Mark Collins – Chinese Threat to US Navy/Would US Dare Attack Mainland?

Further to this post,

Dragon’s Cruise Missiles Could Make Things Tough for USN “Pacific Pivot”

the USN is taking this counter-measure:

SM-6 Can Now Kill Both Cruise AND Ballistic Missiles

From the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, the US military is getting more and more worried about the threat from various missiles. But all incoming missiles are not the same, which makes missile defense much harder. That’s the problem Raytheon’s SM-6 interceptor tackled in a recent test that has important tactical implications.

If you command a warship or a land base, your missile nightmares come in two flavors: ballistic and cruise. Ballistic missiles launch straight up and soar to the upper atmosphere — into outer space, for the longest-ranged weapons — before falling on their target like a hammer from heaven. Once their rocket boosters fall away, ballistic missiles follow a predictable trajectory like a cannonball (a ballistic trajectory, hence the name), but they descend so fast they’re very hard to hit.

Cruise missiles, by contrast, fly low over land and sea like an unmanned jet airplane — which they essentially are. Cruise missiles are much slower than ballistic missiles, but they can maneuver throughout their flight (again, like a plane) and they can use mountains or the horizon to mask their approach from radar, making them a different kind of hard target.

Because the two kinds of missiles are so different, defending against them has historically required different interceptors (essentially, anti-missile missiles). On July 28th, that changed.

In a series of tests announced yesterday, the Aegis destroyer USS John Paul Jones fired three of the latest variants of Raytheon’s Standard Missile, the SM-6 Dual I. The SM-6 is an agile, long-range weapon that uses the same seeker as the AMRAAM air-to-air missile to engage enemy cruise missiles and aircraft. But the Dual I upgrade adds a new, more powerful processor that runs more sophisticated targeting software. That software lets the SM-6 identify, track, and kill something descending from the upper atmosphere at extreme speed — specifically, a ballistic missile warhead.

So on July 28th, the Missile Defense Agency launched “a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) target” over the Pacific. The John Paul Jones launched an SM-6 Dual I and destroyed the target. Then, in two subsequent tests on July 31st and August 1st, SM-6 Dual Is also shot down two different kinds of cruise missile…

Then there’s the really big question of actual conflict with the Dragon:

The Real Problem with Strikes on Mainland China

Here’s the nightmare for any U.S. war plan that requires conventional strikes on mainland China: The president will balk. Even in the midst of a full-scale war, he or she would reject mainland strikes for fear of precipitating a nuclear exchange. American fears of a nuclear war would then provide China with what one analyst has called a “heckuva sanctuary” from which to attack U.S. forces. That’s why examining military history to understand the likelihood of this scenario is worthwhile. More on that shortly.

A U.S. war plan entailing strikes on mainland China, a plan originally dubbed “Air-Sea Battle” by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has gained traction among top military thinkers in the U.S. Air Force and Navy. Many analysts previously believed that the U.S. military could have soundly defeated Chinese aggression without resorting to mainland strikes. Now, however, some strategists worry that the Chinese military will put up a tougher fight, and the U.S. military will have to target the missile launchers, radars, and command centers on which Chinese attacks depend.

And this is where the problem begins. China is a nuclear-armed state capable of launching nuclear-tipped missiles at the United States or U.S. forces in Asia. The Chinese nuclear missiles and the radars and command centers that support these missiles are all currently located on the Chinese mainland, which explains why the president might be reluctant to authorize mainland strikes.

Furthermore, because the Chinese Second Artillery Corps controls both the conventional and the nuclear missile forces, the two types of missiles are sometimes co-located. This could lead the president to fear accidentally targeting a nuclear site, putting Chinese leaders in a use-it-or-lose-it situation. The president could also believe that China has rational incentives to turn the conflict nuclear.

Others have publicly debated whether the president would authorize conventional strikes against the homeland of a nuclear-armed China…

John Speed Meyers will begin the PhD program in policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School this fall. He earned an M.P.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and previously worked as a research assistant at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. This essay is a condensed version of a longer article in Infinity Journal entitled, “Will a President Approve Air-Sea Battle? Learning from the 1958 Taiwan Strait Crisis.

Very relevant:

How the US Should Fight a War With China
[note further links]

Chinese Military Nuking Up, MIRVed ICBM Section

“The Rapid Expansion of China’s Navy in Five Charts”

The Dragon, The US Navy and the South China Sea
[ripe for a, er, “incident”]

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


5 thoughts on “Mark Collins – Chinese Threat to US Navy/Would US Dare Attack Mainland?”

  1. Range, range, range vs China:

    “Rough seas ahead for the US Navy

    …Task forces of ships must operate off distant shores — chiefly Eurasian shores — to accomplish the goals entrusted to them by presidents and Cabinet officials. To strike targets on enemy shores, for instance, an aircraft-carrier task force must draw to within about 700 miles of those targets. That’s the combat range of the F-35C stealth fighter, the workhorse jet of 2025. And the farther inland the target, the closer the carrier has to get…

    …Take China. In September, China’s military staged a massive military parade through Beijing. On display, alongside other armaments, were two new types of antiship missiles. These revolutionary weapons, the world’s first, can reportedly hit moving ships at sea far from Asian shorelines — at least 900 and at least 1,800 miles away, respectively. (A missile based in Boston, for instance, could hit a moving ship off the coast of Greenland.) China’s army, meanwhile, not its navy, operates this ballistic-missile force.

    What that means in practical terms is this: Until the US Navy builds effective defenses, commanders can choose to stay beyond missile range and see their missions fail. They can cross hundreds of miles of ocean under fire from Fortress China and suffer serious damage. Or they can accept a prolonged war in which time is on China’s side — say, if Beijing orders a lightning assault against nearby Taiwan. Taiwan might fall before US forces could break into the Western Pacific. Couple the missile threat with that posed by other shore-based antiaccess weaponry like missile-armed warplanes, and you have a forbidding tactical problem indeed…

    …the surface Navy’s workhorse Harpoon antiship missile entered service in the 1970s. Harpoons can strike at shipping roughly 77 miles distant. Contrast that with the Soviet-built Sunburn missile, one found in the Chinese and Russian naval arsenals. The Sunburn has a range estimated at double the Harpoon’s, or 155 miles. That means enemies can start shooting — and meting out damage — long before our ships can.

    American ships and crews may be superior to their opponents, but that may not matter if enemy fleets and air forces can unleash massed missile barrages. So defense firms are hastily developing a new long-range antiship missiles, which could restore American dominance. Whether they mature in the next decade — and whether the new missiles can be fielded in adequate numbers — will furnish a second yardstick for US naval fortunes…

    James Holmes is a professor of strategy at the Naval War College and a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. The views voiced here are his alone.”

    Mark Collins

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