“I think the aircraft carrier has shown itself to be very enduring. For anyone that’s worried about the modern threat that’s out there, I’ll just say that the carrier is not on an island,” Campagna said on April 5 at the Sea Air Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
“It deploys with the air wing. It deploys with the strike group. It deploys with a layered defense that goes from the bottom of the ocean and out to space, and anyone who thinks that we’re fragile, little teacups out there or something like that is grossly mistaken,” Campagna added.
The doubts about the carrier’s future are driven in large part by China’s military modernization, which has produced a variety of long-range weapons and more capable aircraft, ships, and submarines to launch them.
China’s anti-ship missiles are the major concern, especially the DF-21D and DF-26B ballistic missiles, which are designed for naval targets and sometimes called “carrier killers.”
The DF-21D was introduced in the mid-2000s, and the DF-26 was first seen in public in 2015. They have long been considered threats to US ships and bases.
In August 2020, the Chinese military fired a DF-21D and a DF-26B into the South China Sea, in what was seen as a demonstration of its ability to deny access to the sea where Beijing has made sweeping but widely rejected territorial claims.
In an interview that December, Adm. Philip Davidson, then the head of US Indo-Pacific Command, confirmed the missiles were fired at “a moving target” and said US officials had “known for years” that China was pursuing that capability.
In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2021, Davidson said “mid-range, anti-ship ballistic missiles” — specifically the DF-21 — “are capable of attacking aircraft carriers in the Western Pacific.”
The use of the missiles in a large-scale exercise was meant to demonstrate the Chinese military’s “focus on countering any potential third-party intervention during a regional crisis,” Davidson wrote at the time.
China also has air- and sea-launched anti-ship cruise missiles that, when fired from new warships, submarines, and long-range bombers, can reach deep into the Pacific.
The Chinese are “pouring a lot of money in the ability to basically rim their coast in the South China Sea with anti-ship-missile capability,” Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler, the director of naval intelligence, said in February 2021, adding: “It’s a destabilizing effort in the South China Sea, the East China Sea — all of those areas.”
‘We’re ready to go’
Current and former US Navy officials acknowledge that carriers are not invulnerable, but they stress that the ships are well defended and resilient and need to accept some risk to be effective.
“With the compartmentalization that we have, with our ability to man repair lockers throughout the ship — which are basically fire stations inside the ship — and our ability to seal it up and to absorb any kind of kinetic impact with 1,000 feet of steel, it’s designed to take it. We’re ready to go. We’re lethal,” Campagna said.
The Navy conducted “shock trials” on its newest carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, in summer 2021, detonating 40,000-pound explosive charges in the water around it.
The Ford was the first carrier to go through shock trials since 1987. The trials didn’t simulate a direct hit, but Navy officials said the ship needed only a fraction of the repairs as the last carrier to go through them.
The trials were a demonstration of “super resilience” against conventional anti-ship weapons, a Chinese commentator said in August.
US carriers are “incredibly well built, as you saw with the shock trials on Ford,” Campagna said. “These things will take it and continue to operate, so I’m very confident in the aircraft carrier, very confident taking it out to sea in any environment.”
The layered defenses Campagna referred to include anti-ballistic-missile systems aboard the ships of the carrier strike group. The US Missile Defense Agency is also pursuing seaborne defenses for hypersonic threats.
The risks of long-range missiles are forcing planners to reconsider combat operations to keep carriers and other ships out of range of those missiles until US bombers, submarines, and long-range missiles can knock them out. The US Navy is also pursuing longer-range aircraft and weaponry to continue operating in such a scenario. The MQ-25 carrier-based refueling drone, which will extend the range of carrier aircraft, was recently tested aboard a carrier for the first time.
Carriers can move while a missile is in flight, which means the missile needs to be able to locate them or receive updated guidance. Flying at thousands of miles an hour also produces friction that can affect the missile’s accuracy and be spotted by radar.
The effectiveness of anti-ship ballistic missiles “hinges on a comprehensive reconnaissance and targeting architecture,” which “remains a work in progress” for China, Andrew Erickson, a professor at the US Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, said in a November 2020 interview.
Missile-guidance systems have existed for decades, and China could overcome deficiencies in its own guidance systems by firing more missiles at a specific area. Campagna and his counterparts emphasized that their carriers wouldn’t wait for those missiles to arrive.
“Moving around at 30 knots, you can cover a lot of sea space and make it very challenging,” Campagna said.
The carrier’s speed and maneuverability mean “figuring out who actually is where is not a small thing,” Capt. Paul Lanzilotta, the Ford’s commanding officer, said.
“We’re fast, we’re maneuverable, and we will use all of those things to our advantage,” Lanzilotta said. “If you don’t have an appreciation for how big the actual ocean is, then you don’t have an appreciation for what the problem set is.”
Kanter Freedom has emerged as one of China's most vocal critics in the sporting world: a rare athlete willing to forgo lucrative endorsements to speak on issues such as Beijing's treatment of its Uyghur Muslim and Tibetan minorities.
NBA player Kanter out to corner UN rights chief on China
NBA player Kanter out to corner UN rights chief on China
Enes Kanter Freedom hopes to put pressure on UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to take ‘solid action’ against China rather than just condemn its approach to human rights (AFP/Fabrice COFFRINI)
Long-time NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom, whose advocacy on Xinjiang and Tibet has ruffled feathers, hopes to bend UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s ear on Thursday about her forthcoming China visit.
Kanter Freedom has emerged as one of China’s most vocal critics in the sporting world: a rare athlete willing to forgo lucrative endorsements to speak on issues such as Beijing’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim and Tibetan minorities.
And at an event they are both due to attend in Geneva, he hopes to spur Bachelet into “solid action” on China rather than mere condemnation.
“I am really hopeful for that meeting,” he told AFP.
“We need change, and change cannot wait any more. We need to take immediate action. What she represents is to bring awareness but what I want to tell her is, don’t just talk about it: be about it.
“Take some solid actions because condemning is good, it brings awareness, but it doesn’t change anything.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is set to make a long-delayed visit to China in May, including to Xinjiang, where Western lawmakers have accused Beijing of genocide against the Uyghurs — allegations vigorously denied by China.
“We don’t have time to wait. People are dying and getting killed, so she definitely needs to push whoever she needs to push,” said Kanter Freedom.
– Money versus morals –
He was raised in Turkey and played for the national team but criticised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over rights issues and had his passport revoked by the Turkish government in 2017.
For several years afterwards, Kanter said he feared for his life and refused to leave North America.
The former Boston Celtics centre, who made his NBA debut in 2011 with the Utah Jazz, became a US citizen last November and added Freedom to his name to celebrate his new nationality.
He will be presented Wednesday with the 2022 Courage Award at the 14th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, organised by rights NGOs, for “risking his career” to speak out on the Uyghurs.
China is by far the NBA’s largest overseas market but in October last year Chinese streaming service Tencent stopped showing Celtics games after Kanter Freedom branded President Xi Jinping a “brutal dictator”.
Kanter Freedom said that athletes nowadays have a huge platform due to their social media reach, and urged them to use it to raise issues that transcend sport — even if it risked sponsorship deal opportunities.
He called for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February and while pleased with the diplomatic snub from some countries, he said athletes should also have taken a stand.
“They have picked money and business over morals, principles and values. So shame on all these athletes who attended,” he said.
Kanter Freedom said China was closely watching the world’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine and called for tougher sanctions on Moscow to deter Beijing from invading Taiwan.
“We don’t want another Ukraine to happen to Taiwan,” he said.
– Traded, then released –
NBA basketball only returned to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV for the first time in nearly 18 months last week, after China blacklisted it after a Houston Rockets official voiced support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Kanter Freedom feels he is paying a price for his advocacy.
The Celtics traded him in February to the Rockets — who immediately released him, leaving him looking for a new NBA team.
“I averaged double-double last year and people know I can still go out there and play,” he said, citing his statistics.
“I’m 29 and I plan to play another six or seven years in the league because my body feels healthy and I love basketball.
“I do believe that yes, they are punishing me in a way, and making sure every other athlete sees what I am going through so they won’t talk about the issues that are happening in China.”
But he added: “I don’t regret anything that I have done. If I could go back in time, I would do it even louder.”
“Our strategy must expand beyond only pressing China for change and include vigorously defending our values and economic interests from the negative impacts of the PRC’s unfair economic policies and practices,” Tai will say, per prepared remarks.
Tai: U.S. must ramp up trade defense against China
“Our strategy must expand beyond only pressing China for change and include vigorously defending our values and economic interests from the negative impacts of the PRC’s unfair economic policies and practices,” Tai will say, per prepared remarks.
Tai initiated talks with her Chinese counterpart, Vice Premier Liu He, in October after pledging that the Biden administration would hold Beijing accountable for its commitment to purchase $200 billion worth of additional American goods over a two-year period under former President Donald Trump’s Phase One agreement.
Data show China fell short of that obligation, which it was expected to meet by the end of last year. Tai will tell the committee that her talks have revealed that Beijing “would only comply with those trade obligations that fit its own interests.”
“This is a familiar pattern with the PRC – from their actions at the [World Trade Organization] and in various bilateral high-level dialogues,” Tai will add. “The United States has repeatedly sought and obtained commitments from China, only to find that follow-through or real change remains elusive.”
The door remains open to further conversations, Tai will say, while calling for the U.S. to both challenge Beijing’s practices and bolster American competitors through domestic investments.
China is hustling to gain global dominance over critical technologies, such as electric vehicles, batteries and semiconductors. In the past, U.S. competitors have suffered from Beijing’s industrial subsidies and other market-distorting actions, which existing trade remedies were “too slow or ill-suited to effectively address,” Tai argues in her testimony.
“To ensure that our industries remain competitive, we must develop new domestic tools targeted at defending our economic interests, and make strategic investments in our economy,” Tai will say.
She will call on Congress to approve $52 billion for domestic semiconductor production and research through legislation now known as the Bipartisan Innovation Act. The House and Senate are currently preparing to launch a conference committee to reconcile competing versions of that bill.
Russia appeared to open the door Monday to a diplomatic resolution of the deepening Ukraine standoff, as the United States said it believed Vladimir Putin had yet to make a final decision on invading the ex-Soviet state.
While Russia said it was ending some military drills, signalling a possible easing of the crisis, in Washington the alert level remained high — with a top official calling the threat of invasion “more real than ever before.”
As speculation mounted that Russian troops massed on the Ukraine border could launch an attack this week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was due in Moscow on Tuesday for talks with the Russian president — the latest in a series of visits by European leaders aimed at avoiding a full-blown conflict.
Previous visitors have been given short shrift by the Russian leader and his top aides, who have consistently argued that the current crisis is the result of the United States and western Europe ignoring Moscow’s legitimate security concerns.
But a carefully choreographed meeting Monday between Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, seemed to signal a change in tone, with the latter stressing there was “always a chance” for agreement with the West over Ukraine.
Exchanges with leaders in European capitals and Washington showed enough of an opening for progress on Russia’s goals to be worth pursuing, he told Putin.
“I would suggest continuing,” Lavrov said in televised remarks. “Fine,” Putin replied.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres insisted “there is no alternative to diplomacy,” and warned that abandoning such an approach in favor of confrontation would equate to “a dive over a cliff.”
As the Russian remarks were seized on by some as offering hope of a de-escalation, the Pentagon said Moscow’s forces on the border with Ukraine were still growing, “to well north of 100,000.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Washington still did not believe Moscow had made a final decision on whether to invade.
But the United States said it was joining other nations in relocating its Kyiv embassy to the western city of Lviv, in light of the “dramatic acceleration” of the buildup.
“It is a distinct possibility, perhaps more real than ever before, that Russia may decide to proceed with military action, with new Russian forces continuing to arrive at the Ukrainian border,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
– Scholz to Moscow –
As Western intelligence officials warned that Wednesday could mark the start of an invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to dismiss the suggestion in a video address to the nation announcing the day would be marked as “Unity Day.”
“They tell us that February 16 will be the day of the invasion. We will make this into Unity Day,” Zelensky said — urging his fellow countrymen to fly the national flag in defiance.
Western leaders consider the Russian troop build-up to be the worst threat to the continent’s security since the Cold War, and have prepared a crippling package of economic sanctions in response to any attack on Ukraine — although Moscow has repeatedly said it has no such plans.
Recent Russian military exercises, including with Belarus, where the US said Moscow had dispatched 30,000 troops for more than a week of drills, further raised concerns — although Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin Monday that some of the drills were “ending.”
During a news conference in Kyiv with Zelensky, Scholz said there was “no reasonable justification” for the build-up of troops, vowing Berlin and its allies would maintain support for Ukraine’s security and independence.
Speaking alongside Scholz, Zelensky meanwhile repeated that joining the NATO alliance would guarantee Ukraine’s survival — a key sticking point in negotiations between Russia and the West.
But as he prepared to head to Moscow, Scholz appealed to Russia to take up “offers of dialogue.”
Germany already plays a central role in efforts to mediate in eastern Ukraine, where a gruelling conflict with Russian-backed separatists has claimed more than 14,000 lives.
Germany’s close business relations with Moscow and heavy reliance on Russian natural gas imports have however been a source of lingering concern for Kyiv’s pro-Western leaders and US President Joe Biden’s administration.
– ‘Digging trenches’ –
While waiting for diplomacy to bear fruit, on the front line separating Kyiv-held territory from areas controlled by Moscow-backed insurgents in the east, underprivileged children in the care of church groups were helping with war preparations.
“We are digging trenches that Ukrainian soldiers could quickly jump into and defend in case the Russians attack,” 15-year-old Mykhailo Anopa told AFP.
In Moscow, Russians showed no appetite for war.
“People in the West do not understand that we are one people,” Pavel Kuleshov, a 65-year-old pensioner, told AFP, referring to Russians and Ukrainians. “Nobody wants a civil war.”
(Reuters) – Australia said on Sunday it was evacuating its embassy in Kyiv as the situation on the Russia-Ukraine border deteriorated quickly, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling on China to not remain “chillingly silent” on the crisis.
The United States and Europe stepped up their warnings of an imminent attack by Russia on Ukraine, while the Kremlin, jostling for more influence in post-Cold War Europe, rejected a joint EU-NATO diplomatic response to its demands to reduce tensions as disrespectful.
Australia’s embassy staff in Kyiv was directed to a temporary office in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, around 70 kilometres (44 miles) from the border with Poland, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
“We continue to advise Australians to leave Ukraine immediately by commercial means,” Payne said.
Morrison said that the situation “is reaching a very dangerous stage” and added that “the autocratic unilateral actions of Russia to be threatening and bullying Ukraine is something that is completely and utterly unacceptable.”
Morrison, whose government has frigid ties with China, called also on Beijing to speak up for Ukraine, after China criticised a meeting of the U.S., Australian, Japanese and Indian foreign ministers in Melbourne last week.
“The Chinese government is happy to criticise Australia … yet remains chillingly silent on Russian troops amassing on the Ukrainian border,” Morrison told a news conference.
“The coalition of autocracies that we are seeing, seeking to bully other countries, is not something that Australia ever takes a light position on.”
Relations between Australia and China, its top trade partner, soured after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018, toughened laws against foreign political interference, and urged an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
(This story refiles to correct typo in headline)
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Sandra Maler)
TAIPEI (Reuters) – A top Taiwan security official told lawmakers on Thursday that China had internally debated whether to attack Taiwan’s Pratas Islands but will not do so before 2024, the year President Tsai Ing-wen’s term ends.
National Security Bureau Director-General Chen Ming-tong did not say how he knew that such a move had been debated or why it would not happen during the next few years.
China’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by Beijing, has complained for over a year of repeated sorties by China’s air force, often in the southwestern part of its air defence zone near the Taiwan-controlled but lightly defended Pratas Islands.
Lying roughly between southern Taiwan and Hong Kong, the Pratas are seen by some security experts as vulnerable to Chinese attack due to their distance – more than 400 km (250 miles) – from mainland Taiwan.
“Attacking and capturing the Pratas Islands – this scenario where war is being used to force (Taiwan into) talks – our assessment is that this will not happen during President Tsai’s tenure,” Chen told a parliamentary meeting.
Chen was responding to a question from a lawmaker in Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, on whether China would attack before 2024, when Tsai’s second term is set to end.
“Frankly speaking, they have internally debated this before,” Chen said, referring to China but without elaborating or mentioning when such a discussion occurred. “We obviously have some understanding,” he said.
Taiwan’s presidential office referred questions on the matter to the National Security Bureau, which did not immediately comment out of office hours.
Taiwan has repeatedly said it wants to maintain the status quo with China, but vows to defend its freedom and democracy.
Chen told lawmakers that while the situation is more tense than in the past, it had not reached the point of an actual attack on Taiwan. “In the next one, two, three years, within President Tsai’s tenure, it won’t happen,” he said.
In Washington on Wednesday, General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said China was unlikely to try to militarily seize Taiwan in the next couple of years, even as its military develops capabilities that would enable forcibly retaking the island.
(Reporting by Sarah Wu and Yimou Lee with additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; editing by Mark Heinrich)
'Starting a Fire': U.S. and China Enter Dangerous Territory over Taiwan
‘Starting a Fire’: U.S. and China Enter Dangerous Territory over Taiwan
Chris Buckley and Steven Lee Myers
·12 min read
The 25 Chinese fighter jets, bombers and other warplanes flew in menacing formations off the southern end of Taiwan, a show of military might on China’s National Day, Oct. 1. The incursions, dozens upon dozens, continued into the night and the days that followed and surged to the highest numbers ever Monday, when 56 warplanes tested Taiwan’s beleaguered air defenses.
Taiwan’s jets scrambled to keep up, while the United States warned China that its “provocative military activity” undermined “regional peace and stability.” China did not cower. When a Taiwanese combat air traffic controller radioed one Chinese aircraft, the pilot dismissed the challenge with an obscenity involving the officer’s mother.
As such confrontations intensify, the balance of power around Taiwan is fundamentally shifting, pushing a decadeslong impasse over its future into a dangerous new phase.
After holding out against unification demands from China’s communist rulers for more than 70 years, Taiwan is now at the heart of the deepening discord between China and the U.S. The island’s fate has the potential to reshape the regional order and even to ignite a military conflagration — intentional or not.
“There’s very little insulation left on the wiring in the relationship,” Danny Russel, a former assistant secretary of state, said, “and it’s not hard to imagine getting some crossed wires and that starting a fire.”
China’s military might has, for the first time, made a conquest of Taiwan conceivable, perhaps even tempting. The U.S. wants to thwart any invasion but has watched its military dominance in Asia steadily erode. Taiwan’s own military preparedness has withered, even as its people become increasingly resistant to unification.
All three have sought to show resolve in hopes of averting war, only to provoke countermoves that compound distrust and increase the risk of miscalculation.
At one particularly tense moment, in October 2020, U.S. intelligence reports detailed how Chinese leaders had become worried that President Donald Trump was preparing an attack. Those concerns, which could have been misread, prompted Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to call his counterpart in Beijing to assure otherwise.
“The Taiwan issue has ceased to be a sort of narrow, boutique issue, and it’s become a central theater — if not the central drama — in U.S.-China strategic competition,” said Evan Medeiros, who served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council.
China’s ambitious leader, Xi Jinping, now presides over what is arguably the country’s most potent military in history. Some argue that Xi, who has set the stage to rule for a third term starting in 2022, could feel compelled to conquer Taiwan to crown his era in power.
Xi said Saturday in Beijing that Taiwan independence “was a grave lurking threat to national rejuvenation.” China wanted peaceful unification, he said, but added: “Nobody should underestimate the staunch determination, firm will and powerful ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Few believe a war is imminent or foreordained, in part because the economic and diplomatic aftershocks would be staggering for China. Yet even if the recent flights into Taiwan’s self-declared air identification zone are intended merely as political pressure, not a prelude to war, China’s financial, political and military ascendancy has made preserving the island’s security a gravely complex endeavor.
Until recently, the U.S. believed it could hold Chinese territorial ambitions in check, but the military superiority it long held may not be enough. When the Pentagon organized a war game in October 2020, a U.S. “blue team” struggled against new Chinese weaponry in a simulated battle over Taiwan.
China now acts with increasing confidence, in part because many officials, including Xi, hold the view that U.S. power has faltered. The United States’ failures with the COVID-19 pandemic and its political upheavals have reinforced such views.
Some advisers and former officers in China argue that the U.S. no longer has the will to send forces if a war were to break out over Taiwan. Under the right conditions, others suggest, the People’s Liberation Army could prevail if it did.
“Would the United States court death for Taiwan?” Teng Jianqun, a former Chinese navy captain, said on Chinese television.
Such posturing, in turn, ignites more tensions.
In Taiwan, China’s military provocations have bolstered political support for the island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who has sought to forge ties with countries increasingly wary of China. The Biden administration is trying to bolster Taiwan’s defense capabilities and international standing, hoping to delay or prevent the need for U.S. military intervention.
“The three sides have seen their interactions caught in a vicious spiral,” Jia Qingguo, a professor of international relations at Peking University who advises the Chinese government, recently wrote. “The process of vicious interactions between Taipei, Beijing and Washington resembles the forming of a perfect storm.”
A ‘Historic Mission’
Two days after the fall of Kabul in August, as the Biden administration scrambled to evacuate thousands stranded by the U.S. withdrawal, China staged military exercises explicitly designed to show off its prowess.
Chinese warships fired missiles into the sea south of Taiwan, while amphibious landing vehicles swept ashore a beach in China. It was one of the largest exercises ever to simulate an invasion across the Taiwan Strait.
In previous drills, the People’s Liberation Army maintained a gauze of deniability about its imagined adversary, but this time it left no doubt. One officer on Chinese television warned the U.S. and Taiwan “not to play with fire on the Taiwan issue and immolate themselves.”
The question is whether Xi intends to act.
He has vowed to lead the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” including bringing Taiwan under Chinese control. Some interpret that to mean within a decade, if not sooner. His hard-line policies have made it less likely that Taiwan could ever willingly agree to China’s terms, especially after Xi throttled political freedoms in Hong Kong.
Every leader since Mao has vowed to absorb Taiwan, but Xi is the first who commands a military strong enough to make forced unification plausible, albeit still a formidable task.
Any assault on Taiwan, which lies 100 miles off the coast, would require overwhelming military advantage. Even if Chinese forces seized control over the island of 24 million, the war would badly shake China’s economy and international relations, while exacting a significant human toll.
“Even moderate voices in Beijing have been calling for tossing out peaceful reunification,” said Oriana Skylar Mastro, a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. “I think the military option is the option now.”
China’s leaders began the long, politically fraught process of overhauling the People’s Liberation Army after watching the U.S. put its military power on display in the Persian Gulf war against Iraq in 1990.
Six years later, they understood just how far behind their military had fallen when the U.S. dispatched two aircraft carriers near Taiwan in response to China firing missiles into the seas near the island. After the U.S. show of force, China backed down.
Robert L. Thomas, a former vice admiral who commanded the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Japan, recalled a meeting with a Chinese admiral in 2015. The admiral told him that the 1996 confrontation still stung nearly two decades later.
“It’s clear to me that they won’t allow themselves to be embarrassed again by a Taiwan Strait crisis where the U.S. Seventh Fleet shows up and says, ‘Everybody calm down,’” Thomas said.
Since then, China’s leaders have poured money into the People’s Liberation Army. In a decade, military spending grew by 76%, reaching $252 billion in 2020, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (The U.S. spent $778 billion on its military last year.) Xi has also reorganized the military, raising the status of naval and air forces and pushing commanders to master joint warfare.
In an exercise last year, the military conducted a drill that simulated sealing off the Taiwan Strait from outside forces. What was unthinkable in 1996 could now be within reach.
The exercise was like “trapping a turtle in a jar,” said a website run by China’s office for Taiwan affairs.
‘A Matter of Time’
When the U.S. Air Force held its own war games over Taiwan in autumn last year, the outcome rattled Washington’s political and military establishment.
In war games since at least 2018, American “blue” teams have repeatedly lost against a “red” team representing a hypothetical Chinese force — in part by design, since the exercises are intended to test officers and war planners. In a game simulating a war around 2030, reported earlier by Defense News, the “blue” team struggled even when given new advanced fighter planes and other weapons still on the Pentagon’s drawing board.
The classified game culminated with China launching missile strikes against U.S. bases and warships in the region, and then staging an air and amphibious assault on Taiwan, according to a Department of Defense official. The officials concluded that Taiwan, backed by the U.S., could hold out for maybe two or three days before its defenses crumbled.
The Pentagon’s annual assessments of China’s military have since 2000 chronicled its evolution from a large but ineffective force into a potential rival. Its latest report said Chinese capabilities have already surpassed the U.S. military in some areas, including shipbuilding, conventional ballistic and cruise missiles, and integrated air defense systems. All three would be essential in any conflict over Taiwan.
“I worry that they are accelerating their ambitions to supplant the United States,” Admiral Philip S. Davidson, the retiring commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. “Taiwan is clearly one of their ambitions before then, and I think the threat is manifest during this decade; in fact, in the next six years.”
His bleak prediction has since colored debates in Washington over what to do. Some have argued that explicit security guarantees for Taiwan are needed. Others have called for building up of military forces around China, and helping Taiwan to do the same.
“To us, it’s only a matter of time, not a matter of if,” Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, the director of intelligence with the United States’ Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii, said in a July talk, about the possibility of armed conflict over Taiwan.
It is far from clear that Taiwan is ready. Since Taiwan’s government has phased out mandatory conscription for most young men, it has struggled to sustain a professional, all-volunteer force. The state of its military has declined steadily, punctuated by a series of accidents, including a helicopter crash last year that killed its top commander.
“The training isn’t as intense as it was before,” said Chang Yan-ting, a former deputy commander of Taiwan’s air force. He said that decades of prosperity encouraged a view that the island no longer needed to maintain a heightened military alert.
“That’s in keeping with the whole tide of the times,” he added, “but certainly it has some relative strategic impact, even if there hasn’t been a war to test it.”
An internal assessment of the Chinese military by Taiwan’s defense ministry, reviewed by The New York Times, also documented the increasing challenge. China’s military, for example, has developed the capability to cripple communications around the island, the assessment found. That could hamper the arrival of American reinforcements.
“This really is the grimmest time I’ve seen in my more than 40 years working in the military,” Taiwan’s minister of defense, Chiu Kuo-cheng, told lawmakers Wednesday. China already had the means to invade Taiwan, though still at a high price, he said. “By 2025, the cost and attrition will be squeezed lowest, and so then it could be said to have ‘full capability.’”
Since coming to office in January, the Biden administration has stepped up support, continuing moves made under Trump.
U.S. warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait eight times in the first eight months of the year. The administration approved a new arms sale in August worth about $750 million. Since at least last year, small teams of U.S. troops, including Marines and Army special forces, have conducted training sessions with the Taiwanese military.
The administration has also marshaled statements supporting Taiwan and criticizing China from a succession of international summits, including the Group of 7.
Chinese leaders, for their part, fear that U.S. support for Taiwan is entrenching pro-independence tendencies. None of the U.S. moves are entirely new, but as mutual animosity has deepened, Beijing views them as an increasingly belligerent strategy to “contain China by using Taiwan.”
The depth of U.S. and allied assistance for Taiwan, though, has not been tested.
“You get to this issue of how far are you willing to go to defend Taiwan,” said Thomas. “I’ve thought about it a lot, and I don’t know if the United States is willing to see U.S. young people coming back in body bags for the defense of Taiwan.”
Behind the scenes, Biden administration officials have expressed worry that China is trying to normalize a new baseline of hostile pressure on Taiwan, and they have deliberated on ways to slow or thwart its military development.
President Joe Biden is also trying to lower the temperature, speaking last month with Xi. On Tuesday he said he and the Chinese leader had agreed to the standing agreements on Taiwan. A day later, the White House announced that he and Xi would hold a virtual summit by the end of the year.
The two leaders know each other well. A decade ago, Biden, then vice president, went to China to size up Xi before he became the nation’s top leader.
“My father used to tell me, Joey, the only thing worse than a war is an unintentional war,” Biden told Xi, according to Russel.
Russell added: “I think it is a prescient warning.”
Earlier this month, at the end of India’s annual Independence Day parade in New Delhi, the Indian Air Force showed off its aircraft inventory in multiple flyovers of the Rajpath, a ceremonial boulevard in the capital.
The flyovers included transport aircraft, helicopter gunships, fighters, and fighter-bombers. It was the latest show of force for a military branch that, like its naval counterpart, is in the midst of a massive modernization and expansion effort.
Focused for decades on the threat from archrival Pakistan, India is now preparing its air force to fight another much larger foe: China.
With roughly 2,000 combat aircraft from its air force and navy, China has the largest aviation force in Asia and the third largest in the world. Worse for India, China’s increasingly close relationship with Pakistan is resulting in closer military cooperation, including joint development of fighter jets.
Faced with the potential for an air war against two enemies, the IAF is increasing its size and capabilities.
A significant inventory
With well over 1,000 aircraft itself, the IAF is by no means small. Since India’s independence, it has mostly fielded Russian aircraft made entirely in Russia or licensed for local production.
Even today, the biggest fleets in the IAF inventory are those of the MiG-21, MiG-29, and the Su-30MKI – a version of Russia’s Su-30 made specifically for and by India. (India signed a contract for the Su-30MKI in the 1990s and has built more than 200 of them domestically since the mid-2000s.)
The service also has some European models, such as SEPECAT Jaguars and Mirage 2000s, which are the IAF’s primary strike platforms. But those aircraft, which were acquired in the 1980s, are showing signs of age, and the IAF plans to retire them by 2030.
India’s MiG-21s, first introduced in the 1960s, are also expected to be retired by 2030 – even the modernized MiG-21 Bison models. The jet has a poor safety record; as of 2013, more than 480 of India’s MiG-21s had been involved in accidents that had caused over 200 deaths.
Threats on two fronts
The Su-30MKI purchase was more than just a general upgrade. It came after the Pakistan Air Force in 1982 accepted the first of 28 US-made F-16s, which seriously increased the PAF’s capabilities a decade after it last fought the IAF.
The US paused F-16 deliveries in 1990 because of Pakistan’s nuclear program, but they resumed in 2005, and the PAF now has some 75 F-16s. Their use is conditional and closely monitored by the US, but Pakistan would likely have no qualms about using them in an all-out war.
In 2019, a series of skirmishes between India and Pakistan included airstrikes on each other’s territory and resulted in one MiG-21 Bison being shot down by PAF fighters, possibly by an F-16. It was the first time since 1971 that air attacks had been conducted across the Line of Control.
During the Cold War, China sold Pakistan its J-6 and J-7 fighters, which were Chinese copies of Russia’s MiG-19 and MiG-21. The PAF has also benefitted from Pakistan’s closer ties with China in recent years.
Their air forces regularly conduct joint exercises, and they have even jointly developed a fourth-generation multirole combat aircraft, the JF-17, of which Pakistan has over 100.
China’s own air force also poses a threat to the IAF. Particularly worrying for India are the J-10 and J-11 fighters and the J-20 stealth fighter.
The aerial threat from China was abundantly clear after last year’s deadly standoff along its disputed border with India.
India has a longer history of air operations in the area, but China is rapidly building and expanding air bases and defenses along its western borders.
A major modernization
Appreciating the threats, the IAF has committed to modernization.
In 2016, India signed a contract with French firm Dassault Aviation four 36 Rafale multirole fighters. Twenty-six of them have been delivered so far, and some have already been deployed to counter possible Chinese aggression.
The IAF has also purchased 15 CH-47 Chinook helicopters and 22 AH-64 Apache gunships, both of which have also been deployed to the border region.
India has developed its own lightweight fighter jet, the HAL Tejas, and has about 20 in service. The original order for 40 fighters was supplemented by an additional order of 83 improved Tejas Mark 1A variants, with a second production line built to speed up production.
To meet its needs in the near-term, India is buying another 21 MiG-29s and 12 Su-30MKIs. It is also upgrading its MiG-29 fleet and modifying its Su-30MKIs to be able to fire Brahmos cruise missiles.
The IAF is also seeking 114 medium multirole combat aircraft.
The US-made F/A-18E/F and F-15, the French-built Rafale, the European-made Eurofighter Typhoon, and Russia’s MiG-35 and Su-35 – all twin-engine jets – are in the running, as are the single-engine Swedish-built JAS 39 Gripen and US-built F-21, a version of the F-16 designed specifically for India.
India has relied on foreign suppliers for much of its military hardware – especially Russia, with which it has a longstanding but increasingly fraught relationship – but many of the new acquisition efforts will require some degree of local production as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” program aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing.
Amid ongoing tensions with China and renewed uncertainty about the future in Afghanistan, India’s efforts to expand and modernize its air force show how serious it is about countering the threat from its two most contentious neighbors.
Britain fears US forces may pull out of Kabul international airport within days, putting it at risk of closure and raising concerns over the emergency airlift of thousands of people from Afghanistan.
Whitehall and security sources said they could not guarantee how long the US would keep its contingent of 6,000 troops on the ground and cautioned that the UK could not continue the rescue without their presence. They also indicated Britain was not engaging with the Taliban directly over security or other issues after the militant group seized the Afghan capital.
The Guardian has learned that some in government, however, believe there is a shift by UK ministers and the military towards dealing directly with the Taliban and legitimising their role – a position that would anger those who believe they have not changed.
Gen Sir Nick Carter, the head of the British armed forces, said on Wednesday he thought the Taliban wanted an “inclusive Afghanistan” and described them as “country boys” who had “honour at the heart of what they do”. Asked on Sky News about the Taliban’s repression of women, Carter said: “I do think they have changed and recognise Afghanistan has evolved and the fundamental role women have played in that evolution.”
Boris Johnson also hinted at the possibility of recognising the Taliban, potentially in conjunction with other countries, telling MPs: “We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes and by its actions rather than by its words.”
A Whitehall source said uncertainty over the Taliban’s actions, however, and the US position, meant the UK wanted to complete its evacuation as rapidly as it could, saying: “There’s a realistic view that we want to just go as quickly as possible.”
The airport in Kabul was the scene of chaos this week but has since been secured by the US ahead of a planned evacuation deadline of 31 August. British attempts to seek reassurances from the US over that timeline had not proved successful, a source said, although on Tuesday the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, tweeted that the country would hold the airport “to get all Americans out of Afghanistan”.
A total of 700 Britons, Afghans and others were airlifted out of Kabul on Tuesday, according to official figures, taking the total to more than 1,150 out of as many as 6,000, half of which are Britons and dual nationals and the remainder Afghans eligible to settle in the UK because they previously helped the British. Of the 1,150, 300 are Britons.
Carter said he expected seven aircraft to head to Kabul, enabling up to a further 1,000 people to leave on Wednesday. “The situation has stabilised since the weekend but it remains precarious,” he said.
The operation of the airport is also dependent on the Taliban, who now control its surroundings. Military experts say it is easy to close an airport by firing mortars or shells on to the runway.
A particular problem is the difficulty of eligible people getting to the airport. Some Britons have been advised to say, at Taliban checkpoints, that they want to “go to the airport and leave the country”, which it is feared could put them at risk of reprisals.
A security source said the UK was having to rely on “uncomfortable intermediaries” in its dealings with the Taliban, who have a separate agreement with the US to allow it to conduct its retreat. Insiders also acknowledge the UK has limited intelligence on what is happening outside Kabul.
Carter’s interview with Sky News, which followed a Taliban press conference on Tuesday, prompted a furious reaction among MPs. The Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani told the Guardian: “Not a single Afghan woman has stated this naive optimism about the Taliban. They have not changed, women are hiding at home in fear of having been teachers and lawyers and just yesterday a women was killed in Afghanistan for not covering her hair.”
Caroline Nokes, the Tory chair of the equalities committee, said: “I would rather judge them by their actions than their words. Look at the pictures of the streets of Kabul, the women have disappeared, gone into hiding, especially those who have any sort of leadership role. The civic mayors, the activists, the journalists, the judges. The women we have encouraged to step up, to build civic society in Afghanistan, they are the ones most likely to suffer reprisals.”
The Labour MP Stella Creasy said: “Anyone thinking that Taliban pledges on women’s rights are enough – as if it’s equality being able to leave the house alone – needs to ask if they would be happy to live under such restrictions and feel an equal citizen.”
Asked about Carter’s position, Johnson’s spokesperson said: “He was reflecting what was claimed by the Taliban.”