Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:53 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:53 | SYDNEY

Email of the day: China naval threat


Sam Roggeveen


4 February 2008 08:23

Christopher Skinner writes in response to The Interpreter’s China scoop of last Friday (I disagree with Christopher, and my response follows):

Firstly, export of materials and information of so-called dual-use, non-military/civilian catamaran ferries that might be reused for military purposes: well, you know there are very few products that could not be used by the military in some fashion so most products are dual use. What we should be much more concerned about is export of materials that are only for military use. Secondly, I think the prospect of the US 7th Fleet being deterred by anti-ship missiles that just happen to be fired from an Australian designed catamaran reveals a serious lack of understanding of anti-ship missile [ASM] defence. ASMD has been a matter of priority for all navies since the '60s when Egypt sank an Israeli ship with a Russian-supplied STYX missile. Now, 50 years later ASMD is just as challenging but is not affected in the slightest by the addition of Australian catamarans. The ability of the US Navy to project power by such means as its numerous carrier battle groups (more than all other countries combined) has always been developed in the certain knowledge that they would face fearsome ASM threats. Carriers are difficult to render inoperable let alone sink with ASM - witness the ability to withstand several Kamikaze attacks in WW2 or the major fire onboard a carrier in the Vietnam war. A much more lethal threat is from submarine-launched torpedo and the USN is much more concerned about its anti-submarine warfare defences.

On the question of exports, a singular focus on 'products that are only for military use' seems too narrow. It would allow us, for instance, to sell uranium to anybody, since it is a dual use material.

It’s true that the anti-ship missile threat has been around for generations. What’s unique about China today is the sheer scale of capability they are building. It’s not only these catamarans, but submarines, aircraft, larger surface ships, and even anti-ship ballistic missiles. China’s anti-satellite test is also related. Knocking out America’s regional eyes and ears would make it still more difficult for the US and its allies to operate safely. If China can coordinate these assets, it could overwhelm US defences by weight of numbers. So the catamrans are just one element in a range of threats that will make it very difficult for the US to come to Taiwan’s aid in a crisis.