Monday, January 05, 2009

The Long Game responds to the NYT

Over at TheWeeklyStandard, Stuart Koehl takes on the NYT article I linked to last week - and knocks it out of the park.

He gets most of it right (one part he whiffs is talking about a Arleigh Burke WRT costing vs. LCS, if F-100 or the new Danish Frigates then he is close, but that is about the only major goof on his part). Otherwise, you need to read it all. This is just the Navy part of the argument that I'll focus on, though he covers it all, starting by quoting Gordon Chang in Commentary,
The premise is that the United States is not going to be fighting major conflicts in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, that's an assumption we should not make. After all, history teaches us to be wary: both World War II and Korea started for us with surprise attacks.

The Times also assumes that no big power is going to take us on. Is that so? China, with a rapidly modernizing military, wants Taiwan and islands belonging to others in its surrounding seas. Moreover, it is configuring its military to fight us. Moreover, a desperate North Korea continues to covet South Korea. And is it really inconceivable that an aggressive Russia will try to grab more neighboring land?
...and then brings in the cluebat of history on his own
A study of history shows that a peer competitor can emerge out of nowhere in less than a decade, assuming that economic, social and strategic conditions are right. In 1861, Germany was an aggregation of petty principalities and middle-sized kingdoms, dwarfed in importance by the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. By 1871, Germany was an empire dominating central Europe and vying for European hegemony. In 1920, Japan was a struggling country barely out of its feudal past; by 1940, Japan was in position to contest control of the Pacific with the United States. In 1933, Germany had no military substantial military capabilities, no tanks, no combat aircraft, no heavy artillery, no submarines, no battleships. By 1939, well, you know that story. . .
With that set up,
It is true that a "peer competitor" could emerge within the next two decades that had the economic resources and political will to build up a military force capable of meeting that challenge, but who would that competitor be? Russia is decrepit and in both economic and demographic free fall. India has the potential, but not the will. That leaves China. Assuming it does not implode from its own economic and political inconsistencies, China could build a modern military force with the capabilities to fight the United States conventionally to secure its national strategic objectives, which apparently include recognition of its hegemony in Asia, reintegration of Taiwan into China, and the securing of natural resource areas in and around the South China Sea.

But examine the map for a second. To the north, south and west, China is bounded by Russia, Indo-China, the Himalayan Mountains and the Gobi Desert. China lives in a strategic cul de sac, where distance, terrain, and logistics make expansion overland both difficult and expensive. In addition, the overland routes do not take China in the strategic directions it wishes to go. If China is to get out of its box, then it must go by sea or by air.

There are strategic and force structure implications here for the United States. If China cannot engage the United States by land, then conversely the United States cannot engage China by land, either. Where could we insert and sustain a substantial ground force on the mainland of Asia? Why would we wish to do so? Our only substantial mainland ally is South Korea, and we already have forces present to deter invasion from North Korea. In the event of a war with China, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps will be limited to raids and to the occupation or recapture of various islands which the Chinese may wish to occupy themselves.

Thus, the main engagement with China will come at sea and in the air.
The rest of the article outlines well why we keep and Eye on the Long Game - and why you can't rest on your laurels. I wonder if he reads CDR Salamander ....
...the Navy must get its shipbuilding house in order and complete the design and construction of a new generation of destroyer and attack submarine capable of dealing with the panoply of current and emerging Chinese mines, torpedoes, submarines and anti-ship missiles. The Times is right about that--the Zumwalt-class DDG and the Virginia-class SSNs are relics of the Cold War and should be terminated. On the other hand, the much vaunted LCS is too big and too expensive to actually perform the inshore mission in support of ground forces: at $600 million each, it's almost as expensive as an Aegis destroyer, and thus too valuable to expose in the littoral. A new and affordable destroyer, and a smaller, more modern SSN are needed to meet the Chinese navy, while a fleet of expendable patrol craft are created for counter-insurgency and anti-piracy operations.
DDG-1000 was once "affordable" SC-21. LCS was once the "affordable" STREETFIGHTER. VA is OK in my book - but not my specialty.

Like mentioned earlier on, give him a pass on the costing comparison goof and agree to disagree - if you want - on the VA SSN; the rest is spot on.

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