Panel: China Planning a ‘Go Big, Go Early’ Strategy Against Taiwan

While it’s unclear what lessons Chinese military planners are learning from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they learned to “go big and go early” from America’s quick victory in the first Gulf War, a panel of defense analysts agreed Thursday. It’s a strategy the Chinese could use against Taiwan. Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the […]

While it’s unclear what lessons Chinese military planners are learning from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they learned to “go big and go early” from America’s quick victory in the first Gulf War, a panel of defense analysts agreed Thursday.

It’s a strategy the Chinese could use against Taiwan.

Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said if the Chinese don’t win early on they’ll see their cross-strait invasion become “very messy, very quickly.” He added it would “become a slog,” as the Russian drive on Kyiv became. Later, Clark added he didn’t expect China to have the same “nuts and bolts failures” that the Russians have experienced in logistics and command in Ukraine.

Matthew Costlow, a senior analyst at the National Institute for Public Policy, said a key to the defense of Taiwan and deterring Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific is denying Beijing’s “hopes of … an easy asymmetric victory.” Critical to doing that is Guam, a U.S. territory, and America’s allies and partners.

China has seen how European allies and partners have rallied to Ukraine’s support in sending military and humanitarian aid and “the international backlash” imposed on the Kremlin following the invasion. The backlash included harsher and more targeted sanctions against Russian financial and political elites since Moscow launched the unprovoked attack.

“Guam reduces the tyranny of distance” as a logistics and operational hub for the United States in the vast Indo-Pacific. It raises “the prospects of a long-drawn out conflict” for China if Beijing opts for military action in the region.

Patty-Jane Geller, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said “It’s certainly worth the investment” to beef up Guam’s defenses and to address the island’s missile defense requirements against long-range attack. “China is already building more missiles” to get its way in the Indo-Pacific, regardless of whether the U.S. builds up defenses on Guam or even if Washington pulls back from the U.S. territory to a further removed operational and logistics hub.

Guam hosts a major naval support facility and Anderson Air Force Base, which is capable of handling U.S. long-range bombers.

The defense of Guam is actually “related to homeland missile defense,” Costlow said. Clark said an attack on the island should be taken in the same way as an attack on Hawaii or the West Coast would be in Washington and Beijing needs to understand that, particularly if it is threatening the use of nuclear weapons.

This was a message Adm. Phil Davidson stressed during his tenure as the top commander in the Indo-Pacific and has continued advocating since he retired. Adm. John Aquilino, the current commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, has also emphasized that a missile defense system for Guam is his top unfunded priority.

“We have our citizens to defend” on Guam, Geller said, adding the U.S. public in North America must understand that. This emphasis on “our citizens” sends a clear signal to allies that the region is important to the United States.

There are limits to the missile defense of Guam, Hawaii and North America, the panel agreed.

Costlow added he totally rejects the idea that “if there is one leaker the missile defense has failed.”

Clark and the others said the reality of cruise, hypersonic or ballistic missile attacks or missiles launched from bombers point out the need to disperse operations on the island and also distributing forces. Other facilities across the region – like Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, the Northern Mariana Islands and northern Australia – in a long campaign with China and the defense of Taiwan take on new importance. He added part of a campaign is to show potential adversaries and allies what options are available to defend national interests – hypersonic missiles, directed energy, forward presence and training with forces in places like Taiwan.

There is “a range of active and passive defenses we can take,” Costlow said. “You can make Guam more resilient” and have other bases for operations when the island is down.

Coast Guard Struggling with Southern California ‘Costal Awareness Gap’ as Maritime Smuggling Rises

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Grappling with a rise in maritime smuggling in recent years off Southern California, Coast Guard Sector San Diego officials have reached out to the tech industry for ideas and products that will close gaps in and expand maritime domain awareness. “We’ve faced a major increase in smuggling,” Capt. Tim Barelli, commander […]

A crew member from the Coast Guard Cutter Munro stands watch over seized contraband during a drug offload from the cutter in Alameda, California, March 23, 2021. US Coast Guard Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Grappling with a rise in maritime smuggling in recent years off Southern California, Coast Guard Sector San Diego officials have reached out to the tech industry for ideas and products that will close gaps in and expand maritime domain awareness.

“We’ve faced a major increase in smuggling,” Capt. Tim Barelli, commander of Sector San Diego, told an audience on the first day of WEST, a three-day defense industry conference hosted by USNI and Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. Incidents of smuggling have doubled, year over year, in the past three years, “and I’m doing that with the same amount of people, same amount of helicopters and same amount of small boats. So that is my biggest challenge.”

Barelli said he is hoping that advances in technologies, to include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems that can continually collect and generate information and intelligence, will close what he calls “a coastal awareness gap.”

“It’s a term we’ve coined at Sector San Diego to mean that there is a challenge to fully understand and see the maritime domain and have that awareness of what’s going on” offshore and then to be able to address it, he said.

That gap isn’t about not having enough people or helicopters or patrol boats.

“I want to optimize my existing resources better,” said Barelli, a naval aviator and helicopter pilot by training. Existing networks of sensors help provide that picture of what’s happening offshore, and the Department of Defense – to include the San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet and its ships and aircraft – “is a key partner in this awareness of closing the coastal awareness gap,” he said.
“What I need is the ability to use ISR, the ability to use the latest technology, to see what’s going on offshore” and optimize the capabilities of Coast Guard crews and their boats and aircraft to “get a better picture of what’s going on offshore,” he added. Then, “I can see those sources of maritime disorder and address it.”

Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750) crewmembers inspect a low-profile semi-submersible in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean Aug. 14, 2020. US Coast Guard Photo

Last year, Sector San Diego developed the Southern California (SoCal) Maritime Domain Awareness Innovation Cell that’s something of an “umbrella” for demonstrations of existing technologies and ideas. “We partner (and) try to fuse together industry, academia and other DoD and federal partners to use an existing technology that’s out there and incorporate it into operations that I can control at the sector level,” he said.

While he has no acquisition authorities, Barelli said his message to companies is: “If you want to test out your technology, I have a place where we can incorporate your technology into an existing operation to really determine if it’s useful or it’s not.”

The MDA initiative earned the sector an award from the National Maritime Intelligence Office for the effort “to coalesce tech industry, sensor operations, the national defense industrial complex and academia into this entity at the local level,” Barelli said. “We are trying to make change at the local level that is having national implications – and it’s working.”

Promising, new tech can’t come soon enough for the San Diego sector, which stretches 80 miles north from the U.S.-Mexico border and 200 miles to the west. The sea corridors busy with commercial shipping, military training and fishing and recreational vessels also see an increasing amount of smugglers moving illicit drugs, contraband and people into the U.S.

“There is a threat – a persistent threat – of illicit activity going on from south to north,” Barelli said.

Three cartels are battling over control in Tijuana, a heavily populated area just across the land border that’s grappling with record-high murder rates. Greater enforcement along the U.S. land border has prompted cartels to use the open ocean to ferry drugs, including methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, contraband and smuggle people. Coast Guard units have encountered mini-submarines used to move drugs, pangas overloaded with people, drugs or both and recreational boats carrying illicit cargoes that blend in among other traffic on San Diego waters.

Coastguardsmen with Law Enforcement Detachment 407 (LEDET) offloads 11,400 pounds of cocaine and 9,000 pounds of marijuana in San Diego, Feb. 1, 2021. US Coast Guard Photo

Often, those smuggling attempts end deadly. Last year, a panga carrying 33 people capsized in the waters near the entrance to San Diego Bay. Three people died in the incident. The boat captain was arrested and prosecuted.

“Every smuggling event that is going offshore is a safety-of-life issue,” Barelli said, and not only a law enforcement at sea issue. Smugglers often pack the vessels, “one person per foot” of length, and the vessel often is not equipped to handle the weight and lacks any protection from the elements and weather out at sea.

Barelli showed the audience photos of smuggling vessels interdicted by the Coast Guard or found often empty ashore. He recounted one case last year where a crew member on a chartered fishing boat 90 miles off the coast noticed a light moving in the distance. The radar showed no vessels nearby. The boat’s lights soon shone on a panga, “broken down and adrift, 90 miles from shore,” with 20 or so people aboard.

“This is what keeps me awake at night,” he said.

Top Stories 2021: Coast Guard

This post is part of a series looking back at the top naval stories from 2021. The past year saw a shift in the Coast Guard, as the maritime service focused on retention, its global presence and new partnerships with the Marines and the Navy. In his third “State of the Coast Guard,” Adm. Karl Schultz […]

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz speaks to the attendees at the commissioning of the USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC-1145) in Philadelphia on Oct. 15, 2021. Coast Guard Photo

This post is part of a series looking back at the top naval stories from 2021.

The past year saw a shift in the Coast Guard, as the maritime service focused on retention, its global presence and new partnerships with the Marines and the Navy.

In his third “State of the Coast Guard,” Adm. Karl Schultz spoke about the demand for the Coast Guard both at home and overseas.

Schultz signed the 2020 Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, also signed by Marine Corps and Navy leaders, which noted the Coast Guard’s global expansion.

Partnerships with Navy and Marines

Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Adak (WBP-1333), right, approaches amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) to conduct an underway refueling in the Persian Gulf on Feb. 13, 2021. US Army Photo

Under the 2020 Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, the Navy’s priority would be controlling the seas, while the Marine Corps focused on increased expeditionary combat power. The Coast Guard’s role would be its focus on more overseas outreach.

In 2021, the Coast Guard sent an attache to the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, with another attache planned to be sent to Singapore in 2022.

The changes in the Coast Guard and the Marines might change how the two forces partner together, Shultz said.

That partnership will likely be helped by the force’s growing National Security Cutter fleet, which can do patrols and other work that might help free up Navy ships.

The Coast Guard will be establishing more seagoing billets as it builds up the NSC fleet, Schultz said during a Heritage Foundation talk. Although those billets are attractive to members of the Coast Guard, there has to be a balance between overseas missions and ones at home.

Chinese concerns

A boarding team aboard an over-the-horizon cutter boat from Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC-717) transits toward Chinese-flagged fishing vessel Lurong Yuan Yu 899 as it offloads catch onto the Russian-flagged transshipment Vessel Pamyat in the North Pacific Ocean on July 15, 2019. US Coast Guard Photo

One major area of concern is China, Schultz said. China passed a law that went into effect on Feb. 1 that gave the Chinese coast guard more broad authorities.

The Chinese coast guard is the biggest in the world and tends to do more than coastal patrols.

In 2020, the Chinese fleet was near Ecuador, which raised concerns about illegal fishing.

That continues to be a concern for the Navy, as well as the Coast Guard, with Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro sounding the alarm during a Center for Strategic and International Studies talk that Schultz also attended.

The Coast Guard can bring awareness to illegal fishing through maritime law enforcement training and sharing information with coast guards and navies in affected areas, Schultz said during the talk.

The Arctic

Artist’s Rendering of Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter

China, as well as Russia, continues to be a concern in the Artic. While the Trump administration requested the Coast Guard look into nuclear-powered icebreakers, the service declined to pursue them, USNI News reported in January.

Instead, Schultz focused on his “six-three-one strategy,” which calls for a minimum of six icebreakers, three of which need to be heavy. And the Coast Guard needed one right away, he said in January.

Personnel

Petty Officer 1st Class Vince Bucaneg, a company commander for recruit company Golf-197, assists a recruit in meeting the Coast Guard physical fitness standards, March 15, 2019.
Official U.S. Coast Guard photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Brahm.

As the Coast Guard looks toward 2022, retention will continue to be a problem, Schultz predicted during the Heritage Foundation talk.

Due to a new retirement system, personnel is able to leave the service earlier, with some choosing to do so due to the stability of not moving and increased salary.

In order to combat that, the Coast Guard will have to figure out ways to incentivize people to stay, which could be the overseas billets, he said.

The force is also concerned with diversity, looking to have more women join the Coast Guard, Schultz said in his most recent State of the Coast Guard address.

The force is currently about 15 percent women, although the percentage is higher at the Coast Guard Academy.

William Roper: Pentagon Needs to Look Toward Repurposing Technology

How the Navy repurposed its Standard Missile 6 into an anti-surface weapon should be a model each service and the Pentagon follow to inject new thinking into the way they fight and bring new life into the industrial bases, the former chief of Air Force acquisition said Thursday. The country needs to “build a war-winning […]

USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) launches a Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) during a live-fire test of the ship’s aegis weapons system. OSD and the Navy are modifying the SM-6 to strike surface targets. US Navy Photo

How the Navy repurposed its Standard Missile 6 into an anti-surface weapon should be a model each service and the Pentagon follow to inject new thinking into the way they fight and bring new life into the industrial bases, the former chief of Air Force acquisition said Thursday.

The country needs to “build a war-winning industrial base into the future” to keep pace with a competitive China, said William Roper, who directed the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities office before moving to the Air Force.

While in the capabilities office, he saw the Navy breaking out of a mindset of “doing the same thing over and over again” in looking at future combat.

Speaking at an online Heritage Foundation event on Thursday, Roper said the experimentation the Navy did with drones delivering cargo between a Coast Guard cutter and a warship although successful went nowhere was important. He praised former chiefs of naval operations Adm. John Richardson and Adm. Jonathan Greenert for their efforts to re-purpose existing technology like the missile adaptation and uncrewed ships to set the stage for future break-through innovation.

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Guenther (right), U.S. Army Research Laboratory, explains the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle concept to DOD Strategic Capabilities Office Director Dr. William Roper (left) with a small-scale model at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, Jan. 10, 2017.

Roper said they adopted a “let’s fight a different way” approach to future warfare. That approach also meant looking at technology that was used for a commercial purpose and re-purposing it to use in the military, as well as re-evaluating existing programs like the Standard Missile.

The first step to get to “leap-ahead technologies,” like artificial intelligence and machine learning, is to innovate with what the military already has, he said.

“I doubt if the Navy has a requirement of bringing drone delivery to ships” now, but it has potential to revolutionize logistics in distributed operations, Roper added. Since leaving office, he heads a drone logistics medical supply company.

“We don’t have autonomous things” in the Defense Department; it has “remotely-piloted things” today that remained tightly controlled.

The Navy and the other services need to think of themselves as “less of a procurer, more of a catalyst” in keeping a technological edge. The Pentagon wants to co-invest to reap the benefits in areas like autonomy that can arise from the commercial sector.

“This is not model-based engineering,” required by Defense Department acquisition practices and followed in its industrial base, Roper said. Saying the nation is in the fourth industrial age revolution — digitally based and pioneered in the auto industry — he added the Pentagon can be “seeding the next industrial revolution” with a few targeted areas for investment, like bioscience technologies.

To succeed in the Defense Department with these projects and also to show the commercial sector how it can use these military innovations, a project needs testing and regulatory certification, he said. The certification is key to getting out of the research and development phase where potential programs languish.

To keep following “antiquated” acquisition and requirement practices will further reduce the number of businesses in the defense industrial base and that will have an impact on the American military’s ability to prevail in a future conflict, Roper said.

Panel: U.S. Must Embrace ‘Power of Naval Diplomacy’

The 21st century is again the time to show off the “power of naval diplomacy” — from ship visits to officer exchanges — to counter China’s global maritime ambitions, two security experts said last week. Rockford Weitz, director of maritime studies at Tufts University, said during this pandemic year “China overplayed its hand” with aggressive […]

Guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett (DDG-104) steams in the Persian Gulf on Sept. 29, 2020. US Navy Photo

The 21st century is again the time to show off the “power of naval diplomacy” — from ship visits to officer exchanges — to counter China’s global maritime ambitions, two security experts said last week.

Rockford Weitz, director of maritime studies at Tufts University, said during this pandemic year “China overplayed its hand” with aggressive moves against India in the Himalayas, threatening Malaysia and others in the South China Sea and suppressing democratic protests in Hong Kong.

One way of showing American engagement in the Indo-Pacific and the strength of its alliances would be to have “NATO ships visiting Vietnam with say Japan and the United States” present as well.

At the Heritage Foundation online forum, Geoffrey Gresh, on the faculty of the National Defense University but speaking for himself, said such a naval visit would help close the seams between the geographical commands. The visits tell other nations “we’re here … you’re valuable partners” and not standing alone against China.

Recalling President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1907 dispatch of the “Great White Fleet” to demonstrate American naval reach, he added “just the presence of an American ship has enormous power.”

That presence carries special weight with the smaller island nations in the Pacific that are dependent on fisheries for their livelihoods. They share serious concerns about Beijing’s illegal hauls in their waters, often backed by its naval militia. It is also meaningful to large nations, such as India, in exercises such as this November’s Malabar 2020 where the United States and Indian navies were joined by Japan and Australia. The exercises serve to remind Chinese leaders that like-minded nations can cooperate to provide mutual security.

Gresh noted that when China completed its 2017 naval exercises with Russia in the Baltic Sea, its ships “went on a Grand Tour of Europe,” including a port call in London. “It doesn’t have to be an enormous ship” to make an impression that can last, he added.

As a related effort, Weitz called for a greater Coast Guard presence, including its National Security Cutters, in Oceania as another means of showing the island nations that Americans are present to help them build up their own maritime patrol forces to protect their territorial integrity.

He also suggested the Navy look to American Gulf Coast shipbuilders, which construct off-shore vessels for petroleum exploration and transportation for drilling platforms to shore, as a source for a modernized PT boat that could show the flag and help very small nations secure their waters.

Weitz envisioned “200 of them with Marine detachments” that had stealth characteristics and some punch. In numbers like that in the Indo-Pacific, the new PTs would be “putting the PRC [Peoples Republic of China] back on their heels,” he said.

Both noted that China’s global maritime ambitions have been growing as the size of its navy, coast guard and naval militia increase. Accompanying the expanded size and reach has been China’s expansive use of its Belt and Road infrastructure initiatives reaching across Asia into Europe and Africa and now into the Arctic. Their overseas port building efforts can be used for both civilian use of the host government and a possible future base for Beijing, like the one in Djibouti. In the Horn of Africa nation, where the United States also maintains a naval base, the Chinese presence started as a re-fitting station for its ships participating in the anti-piracy operations in the Red Sea and off the east Africa coast.

When asked about a new numbered fleet, possibly based in Singapore, the experts said it could be helpful in closing gaps in command reach and demonstration of presence. The two stressed more resources — ships and crews — would be needed to make it work effectively.

If the idea doesn’t fly with the Biden administration, Weitz said a “better resourced 7th Fleet” is still necessary.

“Having a base in Darwin, Australia is a pretty significant testing of the waters,” Gresh added.