China Launches Its Third Aircraft Carrier

Last week’s launching of the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) newest aircraft carrier attracted world attention. The ship, named Fujian, is China’s largest and most advanced aircraft carrier, rivaling US aircraft carriers in size. Capabilities, however, might be another matter altogether. I mean let’s be frank. The US Navy has decades of carrier operating experience under its belt. That has created an expertise which plays a critical role in the development of new carriers and technologies. China’s weapons and electronics, on the other hand, may look nice and comparable to US systems but likely does not measure up operationally. Then there’s the matter of training a cadre of first-rate naval aviators. It could take the Chinese some time to develop enough pilots to successfully operate an air wing from the deck of Fujian.

This carrier is just the latest milestone in China’s journey to develop a navy able to challenge the power of the US Navy. Under Xi Jinping the PLAN has undergone a massive modernization and expansion. Shipbuilding numbers have risen considerably over the last decade in every major warship class. To put it simply, China is turning out ships like hotcakes. Whether the technologies are comparable to the US Navy remains to be seen. In the end it could come down to a matter of quality (US) versus quantity (China).

China’s goal is to field six carrier battlegroups by 2035. This will give China the naval power and capabilities of a first-class blue water navy. China will be able to to project power and support it anywhere in the world. Alongside the shipbuilding surge, China has been improving its naval infrastructure by modernizing port facilities and securing berthing rights in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

The US Navy has to focus its shipbuilding plan and warfighting doctrine on defeating a peer-level blue water navy at some point in the coming decade. At present, the US Navy is essentially steaming rudderless into a precarious future.

Ukraine Update 11 June, 2022: Artillery Shell Shortage Spells Trouble For Ukrainian Forces

After four months of heavy fighting, the Ukrainian military is facing shortages of ammunition for many of its Soviet-era weapons systems. With the war now focused in the eastern Ukraine and the fighting having become an artillery-driven war of attrition, the shortages are becoming more pronounced. The timing for this could not be worse. The flow of ammunition from Western nations has failed to keep up with demand and replenish Ukraine’s dwindling ammunition stockpiles. The United States and European nations are also shipping more accurate and mobile self-propelled artillery and multiple launch rocket systems to Ukraine. However, it is taking a significant amount of time to deploy the weapons and train Ukrainian soldiers to employ them effective. In the meantime, Ukraine’s army relies on its older artillery, even as the ammunition for these guns diminishes to critical levels.

Russia is gaining an advantage on the battlefield because of the ammunition woes. Russian artillery batteries are firing at least three to four times as many rounds as their Ukrainian counterparts. To be fair, Russia has more artillery batteries than Ukraine, but the disparity in rounds fired has more to do with Ukrainian ammunition issues than anything else. Gunners are having to conserve shells more and more as the days pass.

It is a common problem in war and hardly one exclusive to the war in Ukraine. Pre-war calculations and estimates are no longer accurate once the balloon goes up. Rates of fire and use of ammunition dwarfs the pre-war figures. Logistics takes precedence as the race to resupply can often determine what side wins a war. We’re seeing this now in Eastern Ukraine. Some of the gains Russia has made on the battlefield in the last 36-48 hours were possible largely because Russia has far more artillery batteries and ammunition available.  

China Is ‘Quietly’ Constructing A Naval Base In Cambodia

Construction of a Chinese naval installation on the Cambodian coast has been an open secret for some time now. But following a report in the Washington Post earlier this week, Beijing and Phnom Penh are under growing scrutiny. The report stated that the base will be used exclusively by Chinese forces and will be the first overseas Chinese military installation in the Indo-Pacific region. Chinese and Cambodian officials have denied the report, with the host nation’s government claiming the construction now underway is a joint Chinese-Cambodian expansion of the Ream Naval Base. Chief government spokesman Phay Siphan denied reports that part of the base will be used solely by the Chinese military. The spokesman said the role of the facility being built at Ream is ship repair.

US officials admitted that monitoring activity around Ream has been a priority for some time. The activity is in line with Chinese plans and ambitions in and around the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. A sizeable Chinese military presence in Cambodia could undermine Cambodian sovereignty and autonomy, and undermine stability in the region. Strategically speaking, a PLAAN base on the Gulf of Thailand will extend the reach of Chinese surveillance and military power to vital shipping lanes and chokepoints in the region. It also moves China’s naval and air power nearer to the Indian Ocean.

China is hedging its bets on the chance that the region will be unable or unwilling to challenge its designs. Over the weekend, a Chinese government official in Beijing even went as far as to confirm to the WaPo that parts of the base will be used by the Chinese military. Cambodia is not the only nation that Beijing is influencing or quietly strong-arming for basing rights and it will not be the last.

Defending Taiwan: Introduction

Although there is still a war raging in Ukraine, Taiwan is increasingly on the minds of US diplomats and military leaders. Following President Biden’s trip to Asia and his comments on the possibility of the US militarily supporting Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack there are many questions being raised about how the US might intervene to defend Taiwan if the PRC launches an attack. Policy debates on the shape and size of a potential US intervention are taking on a new importance in the aftermath of Biden’s ambiguous remarks in Tokyo. The president was less than clear, whether by design or circumstance, on the conditions needed to be met in order to trigger a US military response. For example, is Washington willing to intervene in the event of a Chinese military blockade of Taiwan, or will the red line only be crossed after the first Chinese troops land on Taiwanese soil?

Practically speaking, there are considerable obstacles US forces will need to overcome to successfully defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack. Geography and force posture are two of the most crucial. Taiwan is situated in the PRC’s front yard. Just 110 miles of water separate the island-nation from the Mainland. This is an advantage that cannot be negated or minimized. Hundreds of tactical aircraft and ballistic missiles, dozens of warships and thousands of troops ready for embarkation are normally based in close proximity to the Taiwan Strait. During a buildup to hostilities, reinforcements will pour into the Eastern Theater Command area and greatly increase the combat power available for an operation against Taiwan. Considerably more combat power than the US and select allied nations in the region could bring to bare or use as a deterrent. Improvements in Chinese air and naval capabilities over the last twelve years also make the formula more than a numbers game. The US forces still maintain a qualitative edge, but that is diminishing somewhat. Expanding capabilities, coupled with China’s already immense advantage in quantity might be enough to keep the US military at bay and unable to effectively influence the battle.

Periodically in the coming weeks, Today’s DIRT will examine the options available for the US to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, as well as taking a detailed look at the forces available to both the US and China.

Finnish Leadership Supports NATO Membership ‘Without Delay’

Finland has moved one step closer to applying for NATO membership. Its leadership officially extended its support for expedited membership in the transatlantic alliance. President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the decision and it is one that is enjoying heavy initial support among Finnish citizens and lawmakers. It a joint statement, Finland’s leaders said, “NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay.” Neighboring Sweden is expected to move forward with its own decision on NATO membership in a matter of days.

The leadership’s statement brings to bear a crucial question NATO will need to closely examine during the application process: Exactly what benefits do Finland, and perhaps eventually Sweden as well, bring to the table? Aside from aggravating Moscow, of course, and adding more fuel to Moscow’s NATO Expansion argument.

Russia wasted no time in saying it would consider a Finnish application to be a violation of international legal obligations. “Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of military and other nature, in order to curtail the threats that arise to its national security in this regard,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Moscow views the moves by the Scandinavian neutral nations to join NATO is viewed as a knee-jerk reaction to the war in Ukraine. With the war not progressing the way Vladimir Putin anticipated, Russia is now viewing events in Finland and Sweden with deep suspicion.