There Will Be No Alliance vs China. Avoiding a Russian-American War Will Be Success Enough

China, which isn't even a military super power yet, does not threaten Russia

Two things coincided today after I and Arctic Fox had short exchange on the issue of US Navy and WestPac and I think it is a good idea to give this issue a separate post and discussion. First, what attracted attention was this piece in Russia's Vzglyad with a symptomatic title of Real Combat Capabilities of China's Navy Are Obviously Exaggerated (in Russian). The piece is written by a Russian naval architect Alexander Shishkin and, despite some debatable claims, raises some very important questions about what I was writing for years now and what my second book is about—that is the REAL balance of (military) power. Enough to quote here Shishkin's conclusion which I support completely.

Проблема № 1: подводные силы

В ходе строительства Большого флота у Китая не все идет гладко. Китайцы строят его, широко применяя испытанный метод «клонирования» (реверс-инжиниринга). Однако для этого необходимы исходные образцы, которые в ряде случаев невозможно получить ни за какие деньги и никакой хитростью. Прежде всего сказанное относится к технологиям, связанным с атомными подводными силами. По данным военно-морской разведки США (ONI), современные атомные лодки ВМС НОАК (пр. 094 и 093) по уровню шумности сильно уступают даже советским аналогам третьего поколения (пр. 667БДР и 671РТМК), в то время как у нас уже серийно строятся корабли четвертого поколения (до которых китайцам как до Луны) и корректируется аванпроект ПЛА пятого поколения.

Все объясняется просто: начав проектирование первой отечественной атомной лодки еще в 1952 году, мы уже не останавливались, несмотря ни на какие невзгоды, включая обрушение судпрома и обвальное сокращение ВМФ в «смутные времена». Да, корабли почти не строились, но в боровшихся за выживание НИИ и КБ, зачастую на чистом энтузиазме, продолжались работы над усовершенствованием паропроизводящих установок ядерных реакторов, паровых турбин и редукторов (ГТЗА), подшипников, гребных винтов, насосов, вентиляторов, амортизаторов, звукопоглощающих покрытий, гидроакустических комплексов и много чего еще. В результате в муках был рожден «Северодвинск» – возможно, лучшая многоцелевая атомная лодка в мире и родоначальница серии себе подобных, а китайцы остались далеко позади. Ходят слухи о готовящемся прорыве, начале крупносерийного строительства китайских атомных подводных сил. Бесспорно, производственные и финансовые возможности для этого есть, но как обстоят дела с техническими решениями? В научно-технический гений ученых и конструкторов КНР, способный обеспечить паритет по ТТХ с Россией и США, верится с трудом – иначе китайские товарищи не закупали бы и не копировали образцы иностранного вооружения и военной техники. Возможно, прорыв действительно произойдет, но уж точно не завтра, а когда в Китае появится Наука с большой буквы, на что уйдет не один десяток лет. А пока атомная подводная армада, представителей которой противник будет обнаруживать значительно раньше, нежели они его, будет играть роль бумажного тигра, пригодного разве что для парадов

Translation: Problem #1: submarine forces. Not everything is going according to plan in Chinese building of a Big Fleet. Chinese build this fleet using widely proven method of cloning (reverse-engineering). For this method, however, one needs source specimens, which are often impossible to obtain no matter how huge the sums of money or ruses are involved. This is especially true for nuclear-powered submarine technologies and forces.  In accordance to US Naval Intelligence, PLAN's modern SSNs of types 093 and 094 in terms of quieting are lagging substantially even behind Soviet third generation subs such as SSGN pr. 671 RTM(K) (NATO: Victor III) and SSBN of pr. 667 BDR (Delta-III), all this is while Russia builds series of 4th generation nuclear subs, with China being nowhere near (in text: as far as the walk to the Moon) these technologies, with Russia already working on a technical project of the 5th generation SSN.

The explanation to this situation is simple: We (Russia) started working on the first SSN in 1952 and since then never stopped, even despite all calamities, including the collapse of shipbuilding industry and precipitous reduction of the Navy during 1990s (Dark Times).  Yes, few ships were being built in those times, but often through sheer enthusiasm, the work on improvement of steam generators, nuclear reactors, steam turbines, gear systems, bearings, screws, pumps, fans, acoustic coatings, sonars and many other systems continued in many institutes and design bureaus. As a result, through hard labor, the Severodvinsk-class of SSGNs has been born—possibly the best nuclear submarine in the world today. Chinese were left far behind. The rumors of a coming breakthrough in a large series construction of Chinese submarine forces have been circulating for a while. Undeniably, manufacturing and financial capabilities are in place for this, but what about technological solutions? It is difficult to believe in scientific-technological genius of Chinese scientists and designers, which will be able to achieve tactical-technical parity with Russia and the US—otherwise Chinese comrades wouldn't be buying and cloning samples of foreign military technology. Maybe the breakthrough will happen eventually but assuredly not tomorrow but only when the Science with the capital S will appear in China and that will take not one decade. Meanwhile, PLAN's submarine armada which will be detected much earlier than it will detect the enemy, will continue to play the role of a paper tiger good only for parades.

There are many other valid points, including the issue of operational experience, which Shishkin makes in his rather very symptomatic piece and here is the REAL issue: yes, China is an economic giant with some of her achievements inspiring nothing but admiration. But being a military superpower is a very special kind of superpowerdom and especially within naval affairs where one faces, depending on geopolitical scenarios, such a massive naval superpower as the United States. Yes, US Navy has many problems, no larger ones than the issue of a doctrine and force structure, but as I stated not for once—the US Navy's crown jewel its submarine forces is so impressive and is so much more advanced, for a foreseeable future, than its PLAN's counterpart, that it allows to speak of PLAN mostly in terms of A2/AD (much of which is dependent on Russian technologies). 

Yes, PLAN is able to build a tonnage equal to that to US Navy's, especially with PLAN investing hugely in its DDG and FFG surface force but HOW good is this surface force—nobody knows for sure. Yet there are reasons to suspect that Chinese weapon systems, which are knock-offs of Russian and Western technology, deployed on those ships do not have any record of combat use whatsoever and, actually, are not that good. Once all those factors are considered, I, personally, don't see (God forbids, of course, such a scenario ever becoming a reality) any way of how PLAN can possibly push US Navy (I omit here legal and moral issues) out of Western Pacific. This is an interesting issue to ponder, of course.

The second thing which coincided was, oh goody, Harry Kazianis, whose writing I described as alarmist 6 months ago precisely on the issue discussed above, yesterday went even further in envisioning a Russian-American Alliance against China. No doubt, China is a huge global player today but Kazianis goes a little bit overboard here, me thinks.

Next, there is the unfavorable balance of military arms that, as the years go on, will not favor Moscow. As China continues to receive some of Russia’s most advanced pieces of military equipment, like the S-400 air defense system and Su-35 fighter jet, China will most likely pilfer and reproduce such technology as it has done in the past—only to include it in indigenous weapons systems or sell it for far cheaper prices, competing directly against Russia in the lucrative arms sales market. Even more dangerous is that Russia’s own military technology could be used against it if a clash between the Russians and Chinese ever occurred—and history shows that is not out of the question.

I am sure Russia is very grateful to Mr. Kazianis for his sincere concern for Russia's competitiveness against China on the international weapons' markets but I am sure those in the know would still prefer a "Real McCoy" whenever deciding to buy big items such as state-of-the-art air defense systems, cutting edge fighter aircraft or submarines. It is simply the matter of quality and reputation. Russia's quality and reputation in this field are well-established. Moreover, I don't see how Russia and the US, after what have happened in the last 10 (in reality 25) years, can possibly be allied in any meaningful sense. For now avoiding a war could be a huge achievement in itself. Could China possibly, in the future, become a threat to Russia? Absolutely, and Russians know this but this does not necessarily involve the US. In the end, Russia finally has her civilizational project—Putin at Valdai was explicit about it. And, as is being discussed above and in a number of my posts in this blog, and in my new (hope to finish earlier next year) book on Balance of Power, China, for all her massive achievements is not yet true military superpower and it has nothing to do with the ability to project force, after all—Russia cannot do it globally too. Yet, few would doubt that Russia is a military superpower. 

So, Alliance between Russia and US, the thing of my naïve dreams in 1990s and early 2000s, the alliance which is predetermined historically and geographically, yet…here we are. The world as we know it is collapsing, the new, truly multi-polar world is emerging. In this world new balance of power will be very intricate and it will take some time and effort in allowing this new world order to settle without unleashing Armageddon—this is the most important foundation on which any kind of trust between US and Russia could be rebuilt. About alliances--later.