Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Will PRC Respond to Joint US-Japanese Patrols in the South China Sea With an ADIZ?




I have a short piece on the prospects for joint US-Japanese air patrols in the South China Sea in the context of the new US-Japan defense guidelines at the new AT.  Go!  Read it! Thank you.

I draw the conclusion that the main practical application of joint patrols is to provide backup to the Philippines if/when they try to assert their EEZ rights, perhaps at the Reed Bank, site of a much-yearned-for undersea energy bonanza, after the UNCLOS ruling on the Nine-Dash-Line comes down.

One issue I’ll explore here is the possibility that the PRC will declare an ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) in the South China Sea.

I guess it needs pointing out that the ADIZ is not an exclusion zone.  There is zero tolerance by any nation for uncontrolled overflights of sovereign airspace (which covers territorial waters up to the 12-mile limit; in contrast to aircraft, foreign naval vessels can transit through territorial waters).

The ADIZ, on the other hand, as the name indicates, is a more extensive zone beyond sovereign airspace in which planes are expected to identify themselves and state their business.  It covers nearby international airspace by design and its extent is pretty much a function of the speed of hostile aircraft and the reaction time of air defenses.  An ADIZ is meant to establish a zone in which aircraft that don’t identify themselves and announce their intentions can be intercepted before they can penetrate sovereign airspace and maybe drop a bomb on somebody.  It’s actually a good arrangement for delineating zones of anxiety and, in theory, makes the world a safer and more orderly place.  National ADIZs can even overlap, as the Taiwan experience demonstrates.

Frequency of actual intercepts within the ADIZ apparently correlate with paranoia and hostility at any given time.

According to this informative piece in The Aviationist, in Europe NATO jets scramble to intercept any Russian military aircraft in the ADIZ.  Apparently over Alaska things are more casual, and in 4 out of 10 cases of lumbering Russian Tupelov bombers trolling the Alaska ADIZ in the last year, the US chose not to scramble interceptors:

The ADIZ is an airspace surrounding a nation or part of it where identification, location, and control of aircraft over land or water is required in the interest of national security. This means that any aircraft flying in these air spaces without authorization may require identification through interception by fighter aircraft in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert).


Military aircraft that do not intend to enter the national airspace are not required to identify themselves or otherwise comply with ADIZ procedures but it is a common practice that any foreign (namely Russian) military aircraft flying close to the U.S. or Canada airspace, within the ADIZ, is intercepted, identified and escorted.

  
In 2013, the PRC set up an ADIZ over the East China Sea to much moaning and gnashing of teeth and, I might add, a lot of crappy reporting on how unreasonable it was. In what should have been a blockbuster report but somehow, you know, vanished without a trace, the Daily Mainichi reported that, far from being blindsided by PRC ADIZ perfidy, the Japanese government had been extensively briefed by the PRC prior to declaration of the zone.  At the time I participated in the rather lonely and tedious task of debunking the ADIZ-threat canard and you can read one of my pieces below.

The US military has a consistent policy of not respecting anybody’s ADIZ notification practices and immediately dispatched two bombers from Guam to penetrate the newly-announced ECS ADIZ without prior notification.  US civilian air carriers, rather intelligently, respect the PRC ADIZ guidelines; Japanese civilian air carriers, rather less intelligently, do not.

The PRC has been politely deferential to the US on the matter of military flights inside its East China Sea ADIZ and would presumably grit its teeth and accept continuation of incessant US military flights over the South China Sea even if the PRC announced an SCS ADIZ (the PRC seems to have discarded its aggressive posture toward US surveillance aircraft over the SCS and near PRC naval facilities on Hainan Island after the P-3 incident of 2001, in which a Chinese fighter pilot died after a mid-air collision and the P-3 Orion, a turboprop, was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island).  

Japanese aircraft in the SCS would presumably be another matter.  Japanese military aircraft are frequently intercepted and dicked with in the ECS ADIZ and if Japan Air Self Defense Force (hereinafter the “Japan Air ‘Self Defense’ (heh heh) Force” start flying around the SCS two thousand miles from home and in China’s backyard they aren’t going to be welcomed by the PRC.

Which, I suppose, is the whole point of “joint patrols”.  It’s not that the US doesn’t have enough airplanes to fly around the SCS by itself or Japan likes to waste fuel & irritate the PRC by performing surveillance the US previously handled itself; it’s about bringing in Japan under the American aegis to demonstrate that the US is the indispensable big brother that makes it possible for Japan to pursue its regional ambitions under its freshly reinterpreted, somewhat bent, and no longer 100% pacifist constitution.

I suppose a subtext of the new US-Japan defense guidelines the PRC is supposed to be grateful that the United States, by codifying the involvement of Japanese forces in US-directed operations, is restraining unilateral Japanese adventurism in East Asia, but I tend to doubt the PRC sees it that way.

In any case, it would seem plausible that the PRC might push back against the appearance of Japanese aircraft in the SCS by announcing an ADIZ in the South China Sea and either routinely or selectively harassing Japanese aircraft (and their US companions) with intercepts.   

(Possibly ADIZ enforcement could be supported from airstrips popping up in the SCS as part of the PRC crash island building program though, as this good overview from Reuters points out, this gambit more likely relates to other salami slicing missions along the fisheries & maritime enforcement line.)

(Also parenthetically, Taiwan’s military has advised the legislature it plans to patrol the South China Sea outside of Taiwan’s own ADIZ to support its own South China Sea island claims.  Will be interesting to see how PRC handles that.)

I suspect the US realizes that if Japanese military aircraft appear in the SCS, there is a high degree of likelihood that the PRC will declare an ADIZ and start intercepting those planes, with a concurrent rise in tensions and the possibility of fatal incidents; only question is Is This a Good Thing?

After the break, my 2013 article on the ECS ADIZ.





I am unwilling to join the rest of China pundits on the fainting couch, overcome with dismay and disapproval at the PRC’s unilateral declaration of an ADIZ.

All the big kids have an ADIZ.  The PRC has an ADIZ.  I don’t think it’s going anywhere and we should get used to it.

To me, the important story is that Japan is using the ADIZ uproar to claim regional military flight rights that only the United States claims—and civilian flight rights that nobody, including the United States enjoys.

This, to me, is part of Prime Minister Abe’s ambitions to make Japan an independent security peer—and not a tractable ally—of the United States in East Asia.

And I doubt that the United States is particularly overjoyed with that, despite the spate of news analyses along the lines of “America happy that PRC is acting like assertive jerk and provoking security backlash by Asian democracies.”

That’s a point I make in my most recent Asia Times Online piece, Has Abe Overreached on China’s ADIZ? and it’s a point I don’t see anybody else making.

Maybe it’s because I’m a clueless dingbat.  But maybe it’s because the whole “rising Japan” i.e. the threat to US preeminence from an ambitious ally provokes cognitive dissonance for Western journos and pundits fixated on “rising China” a.k.a. the everreliable and easy to conceptualize alien menace.
Anyway, the ATOl piece has some good info on the US ADIZ from an FAA presentation, pointing out that cooperation with the ADIZ regs is an absolute requirement reinforced by a lengthy set of procedures and measures up to and including the scrambling of fighter jets. 

PM Abe’s call on Japanese military aircraft and civilian carriers to ignore the PRC ADIZ is simply irresponsible and, dare I say, “heightens tensions”.

The US-Canada ADIZ dates back to the Cold War, when the ADIZ was a core component of U.S. defense against some Soviet bomber lumbering in and dropping one or more of those gigantic nukes on us.  The ADIZ over North America was supplemented by a series of ADIZ zones covering Soviet access to Atlantic airspace (just as we maintained a picket line against Soviet submarines in order to bottle them up in contiguous Russian waters).

 Until 2006, the Iceland ADIZ was policed by the 85th Group (the “Guardians of the North” as their motto stated) of the USAF 48th Fighter Wing based in the UK.
 
Nowadays NATO members patrol the airspace of Iceland, the Baltic republics, and the Balkan states to protect Russia from surprise attack (just kidding!).

Airspace over Greenland is pretty much in the hands of the American airbase at Thule. 

Further down, the ELK Area (the area off the coast of Newfoundland between Iceland and the US East Coast) is under the control of the Canadian Maritime Command (CONMARCOM).  Nobody flies into that zone without filing a flight plan. (pg. 24).

4. In the interest of flight safety it is essential that CANMARCOM be informed in advance of all flights or proposed flight in or through Area ELK. Aircraft flight level(s), track and approximate times of ELK penetration and exit are required. Military aircraft are encouraged to communicate directly with CANMARCOM. On prior request, frequencies will be assigned on which to report position and obtain ELK clearance. ASW aircraft will be routed clear of all known military and civil traffic.

And, in a heads-up for an overly enthusiastic critic on ATOl comments, the ELK region covers the southerly flightpath between the North American mainland and Iceland, which could be employed by planes entering the ADIZ but flying PARALLEL to the US coast (There has been a lot of misleading chaff about how the Chinese should not be allowed to hassle planes that are flying parallel to their coastline but not on a heading to penetrate PRC airspace.  Before you enter the US ADIZ on any heading, you are required to file a flight plan.  Inside the ADIZ you are required to turn on your identification and altitude transponders, respond to radio calls, and obey instructions from fighter jets if they scramble to intercept.  No exceptions for parallel flight.  Especially since my sophisticated aeronautical friends tell me that planes have the ability to turn left and right or, as they say, “port and starboard”.  It wouldn’t make much sense to declare an ADIZ to achieve early warning, then let somebody around inside it to fly really close but PARALLEL to the coast without filing a flight plan and hope the guy doesn’t turn right at the last minute and launch a missile.) 

To me, the whole parallel flight thing is a canard; more specifically, an attempt by the United States to avoid the completely untenable position of denying the PRC’s right to declare an ADIZ, but at the same time find a way to give some aid and comfort to Japan by trying to carve out an exclusion for Japanese flights along the Chinese coastline and headed to the Senkakus.

With the rise of the ballistic missile, the strategic bomber justification for the US/Canada ADIZ has evaporated.  But the U.S. is pretty serious about the ADIZ in order to interdict drug smuggling and deal with terrorism.

Since 9/11, the ADIZ has been supplemented by TFRs--Temporary Flight Restrictions—within the United States, usually in relation to presidential travel.  US fighter jets also provide security patrols for matters of tremendous national importance—like the Super Bowl!  (Unless, as the FAA illustration implies, we are trying to deter our enemies with the inexpensive alternative of unconvincing Photoshopped images).


In discussing the last component of the US ADIZ,  Alaska, a website that is apparently equally devoted to Sarah Palin and opposed to President Obama provided this nugget from 2012:

It is being reported that two Russian Bear bombers were intercepted while flying near the west coast of the United States on the 4th of July, an obvious taunt from the Russians on our nation’s most important day.

This is the second incident in the past two weeks, where Russian nuclear capable bombers have entered, or come near U.S. air space. 

This is nothing new, as the Russians are known to violate American air space often. On Sarah Palin’s watch, as Governor of Alaska, and Commander-in-Chief, the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing routinely escorted the Russians out of Alaskan air space. In fact, the 176th received the Air Force’s Outstanding Unit Award for its service to the nation . Part of the citation noted:

The 176th Air Control Squadron maintained North American air sovereignty by detecting, monitoring and escorting 22 Russian bombers from within its area of operations.

As you can see, the 176th Air Control Squadron is an Air National Guard outfit, not a USAF operation.  About 90% of US air defense is handled by ANG units.  And, yes, on the occasions that George W. Bush flew for the Texas Air National Guard as part of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing , we can assume he was patrolling the US ADIZ.

2 comments:

blowback said...

"(which covers territorial waters up to the 12-mile limit; in contrast to aircraft, foreign naval vessels can transit through territorial waters)"

Only in straits such as the Straits of Hormuz which pisses the Iranians off. But they are probably even more pissed off by thye US Navy doing thing it shouldn't while in transit passage like not pointing your guns at anyone or firing off surface to air missiles.

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