The Buzz

Would America Lose a Naval War to China in 2020?

Clearly, Pentagon planners understand the problem on the most intimate of levels and are working on ways to ensure America retains its power-projection capabilities in the future. U.S. military planners have been hard at work developing future weapons platforms, operational know-how and eventual strategies to combat Chinese or any other nation’s A2/AD capabilities. You can’t solve a problem unless you understand it—and America’s military clearly understands this one.

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.

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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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