Wednesday, June 30, 2021

 US Navy Strategy Details War Plan to stop Russia and China

The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have released a new, overarching tri-service strategy document for how they plan to project maritime power together going forward. The document focuses heavily on how the three services expect to fight on the high seas and adjacent areas on land. However, there is also a very important underlying discussion about adopting a more assertive approach to responding to day-to-day challenges, especially from China, and to a lesser extent, Russia, among other potential adversaries, that are short of a shooting war.

The three services unveiled their new "integrated" strategy, titled "Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power," on Dec. 17, 2020. The document includes discussions about of a number of concepts of operation that the trio has been openly discussing, such as a greater focus on distributed operations leveraging a dramatically reorganized Marine Corps riding on smaller amphibious warfare ships, the increased use of unmanned aircraft and naval platforms, and distributed sensor and communications networks. There is also a "renewed emphasis on fighting for and gaining sea control" in light of growing concerns about a potential higher-end future naval fight with a major adversary, such as China or Russia.

In consultation with the intelligence community, U.S. military planners identify events that should be used for planning the size and mix of U.S. forces. There is a tension, however, between planning for the most likely situations as opposed to worst-case events. For example, large-scale, high-intensity conflicts like China invading Taiwan or Russia invading Latvia would be challenging for U.S. and allied militaries but are less likely compared to scenarios such as protracted gray-zone confrontations between China or Russia and their neighbors. U.S. planners usually choose high-intensity scenarios, although protracted conflicts may be harder for the U.S. military to address.

After the scenario subjects are decided, planners build a detailed description of the events leading up to the conflict, the expected actions of adversary, allied, and noncombatant governments and militaries, and the order of battle expected to be employed by each participating nation. Scenarios usually do not detail U.S. government or military actions.

Explain the conceptual framework in designing scenarios for non-conventional conflict.

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Non-conventional conflicts are those that do not involve sustained combat between regular armed forces. Examples include insurgencies by militia forces being supported by a state aggressor, such as in Ukraine; harassment of opposing government and commercial activities in international airspace or waters, as in the East and South China Seas; or a de facto blockade of a disputed territory using militia, law enforcement, and civilian forces like that around the Senkaku Islands.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) plans for these events, but they are low priority. However, because they are less intense than traditional scenarios like invasions, non-conventional confrontations can be sustained longer by the aggressor and employ a wide range of proxy, civilian, and paramilitary forces that create challenges for the U.S. military. The predominance of large, highly capable units in U.S. forces makes protracted campaigns potentially unaffordable and reduces U.S. options at lower levels of escalation. As a result, the U.S. government can be portrayed as the aggressor in a non-conventional conflict because the forces it employs are disproportionate for the situation.Identify fundamental assumptions about how the U.S. might engage in conventional and non-conventional contest with China or Russia and explain how these assumptions should be tested in scenario risk analysis.ADVERTISEMENT

The DoD has evolved a strong set of assumptions regarding conventional conflicts. The U.S. military generally assumes it will not be the aggressor and will have some, potentially short, warning that will allow the mobilization of forces to the conflict area. Forces already deployed respond to aggression and attempt to delay or deny the enemy’s success while preparing for the arrival of additional forces from adjacent theaters or the continental United States.

The U.S. military has a less coherent view regarding non-conventional conflict. Because these scenarios occur below the level of armed combat, U.S. military forces are often not an appropriate response, but the U.S. government does not continuously deploy law enforcement forces like the Coast Guard or paramilitary units like contractors – although Coast Guard deployments to the Western Pacific are rising. The use of conventional forces is episodic and limited to shows of force, exercises, or freedom of navigation operations rather than directly countering the non-conventional aggression.

What are key challenges and opportunities for U.S. military planners in preparing for potential military confrontation involving China or Russia?

China and Russia are difficult to plan against because they pose multidimensional challenges in areas close to their own territory. Both countries established extensive sensor networks using radar, electronic intelligence, and space imagery around their territory that can be used for surveillance and targeting of a large inventory and variety of precision ballistic and cruise missiles. Their sensor and weapon networks give China and Russia the ability to conduct rapid, large-scale attacks in regions they have interests such as the East and South China Seas for China and Eastern Europe for Russia.

In a conventional conflict, Chinese or Russian missiles give their militaries the ability to delay U.S. reinforcements while quickly attacking U.S. allies to coerce them into submission. In a non-conventional conflict, China and Russia can threaten U.S. military forces and force U.S. commanders to either send in small units at high risk or employ larger units that can defend themselves but are disproportionate for the non-conventional confrontation. As evidenced by the success of Chinese or Russian gray-zone operations over the last decade, the U.S. government has not determined a satisfactory non-conventional response.

How should the new U.S. administration align defense spending allocation with emerging non-conventional threats?

The U.S. government will need a larger number of units that are smaller and less expensive to buy and maintain compared to today’s U.S. military. Less heavily-armed units such as Littoral Combat Ships, Coast Guard cutters, or company-size National Guard formations would be more proportional in non-conventional confrontations against Russian-supported proxy forces or People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia ships. These units would also be affordable enough to buy and operate in large enough numbers so they can sustain a robust presence in contested areas for a protracted periods.

Top US military commanders explained the new tactics to Congress in March in a series of budget hearings. The commandant of the US Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 5 that small units of Marines armed with precision missiles could assist the US Navy to gain control of the seas, particularly in the Western Pacific.

"The Tomahawk missile is one of the tools that is going to allow us to do that," he said.

The Tomahawk — which first gained fame when launched in massed strikes during the 1991 Gulf War — has been carried on US warships and used to attack land targets in recent decades. The Marines would test fire the cruise missile through 2022 with the aim of making it operational the following year, top Pentagon commanders testified.

At first, a relatively small number of land-based cruise missiles will not change the balance of power. But such a shift would send a strong political signal that Washington is preparing to compete with China's massive arsenal, according to senior US and other Western strategists.

Guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George launches a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, March 23, 2003. US Navy/Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Kenneth Moll

Longer term, bigger numbers of these weapons combined with similar Japanese and Taiwanese missiles would pose a serious threat to Chinese forces, they say. The biggest immediate threat to the PLA comes from new, long-range anti-ship missiles now entering service with US Navy and Air Force strike aircraft.

"The Americans are coming back strongly," said Ross Babbage, a former senior Australian government defense official and now a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a security research group. "By 2024 or 2025 there is a serious risk for the PLA that their military developments will be obsolete."

A Chinese military spokesman, Senior Col. Wu Qian, warned last October that Beijing would "not stand by" if Washington deployed land-based, long-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region. China's foreign ministry accused the United States of sticking "to its Cold War mentality" and "constantly increasing military deployment" in the region.

"Recently, the United States has gotten worse, stepping up its pursuit of a so-called 'Indo-Pacific strategy' that seeks to deploy new weapons, including ground-launched intermediate-range missiles, in the Asia-Pacific region," the ministry said in a statement to Reuters. "China firmly opposes that."
US military unshackled
Royal Australian Navy guided-missile frigate HMAS Parramatta, left, with US Navy amphibious assault ship USS America, Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, and Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry in the South China Sea, April 18, 2020. US Navy/MCS 3rd Class Nicholas Huynh via REUTERS

While the coronavirus pandemic rages, Beijing has increased its military pressure on Taiwan and exercises in the South China Sea.

In a show of strength, on April 11 the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning led a flotilla of five other warships into the Western Pacific through the Miyako Strait to the northeast of Taiwan, according to Taiwan's Defense Ministry. On April 12, the Chinese warships exercised in waters east and south of Taiwan, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, the US Navy was forced to tie up the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt at Guam while it battles to contain a coronavirus outbreak among the crew of the giant warship. However, the US Navy managed to maintain a powerful presence off the Chinese coast.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Barry passed through the Taiwan Strait twice in April. And the amphibious assault ship USS America last month exercised in the East China Sea and South China Sea, the US Indo-Pacific Command said.

In a series last year, Reuters reported that while the US was distracted by almost two decades of war in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the PLA had built a missile force designed to attack the aircraft carriers, other surface warships and network of bases that form the backbone of American power in Asia. Over that period, Chinese shipyards built the world's biggest navy, which is now capable of dominating the country's coastal waters and keeping US forces at bay.

The series also revealed that in most categories, China's missiles now rival or outperform counterparts in the armories of the US alliance.
A float carrying a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Tiananmen Square during the parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

China derived an advantage because it was not party to a Cold War-era treaty — the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) — that banned the United States and Russia from possessing ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges from 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers. Unrestrained by the INF pact, China has deployed about 2,000 of these weapons, according to US and other Western estimates.

While building up its missile forces on land, the PLA also fitted powerful, long-range anti-ship missiles to its warships and strike aircraft.

This accumulated firepower has shifted the regional balance of power in China's favor. The United States, long the dominant military power in Asia, can no longer be confident of victory in a military clash in waters off the Chinese coast, according to senior retired US military officers.

But the decision by President Donald Trump last year to exit the INF treaty has given American military planners new leeway. Almost immediately after withdrawing from the pact on August 2, the administration signaled it would respond to China's missile force. The next day, US Secretary for Defense Mark Esper said he would like to see ground-based missiles deployed in Asia within months, but he acknowledged it would take longer.

Later that month, the Pentagon tested a ground-launched Tomahawk cruise missile. In December, it tested a ground-launched ballistic missile. The INF treaty banned such ground-launched weapons, and thus both tests would have been forbidden.

The Defense Department tests a conventionally configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California, August 18, 2019. DoD photo by Scott Howe

A senior Marines commander, Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 11 that the Pentagon leadership had instructed the Marines to field a ground-launched cruise missile "very quickly."

The budget documents show that the Marines have requested $125 million to buy 48 Tomahawk missiles from next year. The Tomahawk has a range of 1,600km, according to its manufacturer, Raytheon Company.

Smith said the cruise missile may not ultimately prove to be the most suitable weapon for the Marines. "It may be a little too heavy for us," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, but experience gained from the tests could be transferred to the army.

Smith also said the Marines had successfully tested a new shorter-range anti-ship weapon, the Naval Strike Missile, from a ground launcher and would conduct another test in June. He said if that test was successful, the Marines intended to order 36 of these missiles in 2022.

Naval Strike Missile launch from USS Coronado (LCS-4) in September 2014. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary D. Bell

The US Army is also testing a new long-range, land-based missile that can target warships. This missile would have been prohibited under the INF treaty.

The Marine Corps said in a statement it was evaluating the Naval Strike Missile to target ships and the Tomahawk for attacking targets on land. Eventually, the Marines aimed to field a system "that could engage long-range moving targets either on land or sea," the statement said.

The Defense Department also has research underway on new, long-range strike weapons, with a budget request of $3.2 billion for hypersonic technology, mostly for missiles.

China's foreign ministry drew a distinction between the PLA's arsenal of missiles and the planned US deployment.

It said China's missiles were "located in its territory, especially short and medium-range missiles, which cannot reach the mainland of the United States. This is fundamentally different from the US, which is vigorously pushing forward deployment."
Bottling up China's navy
Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Military strategists James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara suggested almost a decade ago that the first island chain was a natural barrier that could be exploited by the American military to counter the Chinese naval build-up. Ground-based anti-ship missiles could command key passages through the island chain into the Western Pacific as part of a strategy to keep the rapidly expanding Chinese navy bottled up, they suggested.

In embracing this strategy, Washington is attempting to turn Chinese tactics back on the PLA. Senior US commanders have warned that China's land-based cruise and ballistic missiles would make it difficult for US and allied navies to operate near China's coastal waters.

But deploying ground-based US and allied missiles in the island chain would pose a similar threat to Chinese warships — to vessels operating in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Yellow Sea, or ships attempting to break out into the Western Pacific. Japan and Taiwan have already deployed ground-based anti-ship missiles for this purpose.

"We need to be able to plug up the straits," said Holmes, a professor at the US Naval War College. "We can, in effect, ask them if they want Taiwan or the Senkakus badly enough to see their economy and armed forces cut off from the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. In all likelihood the answer will be no."

Holmes was referring to the uninhabited group of isles in the East China Sea — known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China — that are claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing.
The approximate boundaries of the first and second island chains in the western Pacific. US Defense Department

The United States faces challenges in plugging the first island chain. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to distance himself from the United States and forge closer ties with China is a potential obstacle to American plans. US forces could face barriers to operating from strategically important islands in the Philippines archipelago after Duterte in February scrapped a key security agreement with Washington.

And if US forces do deploy in the first island chain with anti-ship missiles, some US strategists believe this won't be decisive, as the Marines would be vulnerable to strikes from the Chinese military.

The United States has other counterweights. The firepower of long-range US Air Force bombers could pose a bigger threat to Chinese forces than the Marines, the strategists said. Particularly effective, they said, could be the stealthy B-21 bomber, which is due to enter service in the middle of this decade, armed with long-range missiles.

The Pentagon is already moving to boost the firepower of its existing strike aircraft in Asia. US Navy Super Hornet jets and Air Force B-1 bombers are now being armed with early deliveries of Lockheed Martin's new Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, according to the budget request documents.

The new missile is being deployed in response to an "urgent operational need" for the US Pacific Command, the documents explain.

The new missile carries a 450 kilogram warhead and is capable of "semi-autonomous" targeting, giving it some ability to steer itself, according to the budget request. Details of the stealthy cruise missile's range are classified. But US and other Western military officials estimate it can strike targets at distances greater than 800 kilometers.

The budget documents show the Pentagon is seeking $224 million to order another 53 of these missiles in 2021. The US Navy and Air Force expect to have more than 400 of them in service by 2025, according to orders projected in the documents.
An Air Force B1-B Lancer bomber launches a Long Range Anti-Ship Missile during flight testing in August 2013. U.S. Navy

This new anti-ship missile is derived from an existing Lockheed long-range, land attack weapon, the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. The Pentagon is asking for $577 million next year to order another 400 of these land-attack missiles.

"The US and allied focus on long-range land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles was the quickest way to rebuild long-range conventional firepower in the Western Pacific region," said Robert Haddick, a former US Marine Corps officer and now a visiting senior fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies based in Arlington, Virginia.

For the US Navy in Asia, Super Hornet jets operating from aircraft carriers and armed with the new anti-ship missile would deliver a major boost in firepower while allowing the expensive warships to operate further away from potential threats, US and other Western military officials say.

Current and retired US Navy officers have been urging the Pentagon to equip American warships with longer-range anti-ship missiles that would allow them to compete with the latest, heavily armed Chinese cruisers, destroyers and frigates. Lockheed has said it successfully test-fired one of the new Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles from the type of launcher used on US and allied warships.

Haddick, one of the first to draw attention to China's firepower advantage in his 2014 book, "Fire on the Water," said the threat from Chinese missiles had galvanized the Pentagon with new strategic thinking and budgets now directed at preparing for high-technology conflict with powerful nations like China.

Haddick said the new missiles were critical to the defensive plans of America and its allies in the Western Pacific. The gap won't close immediately, but firepower would gradually improve, Haddick said.

"This is especially true during the next half-decade and more, as successor hypersonic and other classified munition designs complete their long periods of development, testing, production, and deployment," he said.

Russia and China are coordinating military exercises to threaten not only Taiwan but also Hawaii, according to a senior Japanese defense official who warned the United States to beware of a Pearl Harbor-style surprise attack.

“We have to show the deterrence towards China, and not just China but also the Russians, because, as I told you, that they are doing their exercises together,” Japanese deputy Yasuhide Nakayama told the Hudson Institute this week.

Taiwan’s vulnerability to an invasion from mainland China has become a preoccupation of Indo-Pacific strategists in recent months, as Chinese Communist forces escalate their military drills around the island. Nakayama, who was unusually frank about the need for democratic nations to ensure Taiwan’s survival, implied that Russia and China are working as allies preparing for a major conflict.

“I think the Taiwanese are really concerned,” he said. “And also, they’re focusing on the two big countries collaborating and [presenting] a lot of threat towards Taiwan."


Chinese Communist officials regard Taiwan as a renegade province, one that they have claimed since coming to power in 1949 but never governed. Most countries recognize the regime in Beijing as the official Chinese government and do not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, although the U.S. has maintained a friendly relationship and provided weaponry to help Taiwanese authorities deter an invasion from the mainland.

“We have to protect Taiwan as a democratic country,” Nakayama said before suggesting that world leaders may have erred during the Cold War by seeming to concede that Taiwan would eventually be reunited with mainland China. “Was it right? ... I don’t know.”

China’s Foreign Ministry protested his description of Taiwan as a “country” and alleged that Tokyo is trying to portray China as a threat in order to justify its own military buildup.

“This is extremely irresponsible and dangerous,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Tuesday. “The politician in question flagrantly refers to Taiwan as a 'country' on multiple occasions, severely violating principles set out in the four political documents including the China-Japan Joint Statement and its solemn and repeated commitment of not seeing Taiwan as a country. We ask Japan to make crystal clarification, and ensure that such things won't happen again.”

Nakayama emphasized throughout the talk that tensions in the Indo-Pacific have a direct bearing on American security, especially in light of coordination between China and Russia. He drove home the point by raising the specter of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which provoked the U.S. military intervention in the Second World War.

“Seventy years ago, we attacked Pearl Harbor, but now the U.S. and Japan [are] very good allies, one of the best allies all over the world,” he said, noting that Russia is conducting naval drills in the Pacific this week. “I don't want to remind [us of the attack] 70 years ago, but we have to be careful of the exercising of the Russians. They are taking place [off] the western side of that, Honolulu, I mean, in Hawaii.”

Russian officials described their “missile and artillery firings” in the Pacific as an equipment check. “In the course of practical measures, the warships jointly repelled a notional enemy’s air attack,” the Russian Pacific Fleet’s press office said Wednesday per state media. "The exercise was intended to check the reliable operation of shipborne weapons in a hot climate.”

For Nakayama, such operations make clear that Japan and the U.S. have a common problem that needs to be deterred jointly.

“Honolulu to Japan, this zone is becoming — [the] Chinese and the Russians come in this zone,” he said. “So, [for] the United States, the protection line is going to be backwards a little bit.”

Sunday, June 27, 2021


There is no doubt the US will go to war to protect Taiwan

China’s A2/AD envelope even if measuring ranges from bases hundreds of miles into the country’s interior. The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force operates a host of ballistic missiles capable of striking stationary targets across the Korean Peninsula and Japanese archipelago. Its new DF-26 ballistic missile is assessed to have an operational range of up to 2,500 miles, capable in theory of striking a moving aircraft carrier and nicknamed by Chinese sources as “the Guam killer.” The rest of Asia and northern approaches to Australia are also covered by these same missiles. Which of them should the United States abandon next?Glaser turns next to Taiwan. Only 110 miles from the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Glaser stated, is more vulnerable to Chinese conventional forces. He admits that ideological and humanitarian rationales for protecting Taiwan are sound, but arguments regarding U.S. security interests are questionable.

First, Glaser believes if United States abandons Taiwan, Japan and South Korea would “no doubt understand” that Taiwan was less important than them and the risk was very high. “Letting go” of Taiwan, he said, “should suggest little, if anything, about the strength of Washington’s commitment to Tokyo and Seoul.”

How could that possibly be considered the truth? Abandoning a 70-year commitment to Taiwan’s continued freedom in the face of risk the author himself deems “small” could not possibly be viewed positively by Tokyo and Seoul. Instead, it would beg the question of Washington’s price for its freedom as well. Japan’s Senkaku Islands, vigorously disputed by China, would certainly be next on the menu. It is ludicrous to postulate that abandoning Taiwan would not raise fears of abandonment among Washington’s other Asian allies. It could just as easily bring down the entire hub-and-spoke system of alliances that U.S. policy relies on in the region.

Glaser assures us there is little cause for concern if China takes Taiwan. Chinese ballistic missile submarines, despite enjoying clear access to the Pacific Ocean, would pose no new threat because the U.S. nuclear deterrent would remain effective. Its other conventional forces and attack submarines would pose no meaningfully increased threat because the United States could just deploy anti-submarine warfare assets—such as its own submarines, maritime patrol aircraft, and surveillance ships—to “reduce the ability of Chinese submarines to leave Taiwan.”

That assertion is not a credible one. Some of Glaser’s assertions about defending Japan are true under the status quo, as Thomas Shugart of the Center for a New American Security noted, but would quickly ring hollow once the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) set up shop in Taiwan. Stretching from the Korean Peninsula through the Japanese islands and Taiwan and ending in Southeast Asia, the first island chain is a key element in defense considerations for U.S. allies and U.S. forces in the Pacific Ocean. A quick glance at a map should make clear that gifting Taiwan to China breaks that chain and places China in control of one side of the Bashi Channel, a critical strategic chokepoint for PLA Navy forces to access the Philippine Sea from their current bases.

If China controls Taiwan, it controls the maritime space surrounding Taiwan as well as existing Taiwanese military infrastructure. That makes it, in fact, much easier for Chinese submarines to leave Taiwan, and the PLA Air Force would naturally move into Taiwan’s existing air bases. The idea that a new barrier could easily be thrown up is fantasy.

Simple math says U.S. forces, presumably the Seventh Fleet, could not maintain sufficient assets of the type required to make that happen. And in the event of a war, they would be crushed by the same A2/AD that Glaser threatens at the outset—only now those missiles and aircraft would be based in Taiwan.

Not to worry though, Glaser tells us, because once the United States is no longer committed to protecting Taiwan, the odds of war with China will drop! Peace in our time, as it were. But the assumption that China’s territorial ambitions would be sated by offering up Taipei as a sacrificial lamb is not only fictitious but counterfactual. Beijing’s raft of territorial and boundary disputes elsewhere—India, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines—would look only too easy to resolve by coercive means once Washington proves willing place Taiwan on the table. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s nationalist regime would be emboldened, not satisfied, by conceding Taiwan. And given that occupation of Taiwan would put Japan’s southernmost islands within 140 miles of the People’s Liberation Army, it’s not difficult to see where Beijing might consider pushing next. Shugart even points out that U.S. forces seriously considered using Taiwan as the jumping off point for seizing the Ryukyu Islands during World War II before ultimately choosing the route through Luzon in the Philippines.

And while it may be true that Japan and South Korea have larger economies, Taiwan is no slouch, coming in as the United States’ 10th largest trading partner. More significant than that, however, is its dominant position as a world leader in semiconductor production. Although U.S. President Joe Biden has pledged to bring some semiconductor production back to the United States, for now, the world depends on Taiwan’s domestic industry.

Should China control that production, it would control a major lever of the world economy and gain a considerable advantage for its own electronic manufacturing giants. Given Beijing’s penchant for using economic leverage to punish countries, highlighted by its 2010 cutoff of rare earth metals and ongoing spat with Australia, it seems logical to assume semiconductor production would be weaponized by the Chinese Communist Party.

The South China Sea figures even lower than Taiwan in Glaser’s estimation, and his speculations are even less rooted in fact. The United States has made “vague claims” to protect U.S.-allied Philippines’ maritime claims and U.S. Navy “dominance” in the Indian Ocean. There is no uncertainty in assertions made by former U.S. President Donald Trump and Biden’s administrations as to U.S. commitments to the Philippines, and the U.S. Navy has little persistent presence in the Indian Ocean—though rumors persist it might still create a naval fleet focused on the region. Increasingly robust signs of cooperation from the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue might lend some credence to the idea, but although the grouping may continue to grow and mature, it is certainly not a formal military alliance.

Glaser suggests a “grand bargain” should have been struck before China’s positions calcified—that the United States should have ended its commitment to Taiwan in exchange for China’s agreement to “resolve” its South China Sea disputes. This proposal comes without any evidence the possibility existed aside from a link to the author’s own paper on the same subject, published in 2015. It’s assertions were certainly questionable at the time and have aged poorly in the interim. Glaser has been pushing for a U.S. reversal on Taiwan since at least 2011 by seemingly just repackaging the argument without making it more persuasive. It also comes with the idea that Beijing’s promises can be trusted, which rings particularly hollow after China broke treaties to gut Hong Kong’s liberties. But since that mythical ship has already sailed, all that’s left now is for the United States to unilaterally divest itself of its commitments to Taiwan.

Glaser offers two options: appeasement, presented to mean a total withdrawal from Asia, and retrenchment, ending the United States’ commitment to Taiwan and minimizing opposition to Beijing’s “assertive policies simply to avoid conflict.” But Glaser intends for the U.S. government to continue to make clear that China’s use of force to conquer Taiwan would violate international norms. The power of international norms is offered as an alternative deterrent against a regime currently committing crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

Apart from the logical flaws in his argument, Glaser seems untroubled by condemning 23 million free people to living beneath Beijing’s boot—to say nothing of the death and destruction that would be rained on Taiwan in an invasion. Somewhere along the line, some within the realist school appear to have lost their way. Too often, realism seems to just mean risk aversion and ends in calls for appeasement.

It is entirely appropriate for the U.S. government as well as the U.S. body politic to discuss and debate the future of the United States’ relationship with Taiwan, but it demands more than flimsy and error-ridden arguments when millions of lives lie in the balance. The risk of war is a terrible one, and Glaser is right to hope to avoid it, but retrenchment in the face of Chinese revisionism is not a convincing solution to the problem.

The same policies playing out in Xinjiang and Hong Kong—brutal repression, crushing dissent, reeducation camps—would be on full display in Taiwan, but the fact the United States’ long-term partners would be violently subjugated to a totalitarian government seems to be wholly outside the frame of Glaser’s concern. Realism is not an excuse for callousness. Imperfect as it may be, the United States presents itself as a state that stands for certain values, and leaving a democratic government and a free nation to be ground to dust while it looks on is not among them.

China's growing firepower casts doubt on whether U.S. could defend Taiwan

In war games, China often wins, and U.S. warships and aircraft are kept at bay.

Image: HHQ-9B surface-to-air missiles in a military parade at Tiananmen Square
Military vehicles carrying HHQ-9B surface-to-air missiles participate in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2019.Greg Baker / AFP via Getty Images file
 China's massive arms buildup has raised doubts about America's ability to defend Taiwan if a war broke out, reflecting a shifting balance of power in the Pacific where American forces once dominated, U.S. officials and experts say.

In simulated combat in which China attempts to invade Taiwan, the results are sobering and the United States often loses, said David Ochmanek, a former senior Defense Department official who helps run war games for the Pentagon at the RAND Corp. think tank.

In tabletop exercises with America as the "blue team" facing off against a "red team" resembling China, Taiwan's air force is wiped out within minutes, U.S. air bases across the Pacific come under attack, and American warships and aircraft are held at bay by the long reach of China's vast missile arsenal, he said.

"Even when the blue teams in our simulations and war games intervened in a determined way, they don't always succeed in defeating the invasion," Ochmanek said.

A war over Taiwan remains a worst-case scenario that officials say is not imminent. But China's growing military prowess, coupled with its aggressive rhetoric, is turning Taiwan into a potential flashpoint between Beijing and Washington — and a test case for how the U.S. will confront China's superpower ambitions.

The outgoing head of the U.S. military's Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip Davidson, warned senators this month that the U.S. is losing its military edge over China, and that Beijing could decide to try to seize control of Taiwan by force by 2027.

"Taiwan is clearly one of their ambitions. ... And I think the threat is manifest during this decade, in fact, in the next six years."

U.S. intelligence analysts have warned for more than a decade that China's military strength was progressing at a dramatic pace, and that America's superiority was evaporating in the Pacific, Defense officials told NBC News. Only now has the message finally hit home, with simulated battles driving home the point.

"You bring in lieutenant colonels and commanders, and you subject them for three or four days to this war game. They get their asses kicked, and they have a visceral reaction to it," Ochmanek said. "You can see the learning happen."

Twenty years ago, China had no chance of successfully challenging the U.S. military in the Taiwan Strait, and Pentagon planners could count on near total air superiority and the ability to move aircraft carriers close to Taiwan's eastern coast.

But a more prosperous China has invested in new naval ships, warplanes, cyber and space weapons and a massive arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles designed to undercut the U.S. military's sea and air power.

"When you look at the numbers and ranges of systems that China deploys, it's pretty easy to deduce what their main target is because pretty much everything they build can hit Taiwan. And a lot of stuff they build really can only hit Taiwan," said David Shlapak, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corp. think tank who also has worked on war-gaming models involving China.

Every generation of Chinese missiles has "longer and longer ranges on them," said one senior Defense official, and the missiles present a growing dilemma for the U.S. in how to penetrate the area around Taiwan, the official said.

Sowing doubts

Even if China refrains from direct military action on Taiwan, U.S. officials and analysts worry that Beijing could eventually force Taipei to buckle through steady military and economic pressure that creates a perception that the U.S. can't guarantee the island's defense.

"At some point does China have enough military capability to push the Taiwanese into some sort of settlement, where you never get into a fight, but it's just that threat hanging over the head of Taiwan?" the Defense official said.

If China succeeded in subjugating democratic-ruled Taiwan, it would send shockwaves through America's network of alliances, and cause other democratic governments in Asia to doubt Washington's reliability and strength, officials and experts said.

China views the self-governed island as part of its own territory and has never renounced the possible use of force to bring it under Beijing's control. China's political leadership sees reunification with Taiwan as a core objective, and Beijing's actions and statements have grown more assertive in recent months.

When contacted by NBC News, China's embassy in Washington pointed to recent comments from foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, who accused the United States of adopting a Cold War mentality and overstating tensions over Taiwan.

"By exploiting the Taiwan question to exaggerate China's military threat, some people in the United States are actually looking for excuses to justify the increase of the U.S. military expenditure, expansion of its military power" and interference in regional affairs, the spokesperson said.

"The United States should abandon the Cold War zero-sum mentality, view China's development and national defense development objectively and rationally, and do more things that are conducive to mutual trust between China and the United States and regional peace and stability," he said.

Starting in June, China started regularly flying fighter jets and bombers across the median line in the strait separating mainland China and Taiwan, and into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The flights have forced Taipei to scramble its fighter planes to intercept the Chinese aircraft.

The Chinese military flights are part of a campaign of pressure tactics designed to wear down Taiwan's small air force, the Defense official said, adding: "From Taiwan's perspective, there's a level of fatigue associated with this."

Taiwan has reported a series of aviation mishaps in recent months, raising questions about whether China's encroachment was having an impact on Taiwan's air crews. Two Taiwanese fighter planes crashed on March 22 in the third such incident in six months.

The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, has sent guided-missile destroyers through the Taiwan Strait three times since Biden took office, and the U.S. Air Force flew B-52 bombers to a base in Guam last month to "reinforce the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific region."

The United States is committed by law to providing Taiwan with the means to maintain its self-defense, and successive presidents have approved arms sales to the island, including F-16 fighter jets and Patriot missile batteries.

But Ochmanek and other analysts argue that Taiwan — and the United States — need lower-tech weapons to fend off a potential Chinese invasion, and that big-ticket items like fighter jets and Patriot missiles will prove useless in the event of a Chinese assault.

"They've invested a lot of money in Patriot missiles. Those Patriot missiles are going to die in the first few hours of the war," Ochmanek said. The same goes for fighter jets on the runway targeted by potential Chinese missile salvoes, he and other experts said.

Ochmanek argues Taiwan should invest in mines, drones and mobile anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles that could slow a Chinese amphibious and airborne invasion, providing precious time for U.S. help to arrive.

Although senior military officers mostly agree that Taiwan and the U.S. need to adapt to the risks posed by China, it’s not clear if Congress or the Pentagon would be ready to give up purchasing more fighter jets or other expensive hardware to free up money for alternative weapons.

"We are acutely aware of the threat posed by China's military build-up, as well as its aggressive behavior in Taiwan's vicinity," said a spokesperson for Taiwan's mission in Washington, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States.

"These actions threaten peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and are part of a broader pattern of Chinese attempts to intimidate countries in the Indo-Pacific region," it said.

"Taiwan has increased our defense spending commensurate with these challenges," the spokesperson said, and the island has plans to bolster investments into "asymmetric capabilities."

Image: Dongfeng-17 missiles on display at a military parade in Beijing
Dongfeng-17 missiles on display at a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in Beijing, on Oct. 1, 2019.Pan Yulong / Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images file

U.S. military officers in the Pacific say the Pentagon needs to shift more weapons and resources to Asia and transform its mindset to take on China. Without a change in U.S. weapons and tactics, the American military could find itself at a disadvantage in Taiwan and across the Pacific, potentially undermining the confidence of allies and partners that look to Washington as a counterweight to China, Defense officials said.

"If we make no changes in posture, then absolutely, you're going to find a future where we're simply outmatched," a second Defense official said.

"You can't just maintain the same static line of forces that we have currently assigned, particularly west of the International Date Line. That will not do the job."