U.S. needs to deter China's mobile missile launchers

By REBECCA GRANT, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  March 25, 2009 at 12:52 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) -- As threats shift, the ability of the Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor to cover a volume of airspace against air and surface-to-air threats could become a significant edge.

There are no plans to base F-22 Raptors in Europe. Still, the time may come when they deploy there often. It's not hard to picture a situation where Russian fighters overwhelm a four-air­craft detachment of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Being able to bring highly capable forces to bear would be the essence of deterrence over the Baltic region. Pair border probes with future capabilities and potential intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance degradation, and the case for F-22 availability in a NATO scenario becomes clear.

China is a world power, a major trading partner and, without question, a potential military competitor for the United States. With China, the United States may face a decades-long balance between confrontation and cooperation. Conventional deterrence will be a big part of calibrating the balance. For the United States, relying on airpower's conventional deterrent will be a prime tool.

China has already demarcated the realms of air, space and cyberspace as arenas for competition and de-emphasized its land forces. In 2004, China's defense white paper stated bluntly: "The army is streamlined by reducing the ordinary troops that are technologically backward while the navy, air force and Second Artillery Force (China's nuclear-weapons unit) are strengthened."

Instead, current Chinese military doctrine focuses on local, or regional, war under high-technology conditions, which they define as "a limited war, fought in a restricted geographic area for limited objectives with limited means and a conscious effort to curtail destruction."

Rapid defeat of the enemy is the main objective, and the preferred tool is to inflict strategic and operational paralysis or even defeat the enemy with one strike. The Chinese do not much worry about global power projection, stability operations or major land campaigns.

Deterring China will be all about providing persistence to make clear that the armed forces of the United States and its allies will not back off until goals are met. Credible deterrence will include the ability to target mobile launches like the one China used to shoot a missile into orbit to destroy its defunct weather satellite. That launch brought home how difficult it could be to track, target and kill mobile launchers.

Those mobile launchers could threaten everything from anti-satellite attack to use of nuclear weapons. Mobile launchers are notoriously difficult to pin down.

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Part 10: The difficulty of locating and destroying mobile missile launchers in real time.

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(Rebecca Grant, Ph.D., is a senior fellow of the Lexington Institute, a non-profit public-policy research organization based in Arlington, Va.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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