History, War Commentary Interesting Development July 30, 2022 Rand Simberg 22 Comments Don't want to sound alarmist, but IMO it's notable that at this time of US-China tension, 3 of China's largest/newest roll-on/roll-off civilian ferries appear to be off their normal routes and are in or have moved south toward the Taiwan Strait. All 3 are associated with the PLA.— Thomas Shugart (@tshugart3) July 30, 2022
22 thoughts on “Interesting Development”
The PRC has recently announced some quickly-ginned-up wargames in the area of the Taiwan Strait opposite Taiwan. These are supposed to coincide with the visit of Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, though the exact schedule of that visit still seems – probably deliberately – a tad vague.
If “civilian” RO-RO ferries are involved in such wargames it would:
1) not be surprising, as,
2) The PRC has no consequential amphibious warfare capability, especially for a nation that has been noisily claiming its rights to retake its “breakaway province” of Taiwan by force Real Soon Now for more than 70 years. Somehow, amphibious sealift, and even consequential airlift, capability seems perpetually trumped by other military spending and construction priorities – such as the PRC’s notably short-legged navy.
If I was the DoD – or especially if I was Nancy Pelosi – I’d be looking with serious favor on running a three-card monte game on the PRC by sending in multiple aircraft of the type Pelosi is expected to travel in – all heavily fighter-escorted – to see what the PRC elects to do, then follow up with a second such wave an hour or two later when the PRC has either struck at the first wave and been destroyed or when the bluffing PRC fighters have had to retire for more fuel. One of the planes in the U.S. 2nd wave could actually carry Pelosi.
Of course the State Dept. pukes could decide just to send Pelosi in on a single, undefended, transport so as to avoid seeming “provocative.” Then, if the PRC shoots her down, we have a casus belli and can finish the PRC immediately rather than waiting for it to finish rattling itself to pieces – and we’ll be rid of Nancy Pelosi. I’d call that a solid two-fer.
If China’s idea of a surprise military strike involves targeting Pelosi, then they’re doing it wrong.
Right. It’s an idiotic way to start a war.
Agreed. I have always felt that the H-Hour to H-Hour+6 would be the scariest for any US service member in the conflict. Communist China will throw the book at us. Expect things like the bulk freighter having an entire layer of anti-ship missiles and it is just over the horizon from our Carrier Battle Group. (quote) Civilian fishing trawlers (un-quote) deploying homing torpedoes …and whatever else they can think of.
After D-Day what we have left will “Improvise, Adapt & Overcome”. Hopefully one of our Allies will have give us the necessary warnings (I wouldn’t trust the CIA to figure out that water is wet in time!) and hopefully our feckless leaders will take heed. Hopefully.
I am considering two data points.
Operation Bolo was a top-secret plan to put the scare on the North Vietnamese air force. A force of Phantoms armed with air-to-air missiles would mimic the ingress routes of Thunderchief fighter-bombers on a raid against Hanoi. When the MiG’s came up to intercept them, surprise!, the Phantoms not weighted down by bombs could shoot down the MiGs, which they did.
Besides the operation giving a reprieve to the Thunderchief crews, it was a classic Sun Tzu-inspired deception and misdirection. It also appeared to be a one-of action that took an enormous amount of planning and coordination within the Air Force bureaucracy to pull off.
The second is the 1972 “Christmas bombing campaign” where President Nixon ordered B-52s to cross into North Vietnam and bomb targets in and near Hanoi. The idea was to rely on the enormous radar jamming power of groups of three of these large aircraft. This worked until the North Vietnamese SAM operators noticed fleeting appearances of the planes on their radars, at which they fired salvos of rockets.
Apparently, the tactic of the B-52s was to conduct their “nuclear turn” after dropping their bombs. This took their jamming antennas out of the polarization plane of the anti-aircraft radars.
Accounts of the bombing campaign offered criticism about the utterly predictable altitudes and times-of-arrival of the attacks along with the rote execution of the tactics from the intended role of the B-52 in the Cold War. If you are dropping a megaton-range H-bomb, the “nuclear turn” is conducted to not be destroyed by the bomb you just dropped, but it is entirely unnecessary when attacking with conventional explosives.
The losses in planes and crews were not particularly large by WW-II raids on Schweinfurt and Ploesti standards, and it took a while for the Air Force generals to call a stand down and to rethink tactics. When the raids resumed, the B-52s approached their target at staggered altitudes and along “spokes on a wagon wheel”, and just kept flying straight without turning after dropping their bombs. Tom Clancy describes this tactic in Hunt for Red October where B-52s fly this in a dry run to scare off a Russian cruiser.
The losses of B-52s dropped off dramatically, the North Vietnamese realized that they could indeed be “bombed back into the Stone Age” if this was kept up, and they sued for peace at the Paris talks.
That said, yes, the US Air Force (or maybe it would be the US Navy protecting Speaker Pelosi’s plane) can be flexible in their tactics if there is no other choice, but they don’t have much a history on taking the initiative on this style of engagement?
Nancy Pelosi is a senator. Foreign policy is the Administration’s purview, is it not? Isn’t that a violation of the Logan Act?
I’m wondering what China is up to. My wild guess is that they are seeking a confrontation (and not a big war) with the US, and so might make limited attacks (including on Pelosi).
My hunch is they are doing this to aid Russia; a Chinese spat with the US may well cause the US to curtail its shipments of arms to Ukraine (on grounds we might need them). A further motive would be as a shaping operation for their coming invasion of Taiwan. A strategic bonus would be if they can make the US back down.
Are three ferries anywhere near enough for an invasion of Taiwan? The main island, no… but what about a move against the small Taiwanese islands (Such as Quemoy and Matsu) right off China’s coast on the west side of the strait? China would want to neutralize those prior to any invasion of Taiwan (which they aren’t really ready for, yet), so doing so now, plus snatching territory from Taiwan, would be attractive to them.
So, my guess as to China’s game plan is to, #1, make the US back down. Failing that, initiate a confrontation (such as by at least intercepting and chaffing (like they did to the Australian plane a few weeks ago) Pelosi’s plane, if not outright splashing it. In concert with this, move against Matsu and Quemoy.
I don’t think China wants a full scale war right now, but as a shaping operation for one in a couple of years, this confrontation makes sense for them.
The only good news is that in so doing, they might wake the US up to the threat they pose – especially if they blow Pelosi’s plane out of the sky. (On the other hand, if they do that and we do basically nothing, it demonstrates to all of Asia the the US can’t be counted on).
“Matsu and Quemoy”
The Community-Organizer-in-Chief mocked Romney with “… the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back,” and here we are, with 1950s WWW3 flashpoints in the news and Russia in a ground war.
How much of our military have we deployed to Europe just in case we need to deal with Russia directly? Probably not enough to convince China the timing is right, since they know their own capabilities are lacking.
Stealing a bit of land is an interesting idea, especially with the USA having a weak President and military. Our navy is still capable but they have had a lot of high profile mishaps these past few years, so not as capable as we once were.
Establishing a beach head and then fortifying, maybe extending the land outwards (they have practice), and then riding out the next Republican president and going from there.
Xi is a very parochial sort of fellow and is also the only one who actually gets to make major decisions in the present-day PRC. He has no cabinet, kitchen or otherwise. So he may actually believe the PRC can offer the U.S. a casus belli and we will back down.
Part of his calculus may well be that he has Joe Biden in his hip pocket. But Root Vegetable Joe isn’t really the one who decides anything. And the current DC regime certainly values Nancy more than Joe so some sort of response to a Pelosi shoot-down – or even a seizure of Quemoy and Matsu – would be pretty much assured.
But the response needn’t be very kinetic. Simply announce a naval blockade of the PRC and let it decide just how long it cares to go without fresh imports of energy and food. The PRC is exquisitely dependent upon the long-standing system of international commerce – which is, itself, based upon free passage of the high seas – that the U.S. created at the end of WW2 and has more or less enforced ever since.
Related: SpaceX is making Starlink satellites wealthier.
I meant stealthier, although the autocorrected word was probably right too.
Apparently Starlink is a victim of its own success and performance is degrading due to too many people using it. I hope they work out the bugs.
Let’s hope it’s just sabre-rattling. But since spring 2020 I have been pretty ambivalent about whether China should be brought to account now or later.
They will only get stronger and more capable as time goes on, at least in the short term, but who knows what the future brings?
The future will, quite soon, bring collapse and disintegration for the PRC, returning China to its normative condition of fracture and internecine strife. A rump PRC may survive for awhile, but it will have lost the ability to make trouble on a world-significant scale.
For the PRC, “later” is a decidedly non-renewable resource. And it is rapidly running out.
This is a time to be cool and calm and not to overreact but China should be made aware what a reaction would be, just so they know the prizes they could win for the games they play.
Pelosi should fly on whatever plane is normal for someone her stature flying to a friendly country in a time of peace. This shows China and the world that we are not afraid of tough talk.
In private, whoever controls our government should call Xi directly and let him know that any attack on Taiwanese territory or on Pelosi will be met with the closing of the Straight of Malacca. Perhaps let them know we have subs in place in a clever way.
A similar promise of action could be made as long as the potential damage to China was as immense but they need to know that we could do crippling damage without much effort and without nukes.
China knows they aren’t yet ready to take Taiwan or defeat us. Their wargames would be a show of force and a good opportunity for us to watch them. Rather than everyone freak out and overreact, be cool, calm, and direct so that there are no misunderstandings. Done right, there would be no rippling alarm in the global community and the USA would look strong both to our allies and to China. No one need know anything about what took place behind the scenes until some idiot writes a book about it after Biden leaves office.
Works for me.
It would be a good threat because it would do a lot of damage to our economy and those of our allies and Biden has shown he is willing to destroy our economy and everyone else’s in the great transition.
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