The Case for a 21st-Century Battleship
America's response has been a shifting set of tactical plans successively labeled as AirSea Battle, JAM-GC and Third Offset. What these plans all have in common is the idea that the best defense is a good offense: instead of defending against Chinese A2/AD attacks, they propose that the United States strike first to take out the command-and-control networks that tie China's sensors to its precision munitions. The problem is that this implies the immediate escalation of any A2/AD scenario into a full-scale war.
That's where the battleship of the future comes in: it would give the United States a defensive option for limited conflict. For example, a future battleship could respond to Chinese provocations by disabling Chinese seabed sensors or cutting Chinese undersea cables. It could survive being rammed by enemy ships—a favorite tactic of the Chinese and North Koreans. And if A2/AD did escalate into a shooting war, it could operate in the danger zone while U.S. offensive actions turned the tables.
The U.S. Navy will never again be a dreadnought fleet of big-gun battleships. But it is time to reexamine the role of armor in naval architecture. Even the most forward-leaning offensive operation needs a few tough linesmen who can take a beating and stay in the game. A future battleship would give the Navy— and by extension the president—warfighting options other than the total annihilation of the enemy. Regular FONOPs already demonstrate the need for such options. The A2/AD threat will likely generate even more dangerous missions that only a durable battleship of the future can safely perform.
Salvatore Babones is an associate professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney.
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