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The Sneaky Way China Could Win a War Against America

F-15EX
An F-15EX Eagle II from the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, 53rd Wing, takes flight for the first time out of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 26, 2021, prior to departure for Northern Edge 2021. The F-15EX brings next-generation combat technology to a highly successful fighter airframe that is capable of projecting power across multiple domains for the Joint Force. (U.S Air Force photo by 1st Lt Savanah Bray)

Kill the Logistics Fleet: The U.S. armed forces can accomplish little in the Western Pacific without ample and regular supplies of all types, from fuel to ammunition to foodstuffs. Prospective foes—read China—know this. They will go after the logistics fleet hauling matériel to the fighting forces, making it a priority target set.

And why not? That’s what I would do were I in charge of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Deprive hostile forces of what they need to accomplish their combat missions and you may as well have defeated them in a decisive battle. They slink away when they run out of supplies.

Better yet, they may never even reach the battleground.

The U.S. Army gets this. Or at least army chieftains are saying the right things. Army Chief of Staff James McConville recently told an event hosted by Politico, “we believe we’ll have what we call contested logistics” and intend to devise ways to assure that stores get through. Adds Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, supply “isn’t the sexiest thing, frankly, the Army does, but it is very important. Just look at how the Russian military in Ukraine has struggled to resupply and feed its soldiers. That shows you the importance of logistics today on a contested battlefield.”

But logistics isn’t just important; it’s central.

Military grandmaster Carl von Clausewitz depicts a combatant’s “center of gravity,” in lyrical and seemingly less-than-actionable terms, as “the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends.” The center of gravity derives from a belligerent’s “dominant characteristics,” and represents “the point against which all our energies should be directed” in order to triumph in battle. Once commanders have ascertained what constitutes a fighting force’s center of gravity and struck at it, they should rain “blow after blow” on it to keep the foe from recovering from the initial shock.

Clausewitz is—contain your surprise—somewhat vague and abstruse when identifying specific centers of gravity. He declares that the center of gravity resides wherever a warring state exhibits “cohesion.” Pound away at that core again and again and enemy legions lose cohesion. Either their leadership capitulates or they can no longer put up a fight. Clausewitz does go on to list candidates for the center of gravity. As a good soldier, he ranks the army as the prime center of gravity “if it is at all significant.” Next comes the capital, assuming it’s the administrative, social, and political center of the country. Then comes breaking a hostile alliance to simplify the problem. He also mentions leadership and popular opinion, almost as an afterthought.

Whatever unites a combatant is it.

Disrupting combat logistics constitutes an indirect way of assaulting U.S. Army and affiliated expeditionary forces, America’s chief center of gravity in Clausewitzian parlance. Because they only play away games at long distances from North America, U.S. forces cannot prevail without lavish support. Assailing stores ships, not to mention tanker or transport aircraft, would comport with Chinese military doctrine, which envisions waging “systems-destruction warfare” against a stronger foe operating far from home. If an enemy fights as a “system of systems,” such as a fleet, corps, or expeditionary air force, PLA commanders try to discern what binds that system of systems together, imparting cohesion. Then they attack the sinews. If successful China’s defenders dissolve the enemy force into isolated clots of combat power—small formations or individual units—that can be overwhelmed one by one.

The electromagnetic spectrum is one obvious adhesive for any military force. For fleet-tactics maven Captain Wayne Hughes the determinants of tactical and operational effectiveness are weapons range, scouting, and command-and-control. Modern forces depend on the electromagnetic spectrum for all of these functions. It’s how they detect, track, and target hostile forces at a distance. If PLA forces can disrupt U.S. use of the spectrum, they can fulfill the aims of systems-destruction warfare. But again, logistics is even more fundamental to any system of systems. Expeditionary forces stranded without seaborne or airborne supplies are by definition tactically and operationally ineffective. They accomplish nothing.

South China Sea

U.S. Sailors watch from a landing craft as they pull away from the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand, March 2, 2011. Essex is the lead ship of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and was participating in Maritime Exercise 11, a theater security cooperation visit to improve capabilities of the United States and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam M. Bennett, U.S. Navy/Released).

In short, logistics is a center of gravity for the U.S. armed forces. If a foe lands hammer blow after hammer blow against the logistics fleet, it could prevail without even venturing an apocalyptic battle in the Western Pacific. For Xi Jinping & Co., employing such indirect means would chart an expedient and relatively risk-free route to victory in the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea, or East China Sea. It would deny U.S. forces already in the theater adequate reinforcements while preventing Washington from keeping its commitments to Asian allies.

Military leaders like McConville and Wormuth, along with their counterparts in the sea and aviation services, say soothing things about correcting shortfalls in the supply realm. Let’s hold them to their words.

Everything could depend on it.

Dr. James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and a Nonresident Fellow at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. The views voiced here are his alone. Holmes is also a Contributing Editor to 19FortyFive. 

Written By

James Holmes holds the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and served on the faculty of the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. A former U.S. Navy surface-warfare officer, he was the last gunnery officer in history to fire a battleship’s big guns in anger, during the first Gulf War in 1991. He earned the Naval War College Foundation Award in 1994, signifying the top graduate in his class. His books include Red Star over the Pacific, an Atlantic Monthly Best Book of 2010 and a fixture on the Navy Professional Reading List. General James Mattis deems him “troublesome.”

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. 403Forbidden

    November 20, 2022 at 6:27 pm

    No way china could ‘sneakily’ initiate a war with almighty god o’ war US, let alone WIN against the most powerful military this side of heaven.

    US has its military personnel already right at the front doorstep of china which is really its long planned victim of tomorrow or a future iraq /grenada/panama.

    Other than military personnel, US has warships, spyplanes, elint aircraft, subs and even aircraft carrier battle groups constantly or regularly on the move near its shores & airspace and sometimes just mere miles (km) off its zhejiang province shoreline.

    US is already the single most powerful military outfit in the world today, and this discounting its vast army of loyal minions or vassals.

    In a couple of years’ time, said minions would surely and unhesitatingly allow US military to station hypersonic arsenal on their territory thus upping the ante for china.

    To counter such a hair-raising situation or development, china must go to space and procedd to park its most advanced weapinry there. Now, this is THE ONLY WAY china could ever sneakily win against US. But does china have the balls to do this.

    Xi jinping is now quietly & profusely thanking hid lucky stars biden didn’t grab him when they met at bali. Xi directly /indirectly being responsible for one million plus covid deaths in US.

  2. Jacksonian Libertarian

    November 20, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    “Captains should study tactics, but Generals must study logistics.”

    The answer to the vulnerability of surface ships, is submarines and UAVs. The US is in desperate need of 100-200 small (<2,000tons) AIP cargo/utility/amphibious subs that can sneak/crawl up on a beach and roll-on-roll-off cargo/marines. The US also needs thousands of cheap, long range, attritable, UAVs to deliver smart weapons to the battlefield efficiently.

  3. H.R. Holm

    November 21, 2022 at 2:19 am

    Disagree. It is the warships that can deliver the damage and destruction, either initially or in the fight-back stage. Take out the warships, and there is nothing to resupply; so then, why bother? The Chinese aren’t building those advanced antiship missiles and hypersonics, amongst other things, with the idea of using them first against the naval ‘Merchant Marine’ in mind.

  4. Leidsegracht

    November 21, 2022 at 9:11 am

    I’m not sure why the editors chose to label this “sneaky” as that’s the way you win wars. As the Ukrainians are demonstrating by hollowing out the logistics capability of the Russian army to the point where the front-line combat operations risk falling over.

    I would also expand the concept of logistics to include shipyard capacity which is an area China also leads and I don’t see an immediate solution to

  5. GhostTomahawk

    November 21, 2022 at 2:50 pm

    The US has been waging war on adversaries logistics for decades. Wiping out your enemies ability to wage war is as effective as wiping out your enemy.

    Shoot
    Move
    Communicate

    The 3 basic requirements for war.

    I don’t foresee a war with China. They don’t want it. Our corporate overlords who run our govt don’t want it.

  6. Roger Bacon

    November 21, 2022 at 3:52 pm

    China plays the long game. They degrade our social cohesion by pushing transgenderism on TicTok while their kids use TicTok to study Algebra and Calculus. Right now China is looking at Ukraine and saying “Thank God we didn’t try to invade Taiwan or that could be us.”

    China remains a threat and must be watched closely but they are not ready to start a shooting war and I think they never will be.

  7. Omega 13

    November 22, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    Ya know, we can do this to them, too. You know this, right?

    smh

  8. Jose Rene A. Aberasturi

    November 22, 2022 at 6:51 pm

    The military establishments of both the US and China know that war is inevitable. As can be gleaned from various concerned publications, think tanks, seminars and conferences, it is not a question of “If” but “When”. Their answer from both sides is a resounding “Soon!”.

    The US should start the process of diplomatic engagement and military-to-military planning with it’s Pacific allies with the view of stockpiling resources needed for war.

  9. Boney Tomahawk

    November 22, 2022 at 7:07 pm

    The military establishments of both the US and China know that war is inevitable. As can be gleaned from various concerned publications, think tanks, seminars and conferences, it is not a question of “If” but “When”. The answer from both sides is a resounding “Soon!”.

    The US should start the process of diplomatic engagement and military-to-military planning with it’s Pacific allies with the view of stockpiling resources needed for war.

  10. Pavel

    November 23, 2022 at 4:28 am

    A typical American believes that a nuclear warhead will not fly to his house! I will disappoint him, he will arrive and very quickly!

  11. Jay Dee

    November 23, 2022 at 5:55 am

    Look no further than America’s Civil War.

    The Union could supply hundreds of thousands of troops anywhere the railroads could go. The Union became quite proficient at laying 20 to 30 miles of railroad track in a day.

    By the same token, Sherman’s march to the sea real damage to the Confederacy was to cut a 50 mile swath out of the Confederacy’s railroad network. The Confederacy was never able to rebuild the network and their armies starved.

  12. Scotpatriot

    November 23, 2022 at 10:33 pm

    Russia famously said they would sell the US the rope to hang itself. They couldn’t but the chinese are though our greedy corrupt leaders and corporations.

  13. john McGinnis

    November 24, 2022 at 6:38 am

    Tell me something I don’t know — Logistics win wars, tactics win battles.

    It would be worth pointing a few things out:

    * Two can play that game and the decisive factor is two fold. Geopolitical and the associated long tail of oil of which China has none. They have two sources, via the strait of Molucca and a pending pipeline from Russia. A strategic sinking of a few tankers and the oil will stop in the first case. A strategic hit on the pipeline in the latter case.

    * Rotation. We have battle fleets in 3 strategic situations. The Med 7th fleet could be rotated to the pacific. Supplied from Oz initially. The combined battle groups can rotate out going to either Hawaii or Oz for resupply. Essentially self supply from bases outside the reach of the Chinese. We did exactly that in WWII with slower and less capable craft than today.

    * There is also the geopolitical factor that China is not making many friends. Vietnam kicked their butts a few years back. India did likewise recently. Japan, Korea, Philippines will not be rushing to aid China in any regard. And the relationship with Russia is one of necessity and little else. Even the Belt-Road initiative is not as rosy as it looks. Dig a little deeper and what you find is that in many cases China has had to foreclose on projects they were involved in with the host country. The issue — Usury.

  14. David Chang

    November 25, 2022 at 6:58 am

    God bless people in the world.

    US military think of helping the democratic country in East Asia, like Republic of China. But U.S. military don’t know that the most people in Asia don’t obey Ten Commandments and they worship themselves, democracy.

    Moreover, although U.S. military shall prevent socialism parties from defeating all countries and occupying all lands in the world. However, by the history of the Vietnam War and the Afghan War, we can understand that U.S. military should determine strategy by righteous of Creator, our God, and declare that U.S. military obey Ten Commandments and other moral obligations, such as Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land. The Hague, 18 October 1907.

    Former President Bush’s warfare thought of rogue states and preventive diplomacy are wrong. Furthermore, the UN does not obey the Ten Commandments and only promotes socialism and evolution. So, with righteous warfare policy, U.S. navy and marine corps will avoid the wrong strategies of Vietnam War and Afghan War.

    Several U.S. Navy and Marine Corps officers talk about Western Pacific tactics, but they have to think that U.S. military should protect the United States, rather than replace other countries’ military or police to perform other countries’ defense duty.

    Therefore, we can understand the righteous warfare in Western Pacific, and will defeat socialism parties.

    God bless America.

  15. GenEarly

    November 25, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    XI PAID BIBEN 1.5 BILLION DOLLARS TO BE HIS LAP DOG. THE USSA MILITARY IS GOING WOKE AS THE FERAL GOV GOES BROKE. THIS ILLUSION OF THE USSA EMPIRE IS ABOUT TO DISSOLVE.
    DREAM ON, COMRADES.

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