Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Island Showdown

Here's a change of pace.  I'd like to describe some non-lethal ways that the Navy can counter Chinese land reclamation efforts.  Rather than dryly list various methods and equipment I've opted to describe them in the form of a short story.  So, settle back and enjoy.

Remember, this is intended to illustrate various systems and tactics.  It is not intended to be a balanced or "fair" simulation of an encounter so don't read it as such.

Island Showdown© (2016)

As far as the Captain could tell, it was just another reef with occasional bits of coral and rock protruding above the water.  Of course, it was exactly these kinds of navigational hazards that the Chinese had turned into several air and naval bases already, here in the South China Sea, he reminded himself.  Until the recent election and change in administration, the US had been content to acquiesce to the Chinese in a policy of unofficial appeasement.  As a result, artificial island bases had begun springing up all over the South China Sea.  Now, however, a new President was demanding an end to this kind of illegal construction and territorial grab and the USS Steadfast had been sent to stop this latest island building effort before it could really get going.

Nice to have a new ship, the Captain mused as he observed the rocks.  Steadfast was the first of her class – a new kind of patrol ship developed for a new kind of patrol philosophy.  Appeasement was over.  The Captain’s orders had been clear.  Confrontational patrol was to be the new norm and Steadfast was eminently equipped for that role – in theory.  That theory was about to be put to the test.

Turning away from his observation, the Captain decided that now was as good a time as any to begin.  A Chinese ship, probably a dredging vessel was standing about 200 m off the principle rock while a small boat occasionally shuttled back and forth unloading and setting up gear.  The land reclamation project had just recently begun so there wasn’t much set up yet but the Chinese had already demonstrated an amazing ability to build an artificial island in a very brief period.

“All right,” the Captain said, “let’s facewash that rock. Give me a powersquat pass at 50 m.”

Steadfast was built for power rather than speed and specially modified to create enormous wakes.  The ship’s stern contained ballast tanks and those now flooded to drop the stern deeper into the water as the ship’s engines and three propellers came up to full power.  As the ship began to build up speed, the wake grew larger and larger.  At 25 kts, the ship passed by the target rock at a distance of 50 m. 

The Captain leaned out over the bridge wing, looking back to observe the effect of their passage.  It was everything he could have hoped for.  The immense wake broke over the rock, obscuring everything on it.  When the wall of water passed, there was nothing left but the rock and a few pieces of equipment that had been anchored into the rock.  Everything else was gone – washed away in a mini-tidal wave. 

Turning back to look at the Chinese ship, now also rocking violently, the Captain could only imagine the angry reactions Steadfast’s passage had caused.

“Transmit the message,” the Captain ordered.  A pre-recorded message was transmitted to the Chinese ship telling them that they were to leave the area immediately and that they had 10 minutes to acknowledge and begin complying.  The Captain harbored no illusions that the Chinese would obey.

“While they waste 10 minutes, let’s get set up for smoke herding”, he said.

Steadfast turned and began to maneuver to a position upwind of the Chinese vessel.  As they did, the Chinese ship began transmitting furious protests and threats which the Captain ignored other than to smile slightly.  This wasn’t combat, he thought, but, still, it did have an element of adrenaline-pumped excitement. 

More ominously, the Chinese vessel also began transmitting what the Captain assumed was calls for help.  There was a Chinese “Coast Guard” vessel in the area, about 20 nm away.  Help was undoubtedly already on the way.  We’ll deal with that shortly, the Captain thought.  For the moment, though, there was an uncooperative Chinese vessel to move out of the area.

By this time, 10 minutes had passed and Steadfast was in position, upwind of the Chinese vessel, and with her bow pointed in the same direction as the Chinese ship.  At the Captain’s order, the Steadfast moved in on the Chinese ship which was now beginning to move to evade.  Smoke began to pour from exhaust vents situated along the side of the US ship.  The smoke was a tear gas derivative designed to be thick and cloying.  Steadfast began to herd the Chinese ship, matching its maneuvers while maintaining a 20 m offset and staying upwind.  It wasn’t too difficult as the Chinese ship wasn’t built for speed or maneuverability.  This had the effect of keeping the Chinese ship continuously covered in a blanket of tear gas smoke.

The Chinese ship continued to broadcast angry messages and dire threats but to no avail.  After several minutes, the Chinese ship turned directly away from the rocks, bent on their best speed, and began to retire from the area.  Steadfast broke off from the herding exercise and began to circle away.  As the Chinese ship pulled away, the crew could be seen leaning over the rails, vomiting into the ocean.

That had gone well enough, the Captain reflected, but he knew that the main event would come when the Chinese Coast Guard vessel arrived.  About 45 minutes later, the Chinese vessel appeared on the horizon and began broadcasting demands for the American ship to leave the area. 

Steadfast’s Captain immediately replied with another prepared message instructing the Chinese ship to leave the area immediately and stating that there would be no follow up message.  This would be the first and only warning.

Knowing that the warning would be ignored, the Captain put Steadfast on an intercept course.  As the two ships neared each other, the Chinese vessel suddenly veered sharply into the path of the oncoming American, forcing it to abruptly turn away.  That was predictable, the Captain thought and, indeed, he had anticipated it and been prepared to sheer away.

Steadfast, after turning away, used its exceptional maneuverability to come around to a course parallel with the Chinese ship and offset by about 100 m.  Both ships held a steady course for several minutes but, after continued threats from the Chinese which the Captain ignored, the Chinese ship began edging closer – unsafely closer.

“He’s going to bump us,” the Captain announced.  “Sound the collision alarm.”

As the Chinese ship edged even closer and its bow began to swing towards Steadfast, the Captain smiled and muttered to himself, “He’s got a surprise coming.”

The Chinese ship angled towards the US ship, committed now to a bump maneuver. 

“Deploy the starboard spikes!”, the Captain ordered.  Along Steadfast’s side, six giant, solid metal rods, 2 m long and 15 cm thick, and capped with a pointed end, snapped out from their inboard resting cylinders to present a line of sharpened spikes.  Already committed to the bump, the Chinese ship was unable to avoid them.  As the ship’s hulls came together, the spikes, in rapid succession, punctured the Chinese ship’s hull and, because the two ship’s speeds were not identical, the spikes began tearing a horizontal line along the hull as the Chinese ship slipped slightly astern. 

The Chinese ship veered off, pulling free of the spikes and sporting several deep gouges in its side.  They wouldn’t be fatal, by any means, but they weren’t intended to be.

Furious threats came across the airwaves at Steadfast but the Captain simply laughed.  The encounter was developing nicely and he was quite satisfied.

“He’s mad now,” the Captain called.  “Let’s be alert.  He’s going to take his best shot at us, now.”

The Chinese ship, now well clear, began to accelerate to move out in front of Steadfast

“Let’s let him take the lead, if that’s what he wants, and see what he’s got in mind,” the Captain said.

The Chinese ship passed Steadfast, pulled about 60 m directly ahead and then, with no warning, went from full ahead to full astern.  Steadfast would have to react very quickly to avoid a collision.

“All engines ahead full,” the Captain calmly ordered.  “Hold course.”

Instead of veering off, Steadfast accelerated straight for the Chinese ship’s stern.  In moments, Steadfast’s specially armored and reinforced bow sliced into the stern of the Chinese ship, cutting a deep “V” into it and riding up on the vessel’s fantail. 

As Steadfast came to a halt several meters into the Chinese ship’s stern, the Captain ordered full astern and the two ships grindingly and grudgingly separated to the sound of screeching metal.

Steadfast backed away and began to circle around the stricken Chinese vessel, while the Captain ordered the next message which was a very insincere apology for not being able to stop in time in response to the unsafe ship handling of the Chinese.  The message also politely asked if the Chinese needed assistance.

The airwaves rapidly filled with threats from the Chinese which Steadfast’s Captain took to mean that they did not require assistance.

“I think we’ve accomplished our mission, here, for the moment,” the Captain said.  “Let’s head back to our patrol area.”

As Steadfast began to pull away from the Chinese ship, the Chinese bow gun pivoted towards the American ship and a shot fired, missing Steadfast’s bow by no more than 20 m.  Steadfast’s Captain held his breath, waiting to see if the Chinese were going to initiate combat, which he was fully prepared for, or whether the shot was just a petulant parting shot across the bow.  After several seconds without a second shot, the Captain had his answer.  Apparently, the Chinese were simply trying to establish dominance and were not concerned with safety margins in their warning shot across the bow. 

“I guess we’re not quite done,” said the Captain.  “Give me a full volley of Bats.”

A small, 20 cell box launcher erupted with 20 flashes of fire, each two seconds apart.  The projectiles, called Bats, cleared the launcher and small wings deployed converting the objects into miniature UAVs.  The UAV swarm quickly formed and then, as a coordinated group sped towards the Chinese ship at their maximum speed of about 50 kts.  As the UAVs neared the ship, they dove sharply down and, just before impacting the ship, a small warhead burst open, releasing a fist sized glob of thick, extremely sticky gel that, along with the now inert UAVs, impacted across the Chinese ship.  Aside from multiple dented equipment and one unlucky sailor who happened to be in the path of one of the UAVs and suffered a broken arm as he tried to fend off the mini-aircraft, the only other damage was the deposition of 20 globs of gel that were not going to come off without some extraordinary effort.

That, apparently, was enough for the Chinese vessel as it began to limp away at a few knots.

Satisfied, now, that they really had accomplished their mission, the Captain knew that there would be many more encounters to come.  The US had been passive far too long for the Chinese to be thwarted by a single encounter.  Still, it was a start.


  1. What is described would be a radical departure from current practice. I don't think the Navy would ever be this aggressive for fear of reprisals. That said, we might be able to pull a stunt like this once or twice before the Chinese start escorting their ships.

    1. Yes, confrontation would be a radical departure from appeasement.

    2. Where does confrontation end and a war begin?

      I'm all for taking a tougher stance against China, but running spikes against another ship could get someone killed. Then China might respond by bumping one of our ships.

      I'm not sure how to deter China from building man-made islands other than with aggressive freedom of navigation patrols.

    3. "... aggressive freedom of navigation patrols."

      That's hilarious! Has China shown any sign of altering their behavior as the result of our FON patrols?

      I have a question for you. Where does appeasement end and war begin? Neville Chamberlain could answer that one for you. Appeasement ends with the German blitzkrieg.

    4. Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

    5. "... but running spikes against another ship could get someone killed"

      You got the part that the spikes only come into play when SOMEONE ELSE DECIDES TO BUMP YOU. They bring it on themselves.

    6. Are you really that afraid that you think a single instance of confrontation will lead immediately to all out war? If that happened then it meant that China was all set for war and just looking for an excuse and if it wasn't a confrontation of our choosing then they'd manufacture one of their choosing.

      Come on, get a grip on reality. China is no more going to war over minor confrontations than we are. Don't be frightened of your own shadow.

    7. Judging by your other comments, you're in a rare mood today.

      The Navy will never harass a ship as you described. We're not going to buzz another country's aircraft either. It's just something we don't do.

    8. And how is that working out for us?

      China has all but seized the South China Sea in a fait accompli.

      Russia is moving to seize the Baltic, Black, and Bering Seas, has seized Crimea, and is in the process of annexing Ukraine.

      Iran seizes our boats and crews with impunity.

      NKorea continues on its nuclear path with an insane madman in control.

      How's our non-confrontational policy working out?

    9. When it comes to our foreign policy, you're preaching to the choir. We've been feckless in dealing with China and Russia. But, we're supposed to be the good guys, that means we don't buzz or harass other countries ships and aircraft.

    10. "But, we're supposed to be the good guys, that means we don't buzz or harass other countries ships and aircraft."

      Not quite. Being a good guy doesn't mean you forfeit your right to defend yourself. It means that we don't initiate these kinds of acts. However, we can certainly respond in kind. Actually, the effective way to respond is to escalate.

      Iran mined the FFG Roberts and we responded by wiping out their so-called navy, destroying oil rigs, etc.

      If a bully takes your lunch money, you don't respond by taking his, you respond by beating him senseless so he'll never try anything ever again.

      This is elementary human relationships and psychology that any school kid instinctively understands.

  2. We had an agreement with the Soviets to limit bumping actions and keep them in context and keep them from starting a general war. We should work on that with the Chinese regardless of what we do with the Islands. They are a growing naval power and we are an existing one, and our aims are often conflicting. Its a good idea.

    I think part of this is 'how much do the Chinese consider these islands part of their sovereign territory'? Will *they* go to war over it.

    These Islands are in clear violation of UNCLOS, to which they are a signatory. We should sign UNCLOS so we have standing. Then we can start doing the things CNO says and put the onus entirely on China.

    I like the idea of his ship. I'd add another thing for our freedom of navigation patrols around existing islands that might be able to be made more quickly and cheaply. A modern day Q ship.

    Build a merchant vessel with a reinforced hull and fill that puppy with foam or cork. You could have the 'spikes' be internal, pressed against the skin of the ship. They bump us and bend metal the spikes get exposed.

    We need to be creative, because in some instances this isn't unlike the cuban missile crisis.

    1. We don't need to be a signatory to stand up for principles.

      The onus is already on China as it is with any criminal.

      You really think that a modern day Q ship won't be well know to the Chinese? They know all are stealth secrets and probably everything else that's classified. How would they be surprised by a single "merchant" ship aimlessly wandering around the disputed islands?

      What worked in the Cuban missile crisis, appeasement or confrontation?

    2. I'm not sure why you're arguing with me.

      Signing isn't a bad idea. Its a good one. But okay, we can do this without signing. We just leave a tool on the table we could use.

      As to a modern day Q ship being well known, who cares? The germans were well aware that Q ships existed. The same could be said about the ship you propose.

      What I'm borrowing from here is the fact that they are a bear to sink. We'd use them on existing islands while your ship is preventing new ones from being built. Your new ship won't wash away a built up island air strip.

      The Q ship class would sail openly and frequently within sight of the existing reclaimed islands that aren't legally islands. They'd likely get bumped, nudged, maybe shot at with smaller caliber weapons.

      Why use them? Because they'd be tough ships to sink that could take a pounding. They'd give up no secrets if they were captured. They'd be cheap. The alternative is to send a true merchie that might get damaged enough to sink (then we look like idiots); or send a naval vessel. An LCS might sink too, so that's dumb. And its ridiculous to play bumper boats with a billion dollar 'Burke.

    3. I'm arguing because modern society has allowed legalities to take the place of responsibilities. Signing a document isn't going to suddenly imbue us with moral courage. Either we defend our principles, without needing any paperwork, or we don't, in which case we don't deserve to be taken seriously.

      The point about a Q ship is that in WWII there were many hundreds of merchant ships scattered around the world and a German raider could encounter one anywhere. That's a valid element of surprise. Here, we're talking about a single "merchant" ship sailing aimlessly around disputed islands. Could there be any more obvious set up? It would be pointless.

  3. Well now shall we grow some balls?
    Chapter one is spot on...
    Whats next CnO an ambush raider capability?
    more than one 5' gun?
    Even semi-submersible???
    The Bats are cheesy...
    I will email you the
    Villagio system of static defense fence and laser and
    water jet protection Ie Fountain protection.
    Thanks for all your work and giving a damn....
    LTC RET Ken Cook

    1. "The Bats are cheesy..."

      Perhaps. The point was a non-lethal (usually!) means of imposing a long term problem (sticky gel) on an enemy. Something similar was actually done in Desert Storm via Tomahawk delivery using a specilized warhead with sub-munitions containing conductive filaments that shorted electric station.

  4. A small, 20 cell box launcher erupted with 20 flashes of fire, each two seconds apart. The projectiles, called Bats, cleared the launcher and small wings deployed converting the objects into miniature UAVs. The UAV swarm quickly formed and then, as a coordinated group sped towards the Chinese ship at their maximum speed of about 50 kts.

    At this point the Chinese captain radios that his ship is under attack and opens fire on the American ship.

    And he is correct. This is like firing missiles with dummy warheads at a ship. Not too funny.

    1. And we fire back. Confrontation is not without risk as the Chinese should be well aware. When they overly aggressively confront us, are they not risking retaliation? Or is it only us who risk retaliation when we opt to confront?

      Did the Chinese not risk war when they forced down, seized, stripped, and held our EP-3 aircraft and crew?

      Did the Chinese not risk a shooting incident when they tangled up with USS McCain's towed array?

      Did the Chinese not risk a shooting incident when they dropped pieces of wood into Impeccable's path and tried to snag its towed array with grappling hooks?

      None of this is too funny.

      Why do you believe that only we should exercise restraint?

    2. "At this point the Chinese captain radios that his ship is under attack and opens fire on the American ship.

      And he is correct. This is like firing missiles with dummy warheads at a ship. Not too funny."

      Did you read the story carefully? If you did, you noticed that prior to the bats launching, the Chinese ship FIRED ITS GUN AT THE US SHIP, MISSING BY ONLY 20m. At that point, to paraphrase and reverse your own comment, the US captain radios that his ship is under attack and opens fire on the Chinese ship.

      And he is correct.

      Why do you only see the aggression from the US and not the Chinese?

  5. Imaginative and creative, what I can't grok in all of this at the cosmic level is why do I care what China does in the SCS? Their backyard. If we took the Japanese and sK forces from under the PACOM protectorate, they could fend for themselves along with ANZAC. Nothing would stop the USN from cooperating in joint exercises.

    The "strategic ambiguity" toward Taiwan proves this out.

    Any behavior like this from a Chinese vessel to the USN off the coast of America would be interpreted quite severely.

    This constant meddling planet-wide since the end of the War to Save Josef Stalin has certainly proven to be imprudent, wasteful and a convenient excuse for the US government to grow to the gargantuan and unsustainable proportions it has.

    Great story though and superlative vessel to transmit the ideas.

    Bill Buppert

    1. Thanks, I think.

      As to why, if Canada were to take over the entire western Pacific, I'd have no concerns. They'd manage the area fairly and for the benefit of all - we're talking international shipping, now. On the other hand, China - a communist, dictatorial state - would use the opportunity to regulate shipping, impose "fees", inspect cargoes, dictate shipping rates, dictate destinations and cargo restrictions, etc. They would put an end to the free movement of international shipping. I'm opposed to that. This is kind of like saying, why not let a criminal run a bank. The why not is cause you just know they can't resist being a criminal and before you know it, your bank account is theirs!

  6. What would it take to completely swamp these new airbases? How high above sea level are they? Surely we the ability to make big waves.

    1. We have the ability, not the will.

      Of course, the established bases are now too big to simply wash away. Our window of opportunity has passed. If we want to remove the bases now, we're looking at SEAL missions to mysteriously blow things up or some similar activity.

      By failing to act when we had the chance, we've effectively ceded the South China Sea to China.

      By failing to act in a timely manner, we allowed Hitler to plunge the world into war. The parallel between that and what's happening now is ominous.

  7. You’ve got a talent, Ive read worse “military fiction” in actual published books.
    I like the ship name, Summons stiring images !
    And the characterisation. Captain Bibberty-bob and his crew really got me chearing.
    He just needs a catch phrase “Blast your eyes Mr Christian”, “Dam the torpedoes!” or “Enguage No One !” you know, that kind of thing.

    1. Thanks. I appreciate that. It's fun to do. There's no reason a blog can't be entertaining as well as (hopefully) informative.

      I would have liked to use Victory for a ship name but the RN has exclusive rights to that one!

  8. To take a play out of the Chinese navy's playbook, we could also just jam all communications of said chinese ship, board it and intern the crew, and confiscate the ship. In fact, I can't remember which nation, I think Malaysia, their navy is infact DESTROYING all vessels that trespass the territorial waters of their country.


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