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The World's In Great Shape #1
Breaking Beijing's Weekly Brief on US-China Military Competition
Hello and welcome to the launch of “The World’s In Great Shape” a new weekly brief from Breaking Beijing that specifically focuses on stories relevant to the military aspect of US-China competition. Going forward, “The World’s In Great Shape” will release every Friday. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Good news first, the world’s in great shape.
Xi and Biden to meet, US-PRC to Reestablish Defense Comms
EXSUM: The White House officially confirmed reports from earlier this week that Xi and Biden are due to meet on the sidelines of the APEC summit in San Francisco next Wednesday for the first time since we shot down that pesky balloon. More significantly, the US and PRC will reestablish communications between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his new counterpart.
Expectations: Manage them. The White House has been looking to reduce tensions over the last year, and with multiple fires burning around the world, some are certainly willing to take any semblance of a win to reduce the risk of global conflict. However, we’ve yet to see a significant agreement in the Xi era where Beijing upheld its side of the bargain.
My perspective: Keeping lines of communication *open* are important. Not only do they matter for crisis management, they matter for intelligence gathering. There’s a long list of questions I’d like to bug Beijing about when it comes to things like new nuclear and orbital redlines and escalation management. These things matter even in a war in order to keep things from going nuclear. As less official talks and academic sources dry up, trying to find an answer on issues like the above, close to the source, are important to our national security. However, there’s a reason why folks like Chairman Gallagher (R-WI) refer to these initiatives as “zombie diplomacy”: we’re not seeing real results but keep championing talks just for the sake of talking. The PRC has simply not proven itself to be a reliable or honest negotiating partner. In the past, they’ve used these lines of communication and other talks to delay US action while they remain unencumbered. Maybe this time will be different, but I won’t hold my breath. While there’s a chance that the internal security situation has changed enough in Beijing (see the summer’s purges) that Xi has changed his calculus, I haven’t seen enough to say that’s actually what is going on. The global security situation certainly has simply not shifted in a way that would change Beijing’s MO or their perspective to make them open open to Washington’s perspective. I definitely don’t expect this to change Beijing’s ongoing military modernization or their actions in the South China Sea and against Taiwan.
US Army Training in the Pacific
EXSUM: The US Army has now complete its first exercise at the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center since it was validated to be on par with the likes of their premiere large-scale, realistic maneuver areas at National Training Center in California and the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana.
Expectations: The trainings here are only as good as how they feed into the wider US Army’s perspective on the next fight, which lessons these units bring home to work on every day, how the institutional memory retains them, and how these trainings feed into the joint perspective. I am optimistic that this site will prove invaluable in the coming years for us and our allies.
My Perspective: Make no mistake, this new training center is aimed specifically at getting the US Army ready to fight the PLA alongside our allies in the Pacific. I am very interested to see the evolution of these training events and how the US Army’s exercises and lessons learned tie into the joint fight. My great fear is that the services are focusing on very service-oriented, siloed wargames and exercises as they each compete to be the lead for the Pacific fight. Look, in a budget environment as chaotic and challenging as this one, I get it. However, it does none of us no good to completely ignore the lessons that brough about the Goldwater-Nichols and post 9-11 reforms and return to siloing how we all operate. The Army should take the lead and lean into sharing perspectives and lessons learned with the Joint Force, then it’s on the other services to decide what to do with them. It’s not just important to know how the services operate together, it’s really important to understand the underlying assumptions each service is making in their exercises and how they might differ from others. Also, if your boss with stars on their shoulders says that this is about fighting China, you don’t have to pretend in the same article that this is about anything other than fighting our peer competitor. Stop pretending like it’s 2010.
The First Space Battle?
EXSUM: The Israeli ARROW 2 Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system intercepted an Iranian-built ballistic missiles at the edges of space (above 100km) and nerds on the internet are claiming this is the first real space battle.
Expectations: This is the least of our worries when it comes to orbital warfare. Between Russian ops in the lead up to the 2022 Invasion of Ukraine and the proliferation of ballistic missiles throughout the world, you are undoubtedly going to see a lot more of stuff at the edge of space and beyond going forward. We are in the middle of a second space race. I wrote in-depth on what to expect going forward, here, last year.
My perspective: No, this is not the first space battle. It wasn’t even a space battle. Intercepting a ground-launched missile with another ground-launched missile in order to defend terrestrial targets is not a space battle. If one land-based aircraft intercepts another over the ocean, that does not make it a naval battle just by approximate geographic location. You will know when a space battle occurs because it’s incredibly likely that we will feel or see some collateral damage from the heavens above. No actual systems that conduct kinetic, on-orbit space operations were involved, nor were the non-kinetic systems (like blinding lasers) based in orbit or on ground. The target and the interceptor were only temporarily in space. An actual space battle would look more like an Iranian satellite being shot out of orbit by Israeli interceptors or vice versa. Or even worse, one satellite maneuvering to attack another. Trust me, a lot more people will be freaking out when the first real shots are fired in the vacuum. That being said, good to know ARROW works under real world conditions. I know an island nation that would really appreciate having that technology right about now.
From the Arsenal of Democracy:
Flight of the Raider
Wait, shit. That’s the wrong Raider.
EXSUM: The B-21, the USAF’s dual-capable replacement for the B-2 bomber finally took flight on video from Palmdale, California.
Expectations: Believe the hype. The program remains fairly on budget and delivery pace. If the USAF can keep this up, then we might actually have the first bomber program since the B-52 that actually delivers in large quantities before going wildly over projected cost. It’s also a validation for a lot of new design methods and technologies that should be implemented across the DoD for new programs.
My perspective: I’m really enthusiastic about both the programs and underlying design technologies. Longtime readers of Breaking Beijing (and EX SUPRA) know my issues with the defense industrial base and our seeming inability during the 2010s to accurately pair technology maturity with acquisitions needs. Getting the B-21 delivered on time and on budget (we want 100 of them), is critical to not only the future of the nuclear triad but successful deep strike sorties against the dense air defense networks of the People’s Liberation Army. We have to get this right, and this system undoubtedly keeps the PLA up at night.
Oh Lawd He Swimmin’
EXSUM: Pictures appeared online of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers'’ new system upgrades. These upgrades,= providing new offensive electronic warfare capabilities, are designed to improve the Burke’s punch against singular and multiple targets, critical at a time when the entire US military is working to defeat swarming attacks and complex salvos from smart munitions.
Expectations: Some folks are big mad that it makes the Burke look like a bit of a chonker. To me, it reminds me a bit of the elephant ears of the new APS upgrade on the Abrams. Either way, so long as the loadout doesn’t change the seaworthiness of the Burke in heavier seas, routinely found in the Western Pacific, don’t worry.
My perspective: If it looks ugly but helps kill PLA, who cares? This upgrade undoubtedly helps keep the fleet in the fight at a time when no one wants to fund a larger Navy any time soon, the industrial base is extremely fragile, and we still don’t have a good answer for a lot of supply chain and workforce issues that go beyond “give us more money.” Just don’t put Fat Leonard on the ship and it probably won’t capsize.
On Stay Behind Forces: This is an excellent primer by Brian Petit on stay-behind forces and the conditions required for them to operate. Anyone working on Europe or Asia defense planning should probably read it if they’re not already familiar.
On Protracted Warfare: Chapter 1 of Iskander Rehman’s work on protracted warfare is available for free. It’s quite the indictment of the US defense establishment. Highly recommend.
On War in Southeast Asia: I’m currently reading a memoir of John Masters’ time fighting the Imperial Japanese in Southeast Asia and am quite enjoying it. I’ve found British war memoirs to often be far more self-critical and even funnier in a way that many American commanders simply aren’t. This book pairs well with Slim’s Defeat into Victory, another must read for anyone interested in fighting in Southeast Asia against a great power.
That’s it for this week’s brief. I hope you all have a great weekend and for those who’ve served, take some time both to remember and give yourselves a break. And finally, happy birthday to the Marines!
Just another day at the office.