by Jeff Huber
The U.S. Navy, in its latest stab at fabricating a veneer of relevance in the War on Evil era, is going to general quarters over developments in China. Or at least it’s trying to make us, and more importantly Congress, think there’s a real and present peril percolating.
The klaxon is sounding in a series of press releases camouflaged as news stories and planted throughout the Pentarchy friendly news media—which these days is every news outlet with a budget bigger than the price of an Oldsmobile—about how “China is moving closer to deploying a ballistic missile designed to sink an aircraft carrier.”
Providing the main testimonial piece of this information campaign is no less an authority than Adm. Robert Willard, head of U.S. Pacific Command. That sounds pretty impressive. After all, being PACOM makes him a direct descendent of Adm. Chester Nimitz, the officer who commanded allied forces to victory in the Pacific during World War II and who was, in many opinions including mine, the last four-star American officer who was worth following. But the shine fades from Willard’s stars the second you find out he’s an old F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot.
I’m loathe to pigeonhole people, but decades of working closely with Tomcat Divas taught me the hard way that you want to get to know one of those guys pretty well before you loan him money or let him drive your daughter to school. Plus, fighter pilots, who ostensibly fly air superiority aircraft, only really concern themselves about superiority over the airspace within about a 20-mile radius of wherever they happen to be flying. So I’m hesitant to bow before Willard’s credentials and you should be too.
|Dr. Erickson and|
Flying wing on Willard’s “expert testimony” is Dr. Andrew Erickson, a Boy Sherman with a PhD in war from Princeton who’s presently an associate professor in the Strategic Research Department at the United States Naval War College. Dr. Erickson, who speaks Chinese and looks 12-years old, is a Fellow in the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, a Fellow in the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations’ Public Intellectuals Program, and a bunch of other things that qualify his as the very model of a major modern neocon.
|The Hindenburg falls prey to|
a Chinese surface-to-air
Together, Adm. Willard and Dr. Erickson have generated enough gas over the latest China revelation to float a fleet of Hindenburgs. Willard’s public affairs commandos told AP and the rest of the free world’s press to tell us that Willard told “Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper that he believed the Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile program had achieved ‘initial operational capability,’ meaning that a workable design had been settled on and was being further developed.”
The propaganda ruse of telling the press that you “believe” something became common practice during young Mr. Bush’s administration, and Bush and Big Dick and the rest of the war mongrels used it extensively to make claims that couldn’t be proven or, better yet, were patently untrue. But by saying they “believed” something to be true, they couldn’t be called out for lying when it turned out not to be.
|I must have heard wrong.|
Applying the “initial operational capability” label to China’s carrier killing kahuna implies that the thing is deployed in the fleet and is ready to start killing carriers today. By the U.S. military’s definition, initial operational capability is “attained when some units and/or organizations in the force structure scheduled to receive a system 1) have received it and 2) have the ability to employ and maintain it.” We apparently apply lower criteria to other militaries—out of kindness, I suppose. Those poor kids, they just can’t be expected to keep pace with us, can they?
But Willard doesn't exactly mean that the carrier killer is either “operational” or “capable” per se, initially or officially or otherwise. Because AP says that Willard says that, “years of tests are probably still needed before the missile can be fully deployed.” Or at least that’s what he believes.
I find it hard to believe that Willard’s recent announcement means that China’s carrier killing missile is any more operational or capable than it was back in March of this year, when prodigy Erickson reported in Wired that Willard had told Congress that China was “developing and testing” it. Erickson gushed that Willard’s testimony was the “first official confirmation” that China’s carrier killer program had advanced to the actual testing stage.
That’s a bit confusing in light of a report from by the United States Naval Institute, the Navy’s long-time go-to propaganda mule, that said “information” from “Chinese sources” indicated the system was “operational” back in March of 2009.
None of this explains how much more “operational” China’s carrier killer ballistic missile is than it was back in the 90s when I first heard about it, and when many of us had a little chuckle speculating as to what sort of con artist had made the Chinese believe they could make a ballistic missile capable of going 900 miles and sinking a moving aircraft carrier. Since the missile we’re talking about, the Dong Feng 21, is designed to carry a conventional warhead, it would have to hit a carrier on the skin to do any appreciable damage. Without atoms running amok on impact, a near miss is as good as a mile—or 900 of them. The thing might as well blow up on the launch pad for all the good it’s likely to do the Chinese.
Willard’s spin physicians say the missile “would be a game-changer in the Asian security environment.” Don’t think for a microsecond that the use of the word “would” was accidental. One would believe that the missile would probably be a game-changer if it would ever actually become operational or ever actually work.
|Navy Public Affairs Office mascot "Bully"|
The steaming pile of recycled oats that the likes of Willard and Ericson are trying to feed us implies that carriers and their escorts are defenseless against ballistic missiles like the Dong Feng 21, but the fact is that the The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (Aegis BMD) is already up and running—whether you believe it is or not. 21 of our cruisers and destroyers already have BMD capability and more will be refitted with the technology. We actually have more sea-deployable defense against the new-fangled ballistic missile than we have against old-fangled ship killers like cruise missiles and torpedoes and mines. Against the old gizmology our ships are still essentially helpless, despite having had decades to develop effective measures to counter it.
So the only “game” the Chinese ballistic missile has changed is the old bull game the Navy keeps playing to make it sound like it needs more money to keep its increasingly extraneous fleet from becoming a trillion-or-so dollars’ worth of sitting ducks.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is the author of the critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a satire on America’s rise to global dominance.