CategoryRevolution in Military Affairs

Conclusion & References

The PRC is well on the way to developing its armed forces into a technologically advanced force capable of defending the vital interests of the CCP and the PRC at home and abroad.  It has recognised that to deal with the potential security challenges it faces, the PRC requires a wide range of flexible and advanced military capabilities.  Unlike democratic states, the PRC needs to ensure that its military capabilities are flexible enough to deal with internal threats posed by its own population.  The 21st century is filled with uncertainty and the potential for conflict between nation-states, particularly as developing powers emerge such as India and China, is still there.  The expanding economies of these developing nations with a big reliance on exports demands that access routes to foreign markets remain secure and that new sources of diminishing natural resources are exploited and controlled.  The PRC has realised that its security interests are wide ranging and are no longer limited to continental affairs and thus needs the capability to deal with these accordingly.  The post Cold War security situation on the world stage is massively complex with many inter-locking facets.  It is arguably much more dangerous than during the Cold War purely because of the instability brought about by the myriad of threats that nations now face.


The 1991 Persian Gulf War showcased to the world the advances in military technology that had been made in the last few years of the Cold War.  Although many analysts had already begun talking about these advances as an RMA, it was Operation Desert Storm that brought it to the forefront of discussions in this field.  It has been argued that these advances were just the start of the process and that a true RMA would see warfare radically change so that only the most advanced militaries would be capable of carrying it out.  However the current RMA does not give military planners a one stop solution to military conflicts.  A nation that develops its military capabilities along a single focused path risks being unable to respond to all potential challenges.


Many of the capabilities that are put forward as the potential end goal of this RMA, such as cyber or information warfare, are only useable against an opponent who has a relatively high technology infrastructure.  The conflicts that have taken place since Operation Desert Storm have often been against opponents with massively inferior capabilities.  However this has not stopped those low technology opponents from causing problems and has demonstrated that no matter how advanced a force is, it will still have weaknesses that can be exploited.  History has shown that whenever a military advance is made a counter to that advance will always be developed.  In today’s conflicts asymmetric or COIN warfare has been developed by those who could not fight a stronger foe on conventional terms.  This is not to say that advanced technologies should not continue to be developed.  A nation would do well to develop those technologies in tandem with a force structure able to combat a wide range of potential threats.  No one was able to predict the global security situation that developed following the end of the Cold War and no one can predict with much certainty what the next 25 – 50 years holds.


After being initially taken by surprise after Operation Desert Storm and subsequent operations during the last decade of the 20th century, the PLA has begun the processes needed to drag its capabilities into the 21st century.  It is now in the position where it has the potential to be able to challenge other advanced militaries that may threaten the PRC’s security objectives.  However it is very clear that there is a huge amount of work still to do.  Many capabilities that are required by the PRC to fulfil the security objectives it has set for itself are still very much in the developmental stage and as such run the potential risk of never being fully realised.  As with any technology, these RMA style advances are undergoing constant development.  It is likely therefore, that any gap that currently exists between the level the PRC has reached and advanced nations such as the US will remain unless extra resources are devoted to the effort.  Whatever the results the PRC has made clear its intent to become, in the short to medium term the leading regional power and in the long term to possess the ability to project its power globally.


The final chapter demonstrated what the PRC could achieve given its current level of military capability.  It is clear from the studies, especially the Taiwan scenario that the PRC would currently struggle to achieve any of its security objectives that would bring it into a conventional, or non-nuclear, conflict with the US.  Although it has made many significant leaps forward it still lags a considerable distance behind the US.  This is most apparent in the PRC’s C4ISTAR and power projection capabilities. The PLAN is still lacking in amphibious assault ships and transport aircraft which are essential if the PRC is to try an invasion of Taiwan.  The improvements that the PRC has made however, give it the ability to try a range of military options when trying to resolve the Taiwan situation.  Two decades ago the PLAN was barely sufficient to guard the PRC’s coastline whereas now it is capable of undertaking a wide variety of missions including a blockade of Taiwan.  The capabilities of other branches of the PLA give the PRC further options to deal with Taiwan before resorting to an invasion.  How the PRC would deal with a conflict in the SCS illustrates that against many of its potential opponents the PRC is already superior.  The fact that it is not at the same capability level of the US or other nations that have developed their capabilities along the lines of the current RMA clearly does not matter in every security challenge.  The PRC’s continued development of a full spectrum of capabilities will put it in good stead to be able to deal with all the security challenges it currently faces plus any new ones that appear in the next 25 – 50 years.



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Chapter Four Military Capabilities of the PRC in Regard to Taiwan and the SCS

Of all the security concerns that were discussed in chapter one, with the exception of regime preservation, it can be argued that those issues with the highest priority are Taiwan and the SCS.  The PLA has made great strides forward in modernising itself to deal with the security challenges faced by the PRC.  However it is very clear that it has a long way to go to achieve its long term military aspirations and it is obviously no match for the US in a stand up fight.  It can be argued that the PRC has developed its military enough to make Taiwan and the littoral states of the SCS increase their own military preparations.  Between the considerable development undertaken on its conventional forces and its previously mentioned embryonic asymmetric capabilities, it is possible that the PRC is in a position to achieve its objectives should either the Taiwan or SCS situation devolve to conflict.  The level of success for the PRC in dealing with these scenarios if the US intervenes militarily decreases sharply.  The military assets assigned to the US Pacific Command alone are staggering.  These forces in all likelihood would be further supplemented by other military assets such as extra C4ISTAR capabilities and long range strike platforms equipped with PGMs.  This would be in addition to the not inconsiderable armed forces of Taiwan in that scenario and the less considerable might of the SCS littoral states in that scenario.  However a PRC – US/Coalition conflict would no longer be the one sided affair that it would have been twenty years ago.  The improvements to the PLA’s conventional war fighting capabilities now make it extremely likely that any conflict would be intense, bloody and costly to both sides in terms of casualties and materiel.  Although a defeat of US military forces is still unlikely in the conventional sense, as previously stated in chapter two, a victory can be achieved by one side making it too costly for the other.  As an open and democratic society the US is far more susceptible to this issue than the CCP controlled PRC.

It can be argued that the PLA approach to a conflict with Taiwan will consist of three phases.  Firstly, establish a blockade of the island in an effort to limit external military aid and to cut the flow of essential supplies such as oil and food.  Secondly use the assets of Second Artillery and the PLAAF to knock out key targets such as C3 nodes, airbases and air defences and to begin wearing down Taiwanese air assets and naval surface platforms.  The third and final phase would be an amphibious and airborne assault against the island itself.  It is worth noting that Special Forces operations against Taiwan would in all likelihood run simultaneously with all three phases.  To have any chance of succeeding, it is highly likely that there would need to be a degree of concurrency between phases one and two.  If the blockade were enacted without the strikes from Second Artillery and the PLAAF then it would give time for Taiwanese forces, possibly in conjunction with US forces, a chance to break the blockade.  A rapid and massive strike from Second Artillery and the PLAAF would at best have a paralysing effect on a Taiwanese response, and at worst would serve as a distraction.  This would force the Taiwanese to deal with the threat from Second Artillery and the PLAAF, diverting resources from breaking the blockade and risking those same resources in the teeth of mainland PRC defences composed of aircraft, SAMs and ASCMs.  There is a counter to the concurrency argument, the success of which would depend completely on the political situation at the time.  If US intervention or other international support were not assured for whatever reason, such as US domestic war weariness or if Taiwan had precipitated the situation by declaring independence against external advice, then phase one on its own offers extra advantages.  A blockade could exert enough pressure to force a change in policy with the absolute minimum in bloodshed.  This becomes even more likely the longer the blockade is maintained.  A blockade is also easier to step back from once objectives are achieved or if it looks like events are going against the PRC.

The PLAN would be the primary force used to enforce a blockade, with the PLAAF having a secondary role.  The PLAN’s force of 44 attack submarines would be the most effective arm in enforcing a blockade but a visible presence would need to be maintained and that role would belong to the surface fleet probably in conjunction with a maritime exclusion zone similar to what the British declared around the Falklands Islands in 1982.  A blockade implemented on its own or in conjunction with rapid missile and air strikes against Taiwan could prevent challenges to the current capabilities of the PRC if the US intervened militarily.  The modern destroyers and frigates of the PLAN are geared almost exclusively towards anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) with only limited anti-submarine capability (ASW).  This leaves the lion’s share of ASW work to be undertaken by the submarine force.  If Taiwan is operating independently then this is not an issue as the Taiwanese Navy only possesses two Dutch built Hai Lung class SSKs.  However if the US has intervened, then the PLAN would face the 31 SSNs of the Los Angeles, Seawolf and Virginia class that are assigned to PACOM.  Assuming that some of those boats are kept back for maintenance and contingencies, the remaining submarines would be more than a match for the PLAN.  The US boats are all nuclear powered, are far more advanced in terms of stealth, sonar and weapons fit, and US ASW skills were honed over many years against the Soviets during the Cold War.

From the viewpoint of a surface fleet versus surface fleet engagement, the odds are more in the PLAN’s favour, again assuming that they are just engaging the Taiwanese.  The Taiwanese Navy has 26 major surface combatants ranging from eight 40 year old ex-USN Knox class frigates and four ex-USN Kidd class destroyers to eight modern French designed Lafayette class frigates.  Although these are all armed with ASCMs and are backed up by a large number of ASCM equipped patrol boats, they are massively outgunned by the sheer number of ASCM equipped platforms the PLAN could bring to bear.  This includes modern designs such as the Sovremenny and Luyang destroyers and Jiangkai frigates. As before, this equation tips the other way if US forces are present.  Not counting the six carriers assigned to PACOM, the US could deploy up to 48 cruisers, destroyers and frigates, the majority of which are armed with Harpoon ASCMs.  Again assuming some units are in maintenance or kept back for contingencies, the remainder would still be a powerful force which could overwhelm the PLAN.

The Taiwanese threat from the air is not as great as perhaps was once perceived as the capability gap has closed considerably.  The most modern and capable aircraft in the Taiwanese inventory are the US built F-16 A/Bs and French built Mirage 2000Ds.  Against these the PLAAF can field the more advanced Su-27 Flanker/J-11, the Su-30/33 and the indigenous J-10.  These assets would be able to dominate the immediate airspace and provide air cover to the surface fleet.  US airpower would outgun and outclass the PLAAF.  The capability provided by six carrier air wings alone would present a significant challenge.  These would be reinforced by units forward staged to Japan.  From an air superiority point of view, the capability gap is perfectly highlighted by the US fifth generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, which far outclasses anything fielded by the PRC.  The capability gap is further widened by platforms such as E-3D Sentry AWACS and KC-135 Stratotankers which act as force multipliers.  US air superiority would also allow rapid re-supply of Taiwan and render any blockade ineffective.

The most effective way for the PRC to prevent this from happening would be to conduct a phase two rapid air and missile strike against Taiwan.  There are several advantages highlighted by this kind of action.  Depending on the degree of success it could severely limit Taiwanese options in dealing with the PRC.  It would also increase the pressure on the Taiwanese government and could force a policy shift as described earlier.  An effective strike could cause an undecided US to waver further in the face of potential casualties.  However a strike also brings several potential disadvantages.  Once a strike has been launched against Taiwan it would make it a lot more difficult to take a step back and calm the situation down.  Although it has been pointed out that a strike could weaken resolve, it could also have the opposite effect and strengthen resolve.  Unless the strike was so overwhelming and demoralising, a strong and charismatic figure or figures could play on ideas of spilt blood and national pride to instil a sense of defiance.  Similarly an actual strike could cause the US to commit to the defence of Taiwan unless the strike had reduced enough Taiwanese capabilities to make US intervention relatively pointless without the commitment of massive amounts of resources.

A phase three attack against the island, consisting of an airborne and amphibious assault would be the most challenging for the PLA to undertake.  If phases one and two have not been as successful as hoped and if there is a substantial US military presence then an invasion would be almost impossible to pull off with any degree of success.  As stated in chapter three, the PLA airborne capability is severely limited by its current transport fleet.  The amphibious elements of the PLAN also face massive limitations in the number of troops that can be carried in a single lift.  Utilising the full inventory of air and amphibious transports, the PLA could only move 21,000 troops for an initial assault.  Geography places a limit on the number of locations where an amphibious assault can take place.  These options are limited further when you take into account the fact that the seizure and control of a deepwater port has to be a primary objective of any assault and thus a landing must take place relatively close to one of those.  If a deepwater port is not quickly seized then the PLA would find itself unable to bring across large numbers of reinforcements in commercial shipping vessels.  This simplifies the task for the Taiwanese of concentrating an overwhelming defensive force in the right place.  If the initial assault force is unable to seize a deepwater port and exploit it to build up reinforcements, then the PLA beachhead would be quickly swept back into the sea.  Therefore with its current capabilities, a PLA invasion of Taiwan would be a risky option at best, even if all the factors were in the PRC’s favour.

Militarily resolving the PRC’s claim to the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands in the SCS, and enforcing its sovereignty over the SCS would present its own set of challenges.  The Paracel Islands lie approximately 300km south east of the Chinese island of Hainan and are claimed by the PRC, Taiwan and Vietnam.  The Spratly Islands lie approximately 900km south east of Hainan Island and are claimed by the PRC, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.  Although on friendly terms with the nations involved, it is unlikely that the US would intervene militarily in these disputes unless as part of some UN peacekeeping force.  However if the shooting had not actually started, it may deploy naval platforms in the hope that a show of force would be enough to keep the peace.  This would leave the PRC in a position of only needing to defeat or deter the states mentioned above who also claim sovereignty over the islands.

Again this scenario would see the maritime forces of each nation play the dominant role, backed by the other services where appropriate and possible.  Comparing the various Orders of Battle (ORBATs) of the nations involved indicates superiority in numbers and capability for the PRC.  The South Sea Fleet (SSF) would be the primary force used by the PLAN, backed up where necessary by assets from the North and East Sea Fleets.  The current force structure of the SSF can outmatch any one of the other claimant nations with the possible exception of Taiwan.  This has been recognised and Vietnam and Malaysia are taking steps to improve their capabilities.  One potential countermeasure for the other claimants to adopt in order to overcome these deficiencies would be to operate as a coalition against the PRC.  Although this would seem to be an ideal solution on paper, the reality would be very different.

A combined maritime force would have a paper strength of 68 major surface combatants and six submarines.  However even before taking into account a reduction in platforms due to maintenance and contingencies, close analysis of those platforms reveals how wide the capability gap is.  The Taiwanese Navy is the only force with a number of relatively modern destroyers and frigates armed with ASCMs.  The other navies are mostly composed of corvette sized vessels of varying age and capability, with only Malaysia and Vietnam fielding modern frigate sized vessels.  The Philippines lists three vessels of Second World War vintage on its ORBAT.  These nations have only made limited, if any, efforts to incorporate current RMA style improvements and advances to their armed forces.  Even the relatively limited RMA improvements undertaken by the PRC gives them a further advantage.  Several of the PLAN’s most advanced platforms, including all four destroyers of the Luyang class, are based in the SSF along with two modern Shang SSNs and four Kilo SSKs.  These platforms are backed up by large numbers of older platforms in the SSF which are at least as capable as the majority of platforms arrayed against them, with the exceptions noted above.

Another problem with a coalition approach is the probable disunity in terms of final goals and objectives.  All the nations so far mentioned are claimants to either one or both groups of islands.  It would be a huge error to assume that the other nations would co-operate with each other just to oppose the PRC.  If the situation has devolved to the use of force, it is far more likely that each nation would seize any opportunity to gain an advantage over the other claimants.  This is further complicated given that not all the nations lay claim to both island groups.  It is unlikely that Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines would risk a conflict with the PRC over the Paracel Islands.  Even if these issues could be overcome, there would still be significant obstacles to mounting a co-ordinated coalition campaign.  The sheer number of differences between the maritime forces in equipment, logistical support, C3 procedures and capabilities and language would make coalition operations haphazard and disjointed at best.  The PLAN operating under a single command would be well placed to exploit these difficulties and potentially defeat each nation’s force in detail.  In contrast to a Taiwan scenario, the amphibious and airborne assault capabilities of the PRC would be more than adequate to seize these island groups and hold them long enough for follow on forces to reinforce them.  The same cannot be said of the other claimant nations.  Their very limited airborne and amphibious capabilities would mean that they would be heavily reliant on existing infrastructure to seize and hold their targets.

The PRC would currently struggle to achieve any of its security objectives that would bring it into a conventional, or non-nuclear, conflict with the US.  Although it has made many significant leaps forward it still lags a considerable distance behind the US.  This is most apparent in the PRC’s C4ISTAR and power projection capabilities, however as previously stated it is developing its own capabilities which would assist in nullifying some of the US superiority in these areas such as its ASBM and ASAT programmes.  In a situation where there is no firm commitment from the US on its desire to engage in a shooting war, then the PRC has the capability to be a dominant regional power, especially in the two scenarios discussed in this chapter.  Even without US intervention a full three phase engagement with Taiwan would test the military capabilities of the PRC to the absolute limit and success would be by no means assured.  The PLAN is still lacking in amphibious assault ships and transport aircraft which would make an assault very difficult to successfully complete.  The improvements that the PRC has made however, give it the ability to try a range of military options when trying to resolve the Taiwan situation.  Two decades ago the PLAN was barely sufficient to guard the PRC’s coastline whereas now it is capable of undertaking a wide variety of missions including a blockade of Taiwan.  The capabilities of the Second Artillery Corps give the PRC further options to deal with Taiwan before resorting to an invasion.  These capabilities will improve with continued development.  How the PRC would deal with a conflict in the SCS illustrates that against many of its potential opponents the PRC is already superior.  The fact that it is not at the same capability level of the US clearly does not matter in every security challenge.

Chapter Three Closing the Gap: Modernisation of the PLA in the Post Desert Storm World

The military capabilities demonstrated by the US in the 1991 Gulf War came as a great shock to the high command of the PRC military.  It highlighted to them the enormous gap in capability that existed between the PLA and the militaries of advanced nations.  It demonstrated how the PRC had failed to take advantage of technological and doctrinal developments, which left the PLA as an infantry dominated territorial defence force still working under the People’s War doctrine championed by Mao Tse Tung.  This was an attrition based defensive doctrine which relied on the large population of the PRC to be the decisive factor.  The PLA possessed little to no power projection capabilities and its equipment was outdated.  Its force structure, doctrine and command and control systems were all modelled on outdated Soviet lines.  It became clear to military planners in the PRC that if efforts were not made to improve things the PLA may have been unable to fulfil many of its objectives.  The short war with Vietnam in 1979 proved to be an embarrassment for the PLA if arguably not a defeat, as it failed to crush the smaller state.  It was after this that Deng Xiao Ping instigated the first set of reforms, but it was clear by 1991 that they had not gone far enough.  The period since Operation Desert Storm has seen massive changes and capability improvements across the PLA. The current doctrine is known as Limited War under High Technology Conditions and aims to integrate advanced RMA style technologies and the doctrine to use them.  However it can be argued that these are just the start of the process and that the momentum needs to be maintained in order to ensure that the PLA can meet all its challenges effectively.

In 1985, the strength of the PLA, including the PLAN, the PLAAF and the Second Artillery Corps, was approximately 3 million.  The PRC decided to cut military personnel through several programmes, to its current strength of 1.9 million.  Although still a conscript force with all the disadvantages this implies such as low wages, low morale and low education, these reductions enabled a range of improvements to take place.  The 2000 paper “China’s National Defence in 2000” stated that “the total number of organs at and above the corps level was reduced by over 1,500 making the command structure leaner, more agile and efficient…Army field troops deactivated some corps headquarters and a number of divisions and regiments.”  The paper further states that this resulted in “the army field troops… [becoming]…more integrated, smaller, lighter and more versatile…services and arms featuring higher technology [now] make up a higher percentage of the armed forces.” The 2008 paper “China’s National Defence in 2008”, further reinforces these themes in that the PLA “is gradually making its units small, modular and multi-function in organisation…is accelerating the development of aviation, light mechanised…information countermeasure forces…and special operation forces…so as to increase its capabilities for air-ground integrated operations, long distance manoeuvres, rapid assaults and special operations.”

These changes are an essential foundation for the PLA to build on in its efforts to move away from being a largely immobile, strategically speaking, territorial defence force.  The reduction in numbers has advantages other than improving efficiency in force structures.  A smaller force structure will give way to an increase in the level of training, which is essential for a force to become familiar with the advanced concepts of integrated mobile operations and the advanced weaponry associated with them.  A smaller force also enables an increase in pay and conditions which has an effect on morale and motivation.  These improvements are further strengthened with attempts to develop a professional corps of non-commissioned officers (NCOs), arguably the backbone of a modern military.  An improved personnel management system for commissioned officers coupled with improvements to professional military education will increase the professional knowledge and standards of commissioned officers.  Again these improvements are essential for an improvement in the capabilities of the PLA.

For the most part, PLA equipment has been based on Soviet designs or has been actual Soviet or Russian equipment exported to the PRC.  Although the PRC has strived hard to be self sufficient, its military industrial complex has been sorely lacking.  This has not stopped the PRC from continuing to try and develop its own advanced weapons.  The latest Main Battle Tank design is the Type 99 and, despite several advancements over previous Chinese tanks, it lags behind western MBTs such as the US M1A2 Abrams.  It is made of welded steelover which Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) plates can be added.  In comparison the Abrams and the UK’s Challenger 2 are constructed using advanced composite armour, such as Chobham Armour, and over that can be added ERA plates.  The composite armour is far superior in defeating anti-tank munitions compared to welded steel and is a significant step up in capability.  It was reported that the previous model, the T-98, had an integrated fire control system with advanced stabilisation and a laser range finder thus enabling the tank to accurately fire on the move.  It is highly likely that the T-99 will have been fitted with a similar system.  Due to the relatively high costs ($1.9 million in 1999 terms) this platform has not gone into serial production and has only equipped a very limited number of units.  Although development of heavy armour runs contrary to many RMA theories and is something western nations are not currently undertaking, it does illustrate the PRC’s desire to have an advanced and balanced force capable of handling many contingencies even if the technology still lags behind the west.

The PLAAF has undergone significant modernisation but, as previously noted, it is thanks largely to the Russians, as indigenous Chinese industries are not as advanced as the West or arguably the Russians.  The development of the PLAAF suffered several false starts during the reign of Mao Tse Tung which left it with outdated structures and equipment including aircraft, the J-6 fighter aircraft suffered several engineering problems, Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs), Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) and sensor systems.  During the Sino-Vietnamese conflict in 1979 the PLAAF could only provide very limited support to the PLA ground formations. The capabilities of the US air force during Operation Desert Storm showed PRC military planners how airpower could affect the battlefield, aside from providing CAS and fighting for air superiority.  It was recognised by those same planners that until the PRC aviation industries improved, in particular its aero engine and avionics complexes, that the advanced aircraft and other equipment that would be needed to address these deficiencies would have to be imported.  In 1992 the PLAAF took delivery of its first Russian built Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fourth generation fighter.

It took the majority of the decade to integrate the aircraft fully, given the level of technical skill needed to maintain and operate the aircraft and because the PLAAF was in the process of introducing new joint doctrine.  These aircraft were followed by the more advanced Su-30MKK and Su-33 multi-role fighters and the TOR-M1 and SA-20/S-300 air defence systems.  As well as acquiring the license to build the Su-27 in China where it is known as the J-11, the PRC has finally developed its own modern multi-role fighter with advanced capabilities and the potential to match up to western and Russian 4th generation fighters, the J-10.     Perhaps more crucially in developing advanced airborne capabilities is the development of an AWACS capability in the form of the indigenous Y-8 KJ-200 and the Russian supplied A-50/KJ-2000, itself a development of the Il-76 Candid transport.  The Y-8 is less capable than its Russian counterpart but once again shows the PRC’s commitment to developing advanced military capabilities.  To complement these relatively advanced platforms the PRC has acquired and, where possible, developed a range of PGMs.

From an RMA point of view the PLAAF is still lacking in several key areas.  Its strategic lift capability is concentrated around 30 Russian built IL-76 Candid transport aircraft which are supplemented by a mix of older Russian and Chinese designs.  However this capability is insufficient to transport enough airborne forces to deal with anything but a limited set of missions as the Il-76 can only carry approximately 125 paratroopers.  Even if every aircraft in the inventory was available, they could only carry the equivalent of a reinforced brigade and this does not take into account aircraft needed to carry vehicles, support weapons or supplies.  The pool of aircraft will only shrink as operations are undertaken, as combat and maintenance casualties take their toll.  This pool of aircraft represents an even more limited capability should the PRC wish to move heavy armour and weapons and the troops to use them rapidly by air.  To fully develop a rapid expeditionary force the PRC needs an aircraft similar to the US C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III or the Russian An-124.  The PLAAF also needs to develop greater airborne intelligence gathering capability than its current Russian built Tu-154M/D Careless, and to gain a level of battlespace awareness comparable to the US or the UK it would need to procure a platform similar to the JSTARS or ASTOR.  The final platform necessary to enable the PLAAF to perform sustained long distance operations would be tanker aircraft.  The very limited number of converted H-6 bombers that undertake the air to air refuelling role will need to be replaced by a more capable platform and in greater numbers.  An obvious choice would be the Russian tanker variant of the Il-76.

Given that many of the PRC’s security objectives involve the maritime environment, a possible Taiwan invasion, securing the SLOCs and disputes over contested island groups, it is unsurprising that much of the PRC military development has been directed at the PLAN.  For many years the PLAN was nothing more than a coastal defence force, and a relatively ramshackle one at that. Since 1987 the PLAN has held aspirations to become a blue water navy with a global reach.  This consists of a three stage plan based around the concept of two island chains.  The first reaches from the southernmost tip of Japan, stretches south to the east of Taiwan and the west of the Philippines and forms an approximate border around the SCS.  The second stretches from south of Tokyo down to Papua, Indonesia.  The three phases are: (1) Sea control power within its coastal waters and a limited area denial capability out to the first island chain by the 2010 – 2020 timeframe, (2) exercising maritime influence beyond the second island chain by 2020 and (3) becoming a naval power capable of making its presence felt globally by 2050.

The current order of battle of the PLAN is a mix of older platforms such as the Luda class destroyer, which has limited capability when compared to potential rivals; and modern platforms with advanced capabilities such as the Russian built Sovremenny class destroyers, which were designed with the intent of destroying enemy US carrier groups; the indigenously built Luyang class destroyers with long range area defence SAMs and the Jiangkai general purpose guided missile frigates.  In the coastal defence role these vessels are supplemented by approximately 50 Houbei fast attack craft armed with Anti Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) and stealthy low profiles. The surface platforms are further supplemented by a large attack submarine force, including capable Russian built Kilo class diesel submarines and indigenously developed Song and Yuan diesel submarines and the modern Shang nuclear powered attack submarines.  Many of these platforms are being retro fitted to carry ASCMs giving them a significant long range anti-surface capability.  These are backed by land based aircraft of the PLANAF, a significant number of ASCM’s operated by Second Artillery and a large mine warfare capability.

It can be argued therefore that sea control of the coastal areas is largely assured and that the large number of platforms armed with ASCMs will give at least a limited area denial capability within the first island chain.  Phase 2 and 3 are arguably still outside of the PLAN’s reach.  One of the biggest problems that the PLAN faces in conducting sustained long distance operations is its lack of modern at sea replenishment capability.  The PLAN only has a limited number of modern Fuchi and Fuqing class replenishment ships and without an expansion in this area the PLAN will continue to face difficulties.  To project maritime power beyond the second island chain the PLAN will need to develop an increased amphibious capability, which it will also need to be successful in an invasion of Taiwan, and at least one carrier group.  Amphibious modernisation has begun with the introduction of the first of class Yuzhao Landing Platform Dock (LPD) which is on its maiden deployment to the Gulf of Aden.  Several more of this class, supported by the current amphibious platforms, will be needed for a Taiwan invasion.  The PLAN has begun refit and modernisation of the ex-Russian carrier Varyag.  It is not clear at this stage whether this will be used as a training platform, given the complete lack of Chinese carrier experience, or as an operational unit.  In either case, to challenge US dominance of the Pacific and to truly project significant global maritime power, the PLAN will need multiple carriers and supporting vessels.

The Second Artillery Corps is responsible for all of the PLA’s ballistic rocket forces, both nuclear and conventional, its potential Anti Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) force, its embryonic Anti Satellite (ASAT) force and its Land Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) force.  These forces can have a significant impact on the PRC’s ability to deal with any security challenges they may face.  The nuclear tipped ICBMs give the PRC power and leverage enjoyed by only a few other nations, although nuclear weapons are arguably only useful in the grand strategic or political arena.  In any scenario involving Taiwan, the 400 SRBMs that are targeted at the island will be used to take out key strategic targets including C3 nodes, airbases and other key military facilities and perhaps most importantly, SAM batteries and supporting networks.  An overwhelming and successful strike by Second Artillery could make a follow up invasion less costly or even unnecessary, especially if Taiwan was denied outside support.  The development of ASBMs could make the involvement of the US less certain as it is unclear what the potential loss of an aircraft carrier would do to US resolve.  Second Artillery also has utility in any potential conflicts with states that share a border with the PRC.  Further development of conventional rocket forces, both ballistic and cruise missiles, in conjunction with a C4ISTAR network in massive need of development, would fulfil the RMA capability of long range precision strike and would give the PRC a limited global non-nuclear projection capability.

Second Artillery will also have a role in controlling the SLOCs, at least those within the boundary of the first island chain and the SCS.  Second Artillery units stationed on Hainan Island will extend the coverage of the rocket forces into the SCS and the disputed island groups there. This will extend the range of military options available to the PRC in dealing with any scenario involving the SLOCs and the SCS.  Although not immediately apparent, the Second Artillery Corps has the ability to act in what could be termed an asymmetric manner, especially in regards to any confrontations with the US.  As already mentioned, the PRC is developing an ASBM capability based around the DF-21 MRBM.  Although it will undoubtedly have other uses, it can be strongly argued that its sole purpose was to counter the power of the US carrier groups.  As already stated, it is unknown whether the potential loss of a carrier would weaken the resolve of the US commitment to the defence of Taiwan.  Even though the US would have other methods of intervening in a PRC – Taiwan conflict, the lack of a carrier capability would severely limit the options open to the US.  Secondly, the PRC is developing a capability to counter the other overwhelming superiority the US enjoys: C4ISTAR.  Much of the US capability is vested in its satellite network, which is why the PRC is developing a dedicated ASAT capability based on the DF-31 ICBM and a variant of the DF-21 MRBM known as the SC-19.  The initial capability was proven in 2007 when the PRC used an SC-19 to successfully intercept and destroy a Chinese FY-1C weather satellite.

The PLA has begun the  processes needed to drag its capabilities into the 21st century and to put itself in the position where it has the potential to be able to challenge other advanced militaries that may threaten the PRC’s security objectives.  However it is very clear that there is a huge amount of work still to do.  Capabilities that are needed by the PRC to enable it to fulfil the security objectives it has set for itself, such as a modern air force, an effective ASAT and ASBM force and maritime power projection capabilities are very much still in the developmental stage.  As with many projects that are in development, it is a stark possibility that several may not come to fruition.  Even if and when these capabilities are fully developed and in service, the PRC will face the challenge of closing any new gaps that have appeared as other nations continue to develop and move forward.  The most likely gap will be the need to link all these new capabilities into an effective network.  Whatever the results of these developments, the PRC has made clear its intent to become, in the short to medium term the leading regional power and in the long term to possess the ability to project its power globally.

Chapter Two Desert Storm & Beyond: The Effects of the Current RMA on the Development of Military Capabilities

The Dictionary of International Relations defines the latest Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) as the “strategic consequences of the marriage of systems that collect process and communicate information with those that apply military force”.  This refers to the advances in Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (C4ISTAR) and advances in weapons technology such as stealth and Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) and how they have been merged together to produce a capability.  It also encompasses changes on an organisational and doctrinal level. Some proponents of the RMA believe that advanced militaries such as the United States (US), should be moving towards the point where the overwhelming majority of operations are conducted using cyberspace and long range precision strike munitions with an absolutely minimal footprint on the ground. This chapter will look at the effects this RMA has had on the United Kingdom (UK) and the US.  It will look at post Cold War military deployments, procurement and organisational and doctrinal change.  When looking at post Cold War military deployments, the chapter will also look at whether those states undergoing RMA style changes have significantly outclassed their opponents who are not undergoing the same style changes. 

The end of the Cold War saw a change in the nature of security and conflict.  For the most part the 20th Century had been pre-occupied with inter-state conflict.  The last decade of the 20th and first decade of the 21st Century has seen a rise in other types of conflicts and security concerns.  These other types include intra-state conflict such as civil war or insurgency warfare, humanitarian interventions, peace-keeping, peacemaking and peace enforcement and the threats posed by non-state actors such as terrorist groups and criminal networks.  These require a wide range of differing responses and military forces structured and equipped to provide the variety of responses.

The response to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait became a showcase to the world, highlighting the advanced capabilities of the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK militaries.  Advanced weapons such as the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter and PGMs such as Paveway Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs) and Tomahawk cruise missiles were exposed to the world as they helped to dismantle the Iraqi defences in the opening phase of the war.  E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft in conjunction with relatively advanced fighter aircraft ensured that Coalition forces enjoyed complete air supremacy, notwithstanding the fact that elements of the Iraqi Air Force fled to Iran.   In the maritime environment the Persian Gulf and Red Sea were dominated by the Carrier Groups of the US Navy (USN) and a sizeable contribution from the Royal Navy (RN).  AEGIS equipped vessels ensured that nothing could approach the area above the surface without being noticed whilst nuclear attack submarines (SSN) guarded against any sub surface threat.  These forces also projected power ashore through air strikes, Tomahawk launches, traditional gunfire support and presenting a threat of amphibious assault.  When the land campaign got underway the Iraqi forces were completely outclassed and outgunned by the US and UK forces.  They utilised advanced gun sights and composite armour enabling them to fire accurately on the move and to absorb return fire with minimal casualties.  These forces were backed by helicopter gunships equipped with advanced sensors and PGMs.

These technologies were backed up by a Command, Control and Communications (C3) system guided by a 64 satellite constellation of various intelligence collection types including, Global Positioning System (GPS), and utilising an array of airborne intelligence collection platforms such as RC-135 Rivet Joint and Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft.  This gave the US led coalition an overwhelming advantage in battle space awareness and control compared to the Iraqi forces.  It could be inferred from this that the Gulf War was a triumph for high tech weapons and capabilities and that further developments along those pathways would revolutionise warfare in the coming years.  However careful analysis of the conflict shows considerable cracks in the idea of it being the foundation for future warfare.

The Gulf War can be seen as an almost textbook perfect war for the US and UK.  It enjoyed worldwide political support and worked hard diplomatically to ensure it had complete legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.  The Coalition enjoyed an unprecedented period of relative calm in which to build up its forces free from interference.  The invasion took place at the beginning of August 1990 but the Coalition air campaign did not begin until January 1991.  This gave the Coalition six months of preparation along with excellent opportunities for intelligence collection.  Although the Iraqi army was the fourth largest in the world, in terms of capability it could only be considered a third rate force.  The majority of its equipment was obsolescent and its formations, with the exception of the Republican Guard and the regular army armoured divisions, were poorly led and trained using doctrine that the US and UK forces had spent the Cold War training to defeat.  The terrain in which the conflict was to take place was perfect for manoeuvre warfare.  As Tim Benbow states “it would have been a different story had Operation Desert Storm been Jungle Storm or City Storm.”

There can be little doubt that Operation Desert Storm was going to be anything but successful even if the US and UK militaries had not possessed such an overwhelming qualitative advantage.  The other factors involved such as superior morale, leadership and training, widespread international support, preparation time, local area dominance and environmental suitability would in all likelihood have ensured a coalition victory albeit at a greatly protracted timescale and with a far greater level of casualties.  Advanced technologies played a very important role in the Gulf War and their development continues to play an important role in operations.  However to draw the conclusion that development of advanced military technologies would provide relatively easy and low cost, in terms of personnel and materiel, victories or solutions would be unwise.  It can be argued that a military completely geared to fight an ultra high tech war could find itself vulnerable to low tech asymmetric responses and unable to deal with the full range of security challenges.

Since 1991 the US and UK have found themselves embroiled in several conflicts which were very different to Desert Storm.  The wide spectrum of these conflicts has highlighted the continued development in advanced technologies and doctrine as well as the weaknesses involved in over reliance on high technology.  They demonstrated the need for a well balanced force able to engage on many levels of conflict.  The 1993 US operation in Somalia demonstrated the need for an improved understanding, through intelligence, of the situation on the ground.  Not realising that large numbers of the local population would oppose the US forces in Mogadishu was one of the main factors that led to the ‘Black Hawk Down’ situation which resulted in the death of 18 US servicemen regardless of the advanced technology possessed by the US.

During the NATO airstrikes against Serbia the advanced airborne capabilities of the Alliance encountered several difficulties.  The shooting down of an F-117 Nighthawk by a Soviet era SA-3 Surface to Air Missile (SAM) demonstrated to the world that stealth technology had vulnerabilities which could be exploited even by forces equipped with near obsolescent equipment.  The Serbian use of camouflage and decoys along with tactics such as turning off air defence systems to prevent them being targeted, ensured that despite the overwhelming superiority in C4ISTAR and PGMs many NATO strikes were ineffective.  The debate is still ongoing as to whether it was the air campaign or a combination of factors, including the air campaign, such as the threat of a ground assault that forced Serbia to the negotiating table.  The fact that the threat of a ground assault may have contributed to the outcome underscores the utility of a well balanced force able to undertake a variety of missions.  Reliance on one option, regardless of how well advanced technologically, could leave a nation unable to fulfil its objectives.

During the initial phase of the Afghanistan conflict, UK and US airpower was used in conjunction with Special Forces on the ground to support Afghan Northern Alliance forces.  The Taleban were scattered and defeated whenever they engaged in a stand up battle.  Two years later US and UK forces quickly destroyed the remaining military forces of Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.  Once again PGMs were used extensively in conjunction with a massive C4ISTAR network.  However in both cases the initial successes were overshadowed as the conflicts evolved into Counter Insurgency (COIN) campaigns that arguably neither the UK nor the US were ready for.

The end of the Cold War saw many nations enact huge cuts to their armed forces.  As the decade progressed military planners realised that the conflicts of the future would require forces that were lighter and more rapidly deployable but would retain, if not increase, their lethality.  To achieve this there would have to be increased integration or ‘jointery’ across the domains and further development of C4ISTAR capabilities.  This was to ensure that deployed forces had the vital information superiority necessary to enable maximum effect from a smaller footprint.  To make the move from continental to expeditionary warfare required fundamental changes.  The brigade would become the main deployable unit of the army instead of the division.  Air units were reorganised into multi-type expeditionary air wings instead of the usual single type units.  Naval forces became geared for power projection ashore and securing the littoral environment as well as securing the sea lines of communications.

Important strides were taken forward by the US and UK militaries.  The UK acquired several types of PGM including submarine launched Tomahawks, Paveway IV LGB and Stormshadow cruise missiles. The Bowman communications system began the process of linking land forces into a digitised network and the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) looked at re-equipping the army with a balanced force of heavy, medium and light vehicles.  The RN purchased a new helicopter carrier and two new amphibious assault ships as well as committing to purchase two new aircraft carriers.  All helicopters and Harriers were grouped together in the Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) and Joint Force Harrier (JFH) respectively and a Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) was established at Northwood.  In the US, emphasis was placed on the formation of medium weight Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (S-BCT) and the increased development and use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).  The US revitalised its naval power projection capabilities with new classes of aircraft carriers, helicopter carriers and amphibious assault ships as well as the Zumwalt class advanced destroyer and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).  Efforts were also dedicated to cyber or information warfare.  This entails using computer systems to attack key points of an opponent’s electronically controlled infrastructure in order to force them to surrender before major kinetic operations begin.  As Steven Metz points out, the technology to achieve an effect on such a scale is still largely theoretical.  On first analysis this type of warfare seems ideal, little to no cost in terms of resources and an unparalleled ability for strategic surprise.  However it also raises several ethical issues over its use and its effectiveness against low tech opponents.

Many of the technological advances discussed have limited uses in COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Instead of utilising a small deployed footprint these conflicts have needed huge numbers of ground forces deployed to fight the insurgent groups.  This has required development of new tactics and doctrine.  It has also necessitated the procurement of new equipment as well as upgrading older equipment.    Forces deployed into theatre found themselves attacked on an increasingly frequent basis by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  Three ways of defeating the IED threat are immediately apparent:  prior detection, travel by air or travel in appropriately armoured vehicles.  As reported at great length in the media, British forces in Afghanistan are desperately short of helicopters.  Both UK and US forces found their vehicle inventories lacking.  Light utility vehicles such as the US Humvee or UK Snatch Land Rover had little to no protection against the IED threat or the Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) used by insurgent forces. Existing inventories of heavy armour have limited tactical utility in COIN warfare and are seen as too imposing for winning the hearts and minds campaign.  A new range of medium weight vehicles such as Mastiff and Warthog had to be procured and modified to address the IED threat.

C4ISTAR capabilities have proven their worth in detecting and to some extent countering the IED threat.  Firstly the deployment of airborne assets with advanced sensors along patrol routes can lead to the spotting of insurgents or suspicious vehicles which could present an IED threat.  Fitting sensor suites to patrol vehicles enables them to detect and potentially jam the command signals of some IEDs.  Although PGMs have their uses in COIN warfare many air sorties were limited to ‘show of force’ flights.  This involves a high speed pass over insurgent positions which is often enough to force them to break contact.  There is still considerable need however for more conventional Close Air Support (CAS).  The main effort on the ground is focused around large numbers of infantry and supporting arms.  Technological advances have tried to make the infantryman’s life easier.  Programs are underway in the UK and US to bring into service technologies that will directly link the individual soldier into the battlefield network.    Efforts are underway to ease the weight burden of the infantryman by making equipment lighter.  In an effort to minimise civilian casualties in Afghanistan CAS and other fire support is no longer used as a matter of course and only when the risk to civilians is as minimal as possible.  This leaves the forces on the ground in the position where they risk higher casualties to themselves if they do not use the available support or to the civilian population if they do.  Either way it is a loss to the hearts and minds campaigns in Afghanistan and at home.

Asymmetric warfare is not only the province of insurgent groups; it can also be the main strategy of a nation state.  Ongoing tensions with Iran mean that a future conflict between the US/UK and Iran is not out of the question.  It can be strongly argued that the Iranian government knows it could not win in a stand up conflict with the US, the disparity in terms of both quality and quantity is too great.  However the Iranians can make victory too expensive to consider war as an option.  Iranian strategy and force composition is geared towards swarm attacks on several axes in order to overwhelm a target and any defences it possesses.  From a maritime perspective the narrow confines of the Persian Gulf, particularly the Straits of Hormuz, is perfectly suited to this.  A combination of swarms of small, fast attack craft, mines and coastal defences in the form of cruise missiles and multiple rocket launchers would quickly make those narrow waterways an unhealthy place to be.  It is likely that similar attacks would be used in a land campaign with the main aim of inflicting as many casualties as possible.  The weakest domain for the Iranians is in the air.  The air and air defence forces are completely outclassed by US and UK forces and would be quickly overwhelmed and destroyed.  Efforts to rectify this have been attempted with the stalled purchase of the advanced S-300/SA-20 air defence system from Russia.

It can be argued that with air supremacy the Iranian advantages in asymmetric warfare are lost.  The advanced air capabilities of the US and UK backed up by a massive C4ISTAR network would lead to the detection and destruction of any Iranian assets deemed to be a threat.  However as already discussed there are ways to avoid airborne detection and strike.  One of the coalition failures during Desert Storm was the hunt for the mobile SCUD missile launchers.  Although there have been advances in detection technology it is likely that air strikes against mobile Iranian assets would encounter similar difficulties as those encountered during Desert Storm and Kosovo.  A consequence of the RMA is that whilst capability is increased so is cost which in turn decreases the number of platforms.  In a battlespace that is saturated with threats the likelihood of a platform being overwhelmed and suffering damage is much greater.  The loss of a platform that may not be easily replaced would have a disproportionate effect in contrast to an attacker who has invested in and partially sacrificed a large number of capable low tech platforms.  The number of casualties on either side would also have a disproportionate effect.  The loss of a US or UK destroyer sized vessel with approximately 250 crew would cause uproar at home and would have a damaging effect on domestic support.  If the Iranians were to suffer similar or greater casualties the controls over the press and individual rights would enable the regime to spin it in a favourable way and clamp down on any dissent.

The ongoing RMA does not give military planners a one stop solution to military conflicts.  A nation that puts all its eggs in one doctrinal basket will find itself unable to respond effectively to the full spectrum of military challenges.  History has shown that whenever a military advance is made a counter to that advance will always be developed.  The tank was developed in response to the overwhelming strength of defensive firepower; the aircraft carrier spelt the end of big gun battleships; and asymmetric or COIN warfare was developed by those who could not fight a stronger foe on conventional terms.  This is not to say that advanced technologies should not continue to be developed.  The advantages given to a force that possess PGMs and well developed C4ISTAR capabilities cannot be denied.  However a nation would do well to develop those technologies in tandem with a force structure able to combat a wide range of potential threats.  No one was able to predict the global security situation that developed following the end of the Cold War.  Similarly the security problems of the 21st Century can only be predicted with a relatively small degree of accuracy.  It is essential therefore that a nation’s military be advanced enough to have an advantage over potential adversaries but remain flexible enough to deal with the unexpected.