Challenging US Command of the Commons

Evolving Chinese defense technologies as a threat to American hegemony?

Challenging US Command of the Commons : Evolving Chinese defense technologies as a threat to American hegemony? - Thilo Schroeter, Matthew Sollenberger, and Bastiaan Verink


This paper argues that the advancement of Chinese capabilities in the areas of information warfare, anti-access measures, and strategic nuclear forces has substantially altered the balance of forces between China and the US, particularly regarding potential conflicts in China’s littoral waters, including over Taiwan. This challenge to US “command of the commons” may undermine America’s regional dominance in East Asia. More specifically, the article argues that the nature of any conflict between the two powers has been fundamentally changed by China’s development and implementation of technologies aimed at: degrading US communication and intelligence gathering capabilities; limiting the ability of the US to deploy air and sea assets in the Chinese theater of operations; and denying the US the ultimate trump card of an assured nuclear first strike capability.


The ability to dominate rivals militarily is one of the pillars of hegemony. The US has long enjoyed a “command of the global commons,” i.e. the ability to freely use sea, air, and space for projecting military power and if necessary, to simultaneously deny the use of these spaces to others.[1] It has been argued that command of the commons acts as a multiplier for other sources of US economic and military power, and thus, is even more central to the maintenance of US hegemony. This article argues that China’s technological advances in certain fields already threaten US command of the global commons, which we also take to encompass the domain of cyberspace. By converting sea, air, space, and cyberspace into “contested zones” for the US military, China undermines the existing basis of US influence in East Asia and possibly, US hegemony.

History provides many examples where technological breakthroughs have not only affected tactics, but have also had a direct influence on strategy. The development of siege artillery in Europe in the 15th century was seen as central in reducing the strategic value of medieval castles and town fortifications.[2] Additionally, the simple ability to drop torpedoes into waters 6-9 meters shallower than before gave Japan the option to pursue a strategy that included a surprise strike against US naval power at its core.[3] Meanwhile, the development of nuclear weapons led to a revaluation of military strategy by both nuclear and non-nuclear powers.[4]

China is purportedly making active use of the lessons of history. This article argues that Chinese technological developments in certain fields have substantially altered China’s strategic options in potential military conflicts with the US. Such military confrontations are arguably most likely to erupt if hostilities break out between China and Taiwan. This paper is not intended to be an exhaustive study of evolving Chinese military capabilities and Chinese policy vis-à-vis Taiwan, nor is it meant to encompass all of the dynamics of a possible US-China conflict. Rather, by examining a few key technological developments and exploring the implications of their deployment, the article aims to demonstrate how China’s leveraging of asymmetric warfighting technologies is redefining the battlefield. This paper analyzes technological advances in the areas of:

  • Information warfare
  • Anti-access measures
  • Strategic nuclear forces

Evolution Of Information Warfare

The Chinese military is placing increasing importance on information warfare (IW), particularly in the context of battles against advanced or technologically superior adversaries.[5] These priorities largely stem from Chinese observations drawn from the First Gulf War (1991), where the overwhelming US victory was initiated by strikes focused on information targets, such as Iraqi radar sites and communications hubs. Chinese experts believe these and other IW tactics contributed heavily to the US military’s ability to achieve a quick and decisive victory.[6] Chinese theorists have gone so far as to redefine the traditional battlefield objectives away from Clausewitzian kinetics, claiming that “the operational objectives of the two sides on attack and defense are neither the seizing of territory nor the killing of so many enemies, but rather the paralyzing of the other side’s information system and the destruction of the other side’s will to resist.”[7]

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) views US command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities as both a source of great strength and as a potential strategic vulnerability. Chinese military strategists believe that successful strikes against US C4ISR capabilities could help level the battlefield in any US-China conflict. While there are many emerging Chinese IW capabilities, for the sake of brevity, this section will focus on two well-developed technologies: kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons and cyber warfare.

Anti-Satellite Weapons

Both Chinese and American military counterparts are aware of the substantial vulnerabilities of space-based communications and surveillance systems—some have gone as far as to label satellites as the “Achilles heel” of American military might.[8] There are many ways to degrade or even destroy such satellite systems; the PLA’s successful test of a ground-based kinetic ASAT weapon in 2007 was merely the latest and most public of its ongoing efforts to develop effective ASAT systems. The January 2007 test demonstrated considerable technological sophistication. The Chinese interceptor successfully struck its target, an aging weather satellite that was flying at a speed (7.42 km per second) comparable to that of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in an atmospheric re-entry phase.[9] The test represented the most difficult of interceptions, a maneuver often referred to as “hitting a bullet with a bullet.”[10]

China’s space capabilities are growing, and their kinetic ASAT systems are advancing in lockstep. In 2008, China conducted 11 space launches that put a combined 15 satellites into orbit, and the country is in the process of developing more highly advanced rockets that could deliver greater payloads to a wider variety of orbits. The 2009 edition of the annual Pentagon report on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China noted that once the ongoing developments of China’s Long March V rocket are complete, they will “more than double” the size of the payloads that China can deliver into low-earth and geosynchronous orbits.[11] In addition to new launch vehicles and expanding launch capabilities, China is also developing improved long-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering ASAT payloads into geosynchronous orbits. These new missiles might be capable of directly attacking satellites in a geosynchronous orbit, effectively giving the Chinese military the capability to use direct-ascent methods on satellites operating at any altitude.[12] At present, China’s ability to strike at targets in geosynchronous orbits is somewhat limited, as it only possesses the facilities to launch simultaneously four rockets capable of reaching satellites at that altitude.[13]

While the long-term implications of such a strike for satellites would be devastating, the short-term impacts would be significant, although less encompassing.[14] Depending on target selection and hit rates, it is conceivable that the Chinese could achieve the following:

  • Reduction of the US Navy’s satellite-based ship surveillance capabilities
  • Temporary elimination of high-resolution imagery coverage over much of China
  • Creation of a GPS “gap” over China of approximately eight hours per day[15]


Since 2002, the PLA has been actively bolstering the ranks of its information warfighters, both within official military units and within the civilian ranks, by creating militia units that incorporate technical and computer specialists from both the private IT sector and academia.[16] The PLA has also integrated cyber warfare into its military exercises and its formal doctrine. In a series of war games conducted in 2004, a red team used computer network operations to briefly penetrate and gain control over military command and control centers.[17] In a 2009 publication, the PLA formally outlined a new strategy of “Integrated Network Electronic Warfare,” which called for, among other goals, the development of “techniques such as electronic jamming, electronic deception, and suppression to disrupt information acquisition and information transfer, launching a virus attack or hacking to sabotage information processing and information utilization.”[18]

It is difficult to precisely assess Chinese cyber warfare capabilities: as of 2010, China continues to strenuously deny that it possesses or is developing any offensive cyber measures. That said there is little doubt within the US defense community that the Chinese are highly capable in cyber warfare and continue to increase their capabilities. A defense assessment report prepared by Northrop Grumman notes that Chinese military “operators likely possess the technical sophistication to craft and upload rootkit and covert remote access software, creating deep persistent access to the compromised host and making detection extremely difficult.”[19] The presumed rise in Chinese cyber warfare capabilities has paralleled a steep rise in “malicious cyber activity” targeting US Department of Defense (DOD) networks: such incidents have surged from around 10,000 per year in 2003 to almost 55,000 in 2008, and many appear to have Chinese origins.[20] These probing attacks have had serious consequences, for instance:

•In 2007, the US Office of the Secretary of Defense had to take its information systems offline for more than a week to deal with suspected Chinese infiltration.[21]
• Attacks on US defense contractors in 2007 and 2008 resulted in the theft of several terabytes of data on the design and electronic schematics for the F35 Joint Strike Fighter.[22]

Chinese agents clearly have the ability to penetrate US networks. The supposed limiting of these incursions to mapping and data theft is indicative not of limited capabilities, but rather of intent: in 2007, the Commander of US Strategic Command noted that China is “actively engaging in cyber reconnaissance.”[23] China’s ability to create virtual beachheads within US military and defense contractor networks has substantial implications for US-China military scenarios. PLA cyber attackers would only need to modify or corrupt relatively small data packets to seriously degrade the performance of even the most sophisticated combat systems. For example, a US Air Force study concluded that integrated air defense systems could likely be disabled by cyber assaults, noting that such systems, “can fail by not seeing the target, seeing too many targets, failing to give or receive cuing information, not getting missiles to fire, firing missiles in directions that do not let them hit the target, or inappropriately emitting detectable energy” – or in other words, that such advanced systems need only suffer one, relatively small area of compromised performance to fail utterly.[24]

The US is not unaware of these threats. The US military is investing in cyber-defense, and in 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates went so far as to order the creation of a Cyber-Defense Command, which would be tasked to both defend military networks from cyber threats and develop offensive cyber capabilities.[25] Nonetheless, US cyber defense efforts are likely playing catch-up at this point, and it remains quite conceivable that a Chinese cyber assault on US targets could noticeably, perhaps significantly, degrade the performance of US military networks for a period of time.

Development of anti-access measures

China is aware that, in order to be successful in a military confrontation over Taiwan, it must prevent the US from entering the conflict or at least degrade the size and effectiveness of a projected US military intervention.[26] In view of the US military’s superiority, China has developed anti-access measures which have “the effect of slowing the deployment of friendly forces into a theater, preventing them from operating from certain locations within that theater, or causing them to operate from distances farther from the locus of conflict than they would normally prefer.”[27]

Chinese anti-access measures focus strongly on US air power. Command of the air has been one of the cornerstones of US military superiority in the post-cold war era, a fact that became most evident to China during the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1995-1996.[28] Parallel to its long-term effort to modernize its air force and other air defense capacities, China has invested significant resources to develop anti-access measures to prevent the deployment of US naval and land-based air power in a potential conflict with Taiwan.[29]

Conventional ballistic missiles

China has sharply increased its capacity to attack US air bases in the region, particularly in Okinawa.[30] China has been modernizing its fleet of fighter-bombers and arsenal of cruise missiles, but these systems continue to be vulnerable to more advanced US and Japanese fighter aircraft, supported by ground and air-based early warning systems.

However, an attack by ballistic missiles can only be countered by anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems.[31] Although these systems offer a certain degree of protection against ballistic missile attacks, a completely successful defense against a surprise attack with ballistic missiles is highly unlikely.[32] While ballistic missiles are not effective at destroying aircraft in hardened aircraft shelters, they can destroy large, high-value aircraft such as AWACS and tanker aircraft too large for normal shelters. Furthermore, ballistic missiles can destroy runways with sub- munitions and thus leave the paralyzed air bases vulnerable to follow-on attacks.[33]

China has been deploying the DF-21C, a conventionally armed medium range ballistic missile (MRBM), since 2004-2005.[34] Using this missile, PLA forces could attack US airbases in Okinawa, South Korea, and mainland Japan. Currently, hardened aircraft shelters are available only at four US air bases in the region. The base closest to the Taiwan Strait, Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, has only 15 hardened aircraft shelters, leaving most of the 190 aircraft likely to be deployed in a crisis vulnerable to attacks.[35] Unless additional hardened aircraft shelters are constructed, effective ABM systems are deployed, and damage control capacities are strengthened, the deployment of Chinese MRBMs will make dispersal and basing at a greater distance necessary to avoid the risk of a crippling strike against US land-based air power.[36]

Anti-ship ballistic missiles

China is also strengthening its ability to attack US aircraft carriers at long distances using anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM). Since the mid-90s, China has modernized its submarine force, deployed anti-ship cruise missiles on its ships, and introduced modern Russian fighter-bombers equipped with anti-ship missiles.[37] However, all of these weapon systems are constrained by their limited range and limited ability to penetrate the protection afforded by the anti-submarine warfare and anti-air warfare capacities of US carrier strike groups.[38]

In contrast, ASBMs have the potential to destroy US carriers before they even enter the theater of operations around Taiwan – a potential “game-changer” in a military conflict.[39] Based on a survey of Chinese technical and doctrinal publications, a number of US non-profit and government institutions claim that China has had significant success in its pursuit of an ASBM capacity. Although there has been no official acknowledgment by Chinese authorities, nor any known test of ASBM assets, an initial capacity is estimated to be available in 2010.[40]

The Chinese ASBM capacity is based on the existing DF-21 class of medium-range ballistic missiles with a range of 1,500–2,000 km.[41] The first anti-ship variant of this missile will likely have a comparable range, while future models may use “boost-glide trajectory” capabilities to allow ranges of 3,000–8,000 km by 2020.[42]

Targeting data for ASBM launches could be provided by over-the-horizon (OTH) radar systems and different types of satellites. China already operates an OTH radar with a range of up to 3,000 km, allowing it to monitor ship movements in a wide arc between Japan and the Philippines.[43] China is also developing satellites that can detect carriers using synthetic aperture radar (SAR) or by tracking their electronic emissions.[44]

Once an ASBM is launched against the approximate position of an aircraft carrier, an onboard SAR system would provide mid-course guidance from an altitude of around 80 km to the missile’s maneuverable reentry vehicle (MARV).[45] In order to specifically target and destroy key carrier infrastructure, including “carrier-borne planes, the control tower and other easily damaged and vital positions,”[46] terminal guidance to the conventional warheads would be provided by a combination of millimeter wave radar and infrared seekers.[47]

The consequences of this development are significant. ASBMs offer an unprecedented and relatively low cost surgical strike capability against aircraft carriers, to which there are only limited and risky countermeasures available. Because of the precision of ASBM warheads, it is not necessary to sink an aircraft carrier to achieve a “mission kill,” allowing China to strike at carriers while avoiding the risk of escalation that would most certainly incorporate the sinking of an aircraft carrier and the resulting deaths of up to 5,000 US sailors.[48] Additionally, ASBM systems appear to be both effective and highly cost-efficient: assuming a relatively low success rate of 25%, only 4 ASBMs, costing between 40 and 80 million USD in total, would suffice to disable a US aircraft carrier. [49]

Source: OSD 2009, Military Power of the PRC, p.23.

Countermeasures to ASBMs are either limited in their effectiveness or bear risks of escalation. Direct defense is hard to achieve, given the extremely high speed of ASBMs and the ability to use mid-course maneuvers to change the trajectory. A further disadvantage for a ship defending against an ASBM attack is the limited number of ABM missiles carried onboard. So far, only 75 SM-3 ABMs, to be carried by 18 destroyers and cruisers, have been ordered for the US Navy.[50] If a carrier is augmented with two ships carrying six SM-3 each, only 12 ASBMs could currently be defended against in a best-case scenario, as reloading at sea is not possible.[51] While defense against ASBMs in flight is difficult, preemptive attacks against the launch platforms and C4ISR infrastructure are risky alternatives. To destroy the mobile launchers, which could be stationed throughout much of Eastern China, or the supporting radar systems, air strikes might be necessary against targets over 1,000 km inland. However, executing such attacks against the depth of the Chinese mainland would be a difficult and highly escalatory option.

When Chinese ASBMs become effective to a range of 2,000 km, US carriers might have to operate at distances far from Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, such that carrier-based fighters such as the F/A-18 or the future Joint Strike Fighter could hardly enter the fight.[52]

Using ballistic missiles against US naval and land-based air power, China can substantially reduce the volume of air power available to the US to deter or repel Chinese military action against Taiwan. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review acknowledges the threat posed inter alia by Chinese ballistic missiles and has suggested an increased reliance on submarine-based weapons, development of armed naval UAVs and new cruise missiles for long-range strikes, as well as strengthened active and passive defenses for overseas US air bases.[53] However, until the US has fielded these and other effective countermeasures to the Chinese ballistic missile threat, China’s anti-access strategy may be successful in deterring US intervention in a military conflict over Taiwan.

Expanding strategic nuclear deterrence

Thermonuclear strategy is still very much a part of the modern military-strategic balance.[54] China’s quest for a credible strategic deterrence capability dates back to the beginning of the communists’ control over mainland China. Both in the Korean War and in subsequent conflicts with the US over Taiwan, China was confronted not only with conventional US military power, but also with US nuclear weapons.[55] China lacked the capability to resist US coercion and decided to start developing a nuclear force in 1955.[56]

China’s first nuclear bomb was successfully tested in 1964.[57] Lacking the technology for a credible Chinese nuclear deterrence in the first decades after this testing, China adopted a nuclear strategy based on the possible infliction of a punishment large enough to offset possible gains by opponents.[58] The aim of the strategy has been to deny the US, which is presumably sensitive to high casualties, a credible first strike capability. In a situation where China could potentially survive a first strike with some nuclear assets intact, US first strike credibility would depend on its willingness to accept China’s retaliatory blow.[59]


As of 2010, three Chinese ICBMs are known to be able to deliver a nuclear payload to the continental US when launched from within Chinese territory: the liquid-fueled DF-5, the new solid-fuel-based DF-31, and the modified DF-31A, with a significantly extended range.[60]

The DF-5 model holds a single warhead, is liquid fueled, and is silo-based—major shortcomings for a strategic arsenal. Single warhead-capability limits the power of Chinese rockets, making them dramatically inferior to US missiles equipped with multiple nuclear payloads. Furthermore, liquid rocket fuel is highly corrosive and thus cannot be stored inside the missiles, which means the DF-5s must be fueled just prior to launch. Fueling takes two hours and thus dramatically increases response time. Silo basing further exacerbates these weaknesses, as silos provide fixed targets and thus make the missiles highly vulnerable to an opponent’s first strike.[61]

The DF-31 and DF-31A are major developments for China’s strategic capability, as they mark the potential establishment of a credible Chinese second-strike capability. Use of solid-fuel propellant and mobile launch capability dramatically increases the difficulty of locating and eliminating these assets, particularly in combination with an off-road transport vehicle.[62] Launch preparation time for the DF-31 class of missiles is estimated at 10-15 minutes, a significant improvement over the two hours needed for a launch of DF-5 ICBMs.[63] The range and mobility of the DF-31 class of ICBMs affords China a greater survivable capability to attack the continental US. Should the DF-31/DF-31A ICBMs be equipped with multiple warheads, this would mark another significant increase of Chinese strategic nuclear capacities.[64]

Source: Kristensen, et al., Chinese Nuclear Forces and US Nuclear War Planning, p. 58.

Sea-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM)

For China, contingency planning and force diversification are essential to preserving strategic deterrence, particularly due to constantly improving US ABM technology. Submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missiles (SLBM) provide this diversification.

The type 094 Jin class ballistic missile submarine is expected to become operational in 2012-2015, and will complement the limited range type 092 Xia class, first launched in 1981.[65] The Jin class will carry JL-2 ballistic missiles. Derived from the DF-31, the JL-2 missile has a range of 7,000 km—meaning that to hit the continental US, it would have to be launched outside of Chinese waters. While this requires a degree of operational skills that may not currently be present in the Chinese navy,[66] the production of the Jin class nuclear submarine will nonetheless provide China with another survivable nuclear option.[67]

Nuclear command & control

The PLA is also improving its nuclear command and control (NC2) systems.[68] This chain of authority is vital to the functioning of any nuclear force as the command lines are meant to function up to and including thermonuclear war. The commander of the Second Artillery Corps General Jing Zhinyuan was assigned a special seat in China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) in September 2004, showing the increasing integration of nuclear forces into the decision making process.[69]

The use of information technology and systems of release authority has modernized Chinese NC2. The development of a fiber-optic network, as well as switching systems, satellite communications, and microwave communications has increased operational flexibility and survivability of Chinese NC2.[70] Communications with SSBNs will be an essential part of naval NC2 and will most likely happen through a diverse set of means, most probably via high frequency and very-high-frequency radios. Extremely low frequency communications offer more stealth and survivability as it is receivable up to a depth of 200-300 meters, but it is doubtful whether China possesses the capability.[71]

Strategic Implications

The PRC’s expanding strategic nuclear capabilities will likely lead to a shift in strategic nuclear deterrence strategy – it has already significantly reduced China’s sensitivity to nuclear compellence. Improved NC2 will not only reduce the chance of accidents or launches by rogue elements, but will also contribute to the credibility of a rapid Chinese nuclear response.[72] Overall, this may shift China’s nuclear strategy from a mature minimum deterrence strategy, to a strategy more in conformity with finite deterrence.

This evolving strategic situation could enable China to distance itself from its earlier No First Strike policy and thereby create a more assertive foreign policy stance. Improved command and control will provide for more operational flexibility and “muscle flexing” and might directly improve the PRC’s nuclear brinkmanship capabilities. Increased flexibility combined with a stronger nuclear posture may allow for greater emphasis on limited war-fighting strategies for China.[73] Over the medium-term, the United States is not without recourse when it comes to countering Chinese strategic nuclear threat. The much-discussed National Missile Defense System (NMD), while touted as a defense against rogue nuclear states, could perhaps be adapted to defend against larger numbers of incoming nuclear ICBMs. However, this program is not only heavily disputed; it is also far from completion.[74]

The second-order consequences of increased Chinese nuclear forces may prove significant. With the credible risk of US nuclear blackmail reduced or altogether eliminated, the US ability to escalate any conflict over Taiwan to the nuclear level becomes much more problematic, making an outcome favorable to China more likely.


The advancement of Chinese military capabilities in the areas of information warfare, anti-access measures, and strategic nuclear forces has substantially altered the strategic environment surrounding a US-China conflict, particularly in the Chinese littoral theaters.

By hampering US intelligence gathering and communication assets and using anti-access measures, China could delay a US military response to a possible confrontation across the Taiwan Strait. Given the Chinese-Taiwanese balance of forces, which has tilted significantly against Taiwan in the last years, any delay in the US response to such a crisis could allow China to achieve its unification goals militarily and present the US with a fait accompli. Meanwhile, China’s enhanced capability to inflict substantial damage on US military and civilian assets at different levels of escalation has increased the costs of a potential military conflict between the US and China and thus, may reduce the readiness of US decision-makers to intervene in favor of Taiwan – particularly given China’s evolving ability to withstand US nuclear coercion and deny the US potential benefits from escalation. China has thus effectively challenged US command of the commons, contesting US military power in several key areas. By definition, this erodes one of the pillars of hegemony, namely unrivaled military prowess.

Yet the strategic implications of China’s technological advances outlined above are not inevitable. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report stresses the need for measures that allow the US to “operate effectively in cyberspace” and “deter and defeat aggression in anti-access environments,” calling inter alia for strengthened cyber warfare capacities, improved long-range strike capacities, more resilient US forward bases, and more robust space and ISR assets.[75] In short, the proven potential of the US military for innovation and technological leadership may be able to reverse the asymmetric gains made by China’s military and once again secure unrivaled US “command of the commons.”

Notes & References

  1. Barry R. Posen, “Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U.S. Hegemony,” International Security, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Summer 2003): pp. 8-9.
  2. Carlo Cipollo, Guns, Sails and Empires: Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of European Expansion, 1400-1700 (New York: Minerva, 1965), pp. 21-30. For a more skeptical assessment, see George Raudzen, “War- winning weapons: The Measurement of Technological Determinism in Military History,”Journal of Military History, Vol. 54, Issue 4 (October 1990): p.407.
  3. Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1962), pp. 364-69.
  4. Theo Farrell and Terry Teriff, “Introduction” in: Theo Farrell and Terry Teriff (Eds.), The Sources of Military Change. Culture, Politics, Technology (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2002), p. 5.
  5. For the purposes of this piece, information warfare in the Chinese context is defined as: “The integrated employment of the core capabilities of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making.” See, US Department of Defense, “Information Operations,” Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, October 31, 2009.
  6. Roger Cliff et al. Entering the Dragon’s Lair: Implications of Chinese Anti-access Strategies (Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 2007), p. 21.
  7. Ibid, p. 39.
  8. Ibid, p. 48.
  9. Ashley J. Tellis, “China’s Military Space Strategy,” Survival, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Autumn 2007): p.41.
  10. Geoffrey Forden, “How China Loses the Coming Space War,”, (January 10, 2008).
  11. Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009. Annual Report to Congress (Washington D.C: Department of Defense, 2009). p.52.
  12. Tellis, op cit., p. 48.
  13. Geoffrey Forden, op. cit.
  14. The 2007 Chinese ASAT test has been described as the “largest debris-generating event in Earth orbit ever recorded.” NASA estimates that the collision created more than 35,000 pieces of debris that could potentially damage or destroy satellites. The debris has fanned out in an orbital belt through which almost 1,900 orbital payloads orbit—i.e., almost 70% of all orbital payloads. The debris clouds generated by even a handful of successful ASAT weapons, let alone a dozen or more, could slowly devastate existing satellite constellations over a period of a few years, rendering large swathes of Earth’s orbit inaccessible to satellites. See, Mark Williams, “China’s Antisatellite Missile Test: Why?” MIT Technology Review, March 8, 2007, computing/18281/?a=f.
  15. Geoffrey Forden, op. cit.
  16. Bryan Krekel et al, Capability of the People’s Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation, Northrop Grumman (October 9, 2009), p. 33.
  17. Ibid, p. 16.
  18. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), 2009 Report to Congress, November 2009 (Washington D.C: USCC, 2009), pp. 171-172.
  19. Krekel et al, op. cit., p.27.
  20. USCC, op. cit., pp. 168, 193.
  21. Ibid, p. 167.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Krekel et al, op. cit., p. 52.
  24. Libicki, Martin C., Cyberdeterrence and Cyberwar, Santa Monica: RAND, 2009.
  25. Ellen Nakashima, “Gates Creates Cyber-Defense Command,” Washington Post (June 24, 2009).
  26. Cliff et al., op. cit., pp. 27-28.
  27. Ibid, p.11.
  28. Cliff et al., op. cit., p.72. For more on the decisive role of the 1995-96 crisis in the development of Chinese weapons against aircraft carriers, see Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “Using the Land to Control the Sea? Chinese Analysts consider the Antiship Ballistic Missile,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 62, Issue 4 (Autumn 2009): p. 56.
  29. See Posen, op. cit.
  30. Cliff et al, op. cit., pp. 62-64; 81-84.
  31. A Patriot PAC-3 missile battery has already been deployed to Okinawa. See, “1-1 ADA PAC-3 Battalion officially at Kadena,” Pacific Air Forces (November 30, 2006).
  32. John Stillion, “Fighting under Missile Attack,” Air Force Magazine, Vol. 92, No. 8 (August 2009): p.35.
  33. For possible attack scenarios against air bases, see John Stillion and David T. Orletsky, Airbase Vulnerability to Conventional Cruise-Missile and Ballistic-Missile Attacks: Technology, Scenarios, and U.S. Air Force Responses (Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 1999).
  34., DongFeng 21C (CSS-5 Mod-3) Medium-Range Ballistic Missile, October 3, 2009,
  35. Stillion, op. cit., p.35.
  36. Cliff et al., op. cit., pp. 95-99. For different basing options, see Stillion, op. cit., pp. 36-37.
  37. Ronald O’Rourke 2009, China’s Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress, Report for Congress, RL 33153, 23 November 2009 (Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2009), p. 8; OSD, op. cit., pp. 21-23.
  38. Current US ships were specifically designed to counter similar (non-ballistic missile) threats by the Soviet Navy and Air Force during the Cold War. Moreover, China’s submarine force mainly consists of diesel-powered submarines, which have a limited range and thus operate “in and just beyond [China’s] littoral waters,” see USCC, Hearing on the Implications of China’s Naval Modernization for the United States, testimony of Cortez A. Cooper, June 11, 2009, cited by USCC, 2009 Report to Congress, November 2009 (Washington D.C.: USCC, 2009), p. 136. For long-range air strikes, China is lacking in aerial refueling capacity, see OSD, op. cit., p. 38.
  39. Andrew S. Erickson and David D. Yang, “On the Verge of a Game-Changer: A Chinese Antiship Ballistic Missile Could Alter the Rules in the Pacific and Place U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Groups in Jeopardy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 135, no. 3 (May 2009): pp. 26–32.
  40. Mark Stokes, China’s Evolving Conventional Strategic Strike Capability: the anti-ship ballistic missile challenge to U.S. maritime operations in the Western Pacific and beyond, Project 2049, (September 14, 2009), pp.2, 35.
  41. Ibid, p. 9.
  42. Ibid., p.2; At a boost-glide trajectory, a ballistic missile flies at altitudes between 20 and 100 km, leaving and entering near space repeatedly, which complicates interception, e.g. by the SM-3 ship-based anti-ballistic missile, see ibid., p. 33.
  43. O’ Connor, op. cit.
  44. Stokes, op. cit., p. 17.
  45. Stokes, op. cit., pp. 23-24.
  46. OSD, op. cit., p.21.
  47. The necessary technology has been under development for years in the context of conventional and nuclear ballistic missiles, as well as China’s anti-satellite program, but in the case of millimeter wave systems, also in civilian collision avoidance systems in cars and aircraft, see Stokes, op. cit., pp. 24-25.
  48. Erickson and Yang, op. cit., p. 54.
  49. Ibid, p.74. Erickson and Yang cite Chinese experts who give a cost of 5-10.5 million USD per ASBM and launcher. The US presently has 11 aircraft carriers, of which three are undergoing repairs and refueling at any given time. The Fleet Response Plan’s goal is for six carriers to be available within 30 days and another two after 60 days. For more, see, Fleet Response Plan, military/ops/frp.htm.
  50. See DOD, Contracts for Friday, February 15, 2008,
  51., Mk. 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) See also Paul S. Giarra, A Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile: Implications for the USN, USCC, Hearing on “The Implications of China’s Naval Modernization for the United States,” June 11, 2009, written_testimonies/ 09_06_11_wrts/09_06_11_giarra_statement.pdf.
  52. The combat radius of the F-35 C, the carrier-based variant of the Joint Strike Fighter is about 1,100 km; see, “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II, Specifications”, The range of F/A-18 E/Fs, used today, is even shorter at around 700 km; see, “F/A-18 Hornet, Specifications”, military/systems/aircraft/f-18-specs.htm.
  53. Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, February 2010 (Washington D.C: Department of Defense, 2010): pp. 31-33.
  54. Buchan, G., US Nuclear Strategy for the Post Cold War Era, RAND (1994); Jingmei, T., The Bush Administration’s Nuclear Strategy and Its Implications for China’s Security, (working paper, May 2003); DoD, National Security and Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century, (September 2008).
  55. Avery Goldstein, Deterrence and Security in the 21st Century: China, Britain, France, and the Enduring Legacy of the Nuclear Revolution (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), p. 64. The following quote is very telling in this respect: “The Soviet Union has the atom bomb. Where does the significance lie? It lies in the fact that the imperialists are afraid of it. Are the imperialists afraid of us? I think they are not… The United States stations its troops on Taiwan because we have no atom bombs or guided missiles.” Speech of 2 January 1957, Tsinghua University, in: Nuclear weapons and Chinese policy, p. 19.
  56. The deportation led to a remark made by Undersecretary of the Navy Daniel Kimball supposedly declared at the time of his deportation, “I’d rather see him shot than let him go … He’s worth three to five divisions anyplace.” Goldstein, op. cit., p. 51.
  57. Goldstein, op. cit., p. 87.
  58. Ibid, p. 96.
  59. Herman Kahn, On Thermonuclear War (New York: The Free Press, 1969), p. 33.
  60., “DongFeng 31A (CSS-9) Intercontinental Ballistic Missile,” February 15, 2009
  61. Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris, and Matthew G. McKinzie, Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning (Washington: Federation of American Scientists & Natural Resources Defense Council, November 2006), p. 71, guide/china/Book2006.pdf.
  62., op. cit.
  63. Ibid; Kristensen, et al, op. cit., p.58.
  64. The US National Air and Space Intelligence Center hints at the possibility of a Chinese development of multiple warheads, see: National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, (Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio: NASIC, 2009), p. 19. For a skeptical assessment regarding the claim of multiple warheads, see Kristensen, Norris, and McKinzie, op. cit., pp. 74-76.
  65., JL-1 (CSS-N-3), June 10, 1998,;, Type 094 (Jin Class) Nuclear-Powered Missile Submarine, March 13, 2009,
  66. Ibid;, Type 094 Jin-class Ballistic Missile Submarine, 2009,;;, JuLang 1 (CSS-N-3) Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile, March 14, 2009, jl1.asp
  67. Kristensen et al., op. cit., p. 90.
  68. For these purposes, nuclear command and control can be defined as, ““the exercise of authority [of lead civilian officials]…through established command lines, over nuclear weapon operations of military forces.” Goldstein, op. cit., p. 10.
  69. Ibid, p. 12.
  70. Ibid, p. 17.
  71. Ibid, p. 20.
  72. Ibid, p. 21.
  73. Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1980), p. 193: “The supreme objective may not be to assure that it says limited, but rather to keep the risk of all-out war within moderate limits above zero. At least this may be the strategy for the side that is in danger of ‘losing’ a limited war. The less likely it is that the enemy’s aggressive advances can be contained by limited and local resistance, the more reason there may be to fall back upon the deliberate creation of mutual risk. […] Deliberately raising the risk of all-out war is thus a tactic that fits the context of limited war.”
  74. For more information on the NMD and its possible impact on the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence; see Quackenbush, S.L., “National Missile Defense and Deterrence,” Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Dec. 2006): pp. 533-541.
  75. Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report. February 2010 (Washington D.C: Department of Defense, 2010).
Matthew Sollenberger is an M.A. student at the Johns Hopkins University, SAIS in Washington D.C. Prior to attending SAIS he spent four years as an analyst, with clients including domestic and foreign government agencies, as well as Fortune 500 companies. He holds a BA in political science with high honors from Swarthmore College. Thilo Schroeter and Bastiaan Verink are M.A. students at the Johns Hopkins University SAIS Bologna Center. Thilo graduated from Dresden University of Technology with a BA in International Relations and spent a semester abroad at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Bastiaan holds an LL.M. in International Security with honors from VU University Amsterdam and a BA in International Relations and Economics from Utrecht University. Prior to starting at SAIS, Bastiaan worked as a Scenario Planner for a major Dutch gas company and was a member of the Royal Netherlands National Guard.