China's recent military exercises revealed that it is preparing for a short war with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea, a Navy intelligence official recently warned.
Navy Capt. James Fanell, director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said during a conference in San Diego that the People's Liberation Army's large-scale war games last fall showed that the island of Taiwan is no longer Beijing's lone major target.
"In addition to a longstanding task to restore Taiwan to the mainland, we witnessed the massive amphibious and cross-military region exercise, Mission Action 2013, and concluded that the PLA has been given new task: To be able to conduct a short, sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea, followed by what can only be expected [as] a seizure of the Senkakus, or even the southern Ryukus," he said.
The uninhabited Senkakus islands are located north of Taiwan and south of Japan's Ryuku islands. China claims the chain as its "Diaoyu" islands.
Capt. Fanell, who last year warned that China was escalating its bullying of regional neighbors, said security in the Asia Pacific over the past year has worsened, reaching a nadir in November with China's imposition of an air defense zone over much of the East China Sea.
Earlier, Chinese coast guard and naval forces had conducted a coordinated series of provocations aimed at intimidating nearby nations, he said.
The provocations included China's harassment of a U.S. warship. The encounter led to the near-collision between the guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens and a Chinese amphibious ship in the South China Sea. Officials said the incident could have triggered a larger conflict between the U.S. and China.
China asserted the Cowpens had violated a defense zone around its aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, near Hainan Island. But Capt. Fanell said the U.S. ship was 50 miles away when the Chinese amphibious ship sailed within 100 yards of the Cowpens and stopped in front of it, forcing the U.S. ship to make an emergency turn to avoid collision.
The Chinese also continued "expansionism" throughout the region last year, he said.
"Tensions in the South China and East China seas have deteriorated, with the Chinese coast guard playing the role of antagonist, harassing China's neighbors, while PLA navy ships, their protectors, conduct port calls throughout the region, promising friendship and cooperation," Capt. Fanell said at the Feb. 13 conference.
Capt. Fanell also expressed concern about a report published last fall in China's state-run Global Times that highlighted, with graphics, the effects of submarine-launched nuclear missile attacks on West Coast cities. The article said the JL-2 missile attacks would kill up to 12 million Americans.
"Imagine the outrage if a similar statement had been made by any U.S. media outlet," he said, noting that China's first ballistic missile submarine patrols are expected to begin this year.
Capt. Fanell noted that the late Gen. Liu Huaqing, considered the father of the Chinese navy, in 1983 outlined Beijing's timetable for naval hegemony: By 2010, China will achieve naval supremacy over the what its call the "first island chain" — waters near its coast — and by 2020 will expand to control waters around the "second island chain" located hundreds of miles from China.
Liu predicted that by 2040 "China will have the power to contain the dominance of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific and Indian Oceans," Capt. Fanell said, noting that Liu was known for directing forces that killed unarmed protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 and engineered the naval attack that killed 70 Vietnamese sailors at the South China Sea's Johnson South Reef in 1988.
"I think they are ahead of schedule," Capt. Fanell said.
Another speaker, Rear Adm. James G. Foggo, said he is leading a Navy effort to update a maritime strategy that will be released in the spring.
Adm. Foggo, assistant deputy chief of naval operations, noted that in 2007 the Navy's maritime strategy failed to mention China, an omission unlikely for the upcoming strategy as the Obama administration shifts its focus to Asia and the military concentrates on its new Air Sea Battle concept.
Adm. Foggo was involved in the new battle concept that seeks to better coordinate naval and air forces to counter what the Pentagon calls China's anti-access, area-denial weaponry — missiles, submarines and other high-technology arms.
Air Sea Battle "scares a lot of people, including the Chinese," he said.
The admiral said the military is seeking to follow the policy that came out of last year's meeting between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to develop closer military ties.
Adm. Foggo said it is very important for the two militaries to develop norms, standards of behavior and rules of the road so that a military "miscalculation" is avoided.
A third speaker, Navy Capt. David A. Adams, director of the Captain's Initiatives Group of the 7th Fleet, headquartered in Japan, warned that China's nuclear buildup and the lack of any dialogue about its strategic forces are a dangerous mix.
Capt. Adams said U.S. "strategic deterrence remains important" in the strategy for the Pacific region.
China is pursuing what he termed a "hybrid approach" to warfare that combines traditional and non-traditional capabilities, including economic warfare and cyber warfare, and the U.S. must do more to prepare for it.
"They are pursuing a hybrid approach to warfare, not the big war, but it could be high-tech, hybrid, low-tech, legal, financial, cyber," Capt. Adams said. "And we're already losing that war in the South China Sea today. And we're not focused on that, and our strategy, that peripheral conflict."
To better deal with China, the United States needs to bolster strategic advantages of submarines and air power, he said. More aircraft carriers and submarines should be based in the Asia Pacific as well.
"We have to think unconventionally, hedge against the big war, and be ready to win a hybrid war that we're not even thinking about," Capt. Adams said. "And if we lose a war, if the Navy has its Vietnam, it's going to be a dirty, hybrid paramilitary war in the Pacific."
The panel discussion on China was held at the annual Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association conference. Video of the conference was posted by the U.S. Naval Institute.
'Insidious' cyber war
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday warned of a new form of conflict that he said poses a major national security threat.
Speaking at the Beth El Synagogue in Bethesda, Mr. Hagel said cyber warfare is one type of future conflict that could destroy societies without traditional military strikes.
"Cyber warfare is a significant threat to the security of our country or any organized society or nations because it has the risks for all the obvious reasons," he said.
"And it's particularly insidious because it is stealthy, it's unseen — you can bring down literally an economy of a country, wipe out an electric grid, or paralyze your banking system; You can go after computers on national security platforms with ships and planes."
The problem is that the source of cyberattacks is difficult to identify.
"There's not one bullet fired and it is a very dangerous prospect," he said. "That's a new kind of threat that's very real."
On the problem of multibillion dollar defense cuts, Mr. Hagel said the budget agreement reached in December will help stabilize Pentagon spending.
The agreement pared back scheduled cuts of $40 billion this year and $50 billion next year to $30 billion this year and about $40 billion in 2015.
"It gives us some budget certainty for two years," he said, noting the funding problem will return under the Budget Control Act in 2016.
U.S.' 'fatal weakness'
A Chinese military analyst this month revealed one of the People's Liberation Army's secrets for defeating the U.S. in a future conflict: space warfare.
Yang Minqing, an analyst at the World Affairs Research Center of the state-run Xinhua News Agency, said despite its advanced weaponry, the U.S. military overly relies on "protection and support from its infrastructure in space." He called this over-reliance the United States' "fatal weakness."
As a result, nations like China, Russia and advanced nations in Europe are ready to take advantage of the weakness and could "crush" the U.S. military in "localized attacks" on space systems, communications links and ground facilities.
China has developed several space weapons, including anti-satellite missiles, lasers and directed energy guns, and maneuvering satellites.
U.S. officials have said the military could be crippled in operating over long distances if up to 20 of its communications, intelligence and navigation satellites were knocked out.
• Contact Bill Gertz at @BillGertz.
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