Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Next Pearl Harbor

Prompted by a comment in a previous post, ComNavOps devoted a few minutes thought to the next Pearl Harbor scenario initiating a major war, presumably with China.  What would be a likely Pearl Harbor type target? Here’s my thought:  the Military Sealift Command pre-positioning ships.  They’re loaded with equipment, their location is precisely known, and they are, essentially undefended.  Their loss would be a major blow.  China probably already has the capability to reach them and, if not now, will have very soon.

Hand-in-hand with this pre-emptive strike would be an attack on Guam (and Diego Garcia?).

What do you think?  Any other likely possibilities?

One can only hope the Navy is also thinking about this kind of thing because China surely is.

22 comments:

  1. Okinawa.

    In 1941 it was around 400 miles from Japanese held Taiwan to Manila Bay Philippines and the Japanese bombed it with just propeller planes

    In 2014 its around 400 miles from main land China to Okinawa and the Chinese have jets, missiles and rockets

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    1. US forces and facilities in the Philipppines, Japan & S. Korea will be the Pearl Harbors that China will definitely strike first because of it’s closeness to China’s Mainland. South China Sea & the Spratly Islands right now is the most volatile spot where a possible regional war bet. China & the US can happen. The US pivot to Asia & defense agreements with Australia, Japan, S, Korea and the Philippines will never allow China’s expansionist aggression and ambition to take complete control of South China Sea. And to protect US interests in South China, it has to position 2 of its aircraft carrier groups and pre-position its accompanying logistic supplies in Japan, S. Korea and Philippines. With the US having a weak Pres. Obama, Japan bold enough to engage China militarily, N. Korea intimidating S. Korea and the Phil. & Vietnam modernizing their forces to counter China’s slow occupation of the Spratly & Paracel Islands, all the ingredients are there for war to erupt at any time and China is ready for war to defend it’s ridiculous 9-dash line territorial claim.

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  2. Yokosuka naval base, Japan - foreign home of the USS George Washington strike group.

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  3. The significance (or lack therein) of the DF-21 is overshadowed by the proliferation of short and intermediate range ballistic missiles that can hammer ports, airfields, logistics centers in Korea, Japan, and the Middle East.

    The entire forward deployed operational concept of the U.S. Armed Forces was conceived by George Marshall 60-70 years ago, and is not only cost prohibative, but obsolete in the face of satellites, internet, IRBMs, and other long range weapons.

    Add to all of this the incredible over dependence on technology (rmember how Iran spoofed one of our drones which had *no* secure communication encryption) and the recipe for disaster is fully primed.

    GAB

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    1. GAB, that's an absolutely amazing thought!

      I don't know the history of the forward deployment concept but, presumably, the idea was to place forces close enough to an enemy to be quickly available in the event of trouble but not so close as to place the forces in range of immediate attack. - Maybe I'm wrong about that? -

      If so, and if I understand you correctly, you're now suggesting that current weapons and sensors have pushed that close-but-not-in-range point back from tens or hundreds of miles to thousands of miles. Potentially, you're suggesting that the new forward deployment might be thousands of miles or even back on CONUS unless we're willing to accept imminent vulnerability of the forward deployed forces?

      Does this imply that forward basing a carrier in Japan is unwise?

      What do you see as the implications of this for US deployment of forces?

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    2. IRBMs can be countered by a combination of active defenses and base hardening. We can at least make them work to damage our forward deployed forces. Of course a CVN in port is a hard target to "harden".

      This also argues in favor of the NNFM concept of smaller, less expensive, forward-based forces that can be more easily protected in hardened shelters or distributed geographically. This would force China to expend more of their expensive IRBM/SRBMs to achieve the same effect.

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    3. "This also argues in favor of the NNFM concept of smaller, less expensive, forward-based forces that can be more easily protected in hardened shelters or distributed geographically. This would force China to expend more of their expensive IRBM/SRBMs to achieve the same effect."

      On the other hand, one could make a logical argument that if we were to downsize and distribute our ships due to the mere threat of ballistic missiles then China would have accomplished the reduction of major threats (carriers, Burkes, and whatnot) without ever firing a shot - a pretty desirable outcome from their perspective. I'm sure they would view a larger number of smaller ships as a nuisance but nowhere near the threat that larger, more capable ships present. Hmm ...

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  4. When I suggested simulating our current Marine Corps vs historical Pacific Island battles, I realized they would possibly shed light on operations against a terrorist organization that had taken a small island. Imagine a battalion of ISIS troops on board a mid-sized cargo ship, seizing a tourist island like Bora Bora, by surprise attack and holding the international tourists hostage, like a hijacking writ large. The forces and equipment would be similar (Fanatical troops, simple weaponry, and minimal air support) make the historical Japanese forces a great stand in for a terrorist force.

    Randall Rapp

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  5. The Chinese have demonstrated that are very good at operating in the area between peace and war and of picking fights with with one county at a time to avoid taking on too much. A pre-emptive strike against US assets would make things very black and white which would make things a lot easier for US politicians.
    I could however envisage a cyber attack occurring on the US while the Chinese are busy invading islands or Taiwan. Something to disrupt the US from coming to their aid.
    Dave P

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    1. A cyber Pearl Harbor. Very interesting! Great comment.

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  6. I think the next "Pearl Harbor" will be a combination of cyber attack on servers, electrical grid, stock market plus taking out GPS satellites. They are so far away in orbit and nobody realistically thinks it's possible for China to do it. If China can make Dow drop 5000 points in a day while taking out GPS, not sure which would get more media coverage! If most of the attack occurs in cyber space in the initial stage, would American public even realize we are under attack? What would be the response?

    Taking out GPS would seriously cripple US forces without really firing a shot or invading an island, it's almost winning before the war starts. Not even sure what would be an appropriate response....would be a great cover for an invasion anyways, Dow 9000 in under a day while China takes some small island with some funny name from the Japanese or even invade Taiwan, who cares where your IRA or 401K just went down the drain?

    China isn't stupid, why couldn't they reach American public in some way and ask if average Joe wants to got to war for some stupid island? Is it worth the risk and the cost?

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    1. Economic, GPS, and public relations Pearl Harbors. Outstanding thought!

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    2. "Taking down" the Dow would cripple China's economy. How long they could withstand the consequences is anyone's guess. Plus any debt owed to China by the US would be cancelled/frozen - another cash flow issue. Besides being an extremely short-sighted move on China's part, any large scale pre-emptive attack on US bases/ships with large personnel contingents would evoke a crippling counterattack of unimaginable consequences. Therefore, China is not going risk any action which could trigger a large scale response. They'll stick to harassing patrol planes and single ships, hoping to dissuade scrutiny in the Near Seas.

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    3. Charley, while your view is reasonable by our standards, I'm not sure China operates under the same frame of logic. They take the long view of history and if their citizens have to suffer a period of disruption, economic stress, or whatever they may well consider that a perfectly acceptable tradeoff.

      History suggests that countries routinely act in ways that contradict our concept of logic. Consider Japan's attack on the US. The exact same reasoning you apply to China to conclude that they would never initiate a war could have been applied to Japan prior to WWII and yet they started a war.

      Consider Iraq/Hussein's attack on Kuwait/US. No hope of success and yet Iraq started a war.

      Consider WWII Germany. They had no hope of prevailing in the long run and yet started a war anyway.

      I could go on with examples but you get the idea. What we consider logical is rarely what potential enemies consider logical.

      If you remain convinced that China would never initiate a war then you're setting aside a lot of historical examples.

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    4. As ComNavOps said, plenty of examples of countries doing something irrational.

      Don't forget that we had a flash crash in 2010 that lasted something like 5 minutes and Dow dropped a 1000 points. Did it really matter to a Chinese investor? Probably not but sure caught the attention of US investors! My line of thought for the next "Pearl Harbor" wasn't just something new or out of the box but more prolonged, not a one shot across the bow like the Japanese did in WWII. Taking out part of the electric grid, shutting down some electrical power plants, disrupting trains and maybe ATC for a major airport, manipulating the stock market could be a series of events that might not appear related but could create at a minimum a sense of panic to seriously damage the credibility of the US govt or POTUS. All this would be the precursor to a physical attack or the smoke screen behind which the Chinese would launch a military operation.

      I included the GPS satellites because of the difficulty in taking them out and our utmost reliance on them. If the US forces were to loss them by a physical attack or some kind of ultra sophisticated hack job, or a combination of both, US military would be in a world of hurt.

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2013/08/09/why-we-could-easily-have-another-flash-crash/

      http://public.cq.com/docs/weeklyreport/weeklyreport-000004218242.html?src=db

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  7. I’m going to try to answer your question in a very obtuse and obvious way, as the clever answers have already gone.
    The purpose of a Navy is to be at sea, a naval ship sat in port is largely worthless to you. Worse it’s a cost, a massive target and a strategic liability.
    I find you acceptance of the 3:1 or even 4:1 ratio of required to deployed ships, actually designing to stack targets in a nice stationary place, perplexing.
    [ The following I’m ONLY going to quote to prevent responses to the above that state this is a technical necessity and there is simply no other way.
    RN ships are designed to be at sea. It is estimated that Queen Elizabeth will spend on average 287 days at sea each and every year. ]
    Having seen picture of several USN bases right now, plus reading some disturbing readiness and discipline issue , if I were planning the next Pearl Harbour ( in a literal sense ) I can’t help but feel I’d be spoiled for choice.
    My major problem would be having enough assets and ordinance to hit enough locations and damage enough hulls all simultaneously.
    NOW I KNOW, it’s nowhere as simple as that, and that a direct assault has to get there first. I also know that I’m setting myself up for the hammering of a life time. But at least I’m about to kick the debate up a bit. And like I said I think the clever answers had gone already 
    Be Gental :S
    Beno

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    1. "... spoiled for choice." Love it!

      I have no idea how the RN handles their maintenance and training cycles. That would be an issue well worth some investigation if they actually have a better system than we do.

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    2. I’m not sure that is necessarily true. RN ships and British military equipment in general still seems to operate to a cold war timescale. I.E. a comparatively short shelf life (and arms race type mentality weirdly?).
      In short we tend to burn through our ships intentionally quickly. 20-25 years for front line ships and subs is standard.
      It’s simply a different system. But allow us to keep ships constantly working, use them up and throw them away. Its expensive ! And unfortunately keeps the fleet numbers small.
      It would halve you fleet size, but at a 3:1 ratio you might still have a bigger working fleet, if you see what I mean.

      Anyway as I’ve said before I value our differences as much as our similarities. It makes it so much more difficult for potential adversaries to cope.

      I think you could guarantee that any adversary trying a “Pearl Harbour” would be flattened by the HM Forces about five minutes later, and I would (do) trust vice versa.

      Beno

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  8. P.S. Im not at all convinces China is necessarily the obvious choice and ALL our Pearl Harbours arnt still a Nuclear first strike from Russia against Military stratigic assets like back in the day, admittedly im a traditionalist. but times they might be a changing (back). Beno

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    1. Ben, unless a country is led by insane people and, to be honest, Iran and N. Korea are and China is debatable, the purpose of a Pearl Harbor is to initiate a war that one feels they can win and to start it with a "leg up". Russia must know that even with the advantage of a Pearl Harbor they couldn't win so why would they try? Still, you just never know, I guess.

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    2. Mmmmm, you’re probably right, I’m just getting fed up of seeing those TU-BEAR’s getting intercepted and Destroyer \ Aircraft carriers getting escorted just off our coast. I’m not 100% sure Mr Putin IS 100% sain.
      Can we go back to Gorbachev please, I liked him. LOL
      Beno

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  9. Is it possible to neutralize the USN other than by an attack on a fixed base? What about simultaneous attacks on GPS sats to impair fleet navigation (and weapons delivery), Comsats, since nobody knows how to pound the key any longer and the CommSta's are gone, and MSC supply ships enroute to strike groups, since there are no ASW assets available to provide escorts? (What do we need those old frigates and Spru's for, anyway?)

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