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Admiral: Stealthy Ships, Subs, Planes Would Help Offset Chinese Missiles

By | January 28, 2008

      If the United States were to procure Littoral Combat Ships, the DDG 1000 destroyer, and other stealthy, radar-evading platforms, it would help U.S. forces to overcome the threat of Chinese missiles aimed at the Taiwan Strait, Adm. Timothy J. Keating said today.

      Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, described conversations he had with Chinese military and other leaders during his recent trip to China, in which Keating sought, but didn’t receive, a full and open transparent explanation of why China has embarked upon a lavish military buildup, including "a bristling number of surface missiles directed across the Strait of Taiwan."

      Chinese leaders only offered a general response, saying that the missiles are to "protect the things that are ours," Keating said.

      China has 1,328 radar-guided missiles aimed at the waters between Mainland China and Taiwan, according to a Taiwanese estimate.

      Some military analysts said that deadly concentration of missiles means that the U.S. Navy cannot risk sending the current generation of non-stealthy aircraft carriers, Ticonderoga Class cruisers, Arleigh Burke Class destroyers and other non-radar-evading ships into the strait if China attempts to invade Taiwan.

      While China has a law on its books stating that it will invade Taiwan unless Taipei leaders capitulate and submit to rule by Beijing, the United States has urged China to resolve matters peacefully, and is committed to defend Taiwan from invasion.

      But analysts say if non-stealthy U.S. ships are sent into the strait, all those Chinese missiles could sink the American vessels.

      At a Defense Writers Group breakfast with defense journalists, Space & Missile Defense Report asked Keating whether those analysts and critics are correct that China could deny U.S. access to the strait area, because of those missiles, and whether it would be helpful for the Navy to procure stealthy next-generation DDG 1000 destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), and more Virginia Class submarines to counter rapid Chinese submarine procurements.

      "Yeah, we probably could use a few of those," Keating declared.

      As to whether "a stealthy ship [would make] a big difference in the strait of Taiwan, a stealthy airplane being a big difference [such as the existing] B-2 [bomber], an F-22 [stealthy supersonic fighter-attack aircraft being produced by Lockheed Martin Corp.], a stealthy ship — could it help? You bet!"

      As to whether it would be essential, making a critical difference between success and failure, however, Keating said that he and other U.S. military leaders "don’t know that" yet. "But it would certainly help."

      The worth of such platforms, Keating said, would not be limited to just their ability to fight in case a missiles-wielding China attempted to invade Taiwan. Rather, he said, stealthy platforms could have even greater value in dissuading potential enemies from taking belligerent actions in the first place.

      "It is of less concern to us at the Pacific Command what particular piece of hardware do we employ" in a shooting war, but rather how the "full component, the full suite of systems, and systems of systems … ensures that the first shot is not fired," he explained.

      He said what is key with weapons platforms is that "both in utilization and on the shelf that it makes sure that countries like the People’s Republic of China do not pull their first trigger, that ensures the first shot is not fired."

      Keating also said the thought of obtaining those stealthy platforms made him feel like "the kid going in the candy story, [wanting] a little of all of the above."

      DDG 1000 destroyers would be built separately by Northrop Grumman Corp. [NOC] and General Dynamics Corp. [GD]. Littoral Combat Ships were built in a single-hull version by Lockheed and Marinette Marine, and a rival trimaran version by GD and Austal USA, but further work has been canceled on cost concerns after production of only one ship of each type. Virginia Class subs are built jointly by GD Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding. The F-22 Raptor is built by Lockheed, at least until the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Lightning II, begins production at the Lockheed facility.

      Just how many and what kind of weapons platforms the Navy, and other parts of the Department of Defense, receive in coming years will be spelled out in the federal government budget proposal that President Bush will send Congress a week from today.

      Keating said that "a personal concern of mine is our budget." The admiral said that "we must find a way to capitalize our capabilities that we have and we need in as efficient and economic way as possible." And that means the Navy probably could use "the very high end, sophisticated platforms" that offer stealth capabilities.

      As for submarines, some lawmakers in Congress have pointed with concern to the fact that China is buying multiple new classes of subs, simultaneously, and is procuring boats at a rate of about three per year — triple the U.S. attack subs build rate of one a year.

      They also note that a Chinese sub slipped up silently on a U.S. aircraft carrier group and then abruptly surfaced within torpedo range of the carrier Kitty Hawk, surprising the Americans.

      Referring to the Chinese subs acquisition moves, "We watch ’em carefully," Keating said. "It’s an area of warfare at which they’re stretching a little bit. Their numbers of submarines are increasing."

      And these aren’t second-rate weapons platforms, he said. "The capabilities resident in those submarines are not unimpressive."

      At the same time, Keating said Chinese subs aren’t better than U.S. subs. "They’re pretty good," he conceded. "We’re better."

      He doesn’t see a crisis in the numbers and capabilities of the rising Chinese military forces. "If it were bad, then we’d somewhat have to go to the secretary of defense and the president and say, ‘Boy, we’re got trouble in River City.’ We don’t."

      Keating also described his recent four-day trip to China, in which he indicated the Chinese leaders still haven’t adequately explained just why they are buying a huge array of military hardware, but they were more cordial to him than on his earlier visits.

      The getting-to-know-you sessions involved frank discussions, which Keating sees as progress. On the other hand, however, he said basics such as minimal day-to-day contacts between U.S. and Chinese military personnel aren’t possible. It’s not that U.S. phone calls to China are unanswered. The Chinese don’t even give out phone numbers for Americans to call their Sino counterparts, though Keating hasn’t given up on that, saying the issue still is working.

      Keating said it may be nice that Chinese military leaders are willing to show him or other American brass planes or ships. But, he said, what really counts is to know Chinese intent, and what China is going to do once it has amassed all that hardware and firepower.

      He also expressed frustration with China abruptly refusing port calls for the Kitty Hawk at Hong Kong, and for two small U.S. Navy minesweepers caught in a storm.

      There again, Keating said his hosts still didn’t provide the information that would permit him to understand the intent of China, the reason, for its refusal of port-call privileges.

      Keating said he heard one Chinese general tell reporters that China refused to permit the Kitty Hawk to make a long-planed port call at Hong Kong because the U.S. Navy didn’t follow proper procedures in applying for the visit.

      Not true, Keating said. The Navy has been doing port calls there for years, and knows the procedures well, he said.

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