Frequent contributor Milan Vego tries to get us into the mind of the PLAN. Most readers are surely aware of the dangers of mirror-imaging possible adversaries. Two nations may approach the same problem in very different ways. Professor Vego, in studying Chinese naval doctrine, explains that Chinese military theorists, strongly influenced by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Mao Zedong, see operational art mostly as a science and try to identify rules in situations where Western thinkers allow for more creativity. He points out that Chinese theory is systematically developed and serves as the basis for both naval strategy and operational art.
China made news when its first aircraft carrier finally went to sea for trials in 2011. Amid the considerable speculation about the vessel, retired Navy Captain Carl Otis Schuster reminds us that while the PLAN still has a long way to go to match U.S. carrier capability, what is significant about the ship is not so much what she’ll do, but what she’ll teach the Chinese—and how she’ll shape their fleet structure for a decade or more.
While the as-yet-unnamed carrier gets most of the public attention, Andrew Erickson and Amy Chang examine another important, though perhaps often overlooked, capability. China’s impressive space program, which now aims at a permanent space station, relies on support ships more than does any other nation. Its fleet of Yuanwang (Long View) vessels track spacecraft and coordinate with ground-control stations. But potential military applications include providing information to the country’s command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance infrastructure.
The usual narrative concerning China’s military forces is that they are trying to learn from us, especially in their quest to obtain aircraft carriers and be a true power-projecting maritime nation. But is it possible the U.S. Navy could learn something from the PLAN? Maybe, says Navy Commander Thomas Henderschedt. The new-millennium U.S. Navy has embraced the crucial role of the informational sphere in the modern battlescape, with the recently formed Information Dominance Corps leading the way. But, the author explains, there are lessons to be learned from the “informationization” doctrine that has proven a guiding force in the modernizing of Chinese military capabilities.
For the next decade, and likely two, China’s military and naval advances are sure to be closely watched by the United States and its Pacific allies. There is opportunity for cooperation in the region but always the risk of conflict. Which shall be the dominant storyline remains to be seen.
Paul Merzlak , Editor-in-Chief