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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Countering China's Anti-Access Strategy: The US Perspective Part II - Increasing US Force Survivability

Artistic depiction of a Chinese DF-21D missile attack against a United States carrier strike group. Image credit: Chinese military review.

Author's Note: Part I emphasized how the United States seeks to maintain continued access into the Pacific but the reasoning behind why the US needs to maintain access was not sufficiently explained. Thus, in order for audience members to better understand the reasoning behind certain recommendations, a short explanation of current PLA thinking and strategy is given below. For more information into current PLA military planning and strategies, refer to the further reading section at the end of the article. Furthermore, a glossary section is included near the end of the article for your convenience.

In order to most effectively counter China's anti-access strategy, one must first understand the People's Liberation Army (PLA) strategy to "dealing" with US and allied forces in the event of hostilities. Two main scenarios dominate the discussion for how the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC) enter a war and the island chain strategy applies for both scenarios. The first scenario involves a conflict between Japan and the PRC over disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands; the second scenario revolves around a PRC invasion of Taiwan (Department of Defense, 2013). In either scenario, US forces will initially be at a significant numerical disadvantage in the early stages of the conflict. Hence the United States will attempt to bolster its presence mostly through its vast network of regional logistic assets (e.g. air fields, naval bases, strategic airlift, etc.) and through its carrier strike groups. The PRC would seek to quickly disable already deployed US Western Pacific forces and cut them off from reviving any reinforcements by deploying its arsenal of denial (AD) weapons. By disabling key US logistic hubs, the ability for the United States to effectively project power into the Pacific will be severely limited.

"As part of its planning for military contingencies, China continues to develop measures to deter or counter third-party intervention, particularly by the United States. China’s approach to dealing with this challenge is manifested in a sustained effort to develop the capability to attack, at long ranges, military forces that might deploy or operate within the western Pacific, which the DoD characterizes as 'anti-access' and 'area denial' (A2/AD) capabilities...China’s leaders in 2012 sustained investment in advanced short- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles, land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles, counter-space weapons, and military cyberspace capabilities that appear designed to enable anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) missions (what PLA strategists refer to as 'counter-intervention operations')." - ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2013

The island chain/A2 strategy's goal is to keep US forces from intervening in any regional conflict by inhibiting the ability of the United States to project power into the Western Pacific out to the second island chain marked on the map below.

The primary purpose of recommendation five is to ensure that US Western Pacific forces can survive long enough for the United States to reinforce its presence in the region. Part III of this series will focus on how best to ensure the US reinforcements can successfully penetrate through both island chains with minimal causalities.

Increasing the Survivability of Facilities & Logistic Assets 

M2A2 and M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) in Busan South Korea

However the conflict between the United State and the PRC initially begins, a probable first move on behalf of the PRC would be to disable US air power in the region as quickly as possible. Despite the multitude of advancements made in both the quality of personnel and equipment in the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in recent years, PRC strategic planners know PACAF (USAF forces assigned to the Pacific) will retain the technological and training edge for some time. The PLA's solution to this problem is clever: launch hundreds of conventional ballistic missiles carrying either high explosive or cluster munition warheads at US regional bases,  PLAAF units can then proceed to mop-up the survivors (RAND, 2008). Qualitatively superior aircraft are of little use to PACAF when they are destroyed on the ground.

"China’s ballistic missile inventory is especially concerning if we consider the threat that they would pose when armed with specialized warheads. Stillion and Orletsky found that missiles armed with submunitions are much more effective at attacking unsheltered aircraft than missiles armed with unitary warheads. Aircraft are soft targets – large overpressures are not required to render them inoperable, only some fragmentation damage. Further, the relatively large size of an airplane (vs. a human target) means that a tight dispersal pattern is not necessary – a submunition warhead attacking parked aircraft can cover a large area: 'An 1,100-pound M-9 (DF-15) ballistic-missile warhead covers almost eight times the area when using a submunition warhead than when using a unitary warhead.'” - Gons, 2010

During the Second Taiwanese Strait Crisis in 1996, the PLA had between 30 to 50 SRBMs. As a result of China's military modernization program, the PLA now fields over 1,000 SRBMs. Not only has the PLA increased the number of conventional ballistics (SRBMs, IRBMs, and MRBMs). China has also increased the range, accuracy, and payloads of its missiles. Image credit: DOD

Rather than engaging the qualitatively superior PACAF outright on even footing, it makes much more sense for PLA forces to destroy PACAF before they could effectively mobilize or even get aircraft into the sky. RAND, a respected think tank, conducted a study examining a hypothetical PLA ballistic missile attack on Kadena Air Force base (AFB) Japan and Andersen AFB Guam. RAND determined that over 50% of PACAF aircraft based at Andersen and Kadena would be destroyed by the simulated cluster munition missile attack launched by the PLA.

Image Credit: RAND

The existing missile defense for PACAF bases is largely comprised of a multitude of US anti-ballistic missile interceptors: 12 Patriot missile units, several Standard Missile IIIA + Aegis equipped destroyers, and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile batteries soon to be based at Guam. However, the sheer number of missiles the PLA will likely launch will overwhelm the aforementioned defense systems. The current generation of anti-ballistic missile interceptors are better suited for defeating rudimentary ballistic missiles launched in limited quantities by rogue nation states rather than intercepting waves of hundreds of ballistic missiles employing countermeasures and decoys specifically designed to defeat anti-ballistic missile interceptor radars (Federation of American Scientists, 2002). Even if the current generation of interceptors could reliably defeat the decoys employed by the new generation of PLA missiles, the issue of cost effectiveness remains. Even with two decades of research and development, the current generation of interceptors are often more costly than ballistic missiles themselves. The United States cannot realistically procure enough kinetic interceptors to fully counter a substantial PLA missile attack. Thus, the PRC's missile attack will be mitigated but not stopped by existing intercepting systems.

The author strongly recommends the United States invests and procures a variety of passive defensive systems to counter the PLA missile threat rather than continuing to rely upon only active defense systems, such as kinetic interceptors. In particular, the United States should procure new advanced early warning radars, GPS jamming & spoofing equipment, and harden pacific bases. The combination of these measures would greatly minimize the effectiveness of a large scale PLA missile strike.

Advanced early warning radars:

click here for interactive version graphic shown above

Forward deployed early warning radars would be extremely valuable to US forces in the event of hostilities the PRC. An network of geographically expansive radar stations could warn US and allied forces of an impending PLA missile attack and grant a precious few minutes to prepare (move aircraft and personel into shelters, launch taxing aircraft,etc). When it comes to detection power in early warning radars, "bigger is better". The 105 foot tall AN/FPS-115 Pave Paws radar system is among the most powerful radar systems ever developed and is capable of tracking ballistic missiles from a range maximum range 3,000 nautical miles (Federation of American Scientists, 2002). Taiwan recently deployed its own AN/FPS-115 radar system purchased from the United States for $1.4 billion dollars. Given its advantageous geographic position, the Taiwanese Pave Paws radar has coverage of nearly all of China. It is highly probable the United States has arrangements with the Taiwanese Government to share the information collected by the Pave Paws (Allen Thomson, 2013). The Pave Paws system would provide a six to ten minute warning to Taiwan of an incoming PLA missile attack (Ackerman, 2013).

The closest PLA missile units to both Taiwan and US forces are deployed near the 31st Army group in Xiamen (distance from Taiwan to Xiamen is roughly 180 to 200 nautical miles). The closest US forces to China should have a roughly 15 minute warning of an incoming PLA missile strike assuming:
  1. Flight time of missiles is six minutes for 200 nautical miles from Xiamen to Taiwan = 2000 nautical miles per hour
  2. US forces based at Kadena (the closest US base to China and Taiwan) is 537 nautical miles (995 km) from Xiamen
  3. 537nm/2000nm per hour = .2685 hours = ~16 minutes 

Taiwanese PAVE PAWS system

Although large fixed sites such as the Taiwanese Pave Paws have immense capabilities, they are likely to be destroyed in the first wave of a PRC attack. Smaller, more mobile but less capable theatre range radars such as the AN/TPY-2 and 3DELRR have a higher likelihood of surviving multiple attacks. The United States should proceed with current plans to deploy a second AN/TPY-2 to Japan in addition to investigating other possible deployment sites for more early warning radars, particularly on Okinawa. Advanced ship mounted ballistic missile defense radars such as the planned Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) on DDG-51 Flight III destroyers and possibly the DDG-1000 would be very useful for providing missile defense warning. If the AMDR were fitted to stealth DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyers, the United States would possess a mobile and highly survivable early missile defense warning capability for PACAF forces.

 Harden Western-Pacific Bases:

An example of a heavily hardened US Cold War facility, Bitburg air base in Germany. Note the inclusion of several redundant runways and hardened aircraft shelters.

The process of hardening an airfield or base is achieved though the combination of several construction techniques with the goal of making the facility as resilient as possible to enemy attack. During the Cold War, the United States constructed a series of hardened airfields and command and control centers in Western Europe in preparation for war with the Soviet Union. US bases in other geographic regions, such as those in the Pacific, were considered to be much less important and not worth the effort of hardening (RAND, 2010). As the United States continues to shift its strategic priorities from Europe to the Pacific, US Pacific bases should be hardened in a similar manner as US-European bases to reflect their increased importance in their role to US deterrence. If the PLA believes it can easily knock out US regional air power in the opening days of the war though ballistic missile strikes, the US deterrent will be greatly weakened. Hardening Pacific bases in the Western Pacific in conjunction with the aforementioned measures above will greatly increase the resilience of US forces against PLA ballistic missile strikes.

Reasoning behind base hardening:

“Runways and taxiways are inherently exposed and thus also attractive targets. Because runways and taxiways can be rapidly repaired given adequate earthmoving machinery, personnel, and materials, most targeteers regard damage inflicted to runways and taxiways to be temporary and will plan to reattack frequently enough to keep an airbase closed. In the battle for the control of the air, an initial play would be to cut runways and taxiways to bottle up aircraft in shelters or revetments, with subsequent sorties planned to pick off the stranded aircraft…Mindful of this military engineers soon evolved techniques to make this strategy difficult to execute. Redundant runways, the use of longer runways than otherwise required, the use of taxiways as auxiliary runways, and variously redundant taxiway schemes were adopted. Mostly the aim of these was to force an opponent to deploy a much larger number of munitions to effect a shutdown of flying operations at such a base…Other techniques to harden airbase surfaces included the use of specialized concrete compositions, which would include aggregates or additives to increase the toughness of the concrete, making it harder to fracture even with a specialized runway busting munition. The Soviets used blast furnace slag extensively for high strength concretes.” – Karlo Kopp Air Power Australia

High value E-3 AWACS aircraft parked at Kadena. Note lack of  protection except for simple barriers. These aircraft would almost certainly be lost in a major PLA missile attack.

After a missile attack, restoring operational capability to an airfield as soon as possible will be key to ensuring the effectiveness of the forces that survive the initial missile attack. US Army engineers have found a number of solutions to repairing damaged airfields since World War II:

"Time is of the essence when repairing spalls, cracks and craters caused by enemy fire on military airfields. For decades, engineers have been searching for the most efficient and effective means to perform these repairs. Solutions have ranged from landing mats developed during World War II to a host of materials and systems investigated during the Cold War, ranging from flexible and rigid caps over debris backfill to structural systems that bridge the advances have pushed rapid-setting concrete to the forefront as a viable alternative for crater repair. Although the product has been used by the military for years to repair areas less than a cubic foot, technological advances—offering faster set times, higher early strengths and better durability under heavy loads—have made rapid-setting concrete a viable alternative for repairing larger craters. These advances have also made a variety of rapid-setting concrete products widely available off the shelf." - Chris Davis, 2009

STOVL aircraft like the F-35B and AV-8B Harrier II will be able to operate from damaged runways and will be able to protect US airbases while Army engineers repair airfields for conventional aircraft. The USMC plans to station its first F-35B's from Air Station Iwakuni (Japan) in 2015. Image credit: Lockheed Martin

Overall, PACAF airbases are incredibly vulnerable to a PLA missile attack and do not incorporate sufficient levels of hardening to ensure the protection of US aircraft. For example, Kadena air base has a total of 15 hardened aircraft shelters for its dozens of aircraft. Hardening US pacific bases would require a substantial investment to purchase: redundant runways, reinforced concrete aircraft shelters, underground fuel storage sites, and hardened runways. As the DOD budget continues to decline, it will be more feasible to implement a modest hardening program for PACAF bases rather than a large scale pan-Pacific hardening program. In a minimalist hardening effort, bases closest in proximity to China should receive priority for new hardened aircraft shelters capable of protecting aircraft from cluster munitions. In addition, fuel depots should be moved underground and runway repair materials/equipment should be prepositioned in protected shelters in the event the need to be utilized. Hardening PACAF airfields is vital to creating an effective deterrence to counter the PLA missile threat as it would prevent an early PLA knock out of US regional air power.

GPS jamming & spoofing equipment:

The PRC has made significant progress on its SRBM modernization program with the addition of advanced GPS guided missiles like the DF-15.

The PRC will no longer be dependent upon the Russian GLONASS GPS system once the indigenous Beidou GPS system becomes fully operational in 2020 (Shachtman, 2010). As Beidou becomes more capable, it is likely that more Chinese weapon systems will become more dependent on GPS guidance. This trend can already be observed in the more modern Chinese short and medium range ballistic missiles. Although GPS can dramatically improve the accuracy of munitions, GPS can be easily jammed or disabled. Most of the more modern PLA short range ballistic missiles typically carry two guidance systems: a standard inertial guidance system and a GPS based guidance system. Once the GPS has been jammed, the missile will revert to its back-up inertial guidance system which is far less accurate. For example:

"The basic variant DongFeng 11 uses an inertial guidance + terminal radar guidance, giving a circular error probability (CEP) of 500~600m . The improved DongFeng 11A uses inertial/GPS guidance system with optical correlation terminal targeting, resulting in an greater accuracy of below 200m CEP." - Sinodefense,

Without GPS guidance, even the most advanced Chinese ballistic missiles, such as the DF-21, become much less accurate.

Another method of defeating GPS guidance is through a spoofing attack.

"The goal of such attacks is either to prevent a position lock (blocking and jamming), or to feed the receiver false information so that it computes an erroneous time or location (spoofing). GPS receivers are generally aware of when blocking or jamming is occurring because they have a loss of signal. Spoofing, however, is a   surreptitious attack. Currently, no countermeasures are in use for detecting spoofing attacks." - Jon S. Warner, Ph.D. and Roger G. Johnston, Ph.D., DHS Vulnerability Assessment Team, 2003

However, it should be noted that GPS spoofing attacks are more complicated to preform than merely jamming the GPS signal. The combination of one or both of the aforementioned techniques would likely be sufficient to cause a degradation of  at least 300-400 meters (inertial guidance) in accuracy. Without GPS guidance, individual hardened aircraft shelters could not be successfully targeted with unitary warheads. A large saturation attack with cluster munitions would be unable to destroy aircraft within the hardened shelters.

Although any singular passive defensive measure listed above can be countered, if employed in tandem with one another, the combination passive defensive systems will significantly increase the difficulty of quickly knocking out US air power in the Pacific region with a ballistic missile strike. Early warning radars will alert US personnel of an incoming attack which will in turn give ground crews and pilots an opportunity to save as many aircraft as possible by parking them in hardened hangars/shelters or by initiating immediate taking-off. GPS jamming and spoofing equipment will greatly diminish the accuracy of the incoming missiles that are not defeated by kinetic interceptors meaning the likelihood of a direct hit on a hardened hangar is substantially reduced. Damage to hardened runways will be minimal unless specialized runway cratering bombs are dropped. Even so, with the right preparation, runway damage can be easily repaired within a period of hours. Repairs will be possible as STOVL aircraft, such as the F-35B, will provide a capable air defense while the airfields are being repaired. Depending upon the location of the air base, its likely that surface to air missile batteries such as Guidance Enhanced Missile TBM (GEM-T) PAC-2 Patriot or Type 3 Chū-SAM will supplement the STOVL defense.

Patriot PAC-2 missile battery. The United States has a total of 12 PAC-2 and PAC-3 batteries deployed to the Pacific. "Each Fire Unit consists of up to 16 M901 Launching Stations with a total of 64 PAC-2 Missiles [or four times that number of PAC-3], along with an Antenna Mast Group, a Radar Set AN/MPQ-53 phased array, an Electric Power Plant, and an AN/MSQ-104 Engagement Control Station. Each US Army Patriot battalion consists of four firing units [batteries] doctrinally armed with six launchers. Each launcher is either Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-2 capable or PAC-3 capable, the difference being in numberand type of missiles or interceptors that it can fire. PAC-3 launchers are capable of holding four PAC-3 pods, each of which holds four PAC-3 interceptors. PAC-2 launchers are capable of holding four PAC-2 pods, each of which holds one PAC-2 interceptor. In total, a battery fully armed with PAC-3 launchers and PAC-3 interceptors could ideally control a total of 96 interceptors, whereas a fully PAC-2 armed battery could control a total of 24 interceptors." - Global Security, 2013


  1. DongFeng 21C (CSS-5 Mod-3) Medium-Range Ballistic Missile, Sinodefense, 2009.
  2. DongFeng 21 (CSS-5) Medium-Range Ballistic Missile, Sinodefense, 2009.
  3. DongFeng 11 (CSS-7) Short-Range Ballistic Missile, Sinodefense, 2009.
  4. Targets and Decoys, Federation of American Scientists, 2002.
  7. Latest Launch Brings China Closer to ‘GPS’ of Its Own, NOAH SHACHTMAN, 2010.
  8. GPS Spoofing Countermeasures, Jon S. Warner, Ph.D. and Roger G. Johnston, Ph.D., CPP  Vulnerability Assessment Team  Los Alamos National Laboratory, 2003.
  9. A Cold War in the East China Sea? J. Michael Cole, 2013.
  10. China Hacking of U.S. Antimissile Designs May Have Looked at Decoy Issue: Physicist, Rachel Oswald, 2013.
  11. Japan Explores War Scenarios with China, J. Michael Cole, 2013.
  12. AN/FPS-115 PAVE PAWS Radar, Federation of American Scientists, 2000.
  13. AN/TPY-2  Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance – Model 2, Rathyeon, 2009. 
  15. U.S., Japan Begin Coordination on Second Radar Installation, Department of Defense, 2012.
  16. AN/TPY-2: America’s Portable Missile Defense Radar, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.
  17. Army Navy / Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TPY-2), Missile Defense Agency, 2013.
  18. There Isn't an ICBM Around that Can Sneak Past This Radar Array, ANDREW TARANTOLA, 2013.
  19. "Task One":  Airbase Survivability/Recoverability Assessment, Major David L. John USMC, 1989.
  20. Upgraded Early Warning Radar Analysis, Missile Defense Agency, 2013.
  21. Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, 2012.
  23. Access Challenges and   Implications for Airpower   in the Western Pacific  Eric Stephen Gons, 2010
  24. DongFeng 15 (CSS-6) Short-Range Ballistic Missile, Sinodefense, 2009.
  25. Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report, United States Department of Defense, 2010.
  26. Patriot TMD Deployment, Global Security, 2013.

Raptors near hardened shelters at Kadena air base, Japan. 


  1. Another Great article Matt. Well done :-)

  2. Thank you for another great post Matt.

  3. Hay matt, might want to look at this. Re:f18 Some detail on what the pod can hold.

    1. Awesome find! Four AIM-120D's would pack a punch although they'd probably have to clip the fins (which is what they do to get the AIM-120 to fit int the Raptor's weapon bay.) The incorporation of a few quasi-low observable Super Hornets mixed with conventional super hornets could grant US (and possible Australian) forces a greater deal of flexibility. Given how long the Super Hornet is scheduled to stick around, at least a few of the BLOCK III upgrades should be purchased.