Source: South China Morning Post, 1 July 2018

China’s Dongfeng (“DF”)-26 anti-ship missile has not been tested against a moving ship at sea. Until it has been proven to work, the US Navy—especially the eleven nuclear aircraft carriers that anchor battle groups—probably doesn’t have to fear China’s so-called “Carrier Killer” or “Guam Express” missile.

I reckon that if China was to attack a frontline US ally in Asia, the USN carrier task forces would be in the middle of the conflict. But short of an invasion of Taiwan or similar, would or should the US risk losing one of the world’s most sophisticated weapons platforms against the long odds that a DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile actually did punch through the deck of the USS Gerald R. Ford and send fourteen billion dollars of twisted metal and six thousand-plus men to the bottom of the Formosa Strait? Probably not. On China’s side, if threatened by US carriers in the near oceans (e.g. South China Sea), before they launch their unproven anti-ship ICBM, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (“PLAN”) had better be damned sure the DF-26s hit what they were aiming at.

As Sea of Lies CIA honcho Frank Coulter says to China intelligence operative Yu Kaili, “You’re playin’ Hold ‘em at the top table, darling.”

True Lies aficionados with an extra ten minutes can read on for more on Southeast Asia’s East-West face-off (with a slight detour to the Middle Ages).

Those of you who like a real book in your hands should know that the print-on-demand paperback of End of Lies should be ready for release on Amazon on March 4.

Bradley West, Singapore, February 11, 2019

Asymmetric warfare illustrated: longbows versus mounted knights

Source: Graham Turner illustration from https://www.realmofhistory.com/2016/05/03/10-interesting-facts-english-longbowman/

The medieval knight was the equivalent to a WWII tank: heavily armored, fearsomely armed and almost impossible for foot soldiers to kill when under power. At least that was the case until the late thirteenth century when archers from Wales and the west of England showed up and ruined the party for France’s nobility.

The Welsh longbow fired an armor-penetrating bodkin point that killed at three hundred meters. For two centuries (1250-1450), skilled commoners on foot unseated mounted nobles as the most deadly soldiers deployed in Europe. Then innovations in armor (particularly the introduction of head-to-toe suits, and linen layering under tempered heavy plate armor) was able to stop most arrows for the better part of the next century (1450-1550). Only when firearms became widespread in the sixteenth century and castles vulnerable was the armored knight truly obsolete. For three centuries it had been a non-stop, back-and-forth arms race with a big difference: total money spent, particularly initial fit-out cost (compare a bow-and-arrows to a suit of armor and weapons) as well as annual upkeep (food, training and travel for one versus maintenance for a squire, horse and noble).

Think about the cumulative investment in technology that underlay a state-of-the-art suit of armor on the eve of the battle of Agincourt in 1415: mining, metallurgy, blacksmithing, fastening, weapons innovation, horse breeding, horsemanship and martial training required generations of inspiration to produce an articulated metal suit to protect the rider and his horse, armed with a steel broadsword and perhaps a mace or a steel-tipped lance.

Flip the coin and think about the more modest investments required to craft a heavy six-foot-long bow out of yew, fashion longer thirty-inch arrows, fabricate steel arrowheads (either broadheads or bodkin points), and twist hemp into drawstrings capable of bearing one-hundred-fifty-pound draw weights. Then add to that the multi-year training expenses incurred to produce archers to shoot the longbow accurately under battlefield conditions. I’ll wager the fully-loaded cost of deploying a mounted knight (not forgetting his squire) was 50:1 over that of a English bowman in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453).

The longbow versus armored knight conflict was asymmetric warfare spread over three hundred years. The knights ended with the upper hand, but it was an expensive victory and started with a two-hundred-year losing streak.

Too little, too late or the beginning of the end for China’s South China Sea bases?

What prompted that High School history recollection was a series of articles that appeared in CNN and the Asia press in January. Back in August 2016, True Lies explored the rationale for China’s land grab in the South China Sea. (See What Lies Beneath | China’s submarine strategy in the South China Sea,  http://bradleywest.net/what-lies-beneath/.)

In summary, China’s modern nuclear submarine base at the southern tip of Hainan Island is adjacent to the relatively shallow water (100m or so average depth) of the South China Sea. US submarine-hunting aircraft and ships track China’s nuclear missile subs easily as they can’t hide in deep water or use underwater features as cover. China’s quieter diesel subs are harder to follow, and in the open Pacific the US is deeply concerned about the possibility of a diesel sub attacking a nuclear carrier. If China can keep the bases its built, its subs will have a much easier time evading detection and slipping into the deep blue Pacific. (Source: “What the South China Sea ruling means for the world,” Washington Post, 15 July 2016 or click South China Sea ruling meaning WP.)

After sitting on the sidelines during the Obama presidency, in 2017 the US military finally flexed its muscles in Southeast Asia. Most recently, in January the US and UK undertook a joint sail-past of the Paracel Islands between January 11 and 16 “. . . in a move likely to antagonize Beijing, which views a large swathe of the contested sea as its territory.” (Source: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/16/asia/uk-us-south-china-sea-intl/index.html)

Pictured: HMS Argyll takes part in a replenishment at sea with the USS McCampbell and USNS Henry J Kaiser whilst operating in the South China Sea. HMS ARGYLL TAKES PART IN TWO SHIP RAS On Saturday 12th January 2019 HMS Argyll took part in a Replenishment At Sea whilst operating in the South China Sea. The RAS although routine was slightly different given that she was RASing the same time as the USS McCampbell from the same tanker, the USNS Henry J Kaiser. The serial requires excellent communication skills and teamwork to enable both ships to successfully take fuel whilst at the same time minimise the inherent dangers associated with a RAS. Credit: LPhot Dan Rosenbaum HMS Argyll

China couldn’t let the opportunity pass to rattle its own sabre.

China’s reaction to US Navy operation: we have missiles (CNN, January 11, 2019).

“China claims to have deployed missiles ‘capable of targeting medium and large ships’ days after the latest US Navy ‘freedom of navigation’ operation near contested islands in the South China Sea, state media announced.

The deployment of the DF-26 ballistic missiles in China’s remote northwest plateau, originally announced Tuesday on China Central Television, follows a mission from the US guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell, which steamed close to the Paracel Islands, the previous day.”

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/10/asia/china-missiles-south-china-sea-intl/index.html

Source: The National Interest, January 14, 2019

The US replied through the media in another CNN article just over a week later.

Is China’s latest weaponry science fiction or battle ready? (CNN, January 20, 2019)

“China has never offered proof that it has tested the DF-26 in the anti-ship configuration, able to target warships on the move.

Verdict: Skeptical. Military analyst Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain, says no military has ever successfully developed an anti-ship ballistic missile. And actually using one in combat would require multiple practice launches to refine tactics and procedures, something that China has shown no evidence of having done.”

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/19/asia/china-new-weapons-2019-intl/index.html

And so it went, with the exchanges persisting deep into January.

Ballistic missile can hit moving ships, China says, but experts remain skeptical (CNN January 29, 2019).

“The video doesn’t show a missile hitting a moving target at sea,” military expert Carl Schuster told CNN. “For all the audience can see, it is a standard ballistic missile launch with no indication of whether the target is moving or static.”

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/29/asia/china-df-26-missile-tests-video-intl/index.html

The DF-26 may be the modern equivalent of the Welsh longbow . . . or nothing at all

The most recently completed US nuclear aircraft carrier the Gerald R. Ford (commissioned in 2017) cost US$14 billion dollars in R&D and construction costs. (There are ten other nuclear carriers in America’s navy. Let’s modestly assume an $86 billion cumulative replacement cost). China’s flagship anti-ship missile the DF-26 can’t have cost as much as one billion in overall R&D, including fabricating the first two dozen missiles and launchers, and training and deploying the crews. That’s a 100-to-1 cost differential.

No military in the world—even the US—has a functional anti-ship ICBM. The US is thought to be closest in both anti-ship missile research and in the development and deployment of an anti-ship missile projectile, the SM-6 (also known as the “RIM-174 Standard ERAM”).  To date, the US hasn’t tested an equivalent of the DF-26, but it has shown that the SM-6 can shoot another missile out of the sky.

The public barbs from retired USN Captain Schuster were designed to provoke a reaction from the PLAN, and that they did. But the US has to be reaching if it thinks that CNN articles casting doubt on the DF-26’s effectiveness are going to goad China into rolling the cameras while showing the DF-26 in action.

If the US was to seriously wish to evict China from its stolen South China Sea bases and not start WWIII, the straightforward approach would be to station one or two carrier battle groups nearby and give China a deadline. As mentioned above, the nearby ocean is too shallow for China’s attack subs to operate in without a high likelihood of detection. The US’s air superiority isn’t in any doubt, either. In a limited military action lasting less than two weeks, the US would evict China from the Paracels, Spratlys and other reefs and islands like a Jack Russell terrier clearing rats out of a barn.

The only way China could hang onto its illicit bases would be to either defeat the US forces by sinking a US carrier, or be thought capable of doing so.

“Ask yourself, ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya?”

One day, China really will get the jump on the US in a weapons system. Does the United States want to bet an $8 billion-to-$14 billion aircraft carrier that the DF-26 anti-ship missile doesn’t work? Short of China’s threatening to invade an US ally in East Asia such as Taiwan, South Korea, Philippines or Japan, I don’t see that happening.

And what’s the benefit to China if they do test the DF-26 multiple times under real-life conditions? If it fails, the US will see the bluff for what it is. If it succeeds, something in the field test(s) may reveal a weakness that the US and its allies later exploit. No, the real play for China is to test the DF-26 only if they are certain that it works . . . and then publicize only the test failures to bait the US into committing a carrier group and commencing hostilities.

China’s overriding military goals are first to push the US Navy out of the Western Pacific, and subsequently to project China’s naval power across all of the Pacific Ocean and, one day, the world. (If you like this kind of stuff, Sea of Lies has more along these lines.) In turn, success in overturning US military dominance in the Pacific would coerce Taiwan into accepting reabsorption into China, and bring South Korea and Japan into China’s sphere of influence.

End of Lies is coming soon to your online bookseller

End of Lies motifs with a map of San Antonio as the backdrop (Design by Aneirin Flynn)

End of Lies launches March 18 with eBook downloads available on all major sites such as Nook, Kobo, Apple, Google and, of course, Amazon Kindle. Amazon will also have the paperback available, too, on March 4. As a further inducement, if you buy the paperback for $12, I’ll give you the Kindle version for free. How’s that for a deal?E

If you would like an advance copy of End of Lies and are willing to leave a review, write to me at author@bradleywest.net. (I’ll ask you to share your real name and agree to join the True Lies subscriber list. You can unsubscribe any time you like, and your email remains confidential.)

Below I reproduce the back book flap blurb to give Countless Lies fans a taste of what the third instalment holds:

End of Lies is up for pre-sale at $0.99 and once the paperback launches March 4 you will be able to leave a review on Amazon. (You will also be able to leave reviews on other sites, but only from the March 18 official launch date.)

Below I reproduce the back book flap blurb to give Countless Lies readers a taste of what the third instalment holds:

Russia interferes in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. A North Korea nuke is on the loose in the US compliments of China. The right-wing deep state plots a coup d’état under the direction of an anonymous emperor-in-waiting.

Burned out CIA cryptanalyst Bob Nolan is on the trail of Higher Love and its sinister leader, but the conspiracists kidnap his family and two arch nemeses—one ex-KGB and one ex-CIA—aim to kill them all. Nolan’s small team battles formidable opponents, but with victory within sight he is forced to choose between family and country one last time.

Readers looking for third party feedback, there are reviews for EOL already up on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43694239-end-of-lies. (You can also leave your own review here as well.)

End of Lies is a page-turner that I hope you’ll enjoy reading as much as I did writing.