December 17, 2018

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‘A Game of Chicken’: U.S. and China Are Risking a Clash at Sea

‘A Game of Chicken’: U.S. and China Are Risking a Clash at Sea
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That has led to a re-evaluation of the Navy’s strategic and spending priorities. As the Trump administration pushes the Navy to do more in the South China Sea, it is doing so with fewer assets just as the Chinese are increasing theirs.

In 2017, China had 317 warships and submarines compared to 283 in the American Navy. Even with 60 percent of the Navy in the Pacific, a smaller total force means fewer deployments around China’s periphery.

A projection by the Pentagon shows that by 2025, China’s military will have 30 percent more fighter aircraft and four aircraft carriers compared to its current two, a senior American military official said. The Chinese are also expected to have significantly more guided-missile destroyers, advanced undersea warfare systems and hypersonic missiles, the projection says.

The American concerns about Beijing’s naval modernization are reflected in a fictional account titled “How We Lost the Great Pacific War,” written by the director of intelligence and information operations of the Pacific Fleet, Dale F. Rielage, and published in an official Navy journal.

The article portrays a possibly dark outcome for the American Navy in the Pacific.

Written in the form of a military dispatch from the year 2025, the author laments how the Navy had to “cannibalize aircraft, parts and people” and wonders if it will be able to “claw” its way back in the Western Pacific.

At the heart of this bleak prognosis is an assumption that the United States did not act aggressively enough in challenging China when it still could.

The article describes how an admiral, at the start of his term as chief of naval operations, saw that the Americans’ margin of victory in high-end naval combat had become razor thin — and would continue shrinking. “At the time, he assessed that the margin, though thin, remained ‘decisive.’ In the years following, however, the margin shifted imperceptibly to favor the other side.”

The article never names “the other side,” but makes clear: it is China.



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