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China acquiring capability to destroy CBGs

Adam Yoshida points out a highly disturbing development. The Communist Chinese are seeking to buy the capability to destroy entire carrier battle groups, America's foremost instrument of power and force projection.

Quietly, and beneath the radar of the vast majority of Americans, the People’s Republic of China is building up its armed forces to pose a true threat to the United States. The latest sign of this danger comes in the form of reports that the Chinese are looking into acquiring up to forty TU-22 “Backfire? bombers from Russia.

If you’re a fan of Tom Clancy, or if you’re familiar with the operations of the US Navy during the later stages of the Cold War, the very name should send a shiver down your spine. The Backfire is powerful, long-range, supersonic bomber capable of carrying a number of powerful anti-ship missiles.

In the form of the TU-22, the Soviet Union devised the ultimate anti-carrier weapon. The concept was simple: these bombers would reach out into the Ocean to assault either US troop convoys or Carrier Battle Groups. The bombers would dash in at maximum speed, fire their missiles at supersonic speed, and overwhelm American defenses in a massive barrage.

These weapons were considered dangerous enough the F-14 Tomcat, the AIM-54 air-to-air missile, and the AEGIS air defense system were primarily designed to guard against them. Only through careful concentration of firepower would a US Carrier group be able to overcome a massed bomber strike of the sort that the Soviets were capable of and which the Chinese are apparently reaching for.

If the Chinese are seriously thinking about buying these bombers it’s an obvious sign that China’s entire defense posture is being oriented towards an assault on Taiwan. The TU-22 is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a top-tier ground attack aircraft. It has one primary purpose: attacking and overwhelming US Carrier Groups.

Put into operation, Chinese-run squadrons of Backfires would pose the first serious threat to American Carriers since the end of the Cold War.

Worse still, the Chinese have embarked upon a $10 Billion program of Submarine acquisition. While the exact quality and composition of the force the Chinese are seeking to create is unknown, it’s hard not to be disturbed by the obvious: the amount of money proposed would buy roughly seven Virginia-class Submarines at American prices. Just what will it buy China?

This must be put in the broader context of the broader challenge to American power being put forward by China. A recent report prepared for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld detailed the Chinese effort to gain control of strategic “chokepoints? on the world’s waterways. Most notably, as part of this effort, the Chinese have begun work on a canal (set to be controlled by China) which will allow ships to bypass the often-hazardous Straits of Malacca.

To make things even more concerning, a holding company owned by the Chinese has managed to take de facto control of the Panama Canal.

The truly alarming thing about all of this is just how smart the Chinese have been about all of this. They aren’t going to behave like the Soviet Union and have their Premier pounding his shoe on the desk at the UN. They’re going to smile a knowing smile as they kindly step towards us with their knife in their pocket.

What’s happening is very obvious: the Chinese are working quietly, but steadily, towards the day when their power will be so overwhelming as to make any challenge prohibitive. When they move against Taiwan (and it is only a matter of when, not if) they’ll be powerful enough that American participation in the defense of Formosa will mean the sure loss of at least one Carrier and ten thousand American lives. Faced with that sort of danger, virtually any American President will concede the day.

The thing being ignored in all of that is this: the day that China conquers Taiwan with the acquiescence of the United States and Japan will be the day that China becomes the master of all Asia.

Extreme solutions are the only ones likely to solve this problem. The Chinese have moved so quickly and so stealthily that our only chance to stop them is to take a roll of the dice on any of a number of risky solutions. Either we begin an immediate anti-Chinese military build-up and commit to defend the rest of Asia in the event of aggression by China or we begin to explore less orthodox means of reprisal.

I, for one, suggest that we begin by asking ourselves if, in the case of Taiwan, “proliferation? is such a bad word after all.

Posted by evariste on Jan 30, 2005 10:59 am

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