21 August 2012

Cultural Barriers to Implementing a Competitive Strategy

James R. FitzSimonds, “Cultural Barriers to Implementing a Competitive Strategy,” in Thomas Mahnken, ed., Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), 289-300.

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China’s ongoing military build-up has generated interest within the U.S. strategic community for employing a competitive strategies approach to manage a growing military challenge in the Western Pacific. The goals of such a strategy would be to deter China from using force, impose costs to drain resources away from those Chinese military developments that the United States finds most troublesome, and ultimately provide the ability for the United States to win any conflict with China should deterrence fail.

For the past two decades, U.S. military operations have focused on projecting power from land bases and aircraft carriers on the periphery of an adversary, rapidly suppressing its air defenses, and then launching mostly manned air strikes to speedily deliver high volumes of short-range coordinate-seeking ordnance against critical enemy targets—with forces networked for exchange of sensor and command information. Having observed the United States do this twice in the Middle East since 1990, China’s reaction has centered on directly neutralizing what it sees as key U.S. vulnerabilities in power projection. Official U.S. assessments provide a good summary of China’s approach and critical assumptions:

  • China seeks to push U.S. tactical fighters and strike aircraft as well as surveillance, tanker, and electronic warfare aircraft beyond their effective ranges by holding regional air bases and aircraft carriers at unacceptable risk to precision missile and submarine attack. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) assumes that precision missiles—most notably ballistic missiles—will prove effective in striking targets at long ranges and survivable against the best U.S. efforts to destroy the missile launchers, intercept launch cycle communications, and intercept or neutralize the missile in flight. The PLA assumes that its submarines will be effective in missile and torpedo attack against U.S. surface ships, while surviving the best U.S. efforts to neutralize them.
  • China seeks to field a highly capable integrated air defense system that makes it extremely difficult for U.S. aircraft and missiles, even the most advanced ones, to penetrate its airspace. The PLA assumes that its active and passive air defenses will overcome any U.S. advances in aircraft stealth or drive such a significant disparity in the offense-defense cost exchange ratio that the United States cannot afford to pursue this approach.
  • China seeks to assure the availability of its own communications, sensors, and navigation information during a conflict while denying the same information to the United States through signal jamming, antisatellite systems, airborne sensor pushback or destruction, and cyber network attacks. The PLA assumes that its can assure its own information for contingencies close to China’s borders while denying information to U.S. forces and systems forward—and that the United States cannot respond in kind. …

For two of the studies cited in this chapter, see: 

Andrew S. Erickson and David Yang, “On the Verge of a Game-Changer,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 135.3 (May 2009): 26-32.

Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein, and William S. Murray, “Chinese Mine Warfare: A PLA Navy ‘Assassin’s Mace’ Capability,” Naval War College China Maritime Study 3, August 2009.