that's a nice summary of the two main courses of action. While you draw an analogy between the US in the Americas and China, I would point out that the US is not actively trying to annex territories belonging to other countries.

      The problem with allowing China to "influence" its area and not contesting "uninhabited rocks" is that once they've seized and consolidated their gains, they're unlikely to stop. They'll simply move on to the next territories on their list. Please read the China post from the archives (see, War With China - Part 1 and War With China - Part 2) to get an understanding of China's motivation, as I see it, and why conflict is inevitable. The only thing worse than conflict with China in the near term is conflict with China in the longer term when China will have gained more military power and the US will have grown weaker - that will cost far more in money, arms, lives, etc.

    2. Thanks for the reply.
      I've read your two War with China posts, and while I think they are provoking and comprehensive, I also believe that you may be exaggerating China's territorial ambitions -- or expansionist ambitions, if you want to call it that.

      China and PLA (especially PLAAF and PLAN) watching has actually been my main area of interest, so I believe I have a greater understanding of not only the military objectives of the PRC but also their geopolitical, cultural and historical bases for their territorial claims and what we perceive as attempted territorial annexation.

      Specifically, while China does have many territorial disputes, they are not exactly pulled out of a hat simply due to the presence of resources either in the case of the SCS or the disputed islands with Japan. Most of the territorial disputes China has with its neighbours do have some historical basis and grounding, if not justification in their eyes.
      For instance, the much circulated Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute with Japan is seen as a result of unfulfilled US promises after WWII where the Cairo and Potsdam declarations made statements that the territories conquered by the Empire of Japan were to be returned to China after its defeat. Yet they were returned to Japan, not China -- not even Taiwan.
      The SCS and the nine-dot-line, of course, were inherited by the PRC after they defeated the ROC in the civil war and the line was originally drawn in the early-mid 20th century by Chiang Kai Shek. It is worth noting, ComNO, that Taiwan/ROC currently holds the same territorial claims on China as China does now (including the nine dot line and the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands) -- in fact, they hold an even greater territorial claim than China, I believe the entirety of Mongolia is still drawn under the ROC's political map.

    3. (Part 2):

      Basically what I'm saying is that believing the territorial disputes are territorial expansionism on China's part is an unhelpful way of dealing with China and may lead to miscalculation.
      And there is also reason to believe that China is far more averse to using force against its neighbours to territorial disputes than the media portrays. If anything, China tends to only escalate in response to escalation by the other side (as can be seen in the Senkaku/Diaoyu fiasco which basically started because the Japanese arrested a Chinese fishermen in the waters around the islands, eventually reaching a climax of Japan nationalizing the islands, effectively destroying the agreement of ambiguous sovereignty that was a central part of modern Sino-Japanese relations when ties were reestablished by Deng Xiaoping's opening up to the world).
      The problem is that a rising Chinese military that grows proportionally with the Chinese economy will give it greater ability to take territory or respond to escalation with force -- even if that growing capability may be directed at far seas missions, namely the Indian ocean and protecting international SLOCs (a goal which China has in common with the US).

      Also, I'd like to point out this specific part of your post as one which illustrates a misunderstanding: "China has been invaded repeatedly and believes that the only long term security is to defeat all other countries. This is a belief embedded in their cultural psyche."
      China has been invaded many times, especially in recent history going back to the mid 1800s, leading to a loss of national prestige, territory, and leading to a near ruination of the Chinese civilisation. However the psyche that has resulted is not to defeat all other countries to achieve long term security -- in all of the wars that China has fought, few if any of them can be called wars to "defeat" the opposing nation but specific, relatively small scale conflicts with mostly well defined political and military goals. In fact, China has never "defeated" another country even going back to when its imperial naval power peaked relative to the world with Zheng He's voyages, to now in modern times.

      China's main goal as has been stated by some political leaders and many foreign observers, is for a multipolar world. That does not mean the "defeat" of the US, but rather a world where China, the US, and other great powers maintain concentrated influence near their own home regions and do not intefere with each other's regions too much.

      This is a vast topic, and one that can't exactly be summed up in with only a few blog comments. I'd be happy to expound on the topic more, however if there is a take home message or two, it is that Chinese annexations of territory are unlikely unless provoked by the other side (say, if Japan built a permanent outpost on the disputed islands).China would also prefer to settle disputes peacefully through negotiations (but obviously in a position of relative power). Finally, the territorial claims themselves are not a case of "wanting more and more and more," but the claims have actually been fairly consistent throughout the founding of the PRC if we take a look at history. It is only now that they have the political power, economic power, and military power to assert their claims and have others take notice.

    4. Rick Joe, as you say, this is a topic that is far too large and complex to productively debate in blog comments. In addition, this is not a political blog other than as politics directly impact naval matters (which is actually quite significant!).

      I would offer one aspect that clearly differentiates China from a peaceful country. For the sake of discussion, let's assume that all your assertions are correct - that China is simply showing understandable interest in completely valid territorial claims. The proper course to pursue in a modern world of respectful peer nations would be to engage in sincere and meaningful diplomatic discussions with the interested parties and attempt to arrive at a satisfactory agreement. Instead, China is engaged in de facto annexation via military intimidation (witness the numerous clashes with Philippines, for example). This type of militaristic approach to problem solving certainly supports my contentions far more than yours. China is not behaving like a peace loving country that is making a good faith effort to resolve long standing territorial disputes diplomatically. They are behaving like a country with imperialistic aspirations. They are not engaged in a massive military buildup simply to protect a few tiny, insignificant bits of rock in the middle of the ocean. They are clearly gearing up for major war. The only question you have to answer is who their buildup is aimed at.

      Beyond this, we're simply going to have to disagree.

    5. I agree completely on the fact that their military build up and modernization is not simply aimed at protecting a few rocks in the ocean -- the larger goal is to build a military that is capable of projecting power and protecting foreign interests as Chinese investments and interests grow overseas.
      Ironically, it may be in the distant oceans beyond the western pacific where US and Chinese interests in freedom of navigation and open SLOCs most coincide.

      As for territorial disputes and intimidation, I also completely agree that China is using its growing military (and economic) power to slowly leverage itself in a more favourable negotiating position. Gunboat diplomacy is still alive and kicking -- for example, the Syrian chemical weapons destruction agreement would never have arisen if Obama hadn't sent a force of Aegis ships in the Mediterranean, China would never have piped down in 1997 if Clinton hadn't sent a couple of supercarriers down the Taiwan Strait. Current cross-strait relations probably would be less peaceful if China did not possess a near overwhelming military superiority over Taiwan.
      Military force adds bargaining chips and flexibility to negotiations involving national interests, and territorial disputes are usually top on that list. And I do not think Asia has reached a stage of maturity where they can simply talk with each other to solve territorial disputes -- not for such a historically, culturally, and emotionally charged array of countries such as China, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, SCS countries, etc. India and Pakistan are similar examples. Of course, SCS countries also have overlapping territorial claims, and have used military intimidation against each other in the past as well -- it is only now that the PRC's military power is beginning to eclipse everyone else's combined that a perception of bullying is arising. And it is a little idealistic and unrealistic to think China would give up on its territorial claims or compromise simply because it is in a greater position of power.

      The big question is A: whether the Chinese would be the first ones to use force in a territorial dispute (unlikely), and B: whether the US would intervene, if say the Japanese or Phillippines escalates a move first (say, landing a few troops on an island), leading to a Chinese response. I would say that is where the danger truly lies.


    6. Your feeling that China is unlikely to be the first to use force is belied by recent events. China has harassed Japanese and Philippine fishing vessels, established air defense zones that have no legal standing, declared military exclusion within their EEZ which is contrary to international law, threatened a US warship in international waters, destroyed towed arrays on a US destroyer in international water, forced down an EP-3 in international air space and seized all onboard gear, etc. China routinely threatens US military assets in international air and water (threats are not actions, admittedly, but the US does not make such threats). If you see all that, and more, as evidence of China's unlikeliness to use force then we'll have to disagree.

      By the way, China has established minimal outposts on every rock that pokes above the water in its attempts to legitimize its territorial claims - exactly the action you describe as escalatory if performed by Japan or Philippines.

      Your question about whether the US would intervene is an excellent one. I suspect that China is re-evaluating their options in light of our lack of response to Russia's seizure of Crimea and probably the entire Ukraine. That lack of response is most likely going to further embolden China.

  2. "Of course, if the consequence of misbehaving is facing the mighty LCS then maybe I do understand why we’re opting for appeasement."

    Without a doubt one of your best! You're on a roll bro, GO!
    Col. Cook

  3. Liked that one :)
    Not sure I have much to add. Very much agree with your main points.

    But please try not to mingle in randon Harry Potter references mid sentence i nearly spat out my tea ;)