Friday, November 18, 2005

US more cautious than wary as China's reach grows

US more cautious than wary as China's reach grows
By Robert Marquand
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

ANDERSEN AIR BASE, GUAM - This 30-mile-long volcanic island appears on a map like stray bit of tropical spackling flung out in the Pacific. Honolulu is eight hours east, Tokyo four hours north, Hong Kong and Jakarta four hours west and south. The rest is ocean.

Guam has been a sleepy supply depot for decades. But it is now becoming known as the "tip of the spear" of US Pacific forces. This US territorial outpost no longer means just "fuel and ammo" but "subs and bombers" as well.

Some officers say Guam's new priority is a result of diverse missions in the Pacific, like tsunami relief. But most agree it has its source in the "unknowns" in East Asia - code language for Pentagon concerns about the rise of China - with its claims on Taiwan and rivalry with Japan - and a region with friction over oil rights, North Korea.

"[Guam] hasn't had a continuous bomber presence since Vietnam," says Lt. Col. Hans Lageschulte, a flight operations officer here. "But things changed two years ago."

At that time, about 12,000 military aircraft were landing on the longest runway in the Pacific. Last year, that figure was 26,000. Bulldozers are flattening earth for a second parallel runway. Parked wing to wing on Andersen's tarmac are seven B-1B Lancer bombers with names like "Night Hawk" and "Live Free or Die." Their gray swept-back forms now carry JDAMs, or guided munitions. Each plane carries the payload of three B-52 bombers. [ Editor's note: The original version mischaracterized the B-52 bomber.]

"We [US forces] are developing an ops [operations] mentality in the Pacific," says David Crockett, as he stands inside a B1 cockpit loaded with upgrades. A B1 squad leader who wears titanium Armani glasses, Colonel Crockett is a veteran of Kosovo and Afghanistan. "We are training more and staying out longer."

China's military is beginning to show signs of serious capability, as it rises and spends in tandem with its new-wealth economy (see Part 1, Nov. 17). As China's submarines and destroyers begin to navigate the Pacific Ocean currents, US forces in Asia are becoming more robust and watchful - even as the Pentagon seeks better ties with the PLA.

The PLA has reformed 15 percent of itself into a core modern force capable of giving the US trouble around Taiwan. It has newly effective cruise missiles, three new classes of submarines, and a significant new defense industrial base from which to develop advanced weapons.

China lags behind the US in areas like stealth technology and the ability to project power
But this does not mean China now has a state-of-the-art Army, nor that China is on the verge of Pacific military parity with the US. To take one example, the PLA currently can "lift" or move only one division, about 15,000 personnel. It has no carrier force. In fact, there are so many wide gaps between China and the US - from stealth technology to "battlefield vision" - that some experts say China lags 20 years behind in the area of purely military matchups.

In the past year, however, a dawning realization of new Chinese military capability has been so surprising that many analysts warn of overcompensating, and of attributing to China far more threat than there is. They point to fearful commentary about Chinese ambitions and warmaking ability that is largely based on lists of Chinese hardware - planes, missiles, tanks, subs. Yet few serious military planners feel such lists are a genuine method of assessing military prowess. As one Pentagon source noted, quoting an old CIA joke, "no one ever lost their job here by analyzing a threat."

"To predict anything with certainty about the PLA or its intent is really irresponsible," says a senior US expert on China's military. "I don't think the PLA knows which way it is headed. I think there are just too many question marks."

"I view China as a challenge, I would like to put it that way," says Guam's air commander, Col. Michael Boera. "I don't yet know if they are a problem."

Problems for China: sustaining an attack on Taiwan and a US 'revolution in military force'
In interviews in Hawaii, Guam, Taiwan, and Tokyo, generals and pilots, analysts and experts offered two fundamental points about China and the US in Asia. First, while China has turned its 1970s-era military technology into late 1980s-era technology, it is still 1980s-early-90s technology, and remains untested in combat conditions. China's high-tech training of officers and enlisted personnel is still considered very modest.

Moreover, while China is creating the kind of high-tech battle force that will allow its ships, planes, missiles, and operations centers to coordinate with precision and speed, it does not yet have this hard-earned capability. Nor does it have advanced satellites and AWACS-enhanced battlefield vision (though China is purchasing up to four AWACS-type Russian A-50 planes.)

In the short term, China faces two real problems. One, in the most serious and potentially catastrophic scenario - a PLA attack on Taiwan - it is far from clear that China can sustain an attack, once it meets advanced resistance.

Second, US Pacific forces are not sitting dormant. China, for example, may be reforming, but it has not undergone the kind of "revolution in military affairs" that US forces have in the past decade. Moreover, should it come to a serious dustup in the Pacific, China might be required to face both US and Japanese forces. Japan has state-of-the-art systems that are mostly compatible with US systems.

From atop the slender control tower here at Anderson, with its "Prepared to Prevail" inscription, officers are busy managing a live example of how US forces are adapting. Aircraft from three military branches work together: Ke-135 bomber refuelers, B-52s, Navy P-3s, and Navy H860 helicopters. A set of stealthy B2 bombers was here last week, and Marine F-18 jets arrive next week. Lumbering C-17s buzz around like oversize bumblebees.

This is a composite picture of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's idea of "interoperability" - where military branches act in concert. The concept will be further enhanced this month when a new "Kenney War Fighting Center" starts up in Honolulu. The center will oversee a rapid-response Air Force team throughout the Pacific. Here in Guam, the Kenney center will deploy three sophisticated "Global Hawk" unmanned reconnaissance planes. Global Hawk replaces the U-2 spy plane, and will fly reconnaissance missions of 24 hours or more at 54,000 feet above the 100 million square miles and along the 43 countries that make up the Pacific command region.

"Flexibility, speed, quick response ... is what we seek," says Lt. Col. Jason Salata of Pacific Command.

Last summer, US and Japanese planes conducted joint bombing runs off Guam - the first time Japanese planes dropped munitions here since WW II.

Guam's downside is vulnerability to what is called a "single point failure." That is, many assets could be wiped out in a single event, like an earthquake or a hostile submarine with tactical nuclear weapons. Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was nearly a "single point failure."

One gap between China's military aims and its actual ability is the officer corps. China is developing a high-tech army. Yet it is unclear whether enough high-tech officers are available. A colonel in the PLA makes about $500 a month, less than the salary of many office clerks in Beijing's joint-venture firms. One Western expert who has spent time at PLA schools says that while China may be purchasing a modern army, it is not clear that enough officers are "modern in their heads ... a lot of them are still fairly local. They like hanging out in karaoke bars and don't want a lot of trouble."

Andrew Yang, one of Taiwan's foremost military experts, says that on a trip to Beijing this summer, he felt the PLA "officers are not at a high level, and they are still losing talent to the private sector."

One sharp critic of a "Chicken Little attitude" about China is analyst Richard Bitzinger, now at the Asia-Pacific Center for Strategic Studies. Mr. Bitzinger argues that precise appraisals of the PLA are nearly impossible, since the Chinese do not share much information. He argues that many China hawks substitute their own fears for what they don't know about China's capability. Yet he says it is possible to use common sense in taking some basic appraisals of the PLA.

To quickly become the dominant power in Asia, China would have to sharply increase its military budget
For example, he says, for China to develop quickly into the dominant military power in Asia would require PLA commanders to focus on every area at the same time - research, training, weapons manufacture, deployment, and the creation of high-tech communications that even US forces find daunting. Such a full-out buildup would require China to even more sharply increase its already whopping budget.

"The problem for the PLA goes to the old saying, 'You can't make everything a priority,' " Bitzinger says. "They can't upgrade at all the levels needed and still spend only 3 percent at most of GDP."

Moreover, for PLA generals to simply go on a shopping spree and obtain cutting-edge aerospace, boats, and missiles, doesn't necessarily mean much, Bitzinger argues. Modern militaries require "sweating the details" to make very unusual and hard-to-duplicate military systems and subsystems work. This takes years.

"You can't just go out, buy stuff, and expect to plug and play [sophisticated hardware]," Bitzinger says. "I blame Star Trek for these assumptions," he adds, "where Captain Kirk and Spock can build anything out of nothing. You may want an Aegis system, but you can't buy it off the shelf.

"We see a smooth plating on China's new 053 destroyer that looks like our Aegis system," Bitzinger says, "and some military analysts decide China does have an Aegis. But that assumes too much, in my view."

Many PLA watchers say that despite China's modernization, many critical details are not addressed. For example, relations between the Chinese Army and Navy have long been so bitter that they sometimes don't speak to each other. While Chinese pilots now get a standard 200 hours training, that training is not advanced.

In a Taiwan scenario, too, the battle China has been planning for, there are many unsolved problems. Military commanders who have "war gamed" Taiwan point out that an invasion force of at least 250,000 to 300,000 is required. Yet China can't deliver that many men to Taiwan's shores in a first assault.

While China may be able to bloody the US Navy if it comes close to China's shores, the US Navy no longer employs this tactic in a Taiwan scenario, analysts say. One active Japanese army general who has war-gamed Taiwan many times says that China has only bad outcomes at present. If China tries to sink US ships with waves of aircraft, it will probably lose much of its Air Force, he states: "As a military planner you have to live to fight another day.... I have done the gaming many times from the Chinese side, and I've never won. My worst nightmare job is to be the Chinese operational planner for a Taiwan invasion. I have questioned whether China would sink a single US ship."

Beijing can now potentially sink an aircraft carrier that gets too close to the Taiwan strait. But so far its cruise missiles, which are similar to the US Harpoon or French Exocet, are still 1970s vintage. These missiles can hit a ship. But more than 40 navies in the world use this type of weapon, and US ships are practiced in countermeasures.

"People talk about Chinese cruise missiles as if one missile could stop the US Navy," says Bitzinger. "I really question that. For starters there are countermeasures. In a real scenario, the Navy isn't sitting on its hands."

Missiles aimed at Taiwan are not a decisive military threat
Then there are those 600-800 Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan from Fujian province in China. US commanders, Taiwanese politicians, and journalists often describe these missiles as if they are a decisive military threat. In fact, they are more likely symbolic. As a munitions expert told the Monitor, 700 missiles is "nothing. For a military attack that is supposed to incapacitate and paralyze a country, it is not impressive."

Each missile carries about a half-ton of explosive. Some 1,000 of them represent 500 tons. That amount is smaller than US forces dropped on Tokyo in two days, March 9-10, 1945, in an early futile effort to get Japan to surrender.

In an eerily prescient PLA book that came out before Sept. 11, 2001, two PLA officers argue that many future conflicts would be organized around "asymmetric warfare," also called "assassin's mace." The tactic itself sounds unsettling, based on deception and trickery. Yet some US strategists point out that military tactics from the Trojan Horse to Pearl Harbor have relied on surprise and hitting the enemy in vulnerable places. One said, "I think maybe only the British in the 19th century deigned not to attack in a vulnerable or dishonorable place. Everyone else has and does, and plans for it. I don't think China has a corner on that market.

Unfortunately, many assessments about China's military can only be proven in war. Such an event would probably be catastrophic. Many sources for this report, including some that confess they simply "don't trust China," nonetheless abhor the assumption that conflict is inevitable in the Pacific.

Future relations envision everything from a US and allies "containing" China to a future where both the US and China find a way realistically to share the security of the Pacific. Admiral William Fallon, head of the Pacific Command, pointed out in Beijing in September that the stakes are too great for US and Chinese military relations to remain chilly, and cloudy.

"If I were to encounter an issue with most of the countries in the Asia Pacific right now," he told reporters. "I would merely have to pick up the telephone and call someone I already know, I've already met, had a dialogue with...." Fallon continued that he felt it, "important for more than just the US-Chinese relationship" to develop a new and serious rapport. It is important for the entire region of Asia, he stated.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

U.S. Agrees to Relocate Marines in Okinawa

U.S. Agrees to Relocate Marines on Okinawa
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 27, 2005; Page A15

Deal to Move Air Operations Resolves Long-Standing Dispute in Alliance With Japan

TOKYO, Oct 26 -- Japan and the United States reached a deal Wednesday to consolidate U.S. Marine airborne operations on Okinawa, resolving one of the thorniest issues of their strategic alliance and laying the groundwork for a broader realignment of more than 37,000 U.S. troops stationed on Japanese soil.

The plan calls for relocating operations from the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma -- located near a densely populated civilian area of Okinawa -- to another U.S. base on the island, officials from both countries said.

"There was a sense of emergency that not reaching agreement on the issue, a central part of the U.S.-Japan relationship, would seriously damage relations," Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told reporters.

Despite the accord, U.S. dismay at the pace of the talks was evident. The head of the U.S. delegation, Richard Lawless, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian & Pacific affairs, suggested Tuesday that the difficulties over such issues as Futenma had delayed a broader reshaping of the U.S.-Japan alliance. The United States has come to view the alliance as a cornerstone of regional security as China assumes a more assertive stance and North Korea is presumed to have become a nuclear-armed threat.

"We have to realize that we no longer have the luxury of interminable dialogue over parochial issues," said Lawless, speaking at a Tokyo conference sponsored by the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.

"If we are to bring the alliance to where it needs to be in the 21st century," Lawless said, "then we need to dramatically accelerate, across the board, to make up for the time lost to indecision, indifference and procrastination."

The initial decision to relocate the air station was made in 1996, but negotiations were drawn out because of protests to the U.S. presence, heightened by the 1995 rape of an Okinawa schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen.

The countries are also considering a greater role for U.S. troops stationed in Japan to respond to hot spots throughout the Asia-Pacific region as well as an increased integration of Japanese and American forces. U.S. officials have been pushing Japan to take on a greater role in the alliance by bolstering its defense capability.

The compromise announced Wednesday was reached after U.S. officials dropped their demands for a new offshore facility in Okinawa to replace the Futenma airstrip. It would have been constructed on some of the last pristine coral reefs in the area, which drew fire from environmentalists. Japan, on the other hand, insisted on consolidating the operations at the existing U.S. Marine base, Camp Schwab, also on Okinawa. While American negotiators had long argued that there was not enough space at Camp Schwab, the compromise calls for adding reclaimed land off the base's shoreline.

The Futenma issue was so divisive that many here said it played into the decision by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to skip Japan on his recent three-nation tour of Asia. Lawless headed the U.S. delegation instead, extending his stay to complete the agreement before a meeting in Washington this weekend between Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and their Japanese counterparts on broader strategic issues, including troop realignment. Officials were also brushing up against another, more important deadline, President Bush's visit to Japan in mid-November.

The agreement has been hailed as a breakthrough, but many details have yet to be worked out. Particularly complicated is the question of where more than 3,000 Marines at Futenma will ultimately be relocated.

Machimura said that "thousands" of U.S. troops would be moved away from Okinawa. The U.S. government, however, has not yet said where and when those troops might go and has not dismissed stationing them elsewhere in Japan. Japanese diplomats have suggested such a move would be politically untenable given local opposition, saying the U.S. forces should be moved to Guam or the United States.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

US Military Retreats Over Japanese Base After Protests

US military retreats over Japanese base after protests by islanders
By David McNeill in Tokyo
Published: 27 October 2005

The United States has been forced to back down over its plan to build a large offshore military base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa after local protests stalled construction.

Washington and Tokyo had wanted to build a heliport and 1.5-mile runway over pristine coral reef more than a mile offshore, near Heneko village. But the plan enraged many locals on the small island, which already hosts around half of the 37,000 American troops stationed in Japan. Environmentalists joined the opposition to the planned base, saying it would destroy the reef, which is home to the dugong, an endangered species of sea mammal.

Richard Lawless of the US Defence Department said yesterday that a compromise, which will entail moving the new base to nearby Camp Schwab, had been agreed after considering "the importance of the Japan-US alliance".

Tokyo is an important ally in America's "war on terror" and Washington considers Okinawa, which is close to China and North Korea, a vital military lynchpin amid a major realignment of US forces worldwide. Japan contributes more than $1bn (£560m) a year and leases thousands of acres of land to US forces stationed in the country.

A congressional report released two months ago by the Overseas Bases Commission recommended maintaining current US troop levels on Okinawa. It said: "Diminishing our combat capability on the island would pose great risk to our national interests in the region."

Washington and Tokyo agreed in 1996 to build a new heliport to replace Futenma base, which sits in the heart of Okinawa's densely populated Ginowan City. The agreement had been forced on the two governments by the largest anti-US protests in Okinawa's modern history. The protests followed the kidnap and rape of a 12-year-old girl by two US Marines and a sailor.

But the Heneko plan, announced after years of tortuous negotiations, then proved deeply unpopular: a survey by the Okinawa Times-Asahi Shimbun newspaper last year found that 81 per cent of local people opposed it and dozens of mainly elderly protesters began blocking test drilling for the site 18 months ago.

The stalling of the plan angered Washington and is widely blamed for the cancellation of a scheduled visit to Japan this month by the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Tokyo was keen to resolve the dispute before President George Bush's visit next month; a relieved Japanese Secretary of Defence, Yoshinori Ono, said last night that the talks had been "long and difficult".

Despite the climb-down, however, protesters said last night that they were angry that the base was going to be built in Okinawa at all. Many said that the move to Camp Schwab would still mean construction would take place up to the shoreline.

"Tokyo and America just completely take us for granted. If they want a new base, why don't they build it on the mainland or outside Japan altogether?" asked one of the protest leaders, Osamu Taira. "The only reason that they foist it on us is because they know we are small and powerless. We will protest until this plan is scrapped and the military is gone from here."