When National Security & Wargames Collide – the 2018 China Military Power Report and South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017)

Every year, the US Department of Defense must prepare a report to Congress titled “Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,”

The report shall address the current and probable future course of military-technological development of the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese security strategy and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts supporting such development over the next 20 years. The report shall also address United States-China engagement and cooperation on security matters during the period covered by the report, including through United States-China military-to-military contacts, and the United States strategy for such engagement and cooperation in the future.

The 2018 China Military Power Report was released this past week. I decided to read-through the report while having my copy of designer John Gorkowski’s South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (Compass Games, 2017) nearby.

Making a modern wargame is difficult as so much changes so rapidly. The hardest part may be the military hardware since games are based on open sources and not privy to the latest classified assessments. Wargames may rapidly become OBE and not of relevancy (and interest).

South China Sea does not suffer from this problem, at least yet. This may be because SCS actually is two games, one political and one military.

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Arms Exports & Sales

As I read the 2018 China Military Power Report, I found myself flipping through the Political Cards in SCS. I found many cards directly related to events in the Report. Previously, I stated that I found the Political Turn in SCS not necessarily to my liking. After looking at the Report and comparing it to the SCS Political Cards I now see that the game actually does a very good job at capturing the political factors around the issue. Indeed, if one really wants to understand why a fight may happen in the South China Sea, one really needs to play the Political Turns in SCS and not just focus on the military.

That is not to say the military is not important. The Report also lays out the high-level factors related to combat in the South China Sea. The Report makes it clear that China is on a ship-building spree; a spree that may not be fully captured in SCS. While one can argue about the order of battle in the game, the underlying truth is that the game system accounts for the growth of the PLAN. More importantly to wargamers, the underlying combat mechanics of the Military Turn in SCS, that of detection and strike, remains a useful model of modern naval conflict.

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CV Liaoning

Reading the 2018 China Military Report has convinced me I need to get South China Sea to the table a few more times. Most importantly, I need to give the Political Turns more attention.  I am also now even more anxious to see how Harold Buchanan’s Flashpoint: South China Sea currently in the GMT Games P500 (Not There Yet) looks at the same subject.

 

 

 

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Threat Tuesday – Liaoning

AFP/Getty Images

China is now officially an aircraft carrier-operating navy with the commissioning of Liaoning on 25 Sept 2012. Though much has been written, I direct you to Andrew Erickson’s column in the Wall Street Journal, “Introducing the ‘Liaoning’: China’s New Aircraft Carrier and What it Means.”

Courtesy Killer Apps/Foreign Policy

Andrew (and many others) point out that the Chinese have yet to meet a major milestone; landing aircraft on the deck. Just one day after being commissioned, photos appeared on the ‘net that may indicate that landings have already happened (see “Who left skidmarks on the flight deck of China’s new aircraft carrier?“)

But does China really need an aircraft carrier? Yet elsewhere in Foreign Policy is an argument entitled “Shipping Out: Are Aircraft Carriers Becoming Obsolete? I will be the first to say that the arguments put forth are very simple and the author shows little real understanding of naval matters; not to mention apparent ignorance of anti-ship ballistic missiles. For a far better analysis of the Chinese naval threat I recommend the latest edition of  Ronald O’Rourke’s Congressional Research Service report China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress. On the issues of China’s aircraft carriers, the report points out:

Although aircraft carriers might have some value for China in Taiwan-related conflict scenarios, they are not considered critical for Chinese operations in such scenarios, because Taiwan is within range of land-based Chinese aircraft. Consequently, most observers believe that China is acquiring carriers primarily for their value in other kinds of operations that are more distant from China’s shores, and to symbolize China’s status as a major world power. DOD states that “Given the fact that Taiwan can be reached by land-based aviation, China’s aircraft carrier program would offer very limited value in a Taiwan scenario and would require additional naval resources for protection. However, it would enable China to extend its naval air capabilities elsewhere.” (p. 20-21)

Regardless of the threat, it will be fun to play out a wargame scenario using Liaoning. Indeed, the Oct 2011 issue of The Naval SITREP from Clash of Arms featured a Harpoon scenario “The Wisdom of Shi Lang” (Shi Lang being what the west originally thought the carrier would be named).

Threat Tuesday – Sino-Japanese Naval War of 2012

PLA Navy aircraft carrier Shi Lang underway

Take a peek at this article over at the Foreign Policy website. Time to get Harpoon 4.1 out and start generating some scenarios! Hmm, Sea of Dragons was published in 1997. So much has changed an update is urgently needed.

If the author is right, and the key factor is the human equation of combat, then no wargame is going to accurately simulate the battles. Without very detailed (and despised) rules for when to break off combat most wargames are “fought to the death” or past the point where a rational commander would stop fighting.

Wargame Wednesday – GPS in Modern Wargames

Recent reporting out of South Korea is talking about a new north Korean threat – GPS jammers. From Yonhap:

In a report submitted to the parliamentary committee on defense, the ministry said North Korea has been developing the new Global Positioning System (GPS) jammer with a range of more than 100 kilometers, among other devices for electronic warfare.

In many wargames, GPS jamming tends to either be ignored or dealt with under Electronic Warfare rules. This is too bad since the modern military’s dependence on GPS is so so heavy that the loss of this critical force enabler could make a difference. Tactical air games like Air Strike were designed in the days before GPS, and even operational level air warfare games like Downtown or Elusive Victory don’t reflect the impact of GPS on the battlefield. I am not a modern ground warfare player so I really can’t talk to how GPS is reflected in those games but how do you replicate the great “end-run” of the First Gulf War without GPS rules?

With the efforts China has put on anti-satellite technology since 2007 when they shot down their own satellite it may be interesting to see how the loss of GPS would influence a modern battlefield. Maybe a variant rule for Red Dragon Rising? Or how about a variant rule for Crisis: Korea 1995?

Wargame Wednesday – Operation Long March

Speculative fiction is great cannon fodder for wargame scenarios.  So is the emergence of new technology.  Indeed, an entire genre of fiction, the “techno-thriller” was spawned out of the desire to play with neat toys.  Thanks to Airpower Australia, we now have a scenario straight out of tomorrows headlines that showcases the new J-20 ‘Black Eagle’ stealth fighter/bomber.

“The events depicted in this NOTAM are “what-if” speculative fiction no different from Clancy’s 1986 novel, “Red Storm Rising”, but the weapons, tactics, operational techniques, targets, and geography depicted are all based on hard facts and as real as it gets.

Operation Long March speculates on a Chinese attack in the western Pacific in 2020.  It is a fairly comprehensive scenario with targets and strike package assignments for not only the J-20 but the DF-21D Ant-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) and PLA Navy submarines.  As the author notes, the total time taken to develop the target list was five hours of open source research.  In his summary, Wing Commander Mills points out:

This NOTAM makes one deadly and incisive point.

Every nation investing in a major military capability does so with the expectation that some day, it could be used. Weapons systems are classified as ‘Defensive’ or ‘Offensive’; some are both.

The large J-20 stealth fighter is, on balance, a modern example of an offensive sledgehammer conceptually similar to America’s now long retired 1960s-developed F/FB-111 fighter-bombers, with considerable capability as demonstrated by this NOTAM.

A Nation that takes a longer view of world events and invests wisely in its military capabilities will have the power to control events in its own interest – be that defensively or offensively.

Be alarmed and be prepared!

I would also add, “Game on!”

Threat Tuesday – Reconsidering the J-20

J-20 in Flight (Defensetech.org)

After a few weeks and the apparent first test flight of the J-20, some of the initial “drama” is settling down.  I am loathe to say that the initial analysis was “alarmist” or “sensationalist” but time does allow one to step back and consider factors that may not have been recognized in the initial euphoria/fear reaction.

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson over at China Signpost have taken those few moments and reconsidered the J-20.  Their analysis can be found here.  Read it all.  For you lazy ones who like previews, here are the key judgments:

–China’s J-20 fighter has the potential to be a formidable air combat system in the Asia-Pacific region, but a number of technical hurdles will need to be overcome before mass production can commence.

–Key technical capabilities that we await demonstration of are thrust vectoring, sensor fusion, active electronically scanned radars, and a higher level of tanker and AWACS support. Operating a low-observable aircraft also requires major maintenance inputs.

–The Chinese aerospace industry is making rapid technical progress, but the ability to build late-generation, supercruise-capable engines issue in particular will be a key bottleneck that helps decide the J-20’s initial operational capability (IOC) date as a true stealth platform.