9 August 2012
The Sydney Morning Herald
By Dylan Welch
THE US government might like to deny it, but Barack Obama's former intelligence chief has confirmed China is a principal target of a major US war plan.
The American plan, known in Washington as Air-Sea Battle, is strategically flawed, Australia's foremost regional defence expert, Hugh White, said, and risks escalating a US-China struggle to the level of nuclear strikes. It is also known to have angered the Chinese military, and the confirmation is likely to be viewed with displeasure in Beijing.
The confirmation was provided by Admiral Dennis Blair, a straight-talking Asia expert who until 2010 was Mr Obama's director of national intelligence. Before that he led the US Pacific Command, which represents about a fifth of the US military machine.
His answers were in response to questions posed by the Herald about Air-Sea Battle, a Pentagon strategy designed to knock out an enemy's long-range surveillance radar and precision missiles, followed by a blistering air and sea assault.
When asked about Air-Sea Battle and whether it directly related to China, Admiral Blair said: ''I'm not in the Pentagon any more, so I can't say [what] that [is] in particular, but it doesn't take any classified piece of information to let you know that countries like Iran and China … have taken advantage of technology in terms of submarines and missiles to be able to keep US maritime and air forces at a distance.''
As a result, he said, it was the job of US military commanders to ''figure out ways that we can send our forces to conduct military operations despite these sorts of threats''.
It is widely understood Iran would pose very little threat to a full-scale US military campaign, and Air-Sea Battle is unofficially acknowledged in Washington as the central tenet of American plans to deal with an aggressive and heavily armed China.
''I don't doubt for a moment … that the real target of the Air-Sea Battle is China,'' said Professor White, the author of a just-published book on the US-China relationship, The China Choice.
Professor White is also a strong critic of Air-Sea Battle, which he says has three fundamental problems. ''Firstly, I don't think it will work; second, even if it does work operationally it won't achieve its strategic aims; and thirdly it runs a very strong sense of escalating to a nuclear war.''
Professor White said the battle plan was also an old 20th century concept that is being repackaged for a 21st century enemy.
''The US has always done sea control in the Pacific, but what's changed? The enemy has changed. And he has a boat, as they say,'' Professor White said.
Admiral Blair also believes it is an old strategy that has been repackaged.
''The concept is nothing new, in typical American fashion we often pour the old wine into new bottles with fancy new labels. But the navy and air force co-operating to be able to get to our allies that are within range of Chinese missiles is nothing new, and most Americans expect that to be their job.''