However, know that doesn’t necessarily mean that a country won’t go to huge lengths to threaten an all-out war.
In fact, according to Forrest Morgan, an analyst for the RAND Corporation, military posturing has become an integral part of how countries deal with one another. In effect, this is all about “crisis stability”—which is “building and posturing forces in ways that allow a state, if confronted, to avoid war without backing down.”
In a 2013 study for the U.S. Air Force, Morgan contended that long-range heavy bombers are considered to be some of the best forces for “crisis stability”—as they are powerful, highly mobile, and conspicuous. These qualities make them a perfect combination to showcase eagle-eyed intent and overall strength.
On the flip side, the U.S. Navy’s submarine-launched cruise missiles are less effective—and perhaps even counterproductive—in achieving crisis stability because they largely can’t be seen at all.
“SLCMs could contribute to the instability,” Morgan wrote.
“(T)he opponent’s anxieties might be magnified by the ability of SSGNs (cruise missile subs) to posture in stealth nearby,” he added.
Morgan, though, took time to point out one particular instance when the Navy’s Ohio-class SSGNs did, in fact, bring about crisis stability.
“In July 2010, three SSGNs surfaced nearly simultaneously in Western Pacific and Indian Ocean waters, allegedly to signal U.S. displeasure over Chinese missile tests in the East China Sea,” he wrote.
Message for Allies and Others
There are several other instances of submarines helping to showcase America’s military might abroad.
As Greg Torode reported for the South China Morning Post: “The appearance of the USS Michigan in Pusan, South Korea, the USS Ohio in Subic Bay, in The Philippines and the USS Florida in the strategic Indian Ocean outpost of Diego Garcia not only reflects the trend of escalating submarine activity in East Asia, but carries another threat as well.”
He continued: “Between them, the three submarines can carry 462 Tomahawks, boosting by an estimated 60 percent-plus the potential Tomahawk strike force of the entire Japanese-based Seventh Fleet—the core projection of U.S. military power in East Asia. One veteran Asian military attaché, who keeps close ties with both Chinese and U.S. forces, noted that “460-odd Tomahawks is a huge amount of potential firepower in anybody’s language.”
Torode concluded that “it is another sign that the U.S. is determined to not just maintain its military dominance in Asia, but to be seen doing so—that is a message for Beijing and for everybody else, whether you are a U.S. ally or a nation sitting on the fence.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.