July 01, 2017

China new destroyer US Navys anti ship missile failure


China unveiled its Type 055 naval destroyer on June 28, the latest step in its decade and a half of military buildup. The new Chinese destroyer outcompetes U.S. destroyers and cruisers, highlighting a major failure in U.S. Navy planning that stretches back to the 1990s. Given the 055’s long-range supersonic YJ-18 and YJ-12 over the horizon (OTH) anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), the Chinese destroyer currently outcompetes U.S. Arleigh Burke class destroyers and bigger Ticonderoga class cruisers. Both ships rely on fewer and shorter-range Harpoon anti-ship missiles (ASMs) and aircraft carriers that are themselves vulnerable to China’s ballistic missiles. The U.S. Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), under development since 2009, would right the balance, but not for years to come, and meanwhile we must assume China will continue improving its capabilities. Reaction times to the latest supersonic and hypersonic anti-ship weapons can be as short as 15-30 seconds. The YJ-18 and YJ-12 are inspired by Russian design, and the threat environment is complicated by unconventional technologies such as Russian-made anti-ship missiles camouflaged as commercial shipping containers. The U.S. Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) ASCM variant, which may be deployed before 2020, has less range than its Chinese counterparts. China’s military development cooperation with Russia, and fielding of the 055 destroyer, will fuel already-existing incentives for conventional first strike options, political tension and an arms race with the U.S., Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, and India. The arms race and tensions will hurt each country’s economic growth and international trade, as well as increase the risk of military conflict.

Chinese officers from the 24th Chinese navy are seen onboard a Harbin Type 052 destroyer, which arrived as part of the Chinese fleet at Shuwaikh Port in Kuwait City, on February 1, 2017. The visit is the first to Kuwait in 5 years, and comes after finishing a watch mission at the Gulf of Aden and the Somali waters. Credit: YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images

As military technology gets more sophisticated, a naval arms race in Asia will lead to military systems on hair-trigger alerts. The danger is that, as in World War II with Japan, China could one day calculate a military advantage to striking first with an array of air, sea, and rocket-delivered conventional weapons that could debilitate U.S. Navy vessels in the Pacific, as well as other regional U.S. bases. China is prepared to do so, at least in the South China Sea. According to Captain James Fanell (USN ret), former Director of Intelligence for U.S. Pacific Fleet, China has since 2015 adopted a man-to-man, rather than zonal, defense against U.S. Navy ships that traverse those international waters. China’s trend towards shadowing U.S. ships in the East China Sea is the same, according to Fanell, so we should assume that U.S. destroyers and cruisers there have been highly vulnerable over the past two years, and until at least 2021 when a subsonic U.S. ship-based ASCM will be fielded.

A Chinese conventional first strike against U.S. military forces in Asia is now technically plausible, and backed by China’s consistently preemptive naval, missile and cyber doctrines. This gives an incentive to the U.S. to itself strike first, especially if Chinese nuclear retaliation is calculated as unlikely. Such preemptive strikes, by either side, would lead to major power military conflict that would start with multiple nuclear powers, rather than end with one nuclear power as did World War II. It would be the most destructive war in world history, and so military technologies such as China’s 055 destroyer armed with YJ-18 ASCM that upset the balance of power in Asia are profoundly destabilizing and contrary to what one should expect from a status quo power. Such technologies are therefore ultimately counter to China’s broader commercial and security interests.


According to Fanell, U.S. Navy warship anti-ship cruise missile programs are just now being developed. Fanell said, "And how long will [it be before] LRASM or SM-6 numbers reach the numbers the PRC already has with the YJ-18? We appear to be behind the power curve for what could be a rather long time just as the PRC begins to consolidate its territorial claims in the maritime domain of the South and East China Seas over the next decade." Fanell has long argued for increased U.S. naval spending.

China’s 055 destroyer is for the first time among Chinese surface combatants capable of land attack missions. Just as U.S. and Russian destroyers have attacked land targets in Syria, we will likely see the advent of a more territorially aggressive Chinese navy in the next decade. Last month, China’s state-run media, the Global Times, quoted military expert Song Zhongping as saying, "The 052D, a 7,000-ton-destroyer with 64 launch units, is designed for tasks including anti-aircraft, anti-submarine and anti-warship defense, while it does not and should not be required to have ground attack capability, which should be carried out by bigger destroyers, the coming 055." The 055 modular weapons system includes the capability to launch the nuclear capable CJ-10 land-attack cruise missile.

The 055 is a 10,000-tondestroyer, but under a full load it displaces 12,000 to 14,000 tons of water. It could as easily be classed as a cruiser. There are 3 more under construction, and 4 on order, for a total of 8 “Renhai” 055 destroyers. The 055 has stealth features and up to 128 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes for missiles capable of hitting air, land, and sea targets. The VLS can also launch anti-satellite and anti-ballistic missiles currently under development by China. The stern of the ship has a hangar to accommodate two Z-18 anti-submarine warfare helicopters and vertical-launch unmanned aerial vehicles. The sophisticated 055 bow-mounted and variable depth sonars and dual x- and s-band radar systems can see hostile air, surface, and underwater objects up to 600 km away, as well as track smaller nearby projectiles. The 055 fuses this data with other Chinese ship, air, and satellite sensors for a global view of the battlespace.

The 052 destroyers can also launch nuclear-capable missiles, and each has 64 VLS tubes. There are 4 operational 052-class destroyers, and 8 more under construction. This makes 20 total 052 and 055 Chinese destroyers capable of blue water operations far from shore. The relative lack of Chinese rearmament ships will not heavily affect Chinese destroyer operations in the South and East China seas, on which China appears to be focusing its maritime territorial growth.

Singapore Navy's RSS Independence sails past China's class 054 navy frigate Huangshan (R) and French navy vessel Frigate FS Prairial (C) during the inaugural maritime review along the strait near Changi Naval Base in Singapore on May 15, 2017. Twenty-eight foreign warships from 20 navies participated in the inaugural review, which is part of Singapore Navy's 50th anniversary celebration. Credit: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Another 25 smaller 056-class Chinese frigatesare operational, with 60 likely to be constructed in the coming years. These are also optimal for operations closer to China, for example in the South and East China Seas, or against Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan.

The 055 competes directly with the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke class destroyers and Ticonderoga cruisers, which are the main delivery system for naval surface combatant firepower globally. The Ticonderoga class cruisers currently have 16 operational ships and 6 undergoing refurbishment at any given time.


There are 62 Arleigh Burke’s worldwide, and the U.S. Navy is building 14 more. They are smaller and carry less firepower than the 055’s. The Arleigh Burke destroyers displace 8,000 to 10,000 tons and have up to 96 VLS launch tubes each. That is a lot of potential firepower. But what debilitates the Arleigh Burke destroyers is their reliance on 8 Harpoon ASM tubes each, the range of which is limited to only 67 nautical miles compared with the YJ-18’s 290 nm range. Harpoon missiles do not fit into VLS tubes.


According to naval analysts, some of the U.S. destroyers in Asia do not even carry their full complement of Harpoon ASMs, and since 1999, the Arleigh Burkes have not had any Harpoon launchers installed. Most U.S. destroyers, therefore, have only token anti-ship capabilities, making them vulnerable to a debilitating first strike in case of war. As Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments Bryan Clark noted in testimony to Congress in 2015,


“So if I want to shoot another ship and I am a surface ship, I have to wait until I am within Harpoon range if I have Harpoons even onboard, which means I am probably half of the distance that he can reach me. So he can — I am well within his weapons envelope when I do that.”

Professor of Strategy James Holmes at the U.S. Naval War College has some harsh words for the lack of a long-range ASM capability on U.S. cruisers and destroyers.

“The originators of this mismatch were the service chiefs back in 1992, who in a directive called From the Sea declared that there was no one left to fight after the Cold War and thus that our navy should reinvent itself as a "fundamentally different" naval force, [i.e.], a force that didn't have to fight to control the sea, and thus could concentrate on noncombat missions. When you get a signal like that from top leadership, what do you do? You stop training and equipping to fight rival navies, and you stop upgrading your armaments. After that it was inertia. No one corrected the mistake, and no one really started trying until CNO Greenert.”


Admiral Jonathan Greenert served as Chief of Naval Operations from 2011 to 2015. Bryan McGrath, who commanded an Arleigh Burke class destroyer from 2004 to 2006, toldCongress in 2015 that because of the lack of an effective anti-surface warfare (ASuW) capability on the surface fleet, it has to rely for defense on air and submarine-delivered capabilities.

“That decision and decisions about how to allocate missions within the portfolio — surface, subsurface and aviation — has led to a situation in which ... the Navy looks at the surface force, as something that needs to be protected by the air wing. I think that needs to be questioned…. As part of the peace dividend and in recognition of the lack of a blue water threat, the Harpoon missile system was removed from the Flight IIA Arleigh Burke Destroyers as a corporate Navy decision was made to rely on the carrier air wing and the submarine force to perform the ASuW mission.”

The Republic of Korea destroyers Sejong the Great (DDG 991) and Yang Manchun (DDH 973), the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) and USS Stethem (DDG 63), the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) patrol May 3, 2017 in the western Pacific Ocean. Credit: Z.A. Landers/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Reliance on submarines and the carrier air wing limits the ability of surface combatants to execute missions individually, and entails risk from destruction of a single component in the system, effectively making the entire highly complex network as vulnerable as its weakest link. Fanell says, "We have this belief that Carrier air cover will always be there to protect our fleet and sink enemy ships … but what happens when a DF-21D or DF-26 sinks or seriously damages our aircraft carriers? Or when one of the PLAN Song, Yuan, or Shang submarines attacks our carriers with supersonic YJ-18 ASCMs … or PLAAF/PLANAF fighter bombers attack with air launched ASCMs? It seems to me that prudent military planning would take this into account and adjust our acquisition strategy accordingly … meaning the USN would have a surface fleet that could survive on its own by having the capability to fight other PLAN combatants mano-e-mano."

The U.S. Navy has made efforts at improving its ship-based ASuW capabilities. The SM-6 was recently converted for use as an ASM, but its range is only 250 nm compared to the 290 nm range of China’s YJ-18. The Navy has not even fielded the ASM variant of the SM-6. According to Fanell, “the SM-6 ASM variant that was successfully tested in Hawaii last year ...may be fielded sooner than 2020 … but again, it is a piecemeal approach that is behind the timeline of PLAN production and fielding.”


The Next Generation Land Attack Weapon (NGLAW), which also has an anti-ship function, will not enter U.S. Navy service until 2028 or 2030. Tomahawk cruise missiles, with a range of 1,000 nm, are also undergoing modification for an ASCM capability, but are subsonic and therefore more easily targeted. They will not be fielded until 2021, and will likely go out of service in 2040. Until then, and if China’s surface fleet has an anti-missile system capable of downing the slow Tomahawk, Navy destroyers and cruisers are uniquely vulnerable to China’s 052 and 055, armed with the long-range YJ-12 and YJ-18 ASMs. This vulnerability is a major mistake in naval planning that has led to the dangerous reliance of destroyers and cruisers on deterrence from aircraft carriers, submarines, and strategic escalation.


China’s new destroyer will fuel already-existing plans in the U.S. for increased naval spending, which will in turn lead to more naval spending in China. This is a costly arms race fueled by a security dilemma on the U.S. side, and territorial aggression on the Chinese side. China knows it has nothing to worry about in terms of U.S. initiating conflict were China a status quo power. But China is courting major power war through new military technologies that alter the status quo, at the same time as it initiates zero-sum territorial conflicts with multiple U.S. allies, including Japan in the East China Sea, the Philippines in the South China Sea, Taiwan (for its sovereignty), India in the Himalayas, and South Korea through China’s proxy North Korea.

The ground attack capability of the 055 should be of especial concern to Taiwan, whose territory is already under threat by ground-based missiles across the strait in mainland China. Because of China’s military buildup and territorial aggression, even during President Obama’s 8 years of relative pacifism toward China, it appears that China does not seek to be a responsible member of the international system. It seeks regional hegemony, even at the expense of strong U.S. allies like Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines. It seeks increased global influence and power projection capabilities, including through a string of naval ports reaching to Africa, and blue water naval vessels such as the 055 destroyer.


According to Fanell, the 055 launch “should be another wake-up call for the USN. This is a formidable combatant...that again out-guns/out-sticks its rivals in the USN.  Watch for this to be mass produced over the next 5 years [with] numbers approaching a dozen at least.” Professor James Holmes, Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College, has made a similar argument regarding China’s coming superiority in submarine deployments.

With the Chinese Navy gaining in absolute numbers of naval combatants over the U.S., Fanell said, “a 350 ship navy that cannot engage and sink other nation’s warships is not acceptable.” The current USN of 276 ships is projected by President Trump to grow to 355. If achieved by 2035, 355 ships would cost $107 billion per year, every year, until 2047. According to Holmes, “We'll be lucky to break 300 ships by 2020, no matter what Congress does…. We have some old stuff we could recommission, but (unlike the Iowa class battleships in the 1980s) those ships already have an awful lot of mileage on the odometer.”


Type 001A, China's second aircraft carrier, is seen during a launch ceremony at Dalian shipyard in Dalian, northeast China's Liaoning Province, April 26, 2017. China has launched its first domestically designed and built aircraft carrier, state media said on April 26, as the country seeks to transform its navy into a force capable of projecting power onto the high seas. Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

China has plans to reach 351 ships by 2020, almost all of which will be concentrated in Asia. The U.S. will only devote about 60% of its Navy to the Pacific. That gives China the advantage in an Asian naval contest in 2020, with 351 Chinese ships against about 180 U.S. ships. Holmes points out that,

“Absolute numbers aren't everything. The Soviet Navy outnumbered us throughout the Cold War and we got by. We were better on a ship-for-ship basis than they were. Still, numbers are important. Plus, this isn't just a fleet-on-fleet competition. We're talking about a fraction of the U.S. Navy matching up against the whole of the PLA Navy backed by the PLA Air Force and the PLA Rocket Force -- i.e., the PLA Navy backed up by a large arsenal of land-based planes, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. That's a lot of firepower to supplement the PLA Navy fleet. That could be China's great equalizer even if we remain stronger on the whole.”

The next four years are a critical period of vulnerability for the U.S. Navy. China will have a bigger and more concentrated surface fleet in Asia than will the U.S., and it will be better armed. It is no surprise that China, which cares little for international law or the status quo, is risk-acceptant, and subscribes to the principle that might makes right, is taking advantage of its regional naval superiority to take territory in the South and East China seas with impunity. It is no surprise that our allies have cold feet and are hedging towards China with economic and security agreements. It is an avoidable tragedy of our own making. We have watched since the early 1990s while China made great economic and military strides, often with our stolen technology. Yet we have not sanctioned it for its failure to make progress on international common values, such as democracy and human rights, that would make it a responsible international partner in terms of peace and stability.


Now we are paying the price, starting in the South and East China seas. According to Holmes, China’s regional strength “probably does help explain their confidence in the China seas.” If the U.S. cannot convince China to back away from its militarization and territorial revanchism in Asia, we will be forced into a dangerous and costly arms race, Cold War brinkmanship, or even conventional preemptive strike, to stop China’s expansion. The only other option will be conceding more territory and relative military power that will eventually lose us any vestiges of global moral, military, and economic leadership that remain after failing and debilitating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and our general weakness against Russia and China’s territorial expansion. That will also lose us allies. It arguably already has.

China has given the U.S. a moment of truth. Will we take a stand, or continue our slide towards irrelevance? The U.S. is not the only country that needs to wake up. China is taking catastrophic risk with its growing militarism.

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