The judgment of peers
With the recent victory of the Kuomintang in Taiwan, a party which may favor eventual unification with China, there's less reason for Beijing to attempt the island by force. But if they did, the US Air Force Aimpoints magazine describes how they would try to take out American forces in the region. The outlines of a hypothetical 21st century Pearl Harbor would look like this, according to Roger Cliff, a former Defense Department strategist and China military specialist.
Throw the first punch and hit hard. “Future conflicts are likely to be short, intense affairs that might consist of a single campaign,” Cliff said. “They’re thinking about ways to get the drop on us. ...
Striking U.S. air bases — specifically command-and-control facilities, aircraft hangars and surface-to-air missile launchers — would be China’s first priority if a conflict arose, according to Rand’s report.
U.S. facilities in South Korea and Japan, even far-south Okinawa, sit within what Rand calls the “Dragon’s Lair”: a swath of land and sea along China’s coast. This is an area reachable by cruise missiles, jet-borne precision bombs and local covert operatives.
China is designing ground-launched cruise missiles capable of nailing targets more than 900 miles away — well within striking range of South Korea and much of Japan, according to the report. Cruise missiles able to reach Okinawa — home to Kadena Air Base — are in development.
The Chinese would first launch “concentrated and unexpected” attacks ... Chinese fighter jets would scramble to intercept aerial refueling tankers and cargo planes sent to shuttle in fuel, munitions, supplies or troops. High-explosive cluster bombs would target pilot quarters and other personnel buildings.
But these would take out only a fraction of American combat power. Most US strength is deployed far back. Nor does it take into account the very considerable combat power of Japan and Korea, which if once deployed, would a force to reckon with. In fact, Chinese military planners have expressed the professional opinion that any such surprise attacks would be like “throwing an egg against a rock.” If so, why are the Chinese even contemplating such scenarios?
Because the American public is “abnormally sensitive” about military casualties, according to an article in China’s Liberation Army Daily, killing U.S. airmen or other personnel would spark a “domestic anti-war cry” on the home front and possibly force early withdrawal of U.S. forces.
(“The U.S. experience in Somalia is usually cited in support of this assertion,” according to the Rand report.) Once this hard-and-fast assault on U.S. bases commenced, the Chinese army would “swiftly divert” its forces and “guard vigilantly against enemy retaliation,” according to a Chinese expert.
Considering the rhetoric emanating from front-running US Presidential candidates, throwing an egg against a rock has a greater chance of success than it might seem. It's apparently the judgment of Chinese planners, and who knows how many other powers in the world, that many esteemed American leaders would surrender at the drop of a hat. That may not be true, but that's how foreign military planners, listening to their rhetoric, understand the words coming out of their mouths. Otherwise, no soap. From a military point of view, a surprise attack on US facilities within the "Dragon's Lair" would have little probability of eventual success.
The Strategic Security blog, citing documents obtained by Freedom of Information requests, reports that in the Dragon's Lair "China's entire fleet of approximately 55 general-purpose submarines conducted a total of six patrols during 2007, slightly better than the two patrols conducted in 2006 and zero in 2005." That means, in plain English, that China's navy hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell of pulling a surprise attack off based on a purely military comparison. It's Washington politics that gives aggressors hope; paradoxically it's the desire for peace at all costs -- at any price -- that invites the reckless to roll the dice.