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The South and East China Seas as a Case Study

The Dragon (China) covets the outer islands, shoals, and exclusive economic zones of its neighbors in the South and East China Seas. Ignoring International Court decrees, the Dragon continues to put a strangle hold on its neighbors oceanic holdings. The strategy they use has been called "the Cabbage Patch Strategy". The title is derived from an article in a military journal by a People's Liberation Army (PLA) officer describing how the Dragon seizes its neighbor's maritime properties and mineral and fisheries rights. In a nut shell,the cabbage patch strategy involves first establishing a heavy Chinese Coast Guard presence around a desired island , shoal, or fishing ground. Once the Chinese Coast Guard has a persistent presence, then Chinese commercial fishermen, now many organized into a "naval militia" are brought into the area in force, and all others excluded. In many cases, light houses and other structures are eventually established. Most such structures are not necessary for navigation, but are simply built as a "proof of effective administration" to bolster territorial claims. ( See my earlier post LIGHT HOUSES AS OFFENSIVE WEAPONS) Such construction is very expensive and the Dragon has the advantage in economic power over her neighbors. My diabolically cleaver Catfish use of emerging technologies could move the economic advantage and speed of establishment of offshore "structures" like light houses into the hands of U.S. allies and away from the Dragon. 

                                         Picture of LB Myrtle from Bollinger shipyards,  licensed under                                                                    the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.

The Advantages of our proposed blend of technologies: The blends of technologies that we will examine in this case study would give our China Seas allies an advantage in economy and speed of effort in defeating a very specific maritime territorial expansion by an aggressive neighbor. Military leaders want their emerging and disruptive technologies to instantly provide capability, capacity, and availability. To convince the military leader that a technological mix is a game changer, it must be able to change the game, now. We believe that emerging developments that we work with in optical physics, and unique technologies that we routinely observe in the U.S. offshore oil industry could be blended to generate that instant game changer called “disruptive technology”. The particular “disruptive technological blend” that we will describe could turn the balance of power in the China Seas on its ear while avoiding actual warfare. 

 Just as the Soviet Union eventually conceded the Cold War because they couldn't afford it anymore; the technological blend we will describe herein, could completely destroy China's economic advantage over their maritime neighbors in asserting “effective administration” in the more remote areas of their respective EEZs. . At the moment only China can afford the costs of the civil engineering to fill the South and East China Seas with light houses, fishing support stations, and air craft runways, and patrol craft bases advancing their international legal claim of “effective administration” over what is otherwise parts of the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of China's neighbors. The adoption of our proposed “anti-cabbage patch “ application of technologies in conjunction with the geographic advantage of the rightful owners of the relevant EEZs would move China's position from that of pushing for outright ownership of territory not its own, by demonstrating “effective administration”, to cooperating in joint licensing of offshore mineral exploration in contested zones and peaceful negotiation with their neighbors over EEZ boundaries. The primary risk and barrier to success in this application is the simple fact that the best available technology for one part of the mix is not out of the lab yet. Mitigating the risk of untimely application due to unavailability of best technology is the existence of “good enough” technology that can yield the sought after advantage while the best available continues development.


China is engaged in a naval war of nerves with neighboring states around the East and South China Seas over the control of several sets of tiny, mostly uninhabited islands 1. The islands are only considered valuable because the seas around them are thought to be rich in oil and natural gas. *2,*3 China claims virtually the entire East and South China Seas as Chinese territorial waters, *the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) doesn't recognize closed seas, or generally territorial seas wider than 12 miles off of the coast line of coastal states. *China has little hope of winning the targeted area as their territorial sea in any forum of international law,*9 but their real goal may seem more attainable, an internationally recognized vast expansion of their Exclusive Economic Zone under UNCLOS at the expense of their neighbors. We believe their strategy could be defeated by a particular application of evolving and disruptive technologies.

At a place called Ayungin Shoal the Chinese strategy for conquering the islands they covet within their neighbor's rightful EEZ can be seen at work. 4  (See  A VISIT TO THE SPRATLY ISLANDS AND THE SIERRIA MADRE )   At Ayungin Shoal a tiny contingent of Philippine Marines, sometimes as few as eight, keep the flag of the Philippines flying from a grounded wreck, still commissioned as a ship of the Philippine Navy as Chinese “Coast Guard” vessels encircle the wreck and discourage supply and support of the marines. The Marines are often reduced to surviving by catching rain water and fish.*10 Chinese commercial fishermen now organized into a “naval militia” work the waters around the shoal while the Chinese “Coast Guard” keeps Philippine fishermen out of the area. 

Philippine Navy Photo: The SERRA MADRE as an air drop resupply target.

General Zhang Zhoazhong of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), “owners” of the Peoples Liberation Army's Navy (PLAN) recently articulated the Chinese Strategy for wrestling uninhabited islands and even militarily occupied islands without direct weapons engagement. The basic strategy is to surround such places with a dense fleet of commercial, law enforcement, and military vessels “as tight as leaves on a cabbage”.*5 Thus we have come to call the Chinese strategy for their China Seas land grab, “The Cabbage Patch Strategy”. General Zhoazhong believes that despite the tenacity of the Philippine Marines at Ayungin Shoal, eventually any and all forces or populations on the islands coveted will be starved out. With forces and populations eliminated China will assert “effective administration” over the targeted islands, a claim with some arguable legitimacy in International law.*5, *7, *9   However, to date the Philippine Marines hold on. 

The big flaw in the cabbage patch strategy is that more kinetic energy than that in a small atom bomb can be applied to the situation without either side firing a shot. The source of the introduction of kinetic energy into the situation is the typhoon. *12  (see DANGER AND OPPORTUNITYThe advantage to the Philippines and other states in contest with China over islands and shoals in their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) is geography. China is pursuing the legal argument of “effective administration” over the Islands they have chosen to claim.*6 & *7 This is the same argument that the United States once used to gain control over the “Guano Islands” in the nineteenth century. The UN Charter bans permanent acquisition of territory by conquest, and present International law recognizes “effective settlement” as the most acceptable argument in territorial disputes over outlying, sparsely settled, and remote territories.*7 China's approach is twofold. Using conventional and very expensive and slow civil engineering technology, China is building manned facilities on shoals and islands that were never suitable for human habitation. From these, plus the efforts of their vastly expanded new “Coast Guard” they conduct activities designed to bolster their claims of “effective administration” and on their larger developments even “effective settlement”.*7 Where they are not building physical facilities they conduct their “Cabbage Patch Strategy”. But certainly their cabbage fleets must evacuate in the face of typhoons which can pretty much be counted on to hit some part of the area every year. Even some of their man made facilities may be wiped out in such circumstances.

The Chinese strategy has been working because their neighbors don't have the economies to physically colonize the islands within their EEZs that are traditionally uninhabitable.*8 The Philippines and other neighbors beset by the Chinese Cabbage Fleet have a geographical advantage as the typhoons generally pass over them first as they come in from the Pacific and often leaving them clear just as the Chinese mainland is being hit.*8 If only they had the technology to race behind the typhoon and establish man made and manned structures on their rocks and shoals before the Chinese could return. What the Philippines and other Chinese “First Island Chain” neighbors lack is a collection of emerging and disruptive technologies that result in instant civil engineering of durable but low cost off shore structures. We submit that those technologies are evolving, yet available and affordable.


We have a tendency when considering “emerging and disruptive technologies” in a Naval or military milieu as coming from the far edges of scientific research and applications. However, sometimes a disruptive technology evolves from arts and crafts. It has been hundreds of years since the profession of “Boat wright” now considered a “skilled trade” or “craft” separated from the “profession” of “naval architect”. Yet the very first “elevating work boats” (“lift boats”) used in the coastal Louisiana oil exploration and production industries originated in the work shop of a “Boat wright”. *11 These vessels capable of efficient self-propulsion are also capable of “jacking up” a set of steel “legs” carried in wells at each corner or two at the bow and one at the stern until the bottom of their barge like hull has completely cleared the water's surface , by anywhere from four to 15 or more feet. The barge like hull can be fitted out in a variety of ways and a variety of superstructures and deck equipment may be fitted. The Louisiana “elevating work boat “ is an authentic COTS (commercial off the shelf) plug and play technology platform. It has been used for well work over, shallow exploratory drilling, well relief' and a variety of other functions in the near coastal “oil patch” of the U.S. Gulf Coast for decades. Yet elevating work boats in terms of other applications are still an “emerging technology”. Used to help defeat China's cabbage patch strategy, they can be part of a disruptive technology package. Self-propelled elevating work boats should be the base platform for the rest of the technology package that will confound the Chinese cabbage patch strategy. The best way to integrate the evolving technologies of the offshore “oil patch” into the fleet for eventual or occasional tactical use by the Navy, Coast Guard or Marine Corps we think, is by formation of a Navy/Coast Guard “craft of opportunity unit. Such a unit would study and catalogue developments of potential naval utility in the U.S. workboat industry, monitor production lines, and track markets for new and used equipment against the day the need arises. It could be a very small unit led by a naval architect, with a surface warfare specialists as XO, and manned by a few junior officers with marine engineering and surface warfare training and some senior deck , engineering, and ordinance rates. The units main expenses would be a travel and operations budget and office spaces. Acquisition funding for craft of opportunity would have to come from higher command.

Some of the package comes from “craftsman like innovations” by the Gunner's mate rate in collaboration with Army artillery NCOs. In our plan for fleet integration the Navy gunners would already be part of the “craft of opportunity unit”, the army personnel on collaborative loan for a single project. The last part of the disruptive technology package comes from the far end of the scientific spectrum, requiring an understanding of complexity theory and the crossing of theNewtonian/Euclidean line” *13 in mathematics. This “best available technology” piece would probably come to the craft of opportunity unit via DARPA, through private labs such as Helios Ruehls, Inc. 

The basic strategy is to mark, equip, weaponize, and securely store a number of these specially prepared elevating work boats ready to deploy immediately after storm passage to shoals and islands targeted or even pre storm patrolled by the Chinese within the normal EEZ of the Philippines or other contesting state. Once on scene the boats elevate, display the markings of the relevant nations coast guard and signage such as “PRIMARY SEA COAST LIGHT NO--”. You now have a properly marked light house that is also armed.

The U.S. Coast Guard utilized standard marinized 50 cal. Machine guns piggy backed with infantry mortars very successfully from its 82 ft. patrol boats during the Vietnam conflict.*14 On the relatively small deck of an elevating work boat a variety of infantry anti-armor and normally shoulder mounted anti air weapons could prove formidable. When the Chinese return after the storm passes over their mainland they find an established and armed “light house”, every bit as functional as the civil engineered structures that they built over a long period of time and at great expense. They will of course surround the new “light house” with their armed coast guard vessels and make howls of protest and will attempt to block all resupply efforts. The sudden appearance of the new light houses would be the result of new combinations of technologies. Like any vessel of comparable size, the elevating work boats have serious water and fuel capacities, and the hull can store a lot of groceries. However, there is a clear need for greater sustainability. Enter the high tech end of this combination of emerging and disruptive technologies.


Some of the technologies needed to greatly expand the on scene duration of our “new light houses” are “high tech”, and available now, some are on the other side of what we call the NEWTONIAN / ECULIDIAN LINE (NWL). The NWL is an idea we coined to note the dividing line between certain areas of complexity theory where we are starting to evolve the mathematics such as Mandelbrot's Fractal Geometry, *15 and Chaos Theory where for the most part we have no calculus or geometries. Mandelbrot's Fractal Geometry, unknown before 1984, has been the basis for research into the Fractal Lens. 

The Fractal lens*17 could be the basis for very small but productive solar thermal electrical generators, and desalinization units which could easily fit on a standard elevating work boat. While the Fractal Lens driven electrical generator and desalinization kits would be the ideal, less efficient yet viable alternatives using inverse Fresnel lenses exists as practical designs and existing parts. We need not wait until the first “lab rat” fractal lens is manufactured and tested.

Jacked up” in light house mode the elevating work boats don't consume much in the way of fuel. With virtually unlimited potable water and electricity the “new light houses” should be able to outlast any cabbage patrol of conventional vessels. That only leaves editable stores. Durable foods are already commercially available and the vessels come with ample below the main deck storage. But there is the emerging agri-technology of hydroponics and good old container gardening. Food stores could be supplemented with these technologies and even a standard “light house” configuration could consist of two elevating work boats one devoted solely to the emerging technologies of factory farming (as has already been proposed *18). (SEE:  DEFEATING THE CHINESE CABBAGE PATCH STRATEGY IN THE SPRATLYS.....With Gardening?)  

 Our point here is that emerging and disruptive technologies can be any mix of technologies above or below the NWL line. We can mix analog, digital, optical physics, any other novel technologies or crafts to get the overall military / law fare *16 effect we seek. In the example under examination we seek to turn the Chinese economic advantage in building maritime civil works based on their economy being stronger than their neighbors on its ear. The weak point of the Chinese economic advantage is that it relies on architectural technologies that require long construction periods, long distance maritime and expensive logistic support, their interim tactic while awaiting the funding and opportunity to “settle” all of the economically strategic shoals and islets has been the “cabbage patch fleets”. By using a mix of emerging and disruptive technologies the Philippines and other regional states in competition with China can establish “light houses”, aids to navigation stations, fishing support centers, literally overnight, right after Mother Nature removes the cabbage patch fleets with a typhoon. They can also establish such features anywhere that is unguarded by China.


In the case under examination the basic platform, the elevating workboat is immediately available. In the case of our foreign assistance type mission example, used U.S. work boats could prove sufficient and cost effective. A key element, the fractal lens driven solar thermal electrical generator exists in plans and drawings, but the key element the fractal lens exists in theory only. An actual fractal lens is still awaiting development and lab testing. However, immediately useful performance can be had using solar thermal electrical generators made with inverse Fresnel lenses and some photovoltaic cells for lower electrical usages. Most any elevating work boat can be outfitted with a helo deck and aerial replenishment has been successful with the marines at Ayungin shoal. Perfection is not necessary to get the counter cabbage patch strategy started. Some of the emerging and disruptive technology on the far side of the NWL line may still be in the lab. But it is likely to emerge before the “good enough” combination of disruptive technological equipment has exhausted its service life. In defeating an enemy using a combination of naval power, and law fare for territorial expansion at their neighbors expense timing is important. Some science on the far side of the NWL line can't be rushed. Yet the desired disruption in aggressor plans can often be had and maintained long enough for the perfect solution to make it out of the lab and into application, by holding the line with a disruptive combination of technologies that are good enough, to cause the desired effect. In the words of Home Depot's advertising gurus the key is this; NEVER STOP IMPROVING.

 Meanwhile I urge my readers to BACK THE FRACK


*1 Council on Foreign Relations: CHINA's MARITIME DISPUTES contributions by Shen Dingli, Professor of International Relations , Fudan University; Elizabeth Economy, C.V. Starr senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies,CFR; Richard Hass, President, CFR; Shelia A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan studies, CFR; Simon Tay, Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs. Available on line @!/

*2 Administrative Analysis U.S. Energy Information Briefs, Sept. 25, 2012 EAST CHINA SEAS, Read on line @ and SOUTH CHINA SEA, Feb. 7, 2013 Read on line @

*3 United Nations Convention On The Law Of The Sea: Part IV Archipelagic States, Part V Exclusive Economic Zones available on line @

*4 EnerGeoPolitics: China Asserts Its Claim and Dominance Deep Into The Western Pacific, July 1, 2013 available on line at -pacific See also
A GAME OF SHARK AND MINNOW, the New York Time Magazine, October 27, 2013 available on line at : See also: TERRITORIAL DISPUTES IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA as posted @ WIKIPEDIA, Territorial_disputes_in _the South -China Sea.

*5 Chinese General Reveals Strategy For Panatag Takeover: The Philippine Star available on line @

*6 Philippines South China Sea Legal Case Against China Gathers Pace, Reuters available on line @


*8 CIA WORLD FACT BOOK (for a variety of geographic and meteorological assertions) and SPRATLY ISLANDS



*12 Can we compare the energy of Cyclone Hudhud with that of a nuclear bomb? QUORA:

*13 Newtonian/Euclidean line” A term of art used in the Helios Ruehls corporation to describe the emegrging mathematics used in the analysis of problems in complexity and chaosthereotical areas.We have not found it anywhere in authoritative literature but have found no other inclusive term for tools like Mendelbrot's Fractal Geometry

14: Piggy back machine gum mortar: USCG Historian's office web site

  1. Fractal conical lenses : Juan A. Monsoriu Departamento de Física Aplicada, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Camino de Vera s/n, 46022 Valencia, Spain ©2006 Optical Society of America

18. DEFEATING THE CHINESE CABBAGE PATCH STRATEGY IN THE SPRATLYS.....With Gardening? American Admiralty Books Blog Spot .com

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