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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Updates for the New Year

2013 has been a fantastic year for the American Innovation Blog, our viewership in the United States, Asia, and Western Europe has been particularly strong this year.  I will continue to publish articles in 2014 and I'm looking for new ideas. If you would like me to write on a topic, feel free to ask. I am in the process of writing the following articles:

Miscalculation: The Need For a New US Fighter Export Strategy in the Global Fighter Market

China's Anti-Access Strategy: Submarines - Part II

The Uncertain Future of America's Raptors

The State of the NATO Alliance

If you would like to offer improvements or suggestions going into the new year, please let me know. I"m always looking for ways to improve my own writing. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

China's Anti Access Strategy: Submarine Force - Part I

Image 1: First and second island chains. Image Credit: DOD

Author's Note: As promised here is the greatly belated article I promised to you (from the poll), merry Christmas.

As a result of its continuing economic development, China's military is in the process of a major military modernization effort across all its armed services. The short term goal of this modernization program, up until 2020, to acquire the capability to deny access to the Western-Pacific up to the second island chain: Guam, Ogasawara island chain, and Indonesia. It is widely recognized that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) can already effectively conduct operations within the first island chain: Taiwan, Okinawa Prefecture, and the Philippines (O'Rourke, 2013). The People's Army Liberation Navy (PLAN) is arguably the center piece of China's island chain strategy and has consequently been a major beneficiary of increased PLA spending. Between 1995 and 2012, the PRC domestically produced 39 submarines and purchased 12 Kilo class diesel electric submarines from the Russian Federation. In total, the PLAN operates 53 diesel electric attack submarines, six nuclear powered attack submarines, and three nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (Office of Naval Intelligence, 2009). ONI estimates within 10 to 15 years the PLAN submarine fleet will reach 75 boats. This trend is a concern for the United States as its own fleet of attack submarines is scheduled to drop to as low as 40 boats in the early 2030s and the US Navy maintains the position it needs at least 48 attack submarines to meet its current objectives (Rep. Forbes & Rep. Courtney, 2013). Chinese analysts have taken a keen interest in the "decline" of the USN:

"Chinese discussions of the American submarine force focus heavily on the continuing decline in its size. As one article from a People’s Republic of China (PRC) naval interest publication states, 'The decline of U.S. submarine strength is inevitable'...Rear Admiral Yang Yi, writing in 2006 on the future size of the American submarine force, quoted one American analysis as follows: 'China already exceeds [U.S. submarine production] five times over. . . . 18 [USN] submarines against 75 or more Chinese navy submarines is obviously not encouraging [from the U.S. perspective].'” - Gabriel Collins, Andrew Erickson, Lyle Goldstein, & William Murray, 2008.

This article will examine the objectives of the PLAN submarine force, its current composition and capabilities, and probable future trends within the PLAN with regards to its submarine force.

Strategic Objectives

Image 2: The main Chinese sea lines of communication (SLOC). Image credit: ONI, 2009.  

"Observers believe that China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is increasingly oriented toward pursuing additional goals, such as asserting or defending China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea; enforcing China’s view—a minority view among world nations—that it has the right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200- mile maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ); protecting China’s sea lines of communications; protecting and evacuating Chinese nationals in foreign countries; displacing U.S. influence in the Pacific; and asserting China’s status as a major world power." - Ronald O'Rourke, 2013

While, the primary mission of the PLAN is to deny the US power projection within the first and second island chains, the PLAN has been tasked with other objectives in recent years such as protecting Chinese economic interests e.g. sea lines of communication (SLOC) and enforcing territorial disputes. SLOCs in particular represent a critical strategic vulnerability for China. For example,  82% of all China's seaborne oil imports cross through a single SLOC, the strait of Malacca (Department of Defense, 2012).

"It is along these strategic routes that the overwhelming majority of China's foreign trade-over 90 percent by volume and over 80 percent by value-is transported."  - Office of Naval Intelligence, 2009

In recent years China has become more assertive in its territorial disputes with its neighbors particularly with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan.

Image 3: Disputed territories in the Western Pacific. Image Credit: DOD

Due to their limited range, PLAN diesel electric submarines would be used to patrol major sea lanes and SLOCS within the first island chain in wartime. China's few nuclear attack submarines would most likely be used as intelligence surveillance reconnaissance platforms for areas beyond the first island chain given their superior range and endurance (Office of Naval Intelligence, 2009). The type 093 and the yet to be fielded type 095 attack submarines grant China a credible power projection capability beyond the first island chain.

Composition - Diesel Electric 

The PLAN submarine force is composed of mostly diesel electric attack submarines with varying degrees of technological sophistication e.g. the Ming class boats were originally designed in the 1950s. Despite the limited endurance (how long the submarine can sustain operations) and limited range of diesel electric submarines, they are considerably cheaper and technologically less demanding than nuclear powered submarines. The domestically produced Yuan and Russian Kilo class submarines are likely the PLAN's most capable diesel electric attack submarines. The Kilo class submarine has been widely exported and is operated by the Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Polish, Iranian, and Algerian navies. The PLAN operates four 877 models and eight upgraded 636 type Kilos. The 636 type Kilo is significantly stealthier and has a greater maximum range than the 877 type Kilo (Global Security, 2013). The 636 type Kilo is also capable of launching the SS-N-27 anti-ship cruise missile (Department of Defense, 2012). However, the effectiveness of the SS-N-27 is questionable.

Image 4: Kilo class submarine

The Russian imported Kilo class "inspired" many aspects of the subsequent Yuan (Type 041) class design. The Yuan will form the backbone of the PLAN diesel electric submarine force and is expected to be built in large numbers.

"The Yuan class has a tail with diving planes similar to those of the Type 039G, and a Kilo-style teardrop shaped hull with a raised hump on top. The Yuan has the raised decking/casing of the Kilo, the high freeboard and reserve bouyancy, a similarly-shaped bow (and torpedo tube disposition), but with the sail, propeller layout and stern section of the Song. It has also been suggested that the new submarine may be comparable to the improved variant of the Russian Kilo class (Project 636) in terms of size and general performance." - Global Security, 2013

Image 5: Yuan class submarine (Type 041)

Despite the US-European arms embargo put in place after the 1989 Tiananmen square protests, both the Yuan and Song class submarines feature 396 SE84 series diesel electric engines provided by MTU Friedrichshafen GmbH of Friedrichshafen (Lague, 2013). In addition to a reliable German engine, the Yuan is rumored to have air-independent-propulsion (AIP) capability as well (Global Security, 2013). As discussed in the "Implications of the Potential Russia-China Arms Deal" article, One of the inherent disadvantages to diesel electric submarines is the engine requires air for the engine to function meaning the submarine has to surface intermittently for air. While at the surface, the submarine is vulnerable to detection. The solution in older diesel submarines was to incorporate large lead batteries that could be charged by the engine; the use of these batteries would permit the submarine to function for a few hours without having to surface for air. Snorkels could also be used to feed the engine air while remaining under water but the submarine still had to remain fairly close to the surface. The next generation of diesel electric submarines incorporate greatly enhanced AIP capability which enables them to remain underwater for much longer periods of time (Whitman, 2001). AIP is most often achieved in modern diesel electric submarines with the addition of fuel cells (e.g. hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells). Depending upon the speed at which the submarine is traveling while AIP is activated, the AIP equipped submarine could remain submerged for more than a week as opposed to hours. As an added benefit, the use of fuel cells greatly reduces the noise generated by boat as the engine is not used for propulsion while AIP is activated.

Composition - Nuclear 

Image 6: Chinese type 094 ballistic missile submarines operating from the massive Yulin Naval Base located at Hainan island 

The PLAN currently operates four nuclear powered submarine designs, two attack submarine designs and two ballistic missile submarine designs. Of the two ballistic missile submarines, the type 094 Jin-class is significantly more capable than its predecessor, the Xia-class. The Xia is generally regarded as being "not a genuine deterrent capability" due to its large acoustic signature, primitive missiles, and poor performance (Erickson & Goldstein, 2006). Similarly, the type 091 Han-class attack submarine is largely obsolete compared to the type 093 Shang-class.   

Image 7 & 8: Relative acoustic signatures of Russian and Chinese diesel electric and nuclear submarines. The green area indicates submarines that would be relatively easy for the Navy to detect vs. red which would be difficult to detect. (Image Credit: Office of Naval Intelligence, 2009).

Generally speaking, Chinese nuclear submarines are significantly louder and less capable than their American and Russian counterparts.

"the 093’s noise level has been reduced to that of the Russian Akula-class submarine at 110 decibels. He states that the 094’s acoustic signature has been reduced to 120 decibels. According to this report, this is definitely not equal to that of the Ohio class, but is on a par with the Los Angeles. There is no additional information given to evaluate concerning the origins or comparability of these 'data.'" - Andrew S. Erickson & Lyle J. Goldstein, 2006.

As a reminder, a decibel is: "a unit used to measure the intensity of a sound or the power level of an electrical signal by comparing it with a given level on a logarithmic scale" - American English in Oxford dictionary, 2013.

Decibels do not scale linearly. A 3db change is signifies a doubling power and a change of 10 db signifies the power increasing by a factor of ten.  Therefore, the 636 Kilo class with an acoustic signature of 105 decibels is 10 times as loud as the 95 decibel acoustic signature of the Virginia class submarine.

To provide a point of reference, the following acoustic signatures are from "Chinese Evaluations of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force" and "CHINA’S FUTURE NUCLEAR SUBMARINE FORCE"

Ocean background noise - 90 decibels
Seawolf-class - 95 decibels
Virginia-class - 95 decibels
636 Kilo class - 105 decibels
Akula-class - 110 decibels
Type 093 - 110 decibels
Type 094 - 120 decibels

The Shang has an acoustic signature similar to the original Russian Akula class boats or roughly equivalent to the original Los-Angles class submarine, not the 688I (improved Los-Angles class). Judging from acoustic signatures, the most modern Chinese nuclear submarines are comparabile to 1970s and 1980s US and Soviet designs shown on the chart below.

Image 9: US and Soviet/ Russian submarine acoustic signatures. Image Credit: Federation of American Scientists

The PLAN is expected to acquire a total of six Shang-class nuclear submarines to replace the ageing Han-class. The four type 093's under construction can be expected to include enhancements over the original model (O'Rourke, 2013). For type 095, see part II under future trends. 

Future trends of the PLAN submarine force and the recommended US and allied response can be expected in Part II. 


  1. Fast Attack Submarines, Chief of Naval Operations Submarine Warfare Division, 2013.
  2. Run Silent, Run Deep, Federation of American Scientists, 1998. 
  4. ASW Sensors, Global Security, 2013.
  5. SOSUS, Edward C. Whitman, 2013
  7. Battle of the Submarines: Akula versus Virginia, Naval Technology, 2012.       
  8. Estimates of Submarine Detection Ranges, Eugene Miasnikov, 1998.
  9. How Capable is the 094, Jeffry Lewis, 2007.   
  10. Deputy SecDef: 4th submarine to be deployed to Guam, Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno, 2013.
  11. China Naval Modernization: Implications for   U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and   Issues for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, 2013.                            
  12. The Chinese military machine’s secret to success: European engineering, David Lague, 2013.
  13. Yuan Type 039A / Type 041, Global Security, 2013.
  14. Project 877 Paltus Project 636 Varshavyanka Kilo class Diesel-Electric Torpedo Submarine, Global Security, 2013.                                     
  15. Kilo Class, Global Security, 2013.         
  16. Submarines: China Buys Some New Ideas, Strategy Page, 2013.
  17. Type 39 / Song Class Attack Submarine, Naval Technology, 2013.                     
  18. SSK Kilo Class (Type 877EKM), Naval Technology, 2013.                               
  19. Chinese Evaluations of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force, Gabriel Collins, Andrew Erickson, Lyle Goldstein, & William Murray, 2008.
  20. CHINA’S FUTURE NUCLEAR SUBMARINE FORCE - Insights from Chinese Writings, Andrew S. Erickson & Lyle J. Goldstein, 2006.
  21. ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China , Department of Defense, 2011. 
  22. AIR-INDEPENDENT PROPULSION, Edward C. Whitman, 2001. 
  23. People's Liberation Army Navy, Office of Naval Intelligence, 2009. 
  24. Save Our Subs: Prioritizing The Attack Submarine, Rep. Forbes & Rep. Courtney, 2013.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Links of the Week

U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategic Considerations Related to PLA Naval Forces Modernization  House Armed Services Committee  Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces

Four of arguably the most knowledgeable US experts on China including Dr. Andrew Erickson testify before Congress on China's Naval modernization. Some of Erickson's testimony:  

"Washington must be careful not to compete with Beijing in excessively expensive and ultimately ineffective arms competitions. It should not counter China’s A2/AD weapons by attempting to acquire a more sophisticated, expensive counter in each and every instance...Instead, as China works to deny U.S. forces an ability to operate close to the mainland, the U.S. aim at a minimum should be to deny China the ability to resolve territorial and maritime disputes by the use of force. To resolve disputes conclusively, China would have seize and hold territory and also resupply its forces. This is inherently difficult on small islands, where geography imposes vulnerability. To demonstrate that China cannot achieve this, and thereby deter it from ever trying, the U.S. and its allies should maximize disruption capabilities—their own form of A2/AD....U.S. submarines can oppose any Chinese naval forces engaged in invasion, resupply, and protection. Long-range air or missile delivery can blow any lodgment off disputed islands or rocks. To be sure, both U.S. SSNs and LRASMs and Chinese A2/AD forces could achieve denial effects. Long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and air-to-air missiles from both sides might hold operations in the air over the features in question at risk, prevent continuous operations, or even fully create a 'No Man’s Land'. U.S. forces, other than SSNs, might not be able to operate without assuming great risk, and hence be denied unfettered access. But Chinese forces would also not have access, and would also be denied their objective of seizing and holding disputed territory. It might not be necessary to defeat China militarily; preventing it from achieving its objectives would suffice. Demonstrating this to China would be an effective deterrent: Beijing could not afford to risk the likelihood of not achieving its objective." - Dr. Andrew Erickson, 2013 

- video name U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategic Considerations Related to P.L.A. Naval Forces Modernization (Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces) 12/11/13

While conducting surveillance of the Liaoning in international waters, the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens was ordered to stop by Chinese naval vessels. As the Cowpens was in international waters, US sailors ignored PLAN demands. A PLAN vessel abruptly moved in front of the Cowpens resulting in a near collision.

A detailed examination of why Russia is willing to sell some of its most advanced weaponry to China despite the risk of reverse engineering. 

A detailed look at how Jang Song Thaek, the former second highest ranking North Korean official, was likely ousted from power and subsequently executed. 

New Russian Air-to-Air Missiles Will Field Almost Perfect Accuracy - By Ankit Panda

“An active phased array antenna consists of a large number of cone-shaped cells installed under a transparent-to-radio-waves cap on the nose of the missile. Each cell receives only a part of the signal, but once digitally processed, the information from all cells is summarized into a ‘full picture,’ enabling the K-77M missile to immediately respond to sharp turns of the target, making interception practically inevitable.”

With no disrespect to my Russian colleges, this seems like a pipe dream and this is certainly not an actual revolutionary capability.  In order to successfully complete an air-to-air intercept, the missile must first successfully find and the desired target. Secondly, the missile kinetically intercept it. Nearly all methods of defeating a air-to-air missile involve disrupting the two aforementioned processes e.g. maneuvering and chaff or a towed decoy system like the AN/ALE-55. Missiles have become increasingly adept at the kinetic intercept aspect with the addition of thrust vectoring nozzles (e.g. jet vane control AIM-9X) but the guidance area is where missiles can still be routinely defeated. My understanding of the K-77M is it is more adept at the kinetic intercept aspect but just as vulnerable to failure if the Missile is jammed with an AESA or the aircraft uses a towed decoy, etc.

On a not so serious note: While China may have just landed a rover on the moon, the US has them beat by about half a century. Some sweet footage from Apollo 16...MURICA. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Quick Thoughts: China's AIDZ

Image Credit: Defense News

Author's Note: Sorry for the lack of content as of late. As I am a man of my word, I've been writing the long awaited "China's Anti Access Strategy: Submarine Force" article I promised several months ago. Hopefully it will be published in the near future.

In a baffling display of ill-conceived foreign policy, China's new air defense identification zone (AIDZ) has managed to draw the ire of nearly every country within the intimidate vicinity of China, most notably Japan and South Korea. As one geopolitical analyst reporting to Breaking Defense phrased it, "This ancient civilization, which has thousands of years of diplomatic experience and gave us Sun Tzu and all his subtlety, has given us some ham-handed diplomacy for the last few years".

Some have called upon the USAF and USN to make daily runs into the AIDZ to demonstrate US commitment to the region (in addition to the recent trip undertaken by a pair of US B-52 aircraft). Japanese and South Korean military aircraft have also violated the zone. As Defense News reported, the response by Chinese media outlets to these violations was largely hawkish, especially toward Japan.  However, the Chinese media has expressed a more measured tone in its rhetoric toward the United States when compared to Japan. The following is from the Global Times newspaper which is widely recognized to be an outlet for the Chinese Communist Party: "We should carry out timely countermeasures without hesitation against Japan when it challenges China's newly declared ADIZ. If Tokyo flies its aircraft over the zone, we will be bound to send our plane to its ADIZ...We are willing to engage in a protracted confrontation with Japan...If the US does not go too far, we will not target it in safeguarding our air defense zone"

China emphatically maintains it has the right to create an AIDZ and US and Japanese criticism is unjust as both countries maintain AIDZ of their own. In principle, China certainly has the right to create an AIDZ  judging from a historical precedent set by the United States and other countries (the US has had AIDZs since World War II). However, China's existing AIDZ as outlined by its Ministry of Defense does not clearly qualify as to what is internationally recognized as an AIDZ in many respects.

China's establishment of an AIDZ represents an opportunity for the United States to expand upon its influence in the region if certain measures are taken. China is already widely perceived to be a regional bully, recent events will almost certainly solidify existing perceptions within South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. The creation of China's AIDZ in conjunction with its disaster relief response to the Philippines, or its lack of a substantial initial response, has certainly reduced Chinese soft power in the region. Meanwhile, US soft power in the region has been on the rise and the deployment of B-52 aircraft in addition to the ongoing massive naval exercises between the US 7th Fleet and the Japanese Navy reaffirm Washington's strong commitment to the region.

US 7th Fleet lead by the USS George Washington at the AnnualEx 2013 exercise.

Vice President Joe Biden is met with President Xi Jinping on Wednesday over a private dinner and two hour long bilateral meeting. According to the former US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, the amount of time President Xi afforded  Biden was irregular in its generosity. While the two reportedly have a cordial relationship, Biden clearly expressed the United States does not recognize China's AIDZ.  Clearly the US must express its solidarity with Japan and South Korea but, in terms of rhetoric, it would not be prudent to to push china too far on its AIDZ. It is highly improbable that China will recant its previously expressed statements as it would severely damage to the prestige of the current Chinese leadership. However, China could choose to effectively not enforce the zone. This would likely be the most plausible solution to reduce tensions without causing total embarrassment for the Chinese leadership and the US could continue its operations in the area, provided the US does not communicate publicly about how often it violates the zone e.g. routine surveillance flights (as to not embarrass the Chinese leadership on a continual basis). Some US analysts already doubt China could enforce its zone even if it tried:

“Let China run itself crazy trying to enforce this...I just can’t see how China will sustain the enforcement. Too much traffic goes through there. If no country recognizes it, [and] don’t respond to China’s IFF [identification friend or foe] interrogation or VID [visual identification], then this new ADIZ is meaningless.”

On a related note, A White House source reporting to Reuters expressed that negotiating a deal with Iran is "the top item on his foreign agenda for the rest of his term."  While President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts in negotiating an preliminary agreement with Iran is certainly commendable, China's creation of its AIDZ serves as a blunt reminder that the United States must maintain its focus on the Asia-Pacific. The pivot strategy is arguably the wisest foreign policy action made by the Obama Administration and recent events have made it abundantly clear that more US resources must be allocated to the Asia-Pacific region.