Monday, January 03, 2011

The Yellow Peril Goes Ballistic

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
Mr. Peabody
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. 


  1. Much of the US Navy seems irrelevant for annexing precious middle eastern dirt from its inhabitants. However the submarine still seems like the best way to power-project nukes. Project against whom, I'm not sure, but nuclear subs are scary. A globlal network of hidden subs seems like the big stick threat if little sticks don't work. Of course the mujahideen and al-qaeda didn't seem afraid of subs so I guess the sub threat won't work against such asymmetric (tiny, disorganized) foes. Now Iran, does a sub scare Iran? Maybe so. Iran might still be the hat trick in annexing oil filled desert real estate from their weak disorganized landlords and warlords.

  2. Thank you for another great commentary. I enjoy your mix of humor with truth. Makes the bad news a bit easier to take in.
    Typical of the US military. They "need" more money to combat the "new" threat. Yeah, always more money. It never ends.

  3. Cmdr, what do you make of the take that that plume seen near LA were a Chinese missile?

  4. I think it unlikely, Francis. At this point there's as much evidence that it was a UFO.

    An amazing thing, though, if that's what turns out. Imagine them being able to do that off of our coast and us not knowing about it.


  5. Hi Jeff.
    Any comments on the Love Boat?

  6. I'll probably tackle that subject next. My first question: what took so long for the Navy to do anything about it?

  7. Wayne Madsen, ex-USN, ex-NSA, whose "fifth estate" reporting generally checks out, has it that in the halls of power it is held that the plume was made in china.

  8. I'll check out what he has to say. Thanks.

  9. I re-read this form Wayne's site.

    My problem with Wayne is that he's too coy about his sourcing. "Missile experts, including those from Jane’s in London, say the plume was definitely from a missile, possibly launched from a submarine." That stinks to high heaven. If he's going to cite "missile experts" like that, he needs to name some names and give us links so we can see what the "experts" actually said.

    The way Wayne frames things, in general, is the way propagandists frame them.


  10. And while I'm at it, I was just out in the yard and saw the exact kind of plume the LA incident was about. It was just a commercial jet flying at high altitude leaving a big contrail.

    And I think that's what happened in LA.


    PS: In case I didn't make it clear, Madsen is creepy.

  11. Excellent blog as usual. I would like to see an entry about Captain Owen Honors, former CO of the USS Enterprise. It's a stretch to assume that CAPT Honors was actually a competent skipper. Nevertheless, his loss will have no negative impact on the Enterprise's upcoming deployment. That's because our aircraft carriers have ZERO impact on anything. They spend billions hanging out in the Arabian Sea while their F/A-18s launch, do nothing over Afghanistan, get refueled about 23 times and then return to the ship.

  12. Frank,

    As an old carrier sailor I hate to admit it, but I agree with you about 98 percent of the worth of carriers, and the remaining two percent ain't worth arguing about. ;-)

  13. If I were Erickson, I'd be mailing out resumes by the bushel, preparing for the day when being a shill for higher military budgets is no longer a viable career path. That day will be coming very soon, perhaps even this year, as 2011 is shaping up be an absolute economic and fiscal horror show.

    But reality still hasn't caught up with the Pentaloons, if this is anything to go by:

    U.S. to detail $100 billion in Pentagon savings, cuts

    It mostly seems to be talk about ending (some) junk weapons acquisition. Nothing about closing military bases in places like Paraguay, troop repatriation, or ending the stupid and immoral occupations. And, of course, no mention at all of the 4.4 billion the Republicans plan to cut from Veteran's Affairs, and which they're too chickenshit to talk about openly (not that they have to, since the Heritage Foundation does all their austerity planning for them).

    The endless kicking of the debt can down the road has guaranteed one thing, anyway: when fiscal reality can no longer be ignored, the change will come rapidly and with little warning. That is the great tragedy that Gates et al. have set us up for, thanks to their relentless denial of reality.

    As for our latest unclothed Emperor, his motto seems to be "Let them eat quantitative easing!"

  14. I don't know Madsen, so I can't speak about him. What I do know is that DC attracts normal people and creepy ones, and that he has proven to be informative in writing about the latter.

  15. JP,

    I still don't hold hope that military spending on pie-in-the-sky gizmology will ever cease.


    Everything I've read by Masden has the unmistakable mark of conspiracy quackery and rumor millstone masonry. He has that reputation for a good, good reason.

  16. Frank,

    You can’t say your life’s work did nothing to enhance the security of the United States. For one thing, it (your work) ensured that we have no military peers, which is very, very important, regardless that the people shaping and running our foreign policy didn’t know how to govern the rest of the world once we had conquered it.



    (Frank, your comment seems to have been gobbled up by the blogspot gremlin. Sorry about that.)

  17. More grist for the "fear China" mill:

    China's New Fighter Jet Could Pose 'Terrifying' Challenge to U.S. Fleet

    The article states that "a decorated Navy fighter pilot" said this is a real threat. Must be true then, right? ;-)

  18. I love how "Whiz" said, "It’s PROBABLY leaps and bounds above where we are, and that’s terrifying.”

    Everybody's a weasel-word smith in that business. I'm sure Whiz and his Fox 3 Balderdash Enterprises will make big bucks from this revelation.


  19. CDR Huber,

    I very much enjoy your blog. I did buy Bathtub Admirals.
    Of course our generals and admirals are a detestable lot. Yes we have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in useless gizmology, or 20 billion dollar carrier battle groups that can't project power much beyond their flight decks. Just the same, there's a whole world of waste and outrage out there that deserves your input. I am speaking about issues of which the average tax payer is clueless. I am referring to the personnel costs of maintaining the all-volunteer force. Here are some things to ponder: What is the cost of providing a 4 bedroom house in San Diego, DC Metro area (or Germany, Japan etc) for a 21 year old, married E-3? How about discussing the costs of deploying service members to SW Asia? I know firsthand it's pretty embarrasing. We have a force that demands $10/bottle water, $100/day meal service, the freedom to drive a $300,000 tactical vehicle to drop off your uniforms at the Filipino laundry service, 24hour air conditioning (a soldier or airman shouldn't be expected to turn off his AC ever), unrestricted use of hot water (today's service member requires a full body shave).
    From my observations, we have a force that can't even fight a war.

  20. Does the Dong Feng 21 really exist? Has anyone seen one flying? Has anyone one intercepted the telemetry for it? With the paranoia that underpins all Washington's action, all China has to do is persuade a few idiots there that it does exist and does work so that Washington will spend a few hundred billion dollars developing a defence that doesn't really work. After all, look at how much Washington has spent in response to a few boxer cutters, a pair of trainers, a few bottles of hair bleach. a pair of underpants and a couple of photocopiers (about $2000).

    On the otherhand, which carrier admiral is going to risk his pride and joy, his career and $5 billion of taxpayers' money taking his carrier within 240 nm of Taiwan to project some of that power if he believes that the PLAN could blow it to pieces.