What China is planning next for The South China Sea – and How the U.S. Should Respond
I don’t get a lot of traffic on these China pieces, and I don’t know why, I’m fascinated by what is happening over there, this next tidbit is deeply troubling — since I believe it sets up some kind of future US/China confrontation.
If I were running the NYT – this would make the A section. My source for this is a new white paper written by Admiral John Richardson, which outlines our need for a more robust Navy than the one planned, and aggressive behavior by Russia and China is the main reason he gives, anyway, here is the Admiral:
White Paper – “According to state media reports posted last week, Beijing is drafting a revision to the nation’s maritime “traffic safety” law. While in Chinese waters, according to the changes, any foreign submarine would be required to stay surfaced and display its national flag. It would also need to get approval before entering Chinese waters, and report to maritime management authorities.
China would reserve the right to bar or expel foreign ships deemed to threaten “traffic safety and order.” Ships entering Chinese waters without
approval could be fined more than $70,000.
One big problem: China claims nearly all of the contested South China Sea — with its strategic shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds, and oil and gas deposits — as its own territory, based on its nine-dash line.
That claim was shot down last July by an international tribunal ruling under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
But, as Richardson goes on to note later in the paper, and I have described in previous posts, China doesn’t recognize this ruling. Here is what we can do to improve the EFFECTIVENESS of our navy, while also lowering costs.
The idea that America would slide gently out of the cold war and not need aircraft carriers far into the future, is well, naïve.
The question about how to project American air power for the next 30 to 50 years is complicated by two realities, one realized and the other about to be.
The first reality is fiscal.
The Navy cannot afford to continue to project power though the traditional reliance/use of a A. large (plus 10 in number) nuclear powered carrier fleet, B. modernize the America class helicopter and amphibious assault carrier fleet, C. replace the Ohio class nuclear subs (completely unbudgeted at the moment, like a $100 billion black hole every physicist in the room is ignoring), and D. integrate the F-35 joint service fighters, all the while maintaining a E. credible base structure, F. and remaining 275-300 (more or less) surface ship fleet structure.
Assuming an average of $18B (CapEx) over the next 30 years, the new construction priorities list above will be shredded and the resulting service, so shriveled, the U.S. Navy mission statement itself will have to change. Admiral Richardson agrees with this, but has not proposed anything radical like this carrier plan to change the reality. I hope he does because the second unpleasant reality is the failing traditional aircraft carrier vulnerability and cost practicality trade off.
Just as Billy Mitchell predicted the eventual — but inevitable end of the battleship era — because of the mismatch between the expense, and delivery capability of air launched torpedoes’ and their intended targets, (Battleships) that same argument applies today to the modern aircraft carrier, and a combination of sea, air, and land based missile and torpedo systems.
When a $20/30 billion dollar weapons system (that cost includes escort ships) with 5,000+ souls on board is vulnerable to an ever-increasing array of sub $100 million missile weapons systems, the balance tips from projecting power to becoming a target.
Traditional Super Carriers (TSC) are impressive; long running, fast (35+ knots), can launch Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) and non -VTOL aircraft, and support an entire air wing; with fuel, and high armament capabilities, and high load and reload flexibility. On the down side they’re a huge target, (+100ton) need a flotilla of support ships, 5,000 souls to operate, and have a combination of high construction and maintenance costs.
Despite these drawbacks and vulnerabilities, it’s still necessary to maintain a fleet of them, but I would spread the financial load of construction, staffing and patrol load costs among the nations we can count on to help us with that and whose seas we are patrolling anyway with those same carriers.
I would sign a long-term (99 year) Naval Protection Agreement (NPA) with the country of Australia, that calls for (in addition to other stuff) the positioning of two new Ford class (2) Traditional Super Carriers on either side of that continent, and over 10 years, train and transfer operation, ownership and fiscal responsibility of those 2 platforms to Australian Naval personnel, along with all the air wing and support ship structure/capability.
This would simultaneously lower American Naval costs and strengthen our deterrent capability in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans on the two sides of Australia. Australia is uniquely suited to this first partnership, a stalwart alley for generations, a large island nation with huge oceans to protect and only 24 million people, — not enough to afford the development, construction and deployment of 2 super carriers — although they need them. Win-win.
I would sign an identical Naval Protection Agreement (NPA) with the island nation of Japan, using the Australian process and document as a model (pre-invite the Japanese to watch the negotiation/implementation process with the Australian Navy) to also position two new Ford class (2) TSC’s on either side of that island, and over 10 years, train and transfer operation, ownership and fiscal responsibility of those 2 platforms to Japanese Naval personnel, along with all the air wing and support ship capability.
This would simultaneously lower American Naval costs and strengthen our deterrent capability in the Pacific Ocean and China Sea. Japan is also uniquely suited to this second partnership, a stalwart alley for a generation now, Japan is a small island nation with a huge economy, right smack in the center of the South China Sea, the most important section of open water in the world today. Japan has huge interests and a sophisticated military and a lot of ocean to protect and can only proceed with the proper defense of their country through such an agreement with the U.S. since they are constitutionally prohibited from pursuing the deployment of such a weapon system under any other legal course.
They can afford the development, construction and deployment of 2 super carriers – and we should let them pay, plus part of the cost for one of the Australian carriers since that one will help cover their flank. Another Win-win.
I would sign such an NPA with the United Kingdom, to position one (1) TSC, built by the British (conventional not nuclear, 70,000 tons) on the Atlantic side of that island, and take the next carrier under construction in that family and use as one of the two either described above as going to Japan or Australia. This would simultaneously lower American Naval costs since this step would allow the total number of Ford class TSC built to be lowered by 2 and simultaneously strengthen our deterrent capability in the EU/Atlantic theater. The UK is obviously a stalwart ally, an island nation and has a strong naval tradition, 3 terrific reasons to make them country number 1, 2, or 3 to do this with.
Although the British deal will probably be the least advantageous to the U.S. financially it could work out the other way around since they have built one of these carriers, are committed to building the 2nd, and acknowledge, they can’t use both. That’s why I list the British proposal last, because this program is designed to get the Navy the money they need to build the Ohio class replacement subs, so I didn’t want to set a generous example first, and then have to do the same for the Aussies and the Japanese) it will dramatically change the balance of power in Europe.
With such a different long-term deployment plan, the U.S. could still build, staff, maintain and afford a smaller (in U.S. number) super carrier fleet, that combined with the others would still be a 7 or 8 Ford class TSC’s fleet in total, but with only 4 or 5 of those super carriers totally free for U.S. deployment priorities.
Since the British, Australian and Japanese carriers (5 of the 10) would be integrated into our overall defense umbrella, with joint command and deployment responsibilities, and entire ocean area coverage responsibilities — the resulting smaller U.S. carrier fleet would have more mission flexibility and considerably less ocean to cover.
I would scrape the America class (no well deck, I don’t understand that) Marine assault carriers at $3B apiece altogether (these ships have many problems, some of them structural, and are unfixable in my opinion) and buy instead 10 Mistral class French assault ships at $600 million per.
Modify them (The doorways will have to be enlarged) to carry the Osprey (and smaller numbers of aircraft per ship, but more ships) and your total punching power would be far greater. With 10 Mistral’s at $600-800 million a piece, you get a lot more punching power than with 2 America class ships at a total of $6 Billion, and if you buy now you also get the benefit of buying up all the fantastic product of this unique French production line.
Each Mistral ship we buy is one the Russians don’t get to buy. If the Austrians, Japanese and British like the Super Carrier Deal or the NPA as I call it, they’ll soon want to expand it to include some of these terrific little French assault carriers as well. Putting them in the deal we could buy 20 of these for less than half of what we planning to spend on just a few those America class ships.
We might even be able to get the French to sell us the one they’ve already built for the Russians; and stop the sale of the 2nd Mistral ship the Russians have also ordered. It would be best for the U.S., the French, and the rest of the world — if Putin never gets this Mistral ship(s) — or any from this production line.
These ideas together form a package, a TSC fleet (10) supported by the Australian, Japanese and British Navy — further supported by a large fleet (20) of Mistral class assault marine ships — our Naval war fighting capability would be greatly magnified for the foreseeable future at lower overall costs to the American tax payer.
I estimate you could do the package described above, including penalties and cost overruns, for $15 billion a year in CapEx, instead of the $18 billion I used as a compromise figure although I suspect if all the real sub numbers were in these budget estimates, none of these estimates are accurate, they are all low. All the more reason to pursue this plan, it will provide a financial cushion without sacrificing front line strike capability, in fact, multiplying it.
I also feel it’s politically and fiscally achievable to get such a set of Naval agreements with the Australian, Japanese and British governments; as well their militaries and also would expect public support (for sure) in Australia and UK, and probably even in Japan, it would depend upon how it was sold to them, and how threatened they feel by the Chinese at the time they’re asked. At a $1B each from this allies, net to the US Navy, for 25 years, ($75B) with 2 Ford class carriers subtracted from the total, this gets the Navy the 100B+ needed to make this capital budget work with the new subs in, although possibly reduced in number.
Of course, such agreements will pave the way for similar types of cooperative structures; trail blazed by the USN in other countries and maybe the other services.