TAIPEI — A new RAND report suggests the US military consider turning China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) strategy on its head by incorporating a “far blockade” strategy using land-based anti-ship missiles (ASM) at chokepoints in the Asia-Pacific region.
The new report, “Employing Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles in the Western Pacific,” looks at how the US military, in a joint or coalition effort using an integrated network of land-based ASMs, could shut down China’s naval movements.
With massive Pentagon budget cuts coming, land-based ASMs would be “inexpensive joint force multipliers.” The report provides detailed geospatial depictions of how this strategy could paralyze China’s navy.
The release of the report coincides with Japan’s announcement that it is conducting an exercise that places Type-88 surface-to-ship missiles on Miyako Island. It is the first time Japan has conducted such an exercise. The strait between Okinawa and Miyako is a common access route to the Pacific by the Chinese navy.
At present, the US military has no ground-based ASM capabilities in the region, but if the US military had such capabilities, it could use them in a host of ways, ranging from security cooperation initiatives to help regional friends improve their own anti-access capabilities to using them to interdict Chinese warships or help form a full blockade during war.
Though the advice given in the report sounds suspiciously like a containment policy, the authors argue this “capability does not require the permanent stationing of assets in the Western Pacific, and, as such, is not presented as part of an effort to contain China. Rather, it should be seen as a capability that could be used if China initiated a conflict.”
The report makes a missile-by-missile comparison of 45 current ASMs commonly found in the region: Brunei, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. “We assessed the likely effectiveness of land-based ASMs by exploring the technical potential and possible impact of a U.S. anti-access strategy that could challenge Chinese maritime freedom of action should China choose to use force against its island neighbors.”
The report only examines the possibility of cutting off Chinese sea routes using land-based ASMs, and does not look at other ASM launch platforms, such as air or sea. The report argues that land-based ASMs would not only have a significant effect on China’s ability to project power, “but it would also vastly expand the set of military problems that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would face should it consider initiating a conflict with its neighbors or U.S. partner nations.”
Why? Because land-based ASM systems are so easy to operate and are strategically and tactically mobile. ASMs could be placed in many locations over thousands of miles of island chains, which “would significantly dilute the effectiveness of PLA missile and air forces.”
To illustrate the potential of ground-based ASM employment, the report demonstrates how short and medium-range ASMs could force the PLA Navy out of the Straits of Malacca, Sunda, and Lombok.
If Taiwan and Japan became involved in a conflict with China, ASMs with an effective range of only 100-200 km stationed on the island of Okinawa and northern Taiwan could cover all PLA naval traffic south of Okinawa. If Taiwan did not want to participate in a coalition effort to block these waterways, Japan could place ASMs with a 200 km range on the Ryukyu Islands.
The Luzon Strait between the Philippines and Taiwan, and the waterways between the Philippines and Borneo, could be covered with 100 km range ASMs positioned in Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The PLA Navy might attempt to transit between Japan and South Korea via the Korea Strait. In this scenario, 200 km range ASMs from either Japan or South Korea would be sufficient.
Should China threaten or use force against US allies in the region, “the US might want such assets available” and “would need to be able to rapidly move ASMs into the region from US territory or from other prepositioned stocks in Asia.”
The report focuses only on operational and tactical issues, and does not analyze regional political, economic, and military dimensions of these operations.