The Buzz

China vs. America: Who Would Win in a Naval Clash Over the South China Sea?

The ships of the Philippine navy have comparatively crude sensors — basically amounting to eyeballs and navigational radars — and are having a difficult time identifying all of the ship traffic in and around the shoal. There are a lot of surface contacts. Some are fishing boats, and some may be … something else.

If Emilio Jacinto and Artemio Ricarde really knew what was out there, they’d turn tail and run.

I’m playing the forces of both the U.S. and The Philippines, and fortunately I have an MQ-4C Triton in the area — the naval version of the Air Force’s Global Hawk drone. I send the Triton over the shoal to get an idea of what’s down there.

The Triton identifies plenty of Chinese fishing boats, but also a wolf in the fold — a Chinese Jianghu-class destroyer named the Changde. Twenty miles to the west is the Qinzhou, a new Type 056 corvette.

Changde heads directly toward Emilio Jacinto. Uh-oh.

At 09:46:31, Changde opens fire on the Emilio Jacinto with her 100-millimeter deck gun. Emilio Jacinto immediately returns fire with her 76-millimeter gun and scores a lucky hit, starting a minor fire on Changde. A gunfight rages for more than three minutes, during which time Changde is struck several times.

Emilio Jacinto reports she is under missile attack from the west. That would make the attacker the corvette Qinzhou. Without air defense radars and advanced weapons, Emilio Jacinto is a sitting duck. Seconds later, she is hit by several Chinese YJ-83 “Eagle Strike” anti-ship missiles, screaming in less than 30 feet above the ocean.

Emilio Jacinto disappears from the command screen.

Another brace of YJ-83s streaks towards BRP Artemio Ricarde. Despite the roughly 60-mile distance, Halsey attempts to intervene, launching SM-6 surface to air missiles to knock down the Chinese missiles. But the distance is too much and Artemio Ricarde is struck. The damage is catastrophic.

Freedom and Fort Worth are steaming north at flank speed. I am ordering them to engage Qinzhou and the wounded Changde, now fleeing north away from the battle zone.

It’s a gamble because Littoral Combat Ships are not well-protected against anti-ship missiles, having only their 57-millimeter guns and Rolling Airframe missile launcher mounts. I believe Qinzhou is out of anti-ship missiles.Changde might still have all of her missiles, but she’s also taken serious damage trading shots with Emilio Jacinto.

Moving at more than 40 knots, Fort Worth and Freedom begin closing the gap.Qinzhou and Changde both turn to face Fort Worth. Apparently they want to fight. I’ll oblige them. Both LCSs are under orders to engage the enemy as soon as they come close enough to fire their Griffin surface-to-surface missiles. Between the two of them, they have 30 Griffins.

At four miles, Fort Worth opens up on Qinzhou with her 57-millimeter gun.Qinzhou immediately returns fire with her 76-millimeter gun, lightly damaging Fort Worth. Unfortunately, Fort Worth’s Rolling Airframe missile launcher is destroyed early on, meaning she is out of active anti-missile defenses.

Then the Griffin missile launcher is put out of action, meaning Fort Worth’s sole armament is a single 57-millimeter gun. Within moments, that too is destroyed.

Fort Worth is hurt, with a bad fire and severe flooding. She’s defenseless at this range. It’s time to leave. Fort Worth turns to race south at maximum speed, but it continues to be pummeled by Qinzhou’s 76-millimeter gun. Laser rangefinders, gun directing radar, 30-millimeter Bushmaster guns all knocked out … the damage reports keep coming in.

Fort Worth is doomed.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Halsey detects two anti-ship missiles launched to the south, halfway between her and Fort Worth and right in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal. Could they be from a submarine?

Whatever they are, they’re moving at 520 knots. The two mystery missiles streak north, towards Fort Worth. Not good. Halsey again tries to intervene, launching a salvo of four SM-6 air defense missiles that within moments are traveling at 2,400 knots. Will they reach the threats in time?

Suddenly, it no longer matters. Fort Worth capsizes.

Last Man Standing: