The Sneaky Way China Could Win a Naval War Against America

November 6, 2017 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: ChinaNavyMilitaryTechnologyWorldU.S.U.S. NavyWar

The Sneaky Way China Could Win a Naval War Against America

Yes, it could happen. 

Similarly, a Virginia-class SSN sets back the U.S. Navy some $2.7 billion. Beijing divulges few details about how much platforms or weaponry cost, but the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force can acquire a Soryu-class diesel sub for about $540 million, one-fifth of the sticker price of the Virginia’s class. The Japanese boat is a rough counterpart to PLAN diesel boats, so use it as a yardstick. If China can purchase five submarines that meet its needs for the same price the United States can purchase one, then who’s competing more efficiently and effectively?

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.

James Holmes is professor of strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific. The views voiced here are his alone.

This first appeared in May.