Why Help China’s Military Progress?

The head of China’s navy, Adm. Wu Shengli, recently asked his American counterpart, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, to allow Chinese officers assigned to its new aircraft carrier to board an American carrier to learn about maintenance and operational procedures. United States policy makers are considering the request. It is a bad idea.

Although military-exchange programs are widely believed to reduce the chances of misunderstandings that lead to armed conflict, Washington must view them through the lens of American security interests. This proposal would be less an exchange than a transfer of knowledge and perhaps even of technology.

The Chinese stand to gain far more in this deal than the United States. At a time when tensions in Asia are rising over Beijing’s more assertive posture toward its neighbors, Washington should not give a potential boost to the Chinese military.

The Chinese navy commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in 2012, and its pilots have been practicing carrier-based operations — mainly launches, arrested landings and safety drills — ever since. To watch videos of these drills is to recognize how the Chinese have borrowed from the American instruction manual. As retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly, former commander of the Nimitz strike group, pointed out, the Chinese have already copied, in detail, safety techniques to reduce damage to aircraft from small debris left on deck by hard landings and visual communications to control takeoffs.

The recent request by Admiral Wu was more direct than the usual show-and-tells that foreign dignitaries typically receive when they visit American warships. He has made it clear he would like to focus on the “details” of tactics and maintenance.

The Chinese still want to learn exactly what parts of the planes, arresting gear and catapult systems need maintenance between flights, and how often. Even allowing the Chinese to see the level of automation or redundancy in certain American systems would go a long way to speeding up their learning curve — and, ultimately, strengthening their military.

Perhaps the most basic reason not to entertain Admiral Wu’s request is one of the Chinese military’s other projects: the Dongfeng, a surface-to-surface missile designed specifically to sink or disable aircraft carriers at distances of up to 1,000 miles. The U.S. Navy should not permit a nation that is developing such a carrier-killer to spend time studying American ships.

An aircraft carrier gives a nation the ability to project its military far beyond the range of land-based planes and forces. Helping Beijing to extend its military reach is not something the United States should be enabling during a time when China is increasingly antagonizing its neighbors. China’s ongoing provocations with Japan and the Philippines over disputed territories, and its recent temporary stationing of an oil rig off Vietnam, give its neighbors reason to worry about Beijing’s plans.

When Adm. William Crowe was chairman of the joint chiefs in the late 1980s, he invited his Soviet counterpart, General Staff Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, aboard an American carrier. The admiral’s purpose was to reinforce President Reagan’s message that the Soviets would have to spend far more than they could afford to match America’s military capabilities.

Today, the Obama administration’s argument for agreeing to the Chinese request appears to be weaker. The lure of better ties with an up-and-coming superpower must be attractive for Washington, particularly in light of the warming relations between Moscow and Beijing. But that is insufficient reason to share the hard-earned lessons of aircraft carrier maintenance with the Chinese.

As retired Vice Adm. William Crowder, former commander of the Seventh Fleet, commenting on the Chinese request, told me, “Technical skill is important, but 100 years of experience — including a good deal of tragedy on the deck and in the air — is the key element in the U.S. Navy’s tactical air power.”

Such hard-earned experience is not to be given away lightly.

Steve Cohen is an attorney in New York and a former director of the United States Naval Institute.

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *