Chinese experts’ warning to the US Navy: Larger fleets typically prevail

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A professor at the US Naval War College has a warning for American military planners as China continues to expand what is already the greatest navy in the world: In naval conflict, the bigger fleet almost always prevails.

China is the “pacing threat” to the US military, according to Pentagon officials. But data on fleet sizes indicates that the US military is unable to keep up with China’s rapid naval development.

According to the Pentagon’s 2022 China Military Power Report, which was published in November, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has now amassed over 340 vessels, surpassing the US Navy in fleet size some time around 2020. According to the research, China’s fleet is anticipated to increase to 400 ships over the next two years.

According to the US Navy’s Navigation Plan 2022, which was published last summer, the US fleet currently numbers less than 300 ships, and the Pentagon’s target is for it to reach 350 manned ships by 2045, still lagging well behind China.

US military authorities are relying on technology as a result to compete.

The world is entering a new era of warfare, one in which the integration of technology, concepts, partners, and systems — rather than fleet size alone — will determine victory in battle, according to the same study.

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According to Tangredi’s analysis, which was published in the January issue of the Proceedings magazine of the US Naval Institute, China’s numerical superiority is likely to result in a loss for the US Navy in any confrontation with China.

Former US Navy Captain Tangredi examined 28 maritime confrontations, ranging from the Greco-Persian Warfare of 500 BC to more modern Cold War proxy wars and interventions. Only three times, he discovered, did more advanced technology triumph against greater numbers.

According to Tangredi, “all other wars were won by superiority of numbers, or, when between equal forces, superiority of strategy, or admiralship.” Operating a large fleet typically permits more comprehensive training and is frequently a sign that executives are concerned with strategic requirements, Tangredi noted. As a result, “often all three attributes function together.”

The three outliers—wars from the 11th, 16th, and 19th centuries—are probably unknown to any but the most passionate of researchers, but others that demonstrate situations in which statistics outperform technology are undoubtedly well known.

Consider the Napoleanic Wars in the early 1800s.

French warships were more technologically advanced in terms of ship design and construction, but ultimately, Tangredi claimed, it was the sheer number of Royal Navy ships that kept Napoleon from crossing the (English) channel.

Or the Pacific Theater of World War II, when Japanese technology first outperformed American technology.

The Long-Lance torpedo, the Zero aircraft, and aerial torpedoes with shallow water capability were among the advanced technologies that Imperial Japan had at its disposal when it entered the war, according to Tangredi.

The magnitude of the US fleet (particularly its logistical and amphibious ships) and the overall strength of US industry, he continued, “that grind out victory over the Imperial Japanese Navy.”

The work of Tangredi was complimented by Alessio Patalano, a professor of war and strategy at King’s College in London.

According to Patalano, “His research is a really effective approach to push back on the ridiculous belief that mass doesn’t matter in fighting at sea.”

He emphasised two crucial ideas.

More leaders are competing for an advantage in their commands as the size is larger.

According to Patalano, “a larger fleet tends to be more competitive, in terms of training people development, and operating capacity.”

And he added that having a sizable industrial base is important, particularly for being able to create fresh troops after suffering losses in war.

Attrition occurs in naval warfare, hence the capacity to replace is essential, according to Patalano.

The stark numbers are illustrated by Tangredi’s examination of the World War II aircraft carrier fleets. He added that both the US and Japan had eight carriers when the conflict first started.

Imperial Japan produced 18 carrier-equivalents throughout the war, while the United States produced 144. Japan had little chance until the United States opted to stop the war, he wrote.

When the US was the world’s industrial powerhouse in the 1940s, shipbuilding was one of its strengths. China now holds that position.

The US defence sector, which has consolidated and contracted since the end of the Cold War, isn’t expected to grow quickly enough to meet demand during a war, according to Tangredi.

replenishing the supply of ammo

There are concerns that US industry won’t be able to meet the demand for giving Ukraine the weapons it needs to confront Russia’s incursion while maintaining adequate quantities of US arsenals.

US Fleet Forces Command chief Adm. Daryl Caudle urged the country’s military manufacturers to improve last week, stating, “You’re not delivering the ordnance we need.”

It’s absolutely necessary to succeed. And I can’t do it without the ordnance,” Caudle said at a conference in Washington, adding that the US is “going against a competitor here, and a possible opponent, that is like nothing we’ve ever seen.”

Last week, Caudle’s superior, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, brought up the US’s probable numerical disadvantage in a Pacific confrontation in an online forum.

The US Navy won’t be able to match the PLAN missile for missile, according to Gilday.

Tangredi questions where the US Navy can gain an advantage if it can’t compete with China ship for ship or missile for missile.

“US policymakers must determine how much they are willing to stake on technological dominance — rather than numerical — in that conflict,” he wrote.

“With the probable exception of three examples in the past 1,200 years, I do not assert that a smaller, technologically better fleet could never destroy a much larger fleet. I only say that none has.”

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