In many ways, CAPT Fanell’s “China’s Global Navy – Today’s Challenge for the United States and the US Navy” is a short version of a book I previously discussed, China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power by Michael A McDevitt (Naval Institute Press, 2020). Both Fanell and McDevitt contend that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has already arrived as a global naval power and must be dealt with from that perspective. Written at the end of the Trump Administration, CAPT Fanell notes, “there remains significant practical tasks that must be completed if Washington is to disrupt Beijing’s designs successfully.” He goes on to say:
…the world can expect to see a Chinese naval force that enjoys a global presence composed of multiple aircraft carrier and amphibious strike groups, a credible submarine-launched ballistic-missile capababilty, an ever-present network of warships at sea around the globe 27/7/365, and the concomitant influence and power this would provide to the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
Fanell: China’s Global Navy, Naval War College Review v73, Nr. 4 Autumn 2020, p. 3
If you want to play out a hypothetical conflict between the US and China at sea, Fanell warns that reality is much closer than some may expect:
Given the PLAN’s decadelong experience operating in the far seas, the service’s operational and naval-construction trajectory, the PRC’s overall economic strength, and the regime’s established track record of intimidating neighbors into forfeiting their coastal-state rights to China, we can assess the PRC as being on track to become a global power as early as 2030, that it may be able to dominate the seven seas by 2049, and that it will use its power to expand China’s interests at the expense of others.
Fanell: China’s Global Navy, Naval War College Review v73, Nr. 4 Autumn 2020, p. 28
However, Fanell’s solutions may be a disappointment to wargamers looking for him to serve them up a scenario. Rather than calling for kinetic actions, Fanell advocates a “whole of government” approach. The result is an article that is more policy-prescriptive thus making it more suitable for deep background but not campaign or scenario creation.
RAND Corporation analysts Kimberly Jackson, Andrew Scobell, Stephen Webber, and Logan Ma looks at issues of Command and Control (C2) and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) in their research report Command and Control in U.S. Naval Competition with China which is available as a free download. This report is not only a good backgrounder on the C2 differences between the PLA Navy and the US Navy, it also has poses some questions that could make for a good “serious” wargame topic albeit a difficult one to design because C2 and wargames don’t necessarily go well together.
How is C2 exercised in the U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy?
How are these C2 concepts reflective of service culture?
How do these C2 structures support or challenge each nation’s shift to new maritime missions?
The U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy will likely be challenged to fully shift to new strategic postures if they do not adapt their existing concepts of C2
The U.S. Navy’s model of mission command appears conducive to counter-power projection missions in theory, but success will likely require increased investments in education and professionalism across the force.
The PLA Navy’s rigid control and command structure is likely to come under increasing strain given the relative independence and greater operations tempo required by power projection operations.
Currently, many unknowns exist, particularly in understanding how PLA Navy culture is evolving and how the Chinese Communist Party might weigh its preferred method of tight control throughout the PLA against more-effective power projection efforts.
Future Study = Wargame?
The part that interested me as a wargamer was actually the four topics the authors propose for future study:
What is more valuable to China: the ability to project power globally or retaining its rigid control and command system?
Will the PLA Navy’s increased experience and professional development affect the trust placed in PLA Navy personnel by senior PLA commanders? And how will increased PLA Navy professionalism affect control and command?
Would the Chinese Communist Party tolerate a PLA Navy that is more empowered to make independent decisions?
Would the PLA Navy taking a mission command approach to C2 be a threat to the United States?
Each of those study topics, in a way, make for a good jumping off point in a more serious wargame. My problem is finding a commercial wargame that gives one a good taste of C2 challenges out-of-the-box. In order to make it more realistic, one often needs to resort to some sort of pre-plotting or double-blind systems with a referee. Let’s be honest, the real questions about C2 are more than just an initiative roll to see who goes first;. A part of me feels like we need an OODA Loop game like Less Than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019)does for the Air Land Battle of the 1980’s in Europe. Amongst my commercial wargame titles some insight may be gained but it will require lots of tinkering:
Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Games, 2020): This wargame that verges into simulation is very good at depicting tactical situations but I am not sure the design can really be stretched to show the more operational-level elements of C2 outside of starting scenario conditions.
Indian Ocean Region – South China Sea: Volume II (Compass Games, 2021): This forthcoming second volume of John Gorkowski’s South China Sea-series of games is in many ways the 21st Century successor to the 1980’s Victory Games Fleet-series; however, there are no real C2 rules in the game.
Although the Chinese seem to be calling Nanchang a ‘destroyer,’ it almost anywhere else it would be a cruiser. Here is a datasheet on the ship that accompanied the commissioning ceremony:
In South China Sea, designer John Gorkowski identifies this class of ships as ‘CG TYPE 55.’ Here is the counter for the ship in the game:
The Quick Reference Card in South China Sea tells us how to decode the counter. It is also useful as we can compare the CG TYPE 55 to the US Navy ‘CG TICONDEROGA.’ Fair warning here – I did not assist in the development of South China Sea so I actually do not have any ‘official’ insight into how the various factors were decided upon. What follows is my interpretation of the factors in South China Sea and how they relate to the announced capabilities of the Type 055 destroyer.
Let’s first start by looking across the bottom of the CG TYPE 55 counter. The first factor is Gun – rated a 2. The Type 055 has a single 130mm gun forward. The Ticonderoga has 2x Mk45 5″/45 caliber lightweight guns. Although the guns are somewhat similar there are no half-factors in SCS so 2 seems fair.
U (Underwater) – 2: Very similar to the US TICO-class, the Type 055 is credited with a bow-mounted High/Medium-frequency sonar and a towed Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) as well as two helicopters. While Ticonderoga’s have torpedo tubes, the Type 055 carries the ‘CJ-5″ ASW rocket/missile. The U rating of 2 seems fair.
A/S (Anti-Surface) – 4 Range 6. The Type 055 is credited with carrying the YJ-18 anti-ship missile. According to US government sources, the YJ-18 has a range of 290nm, or 6.4 hexes in South China Sea. Although the missile is subsonic, the warhead of between 140-300kg mass is delivered by a supersonic sprint vehicle. A lethality rating of4seems fair although I worry that it may be underrated as compared to the Harpoon (4 Range 5) used by the US Navy. Recommendation: CHANGE the A/S rating to 5 Range 6 (Optional).
A/G (Anti-Ground) – 4 Range 10. The Type 055 is supposed to carry the CJ-10 cruise missile. Most sources give this missile a range of 1,500+ kilometers (809nm). In South China Sea-terms this would be a range of 17.7 hexes – well in excess of the 10 shown on the ship counter. The US Navy TLAM missile flies between 700-900nm – 15.5 to 20 hexes in SCS – but is only credited with a range of 12 (~2/3rds of max range?). Using that very rough rule, the CJ-10 could be range 12. As for lethality; the CJ-10 appears comparable to the Tomahawk so a lethality rating of 4 again appears reasonable. Recommendation: CHANGE ‘CG Type 55’ A/G rating to 4 Range 12.
Let us now turn to the combat factors on the upper right, Missile Defense and Torpedo. In South China Sea the CG TYPE 55 is given a Torpedo rating of 2. Yet, on the factsheet, no torpedo tubes appear. An oversight in the datasheet? Look for other sources….
The CG TYPE 55 is rated a 9 for Missile Defense. This is in part because of the 4-panel S-Band AESA multifunction radar with X-Band rotating AESA radars supporting the HHQ-9 anti-air missile. Note the color of the Missile Defense rating – black. In South China Sea, ships with a Missile Defense rating in RED, like US Navy Aegis-equipped ships, are capable of Area Missile Defense:
5.81 Units with MD scores printed in red have Area Missile Defense (AMD). AMD functions like MD (missile defense) but can also protect other friendly units while also threatening enemy air units in the same and adjacent hexes. Air units in air to air combat are the one exception; they are not protected by an AMD score.
5.82 Therefore, with the exception of air units in air to air combat, a targeted friendly unit can always cite the red AMD score of a friendly AMD-capable unit that is in the same or an adjacent hex and engaged in the current engagement. Any number of units can call on the same AMD any number of times.
These newer ships use modern combat management systems and air surveillance sensors, such as the Sea Eagle and Dragon Eye phased-array radars. These new units allow the PLAN surface force to operate outside shore-based air defense systems because one or two ships are equipped to provide air defense for the entire task group. (p. 70)
This makes a good case that the MD rating of the CG TYPE 55 should be a red AMD factor. As far as the lethality number? A factor of 9 seems a good place to start. Recommendation: CHANGE the MD factor to RED.
The numbers to the upper left of the counter are Move and Stealth. The Move factor is in line with what is expected of ships like this so we will leave that be. In South China Sea, Stealth is used to evade contact. When a unit enters the Illumination Range of a unit (5 hexes for a surface naval unit) the unit must stop and make an evasion roll (2d6 + Stealth). If the roll is greater than 11 the unit has evaded detection and can continue movement. In the case of the CG TYPE 55 a Stealth rating of 3 is very good, even better than the Stealth rating of 2 for US Arleigh Burke-class DDGs. Indeed, the much smaller Freedom-class has a Stealth factor of 3. Looking at the pictures of the Nanchang, there is some radar shaping but there are also some good radar-bouncing areas. To my (untrained) eye it looks more like an Arleigh Burke. Recommendation: CHANGE the Stealth rating of the CG TYPE 55 to 2.
There is one last ‘factor’ I want point out; the number of Steps for the CG TYPE 55. See those three boxes between the Move/Stealth and Missile Defense/Torpedo? The CG TYPE 55 is a three Step unit, more so than the CG TICONDEROGA with two-Steps. A multi-step unit is flipped on the first hit and destroyed when the number of hits equals the number of Steps. At full load a Ticonderoga weighs in at 9,600 tons, a bit smaller than the 13,000 full load tons of the Type 055 destroyer. Is that extra 30% worth an entire extra Step? Another consideration is the state of damage control training in the PLAN. When I see a Step in SCS I don’t just see how many ‘hit points’ the ship has but also how well the crew is trained to save the ship. The US Navy is amongst the best in the world and, to be frank, there are questions as to the real technical competence of the average PLAN sailor. My gut tells me that giving the CG TYPE 55 three Steps is too generous. Recommendation: CHANGE the number of Steps on the CG TYPE 55 to 2.
I want to be very clear that in making this ‘reassessment’ of the CG TYPE 55 in South China Sea I am categorically NOT saying the original version is flawed. Mr. Gorkowski, in taking on a modern subject like South China Sea, is at the mercy of publicly available information. Even in the few short years since South China Sea was first published, the information available has changed significantly. You can play a scenario with the out-of-the-box CG TYPE 55 or, if you want, look at my attempt to update. Whatever way you chose to play just make sure you are having fun while you do it!
This battle could play out on a small corner of the south map. This would save space and allow me to explore interaction of Air, Surface, and Submarine units in a low density environment.
But then I looked at the countermix, especially Vietnam. In 7th Fleet, Vietnam simply has no fleet! The Vietnamese People’s Air Force makes an appearance using older MiG-21 fighters. But the small Vietnamese fleet is nowhere to be found! This is because at the time the VPN had only lightly armed transports – negligible forces by the standard of 7th Fleet. Indeed, the “smallest” unit in 7th Fleet appears to be flotilla of several small ships (like older destroyers or corvettes) or a patrol squadron of patrol ships/combatants. Lightly armed transports? Forget about it!
So I am back to the (scenario) drawing board and thinking about another scenario. Now I know I have to “up the scale.” Given that the PRC was getting friendlier with the US during this period, maybe try PLAN versus Soviet Union? At the time, the Udaloy and Sovremennyy-class destroyers were just entering the Soviet fleet. Let’s see…a Soviet Task Group (Udaloy, Sovremennyy, Dubna replenishment ship) enroute to a friendship port call in Vietnam gets sideways with the PLAN…including a newer Han-class SSN? Could the Soviets also have a submarine (Foxtrot or Tango?) shadowing them to help “delouse” from those pesky American submarines?
I am also a fan of the Asia-Pacific theater, having spent way too many years in the Western Pacific. The Harpoon system does have a “sourcebook” for the Pacific Rim in the expansion Sea of Dragons, but it was published way back in 1997!
I would also point the wargamer to Andrew Erickson’s excellent website. Dr. Erickson is on the faculty of the Naval War College, China Maritime Studies Institute. He specializes in using Chinese-language sources to study the PLA Navy and is a prolific speaker and author on the topic.
Between these three sources one should be able to update Sea of Dragons and get a better sense of what the PLA Navy would look like in a tactical naval game like Harpoon 4. One probably also will need to purchase back issues of The Naval SITREP magazine from the Admiralty Trilogy Group on a site such as Wargame Vault to get many ship characteristics.
One of the War Colleges asked me for a streamlined version of the game for classroom use. They may or may not actually use it, but I plan to make such a “lite” version and share it with the community. ConSimWorld Forum, Aug 26, 2016
The work-in-progress is called South China Sea (SCS). John explained the changes between BtC and SCS:
The South China Sea (SCS) system is BtC pruned for play-ability. How did we do that? We took the scale down from 70 nautical miles per hex to 45. We standardized unit sizes at two-steps each with exceptions for aircraft carriers and certain large cruisers. That meant going with land battalions rather than regiments. And, we created a rule that allows naval units to move more than one hex in a single “go”, but included a mechanism, based on stealth, that enables the other side to “check” that move to create a more variable and volatile environment.
This last adjustment is most important and was most difficult. Because modern anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) have such long reach, 290 nmi in some cases, you can’t just let phasing ships “jump” more than one hex at a time without giving the non-phasing player a chance to react. Otherwise, the phasing player could move through his enemy’s field of fire, or beaten zone if you prefer, without drawing fire. So the new “intervention” mechanism allows the non-phasing player to “react” by stopping a multi-hex move by the phasing player, but not with certainty. So stealthy ships can dart two or three hexes at a time while larger less stealthy ships will not progress that far before the enemy can react.
What did not change? The core strike mechanism that applies across all forms of combat and the air naval movement/combat sequence all remain the same. ConSimWorld Forum, Nov 9, 2016
I have been participating in the playtest of SCS. My early verdict is I like the revised combat system, but question the political system. In an email exchange, John shared the following comment:
I know what you mean about political turns….The good news is that in several scenarios players can chose to just skip POL [Political] turns and go right to the action. Email from John Gorkowski, Jan 14, 2017
John is caught between two customers here – the immediate paying customer (important for income NOW) and the future gaming consumer (potential future income). I think SCS will be a useful addition to the library of modern naval combat. I sincerely hope SCS makes it to the public so we too can explore potential South China Sea conflicts.
Although aircraft carriers might have some value for China in Taiwan-related conflict scenarios, they are not considered critical for Chinese operations in such scenarios, because Taiwan is within range of land-based Chinese aircraft. Consequently, most observers believe that China is acquiring carriers primarily for their value in other kinds of operations that are more distant from China’s shores, and to symbolize China’s status as a major world power. DOD states that “Given the fact that Taiwan can be reached by land-based aviation, China’s aircraft carrier program would offer very limited value in a Taiwan scenario and would require additional naval resources for protection. However, it would enable China to extend its naval air capabilities elsewhere.” (p. 20-21)
Regardless of the threat, it will be fun to play out a wargame scenario using Liaoning. Indeed, the Oct 2011 issue of The Naval SITREP from Clash of Arms featured a Harpoon scenario “The Wisdom of Shi Lang” (Shi Lang being what the west originally thought the carrier would be named).
Take a peek at this article over at the Foreign Policy website. Time to get Harpoon 4.1out and start generating some scenarios! Hmm, Sea of Dragonswas published in 1997. So much has changed an update is urgently needed.
If the author is right, and the key factor is the human equation of combat, then no wargame is going to accurately simulate the battles. Without very detailed (and despised) rules for when to break off combat most wargames are “fought to the death” or past the point where a rational commander would stop fighting.
The official Chinese military website Jiefangjun Bao Online on 24 August published this picture of the Type 022 Houbei-class fast attack missile boat. The text that accompanies the picture – besides being written in poor English – does provide fodder for a wargame scenario.
“The confrontation drill organized by a guided-missile speedboat detachment of the PLA Navy under complicated electro-magnetic conditions was in full swing on August 22, 2011. Hardly did the mine-sweeping ships of the Red Side intrude into the mine matrix set up by the Blue Side when they suffered electronic disturbance caused by the latter. Then the four new-type guided-missile speedboats of the Red Side rapidly conducted electronic counter-attack by way of roundabout communication, camouflaged intelligence and radio deception which led to the failure of the Blue Side’s audio-visual equipment before launching fierce fire attack.”
Let’s break this down into some scenario-specific items:
“The confrontation drill organized by a guided-missile speedboat detachment of the PLA Navy….” – other photos show a large formation of at least 10 boats so a detachment of that size is reasonable
“Hardly did the mine-sweeping ships of the Red Side intrude into the mine matrix set up by the Blue Side when they suffered electronic disturbance caused by the latter.” – this is an anti-access scenario where the Blue Side is trying to sweep a minefield while the Red Side is trying disrupt that mission
“Then the four new-type guided-missile speedboats of the Red Side rapidly conducted electronic counter-attack by way of roundabout communication, camouflaged intelligence and radio deception” – so even though the larger group of 10 boats was shown they operate in smaller units of possibly four boats; the reference to “roundabout communications” may indicate a use of other targeting data (shore-based?) and the “camouflaged intelligence and radio deception” may reference an ECM/ECCM or EMCON environment
“[W]hich led to the failure of the Blue Side’s audio-visual equipment before launching fierce fire attack.” – the reference to AV equipment seemingly implies only a concern with the visual or near-visual (IR?) spectrum but the overall tone of the article definitely leaves one concerned about operations in a heavy ECM/ECCM environment.
So what we have is a scenario where the Blue Side is attempting to sweep a Red minefield which is being defended by 10 missile boats operating two to three smaller detachments supported by shore-based targeting in a heavy ECM/ECCM environment. Who will win? Sounds like a good Harpoon scenario in the making!