Intelligence collection in the modern world is not always about finding a needle in haystack but rather finding a needle in a pile of needles. The United States and its allies failed to see beyond the Vietnamese attack to greater Chinese ambitions in the Pacific and the looming start of a great war.
The first line of defense in the Pacific for the better part of decade was the US submarine force. Despite drawbacks, decommissionings and considerable pull from War on Terror operations worldwide, the US Pacific fleet managed to position forces to act as invisible sentinels able to respond quickly to Chinese aggression and movements. It was the only force largely available and positioned well at war start, and would be regarded historically as the US “ace in the hole” in the critical battles to come. When the PLAN sortied two of its valuable ballistic missile submarines, shadowed as usual by US submarine assets, things took an ominous turn.