All posts in “PLAN”

PLA Navy, Recruiting and Strategic Communications

Recently – earlier this week in fact, the People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLAN, released a new recruiting video as part of a larger push begun in early August by the PLA for more recruits – and especially those with degrees.  Pushed to YouTube and other social media, it is at once slick and highlights the latest in the PLAN and PLANAF’s inventory (or at least the best CGI can bring):

Liaoning
Full length video here.

The video itself is broken into four defined segments – and here is where it gets interesting. The four segments: ‘Our Dream,’ ‘Call to Duty,’ ‘Honor of Gene'(sic), and ‘Seeking Blue Dream’ are also the only segments with English subtitles, save for the ending frames, and we will see why that is particularly intriguing and cautionary in a few.  I’ve taken the liberty to excise two of the segments – ‘Call to Duty’ and ‘Honor of Gene’ (let’s just agree to call it ‘Gene of Honor’… – SJS) for a little more detailed breakdown.

But first some background.

Our (remaining) stalwart readers will recall our calling attention some five years ago to the the importance of the South China Sea (and East China Sea too) and some particularly aggressive moves and statements made by the civilian Chinese researchers and explorers at the time.  Since then – especially in the past 4-6 months, the frenetic island building campaign by the Chinese in the Spratlys and elsewhere in the SCS has (finally) started to garner world attention.  While there are any number of articles, posts, etc. available on the web and elsewhere, the single best “go to” resource I have found and strongly recommend is the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.  As described at their website:

The maritime environment in East Asia contains both promise and peril. The Indo-Pacific region is host to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes, facilitates huge volumes of regional trade, and boasts abundant natural resources. Competing territorial claims, incidents between neighboring countries, and increasing militarization, however, raise the possibility that an isolated event at sea could become a geopolitical catastrophe. This is all occurring against a backdrop of relative opaqueness. Geography makes it difficult to monitor events as they occur, and there is no public, reliable authority for information on maritime developments.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative seeks to change this. AMTI was conceived of and designed by CSIS. It is an interactive, regularly-updated source for information, analysis, and policy exchange on maritime security issues in Asia. AMTI aims to promote transparency in the Indo-Pacific to dissuade assertive behavior and conflict and generate opportunities for cooperation and confidence building. Because AMTI aims to provide an objective platform for exchange, AMTI and CSIS take no position on territorial or maritime claims. For consistency, all geographic locations are identified using the naming conventions of the United States Government as determined by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. – AMTI, 8 Aug 2015

Among the very useful resources at the site is the interactive timeline covering over 175 years of history in the Asian maritime domain.  For a relatively quick (ok, a good afternoon’s worth of time) survey of the history of the region is necessary to understand the complex relationships between overlapping claims, recognitions and the blood spilled over dashed lines on the chart.  Which brings me back to the topic at hand — the recruiting video.  See, while watching there were a couple of scenes that grabbed my attention for their placement within a recruiting video.  About 0:45 into the first clip below, following an extended sequence showing a fair bit of humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) footage there is a cut to a sequence of islands – prominently featuring the Senkaku () Islands (Japan) or Diaoyu (钓鱼附属岛屿) Islands as they are called on mainland China:

Senkaku
Senkaku Islands

Additional imagery from what may well be the Paracel islands (in conflict with Vietnam) and Spratlys (in conflict with pretty much the rest of the SCS littoral) is followed by an orgy of ordnance from the modern day PLAN to underscore the point about capability and capacity of the PLAN.  But lest there be any doubt about China’s intent; be it prospective recruits with shaky patriotism or lesser nations and their hegemonic/interloper supporters, then the first few seconds of the second video should remove that doubt – at least that appears to be the intent.  Here is the key image:

JohnsonReef2

 

What are you viewing?  This is a reconstruction of the naval clash that took place on 14 Mar 1988 on Johnson Reef in the Spratlys between Vietnam and China.  Accounts will vary depending on if you follow the Chinese or Vietnamese version – but PLAN film footage that surfaced around 2009 seems to validate the Vietnamese version.  In summary:

The 1988 clash at Johnson Reef saw Chinese naval frigates sink two Vietnamese ships, leaving 64 sailors dead – some shot while standing on a reef – and remains a point of friction between the two nations. But its broader significance lies in the strategic nature of the operation.

The battle’s aftermath saw China take and secure its first six holdings in the Spratlys – fortifications that remain important today, with one at Fiery Cross reef housing an early warning radar. Fourteen years earlier the PLA navy had routed the South Vietnamese navy to complete its occupation of the Paracels to the north – islands being built up into a formidable military base.
– Source: SCMP, Mar 2013

Here is a screen capture of the mostly unarmed Vietnamese workers holding their position, waist deep in water on the reef, as Chinese marines approached to move them off.

JohnsonReef3

The video clip below (source) tells the rest of the story:

Sixty-four lightly and unarmed Vietnamese cut down and two transports sunk.  Hardly the heroic warship – to – warship slugfest the PLAN video made Johnson Reef out to be.  Indeed, this clip provides significant insight into the Chinese character and approach to conflict (and deterrence), especially when viewed in other engagements with India and Russia.  For those that think we can pull the Cold War playbook down off the bookshelf and use the same deterrence models – I would urge caution and a deeper study of what Kissinger called the Chinese “Offensive Deterrence” in his work, On China.

So – a recruiting video that (a) makes a case for China as a maritime nation (sequences 1 and 4) and reinforces its claims to disputed territory in the ECS/SCS via reconstructed (and retold) historical imagery interposed with images of a modern day PLAN’s range of capabilities.  I would argue it is indeed, less a recruiting video for more bodies and more a piece of educational video (“Why we need a navy”) directed at the larger domestic audience and a quiescently crafted piece of stratcom directed at China’s neighbors and you-know-who lurking over the horizon. An interesting exercise in messaging and filmaking when viewed in a vacuum – but China never does things in a vacuum.  On the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Japan, with attention of the world starting to focus in on the island building campaign in the SCS and direct pushback from the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan and possible regional cooperation to counter China’s push that is gaining US support and cooperation, one can, I believe, make a strong case that this is the opening fusilade of the social media and communications war to signal China’s intent and determination as the islands reach completion and IOC.

And about that end sequence…

endnote
“Sail on the broad sea and be brave and courageous”

Oh, BTW – anyone remember this from the 2007-2008 timeframe?  Has a familiar, er, tone about it…

scribe_sig

 

 

Channeling “Streetfighter”? The PLAN’s Houbei FAC

“In the information age we substitute mass for speed, a high degree of simultaneity for sequential action,” he said. “And access is highly valued: access to information, access to ideas, access to the domains of conflict. The Streetfighter concepts are meant to secure access and achieve high speed. That is, to be able to alter initial conditions, develop very high rates of change, stop things before they start…that’s what the military is paid to do.” – VADM Cebrowski (13 Mar 200)

Asymmetric forces and anti-access/area denial have been getting an increasing share of press of late – and for good cause. In the past year or so the poster child for the latest thing in A2/AD, the DF-21D, has netted a good portion of that press, a pretty impressive feat for something that by all accounts is somewhere between the final stages of development and IOC.  Do not, however, under any circumstances construe the preceding as questioning the existence of the DF-21D ASBM, something I’ve been writing about since 2007…   Still, when racking/stacking threats in the present and near future, the reality of the present threats to our naval forces is that the burden falls on cruise missiles, which have seen operational use in a variety of theaters and conditions. Cruise missile capabilities have advanced on par with their supporting technologies — engines, materials, navigation, seekers, etc. From relatively large, slow and medium-altitude threats they have progressed to smaller, faster, longer-range weapons with complex seekers, sophisticated navigation systems and challenging profiles from launch to terminal stages. Concurrent with the improvement in technology has come proliferation across a large number of delivery platforms operating from the shore and above, under and on the surface. In-line with this development, some delivery platforms have emerged, evolved or morphed into optimal platforms for delivering cruise missiles. Among these are the Type 22 Houbei fast attack craft being fielded by the PLAN.

 

In a separate fora, I received the following brief, which turns out to be a pretty comprehensive look — all from sources on both sides of the Bamboo Curtain of what is rapidly becoming yet another A2/AD challenge for naval planners and commanders in the region. It’s author, George Root (a former Midway-sailor) passes:

“The PLAN’s emphasis on building a very large number of Type 22 Houbei Fast Attack Craft needs more emphasis in Navy and allied thinking. According to in country open sources, by February of last year, the PLAN had fielded over 80 of these vessels and the number is growing. As illustrated in the attached Type 22 focused presentation, just four of these C-803 missile shooters could provide double shooter coverage over the entire Taiwan Strait from the relative tactical safety of the Chinese coastal islands.

In my view, the fact that today, the PLAN could field over 640 mobile 100+nm missiles (80 vessels x 8 C-803s each) in the Chinese mainland littorals should give those interested in China’s growing anti-access capabilities some serious cause for concern.”

PLAN’s Type 22 Houbei FAC _July11_R1

“Streetfighter is alive, and well, and is an inevitability” – VADM Cebrowski

Indeed — but not where originally intended it seems… Your thoughts?

China’s Navy – Working on that Strategic Communications Concept

Hard on the heels of the announcement naming the floating casino aircraft carrier after a Ming dynasty admiral who conquered Taiwan, comes word that the naval jack is, well, just not big or bright enough:

To match the bigger role that the PLA Navy is playing in international waters, all its vessels will receive bigger, brighter naval ensigns by the end of next year, the People’s Liberation Army Daily reported yesterday. Experts say the flag upgrade is symbolic of the PLA Navy’s development into an international-standard blue-water force after more than two years of involvement in anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden.

Chinese officials found that compared with Western warships, the flags on PLA Navy ships were small, drab and failed to impress.

The real message:

“The flag change is not only part of the PLA’s modernisation, but also indicates its determination to be a sea power, because all its new standards have been learned from Western maritime powers like the US.”

Watching and learning; watching and learning…

QDR 2010 and China

Tomorrow brings the much anticipated release of the first of three documents of significant import to the US Navy – the QDR for 2010 (Draft-QDR-2010-predecisional).  Language in the draft highlights China as one of several state-actors that have acquired significant anti-access capabilities over the past ten years. Additionally, it points out that:

Chinese military doctrine calls for pre-emptive strikes against an intervening power early in a conflict and places special emphasis on crippling the adversary’s ISR, command and control, and information systems. (draft QDR 2010, p. 32)

The report also notes China’s expanding reach and growing interests abroad, and underscores the need for a two-track approach of engagement and prudent planning:

China’s rapid development of global economic power and political influence, combined with an equally rapid expansion of military capabilities, is one of the central and defining elements of the strategic landscape in the Asian region and, increasingly, global security affairs. China has begun to articulate new military roles, missions, and capabilities in support of its larger regional and global interests, which could enable it to play a more substantial role in the delivery of international public goods. The United States welcomes the rise of a strong, prosperous, and successful China that plays a greater role in world affairs. However, that future is not fixed, and while the United States will seek to maximize positive outcomes and the common benefits that can accrue from cooperation, prudence requires that the United States balance against the possibility that cooperative approaches may fail to prevent disruptive competition and conflict.

The limited transparency of China’s military modernization – in terms of its capabilities, intentions, and investments – remains a source of growing concern in the region, which increases the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation. Our relationship with China must therefore be multi-dimensional in scope and undergirded by a process of building and deepening strategic trust that seeks to reinforce and expand on areas of mutual interest, while sustaining open channels of communication to discuss sources of friction in the bilateral relationship, and manage and ultimately reduce the risk that is inherent to any relationship as broad and complex as that shared by the United States and China. (draft QDR 2010, p. 53)

This is all well and good, especially in light of writings such as this which advocates a very Mahanian view of the Chinese Navy and establishment of overseas bases.  Justification, according to the writer, Dr. Shen Dengli, rests on 4 strategic precepts of China’s overseas interests:

With the continuous expansion of China’s overseas business, the governments are more accountable for protecting the overseas interests. There are four responsibilities: the protection of the people and fortunes overseas; the guarantee of smooth trading; the prevention of the overseas intervention which harms the unity of the country and the defense against foreign invasion. The purpose of the tasks is to deter the threats posed on our legal interests.

Guaranteeing these precepts is a function of a comprehensive approach to power that includes a military with wide-ranging capabilities from defense in close to the ability to strike at the attacker’s homeland.  We see this being accomplished with the previously mentioned anti-access capabilities China is developing to deny the ability of naval and

China's Basing Agreements in the Indian Ocean AOI

air-forces to conduct operations at and inside the first island chain, and at the other extreme, China’s own ongoing nuclear force modernization.  And the navy?

Obviously, navy is crucial in safeguarding the security of the country. When our country’s core interests are harmed, the navy is responsible to conduct retaliatory attack including blocking the enemy’s sea traffic.

Wrapping into a discussion of piracy, the author notes that the concern for overseas bases rests not on piracy issues of Somalia (at the core of the current discussion), but rather a greater threat posed to China’s trade routes:

When the public discusses overseas military bases, they refer to the supply base for the navy escorting the ships cruising in the Gulf of Aden and Somali. The discussion shows people’s enthusiasm in defending the interests of the country. Yet their worries are not the most important reasons for the setup of an overseas military base.

It is true that we are facing the threat posed by terrorism, but different from America, it is not a critical issue. The real threat to us is not posed by the pirates but by the countries which block our trade route. (emphasis added)

The threats also include secessionism outside the Chinese mainland. The situation requires us be able to hit the vulnerable points of our potential opponents by restricting their international waterway. So we need to set up our own blue-water navy and to rely on the overseas military bases to cut the supply costs.

Whom might those countries be?  Obviously the US, especially in the case of the “secessionism” issue (code for the Taiwan issue).  India too is a major consideration and there has been considerable discussion after the TBM shot earlier this month that it was more directed at India than the US.  Of course, India’s announcement toward month’s end of intent to continue with the Agni-III and -IV IRBM and ICBM with language directed at China may have been more than a tacit response as well.  The fact that a considerable portion of China’ overseas routes transit the Indian Ocean, especially those tied to her energy imports from Africa and the MidEast combined with India’s avowed intent to expand her presence and denial capabilities in that region underscores not only China’s security concerns, but those of the US as well.

The implications for US naval forces of a widespread network of overseas bases stems not just from the enabling action provided to Chinese naval forces overseas, but a more subtle one of its relationship to the Chinese maritime reconnaissance strike complex (MRSC).  An MRSC is geared to the near-real time localization and tracking of high value units.  information is fed into the complex from anyone of a number of different nodes – maritime patrol aircraft, satellites (ELINT and IMINT), OTH-R and plain old HUMINT, whether it be from a fishing fleet or a port authority from an overseas base that supports said fleet.  It all feeds into a command and control system that in turn, provides the kind of granular targeting accuracy necessary to employ anti-access weapons such as ASBMs or ASCM carrying subs to counter those forward-deployed naval forces.  This constitutes a direct challenge to one of the four strategic imperatives cited in the QDR, “prevent and deter attack” and specifically to one of the central tenets to that imperative, namely forward-stationed and rotationally deployed U.S. forces.

The past few years there has been a bit of internecine warfare underway between OSD, the Joint Staff, COCOMs and Services over the future direction and composition of forces.  One side has focused on the wars underway in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the more nebulous GWOT and the other on more conventional threats (read: China) and Major Combat Operations, or MCO.  The competition, of course, is over scare resources, be they current forces (and especially those High Demand/Low Density ones like ISR platforms) or funding for future forces.  The release of the 2010 QDR ostensibly settles that dispute in a not-quite Solomonesque way of dividing up focus and direction by first highlighting the need to win the wars we are currently engaged in, but also preventing and deterring more conventional conflict.  The reality of the situation is that the “dog closest to the sled” will get the most attention and focus on threats over the horizon will necessarily blur in the interim.  The inherent danger in such a practice is the strategic space it gives potential adversaries to maneuver and accomplish long-term goals – like establishing overseas bases.  A navy that faces declining numbers and increasing requirements (as of the end of January, over one-half of all ships in the Navy’s inventory were deployed) will be significantly challenged already. Having to face the prospect of an enlarged and robust MRSC will only exacerbate that condition.

(crossposted at Naval Institute)

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Programming note: Later this afternoon (31 Jan 2010),  Phibian of CDRSalamander, EagleOne of EagleSpeak, Galrahn of InformationDissemination on blogtalk radio for a panel discussion of the 2010 QDR – should be an interesting exchange.