A noted Chinese theorist on modern warfare, Chang Mengxiong, compared China’s form of fighting to “a Chinese boxer with a keen knowledge of vital body points who can bring an opponent to his knees with a minimum of movements”. It is like key acupuncture points in ancient Chinese medicine. Puncture one vital point and the whole anatomy is affected. If America ever goes to war with China, say, over Taiwan, then America should be prepared for the following “acupuncture points” in its anatomy to be “punctured”. Each of the vital points can bring America to its knees with a minimum of effort.
I. Electro-magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack
China and Russia are two potential US adversaries that have the capability for this kind of attack. An EMP attack can either come from an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), a long-range cruise missile, or an orbiting satellite armed with a nuclear or non-nuclear EMP warhead. A nuclear burst of one (or more) megaton some 400 kilometers over central United States (Omaha, Nebraska) can blanket the whole continental US with electro-magnetic pulse in less than one second.
An EMP attack will damage all electrical grids on the US mainland. It will disable computers and other similar electronic devices with microchips. Most businesses and industries will shut down. The entire US economy will practically grind to a halt. Satellites within line of sight of the EMP burst will also be damaged, adversely affecting military command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR). Land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles will be rendered unserviceable in their silos. Anti-ballistic missile defenses will suffer the same fate. In short – total blackout. And American society as we know it will be thrown back to the Dark Ages.
Of course, the US may decide to strike first, but China and Russia now have the means of striking back with submarine-launched ballistic missiles with the same or even more devastating results. But knowing China’s strategy of “active defense”, when war with the US becomes imminent, China will surely not allow itself to be targeted first. It will seize the initiative as mandated by its doctrine by striking first.
China has repeatedly announced that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. But as an old Chinese saying goes: “There can never be too much deception in war.” If it means the survival of the whole Chinese nation that is at stake, China will surely not allow a public statement to tie its hands and prevent it from seizing the initiative. As another saying goes: “All is fair in love and war.”
2. Cyber attack
America is the most advanced country in the world in the field of information technology (IT). Practically all of its industries, manufacturing, business and finance, telecommunications, key government services and defense establishment rely heavily on computers and computer networks.
But this heavy dependence on computers is a double-edged sword. It has thrust the US economy and defense establishment ahead of all other countries; but it has also created an Achilles’ heel that can potentially bring the superpower to its knees with a few keystrokes on a dozen or so laptops.
China’s new concept of a “people’s war” includes IT warriors coming, not only from its military more than 2-million strong, but from the general citizenry of some 1.3 billion people. If we add the hackers and information warriors from Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and other countries sympathetic to China, the cyber attack on the US would be formidable indeed.
So, if a major conflict erupts between China and America, more than a few dozen laptops will be engaged to hack America’s military establishment; banking system; stock exchange; defense industries; telecommunication system; power grids; water system; oil and gas pipeline system; air traffic and train traffic control systems; C4ISR system, ballistic missile system, and other systems that prop up the American way of life.
America, on the whole, has not adequately prepared itself for this kind of attack. Neither has it prepared itself for a possible EMP attack. Such attacks can bring a superpower like America to its knees with a minimum of movement.
3. Interdiction of US foreign oil supply
America is now 75% dependent on foreign imported oil. About 23.5% of America’s imported oil supply comes from the Persian Gulf. To cut off this oil supply, Iran can simply mine the Strait of Hormuz, using bottom-rising sea mines. It is worthwhile to note that Iran has the world’s fourth-largest inventory of sea mines, after China, Russia and the US.
Combined with sea mines, Iran can also block the narrow strait with supersonic cruise missiles such as Yakhonts, Moskits, Granits and Brahmos deployed on Abu Musa Island and all along the rugged and mountainous coastline of Iran fronting the Persian Gulf. This single action can bring America to its knees. Not only America but Japan (which derives 90% of its oil supply) and Europe (which derives about 60% of its oil supply from the Persian Gulf ) will be adversely affected.
In the event of a major conflict involving superpower America and its allies (primarily Japan and Britain) on the one hand and China and its allies (primarily Russia and Iran) on the other, Iran’s role will become strategically crucial. Iran can totally stop the flow of oil coming from the Persian Gulf. This is the main reason why China and Russia are carefully nurturing intimate economic, cultural, political, diplomatic and military ties with Iran, which at one time was condemned by US President George W Bush as belonging to that “axis of evil”, along with Iraq and North Korea.
This is also the reason why Iran is so brave in daring the US to attack it on the nuclear proliferation issue. Iran knows that it has the power to hurt the US. Without oil from the Gulf, the war machines of the US and its principal allies will literally run out of gas.
A single blow from Iran or China or Russia, or a combination of the three at the Strait of Hormuz can paralyze America. In addition, Chinese and Russian submarines can stop the flow of oil to the US and Japan by interdicting oil tanker traffic coming from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. On the other hand, US naval supremacy will have minimal effect on China’s oil supply because it is already connected to Kazakhstan with a pipeline and will soon be connected to Russia and Iran as well.
One wonders: what will be the price of oil if Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz. It will surely drive oil prices sky high. Prolonged high oil prices can, in turn, trigger inflation in the US and a sharp decline of the dollar, possibly even a dollar free-fall. The collapse of the dollar will have a serious impact on the entire US economy.
This brings us to the next “acupuncture point” in the US anatomy: dollar vulnerability.
4. Attack on the US dollar
One of the pillars propping up US superpower status and worldwide economic dominance is the dollar being accepted as the predominant reserve currency. Central banks of various countries have to stock up dollar reserves because they can only buy their oil requirements and other major commodities in US dollars.
This US economic strength, however, is a double-edged sword and can turn out to be America’s economic Achilles’ heel. A run of the US dollar, for instance, which would cause a dollar free-fall, can bring the entire US economy toppling down.
What is frightening for the US is the fact that China, Russia and Iran possess the power to cause a run on the US dollar and force its collapse.
China is now the biggest holder of foreign exchange reserves in the world, accumulating $941 billion as of June 30 and expected to exceed a trillion dollars by the end of 2006 – a first in world history. A decision by China to shift a major portion of its reserve to the euro or the yen or gold could trigger other central banks to follow suit. Nobody would want to be left behind holding a bagfull of dollars rapidly turning worthless. The herd psychology would be very difficult to control in this case because national economic survival would be at stake.
This global herd psychology motivated by the survival instinct will be strongly reinforced by the latent anger of many countries in the Middle East, Eurasia, Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America that silently abhor the pugnacious arrogance displayed by the lone Superpower in the exercise of its unilateral and militaristic foreign policies. They will just be too happy to dump the dollar and watch the lone Superpower squirm and collapse.
The danger of the dollar collapsing is reinforced by the mounting US current account deficit, which sky-rocketed to $900 billion at an annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2005. This figure is 7% of US gross domestic product (GDP), the largest in US history. The current account deficit reflects the imbalance of US imports to its exports. The large imbalance shows that the US economy is losing its competitiveness, with US jobs and incomes suffering as a result.
These record deficits in external trade and current accounts mean that the US has to borrow from foreign lenders (mostly Japan and China) $900 billion annually or nearly $2.5 billion every single day to finance the gap between payments and receipts from the rest of the world. In financial year 2005, $352 billion was spent on interest payment of national debt alone – a national debt that has ballooned to $8.5 trillion as of August 24.
The International Monetary Fund has warned: “The US is on course to increase its net external liabilities to around 40% of its GDP within the next few years – an unprecedented level of external debt for a large industrial country.”
The picture of the US federal budget deficit is equally grim. Dennis Cauchon, writing for USA Today said:
The federal government keeps two sets of books. The set the government promotes to the public has a healthier bottom line: a $318 billion deficit in 2005. The set the government doesn’t talk about is the audited financial statement produced by the government’s accountants following standard accounting rules. It reports a more ominous financial picture: a $760 billion deficit for 2005. If social security and medicare were included – as the board that sets accounting rules is considering – the federal deficit would have been $3.5 trillion. Congress has written its own accounting rules – which would be illegal for a corporation to use because they ignore important costs such as the growing expense of retirement benefits for civil servants and military personnel. Last year, the audited statement produced by the accountants said the government ran a deficit equal to $6,700 for every American household. The number given to the public put the deficit at $2,800 per household … The audited financial statement – prepared by the Treasury Department – reveals a federal government in far worse financial shape than official budget reports indicate, a USA Today analysis found. The government has run a deficit of $2.9 trillion since 1997, according to the audited number. The official deficit since then is just $729 billion. The difference is equal to an entire year’s worth of federal spending.
The huge US current account and trade deficits, the mounting external debt and the ever-increasing federal budget deficits are clear signs of an economy on the edge. They have dragged the dollar to the brink of the precipice. Such a state of economic affairs cannot be sustained for long, and the stability of the dollar is put in grave danger. One push and the dollar will plunge into free-fall. And that push can come from China, Russia or Iran, whom superpower America has been pushing and bullying all along.
We have seen what China can do. How can Russia or Iran, in turn, cause a dollar downfall? On September 2, 2003, Russia and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement on oil and gas cooperation. Russia and Saudi Arabia have agreed “to exercise joint control over the dynamics of prices for raw materials on foreign markets”. The two biggest oil and gas producers, in cooperation, say, with Iran, could control oil production and sales to keep the price of oil relatively high. Sustained high oil prices, in turn, could trigger a high inflation rate in the US and put extreme pressure on the already weak dollar to trigger a more rapid decline.
Russia is now the world’s biggest energy supplier, surpassing Saudi Arabia in energy exports measured in barrel oil equivalent or boe (13.3 million boe per day for Russia vs 10 million boe per day for Saudi Arabia). Russia has the biggest gas reserves in the world. Iran, on the other hand, runs second in the world to Russia in gas reserves, and also ranks among the top oil producers. If and when either Russia or Iran, or both, shift away from a rapidly declining dollar in energy transactions, many oil producers will follow suit. These include Venezuela, Indonesia, Norway, Sudan, Nigeria and the Central Asian Republics.
There is a good chance that even Saudi Arabia and the other oil-exporting countries in the Middle East may follow suit. They wouldn’t want to be left with fast-shrinking dollars when the shift from petro-dollar to euro-dollar occurs. Again, the herd psychology will come into play, and the US will eventually be left with a dollar that is practically worthless. Considering the strong anti-American sentiments in the world caused by American unilateralism, especially in the Middle East, a concerted effort to dump the dollar in favor of the euro becomes even more plausible.
When the dollar was removed from the gold standard in August 1971, the dollar gained its strength through its use as the currency of choice in oil transactions. Once the dollar is rejected in favor of the euro or another currency for global oil transactions, the dollar will rapidly lose its value and central banks all over the world will be racing to diversify to other currencies. The shift from petro-dollar to petro-euro will have a devastating effect on the dollar. It could cause the dollar to collapse; and the whole US economy crushing down with it – a scene reminiscent of the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. But this one will be a thousand times more devastating.
A successful assault on the US dollar will make America crawl on its knees with a minimum of movements. And this assault can come from China, Russia or Iran – or a combination of the three – if they ever decide that they have had enough of US bullying.
5. Diplomatic isolation
In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed from its own weight, the US emerged as the sole superpower in the world. At that crucial period, it would have been a great opportunity for the US to establish its global leadership and dominance worldwide. With the world’s biggest economy, its control of international financial institutions, its huge lead in science and technology (specially information technology) and its unequaled military might, America could have seized the moment to establish a truly American Century.
But in the critical years after 1991, America had to make a choice between two divergent approaches to the use of its almost unlimited power: soft power or hard power. The exercise of soft power would have seen America leading the world in the fight against poverty, disease, drugs, environmental degradation, global warming and other ills plaguing humankind.
It would have pushed America in leading the move to address the debt burden of poor, undeveloped or developing countries; promoting distance learning in remote rural areas to empower the poor economically by providing them access to quality education; and helped poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America build highways, railways, ports, airports, hospitals, schools and telecommunication systems.
Unfortunately, such was not to be. If there was any effort at the exercise of soft power at all, it was minimal. In fact, it is not America which is practicing soft power in diplomacy but a rising power in the East – China. China has been busy in the past decade or so exercising soft power in almost all countries in Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, winning most of the countries in these regions to its side. Through the use of soft power, China has created a de facto global united front under its silent, low-key leadership.
The US, on the other hand, decided to employ mainly hard power in the exercise of its global power. It adapted the policy of unilateralism and militarism in its foreign policy. It discarded the United Nations and even the advice of close allies. It unilaterally discarded signed international treaties (such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty). It adapted the policy of regime change and preventive war. It led the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the 78-day bombing of Serbia purportedly for “humanitarian” reasons. It invaded Afghanistan and Iraq without UN sanctions and against the advice of key European allies like France and Germany.
The US-led war in Iraq was a tactical victory for the US initially, but has resulted in strategic defeat overall. The Iraq war caused the US to lose its principal allies in Europe and be isolated, despised and hated in many parts of the world. Without too many friends and allies, the US is likened to an “emperor with no clothes”.
So in a major conflict between America and China, isolated America cannot possibly win against a global united front led by China and Russia.
This brings us to the question of alliances, another “acupuncture point” in the anatomy of the superpower, which will be addressed in the second part of this report.
PART 2: The assassin’s mace
If America ever goes to war with China, Chinese military doctrine suggests the US should expect attacks on a number of key points where it is particularly vulnerable – where a single jab would paralyze the entire nation. China would aim at targets such as the US electricity grid, its computer networks, its oil supply routes, and the dollar. Other vital “acupuncture” points are outlined below.
1. A powerful triumvirate
No one ever imagined before 1991 that China and Russia would come together to form a close-knit alliance politically, diplomatically and, most important of all, militarily. For more than three decades before the break-up of the Soviet Union, China and the USSR had been bitter rivals, even going into a shooting war with each other along their common border.
But now the picture has changed completely. China and Russia have embraced one another and help each other ward off the military advances of the lone superpower in their respective backyards. In fact, it was a series of strategic blunders by the superpower that forced China and Russia into each other’s arms. How so?
When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, it would have been the best time for the US to use soft power to win over Russia into the Western fold. Russia at that time was an economic basket case, with the price of oil at $9 per barrel. But the promises of economic assistance from the US and Europe proved empty, and the Russian oligarchs were the main beneficiaries of relations with the Western powers.
NATO and EU then slowly advanced eastward, absorbing many of the countries making up the former Warsaw Pact alliance. Serbia, a close ally of Russia, was subjected to 78 days of continuous air bombardment. Regime changes were instigated by US and Western-financed non-governmental organizations in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan – all former Soviet republics and considered Russia’s backyard – giving Russia a feeling of strategic encirclement by the US and its allies. There was also the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by the establishment of US bases and deployment of troops in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
These aggressive geopolitical moves by the US pushed Russia into the waiting arms of China, which badly needed Russian energy resources, modern weapon systems and military technology as a consequence of the US-led arms embargo imposed after the Tienanmen incident. Furthermore, China also needed a reliable and militarily capable ally in Russia because of the perceived threat of the US.
Reinforcing this Chinese perception was the outrageously wanton bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade by US-led NATO forces in 1999; the spy plane incident in 2001; the unilateral withdrawal of the US from the ABM Treaty in 2002; the enhanced military cooperation between the US and Japan; the inclusion of Taiwan in the Theater Missile Defense program.; the setting up of a military base in Kyrgyzstan which is only some 250 miles from the Chinese border near Lop Nor, China’s nuclear testing ground.
Add to that the announcement of President George W Bush that the US would come to the aid of Taiwan in the event that China uses force against it; the sending of two aircraft carrier battle groups to waters near Taiwan in 1995-1996; and the naval show of strength of seven aircraft carrier battle groups converging off the China coast in August 2004. All these aggressive moves by superpower America pushed China to embrace its former bitter rival, Russia.
Both China and Russia needed a secure and reliable rear; and both are ideally positioned to provide it. Moreover, their strengths ideally complement each other. It must be borne in mind that both are nuclear powers. The abundant energy resources of Russia ensures that China will not run out of gas in a major conflict – a strategic advantage over the US and its key allies.
Russia is also supplying China with many of the modern armaments and military technology it needs to modernize its defense sector. This effectively militates against the arms embargo imposed by the US and the EU on China. Russia in turn needs the increased trade with China, China’s financial clout and assistance, and manufactured goods.
The coming together of China and Russia was one of the most earth-shaking geopolitical events of modern times. Yet hardly anyone noticed the transition from bitter enemity to a solid geopolitical, economic, diplomatic and military alliance. The combined strengths of the two regional powers surely surpass that of the former Warsaw Pact. If we add Iran to the equation, we have a triumvirate that can pose a formidable challenge to the lone superpower. Iran is the most industrialized and the most populous nation in the Middle East. It is second only to Russia in terms of gas resources and also one of the largest oil producers in the world. It is also one of the most mountainous countries in the world, which makes it ideal for the conduct of asymmetric and guerrilla warfare against a superior adversary.
Iran borders both the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, two of the richest oil and gas regions of the world. Most importantly, it controls the gateway to the Persian Gulf – the Strait of Hormuz. Modern bottom-rising, rocket propelled sea mines and supersonic cruise missiles deployed along the long mountainous coastline of Iran, manned by “invisible” guerrillas, could indefinitely stop the flow of oil from the Gulf, from which the US gets 23% of its imported oil.
Japan also derives 90% of its oil from the Persian Gulf area, and Europe about 60%. In a major conflict, Iran can effectively deprive the US war machine and those of its key allies of much needed energy supplies.
Imagine the war machine of the superpower running out of gas. Imagine also a US economy minus 23% of its imported oil. This 23% can rise considerably once Chinese and Russian submarines start sinking US-bound oil tankers. The triumvirate of China, Russia, and Iran could bring the US to its knees with a minimum of movement.
2. The US’s geopolitical disadvantage
Another “acupuncture point” in America’s anatomy in the event of a major conflict with China (and Russia) is its inherent disadvantage dictated by geography. Being the lone superpower, any major conventional conflict involving the US will necessitate its bringing its forces to bear on its adversaries. This means that the US must cross the Pacific, Indian, and/or Atlantic Oceans in order to bring logistics or troop reinforcements to the battlefield.
In so doing, the US will be crossing thousands of miles of sea lanes of communication (SLOC) that can easily become a gauntlet of deadly Chinese and Russian submarines lying in ambush with bottom-rising sea mines, supercavitating rocket torpedoes, and supersonic cruise missiles that even aircraft carrier battle groups have no known defense against. Logistic and transport ships and oil tankers are particularly vulnerable.
The air corridors above these sea lanes will also be put at great risk by advanced air defense systems aboard Sovremenny destroyers or similar types of warships in Chinese and Russian inventories. In short, the US will be forced by geography to suffer all the disadvantages of conducting offensive operations against adversaries in Eurasia.
Of course, the US has “forces in being” and “logistics in place” in numerous military bases scattered around the world, especially those strategically encircling China, Russia, and Iran. But when the shooting war starts, these bases will be the first to be hit by barrages of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and long-range land-attack cruise missiles armed with electro-magnetic pulse, anti-radar, thermobaric, and conventional warheads.
Following the missile barrages, the remnants of such weakened US military bases will easily be overwhelmed by blitzkrieg assaults from Russian and Chinese armored divisions in the Eurasian mainland. China, for instance, has four large armored units constantly on standby, poised to cross the Yili Corridor in Xinjiang province at a moment’s notice. The US base in Kyrgyzstan near the Chinese border would not stand a chance.
China, Russia and/or Iran, on the other hand, will operate on interior lines within the Eurasian mainland. When they move troops and logistics to meet any threat on the continent, they will have relatively secure lines of communication and logistics, using inland highways, railways and air transport.
Since the US cannot correct the dictates of geography, it and its main allies Japan and the UK will have to live and fight with this tremendous geopolitical disadvantage. Of course the US can bypass this geographic obstacle if it attacks China and Russia with its intercontinental ballistic missiles, sea-launched ballistic missiles and strategic bombers in a nuclear first strike, but China and Russia have the means to retaliate and obliterate the United States and its allies as well.
There are some among the leading neo-conservatives in the US who believe that a nuclear war is winnable; that there is no such thing as mutually assured destruction (MAD). Well, that truly mad way of thinking may well spell the end of planet earth for all of us.
3. Asymmetric attack
Superpower America is particularly vulnerable to asymmetric attack. A classic example of asymmetric attack is the September 11, 2001, attack on America. Nineteen determined attackers, armed with nothing but box cutters, succeeded in toppling the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and causing the death of some 3,000 Americans. Notice the asymmetry of casualty ratio as well – the most lopsided casualty ratio ever recorded in history.
China, Russia, and Iran also possess asymmetric weapons that are designed to neutralize and defeat a superpower like America in a conventional conflict. Supersonic cruise missiles now in their inventories can defeat and sink US aircraft carriers. The same is true for medium- and short-range ballistic missiles with independently targetable warheads, extra-large bottom-rising, rocket-propelled sea mines (EM52s), and supercavitating rocket torpedoes (SHKVAL or “Squall”). The US Navy has no known defense against these weapons.
Iraqi insurgents are conducting a form of asymmetric warfare. They use improvised explosive devices, car bombs, booby traps and landmines against the most modern army the world has ever seen. The US’s huge advantage in weaponry is negated by the fact that its soldiers cannot see their adversary. They are fighting against a “phantom” enemy – an invisible army.
And how can you win against an enemy you cannot see? This may be one reason why reports of massacres of Iraqi civilians by US soldiers have been increasing lately. But turning sophisticated weapons against civilians will never win wars for America. It will only heighten the rage of the victimized population and increase suicide bombings against US forces.
Connected to asymmetric warfare is asynchronous warfare, where the weaker side bides its time to strike back. And it strikes at a time and place where the adversary is totally unprepared.
For example, if the US were to strike Iran’s underground nuclear facilities with bunker-busting tactical nuclear warheads, Iran could bide its time until it develops its own nuclear weapons. It could then use its Kilo class submarines, equipped with supersonic “moskit” cruise missiles armed with Iran’s own nuclear warheads, to hit New York, or Washington, DC as a payback to the US for using nuclear weapons against Iran. Or the Iranians could infiltrate nuclear scientists into the US, where they would fabricate a “dirty” bomb to be detonated near the US Congress, in full session while the president is making his annual state of the nation address.
The possibilities for asymmetric and asynchronous warfare are limitless. Various weapons are available to the asymmetric or asynchronous attacker. If a simple box cutter produced such devastating results on September 11, 2001, imagine what chemical or biological weapons dropped from a private aircraft could do to a crowded city; or trained hackers attacking the US banking system and other key infrastructure and basic services; or man-portable surface-to-air missiles attacking US airlines taking off or landing in various airports around the globe; or non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons hitting New York City or the US Capitol. No amount of even the best intelligence in the world can totally guard against and stop a determined asymmetric attacker.
4. Attack on US’s command and control
C4ISR stands for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. In a war situation, C4ISR is a prime target because therein lies the center of gravity of one’s adversary. Neutralizing C4ISR is like cutting off the head of a chicken. It can run around in circles for a while, but will soon collapse and die. The same is true in warfare.
Having the mightiest and most modern armed forces in the world, America prides itself with having the most sophisticated and advanced C4ISR. US military spy satellites can gather intelligence data and disseminate it on a real time basis. US surveillance and reconnaissance satellites are so sophisticated that their sensors can detect objects on Earth as small as one-tenth of a meter in size, from several hundred miles up. Satellite sensors can also penetrate clouds and bad weather or see in the night. Some of these spy satellites can also monitor radio or telephone conversations.
Aside from communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, satellites are also used for navigation, most especially in guiding ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft and other smart weapon systems to their targets. Without satellite guidance, such “smart” and precision weapons turn into “dumb” bombs and directionless missiles.
The advances in C4ISR are rapidly revolutionizing warfare. Gathering, processing, disseminating, and acting on intelligence is now made possible on a real-time or near real-time basis on a global or regional level. Because of these developments, a new war principle is emerging in the modern battlefield: “If the enemy sees you; you are dead.”
The US is far advanced in its C4ISR compared with, for instance, China. China cannot hope to catch up and match the American system anytime soon. So in order for China to survive in the event of a major conflict with the US, China has to resort to asymmetric means. This means that China has to develop effective means of countering and neutralizing America’s C4ISR. And that is what China had been working on for more than two decades now.
The heart of America’s C4ISR lies in its technologically sophisticated satellites. But this seeming strength is also an Achilles’ heel. Neutralize or destroy the key satellites, and America’s major forces, such as aircraft carrier battle groups, are blinded, muted, and decapitated. This concept is part of China’s strategy for “defeating a superior with an inferior” called shashaojian, or “assassin’s mace”. It is like the mace kept by ladies in their bags, which they use when attacked by a mugger or rapist. They squirt the mace into the eyes of an attacker to temporarily blind him, giving the intended victim time to escape.
China now has the capability to identify and track satellites. And for more than two decades they have been busy developing anti-satellite weapons. China has been developing maneuverable nano-satellites that can neutralize other satellites. They do their work by maneuvering near a target satellite and neutralizing the target by electronic jamming, electro-magnetic pulse generation, clinging to the target and physically destroying it, bumping the target out of orbit, or simply exploding to bring the target satellite down with it. Such nano satellites can be launched in batches on demand by road-mobile DF21 or DF31 booster rockets.
Another anti-satellite weapon in the works is a land-based laser that blinds the sensitive sensors of satellites or even destroys them completely. Of course, if worse comes to worst, China can always use its weapon of last resort, destroying adversary satellites with a high-altitude nuclear burst. But this will only be used if China has not yet fully developed the other options when major hostilities start. With the neutralization of its C4ISR, America would be like “a blind man trying to catch fish with his bare hands”, to quote Mao Zedong. In short, America would be brought to its knees.
5. Attack on US aircraft carrier battle groups
Aircraft carrier battle groups are the mainstay of US military supremacy. They serve as America’s chief instrument for global power projection and world dominance. In this category, the US has no equal. At the moment, the US maintains a total of 12 aircraft carrier battle groups. In comparison, China has none.
From June to August 2004, the US, for the first time in its naval history, conducted an exercise involving the simultaneous convergence of seven of its 12 aircraft carrier battle groups to within striking distance of China’s coast. This was the biggest and most massive show of force the world has ever seen. It was to remind China that if it uses force against Taiwan, China will have to contend with this kind of response.
It was mentioned earlier that China’s strategy in defeating the superior by the inferior is shashaojian or the “assassin’s mace”. “Mace” is not only a blinding spray; it is also a meaner and deadlier weapon, a spiked war club of ancient times used to knock out an adversary with one blow. The spikes of the modern Chinese mace may well spell the end for aircraft carriers.
The first of these spikes consists of medium- and short-range ballistic missiles (modified and improved DF 21s/CSS-5 and DF 15s) with terminally guided maneuverable re-entry vehicles with circular error probability of 10 meters. DF 21s/CSS-5s can hit slow-moving targets at sea up to 2,500km away.
The second spike is an array of supersonic and highly accurate cruise missiles, some with range of 300km or more, that can be delivered by submarines, aircraft, surface ships or even common trucks (which are ideal for use in terrain like that of Iran along the Persian Gulf). These supersonic cruise missiles travel at more than twice the speed of sound (mach 2.5), or faster than a rifle bullet. They can be armed with conventional, anti-radiation, thermobaric, or electro-magnetic pulse warheads, or even nuclear warheads if need be. The Aegis missile defense system and the Phalanx Close-in Defense weapons of the US Navy are ineffective against these supersonic cruise missiles.
A barrage of these cruise missiles, followed by land-based intermediate- or short-range ballistic missiles with terminal guidance systems, could wreak havoc on an aircraft carrier battle group. Whether there are seven or 15 carrier battle groups, it will not matter, for China has enough ballistic and cruise missiles to destroy them all. Unfortunately for the US and British navies, they do not have the capacity to counter a barrage of supersonic cruise missile followed by a second barrage of ballistic missiles.
The first and second spikes of the “assassin’s mace” are sufficient to render the aircraft carrier battle groups obsolete. But there is a third spike which is equally dreadful. This is the deadly SHKVAL or “Squall” rocket torpedo developed by Russia and passed on to China. It is like an under-water missile. It weighs 6,000lbs and travels at 200 knots or 230mph, with a range of 7,500 yards. It is guided by autopilot and with its high speed, makes evasive maneuvers by carriers or nuclear submarines highly difficult. It is truly a submarine and carrier buster; and again, the US and its allies have no known defense against such a supercavitating rocket torpedo.
The “assassin’s mace” has still more spikes. The fourth spike consists of extra-large, bottom-rising, rocket-propelled sea mines laid by submarines along the projected paths of advancing carrier battle groups. These sea mines are designed specifically for targeting aircraft carriers. They can be grouped in clusters so that they will hit the carriers in barrages.
The final spike of the mace is a fleet of old fighter aircraft (China has thousands of them) modified as unmanned combat aerial vehicles fitted with extra fuel tanks and armed with stand-off anti-ship missiles. They are also packed with high explosives so that after firing off their precision-guided anti-ship missiles on the battle group, they will then finish their mission by dive-bombing “kamikaze” style into their targets.
If we now combine the mace as a means of blinding an adversary and the mace as a spiked war club, one can see the complete picture of how China will use the “assassin’s mace” to send America’s aircraft carrier battle groups into the dustbin of naval history. Although China does not possess a single operational aircraft carrier, it has converted the entire China mainland into a “virtual aircraft carrier” that is unsinkable and capable of destroying all the aircraft carrier battle groups that the US and its allies can muster.
The sad part for the US Navy is that even if American leaders and naval theorists realize the horrible truth that aircraft carriers have been rendered obsolete in modern warfare by China’s “assassin’s mace”, the navy cannot just change strategy or discard its carriers. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been poured into those weapon systems and hundreds of thousands of jobs would be affected if such behemoths are turned into scrap. Besides, even if US Navy authorities wanted to change strategy, the all-powerful and influential military-industrial complex lobby would not allow it.
So, if and when a major conflict between the US and China occurs, say over the issue of Taiwan, pity those thousands of American sailors who are unfortunate enough to be in one of those aircraft carrier battle groups. They won’t stand a chance.
A challenge to America
The 10 “acupuncture points” mentioned in this article are like a 10-stage riddle. It is an “assassin’s mace” or war club of olden times with 10 deadly spikes. Any one of those spikes can bring America to its knees. I therefore throw this riddle to the think tanks in the Pentagon, to the US Congress, to the president’s men, to US academe, and to every concerned American.
America is in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter of the “great game”, and it is behind in points. If America can solve the riddle in time, it wins the game, it can seize global leadership, and the 21st century will truly be the American Century.
On the other hand, failure to solve the riddle will shake America to its very foundation and cause this great nation to collapse – just like that vivid image of the collapsing Twin Towers familiar to each and every American. America loses, and it will be down and out for the rest of this century.
Wake up, America!
Victor N. Corpus is a retired brigadier general of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP); former chief of the Intelligence Service, AFP; and holds a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. Victor N. Corpus