The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.

Operational Plan Orange: American Strategy in a Western Pacific War

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Thomas R. McCabe, USAFR, Retired


While the likelihood of conflict between the United States and China is presently low, it cannot be completely excluded. The days of Western military superiority over China are ending, if not already over. China’s deployment of numerous ballistic missiles, modern aircraft, and cruise missiles amount to a strategic revolution in the western Pacific (WestPac), since China can now plausibly threaten a devastating surprise attack against American and allied bases and ships in the region. This means our bases and the oceans there are no longer sanctuaries, and the opening phases of such a war are all too likely to resemble the opening phases of World War II. This being the case, we need to think through a strategy for such a war in the WestPac—an Operational Plan Orange. This article proposes such an OPLAN consisting of four component parts:

  1. Surviving the first salvo;

  2. Counter–intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) campaign;

  3. No Man’s Sea—the concept that the seas within the First Island Chain (the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea) will not be dominated by China; and

  4. Counter-energy, especially oil imports.

While such a strategy is certainly not America’s preference, it may be our least bad option. The Chinese have worked long and hard (and are continuing to work) to make sure that we will not be able to stage a Desert Storm—a rapid and overwhelming victory—in the WestPac. That being the case, the United States and its allies would be better served by relying on a strategy that combines denying China rapid victory with the threat of massive (but indirect, and recoverable) economic punishment in retaliation. This has ample potential to be a very grim and uncertain war.


East Asia and the western Pacific are undergoing what amounts to a strategic revolution, with the rise of China from the wheelbarrow age into a partially modernized superpower. China clearly intends to change the security architecture in the region and establish itself as the dominant military power there. While their current posture on totally excluding the United States is at least somewhat ambiguous, the Chinese would undoubtedly like our military presence there to end, while, effectively speaking, they reconstitute what amounts to Chinese domination.1 (As with many others in the non-Western world, the Chinese objection to past Western and, in their case, Japanese imperialism was not that it was imperialism but that it was at their expense—they have no evident objection to imperialism if they are the imperialists.2) Meanwhile, the United States has no intention of leaving, and as a rule, the rest of the regional actors want us to remain as a counterweight to China. And therein hangs a tale.

It is to be hoped that the Chinese will never be daring or desperate enough to take the enormous risks and inevitable costs of such a dangerous policy as military confrontation. Unfortunately, there are a variety of circumstances where war could plausibly be China’s least bad option, and Chinese president Xi Jinping is both supremely ambitious and a risk-taker, potentially a very ominous combination.3 That being the case, we need to ensure that, in case of an intense crisis and confrontation, the Chinese Central Military Commission cannot go to Xi and say, “If it comes to war, we’ll win it, we’ll win it decisively, and we’ll win it quickly.” How might the Chinese plan to pursue such a victory, and how might we go about preventing it? What might an American Operational Plan Orange look like?4

Chinese Strategy—the Opening Campaign

If a major war should break out in the WestPac in the foreseeable future, it is ominously likely to have too many parallels resembling the opening stages of World War II in the Pacific, with the Chinese in the position of the Japanese. The major difference—potentially a profound one—will be that, unlike the Japanese, the Chinese will have neither a massive surface naval superiority over its antagonists nor the ability (or for that matter necessarily the desire) to overrun and occupy major territories of its enemies, including, for the time being, Taiwan, due to their limited amphibious capability. Paralleling the Japanese, the likely ultimate Chinese strategy will be to avoid a long war by rapidly achieving its objectives and presenting its enemies with a fait accompli. Beijing’s expectation (or hope) will be that the United States, having been driven from the WestPac, will either not be willing to undertake the effort and expense of fighting its way back in—with its attendant risks of escalation—or will be unable to do so.

The details of Chinese strategy will undoubtedly be determined by how ambitious Beijing’s war aims are and the targets of those aims and will be massively impacted by the geography, especially the maritime geography, of the region. We should expect China’s strategy to include the following aspects:

First, the Chinese will have the strategic, operational, and tactical initiative at the opening of the war, and we will be reacting.

Second, the Chinese will undoubtedly attempt to split any anti-Chinese alliances, and, depending on the circumstances, some (or all) of our allies may choose not to join the fight—unless they are directly attacked—even if the war is triggered by a clear case of Chinese aggression. This may be due partially to distance from the relevant crisis (the southern tip of the Korean mainland is more than 800 miles from even northern Taiwan), the perception that it is not a matter of concern to them, intimidation by China, and possibly because of Chinese bribery of their leaders. To reinforce such tendencies, we should expect comprehensive Chinese information and disinformation campaigns aimed at disrupting anti-Chinese alliances, discrediting anti-Chinese efforts, and encouraging political discord. Nevertheless, Beijing will have to assume that any major Chinese move will be opposed by the United States and, depending on the scenario and the situation, other major regional powers. In particular, attacking American bases in an allied state, especially Japan and the Republic of Korea, can be expected to bring those allies into the war. That being the case, while Beijing will undoubtedly be prepared to attack those bases and they may be willing to do so preemptively, Chinese leaders may also be prepared to wait to see how the situation develops, especially for a Taiwan scenario, and whether those allies are willing to allow the US to use bases on their territory if they have not been directly attacked.

Third, we must expect to be operating against an increasingly mature Chinese precision-strike defense-in-depth system, frequently called an antiaccess/area denial (A2/AD) system.5 In particular, American and allied bases in the WestPac (and possibly the rest of the Pacific) and the waters therein will not be sanctuaries. For the foreseeable future, the American and allied ability to deter and defeat a Chinese air/missile attack against our bases by its steadily improving military is increasingly uncertain and likely to become more so, as the Chinese continue to integrate ISR systems with precision-guided munitions.6 China must be expected to attempt to immediately neutralize hostile forward bases and forward naval units in the First Island Chain (hereafter, the FIC—the Japanese Home Islands, the Ryukyu Islands south of Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines), primarily using a combination of ballistic and cruise missile and air attacks against forward bases and ships possibly as far out from the Asian mainland as Guam and the Marianas. Such an attack will have two major aims: 1) to establish and maintain air supremacy over the targeted areas of the FIC; and 2) to establish sea control within at least the FIC and to convert those waters into a Chinese bastion. Chinese forces will attempt to do this by disarming/dominating the FIC, in particular Taiwan, and making it too dangerous for American and allied surface ships to operate on the waters between the FIC and the Chinese mainland. This will be combined with and reinforced by an effort at what might be called hemispheric denial using land-based conventional missiles and long-range aircraft with cruise missiles, probably supplemented by People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) surface ships and submarines. An integrated ISR system will provide targeting intelligence.

Fourth, these attacks on forward bases will be supplemented/reinforced by swarm attacks by mini unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—“beetle bombs”—on American and allied air bases throughout the Pacific.7 This will be intended to disrupt the movement of replacement equipment and reinforcements. We must also expect such attacks against air bases and even civilian airports in the United States that support Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), although the beetle bombs used in rear areas may not be armed in an effort to minimize the chance of escalation. The assumed intent here will be to scatter junk and/or crash the beetle bombs into aircraft or onto the runways. Junk on the runways will close the runways until removed. A small piece of junk can ruin a very expensive engine and stop an aircraft.

Fifth, the Chinese will make a comprehensive attempt to disrupt friendly command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (C4ISR), using a combination of kinetic, cyber, directed energy, and special operations attacks. In particular, we should expect attacks against our satellites by antisatellite (ASAT) systems, of which China possesses several potential systems; missile and air attacks against our airborne ISR systems; jamming of our communication satellites and systems, the Global Positioning System (GPS), and radars;8 and possibly breaking the oceanic cables linking the region with the rest of the world.

Sixth, beyond China targeting C4ISR, we should expect attacks, especially cyberattacks, against a wide variety of other targets. Against Taiwan we should expect comprehensive attacks against all portions of the military, government, and economy, especially against infrastructure. Attacks against US and other allied states might be more selective, at least at first, concentrating especially against our weapons, combat support, and combat service support systems.9 However, China may not immediately make massive and indiscriminate attacks against American infrastructure, since they believe Chinese infrastructure to be equally vulnerable.10 This means a degree of mutual deterrence may exist, at least at the start. In addition, the United States has reserved the right to retaliate with nuclear weapons against major conventional attacks, including cyberattacks, against American infrastructure.11

Finally, for the foreseeable future, the Chinese will not necessarily attempt to invade or immediately occupy the targets of the war. Due to the limits of their naval and especially their amphibious capability—discussed in more detail later—Beijing’s preference will probably be to coerce a favorable settlement through a blockade, especially through what they call a firepower blockade.12

(US Air Force photo by A1C Rebeckah Medeiros)

Figure 1. Preparing for possible conflict in the WestPac. The 18th Wing and its joint partners executed the first WestPac Rumrunner exercise 10 January 2020, which focused on defensive counter air capabilities and joint interoperability using agile combat employment concepts.

The American/Allied Situation

Obviously, this will be completely unlike the wars we have fought in recent decades, where we have had air and space supremacy, where our enemies had at most minimal air capability, enemy antiaircraft capability was largely small arms or man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), and our bases and especially our ships offshore were largely sanctuaries. In this war, we must expect to confront the following conditions:

First, we may well be surprised, if for no other reason than we will likely be reluctant to believe war is imminent. Militarily, this means that we cannot expect to be permitted to mass overwhelming power as we did during Desert Shield, and we must expect to fight a war with little or no preparation. Depending on the circumstances (such as American involvement in major military action in another part of the world), we may not have overwhelming military power to mass.

Second, American military readiness may be low due to the wars of the recent decades, and we will not have the cushion of supplies we had in Desert Shield/Storm or Iraqi Freedom. Further, once we use up our stockpiles of munitions, we may no longer have the industrial capability to replace them quickly or in the massive amounts needed for a war with China.13

Third, due to China’s geographic proximity to the theater, Beijing will likely outmatch us in combat power, particularly in airpower, throughout much or all of the war. This is especially likely to be the case at the beginning of the war, since the Chinese will at least have the option of exploiting their internal lines of communications to concentrate their military power on parts of their home ground adjacent to the planned theater of operations, possibly under the cover of exercises. Meanwhile American military power is deployed worldwide and will need time to move to reinforce.

Fourth, we cannot assume space supremacy, space sanctuary, or even space superiority. The Chinese recognize that space systems are central to our warfighting capability, and, as such, are a supremely important and potentially decisive target. As previously mentioned, they have developed several ASAT systems.

Fifth, we cannot assume technological superiority—the technical sophistication of many or most of China’s weapons and aircraft may be at least as good as ours. Further, the Chinese science-and-technology base is becoming advanced enough in at least some areas, such as, for instance, hypersonics and artificial intelligence, that we cannot rule out the possibility of technological surprise.14 Beyond that, we should remember that even a comparatively have-not nation can develop and spring nasty technological surprises, as the Japanese did with the Mitsubishi A6M Zero Fighter and the Type 93 Long Lance torpedo at the start of World War II.

Sixth, in a war most likely being fought to restore the prewar geopolitical status quo while avoiding escalation to a larger war, we may, as in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, have no choice but to allow the enemy at least a partial geographic and/or target category sanctuary. This could be due to a variety of factors. For example, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) controls China’s conventional tactical missiles and strategic nuclear missiles.15 If conventional missiles are collocated at the same facilities or deployment sites in China as nuclear systems, attacking those facilities is potentially escalatory—Chinese officials have privately said attacks on Chinese nuclear forces with conventional weapons will provoke a nuclear response.16 In particular, attacking command-and-control targets, especially systematic attacks on the Chinese national command structure, would carry grave risks of escalation to an even larger war—perhaps nuclear. This means the Chinese may think they have (and they may actually have) escalation dominance.

Seventh, we must assume that everything we try to do will be contested. China will attempt to keep suppressed bases suppressed with follow-up air, missile, and beetle bomb attacks. We can expect them to attempt to do the same to our C4ISR systems. There may be a limited number of access points for American entry, and we must bank on these being heavily targeted. We must anticipate seaports and naval bases, including American bases, to be mined. 17 We should foresee our logistics ships being high priority targets,18 a potentially vital but little-noticed vulnerability.19 Reinforcements and resupply efforts must expect to be attacked en route—they may literally have to fight their way into the theater.20

Eighth, we cannot assume friendly reconnaissance and intelligence supremacy. As mentioned, we must assume the Chinese will do everything possible to degrade friendly ISR systems. Meanwhile, the Chinese have built or are building a variety of systems that we must expect will be available for military use even if nominally civilian, and when their data is integrated (likely an early priority for application of artificial intelligence) they will be able to provide resilient coverage of both the Chinese mainland and the seas bordering it. These systems include:

  • Satellites. The Chinese have developed and are rapidly deploying constellations of dual-use and military satellite reconnaissance systems, especially the Yaogan (“China remote-sensing satellite”) satellites, with electro-optical imagery reconnaissance satellites and synthetic aperture radar satellites. Both of these rely on data downlinking, not film return, which means the Chinese can more rapidly exploit their data. Recently, the Chinese have started deploying military electronic intelligence satellite systems. (Many of the Yaogan satellites are also reported to be electronic intelligence satellites, intended to track and locate foreign warships by their optical and electronic signatures.21 ) In addition, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has started to deploy a series of nominally civilian satellites to maintain a real-time watch on the South China Sea (SCS),22 and they have announced the intention to launch large constellations of optical microsatellites.23

  • Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The Chinese are making an extensive effort in ISR unmanned aircraft systems. These include at least two reported systems analogous to the American high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) Global Hawk (the Shenyang/Divine Eagle and the Xianglong/Soaring Dragon) both of which have evidently entered production,24 as well as a large unmanned airship25and several systems for the medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAS role. The most widely reported MALE systems are the Yilong/Wing-loong and the BZK-005, roughly similar to (or larger than) the American Predator,26 and the CH-5, roughly equivalent to the American Reaper.27 The MALE systems, like their American counterparts, can also carry bombs and missiles.28

  • ISR Aircraft. While China has historically deployed a modest force of ISR aircraft,29 it has recently started to mass produce the KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft for the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) and People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).30

  • Ships. On a more humble note, we should expect Beijing to deploy less sophisticated early warning and surveillance in depth by keeping their fishing boats and sea traffic deployed as potentially expendable warning systems (and munitions sinks) to detect movements of hostile surface warships. The US Coast Guard did something similar on the American east coast in the early days of World War II with the Coastal Picket Patrol, composed of yachts, motorboats, and converted fishing boats.31

  • Land-based radars. Especially if positioned along the coast, land-based radars forward-based on islands China has reclaimed in the SCS and over-the-horizon (OTH) radars pose another concern.32 Reports indicated the Chinese had at least five OTH radars in 2010.33

Ninth, since Russia views China to be a strategic ally against the United States,34 we must consider that the Russians may provide intelligence and targeting support to the Chinese, even if Moscow is not formally part of the war.35 Of particular significance would be Russian systems for tracking American aircraft carriers.36

Finally, we cannot assume the air superiority we have largely come to take for granted since the end of the Cold War, for at least five reasons in addition to attacks on our bases and aircraft carriers: 1) the Chinese are deploying large numbers of sophisticated combat aircraft; 2) the Chinese have a large number of air bases; 3) they are developing extremely long-range air-to-air missiles (AAM); 4) they are deploying a sophisticated integrated air defense system (IADS); and 5) we cannot assume qualitative superiority of our aircrews.

The PLAAF and PLANAF have large numbers of modern combat aircraft and are steadily deploying more, and the technical sophistication of many or most Chinese weapons and aircraft may be at least as good as ours. We must assume that China will continue to reequip its air force and naval air force with J-10s, J-11s, J-16s, and next-generation J-20s. These are at least roughly equivalent to, if not better than, the F-15s, F-16s, and F-18s that will predominate in the American and allied inventories for the foreseeable future. In addition, China is developing even more advanced combat aircraft.

China has a large number of air bases, which means Beijing can disperse aircraft operations while requiring us to attack and degrade numerous targets.37 Further, many of these bases are hardened.38

The Chinese are working to develop extremely long-range AAMs. The PL-15 may have a maximum range of up to 200 kilometers,39 especially against large non-maneuvering targets such as tankers and the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), and the Chinese may be developing an AAM with a range of up to 400 kms.40

China is deploying an IADS, based especially on modern, long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAM). Further, when deployed along the coast, this system has the potential to reach well beyond Chinese coastlines. Along with being one of the major buyers of advanced Russian SAMs (including SA-20s41 and S-400s/SA-21s42), China is currently producing at least four advanced long-range SAMs based on Russian designs: the HQ-9 (Chinese-built SA-10),43 the HHQ-9 (naval version of the HQ-9),44 the HQ-15 (upgraded SA-10),45 and the HQ-18 (Chinese-built SA-12).46 China is also building the FT-2000 missile system, which uses an antiradar seeker intended to target airborne warning aircraft and electronic warfare aircraft and reportedly has the ability to intercept tactical ballistic missiles.47 In addition, we should note that the PLAN is rapidly deploying modern ships carrying advanced SAMs. These include a class of at least eight (so far) 055 guided missile cruisers, with 112 vertical launch tubes for HHQ-9s each,48 and their Type 052D air defense frigates, which the Chinese are evidently mass producing (the 23rd was reported launched in December 2019,49 of a reportedly intended class of 2450) and carry up to 88 HHQ-9 missiles in vertical launch tubes.51 Assuming that the Chinese can integrate the SAM systems of these ships with the IADS—admittedly a major assumption—it will potentially extend the reach of the IADS even further offshore, as will deploying SAMs on the offshore islands the Chinese have constructed in the SCS.52 Beyond that, we must expect the SAM threat to continue to increase as the Chinese buy or duplicate the capability of the advanced SAM systems the Russians are building. (The 40N6 missile of the Russian S-400 system has been tested with a range of up to 250 miles,53 and a missile from the Russian S-500 system, currently in development, has reportedly intercepted a target 299 miles away.54)

Finally, we should not assume qualitative superiority in level of aircrew training, at least at the tactical level of air combat. The PLAAF is making a major effort to improve tactical training of its aircrews.55 Over the long term, we should expect this to have an impact on the balance of quality between aircrews. In summation, this has ample potential to be a very grim and uncertain war.

American Strategy—OPLAN Orange

While the American preference would undoubtedly be for a quick, cheap, and overwhelming victory, there is, unfortunately, no reason to expect one.56 (If anything, much of our peacetime concentration may need to be on ensuring we do not lose rapidly.) At a minimum, if deterrence fails, our strategy should be based on a combination of denial and punishment:57 if all China can expect from a war is a long and very expensive stalemate with a high risk of ultimate failure, Beijing is even more unlikely to start one than might otherwise be the case.

We should expect American strategy in a war with China to include the following components, in the sequence in which they are likely to be fought: 1) surviving the first salvo; 2) employing a counter-ISR campaign; 3) creating a No Man’s Sea; and 4) countering energy, especially oil imports. Airpower will be critical to all of them.

Surviving the first salvo

The first component of a strategy of denial is to survive. Since we must expect to be on the wrong end of the first salvo, we must be able to defeat or at least survive it—both to preserve our forces in the theater and our ability to reinforce and counterattack. There are a number of obvious counters. These include:

  • dispersal;

  • passive defense, which includes hardening, decoys/deception, and redundancy/resilience; and

  • active defense.

Dispersal. The obvious first step is to disperse our forces to additional bases and within bases. To a degree, we intended to do this with our recent agreement to again access Philippine bases. Unfortunately, due to the geography of the WestPac region, dispersal bases may be very distant from contingency areas. (For instance, for a SCS scenario bases in the ROK and the main Japanese islands may be as far as or farther away than Guam). Even more important, most or all additional bases are also vulnerable and likely to be within range of the missile and air threat. This means that the Chinese can defeat dispersal by continuing to deploy missiles and launchers. More distant bases (in the southern Philippines, Guam, Tinian, and Palau, east of the southern Philippines) will face the same problems over time.

A further possibility is the use of highways as airfields,58 as is dispersal of aircraft within an airfield to enlarge the area necessary to attack. The downside of these is that it will place additional burdens on defense forces, maintenance, and fuels personnel. Another possibility is the use of civilian airfields, but these will face the same vulnerabilities as other unhardened facilities along with being a security nightmare.

Passive Defenses. As mentioned, this includes hardening, decoys/deception, and redundancy/resilience.

  • Hardening. The next obvious step is to harden our bases, as has been done with bases in the ROK and some other bases for decades. Unfortunately, as previously noted, aside from the bases in the ROK, a significant number on Taiwan and some in Japan, few bases in the WestPac are hardened, and those that are hardened may have only a few shelters for aircraft.59 We should also note that while hardened hangarettes will protect fighter and attack aircraft, it will be much more difficult to protect large aircraft such as bombers, transports, and tankers (although open-topped revetments may provide at least partial protection.) Unfortunately, hardening bases will be expensive; an aircraft shelter can cost up to 10 million USD.60

An additional key aspect of hardening, functionally speaking, is protecting our computer systems and networks against Chinese penetration.

  • Decoys/deception. Use of decoys and deception might provide a measure of protection by forcing an attacker to waste effort attacking false targets or using fake damage to convince him that additional attacks are unnecessary. However, the decoys and deception measures will undoubtedly need to be sophisticated ones, considering the likely increasing sophistication of Chinese ISR.

  • Redundancy/resilience. This applies in particular to our C4ISR systems, as well as providing rapid repair and reconstitution capability to our bases. The American way of war is immensely powerful but potentially brittle, meaning it has critical vulnerabilities that could cause it to fail catastrophically, and the Chinese must be expected to target any and all possible weaknesses. In particular, the Chinese regard our heavy dependence on satellites as a key vulnerability. Being prepared to continue operations even with key systems crippled,61 deploying distributed systems rather than concentrating them in a few key nodes (using large numbers of small reconnaissance satellites rather than a few big ones is an obvious place to start), and being able to rapidly repair or replace damaged systems are obvious critical requirements.

Active Defenses. The final option is active defenses. Against an increasing comprehensive threat, we and our allies will obviously need comprehensive defenses. Clearly we need to build our own versions of integrated aerospace (not just air) defense systems which will integrate electronic warfare, ballistic missile defense (BMD), anti-cruise missile/antiaircraft defense, anti-UAS systems, and, depending on the location, anti–rocket, artillery, and mortar defenses and defenses against ground attack. Unfortunately, we will need to massively upgrade our defenses, including deploying types of defenses we have never deployed before. Probably compounding the difficulty will be that for such defenses we will need to be integrating systems provided by multiple military services (for the United States, air and missile defenses of ground bases, with such systems as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense [THAAD] missiles on Guam, are primarily an Army responsibility) and/or allied governments. Fortunately, most of the systems deployed are American-designed, which, at least hypothetically reduces integration problems.

The most difficult defense will be against ballistic missiles. Currently, the primary defense is by surface-based interceptor missiles (generally Aegis or THAAD). This is likely to remain the case unless the United States and/or its allies somehow develop a much-improved ability to target launchers and/or attack missiles in their boost phase with AAMs,62 or, farther in the future, lasers on UASs.63 Defensive missiles are expensive, which means the supply of such missiles will be limited by cost, and therefore the cost-exchange ratio is likely to favor the attacker. A large salvo or a series of salvos will exhaust the supply of defensive missiles no matter how effective the interceptors. Compounding the difficulty for the interceptors will be any attacker use of penetration aids such as decoys.

An obvious place for the defenders to start is with the use of electronic warfare, at the very least to jam or spoof Chinese navigation satellite signals in the vicinity of our bases to disrupt their use by Chinese attackers.64 Beyond that, it is at least possible that future weapons technology might change the cost-exchange ratio. One possibility is building interceptors that can destroy more than one warhead.65 Another is the deployment of advanced guns for BMD use. One possibility is railguns—guns whose projectiles are electromagnetically launched rather than fired by chemical propellants—to defend land bases and ships. The US Navy is experimenting with railguns for shipboard use, and the Army is considering them for BMD use.66 Since railgun rounds will be comparatively cheap and have long range and high speed, they have the potential for drastically changing the BMD cost exchange ratio, especially if they have maneuverable rounds. (They also require enormous amounts of electrical power, especially for rapid fire, so land basing will probably come before ship deployment.) Another possibility is use of hypervelocity rounds fired by conventional guns, which would reportedly have similar effects at much less cost.67

Defense against cruise missiles, ASMs, and aircraft will require a mix of defensive aircraft, defensive missiles, and probably antiaircraft artillery (AAA) for terminal defenses. Many of these systems are already in place, although we will undoubtedly need more of them, and they will need to be tied together into an integrated system that will be capable of operating with Navy systems such as Aegis and Air Force systems such as AWACS. (Reportedly, the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System will be able to do this.68) In particular, such a system will require survivable long-range sensors to detect incoming threats. We clearly need something like the Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) or the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS) program, which included an aerostat-mounted radar.

The final line of defense—aside from defenses against ground attack—will be systems to detect and defend against the beetle bomb threat and for terminal defense against rocket and mortar attack. While we should expect that such defenses will be deployed at every major airfield and airport before long, defenses at military airfields will undoubtedly require a hard kill capability against a likely greater threat. A variety of such systems, with varying levels of sophistication, are starting to appear,69 and we should systematically evaluate their capabilities and deploy the most effective systems. Over time, such defenses may be reinforced with increasingly powerful lasers or microwave weapons.70


The second component of a strategy of denial is countering Chinese ISR. Although the opening salvo will arguably be something of a set-piece battle, since the Chinese will have been able to track our deployments and ship locations (likely including Chinese ships—“tattletales”—following ours) for up-to-date targeting information prior to the war, follow-on attacks once the war starts will become a dynamic situation where ISR will be critical and will get progressively more difficult as peacetime intelligence sources dry up and/or are targeted and the defending forces adapt. While, overall, we cannot completely blind Chinese ISR before the start of the war, (efforts to do so would be extremely disruptive to friendly civilian peacetime operations) it will obviously be a critical priority to do so once the war starts. This will be intended to disrupt Chinese attempts at determining follow-on targeting, especially the degree to which our land bases have recovered, what high-value targets (tankers, jamming aircraft, ISR aircraft) we have in the air, and the location of our ships, in particular aircraft carriers and underway replenishment ships, at sea. While the Chinese will not have an unlimited supply of antiship cruise missiles and especially antiship ballistic missiles (ASBM) (and it may take a large number of such missiles to have a high probability of sinking or at least seriously damaging an aircraft carrier71), we obviously need to neutralize the ones they have. Unfortunately, due to the size of China (and the Chinese have deployed some DF-26s long-range ASBMs well inland in some exercises72), the mobility and number of their launchers, likely Chinese denial and deception measures, and the increasing capability of a steadily improving Chinese IADS, the prospects of an offensive countermissile campaign against the launchers is likely to be poor.73 Defeating and disrupting the ISR part of the kill chain may be the fallback option.

Primary targets will be Chinese active radar systems, whether land-based (especially their over-the-horizon radars) or airborne.74 Another key set of targets will be Chinese signal intelligence sites, ships, and aircraft,75 on which the Chinese are evidently heavily dependent for tracking American ships. (In December 2013, the USS Cowpens, operating under emission control [EmCon] conditions with all its electronic transmitters turned off got to within 12 miles of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning before being spotted visually.76) Further key sites for targeting would be the fusion centers that combine data for targeting and command headquarters that set targeting. For its part, the US Navy in particular must learn to routinely operate under EmCon conditions, depending on off-board sensors like manned and unmanned aircraft systems77 and again routinely incorporate electronic warfare and deception measures into its operations as it did against the Soviets during the Cold War.78

No Man’s Sea79

The third component of a strategy of denial is creating No Man’s Sea within the FIC, so that the PLAN and its auxiliaries will not be able to operate safely to project naval and especially amphibious power against its offshore neighbors. Even if the Chinese manage to win the opening round, we should aim to prevent them from exploiting any success they may have from the opening salvo. We should do this in two ways: 1) turning geography, especially maritime geography, against them by holding, or at least denying Chinese control of, the FIC and the choke points through it, thereby turning it into a defensive barrier against China; and 2) at a minimum, turning the waters within the FIC into No Man’s Sea, where, as previously mentioned, the PLAN and its auxiliaries will not be able to operate safely. We should expect this to be a critical priority for our operational-level air campaign.

The evident way to do these is by encouraging and supporting the local states to undertake A2/AD strategies and deployments of their own, as several of them are actually doing.80 In particular, they should aim to be able to defeat any Chinese amphibious operations, along with any attempt to impose a blockade. Major amphibious operations are challenging at the best of times, especially for a military that has not staged one in decades (the most recent PLA amphibious landings were in the 1950s81), and the Chinese recognize such landings require careful preparation, extensive intelligence collection, and intensive training.82 An attempt to invade Taiwan in particular would likely be extremely difficult, probably requiring preliminary invasions of Taiwanese-held islands (Kinmen and Matsu just off the mainland coast, and the Pengdu Islands in the Taiwan Strait) between the mainland coast and Taiwan.83 Obviously, the Taiwanese should do everything possible to make it even more difficult.84 A key Chinese limit for the immediate future is in amphibious capability, which means it may be problematic for them to exploit any initial wartime success. The PLAN Marine Corps (PLANMC) currently has two brigades (being increased to seven brigades by 202085), and the PLA has five amphibious combined arms brigades86—far less than what they should be expected to need for an opposed landing on Taiwan. (In 1944, for Operation Causeway, the planned invasion of Formosa/Taiwan, the United States planned a landing force of 400,000 ground troops.87) A further key Chinese limitation is in amphibious shipping. As of 2014, China had only enough amphibious lift to carry one mechanized division,88 although they are gradually increasing the force. In 2018, they had five Type 071 LPDs (landing platform docks—each capable of carrying about a battalion of troops) deployed with three more under construction or outfitting.89 In addition, the Chinese reportedly are building at least three Type 075 40,000-ton helicopter carriers, each capable of carrying up to 30 helicopters.90) While they have provisions for reinforcing their amphibious capability with mobilized civilian shipping,91 the greatest use for such shipping would be for unloading troops and equipment at captured ports, not for supporting operations to seize a defended beach.

The following are obvious necessities for a No Man’s Sea strategy:

First, extensive and survivable air defenses (especially SAMs) to defend against conventional air attack, cruise missiles, and parachute and helicopter landings.

Second, large numbers of antiship missiles, launched by aircraft, surface combatants, submarines, and especially mobile ground launchers.92

Third, extensive antilanding defenses where appropriate. In particular, the antilanding defenses should include numerous long-range artillery to target amphibious shipping and landing craft—since artillery is mobile and artillery ammunition is comparatively cheap—and minidrones to provide targeting of landing craft.

Fourth, since many of the prospective Chinese embarkation ports and bases for any invasion of Taiwan are likely to be fairly close to that island, attacking those ports and bases to disrupt loading and/or sink or damage the ships being reloaded is obviously worthwhile. This is a key potential role for Taiwan’s American-made Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has a range of 300 kms, and Taiwanese-made HF-2E cruise missiles with a range of 600 kms.93

Finally, all of these, of course, need to be tied together with a survivable C4ISR system. The system will need to rely extensively on internetted passive sensors, since active sensors are likely to draw Chinese suppression attempts.

Defeating Chinese attempts at amphibious operations will be part of an even greater challenge—the containment or, preferably, the defeat of an increasingly capable PLAN. Our greater objective will be sea denial—denying PLAN surface ships and submarines the ability to operate at sea, especially in the enclosed seas within the FIC. This would involve the following two things:

First, taking advantage of the fact that Chinese naval bases are in the theater of operations and that the Chinese coast is shallow, with an extensive coastal shelf. This means the home bases of the Chinese navy will be vulnerable to attack, while the shallow seas offshore mean mining should be very effective. Therefore, we should mine their naval bases, including their submarine pens on Hainan Island, using stand-off air-dropped mines such as the GBU-62 Quickstrike-Extended Range mines,94 laid by stealth aircraft and, in the future, possibly by unmanned submersibles. We should then attack those naval bases, any ships in them, and Chinese shipyards, especially with standoff weapons.

Second, neutralizing the PLAN at sea, especially its submarine force (although we might consider allowing Chinese SSBNs—missile submarines—at sea to survive, to minimize the chance of escalation, but make it clear that such survival is because we allow it), and any forward bases the Chinese have established in the seas offshore. Unfortunately, this is likely to be an extraordinarily complex battle of attrition, fought at extended ranges in a conflicted information environment with enormous background clutter. (As previously noted, we should expect the Chinese to keep their auxiliary fleets, as well as their nominally civilian commercial and fishing fleets, at sea to attempt to confuse our targeting, to use them as part of their ocean surveillance system as well as using them to attempt to clear minefields.)

Finally, considering the likely risk from the Chinese defense-in-depth capability, the Navy should not expect to operate as it did during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and as it has since the end of the Cold War. Unlike those cases, the sea here will not necessarily be a sanctuary even if we bottle up and/or eliminate the PLAN surface and sub forces. American surface ships may need to stay in the comparatively secure waters east of the FIC, and any attempt made to establish sea control of the waters within the FIC is likely to be extremely dangerous at best and potentially prohibitively costly. The United States will be facing the limits of sea control, as we did at times during World War II and especially during the Cold War. However, historically sea control has been established to support projecting amphibious power from the sea against the adjacent land. Since we will not need that here—it is difficult to imagine any major American amphibious operations against the Chinese mainland—this will not necessarily be a major handicap. Our power projection against Chinese mainland will largely be done with cruise missiles that, within the FIC, will likely be primarily launched by aircraft and, where the water is deep enough for them to safely operate, submarines. If our surface forces intend to operate in the waters within the FIC, they must expect to do so as they often did during World War II in the Pacific and as we expected to do in any naval war in the Arctic against the Soviets—as raids into fortified bastions.95

Countering Energy, Especially Oil

The fourth component of OPLAN Orange will combine both denial and punishment. The central point of a counterattack, of our strategic air campaign, and of our ultimate strategy against China should be an energy blockade and interdiction campaign.96 The intent will be to prevent China from replenishing the fuel reserves it uses to wage the war and to disrupt the Chinese economy that supports the war. China is critically dependent on imported oil and, to a lesser extent, on imported natural gas: in 2017 it imported about 67 percent of its oil consumption, which is projected to grow to 80 percent by 2035.97 Most of this comes by sea. Further, most of China’s electricity is generated in coal-fired plants, and while China produces most of the coal it consumes, it is heavily dependent on river and coastal shipping to move it from where it is mined (mostly in north China) to where it is used (especially coastal China).98 This campaign would consist of the following five components:

First, cutting the sea lanes used by China to import oil, especially through the SCS and along the Chinese coast. The most expedient way to do this will be by aerial mining of their oil unloading facilities with Quickstrike air-dropped mines. (The sometimes proposed alternative of a distant blockade, especially at the Strait of Malacca, may be more difficult than widely recognized.99) Of course, since China’s state-owned China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) has a fleet of tankers (185 in 2018),100 they may order tankers, or for that matter other ships they control, and their maritime auxiliaries, to sail into minefields (any ship can be a minesweeper once). When we sink their tankers, we should do so as close to the China coast as possible, so that the pollution burden of any resulting oil slicks will fall predominantly on China.101

Second, cutting the oil and natural gas pipelines into China. China imports over a million barrels per day by pipeline: 600,000 bpd from Russia through two pipelines and a pipeline through Myanmar that carries about 440,000 bpd.102 In addition, there are two natural gas pipelines, one from Central Asia and the other from Russia.103 The obvious way to do this is by attacking pipeline pumping stations inside China with cruise missiles.104

Third, if they try to partially replace imports by sea and/or pipelines with oil shipped in railway tank cars (in 2008 China was importing 300,000 bpd by tank car from Russia105), cut the bridges or hit tunnels on the rail lines being used. (Despite its extensive land borders, China actually has very few overland connections with its neighbors.)

Fourth, in addition to their still considerable internal production and imports, China has a strategic petroleum reserve, intended to be 90-days consumption by 2020. As of the end of 2017, they had 275 million barrels stored in nine bases and undoubtedly a good deal more in commercial storage (one estimate from 2015 estimated Chinese national oil companies then had 350 million barrels stored106) and military fuel stockpiles. Evidently much of the strategic reserve is stored in conventional tanks at refineries, and the pumping stations are extremely vulnerable to attack.107 Even if oil imports are stopped, local Chinese production and strategic reserves should, hypothetically, be adequate to supply their military for an extended period. (In 2004, the US military used 400,000 bpd to supply two wars and other operations.108) However, a potentially key vulnerability is their reported lack of a strategic stockpile of refined oil products.109 This being the case, targeting Chinese refineries, especially those that produce jet fuel, kerosene, and/or those adjacent to strategic petroleum reserve stockpiles (32 targets in 2015110) with cruise missiles would be enormously disruptive to both their civilian economy and their war effort.

Finally, disrupt coal shipments by targeting rail, river, and coastal chokepoints for coal shipments.

The bottom line is that the Chinese might, at best, expect to produce enough fuel to support their military operations but must expect a massive—and fairly rapid—impact on China’s civilian economy. One recent estimate was that China’s GDP would decline 25–35 percent in a year just from the loss of overseas trade.111 Disrupting the energy supply would make this worse.

Conclusions and Implications

The strategy outlined here would probably take months to work. Obviously, such a strategy is certainly not America’s preference. Unfortunately, it may be our least bad option. The Chinese have worked long and hard (and are continuing to work) to make sure that we will not be able to stage a Desert Storm—a rapid and overwhelming victory—in the WestPac. That being the case, the United States and its allies would be better served by relying on a strategy that combines denying China rapid victory with the threat of massive (but indirect, and recoverable) economic punishment in retaliation.

Even if, in strategic terms, a war between China and America is the equivalent of a border war, where neither adversary faces an existential threat to their physical existence, the results are likely to be profound no matter who wins.

The long-term impact of a major war on the Chinese economy would be massive. It would inevitably disrupt virtually all China’s trade with the outside world for at least the duration of the war. As part of the war, the United States could be expected to repudiate its debt to China, which would wipe out a massive portion of China’s foreign reserves. The United States can be expected to openly wage economic war against China in the aftermath by banning nonessential imports from China and tightly controlling exports to China.

Geostrategically, such a war would most likely mark the open entry of a global competition and an American–Chinese cold war. The United States (and as many of its allies as it can persuade or coerce) will undoubtedly regard China as a systemic and existential threat, not just a rival. We can expect a massive arms race to ensue, which will be pursued with special vigor by the loser. A defeated China will likely regard the defeat as a national humiliation even greater than past humiliations and can be expected to pursue a revanchist policy.

In conclusion, the days of Western military superiority over China are ending, if not already over. That being the case, we and our allies must settle for deterrence. Unfortunately, we may be facing a situation where that deterrence is more likely to come from Chinese perceptions of their own limits and weaknesses than from perceptions of our strength. Equally unfortunate is that it will take a major effort to change that.

Lt Col Thomas R. McCabe, USAFR (Ret)

Colonel McCabe, (BA, West Chester State College; MA, Georgetown University; MS in Strategic Intelligence, Defense Intelligence College), is a retired lieutenant colonel from the US Air Force Reserve, a retired career military analyst for the US Department of Defense, and a lifelong student of World War II in the Pacific. His writings on China have appeared in Air and Space Power Journal, the Air Force Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, the Mitchell Papers, and the Mitchell Institute Forum. Colonel McCabe is a graduate of USAF Squadron Officer School and USAF Air Command and Staff College. This article represents only his work and should not be considered the opinion of any agency of the US government.

Note: Significant portions of this article are based on material previously published in Lt Col Thomas R. McCabe USAFR (Ret), “China’s Air and Space Revolutions,” Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, 2013,; Lt Col Thomas R. McCabe USAFR (Ret), “Keeping A2/AD at Bay: The Imperative for Base Defense in the Western Pacific,” Mitchell Forum for Aerospace Studies, 2018, http://www.mitchellaerospacepowerorg/single-post/2018/01/31/Keeping-A2AD-at-Bay-The-Imperative-for-Base-Defense-in-the-Western-Pacific; and Lt Col Thomas R. McCabe USAFR (Ret), “In China’s Shadow: The Strategic Situation in the Western Pacific,” Air Force Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs 1, no. 2, (Fall 2018): Reused with permission.


1 The Chinese have an age-old concept for a Chinese-centered world system called tianxia, or “All under heaven.” While the Chinese define it as benevolent, a more skeptical view is that it is a Chinese-dominated world empire. For an explanation of tianxia, see Zhao Tingyang, “Rethinking Empire from the Chinese Concept ‘All-Under-Heaven’ (Tianxia),” in China Orders the World, ed. William Callahan and Elena Barabantseve (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins, 2011). More recently the Chinese have called it, among other things, a “community of common destiny” and a “community of shared future.” See Nadege Rolland, “Beijing’s Vision for a Reshaped International Order,” Jamestown China Brief, 26 Feb 2018,, accessed 27 Feb 2018. For a grim and lucid assessment of China’s ultimate ambitions, see Jonathan D. T. Ward, China’s Vision of Victory (Fayetteville, NC: Atlas Publishing, 2019).

2 “China Tightens Oil Grip in Top Market China,” Moscow Times, 2 Jan 2018,, accessed 3 Jan 2018.

3 David Lague and Benjamin Kang Lim, “How Xi's China is replacing the U.S. as Asia's military titan,” Reuters, 23 April 2019, , accessed 30 April 2019.

4 War Plan Orange was, historically, the American war plan for a war with Japan. Edward S. Miller, War Plan ORANGE; the U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991). Other war plans of the period were War Plan Black, for Germany, and War Plan Red, for the British Empire.

5 For some reason, Chief of Naval Operations Adm John Richardson in 2016 banned the use of the term by the Navy. Sam LaGrone, “CNO Richardson: Navy Shelving A2/AD Acronym,” USNI News, 3 Oct 2016,, accessed 1 July 2018. For a detailed study of the challenges of facing such a system, see Andrew F. Krepinevich, Maritime Competition in a Mature Precision-Strike Regime, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, 13 Apr 2015,, accessed 1 Feb 2017.

6 See Lt Col Thomas R. McCabe, USAFR (Ret), “Keeping A2/AD at Bay: The Imperative for Base Defense in the Western Pacific,” Mitchell Forum for Aerospace Studies, Jan 2018,

7 Joseph Trevithick, “China Is Hard at Work Developing Swarms of Small Drones with Big Military Applications,” War Zone, 16 Jan 2018,, accessed 17 Jan 2018.

8 Zi Yang, “Blinding the Enemy: How the PRC Prepares for Radar Countermeasures,” Jamestown China Brief, 9 Apr 2018, , accessed 10 Apr 2018.

9 Patrick Tucker, “Spies are Going after US Supply Chains, Intel Agencies Say,” Defense One, 16 May 2018,, accessed 17 May 2018.

10 As noted in Li Yuxiao and Xu Lu, “China’s Cybersecurity Situation and the Potential for International Cooperation,” in China and Cybersecurity, ed. John R. Lindsay, Tai Ming Cheung, and Derek S. Reveron (New York, Oxford University Press, 2015), 223–41.

11 David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “Pentagon Suggests Countering Devastating Cyberattacks with Nuclear Arms,” New York Times, 16 Jan 2018,, accessed 17 Jan 2018.

12 Such a blockade would use conventional missiles and other types of remote warfare directed at enemy ports and shipping lanes, to sever navigation routes, seal off enemy ports, and prevent the enemy fleet from entering and exiting their bases. See Andrew Krepinevich, Jr., Archipelagic Defense: The Japan-U.S. Alliance and Preserving Peace and Stability in the Western Pacific” (Tokyo: Sasakawa Peace Foundation, August 2017), 91

13 Aaron Mehta, “The US is running out of bombs—and it may soon struggle to make more,” Defense News, 22 May 2018,, accessed 23 May 2018.

14 Sydney Freedberg, “US Must Hustle on Hypersonics, EW, AI: VCJCS Selva & Work,” Breaking Defense, 21 June 2018,, accessed 22 June 2018.

15 “China Inaugurates PLA Rocket Force as Military Reform Deepens,” Xinhuanet, 1 Jan 2016,, accessed 4 Jan 2016.

16 Hans M. Kristensen & Matt Korda, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2019,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Nuclear Notebook, 28 June 2019,, accessed 1 July 2019.

17 The Chinese Navy has a large and growing minelaying capability and may use Chinese civilian ships as covert minelayers. See Scott C. Truver, “Taking Mines Seriously: Mine Warfare in China’s Near Seas,” Naval War College Review 65, no. 2 (Spring 2012):, accessed 1 July 2018.

18 Daniel J. Kostecka, “Aerospace Power and China’s Counterstrike Doctrine in the Near Seas,” in China’s Near Seas Combat Capabilities, US Naval War College China Maritime Studies #11, ed. Peter Dutton, Andrew Erickson, and Ryan Martinson, February 2014, 53, .

19 Elee Wakim, “Sealift is America’s Achilles Heel in the Age of Great Power Competition,” War on the Rocks, 18 Jan 2019,, accessed 19 Jan 2019.

20 Not to mention that we may be short of ships for such resupply, due to the dismal state of the American sealift capability. See David B. Larter, “‘You’re on your own’: US sealift can’t count on Navy escorts in the next big war,” Defense News, 11 Oct 2018,, accessed 12 Oct 2018.

21 Information on the Yaogan satellite program is derived from the following sources: Eric Hagt and Mathew Durnin, “Space, China’s Tactical Frontier,” Journal of Strategic Studies 34, no. 5 (October 2011): 731–61; Dwayne Day, “Staring into the Eyes of the Dragon,” Space Review, 14 Nov 2011,; Ian Easton and Mark Stokes, “China’s Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) Satellite Developments,”; and Rui C. Barbosa, “Surprise Chinese Launch of the Yaogan Weixing-31-01 mission,” NASA, 10 April 2018,, accessed 11 Apr 2018.

22 Liu Zhen, “String of Chinese Satellites to Keep Real-time Watch on South China Sea to Protect ‘National Sovereignty,’” South China Morning Post, 18 Aug 2018,, accessed 19 Aug 2018.

23 Richard D. Fisher, “China Plans Giant Constellations of Tiny Satellites,” Aviation Week and Space Technology [hereafter Aviation Week], 2 Jan 2018,, accessed 3 Jan 2018.

24 For the Divine Eagle in production, see “Huge Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Spotted at Chinese Production Facility,” Aviation News, 5 Jan 2018,, accessed 6 Jan 2018. For the Xianglong having been deployed, see Kristin Huang, “The Drones That Have Become Part of China’s Military Strategy,” South China Morning Post, 26 Aug 2018,, accessed 27 Aug 2018.

25 Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, “China Tests Its Largest Airship,” Popular Science, 26 Oct 2015,, accessed 1 Nov 2015.

26 For Wing Loong, see “Wing Loong Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV),” Air Force Technology, Undated,, accessed 24 June 2017. For the BZK-005, see “The Drone Index: Harbin BZK-005,” 21st Century Asian Arms Race, 16 May 2017,, accessed 17 May 2017.

27 Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Is China at the forefront of drone technology?,” ChinaPower, June 2018,, accessed 4 June 2018.

28 For armament on the Yilong/Wing Loong, see “Wing Loong Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).” For armament on the CH-5, see Adam Rawnsley, “Meet China’s Killer Drones,” Foreign Policy, 14 Jan 2016,, accessed 17 Jan 2016.

29 Andrew Erickson, “Chinese Air-and Space-Based ISR,” in Timothy Walton and Bryan McGrath, China’s Surface Fleet Trajectory, ed. Dutton, Erickson, and Martinson (Eds.) China’s Near Seas Combat Capabilities, US Naval War College China Maritime Studies #11 (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 2014): 90–94, .

30 As of late 2018, at least eight were serving with the PLANAF. Andreas Rupprecht, “China’s Expanding EW Capabilities,” Combat Aircraft 19, no. 10, October 2018, 28. For it serving with the PLAAF, see Mike Yeo, “China Ramps Up Production of New Airborne Early Warning Aircraft,” Defense News, 5 Feb 2018,, accessed 6 Feb 2018.

31 Nicknamed the “Corsair Fleet” by the Coast Guard and the “Hooligan Fleet” by the participants. See Ladislas Farago, The Tenth Fleet (New York: Paperback Library, 1962), 116.

32 OTH radars are radars that operate on frequencies that either reflect off the ionosphere (sky wave) or follow the surface of the earth (surface wave) and are not limited to line-of-sight like higher-frequency radars. However, they have a variety of other limitations. See Federation of American Scientists, “Over-the-Horizon Backscatter Radar [OTH-B],” undated,, accessed 10 Sep 2018.

33 Jan van Tol, Mark Gunzinger, Andrew F. Krepinevich, and Jim Thomas, AirSea Battle: A Point of Departure Operational Concept, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2010, 65,, accessed 20 Sep 2018, noted four surface-wave OTH sites along the coast and one OTH-Backscatter site inland. Presumably the Chinese have added additional sites since then, but no specific information is available as to their number or location.

34 Alexander Gabuev, “Why Russia and China Are Strengthening Security Ties; Is the U.S. Driving Them Closer Together?,” Foreign Affairs, 24 Sep 2018,, accessed 25 Sep 2018.

35 While Russian ISR has evidently degraded badly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, what they have could significantly supplement Chinese efforts. For an example of Russian efforts, see “Say Cheese! Russia Snaps Photos of Top Secret US Spysats,”, 3 May 2015,, accessed 4 May 2015.

36 “Russia's Advanced New Surveillance Satellites to Keep an Eye on US Carriers,” Sputnik, 2 Aug 2016,, accessed 3 Aug 2016.

37 For maps of Chinese air bases, see Andreas Rupprecht, Flashpoint China: Chinese Air Power and Regional Security (Houston, TX: Harpia, 2016), 40.

38 David Lewton, “The Dragon Pours Concrete,” Air Force, December 2014,, accessed 2 June 2019.

39 Douglas Barrie, “It’s Not Your Father’s PLAAF: China’s Push to Develop Domestic Air-to-Air Missiles,” War on the Rocks, 21 Feb 2018,, accessed 22 Feb 2018.

40 “China May Be Developing New Long-Range Air-To-Air Missile,” Reuters, 26 Jan 2017,, accessed 1 Feb 2017.

41 Dmitry Solovyov, “China Buys Air Defense Systems from Russia,” Reuters, 2 April 2010,, accessed 21 June 2018.

42 Dave Majumdar, “Russia's Dangerous S-400 Air Defense System Is Headed to China (and Maybe Turkey),” National Interest, 3 Apr 2018,, accessed 4 Apr 2018.

43 Carlo Kopp, “CPMIEC HQ-9 / HHQ-9 / FD-2000 /FT-2000 Self Propelled Air Defence System,” Technical Report APA-TR-2009-1103, November 2009,, accessed 6 June 2018.

44 Ibid.

45 Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, “HQ-15,” 20 June 2018,, accessed 24 June 2018.

46 Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, “HQ-18,” 20 June 2018,, accessed 21 June 2018.

47 John Pike, “FT-2000,” Global Security,, accessed 2 June 2018.

48 Mike Yeo, “China’s Latest Class of Warship Makes Its Public Debut,” Defense News, 27 April 2019,, accessed 28 April 2019.

49 Xavier Vavasseur, China Launched the 24th Type 052D, 6th Type 055 & 71st Type 056 Vessels for PLAN,” Naval News, 30 Dec 2019,, accessed 2 Jan 2020.

50 Rick Joe, “Predicting the Chinese Navy of 2030,” Diplomat, 15 Feb 2019,, accessed 16 Feb 2019.

51 “The Type 055 Isn’t the Only Chinese Destroyer America Fears; Newly Inducted Type 052D Warships Key to Facilitating Primacy at Sea,” Military Watch, 13 Aug 2018,, accessed 21 Mar 2019.

52 Amanda Macias, “China Quietly Installed Missile Systems on Strategic Spratly Islands in Hotly Contested South China Sea,” CNBC, 2 May 2018,, accessed 3 May 2018.

53 Tamir Eshel, “Russia to Introduce Prometheus, a Successor to S-400 in 2020,” Defense Update, 1 Jan 2018,, accessed 2 Jan 2018.

54 Amanda Macias, “Russia Quietly Conducted the World’s Longest Surface-to-Air Missile Test,” CNBC, 25 May 2018,, accessed 27 May 2018.

55 Lyle J. Morris and Eric Heginbotham, From Theory to Practice; People's Liberation Army Air Force Aviation Training at the Operational Unit, Rand Research Report RR-1415-AF (Santa Monica: RAND, 2016), accessed 2 Jan 2018.

56 Col Michael Petrucha, “Re-Fighting the Wrong War: Applying the Pacific War Template against China,” Leading Edge, n.d.,, accessed 30 Apr 2018.

57 Earl Heginbotham and Richard Samuels, “Active Denial: Redesigning Japan's Response to China’s Military Challenge,” International Security 42, no. 4 (Spring 2018): 128–69.

58Johnson Lai, “Taiwan Lands Aircraft on Highway as Part of Military Drills,” Defense News, 29 May 2019,, accessed 30 May 2019.

59 Analyzed in more detail in McCabe, Keeping A2/AD at Bay.

60 Possible cost in Japan. Ian Easton, “China’s Evolving Reconnaissance-Strike Capabilities,” Project 2049 Institute and the Japan Institute of International Affairs, Feb 2014, 29, footnote 55,

61 Chadwick D. Igl, Candy S. Smith, Daniel R. Fowler, and William L. Angermann, “568 Balls in the Air; Planning for the Loss of Space Capabilities,” Joint Force Quarterly 90, no. 3 (2018),, accessed 1 Nov 2018. Also see Shawn Snow, “War without the Internet? Commandant Says Marines Need to Revive Old-style Comms,” Marine Corps Times, 26 Jan 2018,, accessed 27 Jan 2018.

62 One possibility mentioned is a modified AIM-120 AAM. See Sydney Freedberg, “Space-Based Missile Defense Can Be Done: DoD R&D Chief Griffin,” Breaking Defense, 8 Aug 2018, In the past, the Network Centric Airborne Defense Element (NCADE) missile was intended for boost-phase intercept of ballistic missiles, using an AMRAAM missile frame with an advanced rocket motor and an infrared seeker from an AIM-9X. See Lt Col Thomas R. McCabe, USAFR Ret’d, “The Limits of Tactical Aviation Technology,” Air & Space Power Journal 29, no. 5 (September–October 2015), Unfortunately, considering the likely extreme ranges and short targeting windows involved, this is likely to be extremely difficult for an AAM.

63 The US Missile Defense Agency is researching putting lasers on MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. See Daniel Cebul, “Pentagon Preparing to test MQ-9 Reaper for Missile Defense Missions,”, 27 Aug 2018,, accessed 28 Aug 2018.

64 China is deploying a global navigation satellite system, the Beidou system. See Alice Shen, “China One Step Closer Satellite Navigation System Beidou That Could Threaten Dominance of GPS,” South China Morning Post, 19 Nov 2018,, accessed 20 Nov 2018.

65 Abel Romero, “Reagan’s Missile Defense Wisdom Extends to Today’s GMD Capability,” Defense News, 24 Apr 2018,, accessed 25 Apr 2018. However, the Multi-Object Kill Vehicle is currently intended for use on strategic BMD interceptors against ICBMs, which presumably means additional development will be necessary for use on tactical BMD.

66 Megan Eckstein, “Navy Pursuing Upgraded Railgun, Higher-Power Laser Gun By 2020,” USNI News, July 28, 2015,, accessed 31 Oct 2015.

67 Aaron Mehta, “Pentagon No. 2: How to Keep Third Offset Going in the Next Administration,” Defense News, 3 May 2016,, accessed 4 May 2016.

68 Daniel Cebul, “Army Continues Push for Integrated Sensors and Shooters with Latest IBCS Contract,” Defense News, 3 Oct 2018,, accessed 4 Oct 2018.

69 For one of many examples, see Valerie Insinna, “Army to Test Counter-drone MATV Upgrade in Combat Next Year,” Defense News, 9 Oct 2017,, accessed 10 Oct 2017.

70 Jen Judson, “Soon to Come to the Army: A High-power Microwave to Take Out Drone Swarms,” Washington Post, 7 Aug 2019,, accessed 8 Aug 2019.

71 Jonathan F. Solomon estimated in 2011 that it might take 27 ASBMs against a carrier task group of a carrier and six escorts defended with BMD and electronic warfare to be reasonably sure of one hit on the carrier. See Jonathan F. Solomon, “Defending the Fleet from China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile: Naval Deception’s Roles in Sea-Based Missile Defense” (thesis, Georgetown University, 15 Apr 2011), 104,

72 David Axe, “China Just Deployed Its Deadly DF-26 ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missiles in a Very Slick Way,” National Interest, 14 Jan 2019,, accessed 15 Jan 2019.

73 For a useful overview that, if anything, underestimates the difficulty of such an effort against China, see J. Patrick Anderson, “The Air Campaign vs. Ballistic Missiles: Seeking the Strategic Win in the 21st Century” (thesis, Air University, June 2017),

74 For a useful analysis that unfortunately overstates the centrality of active systems and understates how rapidly the Chinese anti-access/area denial threat will emerge, see Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich, “Future Warfare in the Western Pacific,” International Security 41, no. 1 (Summer 2016): 7–48.

75 Kimberly Underwood, “China Advances Signals Intelligence,” Signal, 13 Aug 2018,

76 The Chinese reacted with near-hysteria. Michael Fabey, Crashback: The Power Clash between the U.S. and China in the Pacific (New York: Scribners, 2017), 139–42.

77 David Eshel, “Next-Generation UAVs Help Ships Keep Eyes on the Horizon,” Aviation Week Defense Technology International, 11 Sep 2015,, accessed 1 Sep 2018.

78 For information on deception measures used by the US Navy during the Cold War, see Solomon, “Defending the Fleet from China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” 50.

79 The term and concept is borrowed from Krepinevich, Maritime Competition in a Mature Precision-Strike Regime.

80 How to do so is examined in Krepinevich, Archipelagic Defense. For Taiwanese efforts, see Drew Thompson, “Hope on the Horizon: Taiwan’s Radical New Defense Concept,” War on the Rocks, 2 October 2018, For Vietnamese efforts, see Shang-su Wu, “Development of Vietnam’s Sea-Denial Strategy,” Naval War College Review 70, no. 1 (Winter 2017),

81 For information on past Chinese amphibious operations, see Kevin McCauley, “PLA Yijiangshan Joint Amphibious Operation: Past is Prologue,” Jamestown China Brief, 13 Sep 2016,, accessed 27 Feb 2018; and Kevin McCauley, “Amphibious Operations: Lessons of Past Campaigns for Today’s PLA,” Jamestown China Brief, 26 Feb 2018,, accessed 27 Feb 2018.

82 Kevin McCauley, “Amphibious Operations.”

83 Tanner Greer, “Taiwan Can Win a War with China,” Foreign Policy, 25 Sep 2018,, accessed 19 Sep 2018. For a more in-depth study, see Ian Easton, The Chinese Invasion Threat; Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia (Arlington, VA: Project 2049 Institute, 2017). If anything, Easton may have underestimated the difficulty of such an invasion.

84 Drew Thompson, “Hope on the Horizon: Taiwan’s Radical New Defense Concept,” War on the Rocks, 2 Oct 2018,, accessed 3 Oct 2018.

85 Department of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018 (hereafter Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018), 16 Aug 2018, 28, Some sources say eight brigades. See Dennis J. Blasko and Roderick Lee, “The Chinese Navy’s Marine Corps, Part 1: Expansion and Reorganization,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief 19, no. 3, 1 Feb 2019,, accessed 2 Feb 2019.

86 Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, 103.

87 Phelem Kine, “Operation: CAUSEWAY; the Invasion that Never Was…,” China Times, 10 Aug 1997, , accessed 1 Oct 2018.

88 Walton and McGrath, China’s Surface Fleet Trajectory,” 124.

89 Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress; Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019, May 2019, 37,

90 For three ships so far, see Mike Yeo, “Photos Reveal Progress on China’s Largest Amphibious Assault Ship,” Defense News, 23 Aug 2019,, accessed 25 Aug 2019. For carrying 30 helicopters, see Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities-Background and Issues for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, April 2018), 45–46,

91 Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, “Chinese Cargo Ships Get the Military Option,” Popular Science, 23 June 2015,, accessed 1 Oct 2018.

92 Mike Yeo, “Taiwan to Upgrade Indigenous Missile Capabilities,” Defense News, 6 Feb 2017,, accessed 1 Mar 2018.

93 Ranges are from James Hasik, “Third Offset Breakthrough: U.S. Army Using Existing Technology to Develop 'Warship-Killer' Missiles,” National Interest, 2 Nov 2016,, accessed 1 Oct 2018 for ATACMS; and Lo Tien-pin and Jonathan Chin, “Extended-range Missiles Ready for Use,” Taipei Times, 25 Dec 2017,, accessed 14 Oct 2018 for HF-2E.

94 Bottom mines converted from standard bombs. They can be air-dropped from considerable distances from the area intended to be mined. See Ben Werner “Navy, Air Force Test Deploys 2,000-Pound Mine at Stand-off Range,” USNI News, 24 Sep 2018,, accessed 25 Sep 2018. Also see Capt Hans Lynch, USN, and Scott C. Truver, “Toward a 21st-Century US Navy Mining Force,” Defense One, 22 Aug 2018,, accessed 23 Aug 2018.

95 For historical studies of such raids in the region, see Samuel Elliot Morrison, “Formosa Air Battle,” in History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, vol. 12, Leyte (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002); and Morrison, “Preliminary Poundings,” in History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, vol. 14, Victory in the Pacific (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 1960).

96 Michael W. Pietrucha, “To Defeat China in Battle, America Should Study World War II,” War is Boring, 21 July 2015,; and Michael W. Pietrucha, “Step by Step, Here’s How to Defeat China in War,” War is Boring, 15 Aug 2015,, both accessed 12 Jan 2018. We should also remember that the counter-POL campaign in the fall of 1944 had a massive impact on Germany’s warfighting capability.

97 Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, 51. It also exports about 300,000 BPD of refined products. “China’s Petrol, Diesel Exports Hit Record in March,” Business Times, 25 Apr 2018,, accessed 1 Aug 2018.

98 Col Michael W. Pietrucha, “Reinventing the Cartwheel; A Strategic Interdiction Campaign in the Pacific,” Leading Edge, n.d.,, accessed 1 Sep 2018; and Pietrucha, “Step by Step, Here’s How to Defeat China in War.”

99 The difficulties of a distant blockade are explained in Gabriel Collins and William Murray, “No Oil for the Lamps of China?” Naval War College Review 61, no. 3 (Spring 2008): 83–86,, accessed 25 Apr 2018.

100 COSCO Shipping Group Profile, 31 Aug 2018,, accessed 1 Oct 2018.

101 Christina Zhao and Reuters “Iran Oil Tanker Leaves 10-Mile Long Flaming Slick, ‘No Hope’ of Saving Crew,” Newsweek, 15 Jan 2018,, accessed 16 Jan 2018.

102 Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018, 54.

103 Naubet Bisenov, “Kazakhstan to Double Gas Exports to China in 2019,” Nikkei Asian Review, 28 Oct 2018,, accessed 1 Mar 2019. For the Russian pipeline, see Simone McCarthy, “China and Russia to Turn on Gas Pipeline Tap as Neighbours Forge Stronger Energy Ties,” South China Morning Post, 26 Nov 2019,, accessed 27 Nov 2019.  

104 Pietrucha, “Reinventing the Cartwheel,” and “Step by Step, Here’s How to Defeat China in War.”

105 Collins and Murray, “No Oil for the Lamps of China?,” 87.

106 Figures on Chinese fuel reserves are from Nikita, “China’s Energy Security: Strategic Petroleum Reserves,” China Sourcing Blog, 10 Oct 2009,, accessed 1 Oct 2018; Meng Meng and Ryan Woo UPDATE 2-China Accelerates Stockpiling of State Oil Reserves over 2016/17,” Reuters, 29 Dec 2017,, accessed 1 Oct 2018; and Jennifer Lind and Daryl Press, “Markets or Mercantilism,” International Security 42, no. 4 (Spring 2018), 195.

108 Collins and Murray, “No Oil for the Lamps of China?,” 81.

110 Pietrucha, “Reinventing the Cartwheel.” This was the total number of refineries to be attacked, with multiple aim points in each.

111 Aggregate losses from overall trade, consumption, and investment losses. David C. Gompert, Astrid Stuth Cevallos, and Cristina L. Garafola, War with China: Thinking through the Unthinkable (Santa Monica: RAND, 2016), 47,, accessed 1 Dec 2016.

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