China fact of the day

by on April 11, 2015 at 3:34 pm in Current Affairs, History, Political Science | Permalink

“There are individual US pilots that have had more carrier landings than the whole of the Chinese military,” says Mr Midgley. Gary Li, an independent defence analyst on Beijing, adds that having an aircraft carrier “does not equate to knowing how to use it. They are years away from being able to conduct carrier operations.”

I am not sure however that this is true:

The army will eventually have to get rid of troupes of dancers, opera singers and drivers who are more representative of a former era when ideological concerns were more pressing.

The FT article is interesting throughout.

1 Art Deco April 11, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Is he telling us to get rid of the Marine Corps Band?

The retired Marine in my office said she had no issues with the Band members she’d crossed paths with. She said, however, that they’re trained musicians, not trained soldiers, and they generally do not have a clue as to what the decorations on their uniforms mean.

2 dan1111 April 11, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Is the goal of the Chinese aircraft carrier to use it in combat, or just to have it to wield geopolitical influence? Probably mainly the latter. A much lower level of competence is required for that.

3 Sam Haysom April 11, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Why does China even need aircraft carriers. It made sense (it was still a mistake but the reasoning was understandable) for Germany to build dreadnaughts because the English Navy did use its naval superiorty to limit Germany’s ability to project power overseas and threaten German food supplies in the event of war. But the American naval superiorty doesn’t really put many restrictions upon China’s ability to project power. China could build an Air Force base in East Africa far cheaper and anywhere else it wants to make its power felt.

The American government was quickly transforming itself foolishly into a force better adept at fight terrorist than confronting major powers like China. China’s insistence of a naval build up seems to have forced America to start pivoting back towards Asia. When you get right down to it the country with one more aircraft carrier than his rival can project a lot of power- the man with one less aircraft carrier has a lot of sunk cost in worthless aircraft carriers. Aircraft carriers were the symbol of American hegemony because they represented America’s control of the seas. Doesn’t that symbolic benefit disappear for countries that don’t control the seas.

4 dan1111 April 11, 2015 at 4:19 pm

You are overcomplicating things, I think. China wants to challenge American hegemony. America’s aircraft carriers are a symbol of that, as you state. So China wants aircraft carriers, too.

5 Sam Haysom April 11, 2015 at 6:11 pm

My argument was badly put so ill restate it- aircraft carriers as a symbol of strength aren’t that great unless they let you control the seas. If this were a multi-polar world like Belle Époque Europe I’d understand the strategy- Aircraft carriers announce that you’ve arrived as a contender for top dog. But in a unipolar world where the U.S. has ten ( I think) ACCs what symbolic power are you demonstrating? I think China assumes that aircraft carriers are the conventional weapons equivalent of nuclear weapons when really aircraft carriers symbolic strength derives entirely from the fact that they represent the USA’s control of the seas. They are like a Super Bowl ring for the two time global stand-off winner. But all things considered Super Bowl rings themselves don’t so much to help you win next year. If China wants to challenge US hegemony they already got an excellent weapon to do so the anti-ship missiles they are developing.

6 Jan April 11, 2015 at 8:15 pm

It’s an insult for the US to have more aircraft carriers in China’s backyard than the PRC itself. I don’t think they are under any illusions about the actual military impact of their one carrier.

7 Mark Thorson April 11, 2015 at 9:57 pm

On the other hand, if the idea is to spend a small amount of money to provoke the U.S. to spend a large amount of money developing countermeasures, it’s likely to succeed in spades. For example, the DF-21D missile is rumored to be the first long-range ballistic missile with the capability of hitting a carrier that’s underway, though that’s never been demonstrated. Before rendering carriers obsolete, it might be clever of the Chinese to provoke the U.S. into building even more of them. Sort of like building battleships up to WW2. That would eat up funds that could have been spent on something that matters.

Buying a decrepit old Soviet carrier would be a cheap way to shake things up like that. It might even have made sense (from an incentives point-of-view) for a U.S. ship-building defense contractor to have bribed a few Chinese officials to press for the deal to buy the carrier. A few million spent there could get a few billion spent here.

8 Jan April 11, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Oh, we don’t need the Chinese to convince us to spend an idiotic amount of money on low-value stuff for our military. Still kicking ass with no second place within light years of us.

9 Ronald Brak April 12, 2015 at 1:37 am

Mark Thorson, I certainly think it is possible that China’s carrier is a bluff to keep the US investing in carriers and countermeasures. However, rather than a master plan, my guess guess is their carrier is simply the outcome of conflict between pro-carrier advocates who may actually be serious about starting up a carrier force, anti-carrier advocates who see it as a waste of resources, and pro-carrier as a bluff advocates. While China does seem better at planning ahead than my own country, it is clear that most of the time they just muddle through much the same as everyone else.

10 mulp April 12, 2015 at 10:41 am

“On the other hand, if the idea is to spend a small amount of money to provoke the U.S. to spend a large amount of money developing countermeasures, it’s likely to succeed in spades.”

Yep, conservatives and Republicans would demand a 10 to 1 carrier advantage be maintained against China, and thanks to conservative Republican industrial policy. the Republican funding of ten new carriers would boost China’s GDP by 10% as China supplies all basic resources of ship building, possibly including constructing the US carriers, because that would cost half as much as building in the US importing Chinese steel.

It isn’t just in rare earths where the US led in 1980 but China leads the world today, with the US in 3rd place or lower.

Based on the current global economy, WWII would be won by China working with Churchill because the US does not have any ability to ramp up production on new goods for a war. One needs to look at how long it took to produce new war goods for Iraq war; it was years longer than for WWII.

11 bobE April 11, 2015 at 4:20 pm

I don’t think they really could build an air force base in east africa. That’s why they’re making islands in the pacific. Nobody would make it easy for them to start building military bases in other countries I can promise you that.

12 Ronald Brak April 12, 2015 at 1:26 am

Plenty of countries let the US build military bases on their soil because the US helped them out in the past. (In our case the US sorted out our whole Imperial Japan problem.) There’s no reason why China could not do the same. But yes, any Chinese overseas military bases at the moment are just going to be seen as foreign aid via other means by the host countries, or resented concessions. (And China has had some experience with resented concessions.)

13 JWatts April 12, 2015 at 10:55 am

… an air force base in east africa. ”

A base is pretty worthless without a dedicated supply line that you can protect when it’s under threat. The Chinese can’t possibly protect the supply line to such a base, so it merely becomes a target to be neutralized at the start of a conflict and then ignored. That’s a lousy use of scarce military assets.

On the other hand a functional carrier can be used to project power into Africa (or anywhere else with reasonable operational range), but can be pulled back to safer waters if it becomes threatened.

Now as to whether such a ship (really an entire battlegroup) would be useful in any confrontation with the US, I’m reminded of the German battleship Scharnhorst (WW2). You’ll note that it didn’t work out well for the German’s. So, maybe that’s a historical point in favor of not building such a carrier.

14 Alex Godofsky April 11, 2015 at 7:28 pm

The geopolitical influence ultimately comes from the possibility of actually using it. No one cares about Italy’s carriers because no one thinks that they can do anything. People care about France, because it has actually projected power overseas recently.

15 Sam Haysom April 11, 2015 at 7:51 pm

Both the Carvour and the Charles De Gaulle participated in the Libyan intervention under the auspices of NATO. During the recent interventions in Iraq which France has been far more active in than Italt France largely relied on ground based planes until fairly recently. France has mostly made use of the CDG in support of NATO operations not as a means of projecting power.

The operations that France has conducted on its own initative in the past decade, mostly in Francophone Africa, did not make use of the Charles de Gaulle relying mostly on air support from France’s air base in Gabon. So yes the French army is immensely more competent than the Italian Army and definitely one of the top ten forces in the world, but it projects about as much power with its aircraft carrier as Italy does with its carrier not very much. France projects power with skilled combat units and regional support bases.

16 Sam Haysom April 11, 2015 at 7:54 pm

Sorry not the Carvour but the Garibaldi the Carvour basically has only served in disaster relief.

17 nicholas April 11, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Aircraft Carrier operations are extremely complex; carrier takeoffs and landings are a relatively simple part of that complexity, but they are not easy at all. Effective “combat” use of carriers triples that peacetime complexity. China is doing this all from scratch, with no carrier experienced allies to help them; China is many years away from even approaching the combat capability of a U.S. aircraft carrier.

US Navy has been at this big-time for 80 years, so Americans take it for granted and are clueless about the difficulty — Tom Cruise makes it all look so easy in Top Gun movie land.

18 Gopchik April 12, 2015 at 11:18 pm

People are right to be clueless about a great many things. Why isn’t this one of them?

19 jdm April 11, 2015 at 4:55 pm

I vaguely recall another China fact of the day from not so very long ago, something to the effect that

“at $1.2 trillion, Italian GDP is roughly the size of China’s, and Italy’s total foreign-trade value of $750 billion is only slightly smaller than that of the mainland.

The bottom line: Yes China is an important country, but we should keep matters in perspective.”

Perspective indeed.

20 dan1111 April 11, 2015 at 5:13 pm
21 jdm April 12, 2015 at 12:04 am

That was my point.

22 Jer April 11, 2015 at 5:16 pm

I am fascinated that nations believe there is a future in massive human-driven ships, planes, and tanks. When endless swarms of land, sea, and especially air drones can rain surveillance, death, and disruption on military and strategic targets alike faster, cheaper, with greater maneuverability, lower detectability, and at less risk. Perhaps the Chinese hope to play a type of proximity intimidation by placing a carrier fleet off of the US West coast or South-east coast waters – for maneuvers and international shipping assistance 😉

23 Sam Haysom April 11, 2015 at 6:13 pm

Suggests to me that Gingrich was probably right global control will like evolve more and more towards who can perfect anti-satellite warfare.

24 So Much for Subtlety April 11, 2015 at 6:23 pm

The army will eventually have to get rid of troupes of dancers, opera singers and drivers who are more representative of a former era when ideological concerns were more pressing.

Not for a while they won’t. Xi Jinping is married to a Vice-Admiral.

25 duxie April 11, 2015 at 9:33 pm

The wife of Xi jinping,

“Peng is the Dean of the People’s Liberation Army Art Academy. She gained popularity as a soprano singer”

“Peng is a civilian member of China’s People’s Liberation Army and holds the civilian rank equivalent to major general.”

26 The Engineer April 11, 2015 at 8:16 pm

This so called aircraft carrier is a reflagged Soviet carrier. They fly an inferior VSOL aircraft off it, a bad Soviet copy of a Harrier jump jet.

This is not even in the same universe as a US nuclear carrier.

27 dearieme April 11, 2015 at 8:39 pm

My suspicion is that someday soon somebody will sink one of those US carriers, and then they’ll look as obsolete as battleships became.

28 Cyrus April 11, 2015 at 8:57 pm

I don’t see any overlap between the forces capable of doing so and the forces interested in total war with the United States.

29 Sam Haysom April 11, 2015 at 9:23 pm

It’s a fantasy for him/ her driven by complete resentment about American power. What he means to say is that he hopes someday soon someone will sink a US carrier.

30 Ronald Brak April 12, 2015 at 1:31 am

Or maybe he is in a habit of watching the news and saw what Argentina managed to do to a far superior force with a couple of missiles, or what dinghy bombers did to the US Cole, and arrived at the conclusion that US carriers are vulnerable. Maybe a little pessimistic, but that’s probably not a surprising trait in someone with his handle.

31 Thiago Ribeiro April 12, 2015 at 8:32 am

The same could have been said about something like 9/11. Denial doesn’t have magical protective properties as (Americans should have learned in 2001).

32 ohwilleke April 12, 2015 at 11:59 pm

China is certainly in a position to sink a U.S. carrier today. In U.S. military war games, surface warships of all kinds usually lose soundly to even moderately outdated attach submarines, and China has a larger fleet of reasonably functional attack submarines than any other country in the world today that could conceivably go to war with the U.S. Navy, and that fleet of submarines and their anti-ship missiles are being modernized at a rapid pace, because China has the money and technical know how to do it.

Right now, China has more to lose than to gain from war with the U.S.; but if its economy collapses and the Chinese public is clamoring for decisive action of any kind whatsoever to end the confusion, fear and anger that would come with that collapse, and Chinese leaders thought that they could contain the conflict with the U.S. to the level of a skirmish with conventional weapons, it might seriously consider trying to draw first blood against an American aircraft carrier.

33 ohwilleke April 13, 2015 at 12:04 am

For example, a really devious Chinese military-diplomatic figure might, after a Chinese sub had sunk an American carrier, disavow the action as insubordinate, promise to pay restitution and make amends, and execute the scapegoat crew, for example. Thus, China could make a point about its naval power without actually ending up in a total war.

34 Jay April 13, 2015 at 12:32 pm

” reasonably functional attack submarines”

You’re using reasonably rather loosely. The chances are one of their subs getting close enough is almost zero, carriers don’t travel solo and there’s usually half a dozen layers of other ships, including much more advanced U.S. subs between them and the carrier. I’m not saying it can’t happen ever, just saying I don’t think they’re quite there yet. They’re most capable attack subs aren’t even comparable to Soviet Akula class yet and those came into service in the early 80’s and I think if any conflict were likely the U.S. would be able to account for their force pretty quickly from the start.

35 carlolspln April 12, 2015 at 10:17 pm
36 Chip April 11, 2015 at 9:07 pm

A Chinese aircraft carrier doesn’t need to be better than America’s today. It only needs to be better than what it’s neighbors have in the East and South China Seas, where it is currently establishing facts in the water.

With the U.S. they’re plying a long game – quickly becoming a shorter game – as Washington withdraws and weakens economically and culturally. The Asia infrastructure bank is just one example of waning US influence.

What will the interest be on US debt in five years? Probably more than the U.S. defense budget.

37 Sam Haysom April 11, 2015 at 9:26 pm

Well it will be easy prey for Japanese subs so I hope they have a back up plan. Other than Japan all other Southeast Asian nations could just as easily be confronted by land based aircraft.

And China is actually playing the opposite of the long game here. China’s naval build up has caused the American defense structure to increasingly pivot its focus back to Asia. The long game would to put off these kind of high profile moves until American influence had actually collapsed.

38 Chip April 11, 2015 at 9:37 pm

China is establishing control over energy fields in the region now.

The US pivot is just a posture of a country with quickly waning interest in events outside the war between Dems and the GOP over such momentous issues as gay marriage, war on women and the rest.

What has the pivot done for example about the construction of Chinese military runways in the Spratlys?

Ask the Philippines if China has foolishly provoked the scary US pivot.

Japan is showing signs of militarising but its people remain overwhelmingly opposed. The shrinking and ageing population is one election away from more complacency.

39 ohwilleke April 12, 2015 at 11:51 pm

The most logical place for China to flex its military might and establish global military credibility would be for it to decisively conquer North Korea.

China could do so with almost no international opposition. China has ample ability to manufacture a causa bellum whenever it wishes to do so. An invasion would eliminate a potential threat to its own national security that is greater than the threat that North Korea poses to its Western opponents in the process. And China would have a soft power propaganda coup in a few years as North Koreans gleefully adopted the core elements of the Chinese political economy and prospered relatively to their former dismal state, even if the North Koreans ended up being ruled by a class of Chinese carpet baggers at first. A victory in North Korea for China would expose any flaws in the Chinese military apparatus so they could be corrected before China took on a more serious contender. And, victory in North Korea would divert attention from stalemate and failure in China’s boundary skirmishes with India and its efforts to crush nationalist dissent in its inner territories like Tibet and the homeland of the Uygars.

The men sucked into military service in a militarily activated China would also ease the pressure created by gender imbalances in Chinese society that have left it with a serious excess of men in its civilian population.

China might then leverage a victory in North Korea to cement its communist or formerly communist neighbors like Vietnam and Mongolia as part of its area of influence, pressuring these countries into becoming tributary states milked for the benefit of China’s core.

40 AIG April 11, 2015 at 9:44 pm

Considering that China currently has about 15 carrier capable aircraft, mostly prototypes…I’d say a good 95% of the USN pilots have more carrier landings than the combined Chinese Navy.

So the “there are individual US pilots…” is a large understatement. The USN and Chinese Navy are universes apart.

41 Chip April 12, 2015 at 3:05 am

How many universes apart were the U.S. and Chinese economies just 20 years ago?

I’m less interested in where China is, so much as how quickly it’s changing. And how quickly America is slowing.

42 AIG April 12, 2015 at 3:56 am

Slowing? Why are all those Chinese kids coming to American universities in record numbers, if the ones in China are getting so good?

PS: There’s 3 Chinese universities in the top 200 universities in the world.

PPS: What do you think is the wage premium for a US educated PhD going back to China, vs a Chinese educated one?

43 mkt April 14, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Yes. Of course the Chinese Navy is light years behind the USN. It’ll take decades for it to be a reasonable threat — but every journey starts with a single step, etc. etc.

75 years ago observers were scoffing at Japan’s efforts to build a modern navy. Their economy was too backward, their industrial base suitable for manufacturing bamboo umbrellas, and how many skilled Japanese aviators had anyone ever seen?

Then Pearl Harbor happened, an air strike from six modern aircraft carriers (or more precisely, two modern and four modernized).

But it took Japan decades to build their Navy to that level (and in the end of course it proved to be no match for the US Navy, but it still took four years and thousands of lives to achieve that proof). At the time of the Meiji restoration, Japan’s navy was at maybe a 17th century level of technology.

So the Chinese Navy’s current weakness is not a guarantee of future results. Yes they have a long way to go. But so did Japan. It takes decades to build a world-class navy, but it can and has been done.

44 8 April 11, 2015 at 11:16 pm

A man must crawl before he can walk; China will improve its capabilities. China is not worried about the U.S. or Japan though. India and the trade routes to Africa and the Middle East are more important. If the US decides global cop is too much, protecting Saudi oil exports to China will be low on the list of concerns.

45 ladderff April 12, 2015 at 9:22 am

+1. Entertain the concept of Eurasia.

46 chuck martel April 12, 2015 at 9:49 am

“the trade routes to Africa and the Middle East are more important.”

Is someone threatening Chinese access to African and Middle East trade routes?

47 A Definite Beta Guy April 12, 2015 at 12:50 pm

You identify weaknesses and correct them BEFORE they become national crises. At least if you have a functioning nation.

48 ohwilleke April 13, 2015 at 12:06 am

For example, China is making major investments in raw materials mining in Afghanistan and Sub-Saharan Africa right now.

49 duxie April 11, 2015 at 11:33 pm

“There are individual US pilots that have had more carrier landings than the whole of the Chinese military,”

That is assuming if China wants a direct carrier to carrier confrontation.

The Chinese carrier lacks power assisted aircraft launch system, hence the aircraft has limited payload. They would be more interested in these,

50 Steve Sailer April 11, 2015 at 11:44 pm

Aircraft carriers are useful in pushing around Third World countries. China is rapidly developing economic interests all over, for example, sub-Saharan Africa. Maybe in a generation a couple of Chinese aircraft carriers will be enough to persuade, say, Zambia or Tanzania, not to nationalize Chinese mines.

51 A Definite Beta Guy April 12, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Very much so. While everyone points to missiles and the like threatening carriers, no one talks about the extreme investment it takes to develop aircraft with extended range, testing the missiles, etc. Argentina sank a few British ships in the Falklands War, but since then Western power has expanded dramatically, while Argentina has fallen into complete disrepair. It’s unlikely that Tanzania will have the air force and missiles necessary to deter a Chinese carrier group in 20 years or so. But China’s still in an exploratory stage, so we have little idea what China’s strategy will be in 20 years.

52 ohwilleke April 13, 2015 at 12:07 am

Very plausible.

53 RM April 12, 2015 at 12:21 am

Maybe off point, but here I go. My own recent experience trying to get simple things done make me wonder whether the U.S. is in a position to fight any kind of war. From trying to get a washer to delivered on time (3 delays from a big box and counting), magazine subscriptions that don’t arrive, Uber drivers cancelling even as they get to the pick up point (I don’t know if they get get scared or what), watching Uber drivers get lost on their way to get me, spending an hour in the check out at Walmart, empty shelves and dysfunction at Walmart, restaurant service that seems to get slower (at the low- to mid-priced ones that I go to), roads that are not being fixed, dysfunction in Washington (don’t want to be cliched, but I can’t find other words), etc.

Does it really matter how many aircraft carriers we have? I used to think that we could not win in Iraq because we failed to understand the politics and culture there. Now I am wondering if maybe we were just plain incompetent. Maybe its the same thing.

Or are the Chinese worse at all these things?

Or maybe, I have had a string of bad luck.

54 mulp April 12, 2015 at 10:56 am

Look at the time it took for the US to switch from an economy producing consumer goods to an economy pumping out planes, tanks, ships by the hundreds per week from 1940 to 1942, compared to how long it took to come up with a couple of new vehicles and personal protection and robots in 4 years of the Iraq war. Families of soldiers were finding and buying stuff and mailing it to Iraq because the DoD could not do in years what was done in months and weeks in the 40s.

55 Thiago Ribeiro April 12, 2015 at 11:46 am

Which kinds of products were they mailing? This is interesting.

56 mkt April 14, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Where do you live? Though it was decades ago, your experiences echo my experiences living in Boston for several years: things tended not to work; queues and inefficiencies were everywhere. I was glad to move back to the west coast. I don’t know that people are more competent here, but if nothing else the infrastructure (roads, road design, buildings) tends to be newer and thus less decrepit and things are more likely to work.

57 Turkey Vulture April 12, 2015 at 12:38 am

A larger portion of the cost at walmart comes in the form of waiting than at fancier places.

My local walmart has self checkouts and that substantially improves the experience.

So I think it is the nature of the beast, not a sign of the times.

58 RM April 12, 2015 at 2:02 am

Maybe I am suffering from a bit of mood affiliation today.

59 chuck martel April 12, 2015 at 9:54 am

If the cost of waiting in line to check out at Walmart is too high maybe you could hire someone to do it for you.

60 Andao April 12, 2015 at 10:28 am

If the carrier is a taunt, its an absurdly expensive one. The planes and the training are pricy, but all the other ships and subs you need to defend the carrier are probably much more expensive.

All another country needs is a few good subs and the carrier is toast. Notice that’s exactly what Vietnam is buying, and Taiwan is developing.

61 ohwilleke April 12, 2015 at 11:39 pm

I’ve been on record for two and a half years now in predicting a Great Depression in China sometime in the time frame of 2015-2023. I’m currently inclined to think that this is more likely to happen in this decade than the next. I spell out the reasons and explore the potential consequences in a long post here:

62 jb April 13, 2015 at 5:14 am

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