The Assassin's Mace
By Victor N Corpus
Part I Here
Times" -- -- If America ever goes to war with China,
Chinese military doctrine suggests the US should expect attacks
on a number of key points where it is particularly vulnerable -
where a single jab would paralyze the entire nation. China would
aim at targets such as the US electricity grid, its computer
networks, its oil supply routes, and the dollar. Other vital
"acupuncture" points are outlined below.
1 A powerful triumvirate
No one ever imagined before 1991 that China and Russia would
come together to form a close-knit alliance politically,
diplomatically and, most important of all, militarily. For more
than three decades before the break-up of the Soviet Union,
China and the USSR had been bitter rivals, even going into a
shooting war with each other along their common border.
But now the picture has changed completely. China and Russia
have embraced one another and help each other ward off the
military advances of the lone superpower in their respective
backyards. In fact, it was a series of strategic blunders by the
superpower that forced China and Russia into each other's arms.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, it would have been
the best time for the US to use soft power to win over Russia
into the Western fold. Russia at that time was an economic
basket case, with the price of oil at $9 per barrel. But the
promises of economic assistance from the US and Europe proved
empty, and the Russian oligarchs were the main beneficiaries of
relations with the Western powers.
NATO and EU then slowly advanced eastward, absorbing many of the
countries making up the former Warsaw Pact alliance. Serbia, a
close ally of Russia, was subjected to 78 days of continuous air
bombardment. Regime changes were instigated by US and
Western-financed non-governmental organizations in Georgia,
Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan - all former Soviet republics and
considered Russia’s backyard - giving Russia a feeling of
strategic encirclement by the US and its allies. There was also
the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by the
establishment of US bases and deployment of troops in Uzbekistan
These aggressive geopolitical moves by the US pushed Russia into
the waiting arms of China, which badly needed Russian energy
resources, modern weapon systems and military technology as a
consequence of the US-led arms embargo imposed after the
Tienanmen incident. Furthermore, China also needed a reliable
and militarily capable ally in Russia because of the perceived
threat of the US.
Reinforcing this Chinese perception was the outrageously wanton
bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade by US-led NATO forces
in 1999; the spy plane incident in 2001; the unilateral
withdrawal of the US from the ABM Treaty in 2002; the enhanced
military cooperation between the US and Japan; the inclusion of
Taiwan in the Theater Missile Defense program.; the setting up
of a military base in Kyrgyzstan which is only some 250 miles
from the Chinese border near Lop Nor, China’s nuclear testing
Add to that the announcement of President George W Bush that the
US would come to the aid of Taiwan in the event that China uses
force against it; the sending of two aircraft carrier battle
groups to waters near Taiwan in 1995-1996; and the naval show of
strength of seven aircraft carrier battle groups converging off
the China coast in August 2004. All these aggressive moves by
superpower America pushed China to embrace its former bitter
Both China and Russia needed a secure and reliable rear; and
both are ideally positioned to provide it. Moreover, their
strengths ideally complement each other. It must be borne in
mind that both are nuclear powers. The abundant energy resources
of Russia ensures that China will not run out of gas in a major
conflict - a strategic advantage over the US and its key allies.
Russia is also supplying China with many of the modern armaments
and military technology it needs to modernize its defense
sector. This effectively militates against the arms embargo
imposed by the US and the EU on China. Russia in turn needs the
increased trade with China, China’s financial clout and
assistance, and manufactured goods.
The coming together of China and Russia was one of the most
earth-shaking geopolitical events of modern times. Yet hardly
anyone noticed the transition from bitter enemity to a solid
geopolitical, economic, diplomatic and military alliance. The
combined strengths of the two regional powers surely surpass
that of the former Warsaw Pact. If we add Iran to the equation,
we have a triumvirate that can pose a formidable challenge to
the lone superpower. Iran is the most industrialized and the
most populous nation in the Middle East. It is second only to
Russia in terms of gas resources and also one of the largest oil
producers in the world. It is also one of the most mountainous
countries in the world, which makes it ideal for the conduct of
asymmetric and guerrilla warfare against a superior adversary.
Iran borders both the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, two of
the richest oil and gas regions of the world. Most importantly,
it controls the gateway to the Persian Gulf - the Strait of
Hormuz. Modern bottom-rising, rocket propelled sea mines and
supersonic cruise missiles deployed along the long mountainous
coastline of Iran, manned by "invisible" guerrillas, could
indefinitely stop the flow of oil from the Gulf, from which the
US gets 23% of its imported oil.
Japan also derives 90% of its oil from the Persian Gulf area,
and Europe about 60%. In a major conflict, Iran can effectively
deprive the US war machine and those of its key allies of much
needed energy supplies.
Imagine the war machine of the superpower running out of gas.
Imagine also a US economy minus 23% of its imported oil. This
23% can rise considerably once Chinese and Russian submarines
start sinking US-bound oil tankers. The triumvirate of China,
Russia, and Iran could bring the US to its knees with a minimum
2 The US's geopolitical disadvantage
Another "acupuncture point" in America’s anatomy in the event of
a major conflict with China (and Russia) is its inherent
disadvantage dictated by geography. Being the lone superpower,
any major conventional conflict involving the US will
necessitate its bringing its forces to bear on its adversaries.
This means that the US must cross the Pacific, Indian, and/or
Atlantic Oceans in order to bring logistics or troop
reinforcements to the battlefield.
In so doing, the US will be crossing thousands of miles of sea
lanes of communication (SLOC) that can easily become a gauntlet
of deadly Chinese and Russian submarines lying in ambush with
bottom-rising sea mines, supercavitating rocket torpedoes, and
supersonic cruise missiles that even aircraft carrier battle
groups have no known defense against. Logistic and transport
ships and oil tankers are particularly vulnerable.
The air corridors above these sea lanes will also be put at
great risk by advanced air defense systems aboard Sovremenny
destroyers or similar types of warships in Chinese and Russian
inventories. In short, the US will be forced by geography to
suffer all the disadvantages of conducting offensive operations
against adversaries in Eurasia.
Of course, the US has "forces in being" and "logistics in place"
in numerous military bases scattered around the world,
especially those strategically encircling China, Russia, and
Iran. But when the shooting war starts, these bases will be the
first to be hit by barrages of short- and medium-range ballistic
missiles and long-range land-attack cruise missiles armed with
electro-magnetic pulse, anti-radar, thermobaric, and
Following the missile barrages, the remnants of such weakened US
military bases will easily be overwhelmed by blitzkrieg assaults
from Russian and Chinese armored divisions in the Eurasian
mainland. China, for instance, has four large armored units
constantly on standby, poised to cross the Yili Corridor in
Xinjiang province at a moment’s notice. The US base in
Kyrgyzstan near the Chinese border would not stand a chance.
China, Russia and/or Iran, on the other hand, will operate on
interior lines within the Eurasian mainland. When they move
troops and logistics to meet any threat on the continent, they
will have relatively secure lines of communication and
logistics, using inland highways, railways and air transport.
Since the US cannot correct the dictates of geography, it and
its main allies Japan and the UK will have to live and fight
with this tremendous geopolitical disadvantage. Of course the US
can bypass this geographic obstacle if it attacks China and
Russia with its intercontinental ballistic missiles,
sea-launched ballistic missiles and strategic bombers in a
nuclear first strike, but China and Russia have the means to
retaliate and obliterate the United States and its allies as
There are some among the leading neo-conservatives in the US who
believe that a nuclear war is winnable; that there is no such
thing as mutually assured destruction (MAD). Well, that truly
mad way of thinking may well spell the end of planet earth for
all of us.
3 Asymmetric attack
Superpower America is particularly vulnerable to asymmetric
attack. A classic example of asymmetric attack is the September
11, 2001, attack on America. Nineteen determined attackers,
armed with nothing but box cutters, succeeded in toppling the
twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and
causing the death of some 3,000 Americans. Notice the asymmetry
of casualty ratio as well - the most lopsided casualty ratio
ever recorded in history.
China, Russia, and Iran also possess asymmetric weapons that are
designed to neutralize and defeat a superpower like America in a
conventional conflict. Supersonic cruise missiles now in their
inventories can defeat and sink US aircraft carriers. The same
is true for medium- and short-range ballistic missiles with
independently targetable warheads, extra-large bottom-rising,
rocket-propelled sea mines (EM52s), and supercavitating rocket
torpedoes (SHKVAL or "Squall"). The US Navy has no known defense
against these weapons.
Iraqi insurgents are conducting a form of asymmetric warfare.
They use improvised explosive devices, car bombs, booby traps
and landmines against the most modern army the world has ever
seen. The US's huge advantage in weaponry is negated by the fact
that its soldiers cannot see their adversary. They are fighting
against a "phantom" enemy - an invisible army.
And how can you win against an enemy you cannot see? This may be
one reason why reports of massacres of Iraqi civilians by US
soldiers have been increasing lately. But turning sophisticated
weapons against civilians will never win wars for America. It
will only heighten the rage of the victimized population and
increase suicide bombings against US forces.
Connected to asymmetric warfare is asynchronous warfare, where
the weaker side bides its time to strike back. And it strikes at
a time and place where the adversary is totally unprepared.
For example, if the US were to strike Iran’s underground nuclear
facilities with bunker-busting tactical nuclear warheads, Iran
could bide its time until it develops its own nuclear weapons.
It could then use its Kilo class submarines, equipped with
supersonic "moskit" cruise missiles armed with Iran’s own
nuclear warheads, to hit New York, or Washington, DC as a
payback to the US for using nuclear weapons against Iran. Or the
Iranians could infiltrate nuclear scientists into the US, where
they would fabricate a "dirty" bomb to be detonated near the US
Congress, in full session while the president is making his
annual state of the nation address.
The possibilities for asymmetric and asynchronous warfare are
limitless. Various weapons are available to the asymmetric or
asynchronous attacker. If a simple box cutter produced such
devastating results on September 11, 2001, imagine what chemical
or biological weapons dropped from a private aircraft could do
to a crowded city; or trained hackers attacking the US banking
system and other key infrastructure and basic services; or
man-portable surface-to-air missiles attacking US airlines
taking off or landing in various airports around the globe; or
non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons hitting New York City
or the US Capitol. No amount of even the best intelligence in
the world can totally guard against and stop a determined
4 Attack on US's command and control
C4ISR stands for command, control, communications, computers,
intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. In a war
situation, C4ISR is a prime target because therein lies the
center of gravity of one's adversary. Neutralizing C4ISR is like
cutting off the head of a chicken. It can run around in circles
for a while, but will soon collapse and die. The same is true in
Having the mightiest and most modern armed forces in the world,
America prides itself with having the most sophisticated and
advanced C4ISR. US military spy satellites can gather
intelligence data and disseminate it on a real time basis. US
surveillance and reconnaissance satellites are so sophisticated
that their sensors can detect objects on Earth as small as
one-tenth of a meter in size, from several hundred miles up.
Satellite sensors can also penetrate clouds and bad weather or
see in the night. Some of these spy satellites can also monitor
radio or telephone conversations.
Aside from communications, intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance, satellites are also used for navigation, most
especially in guiding ballistic missiles, cruise missiles,
aircraft and other smart weapon systems to their targets.
Without satellite guidance, such "smart" and precision weapons
turn into "dumb" bombs and directionless missiles.
The advances in C4ISR are rapidly revolutionizing warfare.
Gathering, processing, disseminating, and acting on intelligence
is now made possible on a real-time or near real-time basis on a
global or regional level. Because of these developments, a new
war principle is emerging in the modern battlefield: "If the
enemy sees you; you are dead."
The US is far advanced in its C4ISR compared with, for instance,
China. China cannot hope to catch up and match the American
system anytime soon. So in order for China to survive in the
event of a major conflict with the US, China has to resort to
asymmetric means. This means that China has to develop effective
means of countering and neutralizing America’s C4ISR. And that
is what China had been working on for more than two decades now.
The heart of America’s C4ISR lies in its technologically
sophisticated satellites. But this seeming strength is also an
Achilles' heel. Neutralize or destroy the key satellites, and
America’s major forces, such as aircraft carrier battle groups,
are blinded, muted, and decapitated. This concept is part of
China’s strategy for "defeating a superior with an inferior"
called shashaojian, or "assassin’s mace". It is like the
mace kept by ladies in their bags, which they use when attacked
by a mugger or rapist. They squirt the mace into the eyes of an
attacker to temporarily blind him, giving the intended victim
time to escape.
China now has the capability to identify and track satellites.
And for more than two decades they have been busy developing
anti-satellite weapons. China has been developing maneuverable
nano-satellites that can neutralize other satellites. They do
their work by maneuvering near a target satellite and
neutralizing the target by electronic jamming, electro-magnetic
pulse generation, clinging to the target and physically
destroying it, bumping the target out of orbit, or simply
exploding to bring the target satellite down with it. Such nano
satellites can be launched in batches on demand by road-mobile
DF21 or DF31 booster rockets.
Another anti-satellite weapon in the works is a land-based laser
that blinds the sensitive sensors of satellites or even destroys
them completely. Of course, if worse comes to worst, China can
always use its weapon of last resort, destroying adversary
satellites with a high-altitude nuclear burst. But this will
only be used if China has not yet fully developed the other
options when major hostilities start. With the neutralization of
its C4ISR, America would be like "a blind man trying to catch
fish with his bare hands", to quote Mao Zedong. In short,
America would be brought to its knees.
5 Attack on US aircraft carrier battle groups
Aircraft carrier battle groups are the mainstay of US military
supremacy. They serve as America’s chief instrument for global
power projection and world dominance. In this category, the US
has no equal. At the moment, the US maintains a total of 12
aircraft carrier battle groups. In comparison, China has none.
From June to August 2004, the US, for the first time in its
naval history, conducted an exercise involving the simultaneous
convergence of seven of its 12 aircraft carrier battle groups to
within striking distance of China’s coast. This was the biggest
and most massive show of force the world has ever seen. It was
to remind China that if it uses force against Taiwan, China will
have to contend with this kind of response.
It was mentioned earlier that China’s strategy in defeating the
superior by the inferior is shashaojian or the
"assassin’s mace". "Mace" is not only a blinding spray; it is
also a meaner and deadlier weapon, a spiked war club of ancient
times used to knock out an adversary with one blow. The spikes
of the modern Chinese mace may well spell the end for aircraft
The first of these spikes consists of medium- and short-range
ballistic missiles (modified and improved DF 21s/CSS-5 and DF
15s) with terminally guided maneuverable re-entry vehicles with
circular error probability of 10 meters. DF 21s/CSS-5s can hit
slow-moving targets at sea up to 2,500km away.
The second spike is an array of supersonic and highly accurate
cruise missiles, some with range of 300km or more, that can be
delivered by submarines, aircraft, surface ships or even common
trucks (which are ideal for use in terrain like that of Iran
along the Persian Gulf). These supersonic cruise missiles travel
at more than twice the speed of sound (mach 2.5), or faster than
a rifle bullet. They can be armed with conventional,
anti-radiation, thermobaric, or electro-magnetic pulse warheads,
or even nuclear warheads if need be. The Aegis missile defense
system and the Phalanx Close-in Defense weapons of the US Navy
are ineffective against these supersonic cruise missiles.
A barrage of these cruise missiles, followed by land-based
intermediate- or short-range ballistic missiles with terminal
guidance systems, could wreak havoc on an aircraft carrier
battle group. Whether there are seven or 15 carrier battle
groups, it will not matter, for China has enough ballistic and
cruise missiles to destroy them all. Unfortunately for the US
and British navies, they do not have the capacity to counter a
barrage of supersonic cruise missile followed by a second
barrage of ballistic missiles.
The first and second spikes of the "assassin’s mace" are
sufficient to render the aircraft carrier battle groups
obsolete. But there is a third spike which is equally dreadful.
This is the deadly SHKVAL or "Squall" rocket torpedo developed
by Russia and passed on to China. It is like an under-water
missile. It weighs 6,000lbs and travels at 200 knots or 230mph,
with a range of 7,500 yards. It is guided by autopilot and with
its high speed, makes evasive maneuvers by carriers or nuclear
submarines highly difficult. It is truly a submarine and carrier
buster; and again, the US and its allies have no known defense
against such a supercavitating rocket torpedo.
The "assassin’s mace" has still more spikes. The fourth spike
consists of extra-large, bottom-rising, rocket-propelled sea
mines laid by submarines along the projected paths of advancing
carrier battle groups. These sea mines are designed specifically
for targeting aircraft carriers. They can be grouped in clusters
so that they will hit the carriers in barrages.
The final spike of the mace is a fleet of old fighter aircraft
(China has thousands of them) modified as unmanned combat aerial
vehicles fitted with extra fuel tanks and armed with stand-off
anti-ship missiles. They are also packed with high explosives so
that after firing off their precision-guided anti-ship missiles
on the battle group, they will then finish their mission by
dive-bombing "kamikaze" style into their targets.
If we now combine the mace as a means of blinding an adversary
and the mace as a spiked war club, one can see the complete
picture of how China will use the "assassin’s mace" to send
America’s aircraft carrier battle groups into the dustbin of
naval history. Although China does not possess a single
operational aircraft carrier, it has converted the entire China
mainland into a "virtual aircraft carrier" that is unsinkable
and capable of destroying all the aircraft carrier battle groups
that the US and its allies can muster.
The sad part for the US Navy is that even if American leaders
and naval theorists realize the horrible truth that aircraft
carriers have been rendered obsolete in modern warfare by
China’s "assassin’s mace", the navy cannot just change strategy
or discard its carriers. Hundreds of billions of dollars have
been poured into those weapon systems and hundreds of thousands
of jobs would be affected if such behemoths are turned into
scrap. Besides, even if US Navy authorities wanted to change
strategy, the all-powerful and influential military-industrial
complex lobby would not allow it.
So, if and when a major conflict between the US and China
occurs, say over the issue of Taiwan, pity those thousands of
American sailors who are unfortunate enough to be in one of
those aircraft carrier battle groups. They won't stand a chance.
A challenge to America
The 10 "acupuncture points" mentioned in this article (See also
Striking the US where it hurts)
are like a 10-stage riddle. It is an "assassin's mace" or war
club of olden times with 10 deadly spikes. Any one of those
spikes can bring America to its knees. I therefore throw this
riddle to the think tanks in the Pentagon, to the US Congress,
to the president's men, to US academe, and to every concerned
America is in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter of the
"great game", and it is behind in points. If America can solve
the riddle in time, it wins the game, it can seize global
leadership, and the 21st century will truly be the American
On the other hand, failure to solve the riddle will shake
America to its very foundation and cause this great nation to
collapse - just like that vivid image of the collapsing Twin
Towers familiar to each and every American. America loses, and
it will be down and out for the rest of this century.
Wake up, America!
Victor N Corpus is a retired brigadier general of the Armed
Forces of the Philippines (AFP); former chief of the
Intelligence Service, AFP; and holds a master's degree in public
administration from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard
Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd
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