Confronting China at Sea

Is there a chink in their armour? Could someone nip their ambitions in the bud? We need to know!

'Until recently a naval war between Japan and China was not a serious proposition. As recently as the 1980s, China was a “green water” navy barely capable of protecting its own coastline, let alone projecting naval power several hundred miles away. Japan, on the other hand, had a large force of fully modern destroyers tasked with protecting sea lines of communication out to a thousand miles. As long as it stayed clear of the occasional large antiship cruise missile and volleys of unguided torpedoes, the Japanese navy could easily defeat whatever China threw at it.

'That has changed. More than a quarter century of Chinese defense increases have amounted to an overall tenfold increase in military spending. Beijing’s defense spending, both official and unofficial, likely amounts to more than $200 billion—nearly five times as much as Japan’s roughly $43 billion. This has had serious implications for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, as its potential Chinese adversaries are now better armed and trained than ever.

'In considering any Japan-China naval war, we should be mindful of their respective naval doctrines. The Maritime Self-Defense Force is an almost purely defensive force, trained to escort convoys to and from Japan, conduct antisubmarine warfare, protect the country from ballistic-missile attack, and conduct humanitarian operations. It is defensively armed, with relatively few antiship missiles and no cruise missiles. Offensive operations, with the exception of amphibious landings to take back national territory, are unheard of. While this is a noble approach to warfare, it also makes it very difficult to terminate a conflict on Japan’s terms.'


 
Is there a chink in their armour? Could someone nip their ambitions in the bud? We need to know!

'Until recently a naval war between Japan and China was not a serious proposition. As recently as the 1980s, China was a “green water” navy barely capable of protecting its own coastline, let alone projecting naval power several hundred miles away. Japan, on the other hand, had a large force of fully modern destroyers tasked with protecting sea lines of communication out to a thousand miles. As long as it stayed clear of the occasional large antiship cruise missile and volleys of unguided torpedoes, the Japanese navy could easily defeat whatever China threw at it.

'That has changed. More than a quarter century of Chinese defense increases have amounted to an overall tenfold increase in military spending. Beijing’s defense spending, both official and unofficial, likely amounts to more than $200 billion—nearly five times as much as Japan’s roughly $43 billion. This has had serious implications for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, as its potential Chinese adversaries are now better armed and trained than ever.

'In considering any Japan-China naval war, we should be mindful of their respective naval doctrines. The Maritime Self-Defense Force is an almost purely defensive force, trained to escort convoys to and from Japan, conduct antisubmarine warfare, protect the country from ballistic-missile attack, and conduct humanitarian operations. It is defensively armed, with relatively few antiship missiles and no cruise missiles. Offensive operations, with the exception of amphibious landings to take back national territory, are unheard of. While this is a noble approach to warfare, it also makes it very difficult to terminate a conflict on Japan’s terms.'


The Japanese armed forces being only for self defence in limited areas is a result of their constitution, which was written by the Americans and imposed on the Japanese following WWII. That the Japanese have as much of a defence force as they have is the result of their wriggling through various loop-holes in the constitution, as the Americans intended them to have nothing at all beyond police for keeping order.

This was all created at a time when China was a US ally and the Americans were determined that Japan should never again become a serious military power who could challenge US dominance in east Asia.

The Japanese fleet are focused on commerce protection, which makes a great deal of sense given their geographic position. There is no way though that Japan can hope to build a navy which can control the seas of the western Pacific. They're just too small and geography, economics, and demographics are against them.
 

The key for the U.S. is to gradually bend Chinese behavior without breaking the international relationship in a way that leads into a Cold War or armed conflict. The best way to do that is to bring more international allies into the freedom of navigation patrols (including North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners along with Australia and Japan); increase U.S. engagement with Taiwan, particularly in military-to-military cooperation; insist on a full-blown international investigation into the Wuhan outbreak of the coronavirus; and build stronger relations with other nations around the littoral of the South China Sea.

So playing chicken with the chinks?
 

riksavage

Old-Salt
Ethnic Chinese are a dominant force across APAC, they have all the money; whether Chinese-Indonesian, Malaysian-Chinese, Filipino-Chinese etc. The CCP love to play the ‘we’re all Chinese together’ narrative and will leverage off the race card against the West and Japanese. Ethnic Chinese will never forget what the Japs did to them during the occupation of China and Malaya in WW2.
 

The key for the U.S. is to gradually bend Chinese behavior without breaking the international relationship in a way that leads into a Cold War or armed conflict. The best way to do that is to bring more international allies into the freedom of navigation patrols (including North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners along with Australia and Japan); increase U.S. engagement with Taiwan, particularly in military-to-military cooperation; insist on a full-blown international investigation into the Wuhan outbreak of the coronavirus; and build stronger relations with other nations around the littoral of the South China Sea.

So playing chicken with the chinks?
And given that NATO (as opposed to individual alliance members) finds it extremely difficult to fill the ORBAT of its Standing Naval Forces, operating in close proximity to Europe, the thought of a NATO TF conducting freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea is a triumph of optimism over reality.
 
And given that NATO (as opposed to individual alliance members) finds it extremely difficult to fill the ORBAT of its Standing Naval Forces, operating in close proximity to Europe, the thought of a NATO TF conducting freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea is a triumph of optimism over reality.
Which leaves the SCS to local players with their own national agendas and whatever the US can spare/afford/sustain.
 
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Its not just about big grey war canoes

Owing to China’s history of conflict with the British Empire, China’s leaders are familiar with the way the British operated in the nineteenth century, and they seem to appreciate how the empire’s power did not rely solely on soldiers or warships; it came, rather, from the empire’s control of ports, canals, railroads, mines, shipping routes, telegraph cables, commercial standards, and financial exchanges. Students of British imperial history could only shake their heads with recognition last year when they heard Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, the foreign minister of strategically located Djibouti, tell The Washington Post, “Yes, our debt to China is 71 percent of our GDP, but we needed that infrastructure.”

 
The Japanese armed forces being only for self defence in limited areas is a result of their constitution, which was written by the Americans and imposed on the Japanese following WWII. That the Japanese have as much of a defence force as they have is the result of their wriggling through various loop-holes in the constitution, as the Americans intended them to have nothing at all beyond police for keeping order.

This was all created at a time when China was a US ally and the Americans were determined that Japan should never again become a serious military power who could challenge US dominance in east Asia.

The Japanese fleet are focused on commerce protection, which makes a great deal of sense given their geographic position. There is no way though that Japan can hope to build a navy which can control the seas of the western Pacific. They're just too small and geography, economics, and demographics are against them.
The Japanese didn't have too many problems in 1894 in the Sinno - Japanese war.

Battle of the Yalu River.
 

quadrapiper

Clanker
The Japanese fleet are focused on commerce protection, which makes a great deal of sense given their geographic position. There is no way though that Japan can hope to build a navy which can control the seas of the western Pacific. They're just too small and geography, economics, and demographics are against them.
Given those last three points, would the best option for the Japanese be going submarine-heavy?
 
There is no way though that Japan can hope to build a navy which can control the seas of the western Pacific. They're just too small and geography, economics, and demographics are against them.
That may well be the case but then what countries are capable of controlling the Western Pacific?

And...how many countries are adding two aircraft carriers with the latest 5th gen aircraft to their fleet.

Not even the Chinese are doing that yet. Japan also deploys more destroyers equipped with the latest Aegis air-defence system than any other country except the United States. And Tokyo is Washington’s major partner in developing the SM-3 missile, which is compatible with Japanese destroyers and intended to be capable of intercepting incoming ballistic missiles.

China’s submarine fleet has been of particular concern to foreign naval planners and Tokyo has accordingly trained its entire fleet—subs, ships and planes—for anti-submarine warfare. Japanese and allied forces would pursue a strategy of attacking the Chinese submarine fleet, in campaign of air and missile attacks against Chinese submarine bases, shipyards and torpedo-manufacturing facilities.

The Japanese would mine the waters outside Chinese ports and create a blockade around Okinawa in order to try and catch Chinese subs that do succeed in leaving port, then hunting down and destroying Chinese submarines that slip past the blockade zone. The two carriers proving air cover for the anti submarine fleet.

The USMC is already in Japan refining its F-35B tactics with its new Lightning carriers and has been asked by Japan to assist in the training of it’s F-35B’s operations which will be deploying on its two new carriers. It will start by cross decking just as it already has begun with the Royal Navy on HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The recent cross decking conducted by the USMC and Royal Navy is paving the way for further integration with other allied fleets and F-35 operations, like the Australia...

S Korea...

Singapore...itself an Island base.

All of whom have recently had more than enough cause to be reassessing their relationship with a recently much more aggressive China, whose recent COVID 19 performance and subsequent ‘Wolf Warrior’ tactics seem to be consolidating those who have already been concerned about China’s blatant attempts to grab the S China sea.
 
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Given those last three points, would the best option for the Japanese be going submarine-heavy?
The Japanese already have a pretty substantial submarine force. They also have a surface navy that is heavily based around destroyers and frigates, and they have a large number of long range ASW aircraft. Their navy already appears to be quite focused on commerce protection. The destroyers, frigates, and ASW aircraft can defend against submarine threats to commerce, while the submarines can defend against attempts to use surface ships to blockade Japan. This provides defence against an enemy who are strong enough to disrupt trade but are not strong enough to impose complete control over all movement in the western Pacific in general.

The main issue the Japanese have is that they cannot themselves control the western Pacific, and they cannot defeat an enemy who themselves are capable of controlling it. To do either would require a much, much, bigger navy than they currently have. As I already said however, geography, economics, and demographics are against them if they were to try to participate in a naval building race. Have a look at how WWII turned out for them in that respect, and they are in an even worse position today, from a relative perspective.

Hence, Japan's defence policy is focused around leaning on the US to provide a navy which can control the western Pacific on Japan's behalf, while the Japanese navy can focus on commerce protection against submarines and surface raiders, with a minor sideline in defending the various minor outlying Japanese islands from invasion.
 
The recent Chinese stance in general towards the US, Australia, the UK, Europe, and the various nations in the S China sea that it has been strong-arming, has accomplished at least one thing; clearing up any strategic security dilemma that US may have had on future US Navel procurement.

With a much clearer focus on China’s military build up, US warships submarines and anti-ship missile systems are now being tailored accordingly, and the F-35 program proving a very handy allied weapon system co-ordinating tactics, and inter-service, international co-operation.
 

CmdKeen

Old-Salt
One thing to bear in mind is that this part of the world is not covered by the NATO interoperability bubble, the 7th Fleet operates differently from the 6th or 5th Fleets. They are not used to thinking in the same multi-national terms, and no-one has invested in that capability on anything close to the same level as we are used to in other theaters. It is entirely possible for US personnel to spend their entire career in the Pacific and mainland US, without ever being exposed to more multi-national ways of working.

There are plenty of agreements, some new, some old, that involve the UK in regional defence issues. However far too much is conducted bilaterally with just the US. Our FVEY membership gives us great access into some things, but that counts for more with Aus, Can and NZ than it does the US in the Pacific.

If the US wants more international co-operation to help challenge PRC expansionism, and they very much do in the maritime domain at least, they need to get better at building C4 capability and examine doctrine. If we're going to deploy assets into the region just doing freedom of navigation ops is pointless, we need to tie it in to starting to slowly shift the US mindset. That will take many years and more than the just the odd visit, whether it would be worth it relative to other priorities is something they are hopefully pondering in the current Integrated Review...
 
Sustainment will be interesting, particularly if there should be any incidents in the wake of current Anglo-Chinese diplomatic relations. The potential international, inter-service mix of embarked squadrons could also prove 'interesting'!

'According to reports from the British media, the Royal Navy’s brand new £3 billion aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will be deployed to the South China Sea to take part in military drills with the US Navy and Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces.

'The HMS Queen Elizabeth will set sail next year according to new plans from military chiefs. HMS Queen Elizabeth expected to visit the Far East during grand maiden voyage. The £3billion aircraft carrier will reportedly carry out joint military exercises. It comes amid growing political tension between the government and Beijing Ministry of Defence says no decision has yet been taken on carrier's deployment

'The aircraft carrier is set to be accompanied by a fleet of warships, including two Type 45 destroyers and two frigates. HMS Queen Elizabeth will also be deployed with two squadrons of F-35B Lightning II jets, likely to be from the RAF and the US Marine Corps.

Plans have also been drawn up to send sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, to the region when it finishes training. The aircraft carrier is said to be around 18 months behind HMS Queen Elizabeth in terms of battle readiness. The Times revealed that the deployment is meant to counter an increasingly aggressive China.
''


 
And that didn't take long for a reaction.

'China might not be too furious, yet, with Britain revoking Huawei's access to its 5G network. But when it comes to Britain's looming aircraft carrier deployment to the South China Sea, well, that's another matter.

'In a not-so-diplomatic article on Wednesday, People's Liberation Army-Navy specialist Zhang Junshe threatened London over HMS Queen Elizabeth's inaugural operational deployment to the South China Sea. Playing to a favorite Chinese propaganda narrative that the U.K. must accept Beijing's present imperialism as penance for its imperial legacies, Zhang gloated that the aircraft carrier's "sea trials were not as smooth as the United Kingdom expected. The U.K. is bluffing. It should know its limitations before attempting to strong-arm China, which is no longer a weak military country to be bullied as it was during the Opium Wars."


More details on the composition of the TG.

'Still, this carrier strike group will include potent capabilities. It will embark with a six-jet squadron of U.S. Marine F-35B strike fighters (again reflecting the special U.S.-U.K. relationship), and a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm squadron of eight F-35Bs. The F-35s have their issues, limited range being one problem, but they overmatch anything manned that China can put in the sky. Also powerful are the two Type-45 destroyers, Defender and Diamond, which will escort the carrier. These ships rival and perhaps even exceed U.S. Navy air defense capabilities — a very valuable asset against the Chinese.

'Then, there's the Astute-class submarine that will shield Queen Elizabeth from under the waves. Like the U.S. Navy, the Royal Navy has clear advantage over China in the undersea domain. The Astute-class's Type 2076 sonar systems are especially impressive.'


 
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