Militarisation of the South China Sea: The Offence-Defense Paradigm
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Issue Vol. 31.1 Jan-Mar 2016 | Date : 13 Jul , 2016

The map above indicates the area where China is reclaiming the reefs to build infrastructure for runways and berthing sites. A major airfield is being constructed on Fiery Cross Reef which would facilitate operation of Cargo, Surveillance, Fighters and Bomber aircraft.

While war between US and China is ruled out for multiple reasons, the military balance of power dictated by military strategy chosen has direct bearings on the political choices made by nation-states in the Asia-Pacific region. The balance of power between the US and China will decide the political evolution of the Asia-Pacific region in the coming years. The concept of ASB not only implicates a shift in military strategy but also the recipient of this strategy. If the Soviet Union was the imaginary adversary during the implementation of Air-Land Battle concept in the mid-1980s, the ASB concept is meant for contingencies with respect to China.

While it is analytically simple to gauge the ‘capability’ aspect of a military strategy, the ‘intent’ part of it remains elusive and requires careful study of various associated aspects of such a strategy and the relationship among them. After being first reported by Fox News1 and its later confirmation by Taiwan Defense Ministry and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who provided the rationale for such a move, it is now established that China has set up a pair of HQ-9 Air Defense Systems and supporting vehicles such as an engagement radar and the Type 305B AESA acquisition radar on Woody Island, part of the Paracel chain of islands in the South China Sea (SCS).2

The placement of the Air Defense System on Woody Island seems to have occurred between 03 February and 14 February when the batteries were first discovered by a commercial satellite3. It was further reported and confirmed that China had deployed fighter jets to the same contested island in the South China Sea. According to Fox News, US intelligence services had spotted Chinese Shenyang J-11 and Xian JH-7 warplanes on Woody Island in the disputed Paracel Islands. While confirming such reports, US Navy Captain Darryn James, the spokesman for US Pacific Command, stated that the fighter jets had previously used the Island.4

The immediate reason for China to initiate military build-up in the South China Sea, which has been an area of significant strategic concern, seems to be the series of ‘Freedom of Navigation’ (FoN) exercises conducted near the Spratley Islands by the United States Navy (USN). The United States mandates the US Navy to conduct FoN missions to contest any nation from claiming sovereignty on the high seas as this contradicts international maritime law and does so against its own allies such as Japan when it uses a straight baseline approach for demarcating its territorial seas. Upholding the rights to ‘Freedom of Navigation’ and innocent passage is central to US strategic concerns in the SCS. However, such concerns are derived from military logic contrary to the ideal of free trade and commerce. The true strategic intent behind upholding the idea of Freedom of Navigation and right to innocent passage as this analysis argues is an arrangement to facilitate the rapid deployment of naval forces across the maritime spaces without any hindrances offered by sovereignty on high seas by nations.

Upholding the rights to ‘Freedom of Navigation’ and innocent passage is central to US strategic concerns in the SCS…

Prior to the disclosure of Air Defense Systems on Woody Island, On November 23, 2013, China’s Ministry of National Defense (MoD) warranted Emergency Defensive Measures on aircraft that passed the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) announced by China. This ADIZ was the fourth to be announced in the region, after Japan (1969), Taiwan and South Korea, therefore, overlapping.5 China’s move was considered to be provocative and destabilising to the region. The United States administration chose to tag it ‘hypocritical’ and violated the Chinese ADIZ with two unarmed B-52 bombers. However, in the days that followed, the US advised its civilian aircraft to respect the ADIZ. The recent FoN missions conducted by the US Navy in the SCS, while suffice it to be a reason for deploying the HQ-9, it does not necessarily translate to being sufficient cause.

China’s Military Discomfort with US Air Sea Battle Concept

Since the early 1990s, after making note of serious improvements in capabilities that altered the conduct of warfare since the Falkland War and the Gulf War, the US initiated profound rethinking into its operational doctrines for warfighting.6 One of the major tasks of the Air-Sea Battle office was to optimise the role of aviation in resolving the complex issues regarding the movement of logistics through the vast expanse of ocean.

It is obvious that the reference here is to the Asia-Pacific region and US Pacific Command. The US Air Force (USAF) has between 43,000 and 46,000 airmen in the Pacific region. The USAF also has concentrated resources in the region, with 60 per cent of the stealthy F-22 Raptor fighter fleet deployed in and around the Pacific theatre anytime. The induction of jointly developed F-35 multi-role stealth fighters is likely to find its operational base in the Pacific theatre. Eight partner countries (Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom) are expected to purchase/induct the F-35, while Japan and Israel selected the F-35 through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process, and Israel and Singapore have invested in the F-35 at security co-operation partnerships.

In addition to this, a program to induct the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), expected to be in the same class as B-2 bombers, is underway. Despite budget pressures the LRS-B remains a top USAF acquisition priority. The bomber received $379 million (or billion?) in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) budget request and delivery is expected by 2020. The USAF is expected to procure 80 to 100 units at a total cost of $550 million. Another long range platform poised to play a central role is the High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) built by Northrop Grumman, known in the USAF as the RQ-4 Global Hawk and in the US Navy as MQ-4C Triton. These platforms can function at 52,800 ft and provide surveillance up to 2,000 nautical miles on round-the-clock missions.

Cyberspace and space-based capabilities are essential for US operations and are vulnerable to adversary capabilities…

By 2020, the US Navy expects to reach a fleet size of 295 ships in its battle force inventory. This includes 11 Aircraft Carriers, 87 Large Surface combatants (comprising 15 Cruisers, 69 Arleigh Burke-Class 59 Destroyers, and three Zumwalt Class DDG 1000 Destroyers), 37 Small Surface Combatants (comprising 27 Littoral Combat Ships and ten Mine Countermeasure Vessels), 49 Attack Submarines, four Cruise Missile submarines, 14 Ohio Class Ballistic Missile Submarines, 31 Amphibious Warships (including ten Amphibious Assault Ships), 11 Landing Platform Dock Ships, ten Landing Ship Docks, 29 Combat Logistics Vessels, and 33 Support Vessels, Four Mobile Landing Platforms MPDT-AKE and two Afloat Forward Staging Base Ships. In 2016, the US Navy will accept the delivery of new Ford class aircraft carrier which will operate the F-35 Cs.

According to Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, the Pentagon’s fiscal 2017 request included around $3 billion in A2/AD technology development as part of the third offset strategy with a heavy focus of military technologies that would be key in defeating systems like HQ-9 in the event of direct conflict.7 The military requirement here will be to launch offensive strike weapons while staying out of roughly 125-mile radius of the missile systems or relying on stealthy planes such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to penetrate protected airspace.

Doctrinal Lineage: Air Sea Battle

The Air Land Battle concept adopted in the 1970s and 1980s was a limited version of the present day Air Sea Battle concept. According to the official (declassified) summary of the classified Air Sea Battle concept by Air Sea Battle Office (May 2013), the Air Land Battle concept sought to use the Air Force in ‘Degradation of Rear Echelon’ over a land domain before an adversary (the Soviet Union) could engage its allied forces. The Air Sea Battle concept is similarly designed to attack-in-depth, but instead of focusing on the land domain from the air, the concept describes integrated operations across all five domains (air, land, sea, space and cyberspace) to create advantage.8 In further clarification on the difference between the two, the document stresses that the Air Sea Battle concept includes defense of its own ‘rear echelon’ across the same domains.

Air-Land Battle (1970s) Stopping the advancing Warsaw Pact armies was the focus of the US Army and the US Navy during the Cold War.
Air-Sea Battle (2013) Overcoming Anti-Access(A2)/Area-Denial(AD) is the new focus of the US Air Force and the US Navy.

Doctrinal Objectives

According to USN Vice Admiral Mark Fox, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Plans and Strategy (N3/N5), Head of the Air-Sea Battle Executive Committee, at an operational level, the Air Sea Battle concept intends to get the services thinking more jointly so that, for example, a Naval ship could use data from an Army ground radar to guide an Air Force aircraft to engage a target.

According to Major General James Holmes, the Air Sea Battle concept is not just about acquisition of new platforms and systems but also integration of already existing systems. Its objectives are to realise a seamless flow of real time data between the US Navy and the USAF. This concept, therefore, has a profound impact on how wars will be fought and requires transformation at both quantitative and qualitative levels. It is expected that like the Air Land Battle concept which was conceptualised in the 1970s, and achieved its mature operational status in the 1980s, the Air Sea Battle concept has some way to go before it is realised at the operational level.

The ASB’s vision of Networked, Integrated and Attack-in-depth (NIA) operations requires the application of cross-domain operations…

According to the Chairman of the House Armed Service Committee’s Sea power and Projection Forces Sub-committee, Congressman J. Randy Forbes, within the current climate of cutting defense budgets, the US was light years away from putting together the materials required to operationalise the Air-Sea Battle concepts. The Air-Sea Battle concept also focuses on finding new Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) for integrating existing capabilities between the services as opposed to developing new systems.

Cause-Affect Analysis

The fundamental ‘cause’ culminating into ‘effect’ – Air Sea battle Concept – requires subtle clarification. The obvious ‘cause’ seems to be the enhanced capabilities of some nations in carrying out A2/AD operations (China, Iran). However, upon closer examination, this ‘cause’ (A2/AD – capabilities) has an ‘effect’, and it is this ‘effect’ that culminates into fundamental ‘cause’ of the Air Sea Battle. Therefore, the ‘effect’ of enhanced A2/AD capabilities on the US and its ‘expeditionary operations’ is what matters.

According to the Air Sea Battle Office (May, 2013), “A2/AD capabilities and strategies to employ them combine to make US power projection increasingly risky, and in some cases, prohibitive, while enabling near-peer competitors and regional powers to extend their coercive strength well beyond their borders. In the most challenging scenarios, the US may be unable to employ forces the way it has in the past; build up combat power in an area, perform detailed rehearsals and integration activities, and then conduct operations when and where desired. By acquiring these advanced A2/AD technologies, potential adversaries are changing the conditions of warfare that the US has become accustomed to in the past half century.”

From an analytical perspective, the ‘centre of gravity’ of this contradictory tension between – A2/AD capabilities and Air Sea Battle concept – seems to be each other. Both these constitute the ‘cause-effect’ relation to each other. However, a system approach suggests that the ‘centre of gravity’ in this tension is perhaps, “long distance power projection under degraded environment.” The Air Sea Battle concept is not to counter (perhaps, is!) the enhanced capabilities of A2/AD strategy, but to sustain and maintain a similar (as in the past – absence of A2/AD) ability to project power over long distance, even within a degraded environment. The ‘centre of gravity’ therefore, is ‘power-projection’.

According to the Air Sea Battle Office9 (May, 2013), “The range and scale of possible effects from these capabilities presents a military problem that threatens the US and allied expeditionary warfare model of power projection and manoeuvre.”

Air Sea Battle – Conceptual Framework

Five recently approved revisions (doctrinal) include Joint Publication (JP) 3–03, Joint Interdiction, JP 3–05.1, Joint Special Operations Task Force Operations, JP 3–15, Barriers, Obstacles, and Mine Warfare Operations, JP 3–35, Deployment and Redeployment Operations, and JP 3–60, Joint Targeting.10

ADIZ is a reflection of China’s increased confidence in projecting power and claiming sovereign ideals in nearby seas…

Key assumptions held by Air-Sea (ASB) Battle Doctrine (Official)

The adversary will initiate military activities with little or no indications or warning; the implications are that a short warning timeline requires the US to maintain ready forces that are routinely integrated and prepared to conduct high risk operations against very capable adversaries.

Forward friendly forces will be in the A2/AD environment at the commencement of hostilities; the steady state posture and capabilities of forces must be able to provide an immediate and effective response to adversary A2/AD attacks through high tempo operations in the A2/AD environment. Additional forces introduced into the threat environment should be able to promptly integrate into the existing force posture.

Third, adversaries will attack the US and allied territory supporting operations against adversary forces. In addition to attacking American aircraft, ships, space assets, networks and people, denying access to US forces requires attacks on bases from which the US and its allies are operating including those on allied or partner territory. The implication is that the defense of all bases from which US forces operate must be addressed, whether on US or partner/allied territory. Even the US homeland cannot be considered a sanctuary.

Fourth, all domains will be contested by an adversary – space, cyberspace, air, maritime and land. Cyberspace and space-based capabilities are essential for US operations and are vulnerable to adversary capabilities with a low barrier to entry such as computer network attack and electronic jamming. Since the adversary may employ a multi-domain approach, the ASB must defend and respond in each warfighting domain.

No domain can be completely ceded to the adversary. Each domain can be used to impact and deny access to the others, so to cede one domain to an adversary invites the eventual loss of the other interdependent domains. While US forces may contest freedom of action in each domain, they are not likely to be required to achieve control in each domain simultaneously or to the same degree. As such, US forces must take advantage of freedom of action in one domain to create US advantage or challenge an adversary in another. This will require tightly coordinated actions across domains using integrated forces able to operate in each domain.

ASB is a supporting concept to the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) and provides a detailed view of specific technological and operational aspects of the overall A2/AD challenge in the global commons. The Concept is not an operational plan or strategy for a specific region or adversary. The ASB Concept’s solution to the A2/AD challenge in the global commons is to develop Networked, Integrated forces capable of Attack-in-depth to Disrupt, Destroy and Defeat (NIA/D3) adversary forces.

The ASB’s vision of Networked, Integrated and Attack-in-depth (NIA) operations requires the application of cross-domain operations across all the interdependent war fighting domains (air, maritime, land, space and cyberspace to Disrupt, Destroy and Defeat (D3) A2/AD capabilities and provide maximum operational advantage to friendly joint and coalition forces. In the ASB Concept, networked actions are tightly coordinated in real time by mission-organised forces to conduct integrated operations across all domains without being locked into service-specific procedures, tactics, or weapons systems. Attack-in-depth to Disrupt, Destroy and Defeat and D3 represents the three lines of effort of the ASB Concept:

ASB is the reflection of US vulnerability brought about by its inability to project power in faraway lands (or seas) to defend the Freedom of Navigation…

  • Disrupt Adversary Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR or C4I).
  • Destroy adversary A2/AD platforms and weapons systems.
  • Defeat adversary employed weapons and formations.

In order to ensure freedom of access in the global commons, the ASB Concept is intended to foster future capabilities that directly support several of the U.S. Armed Forces primary missions described in the DOD’s Strategic Guidance (DSG): Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. These include missions to Deter and Defeat Aggression, Project Power Despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges, and to Operate Effectively in Cyberspace and Space.

Primary Missions of the Us Armed Forces

  • Counter Terrorism and Irregular Warfare
  • Deter and Defeat Aggression
  • Project Power despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges
  • Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Operate Effectively in Cyberspace and Space
  • Maintain a Safe, Secure and Effective Nuclear Deterrent
  • Defend Homeland and Provide Support to Civil Authorities
  • Provide a Stabilising Presence
  • Conduct Stability and Counterinsurgency Operations
  • Conduct Humanitarian, Disaster Relief and Other Operations

The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff’s force development vision detailed in the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations: Joint Force 2020 (CCJO), JOAC, and the emerging Joint Concept for Entry Operations (JCEO) describes the future operating environment and the high-order vision for how the future force will be needed to conduct Globally Integrated Operations across the Range of Military Operations (ROMO). The ASB Concept views the joint force in a holistic way to include Doctrine, Organisation, Training, Material, Leadership, Personnel and Facilities (DOTMLPF) within the Services’ purview to organise, train and equip.

The ASB Concept specifically addresses a range of threats such as ballistic and cruise missiles, sophisticated integrated air defense systems, anti-ship capabilities from high-tech missiles and submarines to low-tech swarming boats, electronic warfare and counter-C4ISR capabilities. Yet, the ASB Concept differs from other concepts because, while it contains the operational details needed in a limited objective concept, it is about fostering institutional change, conceptual alignment and materiel change in and among the Services. In late 2011, the Secretary of Defense endorsed the ASB Concept as a necessary first step to address the Anti-Access, Area Denial challenge and directed the services to work further to develop the Concept. To this end, the Services established a multi-service; flag level ASB Executive Committee (EXCOM), Senior Steering Group (SSG), and supporting staff charged with implementing the Concept. This plan describes the recommended processes and actions to develop forces and enhance military capabilities necessary to counter current and future A2/AD challenges, using 2020 as the objective year.

Both ADIZ and ASB are mechanisms to cope with the shifting reality of the present strategic situation…

Tracing the Genealogy

The history of warfare is testimony to the indisputable fact that there is ever-present and ongoing quest to seek offence-defense balance in one’s favor.11 Offence and defense while treated in compartments, share a complex dialectical relationship. The thin line that differentiates the two, if displaced, makes the assessment blurred. For example, all acts of War can be coded as ‘defensive’ or ‘offensive’, if ‘time’ is treated as a variable in each case. Alexander’s offence on Persian ports was inherently an act of Greek defense against the Persian navy. Similarly, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was a defensive action against possible US naval operations in the East Pacific theatre. Even in modern warfare, the deep penetration strikes carried out by the USAF in Iraq are a defensive measure to the follow on land offence.

In order to interpret this current strategic environment, where concepts such as ADIZ and ASB are in vogue, the following key factors that shape the present environment require attention:

The present strategic environment is marked by the presence of post-colonial nation states with enhanced military power that new independent countries have now which lends them the capability and intent to uphold and defend their sovereignty.

The relative decline of colonial powers in upholding and defending their colonies and the values therein. The inability to project power in maintaining freedom of access to global commons.

From this perspective, both ADIZ and ASB are mechanisms to cope with the shifting reality of the present strategic situation. While ADIZ is a reflection of China’s increased confidence in projecting power and claiming sovereign ideals in nearby seas, ASB is the reflection of US vulnerability brought about by its inability to project power in faraway lands (or seas) to defend the Freedom of Navigation in global commons. This strategic reality is marked by the true and natural concerns of each. It is a mechanism to cope with the existing reality and in that sense, must not construe surprise. A historical framework further clarifies this situation.

Looking back into the future: South China Sea

The present condition though has lineage with the industrial revolution and the colonial empire building process by industrial powers since the fifteenth century is of recent origin. With end of World War II, given the relative decline in the ability of colonial powers to control their dominions, new independent nation-states were born, which for the first time, began exercising their sovereign rights. This contracted the total strategic space among colonial powers. For the first time, the number of claimants for global commons increased exponentially and their ability to defend these rights increased with proliferation of modern armament and its auxiliary. With this shift in strategic situation, a mechanism to incorporate new nation states and yet maintaining lost strategic space was initiated. The most verifiable example in this regard happens to be United Nations Convention on Laws of Sea (UNCLOS 1982). This third conference on Laws of Sea, exhibited this phenomenon, where new laws governing the global common at sea were agreed by multiple nations. While its intent was to put in motion a certain mechanism to avoid clashes of interest among nations, with respect to usage of sea, it had a limiting effect on the sovereignty concerns of newly independent states and their latest naval capability to claim these rights.

The accepted practice is the 12-nautical mile limit for ‘territorial sea’ and 200 nautical miles for Exclusive Economic Zone…

In this regard, certain ‘key concepts’ need to be grasped in order to comprehend the nature of the South China Sea disputes. These concepts make for the ‘principle’ for justifying claims by different claimants and are key to the disputes. The concepts on maritime boundary are unlike land boundaries for they are not demarcated; they are marked on the charts and it is the responsibility of the navigator to ensure that they are not violated. Land is mostly owned by single state or at most, disputed between two states; however oceans are parceled out among many states. Each state can exercise its will in exploring the resources on high seas and therefore likely to involve in competition with each other without an overriding authority. This makes ‘international law’ a key determinant of maritime affairs.12

The limit of a state’s control over the ocean, to a great extent, depends on the capacity of its fleet and fishing vessels. It was not until the end of the sixteenth century that the question of states’ rights to adjacent water developed into a legal pursuit.13 By the beginning of the seventeenth century, ‘sovereignty’ over water just as they had over land began to be contemplated. The ‘shore-domination principle’ in the early eighteenth century tended to reflect a concept of ‘sea-sovereignty’ premised on the fact that since sea belonged to all, domination of adjacent seas, as far as a cannon could throw a shot, was reasonable and could be conceded to those who owned the shore. In effect, it meant that a coastal state should exercise sovereignty over that part of the adjacent sea which it could command by means of guns mounted on the shore came to be generally accepted. However, Great Britain preferred the concept of ‘contiguous belt of equal width’, which was favoured by others as well. This width was settled at three-nautical-miles, and was based on the range of artillery of the eighteenth century.

This system began malfunctioning during the post-colonial period when many nation-states emerged and began claiming their territorial waters. The ‘contiguous belt of equal width’ ensured ‘Freedom of Navigation’ over a large part of the water surface of the earth as possible. Claims to territorial seas through the principle of ‘contiguous belt’ limits the better exploitation of new independent countries and safeguard their national interests effectively and puts in direct conflict with their erstwhile colonial masters, who prefer maximum area of high seas for ‘Freedom of Navigation’ to protect their commerce, which happens to be their national interest. This is the crux of the conflict between erstwhile colonial powers and their subjects in modern times. This equation is clear and present in the context of the South China Sea. This contradiction between the concepts ‘Freedom of Navigation’ and ‘sovereignty’ adhered to in various forms by different nations in the SCS region drives the dispute.

The United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS I) first held in Geneva in 1958 to discuss the problems arising out of unilateral claims by a great number of newly independent nation-states which tended to threaten: (a) freedom of navigation in high seas and (b) freedom of innocent passage across international straits. The UNCLOS I codified most of what had developed in the field since its earliest days.

The following is a brief chronology of the developments in this field:

1945 The United States extended its claims to the wealth of the continental shelf through the Truman Declaration.
1952 Three prominent Pacific coastal states of Latin America-Chile, Peru and Ecuador-issued the Declaration of Santiago, claiming exclusive fishing rights to a line some 200 nautical miles from their coasts.
1958 The United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS I) was first held in Geneva in 1958 to discuss the problems arising out of unilateral claims by a great number of newly independent nation-states which tended to threaten:(a) freedom of navigation in high seas and(b) freedom of innocent passage across the international straits.
1960 The number of states claiming three-nautical-mile limit declined though not very sharply but the number of states claiming a 12-mile limit increased.UNCLOS II was held in Geneva without producing any concrete resolution.
1965 The signing of the United Nations Convention on the Transit Trade of Landlocked States in 1965 at the New York was a significant development in the sense that the geographical disadvantaged states acquired for themselves the right to approach the sea through their neighbors’ territories.
1971 Latin American States (which included Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Panama, Nicaragua and El Salvador) claimed the 200-mile limit either as territorial sea or for the exclusive fishing rights. India sought for 100 mile limit for fishing.
1973 UNCLOS III commenced in New York.
1974 UNCLOS III had its first working session.
1982 The UNCLOS III concluded with the signing of the convention.
1984 159 states signed the UNCLOS III convention and was ratified by 14 countries.

In given times, the accepted practice is the 12-nautical mile limit for ‘territorial sea’ and 200 nautical miles for Exclusive Economic Zone. However, this practice limits the concept of ‘freedom of navigation’. For example, while both Indonesia and Malaysia adhere to the 12 nautical mile limit for the ‘territorial sea’, if practiced, blocks the Malacca Strait entirely. In the past, when this was attempted, both the United States and the Soviet Union had threatened the use of force.

The practice of the 200 nautical mile limit would make one-third of the sea non-navigable. This intervenes with the national interests of those nations that bank on maritime trade. South China Sea in this regard handles nearly one-third of all international shipping. The practice of the concept of ‘sovereignty’ or extended ‘territorial sea’ limits would affect maritime trade which banks on ‘Freedom of Navigation’ and innocent passage. Therefore, the disputes in South China Sea have historical legacy to it and admit the continuation of colonial domination by core states in Asia, with strategic necessity to preserve freedom of navigation. In terms of its impact on grand strategy, this issue is crucial in deciding the balance of power between core states (colonial powers, erstwhile) and periphery states (colonies, erstwhile e.g. India and China).

The PRC supposedly seeks a defensive approach, whereas the US approach is based on offensive doctrines…

Given the nature of the problem in hand in the SCS, the assessment of the following development will help gauge the future direction and nature of the problem. The problem has become crucial in many ways in deciding the fate of future international politics, for a simple reason that littoral nations of the SCS have now acquired or in the process of building up naval power. For the first time, this complicates the equation held so far, for these nations now are in a position to optimise the use of the sea for national development. The previous methods of handling sea, seems to limit this option in many ways. This contradiction is likely to play a role in determining the nature of future conflicts.

India and China will order 100 new naval ships and submarines each by 2032 due to the changing global security environment and increasing reliance on maritime trade in the strategic region. The new orders would include nuclear and conventional submarines and new aircraft carriers, a balanced mix of destroyers, frigates, smaller units, amphibious and logistics vessels, Coast Guard and maritime patrol forces.14 The combined order of the two countries would account for 30 per cent by volume and 45 per cent by value of the 1,048 naval vessels, worth about $200 billion, to be ordered by the Asia Pacific countries in next 20 years. “The Asia Pacific submarine investment is significant, with 100 to be ordered over 20 years, making it the single region buying more submarines than anywhere else in the world.”15

Comparatively, the US was projected to order 453 naval vessels, or about 14 per cent of the global orders between 2012 and 2032. South Korea, Japan and Australia were expected to acquire 220 new vessels worth $62 billion during the next 20 years. Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam were also active in the market with the new ship and submarine acquisition. Asia Pacific’s increasing trade, increasing reliance on maritime trade and positive economic growth provide the funds for naval investments.

India’s Scorpene procurement and follow-on P-75 submarine programme remain the centrepiece of the region’s largest confirmed spender on new submarine capability. The launch of the indigenous Arihant nuclear submarine also marks a long-awaited next step in India’s development as a global navy. Meanwhile, China was forecast to add 16 conventional and nuclear powered hulls to the fleet over the next five years, the most number of new hulls of any Asia Pacific navy for that period. China’s submarine procurements are also influencing other navies in the region to fill submarine and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capability gaps, notably in Vietnam, where the first of six new conventional submarines from Russia are expected to become operational within the next 12 months.

Conclusion: The Game

The United States (US) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have based their approach on their unique military potential and limitations. At the moment, the PRC supposedly seeks a defensive approach, whereas the US approach is based on offensive doctrines. It is true for the evolution of warfare where the means of defense move in a parallel line and at about the same speed as those of offense.16 This approach is not necessarily a reflection of intent but of compulsions, constraints and limitations.

China is faced with the growing interest of US government policy – pivot to Asia – where it is believed that the next prime focus of US would be the Asia-Pacific which is now understood to be the next area for geo-political competition and this attention to the Asia-Pacific is primarily due to the evolving nature of the PRC’s growth – political and military. China’s imposition of the ADIZ and the US implementation of the ASB concept, indicate the varying approaches towards this new emerging reality in the Asia-Pacific.

The ASB concept, like its predecessor the Air-Land Battle concept is a ‘military strategy’ classified as a manoeuvre-based strategy. While the Air-Land Battle concept was designed to meet the challenge posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it was operationalised during the Gulf War. The US armed forces were designed to fight Soviet-equipped centrally directed forces. Not surprisingly, the equipment and doctrine developed to confront the Warsaw Pact did very well against Iraq.17

China has taken a serious note of this military strategy of the US and begun a multi-level transformation in its armed forces. This includes force restructuring, operational art, doctrines, training and organisational re-design. It has also been ascertained that manoeuvre-based military strategy enhances the ability of a nation in seeking military solutions to political problems. This is so since a manoeuvre-based strategy is designed to achieve quick victory by initiating war and reducing the duration of war and therefore, lucrative at the hands of policy makers who seek military solutions.18

While war between US and China is ruled out for multiple reasons, the military balance of power dictated by military strategy chosen has direct bearings on the political choices made by nation-states in the Asia-Pacific region. The balance of power between the US and China will decide the political evolution of the Asia-Pacific region in the coming years.19 The concept of ASB not only implicates a shift in military strategy but also the recipient of this strategy. If the Soviet Union was the imaginary adversary during the implementation of Air-Land Battle concept in the mid-1980s, the ASB concept is meant for contingencies with respect to China. The following factors dominate the strategic approach of the US towards the Asia-Pacific and China in the twenty-first century:

  • China’s assertive role in defending its territorial claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
  • Regulation of foreign military activity in China’s 200-mile maritime Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
  • Countering US influence protecting China’s Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC).

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China’s strategy seems to nullify the offensive deployment of the US Air Force and US Navy within a Joint Command Structure. In order to do so, China seeks for itself, a joint operational doctrine with a unified command structure.20 While China is attempting to implement this strategy at nearby seas, the US is doing the same, far away from its shores. Both these developments are a reflection of International Law which the highlights the anarchical nature of the current geo-political environment.

The deployment of HQ-9 Air Defense Systems in the South China Sea allows China to further discourage a potential adversary (US-NATO) from projecting its offensive military power. However, while the present deployment does not necessarily convert into a threat for the US Navy in the SCS, it sets precedence for being so in the future.


1. Philip Sherwell and Jennifer Pak (2016), “China Sends Missiles to Contested South China Sea” The Telegraph, 17 February, 2016. Available at

2. Aaron Mehta (2016), “China’s HQ-9 Missile Placement Underlines Pentagon Focus on A2/AD” Defense News, 19 February, 2016. Available at

3. Aaron Mehta (2016), “China’s HQ-9 Missile Placement Underlines Pentagon Focus on A2/AD” Defense News, 19 February, 2016. Available at

4. “Beijing deploys fighter jet in South China Sea” The Hindu, 25 February, 2016. Available at [Accessed on 28 February, 2016]

5. “China says jets to be scrambled only when ‘real threat’ in zone” Shanghai Daily, 4 December 2013. p. A3. Also Mattis Peter (2013), “China East China Sea ADIZ: Framing Japan to Help Washington Understand” China Brief, Volume 13, Issue: 24; Jamestown Foundation: Global Research and Analysis; November 27, 2013. Here the author claims that an escalating political rhetoric (“crisis language”) which precedes any Chinese use of force decision since 1949 has been missing in this particular case. Except a PLA Daily report no language of warning has been used in announcing ADIZ in East China Sea.

6. Finkelstein David and Mulvenon James (Ed) (2005), China’s Revolution in Doctrinal Affairs: Emerging Trends in the Operational Art of Chinese People’s Liberation Army, The CAN Corporation: Alexandria, Virginia.

7. Aaron Mehta (2016), “China’s HQ-9 Missile Placement Underlines Pentagon Focus on A2/AD” Defense News, 19 February, 2016. Available at

8. “AIR-SEA BATTLE-Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access and Area Denial Challenges”, Air Sea Battle Office, May, 2013. This document is the declassified summary of the original classified document drafted jointly by Department of Army, Department of Navy (United States Marine Corps), Department of Navy, and Department of Air Force, United States of America.

9. The document defines the problem as “Adversary capabilities to deny access to US forces are becoming increasingly advanced and adaptive. These A2/AD capabilities challenge US freedom of action by causing US forces to operate with higher levels of risk and freedom of action by shaping the A2/AD environment to enable concurrent or follow on operation. “AIR-SEA BATTLE-Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access and Area Denial Challenges”, Air Sea Battle Office, May, 2013. p.3.

10. For access to joint publications, go to the Joint Doctrine, Education, and Training Electronic Information System Web portal at ( users only). For those without access to .mil accounts please go the Joint Electronic Library Web portal at

11. Michael S. Neiberg (2001), Warfare in World History, Routledge: London.

12. China and ASEAN is currently contemplating such a formulation of “code of conduct” in disputed South China Sea.

13. Early in the seventeenth century the famous Dutch lawyer Hugo Grotius, in his famous Mare Liberum argued that “no state could control and rule the open sea”. Sudeepta Adhikari (1997), Political Geography, Rawat Publications: Jaipur (India).p.227.

14. Bob Nugent, Vice-President of AMI International, International Maritime Defense Exhibition & Conference, May 14-16, 2013

15. “India, China to order 100 naval ships each by 2032: Report”, Indian Express, 13 May, 2013.

16. Ashbrook Linsoln (1951), “The United States Navy and the Rise of the Doctrine of Air Power” Military Affairs, Vol.15, No.3 (Autumn.,1951), pp.145-156

17. Review by Gregory Fontenot (1999), “Desert Storm: A Forgotten War by Alberto Bin; Richard Hill; Archer Jones” Journal of Military History, Vol.63, No.4 (Oct., 1999), pp 1051-1052.

18. Reiter, Dan (1999), “Military Strategy and the Outbreak of International Conflict: Quantitative Empirical Tests, 1903-1992” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol.43, No.3 (Jun., 1999), pp 336-387.

19. Ronald O’ Rourke (2013), “China Naval Modernization: Implications for US Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress” Congressional Research Service, 7-5700:RL33153. March 21, 2013

20. The three coastal Military Regions (MRs) of Jinan, Nanjing and Guangzhou will be merged into a single Joint Forces Command (JFC) dealing with the maritime theatres of the Yellow, East China, and South China Seas. A further two JFCs will be created from the existing Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou and Chengdu MRs. The Chinese defense ministry has denied the formation of a joint operational command. This reorganization, however, continues a trend of aggregation: the 13 MRs established in 1948 were reduced to 11 in 1969, and then to seven in 1987. Yoon Sukjoon (2014), “Is Xi Jinping Reshaping the PLA?” RSIS Commentaries. NOTE:

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Dr Sundaram Rajasimman

is with Jilin University, People’s Republic of China.

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