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Iran Threatens To Sink US Carrier With Torpedo

Iran Threatens U.S., Persian Gulf Cities with Missile Attacks

By John T. Bennett

Iran might pound Persian Gulf cities with ballistic missiles and use swift boats to attack American war ships in an attempt to dissuade a U.S. attack on its nuclear arms sites, a new report states.

Tehran likely would employ a mixed game plan against the U.S. military consisting of “advanced technology” and “guerilla tactics,” according to a research organization with close ties to the Pentagon.

Before that, Iran would first lean hard on weaker Middle Eastern nations to convince those states to deny Washington access to bases on their soil, it states.

Some of the report’s grimmer scenarios predict Iranian ballistic missile launches on Gulf cities in an attempt to convince other nations to resist providing support to an American military operation.

The report also forecasts efforts by Tehran to use Shiite Muslim “proxy groups” to attack U.S. allies in the region. Similar groups plagued the U.S.-led war effort in Iraq for years, and some officials and experts said some acted with Tehran’s backing. [Cantor Presses for More Pressure on Iran.]

Anthony Cordesman, a Pentagon adviser, acknowledged Iranian officials might give some kind of support to extremist groups in a place like Yemen.

But he cast doubt on the likelihood that Iran would fire missiles at Gulf cities, or if its missiles would even work. [How Iran Could Affect Your Wallet in 2012.]

“Iran is much more likely to look at this and realize when you see this type of exchange, you ignore the fact that there are no rules as to how the U.S. and others would respond,” said Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

An Iranian missile barrage on Gulf population centers, he said, could lead the United States and its allies to “take out their oil refineries.”

“Then, their economy grinds to a halt,” Cordesman said. “If Iran can’t export [oil], it can’t earn. And that creates critical problems for the regime.”

“Every time they escalate, they open themselves to attack on their own refineries, their own missile systems, and their navy and air force,” Cordesman said.

Iran also could use new weapons, like advanced ballistic missiles, to attack U.S. bases and other forces positioned around the Persian Gulf, wrote Mark Gunzinger, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, in the report.

“Iran’s hybrid strategy would continue at sea, where its naval forces would engage in swarming ‘hit-and-run’ attacks using sophisticated guided munitions in the confined and crowded littorals of the Strait of Hormuz and possibly out into the Gulf of Oman,” according to the report. “Iran could coordinate these attacks with salvos of anti-ship cruise missiles and swarms of unmanned aircraft launched either from the Iranian shore or from the islands guarding the entrance to the Persian Gulf.”

For those reasons, Pentagon officials would be wise to move U.S. forces and naval ships beyond the suspected range of Iran’s arsenal, the report states. The U.S. also should steel its bases in the region to limit the damage Iranian missile strikes could do to those sites, while also inking deals for a series of “distant” sites from which military operations could be launched, the report states.

But Cordesman said there is little evidence to show Iranian missiles could reach American war ships. “Nobody has said Iran has successfully tested their long-range missiles, especially with these kind of warheads,” he said.

Iran’s growing arsenal of weapons also would require Defense Department brass to take a second look at the kinds of weapons it is buying, Gunzinger states. He calls for stealthy bombers that can evade Iranian radars and missile systems, drone aircraft that can operate off aircraft carriers, an amphibious troop vehicle “optimized for ground combat operations,” among other new weapons.

The CSBA analyst acknowledges such changes will be difficult as the Pentagon begins implementing $350 billion in budget cuts that will span a decade. (The department claims that will equal a real-world cut from planned spending of over $480 billion.)

“Achieving this within an increasingly constrained budget will require defense planners to make difficult decisions,” Gunzinger writes, “the United States cannot meet the challenges that Iran could pose to its vital interests in the Gulf by simply spending more and adding new capabilities and capacity.”

With most of Washington – and the GOP presidential candidates – debating whether the United States should use military force to halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the report paints one of the first sketches of how a U.S.-Iranian conflict might play out.

The Pentagon will need to change how it fights and what it buys – even amid declining annual budgets – to deal effectively with Iranian systems fielded in recent years, says CSBA. These weapons and supporting platforms are tailored to significantly hinder the U.S. military’s ability to move freely within an enemy’s territory – including the air, at and under the sea, and increasingly in cyberspace.

The report from comes just weeks after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called a nuclear-armed Iran a “red line” for Washington and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey revealed Pentagon officials are examining Iran strike options.


The Day The Carriers Die

The War Nerd: This Is How the Carriers Will Die
By Gary Brecher

I’ve been saying for a long time that aircraft carriers are just history’s most expensive floating targets, and that they were doomed.

But now I can tell you exactly how they’re going to die. I’ve just read one of the most shocking stories in years. It comes from the US Naval Institute, not exactly an alarmist or anti-Navy source. And what it says is that the US carrier group is scrap metal.

The Chinese military has developed a ballistic missile, Dong Feng 21, specifically designed to kill US aircraft carriers: “Because the missile employs a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable, the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased. It is estimated that the missile can travel at mach 10 and reach its maximum range of 2000km in less than 12 minutes.” That’s the US Naval Institute talking, remember. They’re understating the case when they say that, with speed, satellite guidance and maneuverability like that, “the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased.

You know why that’s an understatement? Because of a short little sentence I found farther on in the article—and before you read that sentence, I want all you trusting Pentagon groupies to promise me that you’ll think hard about what it implies. Here’s the sentence: “Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.”

That’s right: no defense at all. The truth is that they have very feeble defenses against any attack with anything more modern than cannon. I’ve argued before no carrier group would survive a saturation attack by huge numbers of low-value attackers, whether they’re Persians in Cessnas and cigar boats or mass-produced Chinese cruise missiles. But at least you could look at the missile tubes and Phalanx gatlings and pretend that you were safe. But there is no defense, none at all, against something as obvious as a ballistic missile.

So it doesn’t matter one god damn whether the people in the operations room of a targeted carrier could track the Dong Feng 21 as it lobbed itself at them. They might do a real hall-of-fame job of tracking it as it goes up and comes down. But so what? Let me repeat the key sentence here: “Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.

Think back a ways. How old is the ballistic missile? Kind of a trick question; a siege mortar is a ballistic missile, just unguided. A trebuchet on an upslope outside a castle is a ballistic weapon. But serious long-range rocket-powered ballistic weapons go back at least to the V-2. A nuclear-armed V2 would have been a pretty solid way of wiping out a carrier group, and both components, the nuke and the ballistic missile, were available as long ago as 1945.

A lot has happened since then, like MIRVs, mobile launchers, massively redundant satellite guidance—but the thing to remember is that every single change has favored the attacker. Every single goddamn change.

You know that Garmin satnav you use to find the nearest Thai place when the in-laws are visiting? If you were the Navy brass, that should have scared you to death. The Mac on your kid’s bedroom desk should have scared you. Every time electronics got smaller, cheaper and more efficient, the carrier became more of a death trap. Every time stealth tech jumped another step, the carrier was more obviously a bad idea. Smaller, cooler-running engines: another bad sign for the carrier. Every single change in technology in the past half a century has had “Stop building carriers!” written all over it. And nobody in the navy brass paid any attention.

The lesson here is the same one all of you suckers should have learned from watching the financial news this year: the people at the top are just as dumb as you are, just meaner and greedier. And that goes for the ones running the US surface fleet as much as it does for the GM or Chrysler honchos. Hell, they even look the same. Take that Wagoner ass who just got the boot from GM and put him in a tailored uniform and he could walk on as an admiral in any officer’s club from Guam to Diego Garcia. You have to stop thinking somebody up there is looking out for you.

Remember that one sentence, get it branded onto your arm: “Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.” What does that tell you about the distinguished gentlemen with all the ribbons on their chest who’ve been standing up on carrier bridges looking like they know what they’re doing for the past 50 years? They’re either stupid or so sleazy they’re willing to make a career commanding ships they know, goddamn well know, are floating coffins for thousands of ranks and dozens of the most expensive goldplated airplanes in the history of the world. You call that patriotic? I’d hang them all.

That’s why it’s so sickening to read shit like the following:

“The purpose of the Navy,
” Vice Admiral John Bird, commander of the Seventh Fleet, tells me, “is not to fight.” The mere presence of the Navy should suffice, he argues, to dissuade any attack or attempt to destabilize the region. From Yokosuka, Guam, and Honolulu, the Navy is sending its ships on missions to locales as far away as Madagascar. On board the Blue Ridge, the vice admiral’s command ship anchored at Yokosuka, huge display screens allow officers to track the movements of any country’s military vessels cruising from the international date line in the east to the African coast in the west—the range of the Seventh Fleet’s zone of influence.

That’s the kind of story people are still writing. It’s so stupid, that first line, I won’t even bother with it: “The purpose of the Navy is not to fight.” No kidding. The Seventh Fleet covers the area included in that 2000 km range for the new Chinese anti-ship weapons, so I guess it’s a good thing they’re not there to fight.

Stories like this were all over the place in the last days of the British Empire. For some dumbass reason, these reporters love the Navy. They were waving flags and feeling good about things when the Repulse and the Prince of Wales steamed out with no air cover to oppose Japanese landings. Afterward, when both ships were lying on the sea floor, nobody wanted to talk about it much. What I mean to say here is, don’t be fooled by the happy talk. That’s the lesson from GM, Chrysler and the Navy: these people don’t know s$35. And they don’t care either. They’re going to ride the system and hope it lasts long enough to see them retire to a house by a golf course, get their daughters married and buy a nice plot in an upscale cemetery. They could give a damn what happens to the rest of us.

All day I’ve been thinking about the Navy and the fact that it has no defenses at all against ballistic missiles. The main point, the one I was trying to make in my last story, is that when something comes along like this and you’re tempted to say, “Well, they must have thought of that already, they must have some defense in mind…”-when you start talking like that, just slap yourself and remember all the other military traditions that kept going long after anybody with sense knew they were finito.

The most obvious example is European heavy cavalry trotting into longbow fire again and again. Crecy demonstrated that knightly charges were suicide against the longbow in 1346. But the French aristocracy had so much invested in prancing around on their damn steeds that it took another demonstration, at Agincourt in 1415 to even start to get them thinking about it. I’m no math wiz but I think that 1415 minus 1346…yup, that’s 69 years between catastrophes. Lessons learned? None.

These dodos always have one thing in common: whether it’s knights charging with lances on very expensive horses or top gun brats like McCain zooming onto carrier decks in history’s most expensive aircraft, you’ll always find that the worst, most over-funded services are always the ones where the rich kids go to show their stuff. Seriously: why are there aircraft carriers? For asses like John McCain to crash on. Why do they keep getting funded long after they’ve been shown up? The same reason knights were galloping around pretending that the longbow hadn’t turned half their friends into pincushions: because it was a way of life for the richest and dumbest people in the country and they weren’t about to let it go.

It’s weird the way war nerds who are up to the minute on the specs of this or that weapons system never think hard about what those specs mean. Let me tell you the example I’m thinking of here. Y’all remember the Harpoon, the US Navy’s first dedicated anti-ship guided surface to surface missile, right? Good ol’ AGM-84? A fine weapon by all accounts. You’ll remember it entered service in 1977.

Long time ago, right? Jimmy Carter, the peacenik jerk who got us in this Iranian mess, was still president, unfortunately. People still drove American cars and spoke English. Olden Times, in other words.

Well, instead of just paging through Jane‘s and drooling over the Harpoon’s range and 221-kg warhead (don’t bother lying, I spent years doing that stuff myself and I know), think about what that weapons means in terms of this key sentence from my last story: “Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.” Now put that together with the fact that the Harpoon, way back in the Disco Era, had a cool little feature called “pop-up.” And what it meant is that the Harpoon itself worked as a ballistic missile. So even in our own inventory, we’ve had a weapon lying around for decades that could have taken out all our carriers.

What “pop-up” means is-well, it’s actually kind of cool and for once I can talk my old fave, hardware, without feeling like a tool. So anyway, the Harpoon has an interesting trajectory. It’s fired from vertical or diagonal tubes on the deck or the hold of surface ships, but there are other models that can be launched from aircraft or even subs. If you’ve seen video of a harpoon launch, you see it zoom up from the tube, then slide down to fly level, just above the waves, so’s to avoid enemy radar.

But once the Harpoon’s own radar has spotted the target, does it keep flying level to slam into the side of the ship? Nope. I’ll quote from the owner’s manual: “Once a target has been located and the seeker locked…the missile climbs rapidly to about 1800m before diving on the target (“pop-up maneuver”).”


American-fired Harpoon wastes a pesky Libyan missile corvette back in 1986.

In other words, the Harpoon does a last-minute transformation from wave-skimmer to ballistic missile. If you diagrammed its flight path, seen from the side, You’d get a capital “P” lying on its back, with the loop of the “P” being the pop-up maneuver.

The reason the Harpoon was designed to hit the target from above rather than the side is simple: a ships defenses are configured to stop planes (and missiles, even though they don’t work against missiles and everybody knows it) coming in diagonally or horizontally. To repeat that sentence again–and I’m going to keep repeating it till everybody realizes what it means–”ships currently [just like in 1977 when the Harpoon entered service] have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.”

So we have the Navy’s own weapons system testifying against it: way back in Carter’s time the Navy bought a weapon that was designed to hit ships like a ballistic missile, yet now, forty years later, USN ships have no defense against ballistic missiles.

It gets worse. The Navy didn’t even want the Harpoon at all. It was only adopted because after seeing Soviet-made anti-ship missiles destroy the Israeli destroyer Eilat in 1967, a few of the more honest R&D guys at the Pentagon forced the Navy to shop for their own model. The Navy-remember, they’re just like the French heavy cavalry brass of the late 14th century, trying real hard not to think about the real world-didn’t like the idea of anti-ship missiles at all. They were the equivalent of the longbow: unmanned, longrange, un-chivalrous weapons, and you couldn’t drink with them at the officer’s club.

But the Eilat sinking was so embarrassing it forced a few hungover sober moments. Here’s the pride of the Israeli navy, the INS Eilat, formerly HMS Zealous, doing what surface ships do best: lookin’ good and being completely useless. Yes, useless. I’m sick of softplaying it and I’ll say outright: any surface vessel bigger than a patrol boat is useless scrap iron, and the story of the Eilat proves it.

It’s October 21, 1967. A few months after Israel’s big stomp of the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian armies in the Six Day War. The Eilat, all 1700 tons of it, has an easy mission: gunning its engines back and forth in front of Port Said to intimdate the locals. Why not? It’s the “war of attrition,” a sort of lukewarm war between Israel and Egypt, a little sniping, the odd bombing, nothing much. The Eilat is just there to say “Nyah nyah,” basically, which is about all big surface vessels are good for anyway, but what the Hell, it’s 1967, gas is still about 25 cents a gallon, and Israel is victorious everywhere, what could go wrong?

This: two Egyptian missile boats-small craft carrying big bad weapons, the only sort of surface craft that make any military sense-come out of the port and fire Styx missiles (SS-N-2). The Eilat was hit by between two and four Styx, depending on whose story you read, and sank very quickly. 47 of the crew died, and 41 were wounded. That’s an awful lot of casualties when you consider that the IDF lost less than a thousand soldiers taking all of Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Especially because the guys on the Eilat died for nothing, just showing off.

The Styx was a simple Soviet design that had been in service for years when it sank the Eilat. Like the longbow, antiship missiles were just not taken seriously because they were cheap peasant weapons, whereas if you were roaring around in an ex-Brit destroyer, you were somebody. It’s that simple. That stupid.

The difference between the Israeli navy and ours is simple: the Israelis learned their lesson and switched to smaller, lighter missile craft. No more ocean-going muscle cars to act like giant magnetized targets. The newer Israeli boats are small enough that when you lose one, like they did in the 2006 war to land-based Hezbollah surface to surface missiles, you don’t suffer 100 casualties.

That’s one way the US Navy could have gone after the Eilat went down: a fleet of smaller, lighter ships, basically ships you could afford to lose. There are some real interesting computer modeled naval war games that seem to be telling us that’s the way to invest your naval budget: lots of small ships carrying big missiles.

Another way would have been to develop an effective defense weapon against ballistic missiles. Maybe the navy tried that; maybe that’s part of what the whole Star Wars boondoggle was actually about, protecting the carriers against weapons like Dong Feng 21. I don’t know.

But it’s real clear by now that if they did try it, they failed. There is no defense. So either you go with boats you can afford to lose, or you downsize the navy radically, turn it into a low-tech anti-piracy force only used against stone-age opponents like the Somalis, or you go the U-boat route the Germans took when they realized the age of the battleship was over, sticking to subs. Because one way or another, if we get into it for real with China or even Iran, all our ships are going to subs, one way or the other.

Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to [email protected]


“Hypothetical” Surprise Attack On U.S. Outlined By China

Hypothetical attack on U.S. outlined by China

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By Patrick Winn – Staff writer

In a hypothetical future scenario, the U.S. and China are poised to clash — likely over Taiwan.

The democratic Republic of China, commonly called Taiwan — which America backs and the communist People’s Republic of China considers part of its territory — frequently irritates Chinese leaders with calls for greater independence from the mainland. But while the American military mulls its options, Chinese missiles hit runways, fuel lines, barracks and supply depots at U.S. Air Force bases in Japan and South Korea. Long-range warheads destroy American satellites, crippling Air Force surveillance and communication networks. A nuclear fireball erupts high above the Pacific Ocean, ionizing the atmosphere and scrambling radars and radio feeds.

This is China’s anti-U.S. sucker punch strategy.

It’s designed to strike America’s military suddenly, stunning and stalling the Air Force more than any other service. In a script written by Chinese military officers and defense analysts, a bruised U.S. military, beholden to a sheepish American public, puts up a small fight before slinking off to avoid full-on war.

This strategic outlook isn’t hidden in secret Chinese documents. It’s printed in China’s military journals and textbooks. And for much of last year, Mandarin literates and defense experts — working for the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Rand Corp. on an Air Force contract — combed through a range of Chinese military sources.

They emerged with “Entering the Dragon’s Lair,” a lengthy report on how the Chinese People’s Liberation Army would likely confront the U.S. military and how the Air Force in particular can brace itself. In many cases, the theoretical enemy nation China’s officers discuss in these scenarios isn’t explicitly named but is unmistakably the U.S.

“These aren’t war plans,”
said report co-author Roger Cliff, a former Defense Department strategist and China military specialist who spoke to Air Force Times from Taiwan. “This is the military talking to itself. It’s not designed for foreigners or even China’s general public to read.”

Element of surprise

When it comes to conflict with the U.S., Chinese military analysts favor age-old schoolyard wisdom: Throw the first punch and hit hard.

“Future conflicts are likely to be short, intense affairs that might consist of a single campaign,” Cliff said. “They’re thinking about ways to get the drop on us. Most of our force is not forward-deployed.”

China’s experts concede its army would lose a head-on fight, with one senior colonel comparing such a scenario to “throwing an egg against a rock.” Instead, the Chinese would attempt what Rand calls an “anti-access” strategy: slowing the deployment of U.S. forces to the Pacific theater, damaging operations within the region and forcing the U.S. to fight from a distance.

“Taking the enemy by surprise,” one Chinese military expert wrote, “would catch it unprepared and cause confusion within and huge psychological pressure on the enemy and help [China] win relatively large victories at relatively small costs.” Another military volume suggests feigning a large-scale military training exercise to conceal the attack’s buildup.

The Dragon’s Lair

Striking U.S. air bases — specifically command-and-control facilities, aircraft hangars and surface-to-air missile launchers — would be China’s first priority if a conflict arose, according to Rand’s report.

U.S. facilities in South Korea and Japan, even far-south Okinawa, sit within what Rand calls the “Dragon’s Lair”: a swath of land and sea along China’s coast. This is an area reachable by cruise missiles, jet-borne precision bombs and local covert operatives. Air Force bases within this area include Osan and Kunsan in South Korea, as well as Misawa, Yokota and Kadena in Japan. And in a conflict over Taiwan, any nation allowing “an intervening superpower” such as the U.S. to operate inside its territory can expect a Chinese attack, according to China’s defense experts.

China is designing ground-launched cruise missiles capable of nailing targets more than 900 miles away — well within striking range of South Korea and much of Japan, according to the report. Cruise missiles able to reach Okinawa — home to Kadena Air Base — are in development.

The Chinese would first launch “concentrated and unexpected” attacks on tarmacs using runway-penetrating missiles and, soon after, would target U.S. aircraft. Saboteurs would play a role in reconnaissance, harassing operations and even “assassinating key personnel,” according to another military expert.

Chinese fighter jets would scramble to intercept aerial refueling tankers and cargo planes sent to shuttle in fuel, munitions, supplies or troops. High-explosive cluster bombs would target pilot quarters and other personnel buildings.

Because the American public is “abnormally sensitive” about military casualties, according to an article in China’s Liberation Army Daily, killing U.S. airmen or other personnel would spark a “domestic anti-war cry” on the home front and possibly force early withdrawal of U.S. forces. (“The U.S. experience in Somalia is usually cited in support of this assertion,” according to the Rand report.) Once this hard-and-fast assault on U.S. bases commenced, the Chinese army would “swiftly divert” its forces and “guard vigilantly against enemy retaliation,” according to a Chinese expert.

Dumb and blind The PLA also would likely use less conventional attacks on the American military’s vital communications network. The goal, as one Chinese expert put it: leaving U.S. combat capabilities “blind,” “deaf” and “paralyzed.

Losing early-warning systems designed to detect incoming missiles would be, for the Air Force, the most devastating setback — one that could force the service to exit the region altogether, according to Rand.

China could also launch a nuclear “e-bomb,” or electromagnetic explosive, that would fry U.S. communication equipment while ionizing the atmosphere for minutes to hours, according to the report. This would likely jam radio signals in a 900-mile diameter beneath the nuclear fireball.

The PLA could also employ long-range anti-satellite missiles — similar to one successfully tested last January — to destroy one or more American satellites. However, the PLA has a host of less dramatic options: short-range jammers hidden in suitcases or bombs and virus attacks on Air Force computer networks.

U.S. Air Force options

Shielding against a swift Chinese onslaught is, according to Rand, as simple as reinforcing a runway or as complex as cloaking the orbit of military satellites.

In the short term, U.S. air bases inside the Dragon’s Lair should add an extra layer of concrete to their runways and bury fuel tanks underground. All aircraft, the report said, should be parked in hardened shelters, especially fighter jets.

Parking larger aircraft — bombers, tankers and E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems jets — in hard-shell hangars would be expensive and difficult but likely worth the cost, according to the report.

U.S. fighter jets remain the best defense against incoming Chinese missile attacks. But, given China’s taste for sudden attacks, surface-launched missile defense systems must be installed long before a conflict roils. Because the PLA is expected to strike quickly, the report said, waiting for the first tremors of conflict is not an option.

The Air Force also should fortify itself against Chinese hackers by using software encryption, isolating critical computer systems and preparing contingency plans to communicate without a high-bandwidth network. Though China maintains a “no first use” nuclear bomb policy, the U.S., according to Rand, should warn China that nuclear electromagnetic pulse attacks will be considered acts of nuclear aggression and could prompt nuclear retaliation.

Rand insists the Air Force must defend satellites — which support communication, reconnaissance, bomb guidance and more — against China’s proven satellite-killing missiles. This could be accomplished in the Cold War tradition of mutually assured destruction by threatening to retaliate in kind if the PLA blasts U.S. satellites.

“That might be the one restraining factor,
” Cliff said. “They might not want to start that space war.”

Or, Rand suggests, the U.S. could invest heavily in satellite protection or evasion techniques, including stealth, blending in with other satellite constellations or perhaps developing and deploying microsatellites capable of swarming to defend larger satellites, which the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working toward.

Could this really happen? The Chinese first-strike strategy is “more than hypothetical,” according to the report. But in the near term, at least, it’s considered unlikely.

If the most contentious issue is Taiwan, Cliff said, then the likely trigger would be Taiwanese elections, where assertions of complete independence from the mainland can infuriate Chinese leaders. China’s current president, Hu Jintao, has built up China’s military but also its ties with America. In 2012, however, when Taiwan holds an election and mainland China’s leadership is expected to turn over, perhaps for the worse, the risk of conflict could increase.

“It really depends on the circumstances,
” Cliff said. “Would Taiwan be the provocateur? If so, it might be hard for the American public to support intervention.”

However, if China moves to capture control of the island, Cliff said he believes the U.S. would face a rocky dilemma.

“Are we really going to let a small, democratic country get snuffed out by a huge authoritarian country — especially when you think about how our own country came into existence?”
Cliff said.

As China pours more resources into its evolving and expanding military, it buys the power to more strongly assert itself against America. In November, China denied U.S. Navy minesweepers shelter from a storm and, in another incident that month, turned down an Air Force C-17 flight shuttling supplies to the American consulate in Hong Kong. Experts speculate this was a rebuff to American arms sales to Taiwan, as well as President Bush’s autumn meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of another state China claims, Tibet.

“If this conflict happened today, I’m certain we’d prevail,”
Cliff said. “But as time goes on, that’s not a given.”