On Point: Time for Beltway Admirals to Think About War 2025, Not Paper Fleet 2045

by Austin Bay
August 2, 2023

Last week's column, titled "Confronting China's Rising Strength on the Seas," addressed China's military buildup with specific focus on the huge expansion of the Chinese Navy (PLAN -- Peoples Liberation Army Navy).

The column quoted Sen. Roger Wicker's May 3 speech addressing the U.S. Navy's ability -- or inability -- to deter a war with China in the Pacific.

The column stressed two absolutely important concepts. The first and most obvious was reiterating Wicker's vital strategic statement: We must deter Chinese aggression. In plain language, Wicker said China's expansionist dictatorship must be convinced that the U.S. has military forces strong enough to defeat China should the dictatorship risk a major war in the western Pacific. In part, spending the money and the national effort to create these forces demonstrates America has the will to use them should Beijing try a Putinesque gamble.

Wicker focused on the U.S. Navy (USN) because in the western Pacific the Navy is America's key U.S. offensive battle force. Control the sea and Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines stand.

Alas, in sheer numbers of warships, the PLAN already has the world's largest battle fleet. In August 2023, the USN is the laggard. The PLAN is also built to fight a "home game" within air and missile support distance of the Chinese mainland. China's deployment of "carrier killer" anti-ship ballistic missiles is designed to convince the Pentagon it might lose a supercarrier to a long-range weapon, so carrier battle groups will avoid the western Pacific and stay out of range. The strategy is called anti-access/area denial (A2AD).

Which leads to the second important concept in my column and one that also worries Sen. Wicker: Time.

Starting from behind means the U.S. only has so much calendar time to build, train and deploy additional forces -- assuming American leaders have the wisdom to do so.

Wicker cited the "Davidson window of vulnerability" versus China. In 2021 former Indo-Pacific Combatant Commander Admiral Phil Davidson said China's leaders were "accelerating their ambitions to supplant the U.S." and might attack within the next six years -- 2027.

What can we do in the next four years to dramatically change the military imbalance in the Pacific?

There are several ideas. The Army, Air Force and Navy are looking at "long range fires" using long-range hypersonic missiles to suppress Chinese shore batteries and sink ships. Great idea. It flips the Chinese A2AD strategy and gives China too many targets. "Dispersed and distributed fires" in the jargon. China can't concentrate on carriers.

The USN and USAF want to build drone sea and air platforms. They would complicate Chinese warfighting -- but it will take years to resolve their operational kinks.

More shooters is the right idea. However, the hypersonics aren't proven and the drone swarms are in development. Malware and hacking can render drones useless. Pilots and sailors can continue to fight.

How do we add sea platforms quickly and ones that can fight now? Earlier this year the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a study titled "The First Battle of the Next War: Wargaming a Chinese Invasion of Taiwan." The study's recommendations included fortifying U.S. and allied bases (like Guam) and a "Shift to smaller, more survivable ships."

I'd say small, fast and stealthy missile ships armed with proven weapons that can be built in small shipyards and fighting within 24 months.

Fantasy? No. Lack of constituency until it's too late. The Beltway Navy is designing the Great Paper Fleet of 2045, not addressing the weakness of now.

In the past two years I've written a couple of columns discussing small missile boats with long-range sea capability. The H96 (Sept. 14, 2022) is one example. Forbes mentioned it in a December 2020 article. It has the range to double as an escort and maritime security vessel.

It's time for the admirals to think small, lethal and ready to fight in 2025.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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