Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 21:51 | SYDNEY
Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 21:51 | SYDNEY

China: Up, periscope!


Hugh White

6 January 2010 12:30

One reliable way to get things wrong is to argue that people will not do something because it would be dumb. I spent most of 2002 blithely predicting the US would not invade Iraq for exactly that reason. So I'm about to take a big risk and say that, notwithstanding Naval War College Review piece that Sam draws our attention to, I’m still sceptical that China will build serious aircraft carriers.

My reason is simple: it would be dumb for them to do so. Carriers cost a lot, and I don't see what use they would be to China. In any conflict with a submarine-capable adversary, the risks of losing a carrier would outweigh the benefits of deploying it. And almost every potential adversary has or will soon have submarines capable of doing the job — the US, Japan, India, Australia, Singapore, even Indonesia, maybe Vietnam. 

We know the Chinese probably have a pretty good idea how potent subs can be against carriers, because they have put a big effort into improving their own ability to deny their approaches to US carriers that way. And China can be under no illusions about the potency of America's submarines. 

For some time now I have argued that we are heading into an era in which many Western Pacific states will have a formidable capacity for sea denial – the ability to stop an adversary operating surface ships effectively – and none will have sea control – the ability to operate surface ships in the face of a determined enemy. 

I think the Chinese understand this, and will not waste money on capabilities that can't be used without sea control. Much smarter for them to bolster their own sea-denial capabilities — more submarines, in other words. The corollary of this argument is that those who worry about China's naval build-up should pray they build carriers, which would be so easy to deal with.

Photo by Flickr user Breff, used under a Creative Commons license.