Below is the Introduction to Ian Easton’s monograph for the Japan Institute of International Affairs, China’s Evolving Reconnaissance-Strike Capabilities: Implications for the U.S.-Japan Alliance, February 2014. Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute in Arlington, VA.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is investing considerable resources into a military architecture that has the potential to alter the strategic fabric of the Western Pacific region. This includes the development of multiple redundant sensor capabilities for monitoring a vast maritime domain extending off of China’s coastline and deep into the Pacific. China’s expanding reconnaissance infrastructure is designed to support an array of precision strike capabilities for targeting ships at sea, command and control nodes, air bases, ports, and other critical facilities. The purpose of these reconnaissance-strike capabilities is to undermine the Unites States military’s ability to project power into the region during periods of crisis or conflict to meet its security commitments to its allies and coalition partners.
How China’s reconnaissance-strike capabilities develop in the years ahead will be a key determinant influencing the evolution of regional stability. Indeed, China’s ability to hold strategic assets at risk in times of conflict with conventionally armed projectiles will challenge the security of Beijing’s maritime neighbors to a far greater degree than its development of aircraft carriers or other traditional ship or aircraft platforms. Precision strike assets such as modern ballistic and cruise missiles based on road mobile launchers are exceedingly difficult to defend against and inherently destabilizing. However, China’s weapons systems are not invulnerable to countermeasures that could be fielded in the years ahead.
Japan is one of the countries that will be most directly impacted by China’s evolving reconnaissance-strike capabilities. Both Tokyo and Beijing are deeply distrustful of the others’ intentions due to a long list of historical grievances, and, more recently, the two sides have seen a sharp downturn in their relationship due to a territorial dispute in the East China Sea. To minimize the potential for conflict erupting, it will be important for Japan and the United States to strengthen their alliance as a stabilizing force to balance against China’s growing military power. Given the budgetary constraints facing the American military, wise investments and a more “normal” Japanese force posture will be essential to keep the region peaceful as China becomes more militarily capable.
This paper will examine China’s emerging reconnaissance-strike capabilities and discuss their implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance. It will begin by describing China’s increasing capabilities, and explain why they would be destabilizing to regional security if left unchecked. Next, this paper will explore efforts currently underway in China to assure its capacity to acquire, track and target adversaries’ naval and air operations. Then it will assess capability gaps in the Japanese and American militaries that create vulnerabilities China could exploit to undermine the defensive utility of the alliance. Finally, this paper will conclude with a brief set of recommendations on countermeasures that Tokyo and Washington could take to assure the defense of Japan in the years ahead.
Omitted by Easton is the fact that China’s enhanced maritime reconnaissance-strike capabilities will also negatively affect the security of Taiwan, as well as impede the United States military’s power projection in the event of a China-Taiwan conflict.
Read the rest of Easton’s 31-page monograph here.
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