The man who is skilled at obtaining the support of the people is also the man who is skilled in using military force. Skillfully gaining the support of the people is essence of military undertaking. It’s that simple.—Xunzi
In December, 1944, the US Air force firebombed Wuhan, killed forty-thousand civilians and set fires that burned for three days and nights. The following year President Truman ordered Mark-4 nuclear capsules transferred to the Ninth Bomber Group and signed an order to use them on China stating, “I am prepared to authorize the use of atomic weapons in order to achieve peace in Korea”. In 1949, Mao warned colleagues that China would remain ‘insecure, unconsolidated, and delegitimized’ until it transformed both itself and the imperial world order.
In 1951, in Operation Hudson Harbor, B-29s bombed coastal Dandong, fighters strafed civilians in several Chinese cities, buzzed coastal Shantou, and launched biological warfare on China. In 1953 President Eisenhower repeated Truman’s nuclear threat and in 1955 added, “In any combat where these things can be used on strictly military targets and for strictly military purposes, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be used just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else”. In 1957, Eisenhower deployed Matador nuclear cruise missiles to Taiwan and, in 1958, ordered the deployment to Jinmen of howitzers capable of firing nuclear shells, ordering that they be made visible to the Chinese. Can China’s Military Beat America’s? Yes.
In 1992, the US Navy held a Chinese cargo vessel, the Yinhe, at gunpoint in international waters for three weeks, claiming she was carrying contraband (she wasn’t). Two years later President Clinton sent the most powerful fleet ever assembled through the Taiwan Strait and in 1998 dropped five precision bombs on China’s Belgrade embassy, killing three diplomats and seriously wounding twenty (CIA director George Tenet told Congress, “It was the only target we nominated”). In 2014 a US Navy article proposed laying mines off China’s coast and destroying her maritime lines of communication while sending special forces to arm minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet. In 2017 the Air Force reassured Congress of its willingness to launch nuclear attacks and in 2018 the Navy practiced blocking the Malacca Strait to cut off oil to China.
But by then, says defense analyst Michael Thim, such gestures were meaningless, “Even in 1996 China’s Navy already had sufficient capabilities in place such that sending Carrier Strike Groups into the Taiwan Strait would be suicidal. The situation has only become more challenging for the Navy in recent years, not because the PLAN [Peoples Liberation Army Navy] has acquired an aircraft carrier of its own, but because China has greatly enhanced and modernized its existing anti-access/area-denial capabilities”.
The Maritime Militia, the first line of defense, counts one-hundred eighty-thousand ocean-going fishing boats and four thousand merchant freighters, some towing sonar detectors, crewed by a million experienced sailors transmitting detailed information around the clock on every warship afloat. Their intelligence goes to shore bases that fuse their reports with automated transmissions from Beidou satellites and forward the data to specialists operating ‘vessel management platforms,’ collating, formatting, and sending actionable information up the PLAN command chain. Ashore, eight million coastal reservists train constantly in seamanship, emergency ship repairs, anti-air missile defense, and light weapons and naval sabotage while shipyards launch one new warship every month. The PLAN’s battle fleet now outnumbers the US Navy’s and its differences are fascinating.
Missile Patrol Fleet
Commander Yang Yi, the youngest (and first female) Chief Designer in naval history, designed a fleet of eighty Type 022 missile patrol boats. Four hundred feet long, with a range of three-hundred miles, they carry eight C-802 anti-ship missiles tipped with with 500lb. warheads that travel fifteen feet above the surface at 650 mph to targets a hundred miles away (one disabled an Israeli warship off Lebanon’s coast in 2006). Four of her little boats, says Commander Yang, can cover the entire Taiwan Strait while sheltering behind China’s coastal islands.
Supporting the patrol boats are thirty Type 056 frigates with a range of 2,500 miles, each armed with YJ-83 anti-ship missiles and six torpedo tubes and protected by eight SAM launchers. One frigate can sink Taiwan’s entire navy without coming within range of its American-supplied weapons. Behind the frigates are twenty Type 052D Arleigh Burke–class destroyers. Their sixty-four missile tubes fire unique Yu-8 anti-submarine missiles that fly twenty miles then release torpedoes into the water near unsuspecting targets.
The PLAN’s Type 055 cruisers, the world’s most powerful surface combatants, each carry one-hundred twenty-eight missile tubes armed with surface-to-air, anti-ship, land-attack and antisubmarine missiles. Below them, seventy nuclear and conventional submarines carry YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missiles and wake-homing torpedoes that deliver five-hundred pound warheads at sixty mph from fifteen miles away.
The nuclear subs have JL-3 missiles that can strike targets in the United States without leaving Chinese waters. Their arsenal includes CM-401 high-supersonic ballistic missiles designed for rapid precision strikes against medium-size ships, naval task forces and offshore facilities within two hundred miles. To destroy distant bases like Guam the CJ-10, a subsonic missile carries a half ton payload with a forty foot radius of accuracy for two-thousand miles.
The greatest threat to hostile fleets was born when the US Navy invited a Chinese admiral to visit the carrier Nimitz and, upon his return, he told colleagues, “I’ve just seen the world’s biggest target. If we can’t hit an aircraft carrier we can’t hit anything”.
Thrifty engineers attached a new guidance system to existing, million-dollar rockets and created a unique weapon, the DF-21D anti-ship, ballistic ‘carrier killer’. It carries a half-ton warhead one thousand miles into the stratosphere then falls vertically, at 7,500 mph, onto $12 billion aircraft carriers. US Navy analysts say it can destroy a carrier in one strike and that there is currently no defense against it. Its sibling, the DF-26D, carries twice twice the payload twice as far.
“We are at a disadvantage with regard to China today in the sense that China’s ground-based ballistic missiles threaten our basing and our ships in the Western Pacific,” Admiral Harry Harris told the US Senate in 2018. The following year Robert Haddick warned, “China’s anti-ship missile capability exceeds America’s in terms of range, speed, and sensor performance,” and Captain James Fanell added, “We know that China has the most advanced ballistic missile force in the world. They have the capacity to overwhelm the defensive systems we are pursuing”.
The last US carrier to pass through the Taiwan Strait was the USS Kitty Hawk in 2007. Navy officers say they risk defeat in a serious conflict off China’s coast and avoid provoking the PLAN in the ‘Three Seas,’ the South China, East China, and Yellow Seas. Can China’s Military Beat America’s? Yes.
The Rand Corporation says that, for conflicts close to the mainland or Taiwan, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, PLAAF, can deploy more fifth generation J-20 fighters than the US. The J-20 cost half as much, flies twice as far and carries twice the payload of America’s F-35C or the F-22 Raptor. Its YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missiles travel two hundred miles and deliver thousand-pound warheads at supersonic speed in a corkscrew trajectory. The US Navy says a single strike will render any vessel inoperable and warned that, even against alerted warships, one-third of missiles score hits.
The J-20 also carries the specialized PLA-15 air-to-air missile. Propelled by novel dual pulse rocket motors on a semi-ballistic trajectory, it homes on AWACS and airborne tankers loitering behind battle lines. General Herbert Carlisle, who warned Congress that his two hundred F-22 Raptors carry six missiles each while the more numerous J-20s carry twelve, added, “Look at the PLA-15, at the range of that weapon. How do we counter that?” The PLA-15’s smaller sibling, the PLA-10, is no less deadly, says ISIS airpower specialist Douglas Barrie, “For the notional Western combat aircraft pilot, there is no obvious respite to be found in keeping beyond visual range of the PLA-10. The PLAAF will be able to mount an increasingly credible challenge and at engagement ranges against some targets that would previously have been considered safe. As one former US AF tanker pilot drily noted, ‘That’s aimed right at me.’”
Because they would be easy prey for the PLA-15, the US Air Force canceled its E-8C AWACS recapitalization program and, concerned for the safety of its planes, the Pentagon withdrew its entire strategic bomber fleet from Guam in 2020.
Hyperspectral detection satellites oversee the Western Pacific battlespace and airborne lasers detect waves and temperature variations generated by moving targets. The West Pacific Surveillance and Targeting satellite, along with fifteen Yaogan-30 satellites in low-earth orbit, operating as triplets positioned in close proximity, geo-locate military platforms by measuring the angular or time difference of arrival of their intercepted electromagnetic signals. Below them, the Caihong-T4, a massive, solar-powered drone, loiters for months at a cloudless altitude of sixty-five thousand feet, while below, the fifteen-ton, one-hundred fifty-foot wingspan Divine Eagle High Altitude Stealth-Hunting Drone reads electronic signals from aircraft long before they approach their targets. Below the drones AWACS, whose solid-state detectors have twice the range of the US AWACS rotating domes, relay targeting information to Russian-built S-400 anti-aircraft/anti-missile batteries. Jin Canrong, the PRC’s senior defense policy advisor, says China has deployed weapons that can destroy in minutes every military base in its region, see all stealth bombers and submarines, and take out every aircraft carrier within two thousand miles of shore. Can China’s Military Beat America’s? Yes.
The DF-41 ICBM is a three-stage, solid-fuel device with a twelve-thousand mile range and a top speed of twenty-thousand mph. Road-mobile, it launches on four minutes’ warning and is faster, longer ranged and delivers ten independently targetable nuclear warheads.
The DF-ZF Hypersonic Glide Vehicle (whose significance Russian Defense Minister Dmitry Rogozin compared to the first atom bomb) is just beginning its life cycle. Launched sixty miles above the earth from a missile traveling at sixteen-thousand mph, the DF-ZF rides its own supersonic shockwave to the target. Says RAND, “With the ability to fly at unpredictable trajectories, these missiles will hold extremely large areas at risk throughout much of their flight,” and a Congressional report concludes, “The very high speeds of these weapons combined with their maneuverability and ability to travel at lower, radar-evading altitudes would make them far less vulnerable to current defenses than existing missiles”.
In real wars, boots on the ground determine final outcomes and the PLA is as unconventional as its weapons. Combat forces elect their NCOs and all two-million soldiers receive more political education than the rest of the world’s soldiers combined, as historian William Hinton explains, “From its inception the Army has been led by the Party and has never played a purely military role. On the contrary, Army cadres have always played a leading political role”. Can China’s Military Beat America’s? Yes.
The Red Army
As Mao explained, “The Red Army fights not merely for the sake of fighting but in order to conduct propaganda, xuānchuán, among the people, organize, arm and help them establish revolutionary political power. Without these objectives, fighting loses its meaning and the Red Army loses its reason for existence”. Xiaoming Zhang adds, “Under the influence of Confucian philosophy, the concept of the just or righteous war was prevalent throughout Chinese society so, unlike Western militaries which depend on professional ethics and training to ensure that soldiers’ perform their duties in war, the PLA opted for political indoctrination and attempted to make troops understand why a war must be fought and how it would matter to them”.
By coordinating its military, legal, diplomatic, and economic assets simultaneously, China is exemplifying Correlli Barnett’s dictum: “The power of a nation-state by no means consists only in its armed forces, but also in its economic and technological resources; in the dexterity, foresight and resolution with which its foreign policy is conducted; in the efficiency of its social and political organization. It consists most of all in the nation itself: the people; their skills, energy, ambition, discipline, initiative; their beliefs, myths and illusions. And it consists, further, in the way all these factors are related to one another. Moreover, national power has to be considered not only in itself, in its absolute extent, but relative to the state’s foreign or imperial obligations; it has to be considered relative to the power of other states”.
China’s military budget will reach parity with America’s in 2028, and seventy years of Chinese anxiety and American hegemony will, with luck, come to a peaceful end.
- Zhai, Qiang (2005-10-20T22:58:59). China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975 (The New Cold War History) UNC Press. ↑
- The Report of the International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China. Sir Joseph Needham, Lead Author and Director of the Department of Natural Sciences, UNESCO. ↑
- US STRATEGY PLAN CALLS FOR INSURING NO RIVALS DEVELOP. By PATRICK E. TYLER. The New York Times, March, 1992. ↑
- C.I.A. Says Chinese Embassy Bombing Resulted From Its Sole Attempt to Pick Targets. By Eric Schmitt. NYT. July 23, 1999 ↑
- US Naval Institute Proceedings, Deterring the Dragon. ↑
- NO STRAIT FOR AIRCRAFT CARRIERS. MICHAL THIM. Center for International Maritime Security. MARCH 6, 2015 ↑
- China’s Maritime Militia, by Andrew S. Erickson and Conor M. Kennedy ↑
- New missile gap leaves US scrambling to counter China. Reuters. Apr 25, 2019 ↑
- The PLA-10, an air-to-air missile, has a more advanced guidance system and twice the range, speed and payload of the US AF AIM-9. ↑
- In a display of engineering prowess, Xiamen University’s Department of Engineering launched and recovered its own HGV in northwest China’s desert. ↑
- Zhang, Xiaoming. Deng Xiaoping’s Long War: The Military Conflict between China and Vietnam, 1979-1991 (The New Cold War History). The University of North Carolina Press. ↑
- Correlli Barnett. The Collapse of British Power. 1986 ↑