This article is my analysis of a likely naval battle between China & one of its neighbors incl. what America’s involvement could look like. This article won’t deal w/ the ins & outs of political claims, or other concepts—it is simply a military analysis. China’s military expansion & territorial aggressions are parallel to Germany’s in the late 1930’s which led to WW 2. China’s leaders (like Hitler) hope that they can achieve their territorial expansion by bullying their neighbors. And similar to Hitler, at some pt. their neighbor won’t give in. In Hitler’s case, he was able to annex Austria & Czechoslovakia before Poland defied him. In China’s situation it has 2 traditional enemies, Vietnam to the south, & Japan to the east, neither of whom will allow themselves to be intimidated. The Vietnamese navy has already had several modern battles with the Chinese navy; in ’88, they lost a naval battle at Johnson Reef. When China tried to intimidate Vietnam with their army, Vietnam said, bring it on. In ’79, the Chinese attacked & only by ignoring 20,000 casualties were they able to push the Vietnamese back. Today, Chinese State Media keep their people constantly stirred up against Vietnam, repeatedly saying they need to be taught a lesson, and stirred up against Japan by reminding them of Japanese atrocities during WW 2. While Japan’s largest trading partner is China, and in reverse Japan is China’s largest trading partner after the U.S.—none of this is going to count as any deterrence when China’s leaders strike.
CHINESE STRATEGY. Currently, China’s leaders are watching for the best opportunity to pounce on one of their neighbors (Vietnam, Philippines or Japan) in a quick engagement to insure that its surrounding neighbors will properly “cow Tao” to them. If they hit Japan or the Philippines, it will be with the added goal of humiliating America & showing people we are an unreliable ally. The Philippines is the most vulnerable because their military is a joke, but it’s also the most shy to avoid giving China a pretext. China operates 3 naval fleets (north, east, south) under their military strategy guidelines (junshi zhanlue fangzhen). It has 6 types of battles it trains for: firepower attack, island blockade, island assault, anti-landing, border (coast) defense, and air defense. Its military has decided that the most likely conflict China will have in the near future is naval (A), and will concern either disputed territories or Taiwan (which is actually also a disputed territory, as the Republic of China does not want to be ruled by the communists in Beijing). The two largest potential enemies are the U.S. & Japanese navies. China has been developing cyber, air & naval abilities for the anticipated conflict, & has plans for a quick war w/ Japan to seize the Senkaku Islands. It has 5 nuclear attack subs, and 4 nuclear ballistic missile subs, with a chain of 100 diesel subs guarding the coast. The weaker potential combatants would be Taiwan, Philippines & Vietnam, with South Korea as a vague candidate. Perhaps a short war might help China’s bachelor problem, tens of millions of males have no chance of a Chinese wife.
CHINESE AGGRESSION. After the U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam War, China aggressively seized border areas of Vietnam; and 6 times Chinese aggression from 1979 to 1990 set off large battles. (Believe me, no country incl. Vietnam wants to take on China, but the Vietnamese have a long history of defeating Chinese aggression & won’t be push around.) In July, 2013 seven Chinese warships along w/ the Russian Pacific Fleet did a joint exercise in the Sea of Japan off Japan’s west coast. Chinese warships regularly intrude into the waters of Japan’s Senkaku Islands, which China claims. In 6/2014, intruding Chinese warplanes & Japanese ones scrambled to guard their territory flew within feet of each other. When China expanded its claims of airspace beyond its borders, passenger planes had to reroute. An armada of Chinese warships guarded an oil rig that went into Vietnamese waters & drilled. Recently, a Chinese warship sailed directly in front of an American warship (Aegis cruiser Cowpens) forcing a hard turn to avoid a collision. Another Chinese ship rammed a Japanese Coast Guard ship. The Chinese have militarized Mischief Reef in the So. China Sea (which they claim over 80% of) and have est. a military base on Woody Island w/ J-11 fighters and land-based missiles. Long story short, they have been bullying all of their neighbors & trying to intimate the U.S. navy. (Like Hitler, these aggressive moves are portrayed to the Chinese people as just taking back what is theirs.) Chinese subs patrol Philippine waters.
CHINA’S POTENTIAL OPPONENTS. While China has the world’s largest sub fleet, with over 100, and 3 times the attack subs as Japan (which has 19), both Japan and the U.S. navy outclass them underwater. One third of the US’s navy fighting fleet is underwater. Japan’s 10 Soryu diesel-electric subs are large and the world’s most advanced technologically. All of our subs are nuclear powered with great ability to see their opponents. 1 American nuclear sub could easily take out dozens of Chinese diesel subs. The Japanese could also use helicopters, planes and their 36 destroyers in an antisub role. Japan has 4 helicopter aircraft carriers & a new light aircraft carrier. China has 25 destroyers & 48 frigates, and then its new 21 plane aircraft carrier (with more on the way), which I have written about. The U.S. Navy has 20 aircraft carriers each superior to any rival. The R.O.C. (Taiwan) has 4 destroyers, 20 frigates, and 2 subs, not much compared to Communist China. Vietnam has 4 kilo class subs, & 7 frigates. India offered large sums of credit to Vietnam if they wanted to buy large expensive military items. Vietnam & the Philippines are also increasing their military (defense) spending. Recently, the Philippines entered into a mutual defense pact w/ the U.S. for protection & opened a Filipino naval base at Oyster Bay.
But Japan could hold its own to begin with in a naval clash, and its current strategy is to use its subs & mines & other assets strung along the Ryukyu Islands to deny the Chinese navy access to the north Pacific. Japan’s navy (by treaty w/ the US) is also responsible for guarding shipping from Tokyo to Guam. Japan has rebuffed China’s requests that it abandon the dollar & join China in replacing the dollar with a regional currency slated to become the world’s primary reserve currency. Japan also rebuffed China’s offer for it to join their AIIB alternative to the World Bank. Japan’s Prime Minister is ramping up Japan’s military in response to China’s increase. He openly says Japan will stand up to China.
EQUIPMENT. The Chinese have built their military to a large degree on Russian designed equipment. Russian army & airforce equipment is rugged & dependable, built for conditions of combat. For instance, their fighters have fire resistant fuel tanks & can operate in dirty field conditions. In contrast to this, the Russian navy has been designed as a cheap disposable fleet good for only one battle. Originally China’s navy was using Russian designs. It has been transitioning to more of its own. Russian warplanes are designed for close in warfare & dogfighting. American warplanes are the opposite. American fighters can hit an opponent before it can be seen at a long distance. This advantage should allow American fighters to severely maul Russian & Chinese fighters—unless the enemy gets in close, and then the American pilots will be outclassed. American fighter pilots no longer train at dogfighting. They intend to be top dog at long distance & do surgical bombing. (The Japanese use American fighters also.) The Chinese bought a Ukranian Su-33 and then violated Russian patents (intellectual property) by using it to design their J-15. Their J-11B came from the Su-27. This is why they have been having problems getting Russia to sell them later models. They built their version of the Su-33, named J15, which is armed w/ 2 short range air-to-air missiles. Their best is the J-31 and ours is the F-35 (neither are what is being used in quantity). Our F-16s & F-18 are used a great deal. Japan uses F-15J Eagles, F-35As, and F-4EJ Phantom 2s. China uses Tu-16 Russian designed bombers. We have B-52s stationed in the Pacific, for instance at Darwin, Australia (plus U.S. marines drill in the region). Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is translated from Chinese sources on a daily basis. U.S. satellites monitor things daily, & other satellites can target sites for the Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (AGM-158C LRASM) that America uses. Australia flies “freedom-of-navigation” military flights over the So. China Sea and the U.S. have sent a series of warships into the area. The Chinese have anti-ship cruise missiles (YJ-82) and an aircraft-carrier killer missile (DF-21D), which make our ships vulnerable.
IN SUMMARY & CONCLUSION. The Chinese govt. in their quest to be the world’s primary superpower, to expand their territory and project their power are watching for an opportunity to carry out an air-sea strike on one of their neighbors. They would like to construct the attack in a way that they humiliate the U.S.A. Would America defend the Japanese & Filipino claims to remote islands if the Chinese did a quick hard strike like Russia did to the Crimea recently?? The Japanese could hold their own if they are not surprised, at this stage they could be. However at this pt. in time, in any serious war with the U.S. navy, China’s navy would be sunk. The U.S. Navy is watching developments, realizing that they are still superior, but no longer invincible.
(A) Translated from Chinese: “The most likely & important war to prepare for will be in the maritime direction.” Xiaosong, Shou. The Science of Military Strategy. Beijing: Military Science Press, 2013, p. 100.