A Worst-case Scenario in South China Sea*

“TALISMAN Sabre” is the codename of a biennial naval exercise conducted by the US and Australian naval forces that started in 2005.

The last exercise was in July 2015 which was joined in by Japan and New Zealand. Basically, the exercise involves the naval blockade of China in the Malacca Strait, Sunda Strait, and Lombok Strait; and assault landings on islands. Another of this series of naval exercises is scheduled for July 2017.

With the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague ruling against China’s claim of sovereignty over those islands in the Spratlys encompassed by China’s “nine-dash line”, and with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson having declared that China has no right to those artificial islands in the South China Sea and that the US will do something about it; “Talisman Sabre” could readily evolve from a mere military exercise into a major war.

China’s answer to a naval blockade.

A naval blockade of the straits in the South China Sea can force China’s economy to grind to a halt. China’s oil and gas supplies from the Middle East and Africa, and China’s trade to the Persian Gulf, Europe, and Africa pass through these straits. This is the main reason why China built those artificial islands, three of which contain runways that are three kilometers long. Those runways can accommodate more combat aircraft and anti-ship ballistic missiles than all of US aircraft carriers combined – and they are unsinkable.

In the event of a US naval blockade, China can instantly deploy its J-20s, SU-35s, J-11Bs, H6Ks, early-warning, and air-refuelling aircraft in those artificial islands with runways; together with medium and intermediate-range anti-ship ballistic missiles (DF21Ds, DF26Cs) and long-range cruise missiles (HN2000s).

S-400 Photo © defence-blog.com

Newly acquired Russian S-400 air defense system can also be deployed on the islands to defend against adversary missiles and aircraft. The same islands can also host land-based monitoring stations for underwater anti-submarine hydroponic sensors to preclude US nuclear submarines from using the Philippine deep as avenue of approach to launch a first nuclear strike on China’s east coast. These are China’s answer to the US-led “Talisman Sabre.”

Buy one, Take two

So what would a worst-case scenario in the South China Sea look like? Here are what China and its key allies can possibly do to counter US “Talisman Sabre” and its “Air-Sea Battle” strategy. It will involve not only China in the South China Sea. It is like: “buy one; take two”. China coordinates a contingency plan with Russia and Iran: Russia to send its nuclear submarines to US east coast, while China’s nuclear submarines deploy to US west coast to launch a coordinated attack on the US mainland in the event that US launches a first strike on China mainland, or on Russia or Iran.

Russia opens a war front in Ukraine and sends troops to defend Syria; while Iran opens a war front in the Middle East by closing the Strait of Hormuz (where NATO countries get some 60% and Japan 90% of their oil). US will then be forced to fight in three major war fronts simultaneously, (with two more being added if US attacks the Chinese mainland) and be weak everywhere.

“Never hit with both fists in two directions at the same time” is a time-honored military dictum. US will be forced to hit in three directions abroad and two directions in its home front – for a total of five major fronts all at the same time.

In three of these major fronts, the US forces will be forced to cross major oceans where its reinforcements and logistics become vulnerable to submarine interdictions. When the above contingency plan is ironed out, China then prepares its own offense and defense.

For offense, China allocates a barrage of medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles to each of the 400 or so US military bases or launching pads (often referred to as “lily-pads”) surrounding China; with priority given to air bases harboring US stealth aircraft and naval bases harboring nuclear submarines.

Dong Feng (East Wind) DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile Photo © EPA/WU HONG

Enough of said missiles (DF21Ds and DF26Cs) are also allocated to US aircraft carrier strike groups operating within 4000 kilometers of the Chinese mainland. China’s anti-submarine and anti-satellite systems are put on high alert.

For defense, China prepares its more than 5000 kilometers of strategic tunnels, 41 underground air bases, and subway system in every major city for civil and military defense; insures that its extensive air defense system covering its entire east coast is in good working condition; and its anti-submarine monitoring system bounded by the first island chain are ready for action at anytime.

As for active defense, China deploys it fleet of nuclear attack submarines to patrol the east coast of the US; ready to retaliate if the US attacks the Chinese or Russian mainland. After the contingency plan is completed and both offense and defense are readied, correct timing comes next. Since China’s military doctrine states: We will not be the first to attack; but if we are attacked, we will surely counter-attack. This doctrine refers to the strategic level. At the operational and tactical level, China’s doctrine is always to seize the initiative.

If the US and its major allies conduct a naval blockade against China in the South China Sea or in the Malacca Strait, such a move is considered a declaration of war and an “attack” at the strategic level; hence, China can now launch its counter attack at the operational and tactical level. The perfect timing is for China to wait for the US alliance to poise itself for an assault on the artificial islands in the South China Sea; then seize the initiative by striking first. With China’s advanced C4ISR, it is easy for China to know the right moment to strike.

A worst case scenario

A worst case scenario in the South China Sea now unfolds. China simultaneously targets all adversary bases and aircraft carrier strike groups within 4000 kilometers from the China mainland. Key US satellites used for C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) are attacked by ground-based direct ascent anti-satellite missiles and directed energy (laser) weapons. Monitored US nuclear submarines prowling within the first island chain are attacked by swarms of unmanned underwater vehicles, anti-submarine aircraft and helicopters, and land and ship-based anti-submarine missiles.

In less than 15 minutes, all air bases with stealth aircraft and advanced-model combat aircraft are destroyed and US air cover is reduced to rubble on the ground. Loss of air bases means loss of air support; and loss of air support means loss of the war itself. But the most dramatic of all was the fate of the US aircraft carrier strike groups – the pride of US military might – all up in smoke and on their way to the bottom of the sea. These 15 minutes of high-intensity action ushers in a new era in warfare. They demonstrate to the world the devastating impact of the ongoing revolution in military affairs (or RMA).

The start of the missile attacks by China against US bases on its periphery also signals the start of action by China’s allies Russia and Iran.

Iskander-M Photo © yournewswire.com

Russian Iskander M ballistic missiles and Kalibr cruise missiles near its borders and those in Kaliningrad, Crimea, and Belarus attack all the US missile defense system deployments in Poland, Romania, and other NATO allies. Russia sends troops to Crimea and Syria. Russia also deploys its nuclear attack submarines to patrol the eastern coast of the US, ready to retaliate if the US decides to attack Russian or Chinese mainland.

Meanwhile, Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz, effectively stopping oil tanker traffic in the whole of the Persian Gulf. Iran’s missiles are also ready to strike Saudi and Qatari oil and gas facilities if they make a move.

Impossible scenario

IMPOSSIBLE SCENARIO! One may tend to exclaim. A worst-case scenario is based on the capabilities of contending parties. So, in order to know if our worst-case scenario is possible or not, we just have to determine if China possess the capabilities described in our scenario.

Does China possess anti-ship ballistic missiles capable of hitting aircraft carriers 4000 kilometers from the Chinese mainland? Can these same missiles hit fixed targets on land such as air bases hosting stealth aircraft from Korea all the way to Guam? Can China destroy US satellites used for C4ISR with its anti-satellite missiles and other anti-satellite weapons? Can China monitor and destroy US submarines within the first island chain using hydroponic sensors and anti-submarine UUVs, aircraft, helicopters, and missiles?

Does China possess hypersonic glide vehicles in its ballistic missiles that can bring warheads to their targets 4000 kilometers away in less than 15 minutes from launch? Does China possess the C4ISR needed to find and hit their targets with precision beyond the horizon? Are China’s ICBMs capable of hitting any target in the US with relative precision? Are China’s nuclear submarines capable of deploying in the west coast of the US? Are China, Russia, and Iran in a secret alliance as a result of US diplomatic blunders? Will they work together militarily against the US in contingency situations?

Are Chinese and Russian nuclear submarines capable of interdicting US supply/logistics lines in the Pacific, Indian, or Atlantic Oceans? Is there a possibility that the US will be confronted in several major fronts simultaneously: South China Sea, Syria, and Strait of Hormuz internationally, and west and east coast of US domestically? Simply answer Yes or No. Then you can decide for yourself if this scenario is impossible or not.


* The opinion of this author is his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.


  1. Once that scenario gets triggered, the conflagration will most likely be impossible to stop. The United Nations does not have the capability to enforce peacekeeping and peacebuilding under that scenario.

    The Philippines may survive. The Filipinos may then amaze the World. The Filipinos may amaze even themselves.

    How? Part of the answer may have to do with Filipinos being all over this planet.

  2. Elgine Alfonso says:

    The scenario pictured in this article is possible at a first glance. But if one look deeper several flaws existing making it merely a fiction story.

    Firstly, the story began with the US, Australia and New Zealand working together to stop China from its aggression in South China Sea with its so called “TALISMAN Sabre” naval exercise yet as the story went on Australia and N. Zealand went out of the picture and it became a fight between China, Russia & Iran vs US. From this alone, the error is already quite obvious and no thinking minds will be persuaded.

    But let us go further, the disputed islands in the South China sea is not just an interest of China, Philippines and the US. It is an interest of all South East Asian Countries, all of which are ready to go to battle to defend its freedom from China’s territorial establishment. Hence, any aggression made by China against any of the interested party purposely to claim territory over the disputed islands in the South China Sea is an aggreession towards all the interested party which will signal warrant a defensive action against China. Contrary to the pictured scenario above, it is going to be China which will have to use its force from different directions whereas US and all other parties’ forces are centered on China.

    But that is just a small piece of the puzzle, there is the entire asia, middle east and europe which are all againt to the actions taken by China over these disputed islands for the past years now. And they too are ready to take into
    battle to suppress unlawful agression and uphold laws within the region and all over the world.

  3. Victor N. Corpus says:

    It was mentioned in the worst-case scenario that all military bases from South Korea all the way to Guam will be attacked with missile volley strikes. These include US forces and war equipment based in Australia and Japan.

    With regards to US allies in NATO, France and UK can add their Aircraft Carrier Strike Groups and nuclear submarines to that of US naval forces; but China possesses more than enough anti-ship ballistic missiles and anti-submarine missiles to wipe them out within the “15 minutes” of high-intensity, long-range, highly-accurate, stealthy, quick-tempo, and highly-lethal warfare brought about by the current revolution in military affairs (or RMA). France and UK are both nuclear-armed nations. If they decide to use their nuclear weapons against Russia or China, retaliation may be in the form of RS-28 SARTAN ICBM missiles. One SARTAN missile can literally wipe out France, or UK, or Israel from the map.

    With regards to Germany, it is highly doubtful if Germany will decide to join UK or France in this conflict with the Russia-China-Iran triumvirate. Germany is directly connected to Russian Nordstream gas pipeline, which could easily be shut off if Germany makes a move against Russia. Germany, being the informal leader of the rest of the NATO nations, can sway the other members of NATO to remain neutral in this worst-case scenario.

    As for ASEAN, we have already seen how they reacted to China during the handing down of the Permanent Court of Arbitration of The Hague. They simply kept silent, refusing US egging to denounce China in the open. There is also India, who has a boundary dispute with China; but India just joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) together with Pakistan; and India has close ties with Russia. Hence, India may choose to remain neutral in this worst-case scenario.

  4. Sir,The write had described technical details of weapons available possessed by contending parties in the event of military confrontation that may cause devastation on planet earth and her inhabitants!The emerging powers like China and Russia are trying to build something that help human development as opposed to other tant propagate war and blackmail fot theirprofit and privilages fo vey few privilleged people.Humanity hopes that both parties strive hard to come to a constractive agreement foe welbeing of humanity.m karim.

  5. Yes. 100% possible and viable. USA does not have a clue of what China has built up for exactly such a scenario. USA will think swarms of bees are spreading out from China towards all the above mentioned US targets. Nothing the USA has or can do will help. 7 minutes is closer to the mark for total anialation of all USA AND ALLIES navel forces within 4000 miles or even more. What USA thinks it sees above ground is less than 17 % of what is hidden. 100s of thousands of USA personnel in hundreds of bases will disappear. Every US target has been pre selected and targeted with constant updating and adjustment of attacking weaponry. Remember, China plans ahead, in great detail and builds into the planning MULTIPLE scenarios in the event of change.

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