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China’s Carrier Ruse

August 3, 2009

Could it be that the long-promised deployment of a Chinese aircraft carrier which has set the whole Pacific on edge might be all bluff? Apparently the US Naval Institute Blog is leaning toward this theory:

I wonder if we should think of their aircraft carrier fleet as part of a sleight of hand trick.  While attention is focused on the looming possibility of four aircraft carriers, we lose focus on the imminent threat of network disruption.



Makes some sense. The natural reaction for the USN in the face of a new carrier threat would be to build more attack carriers, and their equally pricey airwings and escort ships (though our submarine fleet should manage the ChiCom flattops easily). The next step would be deploying them forward with a network of bases encircling the enemy, all prepared for a new conventional conflict, the kind the Navy most loves to fight and really all it is currently configured toward.

So with our shrinking fleet of supercarriers all lined up nice and neat in a row in the Western Pacific, instead of sailing out to meet us head-on as we expect, as at Jutland or Midway, they attack instead with long-range conventional ballistic missiles and submarines armed with supersonic cruise missiles. This is how we play China’s game:

Speaking of China, she should be ecstatic that naval strategists continue to worry and ponder how the best way to make their giant 20th Century warship designs more survivable in the 21st century. Rather than building a Navy meant to fight, it is instead meant to survive, shooting down the occasional missile fired by tin-pot dictators, or bombing a rogue terrorist in his mud cave. So instead of spending precious shipbuilding funds making the navy bigger, warships, smaller, and naturally more survivable, we play into China’s strategy by making a few very large hulls, which we might as well paint giant bulls-eye on their very spacious top-decks.

The US Navy is arguably the most conservative, most traditional of our 3 services, and the most adverse to change. I often contend the admirals are their own worse enemies, ordering ships which are increasingly harder to build, even as they shrink in numbers and rise in cost. Though I have every respect for the individual sailor, who selflessly leave home and family to defend this nation with few thanks, I fear each time they sail out on these giant floating death-traps built to fight a past war, they are needlessly put at risk.

I’m certain China would love to have her own carrier arm, as such vessels are glaring symbols of power and status, much like the dreadnoughts in the last century were. Currently the US outnumbers her 10-1 in these new battleships, or 20-1 if you count the Marine “Harrier Carriers”. She must realize she could never match us in numbers or capability, so likely would go all out to even the odds in her favor in a future conflict. This would mean the network disruption mentioned, as well attacks by thousands of stand-off precision missiles.

Battleship Row, Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Battleship Row, Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Japan didn’t realize that she was changing warfare at sea when she disabled our Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Standard practice which she used 35 years earlier fighting the Russians was to launch a surprise attack on an enemy to make the odds more in her favor. With much of the US battlefleet out of action, she could give free reign to her new superbattleships then entering service. This is a standard tactic for a weaker power against a stronger foe (the Germans using it as well in 1914), so it should come as no surprise that China may be planning the same against her future rivals.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 4, 2009 1:30 pm

    Robert, I’d prefer to encourage the Chinese to build all the large decks they wanted, then they would have less funds for really effective weapons such as missile firing ships and submarines. Concerning the latter, we are always promised before the war that the Navy has the problem well in hand, then we are pushed to the wire, to the point of desperation before new ASW techniques and construction kicks in.

    But our submarines should easily handle any Big Decks if they dare venture far from port.

  2. Robert L permalink
    August 4, 2009 7:49 am

    If the US seeks a strategic partnership with China, as I believe is the smart thing to do, then it would be best to encourage China to first develop helicopters carriers, which are in any case more flexible and more valuable in the present-day than power-projecting aircraft carriers. China doesn’t need to go from 0-to-60 in their carrier development. The wise thing for them to do is to become accustomed to large-deck aviation ships, and the way to do that is with helicopter operations. The countries that developed CATOBAR carriers – catapult take-off but arrested recovery – paid dearly in terms of money spent, aircraft destroyed, and lives lost in honing carrier operations with fixed wing aircraft – but they had no other choice, because there were no helicopters then, and focus was on having strike carriers. Now, a single helo carrier could be used for anti-piracy in GOA, disaster relief in any number of places in the Pacific and Indian Ocean not to mention further afield, and still be used as an ASW platform. It could hold plenty of troops and equipment, and be equipped with hospital facilities. The US Navy’s LHDs are their most valuable ship, ton-for-ton. Why doesn’t China follow suit? It’s nowhere near as difficult or costly as building/refurbishing a CATOBAR or STOBAR CVA.

  3. Styopa permalink
    August 3, 2009 3:37 pm

    Even the Japanese didn’t understand the paradigm they were changing in 1941 – if they had, they would have hunted down the US carriers.

    As it was, they felt that the blow against the US’s battlewagons was crippling, when in reality they had knocked out only a small fraction of WW2-effective firepower.

  4. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 3, 2009 3:13 pm

    Think their program has more to do with India, than with US.

  5. August 3, 2009 10:10 am

    The idea is faulty because the U.S. isn’t the world.

    It would be adequate to build aircraft carriers to gain power projection capabilities in order to secure raw material supply from the Third World.

    It would be a rather primitive idea to build aircraft carriers to oppose the USN on even terms given China’s geostrategic situation, technologies and trade volume.

    In short: The PLAN’s projects are not necessarily about the U.S., to assume otherwise sounds very U.S.-centric.


  1. Morning News Briefing – August 4, 2009 — Behind Blue Lines

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