Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wargame This!

It is August 2016. The last 20 years have seen a gradual, yet significant change in East Asia’s security environment and in the military balance of power.

China is now the region's dominant great power, with the largest economy and biggest military. This has occurred despite the turbulent transition period following the death of Deng Xiaoping in 1998. China remains united and staunchly authoritarian. Economically, however, considerable autonomy is vested in the provinces. The Chinese people seem satisfied to defer greater political freedom as long as the nation’s strong economic growth offers the prospect of continuing the marked improvement in their living standard.

Twenty years of declining defense budgets has seen U.S. military presence in the region diminish over time, to the point where the leadership of long-term allies like Korea (reunified in 2002) and Japan publicly debate whether they need to take a more active – and independent – course in providing for their own defense. Despite their historical mutual animosity, Japan and Korea initiate military staff discussions, following China’s stepped-up militarization of the Spratly Island chain in 2005. Beijing strongly denounces these discussions. This notwithstanding, it is generally believed that Tokyo and Seoul have entered into an informal alliance against China.

Stability in the region began to erode precipitously in late 2015. Taipei not only rebuffs Beijing’s advances, but looks to reestablish its long-dormant security relationship with the United States. Given Washington’s growing antipathy toward China, and the emerging Tokyo-Seoul axis, what appeared farfetched only a few years before now seems possible.

At the same time, Taipei finds its concerns over China’s adventurous moves in the Spratlys (which Taiwan covets as well) shared by Japan and Korea. There is talk of extending the Japan-Korea relationship to Taiwan, especially if ROK-Japanese trade relations with the United States continue to decline, and if Washington fails to react vigorously to the region’s growing instability by beefing up its military presence.

There is an air of desperation in Beijing in the summer of 2016. Mired in a recession that threatens to erode a fragile political stability, Chinese leaders receive intelligence regarding Taiwan’s political and military initiatives toward the United States, Korea, and Japan. There is both fear and anger that China might be confronted with efforts to interfere in its internal affairs. After all, Taiwan is still seen as a "breakaway" province, and the Spratlys as Chinese territory. The Chinese military is instructed to dust off plans for defending the Spratlys and neutralizing Taiwan.

Matters come to a head in the summer of 2016. Once the People’s Liberation Army completes its preparations, some senior leaders in Beijing argue that China should act pre-emptively while conditions are relatively favorable. They remain a small minority until June, when Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, and other major Chinese cities are beset by large-scale popular demonstrations calling for new leadership to provide economic growth, a clean environment, and political freedoms.

The demonstrations are ruthlessly put down, leading to an international outcry. Washington views with alarm both the suppression of popular protest, and the buildup of Chinese forces along the coast opposite Taiwan. The president appears on television in late June to denounce the Chinese leadership and declares that the U.S. 7th Fleet will increase its presence in the Taiwan Straits as a signal of support for Taipei.

Armed with this information, and with intelligence "reports" that the United States and Taiwan had helped instigate the demonstrations, the War Faction of the Chinese leadership emerges as dominant. It is decided that China will act with military force before the situation erodes any further.

On September 20, 2016 Beijing declares a maritime and air exclusion zone extending 1,000 kilometers out from Taiwan and the Spratly Islands. Any ship or aircraft found within the zone will be liable to destruction.

For nearly two weeks before the announcement, the Chinese deploy their forces. Submarines slip out to sea, taking forward positions along an arc running east of Taiwan and the Spratlys. Stealthy long-range, high-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are launched, establishing a reconnaissance grid in support of Chinese naval patrols.

Four small low-Earth orbit, short-duration satellites are launched to supplement China's reconnaissance architecture and associated C3I network. China, long a major subscriber of the major commercial space consortium (e.g., Inmarsat, Iridium, Teledesic), increases its time shares. More ominously, US intelligence services report that China appears to be readying several direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles for possible use against US military satellites. Moreover, China places its nuclear forces, which include over 120 ICBMs, on heightened alert.

Once China declares the exclusion zone, Chinese forces begin laying mines near Taiwan’s major ports, using submarines, aircraft, and long-range missiles. Beijing announces that Chinese ballistic and low-observable cruise missile batteries have pre-targeted all of Taiwan’s major ports and airfields. (Beijing is careful to announce that these missiles do not carry weapons of mass destruction – nor will China be the first to employ such weapons.) These missiles are believed to be highly accurate, relying on the United States global positioning system (GPS) satellites as well as the Russian Glonass system.

Beijing declares that any aircraft or ship that manages to circumvent China’s blockade and arrive at a port or airfield risks having that facility subjected to cruise and/or ballistic missile attack.

Despite China's impressive economic growth and growing technological sophistication, its air force is not formidable by US standards, as the PLA has opted to emphasize missiles and information systems over manned combat platforms. Consequently, China's air force is configured primarily for three missions: air defense of the mainland; support of power projection operations; and antisurface warfare operations (which, of course, are a component of the other two missions).

The small Chinese surface fleet takes up positions close to the Chinese coast. While the PLA concentrates significant forces along the shore opposite Taiwan, it is clear that it poses no immediate threat of amphibious assault. Rather, it appears more a prospective army of occupation, assuming Taiwan's capitulation.

The Chinese military is relying on several systems to assist in maintaining what the US president described as a long-range blockade. For example, Russia’s long-delayed Glonass system, which is now both operational and sufficiently reliable, offers China’s forces GPS-like service for targeting and navigation. Given its Cold Peace with the United States and its desire to be seen as a reliable alternative provider to the US system, Russia proves unwilling to terminate China’s service, despite heated protests from the US ambassador to Moscow, and later the American president himself. China also subscribes to four global telecom companies – Iridium (in which China’s Great Wall corporation is part owner), Inmarsat, Globalstar, and Teledesic – which provide voice, data, and video communications.

China also has access to high-resolution multi-spectral imagery provided by Russia and France, along with its own less sophisticated indigenous capability. While France is somewhat sympathetic to the US predicament, there are commercial and legal considerations involved in terminating Chinese service, especially in the absence of any strong stand by the United Nations (where both Russia and China can exercise their veto). Ironically, some of China’s reconnaissance and surveillance capability was acquired as part of an Intelligent Vehicle Highway System (IVHS) project with the United States.

Beijing publicly declares that as long as Korea and Japan do not allow their bases to be used by American forces, their territory will not be threatened. Although publicly unstated, China informs the Japanese and Korean governments that it also will extend the exclusion zone to include the territorial waters of both countries, if necessary (i.e., if they offer support to Taipei, Chinese forces will either intercept, disable, or sink all oil and natural gas supertankers found within these Korean and Japanese exclusion zones).

The Chinese leadership notes that the crisis would be resolved when Taiwan – whose activities as a breakaway province have now gone beyond the pale – agrees to rejoin the mainland under terms similar to those enjoyed by Hong Kong.

The Taiwanese leadership strongly denounces China’s act of unwarranted aggression. Taipei places its military on a high state of alert, but its missile defense and mine warfare capabilities are believed insufficient to deflect determined action by mainland forces.

Faced with this challenge, the president asks the Pentagon for options on how to break the Chinese blockade if negotiations with Beijing fail to produce a diplomatic solution. The Pentagon is told to assume that former US bases in Korea and Japan will not be available for US forces.

Explorations are under way to determine if bases will be available in Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines. Both the Australians and the New Zealanders offer to provide limited base support, but no military forces. Bases in Taiwan are available, but they also are within easy striking distance of Chinese precision-guided missile forces.

Andrew Krepinevich

Pic "Reporting for duty baby - uh, i mean sir!"