Friday, February 3, 2023

An Expert’s Warning to the US Navy on China: A Bigger Fleet Almost Always Wins

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — As China continues to develop what is already the world’s largest navy, a US Naval War College professor has a warning for US military planners: In naval warfare, the largest fleet almost always wins.

Pentagon leaders have identified China as a “growing threat” to the US military. But the size of the fleet shows that the US military cannot keep up with China’s naval growth.

According to the Pentagon’s 2022 China Military Power Report published in November, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) overtook the US Navy in terms of fleet size around 2020 and now has about 340 warships. The report said that China’s fleet is expected to increase to 400 ships in the next two years.

Meanwhile, the US fleet has 300 ships and the Pentagon aims to have 350 manned ships by 2045, far behind China, according to the US Navy’s 2022 Navigation Plan released last summer.

So to compete, US military leaders are relying on technology.

The same document states that “the world is entering a new era of warfare in which the integration of technology, concepts, partners and systems, rather than mere fleet size, will determine victory in conflict.”

But not so fast, says Sam Tangredy, Leidos Chair of Future Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College.

China-US tensions have boosted defense investment 0:52

If history is any lesson, China’s numerical advantage is likely to defeat the US Navy in any war with China, according to Tangredi’s research, featured in the January issue of the journal Proceedings of the Pacific.

Tangredi, a former US Navy captain, analyzed 28 naval battles, from the Greco-Persian Wars in 500 BC to more recent Cold War conflicts and interventions. It was found that in only three cases did the better technique beat the larger number.

Tangredi wrote, “All other wars were won by superior numbers or in battles with equal force, superior strategy or admiralty.” “Often all three qualities work together, as operating a larger fleet typically facilitates more extensive training and is often an indicator that leaders are attuned to strategic needs,” Tangredi wrote.

Three outliers (the 11th, 16th, and 19th century wars) are probably not familiar to all but the most enthusiastic scholars, but the others show where the numbers are better than the technology.

Take, for example, the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century.

“The French battleships were superior in ship design and construction technology, but ultimately it was the sheer number of Royal Navy ships that prevented Napoleon from crossing the (de la Macha) canal,” Tangredi wrote.

a lesson from world war ii

China and Taiwan: How do their military forces compare? 0:58

Or World War II in the Pacific, where Japanese technology began to best the US.

“Imperial Japan entered the war with some superior technology: the Zero fighter, long-lance torpedoes and aerial torpedoes that could attack in shallow water,” wrote Tangredi.

“However, it was the overall strength of American industry and the size of the American fleet (particularly its logistics and amphibious ships) that won the victory over the Imperial Japanese Navy,” he said.

Alessio Patalano, professor of warfare and strategy at King’s College London, praised Tangredi’s work.

“Their research goes a very good way of debunking the silly notion that mass doesn’t matter in combat at sea,” Patalano said.

He emphasized two key points.

A larger lot size means that more leaders are looking to profit in their orders.

“A larger fleet is more competitive in terms of training, staff development and operational efficiencies,” Patalano said.

And he added that a large industrial base is essential, especially to be able to manufacture new units after combat casualties.

“In naval combat, attrition is a real thing, so replaceability is important,” Patalano said.

In 1944, an American destroyer escort was launched into the Ohio River as part of a massive American naval construction effort during World War II. (Credit: Photo 12/Universal Images Group Editorial/Getty Images)

Tangredi’s look at the World War II aircraft carrier fleet shows the dialed numbers. He said that both the United States and Japan started the war with eight aircraft carriers.

“During the war, Imperial Japan built 18 equivalent aircraft carriers … while the United States built 144. Unless the United States chose to fight, Japan never had a chance,” he wrote.

Shipbuilding was America’s stronghold in the 1940s when it was the world’s largest industrial sector. Now this title is with China.

“Most analysts doubt that the US defense industry, which has consolidated and shrunk since the end of the Cold War, can expand fast enough to meet wartime demand,” he wrote.

ammunition stock replenishment

In fact, there is concern that US industry will not be able to keep up with the demand for arms assistance to Ukraine to fight Russian aggression while keeping US arms inventories at sufficient levels.

Admiral Daryl Caudle, commander of the US Fleet Forces Command, last week called on the nation’s defense industries to step up their game, saying “they are not delivering the munitions we need.”

“Winning is very important. And I can’t do that without artillery,” Cadel said at a symposium in Washington, adding that the United States was “going up against a competitor and a potential adversary here, as we ever seen.”

In an online forum last week, Caudle’s boss, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday, also pointed to the numbers problem the US faces in a potential conflict in the Pacific.

Gilday said, “The US Navy will not be able to match PLAN missile for missile.”

And if the US Navy can’t match China missile-for-missile or ship-for-ship, Tangredi wonders where it can find an advantage.

“American leaders should ask themselves how willing they are to gamble on technological—not numerical—superiority in that fight,” he wrote.

“I’m not saying that a smaller, technologically superior fleet can never defeat a larger fleet, I’m just saying that with the possible exception of three cases in the past 1,200 years, no one has Is.”

Nation World News Desk
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