Chinese Threats to U.S. Surface Ships: An Assessment of Relative Capabilities, 1996–2017

RAND – Over the past two decades, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has transformed itself from a large but antiquated force into a capable, modern military. A RAND Project AIR FORCE report assesses trends in the relative capabilities of U.S. and Chinese forces in diverse operational areas, and at varying distances from the Chinese mainland, between 1996 and 2017. The overall conclusion is that although China continues to lag behind the United States in terms of aggregate military hardware and operational skills, it has improved its capabilities relative to those of the United States in many critical areas. Moreover, the report finds that China does not need to catch up fully to the United States to challenge the U.S. ability to conduct effective military operations near the Chinese mainland. To be clear, the goal is to avoid war, which the authors do not anticipate and which would be disastrous for both countries. Rather, this research provides an open-source assessment of trends that could affect U.S. defense and deterrence efforts and establishes a baseline for future analysis.

Aboard a U.S. nuclear sub, a cat-and-mouse game with phantom foes

Los Angeles Times – America’s most advanced nuclear submarine was slicing through the water off Hawaii last month, 400 feet under the surface, when a sonar operator suddenly detected an ominous noise on his headphones. It was a faint thump … thump … thump — the distinctive sound of a spinning, seven-bladed propeller on a Chinese attack submarine called a Shang by the Pentagon and its allies.

What it’s like onboard a US aircraft carrier in the coalition against the Islamic State

Washington Post – The USS Theodore Roosevelt, whose homeport is San Diego, is a key element of the U.S.-led coalition known as Operation Inherent Resolve that is targeting the militants in Syria and Iraq. This island of steel in the Persian Gulf, some 1,090 feet (330 meters) long, is home to some 5,000 U.S. Navy aviators, sailors and Marine pilots, carrying about 70 aircraft involved in the fight.

China’s Island Building Campaign Could Hint Toward Further Expansions in Indian Ocean

USNI News – China’s creation of military-relevant facilities on its newly-created islands in the South China Sea is a cause for concern for countries in Southeast Asia, and several of its investments in the Indian Ocean are raising more questions over the possibility of China’s first dedicated naval support facility overseas.

China Doubles Down on South China Sea Sovereignty, Warns Against ‘Risky and Provocative’ U.S. Freedom of Navigation Missions

USNI News – Chinese officials again affirmed territorial sovereignty for a series of newly created artificial islands in the South China Sea and warned the U.S. against taking “risky and provocative action” by attempting to come within 12 nautical miles of the islands.

U.S. Weighing More Freedom of Navigation Operations in South China Sea Near Reclaimed Islands

USNI News – The Obama administration is considering conducting more freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea as a partial counter to China’s rapid artificial island expansion in the region, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs told a Senate panel on Thursday.

The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, 1996-2017

RAND – his RAND study analyzes the development of respective Chinese and U.S. Military capabilities in ten categories of military operations across two scenarios, one centered on Taiwan and one on the Spratly Islands. The analysis is presented in ten scorecards that assess military capabilities as they have evolved over four snapshot years: 1996, 2003, 2010, and 2017. The results show that China is not close to catching up to the United States in terms of aggregate capabilities, but also that it does not need to catch up to challenge the United States on its immediate periphery. Furthermore, although China’s ability to project power to more distant locations remains limited, its reach is growing, and in the future U.S. military dominance is likely to be challenged at greater distances from China’s coast. To maintain robust defense and deterrence capabilities in an era of fiscal constraints, the United States will need to ensure that its own operational concepts, procurement, and diplomacy anticipate future developments in Chinese military capabilities.