Tag Archives: china

About that Freedom of Navigation Exercise last week in the South China Sea.

So, on October 27, the USS Lassen conducted a Freedom of Navigation (FON) exercise in the South China Sea (SCS) sailing within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese built artificial island in the area.  Historically, and under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), artificial islands have never been recognized as sovereign territory, and thus, have no territorial waters associated with them. * That is, all the ships and planes of the world are able to freely operate or conduct commerce in those waters, including transit or passage, or fishing, or routine military operations. There are any number of places in the world where nations have staked out a claim of territorial waters, and the US has responded by conducting FON exercises. Probably the most famous was the 1986 Gulf of Sidra “Line of Death” incident, where Muhamar Ghaddaffi declared the gulf as territorial waters for Libya. The US Navy promptly mounted large scale FON exercises in those waters, with destroyers operating just outside the recognized 12nm territorial limit, and placing Combat Air Patrols well inside the limits claimed by Libya.

Libya responded with hostile acts that quickly ended badly for Libya.


Don’t bring a Nanchuka corvette to an A-6 Intruder fight.

While tensions with China aren’t as great as those with Libya in 1986, they are also likely a greater cause for concern in the long run.

After news leaked out that the Navy had not conducted any FON exercises near the artificial islands in the SCS, eventually the White House caved pressure from Congress, leading to USS Lassen’s voyage.

But as @AmericanHipple of CIMSEC notes, Chris Cavas writing in DefenseNews.com shows us that the exercise may accidentally undermine the Freedom of Navigation exercise.

New details about the Lassen’s transit became available Oct. 30 from a US Navy source, who said the warship took steps to indicate it was making a lawful innocent passage with no warlike intent. The ship’s fire control radars were turned off and it flew no helicopters, the source said. Although a US Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft was in the area, it did not cross inside the 12 nautical mile limit.

Here’s the problem with the statement from that source- innocent passage.

Innocent passage is a well established legal doctrine, both historically and under UNCLOS, that applies only to territorial waters of a sovereign state.

UPDATE: A clarification from Matt Hipple. He’s not arguing that it was an exercise in futility, but notes that if in fact it was conducted as Innocent Passage, it undermines the entire point of the FON exercise. It should be noted that Hipple’s views are his personal views, and not necessarily those of the United States Navy nor CIMSEC.

That’s not to say the US should commit overtly hostile acts within the areas claimed by China. But to fail to exercise genuine Freedom of Navigation, and to characterize the voyage as innocent passage is to tacitly acknowledge Chinese sovereignty.

Several actions could and should have taken place to emphasize that the US considers the waters to be international, and not territorial. Sailing on varied  courses and speeds, having the accompanying P-8A enter the 12nm zone, flying the embarked ship’s helicopter while within 12nm, and conducting fire control tracking drills against that helicopter, and small boat operations all would serve to drive home the point that the international waters of the world are available for the use of all nations.

Speaking of CIMSEC, a couple of Hipple’s coauthors have a very interesting piece on the paramilitary aspects of Chinese maritime power, and how they use it to frustrate US and other nations efforts in the region.

*Nor do they have an associated 200nm Exclusive Economic Zone, which actually might be of more interest to China.


Filed under China, navy

Offensive Standoff Mine Warfare

Traditionally, particularly since the end of World War II, the US Navy has had a terrible weakness in its ability to defend against naval mines. The debacle at Wonsan in Korea is a prime example, but even more recently, the US has struggled against both Iranian and Iraqi mines in the Arabian Gulf.

What we’ve traditionally been pretty good at though, is offensive mine warfare.

Mines are the ninjas of warfare: silent, deadly and a bit unsavory. Sneaky weapons that are extremely effective not just for the damage they cause, but also for the fear and uncertainty they sow.

Naval mines are especially potent. American air-dropped mines in Japanese waters in 1945–chillingly but accurately code-named Operation Starvation–sank more ships than U.S. submarines in the final months of the war. The 1972 mining of Haiphong harbor helped drive North Vietnam to the peace table, while Saddam Hussein’s underwater booby traps threatened U.S. naval supremacy in Desert Storm. “In February 1991 the Navy lost command of the sea—the North Arabian Gulf—to more than a thousand mines that had been sown by Iraqi forces. Mines severely damaged two Navy warships, and commanders aborted an amphibious assault for fear of even more casualties,” says a U.S. Navy mine warfare history.

But when a high-altitude B-52H bomber dropped a Quickstrike naval mine on September 23, 2014, something extraordinary happened: instead of falling into the sea below, the mine glided to a splashdown 40 nautical miles away. The reason? The mine had wings.

My usual image when thinking of minelaying is the traditional round contact mine with horns sliding over the rails at the stern of a ship. And while the US had large numbers of ships for that role in World War II, * the fact is, it’s usually quicker and easier to lay an offensive field either via aircraft, or sometimes, via submarine.

As an historical aside, one reason for Operation Starvation was that the XXth Bomber Command ran out incendiaries temporarily, and the Navy was smart enough to have a large supply of air dropped mines on hand for them to use. As soon as stocks of incendiaries were replenished, the B-29s went back to torching Japan to the ground.

And of course, our own familial connection to aerial mining is that our father dropped the first aerial sea mine from a jet aircraft in combat way back in 1967.

Back to the linked article, first, where the author describes a JASM-ER, that’s pretty obviously a typo, as the program in question is JDAM-ER. The Joint Direct Attack Munition, which you’ve seen heavily used in Iraq and Afghanistan, take a dumb Mk80 series bomb, and straps an Inertial Reference System and some guidance fins, and adds a GPS update capability. JDAM-ER simply adds a pair of folding wings to the package, which gives it the ability to glide for considerable distance, up to 40 miles when dropped from altitude.

That standoff capability means the launching aircraft is that much further removed from the heart of any enemy air defenses.

Simply buy changing the fuze, a JDAM-ER can become an aerial laid mine. While the Mk80 series bomb bodies make imperfect sea mines (ideally a sea mine would have a much thinner case and more explosives) better an imperfect mine than no mine at all.

And it’s not at all inconceivable that the range couldn’t be extended by quite a bit.  For instance, back in the 1980s, the Navy strapped surplus AGM-45 Shrike rocket motors to 1000lb GBU-16 Laser Guided bombs to produce the AGM-123 Skipper II guided missile. A similar arangement could give a Quickstrike/JDAM-ER combo a nice little standoff boost.

It should also be noted that aerial launched mines aren’t the only standoff mines available. When the US adopted the Mk48 torpedo, they found themselves possessed of a large inventory of obsolete M37 torpedoes. Many were converted to the Mk67 Submarine Launched Mobile Mine. Launched like a torpedo, it steers itself to a programmed point, then sinks quietly to the bottom, to await shipping traffic. While the SLMM is approaching obsolescence, there’s no real reason earlier models of the Mk48 can’t be converted to perform the mission.


What’s all this have to do with the real world? Remember that China’s current naval strategy is basically know as A2AD, Area Denial and Anti-Access. That is, they plan to deny the US Navy the ability to operate in the Western Pacific. There are various components to this, including an outer island chain as tripwires, cyber attacks, a massive fleet of cruise missile carrying ships and airplanes, quiet diesel electric subs, and the threat of offensive air and missile strikes on our bases in the region.

Current US thinking is that, should it come to shooting, China understands that the loss of its outer island chains, specifically the artificial islands it is currently building, is just the price of doing business. Strikes on the mainland of China, however, would be seen as a dangerous escalation, which, that’s something you have to think twice about with a nuclear armed state that has its own internal stability issues.

But mining the home ports of the Chinese Navy is altogether different than sending a Tomahawk** missile in the fleet headquarters building. And as an operational matter, denying the Chinese fleet access to the seas makes defeating the rest of their A2AD scheme much simpler.  The point of A2AD is that it represents to many threat axes, that no fleet can overcome it. But if you can thwart the threat from one or two axes, the maneuver and initiative that sea room gives the US frees up options to achieve access.

Further, mining the waters denies China the ability to use those sea lanes that it is very, very dependent upon for world trade. Both the US and Chinese economies would be badly affected by a shooting war, but I’d argue that the US has sufficient trading routes that would not be blocked that it could better weather the economic disruption.

Finally, one neat thing about a minefield. How many mines does it take to make an effective minefield? Really? None. As long as the enemy believes you have seeded a field, it is a minefield. As a practical matter, one mine going off make a real minefield. And the enemy is forced to devote considerable resources to clearing that field. Whereupon you can seed that field again, starting him back at square one, and reacting to your actions, which is the definition of holding the initiative.


*Usually converted destroyers, known as DMs, or Destroyer Minelayer.

**One wonders, has anyone considered converting Tomahawks to standoff sea mines?



Sharpening the Spear- The Carrier, the Joint Force, and High-End Conflict

New From The Hudson Institute’s Center For American SeapowerSharpening the Spear: The Carrier, the Joint Force, and High-End Conflict.

Spill and I had an interesting hour long conversation with the Center’s deputy director, and co-author of the report, Bryan McGrath, which, unfortunately for technical reasons we can’t podcast. With a little bit of luck, however, we’ll be able to have Bryan join us again soon to discuss the topic.

I’m going to shock you, dear reader, and admit that, like Bryan, I generally agree with President Obama, with regards to his policy toward China. I disagree on some specific issues, but not the general approach of emphasizing areas of cooperation, instead of those of divergence.

But as Bryan discussed with us, and as the report makes clear, there is a vast difference between not antagonizing China needlessly, and shutting down all discussion of the ramifications of a possible large scale conflict with China, and how that might best be fought.


Filed under China, navy, ships

They Make a Pill for That Now!


One easy to swallow pill could have prevented the Benghazi lies, the e-mail lies, Chinese campaign finance….

H/T  Fran D

Comments Off on They Make a Pill for That Now!


Strategic Messaging, Done Right

A nine-dash line on Chinese passports.   A second Navy disguised as a Coast Guard.  And the above video.  They get it.  “Strategic Messaging” has heavy doses of propaganda.  We, on the other hand, continue to vigorously deny that basic fact.  And that the most effective propaganda is based in truth.

The video above is not simply for Chinese consumption.  We would do well to understand that.  And build our Navy accordingly.  But alas, our SECNAV is more concerned with putting women in Marine Infantry outfits and his “green fuels” initiative.  And the Commander in Chief is off taking selfies and complaining that capitalism causes glaciers to melt in the summer.

We’re so screwed.

H/T Pukka mate.



The Bring the HEAT Podcast

Join Spill and me with out special guest Matt Hipple, President of the Center for International Maritime Security. We’re talking about Chinese Maritime Strategy, Distributed Lethality, and social media in the military. You can listen to us on Youtube, or via the mp3 player below, or download at the archive link below.


Continue reading


Filed under China

The Chinese Economic Collapse


It is bad, far worse than is thought.  As is the case in totalitarian governments when economic conditions turn hard down, the scapegoats are to be found within and without.  Finding domestic entities and individuals to blame for a market collapse is bad enough.  The blaming of foreigners has resonated thunderously across the world markets.

In a worrying signal for global investors with a presence in China, some officials have argued strongly for a crackdown on “foreign forces”, which they say have intentionally unsettled the market.

“If our own people have collaborated with foreign forces to attack the soft underbelly of the market and bet against the government’s stabilisation measures then they should be suspected of harming national financial security and we must take resolute measures to subdue them,” said an editorial in the state-controlled Securities Daily newspaper last week.

One Hong Kong-based hedge fund manager, who asked not to be named, said: “Global investors are listening to the language of retribution and watching this witch-hunt going on, and they are trying to understand what this means for them.”

Any serious attempt by China, or the Chinese Communist Party (because they are, after all, one in the same), to punish foreign investors for their economic troubles will lead to an immediate exodus of foreign capital.  Companies and funds with Chinese equities will divest in a flash, as once-trusted Chinese government policies will look more like Venezuela than the United States.  When that happens, the bottom is likely to fall out entirely.   Such would be remarkable in itself, as China is a very large economy on the world stage.  But there is the added and unpredictable factor.  The Chinese Communist Party has for three decades or more tied its legitimacy to economic prosperity.  Should that prosperity evaporate, as is seemingly very possible, the Party may be in a struggle for its very existence.  And when a long-entrenched ruling caste struggles for existence, it becomes increasingly desperate.  Which often causes that caste to look externally to agitate against foreign governments and push patriotism as their means of holding onto the levers of power.  South China Sea, anyone?  Korea, perhaps?