Which brings us to a basic point: “good enough” constitutes the standard of excellence for military hardware. If China’s navy can execute its strategy with an armada of Model Ts while the U.S. Navy bankrupts itself struggling to procure enough Corvettes, then who gets the last laugh? The answer is far from obvious. Practitioners of competitive strategies—the art of competing at low cost to oneself and high cost to rivals—would applaud the miser while fretting over the spendthrift’s prospects.
American seafarers, accordingly, had better heed Fanell’s critique. We should respect a potential foe able to make do with Model Ts, not scoff at it. That’s an adversary well equipped to compete over the long haul. Heck, if it’s smart, then the U.S. Navy might afford China the sincerest form of flattery—and kick the tires on some Model Ts itself.
This article first appeared in 2017.