The Buzz

Why a Naval War Between China and America Would Be an Epic Showdown

In a January 2015 article for TNI that lays out the founding vision of JAM-GC, members of the Air-Sea Battle Office and Joint Staff explained that “based on recent assessments, current doctrinal command-and-control methodologies will likely be inadequate to address A2/AD environments where beyond-line-of-sight communications and other connectivity between units can be disrupted or denied by an adversary.” Things seem to get worse, as the authors articulate that “U.S. and allied forces must be able to operate with only localized domain control,” a scary thought to say the least. They go on to note that “a joint or combined force may not be able to achieve either theater-wide domain superiority or an enduring and constant superiority, but that it can achieve operational objectives with control that is limited in time or space.” It seems we have come a long way from the days when American forces could automatically count on cross-domain superiority against any military on the planet.

Back in the Winter 2010 edition of Orbisthe always smart James Kraska, at the time an investigator at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, presented his readers with a terrifying prospect: the possibility that China would be able sink a U.S. Aircraft Carriervirtually at will. In professional publicationsthe possibility had been raised before. However, thanks to various mentions in more-mainstream media, the rise of China’s military mightand specifically advanced missile technologywould soon become a dominant topic of conversation in national-security circles around the globe.

America now faces a very real threat to its ability to project power in the Asia-Pacific; and it’s a problemconsidering how fast Beijing’s missile technology is progressingthat will likely only get worse as the years go by.

A Frightening Scenario

The scenario Kraska presents in his article “How the United States Lost the Naval War of 2015,” which I have discussed at length before, is quite interesting to say the least:

“George Washington was conducting routine patrols off the coast of China to send a signal of U.S. resolve. China responded with a signal of its own—sinking the massive ship. The ship broke in two and sank in twenty minutes. The Chinese medium-range ballistic missile had a penetrator warhead that drilled through all fourteen decks of the ship and punched a cavernous hole measuring twenty-feet wide from the flat-top landing deck through to the bottom of the hull. Ammunition stores ignited secondary explosions. Two million gallons of JP-5 jet fuel poured into the sea. The attack was calamitous and damage control was pointless.”

China’s pre-planned reaction, while cleaver but certainly far-fetched, is too long to excerpt for limitations of time and space. And while there is a great deal of substance and information worth reading in the article’s full text, it is what happens next that is even more interesting:

“A month would pass before the United States was able to position more than three aircraft carriers in the region, and then what?”

To be fair, the actual article does not depict a “naval war” in the sense of ship-on-ship engagementsbut more a Chinese attack and carefully crafted response that gives Beijing deniability. In such a scenario, as presented by the author, U.S. allies or partners in the region would have a hard time coming to Washington’s aid. Nevertheless, Kraska presents us with a unique question to ponder: How should America respond to the growing anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) challenge presented by ChinaIran and now Russia?

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