Abstract: Over the past 20 years, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has built an extensive anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) system around the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and the Strait of Taiwan. This system, which includes anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-ballistic weapons, submarines, and other naval and aerial capabilities, does significantly alter the strategic environment in the Western Pacific, and shifts the military balance in China’s favour. The system limits the intervention and deterrence capabilities of the US, its regional allies, and partners. In response, the US has begun shifting its military approach from power projection to increased forward presence and counterstrike and deterrence capabilities. Washington could counter the Chinese A2/AD system through the operational concept of Archipelagic defense, supporting allied military buildup (Japan, South Korea, Australia) and arming Taiwan with the necessary systems to deter Chinese aggression.
Problem statement: How can the United States and its allies counter the People's Republic of China's growing anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities within the First and Second Island Chains?
Bottom-line-up-front: The PRC’s leadership has successfully pushed its A2/AD system to cover the First Island Chain, aiming to limit foreign access to the region and advance its claims. This threatens the regional security environment and US doctrine of global reach, prompting the US to shift its approach to the A2/AD system in close coordination with its regional partners and allies.
So what?: Washington should encourage its allies and regional partners to strengthen their defense capabilities by providing them with modern military systems and counterstriking capabilities. Additionally, the US should increase its troop presence in the region to signal its continued commitment to the military balance. By further integrating and ensuring interoperability between allies, the US alliance network could also increase its readiness in the event of a conflict.
Keeping The US At Bay
Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific has caused a growing sense of worry among regional and global players about the Asian giant’s role in the Indo-Pacific. A recent report by the US-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concluded that, in the event of war, the US-Japanese alliance would be able to prevent China from occupying Taiwan but would suffer heavy casualties. China’s anti-access/area-denial system—commonly referred to as A2/AD—may be a decisive factor in a regional conflict. This project is firmly embedded in the Chinese strategy, drastically changing the Indo-Pacific's strategic balance and conditions—such as the Freedom of Navigation and the international maritime order embedded in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) — and limiting other regional players' capabilities. Therefore, to understand the regional strategy of China, it is essential to analyze and understand China’s A2/AD system.
What Is An A2/AD System?
A2/AD being an Air/Maritime missile-based defensive system designed to deny the military advantages of superior enemy forces is a strategy pursued by multiple countries—although especially China and Russia have embraced such a system. While the terminology is fairly new, there were many precursors following the idea of access denial and maximization of enemy losses. During World War II, the Maginot Line—despite being somewhat historically overvalued—deterred the Germans from invading France through Alsace-Lorraine and forced the German army to manoeuvre through Belgium. Similarly, one primary reason the allied forces landed in Normandy was—besides its short distance to the British Isles—that the German Atlantikwall was considerably weaker around there. Although the effectiveness and impact of these examples may vary—and a comparison between the Maginot Line and China’s A2/AD is ill-advised— it shows that the mere existence of A2/AD systems historically forced countries to rethink their approaches. Anti-access intends to impede the movement of the enemy forces while forcing them to operate further away from a protected region. Area-denial affects the maneuverability within the operational theater by impeding enemy operations and challenging the enemy’s freedom of movement inside the area.
Anti-access intends to impede the movement of the enemy forces while forcing them to operate further away from a protected region. Area-denial affects the maneuverability within the operational theater by impeding enemy operations and challenging the enemy’s freedom of movement inside the area.
However, it should be noted that A2/AD systems do not create perfect bubbles that fully impede movement into or inside the protected area. Rather, the primary goal of an A2/AD system is to cause the enemy higher casualties and hinder a swift advance. In this way, A2/AD systems are particularly useful in deterring foreign intervention by strategically superior opponents. Additionally, while the purpose of an A2/AD system is usually defensive, its vast firepower could also be used as an offensive tool in the near vicinity, as China intends to do, should war with Taiwan break out.
China’s A2/AD Arsenal
China has built several defensive systems that, when combined, form the Chinese A2/AD system. This system follows the “Joint Theory,” combining physical and functional domains, services, and branches. Beijing’s arsenal includes Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBMs), Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCM), Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM), a large fleet of submarines, surface ships, fighter jets, bombers and non-kinetic means. The combination of these systems poses a formidable threat to incoming forces.
Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBM): The Chinese A2/AD System includes a large stockpile of short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles designed to target an enemy’s fleet—especially its biggest rival’s, the US Navy. The DF-21D is a medium-range ballistic missile capable of breaking through the US surface combatant protection system AEGIS and reaching targets up to 1,500-1,700 km. With an estimated range of at least 3,000 km and a payload of 4,000 pounds, the DF-26 could strike US Navy aircraft carriers and even the key US naval base in Guam. Considering the current US military capabilities, it would also be challenging—however not impossible—for the US armed forces to counter China’s new hypersonic missiles, the DF-17 and the rumored YJ-21.
With an estimated range of at least 3,000 km and a payload of 4,000 pounds, the DF-26 could strike US Navy aircraft carriers and even the key US naval base in Guam.
Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCM): Although less prominent than the ASBMs, China’s arsenal of ASCMs is also alarmingly well developed, as reported in the most recent version of the US Congressional Research Service report from December 2022. Chinese YJ-100, YJ-12, and YJ-18 ASCMs have a range of up to 800 km and are hard to intercept due to their cruising speed and low altitude. These missiles can be launched from land, ships (Type 055 destroyer, Type 093 nuclear attack submarine), and air (H-6K bomber, Shenyang J-11/15/16 fighter jet) and can threaten bases in Guam and Hawaii. Beijing’s advantage in the development of hypersonic cruise missiles, as well as in hypersonic gliding vehicles, could pose a new threat in the future.
Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF): To defend and dominate the contested airspace, the A2/AD system comprises a series of Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), such as the HQ-11 (short-range), HQ-9B (medium-range), and HQ-16FE (medium-long range). China has acquired Russian-made S-300 and S-400 Triumf long-range SAM systems in addition to domestic SAMs. The PLAAF air fleet is equipped with ASCMs and air-to-air missiles capable of targeting incoming enemy airplanes and high-value targets such as Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) or tanker aircraft. The modern PLAAF air fleet includes the Shenyang J-15/J-16 and Chengdu J-20 fighter jets and H-6K bombers, which—according to many experts—could soon be operationally on par with the F-35 and F-16 of the US Air Force. Chinese J-15D, J-16D, and J-10D aircraft could be used for electronic warfare (EW) operations to disrupt enemy airplanes’ communication and radar systems.
Submarines and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN): Submarines are essential to the anti-ship but also anti-submarine components of the A2/AD system. China operates three prominent submarines, the nuclear-powered Shang Type 093 attack submarine (SSN) and Jin Type 094 ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), and a large fleet of Yuan Type 039 diesel-powered attack submarines (SS). The A2/AD is highly developed in most fields; however, the capabilities of the PLAN Submarine Force lack significant numbers of nuclear-powered submarines, making them unable to engage with the superior US Navy submarine fleet. The CSIS report from January 2023 showed that this imbalance in the submarine force could become the deciding factor should a war between the US and China break out. However, many experts expect that with increasing Chinese anti-submarine capabilities such as underwater sensors and anti-submarine lasers, as well as the strategic environment around the South China Sea and the Strait of Taiwan with its shallow waters, this imbalance could soon change. Furthermore, the PLAN is currently with an estimated number of 340 warships —the US sat at 294 vessels at the end of FY2021—the largest naval force in the world and, while still inferior to the US in tonnage and firepower, is expected to continue its expansion and modernization efforts. However, in a recently published analysis Sam J. Tangredi concluded that even if the US Navy maintains a qualitatively superior fleet, at one point the numerical imbalance with China—and especially the superior ability of the PRC’s Defense Industrial base (DIB) to replace losses—could turn the tables in the PLAN’s favor. Its vessels, notably the Type 052D and Type 055 destroyer, are also integrated into the A2/AD as launching platforms for ASCMs. China also possesses three aircraft carriers – compared to the eleven US (super-) carriers. The Type 001 Liaoning, Type 002 Shandong, and Type 003 Fujian aircraft carriers could be used as mobile launching platforms for Shenyang J-15B fighter jets as well as for J-15D EW warplanes.
China’s A2/AD system is designed to protect China from aerial threats, and it could be used to gain air superiority and threaten incoming aircraft and ships. However, most experts agree that declaring the protected area a “kill zone” would be a mistake, as these systems are neither impenetrable “iron domes” nor easy to operate and maintain. One of the Chinese forces’ main problems is the C3ISR structure (Communications, Command, Control – Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance). While the DF-21D and DF-26 ASBM may be capable of destroying US Navy aircraft carriers thousands of kilometers away, these weapons are highly dependent on the information from AEW&C, radars, maritime patrol planes, drones, or satellites to identify, target, and successfully hit enemy vessels. To improve the C3ISR, China has established an information system based on the many claimed islands in the South China Sea, such as the Spratly and Paracel Islands, that create a network of radar and intelligence systems. However, as the distance increases, radar systems become less precise due to the earth's curvature. Consequently, indispensable satellites for information gathering could quickly become prioritized targets for the US Space Force, ending in a de-facto decapitation of the Chinese C3ISR.
One of the Chinese forces’ main problems is the C3ISR structure. While the DF-21D and DF-26 ASBM may be capable of destroying US Navy aircraft carriers thousands of kilometers away, these weapons are highly dependent on the information from AEW&C, radars, maritime patrol planes, drones, or satellites to identify, target, and successfully hit enemy vessels.
The Chinese leadership is aware of this vulnerability and continues strengthening its space forces to protect its C3ISR structure and challenge the US military dominance in space. The PRC has also been upgrading its cyber capabilities, such as cyber espionage targeting the US Defense Industrial Base (DIB), cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, and cyber warfare aimed at disrupting the enemy C3ISR. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has further expanded its electronic warfare capabilities both offensively and defensively. It is reflected in the introduction of the EW-specialized J-15D, J-16D, and J-10D multirole aircraft and the expansion of PRC military bases aimed to bolster EW and communication capabilities—particularly near the South China Sea. The PLA established the Strategic Support Force (SFF) in 2015, combining the PRC’s cyberspace, space, and EW capabilities as well as psychological, public opinion, and legal warfare—also known as “Three Warfares”—to support all branches of the PLA in their operations. At its current state, Beijing’s capabilities are still inferior and should not suppose an acute threat to the American C3ISR. However, the PRC is rapidly expanding its capabilities in these fields and could soon pose a serious threat to the US non-kinetic dominance.
The geographic organization of China’s A2/AD system follows a pattern of concentric circles. The inner core, or “First Island Chain”, spans from Japan’s southern tip of Kyushu to Okinawa, Taiwan, and the northern Philippines and ends in central Vietnam. Due to the geographic proximity, the Chinese systems are most threatening in this area. The “Second Island Chain” starts at Tokyo and includes Guam, the Philippines, and western New Guinea. Defensive systems in this area still limit the maneuverability of enemy forces but are less effective in threatening ships and aircraft because of being more exposed to enemy counterattacks. Lastly, the “Third Island Chain” reaches all of Japan and Hawaii and extends south until the northern coast of New Zealand. It is the least developed, heavily contested by Australia and the US, and relies on physical carrier systems such as the PLAN aircraft carriers and submarines. Already firmly entrenched in the First Island Chain, the Chinese leadership aims to continuously extend the spatial reach and increase the firepower of the A2/AD system.
The A2/AD System and the Overall Chinese Strategy
As often stated by Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) overall goal is the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” To achieve this, China aims to become a global hegemon while keeping Western military presence—especially the US—out of the Indo-Pacific. This includes the unification of the territory, fully integrating Hong Kong and Macau, regaining control over the “renegade province” of Taiwan before 2049, extending its influence in the region, and becoming a significant player in global governance. China seeks to restore its traditional hegemonic position in the Indo-Pacific, emphasizing the historical continuity of Chinese rule and redressing the grievances caused by the "Century of Humiliation."
To achieve hegemony, the CCP leadership aims to promote economic growth and favorable trade balances, increase Chinese global influence, and modernize the PLA. Establishing an extensive and intensive A2/AD system around the East and South China Sea, the PRC aims to reshape this area as its backyard under Chinese control. This status is crucial to impede foreign intervention during a potential invasion of Taiwan. Through the A2/AD Strategy, China aims to hinder its principal competitor, the United States, from coming to Taiwan’s aid, as any intervention could be regarded as too costly for the US Navy. The A2/AD system challenges US power projection and trust in the US Pacific Command (USPACOM); it can also be seen as an answer to Western force projection, precision strike capabilities, and highly networked C3IRS structures. The A2/AD system is designed to be used defensively to prevent foreign intervention. However, it could also be used offensively to weaken Taiwanese defenses. By making cost-benefit analysis a reality, China seeks to establish a “fait accompli” in the region.
If the PRC succeeds in unifying with Taiwan, it could further expand the A2/AD capabilities to the Second and Third Island Chains. This would allow China to control trade, navigation, and aviation in Northeast Asia, potentially undermining the US advocacy for Freedom of Navigation and threatening the interests of regional players. It would also give the PLAN open and unrestricted access to the oceans, allowing Chinese power projection to the Western Pacific beyond Taiwan. The A2/AD system, when combined with PLAN military expansion and modernization, is an integral part of China’s overall strategy and contributes to the PRC’s increasingly assertive and dominant role in the region.
The A2/AD system, when combined with PLAN military expansion and modernization, is an integral part of China’s overall strategy and contributes to the PRC’s increasingly assertive and dominant role in the region.
Since Xi Jinping took office, the Chinese government has become more assertive around the South and East China Sea. Disputes with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and increased tensions with many ASEAN countries over the Spratly and Paracel Islands after the announcement of the 9-dash line—an imaginary line of Chinese sovereignty, including the vast majority of the South China Sea which is widely rejected on the international stage—are examples of this assertiveness. The A2/AD system is not only a military asset but also a tool to coerce neighbouring countries. Once China controls the disputed territories, they could be used to improve the system further—as seen with the militarization of the Spratly Islands.
The A2/AD System, Taiwan, and the Indo-Pacific
To be able to respond to the Chinese strategy, it is essential to understand the implications of A2/AD for the region, especially in the event of a potential military escalation between the US and PRC. Due to the lack of insight into Chinese military statistics and the opacity of the political system, it is difficult to make accurate predictions. Experts and analysts have diverging views on the current state of the A2/AD system and its strategic and operational consequences. Nevertheless, this section will attempt to draw some possible conclusions.
Almost ten years ago, a group of analysts predicted that the Chinese A2/AD system would make any future involvement of the US armed forces in East Asia more challenging. The global power balance still favors the US, but the gap has become increasingly thin over the last decade. China only needs to gain regional superiority, while the US would still need to maintain a global presence – particularly considering Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. A RAND strategic analyst stated in 2019 that “In our games when we fight Russia and China, blue [US] gets its ass handed to it.” The A2/AD system plays a significant role in this assessment, as does the geographical and geostrategic context. Suppose China were to exploit the temporal advantage of a theoretically quick invasion of Taiwan. In that case, it could take defensive positions under its A2/AD system and deter or defend against a potential US intervention. The US Marine Corps (USMC) has therefore shifted its focus from counterinsurgency operations toward littoral operations in a contested environment – as also reflected in the USMC Force Design 2030 – and could take an important role in enabling US Navy operations in the Western Pacific. However, whether the USMC and US Navy could push through the First Island Chain of the A2/AD system may even be questionable, indicating China may have already reached a very advanced stage in the closing of the region between the Chinese mainland and the First Island Chain.
The USMC has therefore shifted its focus from counterinsurgency operations toward littoral operations in a contested environment – as also reflected in the USMC Force Design 2030 – and could take an important role in enabling US Navy operations in the Western Pacific.
Other military experts argue that although the current A2/AD systems make access to the region difficult, some aspects are still immature, such as the air defense. Despite the Chinese missile systems being a significant threat, the lack of real-life application and the missing Chinese army combat experience indicates that the fighting capabilities of the A2/AD systems could be overestimated. Additionally, there are technical limitations and C3ISR structural deficiencies due to missing consistent radar systems and, most notably, resilient satellite systems, which could also limit and even cripple the effectiveness of the A2/AD systems. The US Space Force, US Cyber Command, and US Navy submarine fleet could also exploit China’s submarine vulnerability as well as in the cyber, space, and EW domains to de facto paralyze the invasion forces and the A2/AD system—a fact of which the Chinese PLA is fully aware. The beforementioned CSIS report analyzed a potential conflict between the US-Japanese Alliance and China over Taiwan based on a series of wargames and simulations. The analysts contradict the earlier cited RAND report and conclude that the US-Japan alliance and the Taiwanese forces would bear high costs—449 destroyed aircraft and 43 sunken ships (including two aircraft carriers)—but would ultimately be able to prevent China from occupying Taiwan.
Other than the shift in the military balance, currently in favor of the US, a fully developed Chinese A2/AD system could have far-reaching consequences for the international order in the Indo-Pacific and security in the region, even without a major war occurring. With the US intervention becoming more costly and China far outweighing any other competitor in the region, militarily and economically, China could become emboldened to pursue its expansionist ambitions further. Protected by its A2/AD system, the PRC could push its claims in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, and especially in the Straight of Taiwan. China could increase pressure on Taiwan and the ASEAN states over territorial conflicts. Closer cooperation between US allies such as South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and the European powers appear to become inevitable to counter the emerging threat. Current trends indicate that this scenario is expected to cause increased military competition in the region and elevate the risk of escalation in the region – although it could equally act as a deterrent against Chinese aggression.
The US Response: Multi-Domain Operation and Archipelagic Defense
The expansion of China’s A2/AD system as part of its National Security Strategy has caused a shift in the international security environment. It is thus essential to analyze possible measures to counter the A2/AD system. This will be done primarily from the point of the United States, as it is the only country capable of marshaling the economic, military, political, and diplomatic means to counter the Chinese strategy. Different counterapproaches, military adaptations, and a change in the role of US allies and partners should be analyzed. The lessons learned from the ongoing war in Ukraine should also be considered.
Various countermeasures to the A2/AD system consider both defensive (“fight fire with water”) and offensive strategies (“fight fire with fire”), as well as inside-out and outside-in approaches. A defensive approach could involve establishing parallel anti-ballistic, anti-ship, and anti-air systems in/around the region to reduce the effectiveness of the enemy’s capabilities. An offensive approach would involve deploying counterstrike systems such as long-range missiles to retaliate/destroy the enemy’s military systems. However, both approaches are costly and do not necessarily guarantee the desired outcome. The US and its allies should also decide whether to approach the A2/AD counterstrategy as inside-out or outside-in. An inside-out approach would involve destabilizing and shattering the A2/AD system through a decisive strike on its center of gravity—notably the C3ISR system—overwhelming it with fire and causing its collapse. On the other hand, an outside-in approach would involve gradually penetrating the defensive layers from the outside.
The US has answered to China’s A2/AD system by adapting its doctrine. To counter the Chinese system, the US has sought to leverage its strategic advantages, such as its superior submarine fleet and C3ISR disruption capabilities. Further, the US adopted the operational concept of Multi-Domain Operations, aiming to penetrate and disintegrate the enemy’s A2/AD system to exploit the benefits of the regained freedom of movement to establish a favorable environment for the US, its partners, and allies. One of the main components of the US counterstrategy has been the upgrade of the Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) and missile-defense systems stationed at the US bases in Okinawa and Guam. The IADS includes region-wide C3ISR capabilities (radars, sensors, satellites), defensive systems (fixed, mobile, and expeditionary), as well as offensive fire to counter potential Chinese aggression. To penetrate the enemy A2/AD system, it is crucial to expand long-range precision-strike systems, as well as long-range artillery and rocket systems.
The US adopted the operational concept of Multi-Domain Operations, aiming to penetrate and disintegrate the enemy’s A2/AD system to exploit the benefits of the regained freedom of movement to establish a favorable environment for the US, its partners, and allies.
The current Archipelagic Defense operational concept by the US and its regional allies and partners can be seen as a compromise between the defensive-offensive and inside out – outside in approaches. It calls for the forward deployment of US ground forces in the First Island Chain, including developed systems of counterstrike and integrated deterrence capabilities. The establishment of A2/AD capabilities in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan could transform these countries into “porcupines” – too weak to defend themselves on their own but too costly to be attacked by China. Concerning forward deployment, US Army and US Marine Corps amphibious operations in the South China Sea are considered indispensable to destroying key weapons and C3ISR systems and bursting the A2/AD bubble in the Indo-Pacific. The Archipelagic Defense could be the most fleshed-out and comprehensive US approach to the A2/AD concept. Critics, however, point out the immense costs regarding the building and maintenance, the strong dependence on the cooperation with US allies and partners to embark on this path, and the danger that China may not be deterred and answer with an even more rapidly increasing military buildup.
The US has been encouraging its partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific—as it has done in Europe in response to the threat posed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia—to bolster their military and defense capabilities. Establishing a diplomatic alliance with a shared vision of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) could help stretch the Chinese A2/AD system thin and reduce its efficacy and threatening potential. No longer being in a privileged position to guarantee the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, the US aims to elevate collective security and integrate its network alliance through the Archipelagic Defense. The revival of the Quadrilateral Dialogue (Quad), the announcement of the AUKUS security alliance in September 2021 and the new US National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy reflect the shift towards integrated defense and collective security. In this regard, the US has three key allies, Australia, Japan, and South Korea, as well as crucial Taiwan, that could— with the help of the US—become integrated into the US anti-A2/AD Strategy.
US Allies’ and Partners’ Responses: Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Australia
Concerning Taiwan, the island nation may be ill-advised in aiming for parity in vessels and aircraft. It should start allocating funds toward A2/AD arms procurement and building up defensive systems. The impact of naval and aerial threats could be reduced through ASCMs and ASBMs from domestic and American manufacturers combined with SAM from the US. The US has already deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic systems to Guam in 2013 and South Korea in 2017 and could also send them to Taiwan – although this could lead to further escalation. While Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) – more commonly known as Patriot systems – are also deployed in Taiwan, the US may further increase the volume of exports of these advanced systems and consider the deployment and/or supply of AEGIS-capable anti-ballistic ships in or near Taiwan. The fortification of Taiwan to protect its coastline through landmines, fortifications, and pre-targeted artillery would also significantly bolster deterrence against a possible PRC invasion.
The impact of naval and aerial threats could be reduced through ASCMs and ASBMs from domestic and American manufacturers combined with SAM from the US.
Japan and South Korea are vital players in countering the Chinese A2/AD system and are essential for containing the threat posed by North Korean nuclear brinkmanship. The US has already deployed THAAD systems deployed in South Korea and stationed AEGIS-capable ships near Japan. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan is fully aware of the regional threats and, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, approved the revision of the three strategic documents on December 16, 2022. These documents emphasize the need for integrated defense, counterstrike capabilities, and increased military spending. Fear of conflict with China is not unfounded: satellite imagery published in mid-May 2022 showed captures from Chinese Xinjiang of a destroyed mock-up of a Japanese E-767 AEW&C plane used by the Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces (JASDF) to patrol the East China Sea and essential for military operation in the region. China may have used the mock-up to prepare its forces in case a conflict escalates between both countries over Taiwan. Without the E-767 patrolling the East China Sea and the Strait of Taiwan, it would be challenging for the US-Japanese alliance to engage in combat operations, as the main AEW&C aircraft used by the JASDF. Additionally, Japan plans to procure up to 500 US-made Tomahawk missiles with a range of 1,000 km, capable of hitting targets in the Chinese mainland. In recent years, Japan has also been aiming to improve defense and security ties with other US allies in the region, such as Australia, the UK, and the Philippines, and even improving ties with South Korea. Japan signed a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) with Australia in January 2022, aiming to promote joint exercises between the Australian Defense Force and JSDF and improve interoperability between both armies. A similar accord was signed between Prime Minister Kishida and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on January 11, 2023, and an RAA between Japan and the Philippines is expected to be signed soon. Prime Minister Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol have agreed to strengthen security ties, particularly intelligence sharing regarding North Korean rocket launches, in light of the increasing threat North Korea and China pose. Conservative President Yoon has shifted South Korean foreign policy, replacing the conciliatory approach of his left-wing predecessor Moon Jae-in with a more US-centric hardline stance against North Korea.
Canberra is becoming an increasingly valuable ally for Tokyo and Washington, playing a key role in strengthening collective security in the South Pacific. The announcement of the AUKUS security alliance in September 2021 can be seen as an attempt to further integrate Australia and the UK into the US technological and Defense Industrial Base. The procurement of eight US-made nuclear-powered submarines—likely of the Virginia class—could put the Royal Australian Navy on par with the nuclear-powered submarines in the PLAN, posing a direct threat to Chinese naval interests in the South Pacific. Additionally, Australia recently announced the decision to acquire Norwegian Naval Strike Missiles (NSM) and US High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) —greatly boosting Australian power projection.
The war in Ukraine has also provided the US and its allies with valuable lessons concerning A2/AD systems. Like China, Russia has established an A2/AD system along the NATO Eastern flank and around Crimea. The failure of anti-air and anti-missile systems enabled Ukrainian strikes on the Russian flagship Moskva on April 14, 2022, and the Saky airbase in Crimea on August 9, 2022. Additionally, the Russian Armed Forces could not hold on to Snake Island due to the high-risk posed by incoming fire. These examples show that maintaining a reliable and effective A2/AD system is challenging, requiring signification coordination, training, logistics, and C3ISR.
In addition, the war in Ukraine has also highlighted the impact of crucial weaponry that enables the exploitation of the enemy’s weaknesses, such as HIMARS and M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS). Additionally, the Ukrainian defense has shown the effectiveness of asymmetric defense weapons, such as Stinger and Javelin missiles, in countering the enemy’s tank and air force superiority. Supplying Taiwan with anti-tank, anti-air, and anti-ship warfare asymmetric systems, combined with UAVs and weapon systems such as HIMARS or high-power microwave weapons, could make Taiwan a “porcupine” and partially negate the advantage provided by the A2/AD system. However, Taiwan and Ukraine differ in one crucial aspect: The West should not forget that, in case of conflict between China and Taiwan, no weapons could be delivered as Taiwanese airspace and sealines of communication are expected to be closed off by the PLA. Thus, it is necessary to equip Taiwan with the necessary weapons beforehand if the goal is to create a “porcupine” to deter China. On the other hand, China is not Russia. Despite being the US’ biggest competitor, there is still a great deal of uncertainty concerning China’s military capabilities due to the opaqueness of the Chinese political-military system.
The Ukrainian defense has shown the effectiveness of asymmetric defense weapons, such as Stinger and Javelin missiles, in countering the enemy’s tank and air force superiority.
The Chinese A2/AD system is at the core of the Chinese strategy and thus remains a crucial question while dealing with the PRC. Although the true extent of the force remains uncertain, it appears as a system that can negatively affect overall maneuverability and limit access to the region. In global terms, A2/AD may lead to a turning point in the international order and the positions of China and the US in the Indo-Pacific. Therefore, raising awareness of the threat posed by the A2/AD system and further coordinating with partners and allies to counter Chinese military development to deter China from escalating the situation in the region should be the main priority of Western countries, especially the US. While militarizing the region from the inside and surrounding it with defensive and offensive systems may be a short-term solution, the only long-term stable solution is de-escalation and demilitarization. However, weakened through the A2/AD system and without the military strength to respond to authoritarian aggression, the US, its partners, and allies may soon find themselves confronted with a scenario with only limited options.
Fabian-Lucas Romero Meraner is a master’s student in International Security at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po Paris). He specializes in East Asian security affairs focusing on Chinese military modernization, the Chinese anti-access/area-denial system, and Japanese security policy. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone.
 Mark F. Cancian, Matthew Cancian, Eric Heginbotham, The First Battle of the Next War. Wargaming a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2023), 1, https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-.
 Sam J. Tangredi, "Anti-Access Strategies in the Pacific: The United States and China," Parameters 49, no. 1 (2019): 6, doi:10.55540/0031-1723.2859.
 Chris Dougherty, “Moving Beyond A2/AD,” Center for a New American Security, December 3, 2020, https://www.cnas.org/publications/commentary/moving-beyond-a2-ad.
 John Wagemann, Chinese Grand Strategy: How Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) Fits in China’s Plan (Fort Belvoir, VA: Defense Technical Information Center, 2014), 8, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/citations/AD1023601.
 ADBR Staff Writer or ADBR, “Feature: OSINT – CHINESE A2AD,” ADBR, June 16, 2020, https://adbr.com.au/osintchinese-a2ad/.
 Kris Osborn, “Could the US Navy Destroy Attacking Chinese ‘Carrier-Killer’ DF-26 Anti-Ship Missiles?” Warrior Maven, November 8, 2022, https://warriormaven.com/china/china-df26-carrier-killer-missile.
 Ronald O’Rourke, U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress, RL33153 (2021), 57.
 Ibid., 13.
 ADBR, “Chinese A2/AD.”
 Minnie Chan, “China showcases latest Hongqi missile defence systems at Zhuhai air show,” South China Morning Post, November 15, 2022, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3199586/china-showcases-latest-hongqi-missile-defence-systems-zhuhai-air-show.
 Ngo Minh Tri, “China’s A2/AD Challenge in the South China Sea: Securing the Air From the Ground,” The Diplomat, May 19, 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/05/chinas-a2adchallenge-in-the-south-china-sea-securing-the-air-from-the-ground/.
 ADBR, “Chinese A2/AD.”
 Mark F. Cancian, Matthew Cancian, Eric Heginbotham, The First Battle of the Next War, 3.
 Loro Horta, “Battle of Submarines: World’s Biggest Navy, Why China Could Be Ill-Prepared For a Deep-Sea Encounter With The US,” The Eurasian Times, February 10, 2022, https://eurasiantimes.com/china-could-be-ill-prepared-for-a-deep-sea-encounter-with-the-us/.
 O’Rourke, U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, China Naval Modernization, 2.
 Sam J. Tangredi, “Bigger Fleets Win,” Proceedings, 149, no. 1 (January 2023): https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2023/january/bigger-fleets-win.
 Tri, “China’s A2/AD Challenge.”
 Sebastien Roblin, “Why China Has Went All-In on Chinese A2/AD,” National Interest, January 10, 2021, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/why-china-has-went-all-chinese-a2ad-176130.
 Will Staton, “Gaining Entry: Countering China’s Anti-Access Area-Denial Strategy,” Medium, January 10, 2019, https://medium.com/@WStaton85/gaining-entry-countering-chinas-antiaccess-area-denial-strategy-a726dad4606a.
 Marek Czajkowski, “The Chinese A2/AD Strategy – Political implications for the Space Security,” Rocznik Bezpieczeństwa Międzynarodowego (Yearbook of International Security), 12, no. 2 (December 2018): 78, https://doi.org/10.34862/rbm.2018.2.6.
 Dustin Carmack, “Assessing the Non-Kinetic Battlespace,” The Heritage Foundation, October 31, 2022, https://www.heritage.org/cybersecurity/commentary/assessing-the-non-kinetic-battlespace.
 Matthew P. Funaiole, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., Brian Hart, “China Is Ramping Up Its Electronic Warfare and Communications Capabilities near the South China Sea,” CSIS, December 17, 2021, https://www.csis.org/analysis/china-ramping-its-electronic-warfare-and-communications-capabilities-near-south-china-sea.
 Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China 2022 (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2022), 68f.
 Sameer Joshi, “Demystifying the Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) Threat,” Medium, April 10, 2019, https://sameerjoshi73.medium.com/demystifying-the-anti-access-area-denial-a2-adthreat-d0ed26ae8b9e.
 ADBR, “Chinese A2/AD.”
 Xi Jinping, “Achieving Rejuvenation Is the Dream of the Chinese People” (speech, Beijing, November 29, 2012), The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/c23934/202006/32191c5bbdb04cbab6df01e5077d1c60.shtml.
 Wagemann, Chinese Grand Strategy, 1.
 Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments 2022,3.
 Xi Jinping, “Speech at a Ceremony Marking the Centenary of the Communist Youth League of China” (speech, Beijing, May 10, 2022), The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, http://english.scio.gov.cn/topnews/2022-05/12/content_78214961.htm.
 Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments 2022, 5.
 Mathew Jamison, “Countering China’s Counter-Intervention Strategy,” The Strategy Bridge, August 11, 2020, https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2020/8/11/countering-chinascounter-intervention-strategy.
 Andreas Schmidt, “Countering Anti-Access/Area Denial: Future Capability Requirements in NATO,” JAPCC Journal, 23 (January 2017): 69-77, https://www.japcc.org/articles/countering-anti-access-area-denial/.
 Shaun Breslin and Pan Zhongqi, “Introduction: A Xi Change in Policy?” The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 23, no. 2 (2017): 206f.
 Terrence Kelly et al., Developing a U.S. Strategy for Dealing with China — Now and into the Future (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2014), 1, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9802.html.
 Sydney J. Freedberg, “US ‘Gets Its Ass Handed To It’ In Wargames: Here’s a $24 Billion Fix,” Breaking Defense, March 7, 2019, https://breakingdefense.com/ 2019/03/us-gets-its-ass-handedto-it-in-wargames-heres-a-24-billion-fix/.
 Dougherty, “Moving Beyond A2/AD.”
 Tangredi, ”Anti-Access Strategies,“ 13ff.
 Ibid., 6.
 Roblin, “China Has Went All-in.”
 Mark F. Cancian, Matthew Cancian, Eric Heginbotham, The First Battle of the Next War, 87f.
 Si-Fu Ou, “China’s A2AD and Its Geographical Perspective,” Asia-Pacific Research Forum, 60 (December 2014): 92.
 John Grady, “U.S. Needs to Push Allies to Prepare for a Potential Conflict with China, Panel Says,” U.S. Naval Institute News, November 30, 2022, https://news.usni.org/2022/11/30/u-s-needs-to-push-allies-to-prepare-for-a-potiential-chinese-conflict-panel-says.
 Roblin, “China Has Went All-in.”
 Timothy M. Bonds et al., What Role Can Land-Based, Multi-Domain Anti-Access/Area Denial Forces Play in Deterring or Defeating Aggression? (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2017), xii, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1820.html.
 Staton, “Gaining Entry.”
 Andrew Feickert, U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Army Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), IF11409 (2022), 1f.
 MDAA, “China’s Anti-Access Area Denial,” Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, August 24, 2018, https://missiledefenseadvocacy.org/missile-threat-and-proliferation/todays-missile-threat/china/china-anti-access-area-denial/.
 Jamison, “Countering China’s Counter-Intervention Strategy.”
 Feickert, U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Army MDO, 1.
 Daniel Burns, “Given China’s A2/AD Capabilities, How Would the United States Defend Taiwan,” U.S. Naval Institute, September 16, 2022, https://blog.usni.org/posts/2022/09/16/given-chinas-a2ad-capabilities-how-would-the-united-states-defend-taiwan.
 Lyle Goldstein, “Bad Idea: Turning A2/AD against China with “Archipelagic Defense,” Defense 360°, December 21, 2021, https://defense360.csis.org/bad-idea-turning-a2-ad-against-china-with-archipelagic-defense/.
 Kassan M. Kamara, “Countering the A2/AD in the Indo-Pacific,” Joint Force Quarterly, 97, no. 2 (Summer 2020): 98, https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/jfq/jfq-97/jfq-97_97-102_Kamara.pdf?ver=2020-03-31-215816-687.
 Goldstein, “Turning A2/AD.”
 Ashley Townshend and James Crabtree, “US Indo-Pacific Strategy, Alliances and Security Partnerships,” in Asia-Pacific Regional Security Assessment 2022, ed. Tim Huxley and Lynn Kuok (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2022), 15.
 Staton, “Gaining Entry.”
 Townshend, Crabtree, US Indo-Pacific Strategy, 15.
 Kathleen McInnis, “’Integrated Deterrence’ Is Not So Bad,” CSIS, October 27, 2022, https://www.csis.org/analysis/integrated-deterrence-not-so-bad.
 Mark F. Cancian, Matthew Cancian, Eric Heginbotham, The First Battle of the Next War, 124.
 Tangredi, “Anti-Access Strategies,” 14.
 Guermantes Lailari, “Fortifying Taiwan: Making the Case for Allied Missile Defense Support,” Global Taiwan Brief, 6, Issue 14 (July 2021), https://globaltaiwan.org/2021/07/fortifying-taiwan-making-the-case-for-allied-missile-defense-support/.
 Sascha Glaeser, “Lessons for Taiwan from Ukraine,” Defense Priorities, October 24, 2022, https://www.defensepriorities.org/explainers/lessons-for-taiwan-from-ukraine.
 Jesse Johnson, Gabriel Dominguez, “Japan approves major defense overhaul in dramatic policy shift,” The Japan Times, December 16, 2022, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/12/16/national/japan-dramatic-defense-shift/.
 Nikkei Staff Writers, “Satellite photos show China destroyed object similar to Japan plane,” Nikkei Asia, July 15, 2022, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Most-read-in-2022/Satellite-photos-show-China-destroyed-object-similar-to-Japan-plane.
 Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Ellen Nakashima, “Japan to buy Tomahawk missiles in defense buildup amid fears of war,” The Washington Post, December 12, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/12/12/japan-tomahawk-missiles-ukraine-war/.
 Brad Glosserman, “New Japan-Australia reciprocity accord is important, but it’s only part of the story,” The Japan Times, January 11, 2022, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2022/01/11/commentary/world-commentary/japanese-officials-reportedly-hope-to-use-the-raa-as-a-model-for-defense-cooperation-agreements-with-other-countries-european-ones-in-particular-to-expand-the-security-network-in-the-indo-pacific/.
 Jesse Johnson, Gabriel Dominguez, “U.K.-Japan defense cooperation to intensify following landmark agreement,” The Japan Times, January 11, 2023, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/01/11/national/politics-diplomacy/britain-japan-troops-agreement-raa/
 Brad Glosserman, “Japan, U.S. and Philippines align to combat China’s reach,” The Japan Times, December 6, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australia-spend-a1-billion-new-naval-missiles-rocket-system-2023-01-04/.
 Hyung-jin Kim, “S Korea, Japan seek better ties amid NKorea missile tensions,” abc News, November 13, 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/korea-japan-seek-ties-amid-nkorea-missile-tensions-93214043.
 Jessie Yeung, Paula Hancocks, Yoonjung Seo, “Exclusive: South Korea’s new leader says age of appeasing North Korea is over,” CNN, May 28, 2022, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/05/23/asia/south-korea-president-exclusive-interview-intl-hnk/index.html.
 Townshend, Crabtree, US Indo-Pacific Strategy, 28.
 Ramos Garzón, “US preserves submarine superiority.”
 Lucy Craymer, “Australia to spend A$1 billion on new naval missiles, rocket system,” Reuters, January 4, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australia-spend-a1-billion-new-naval-missiles-rocket-system-2023-01-04/.
 Brad Lendon, “Moskva sinking: what really happened to the pride of Russia’s fleet?” CNN, April 15, 2022, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/04/15/europe/russia-guided-missile-cruiser-moskva-sinks-intl-hnk-ml/index.html.
 Leo Sands, “Saky airfield: Ukraine claims Crimea blasts responsibility after denial,” BBC News, September 7, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-62821044.
 Sinan Tavsan, “Russia’s failure to cement Black Sea dominance has lessons for China,” Nikkei Asia, July 5, 2022, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Ukraine-war/Russia-s-failure-to-cement-Black-Sea-dominance-has-lessons-for-China.
 Glaeser, “Lessons for Taiwan.”