In a war with China, achieving sea control would require defeating or degrading the surface and submarine forces of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to reduce the cruise missile threat to U.S. Navy ships. Today, however, the Navy lacks sufficient platforms to conduct long-range antisubmarine and surface warfare strikes at the scale that would be required.1 Until the Naval Strike Missile, Maritime Strike Tomahawk, and improved SM-6 missiles arrive in large numbers, surface combatants also lacks a credible long-range surface warfare capability. F/A-18s, F-35s, and the P-8 Poseidon carry a relatively limited number of antiship cruise missiles and are hardly adequate for the task.
China currently has between 313 and 342 warships—including some 70 attack submarines and 115 destroyers, frigates, and corvettes—concentrated in its near seas within the umbrella of antiship cruise and ballistic missiles.2 As of 2018, the U.S. Navy had 285 “deployable battle force ships” spread across the globe.3
In short, the U.S. Navy cannot win this fight alone.
1. David Axe, “U.S. Navy Nightmare: The Chinese Fleet Doesn’t Have 300 Ships, It Has 650,” The National Interest, 30 January 2019.
2. Steven Lee Myers, “With Ships and Missiles, China Is Ready to Challenge U.S. Navy in Pacific,” The New York Times, 29 August 2018.
3. Andrew S. Erickson, “Maritime Numbers Game: Understanding and Responding to China’s Three Sea Forces,” Indo-Pacific Defense Forum, 28 January 2019.
4. Ross Hobbs and Will Spears, “A Bomber for the Navy,” OTH Journal, 16 April 2019.
5. Alan C. Carey, Above an Angry Sea: United States Navy B-24 Liberator and PB4Y-2 Privateer Operations in the Pacific, October 1944–August 1945 (Atglen: Schiffer Military Publishing, 2001), 141.
6. Alan C. Carey, The Reluctant Raiders: The Story of United States Bombing Squadron VB/VPB-109 in World War II (Atglen: Schiffer Military Publishing, 1999); and Bryan Clark, The Emerging Era in Undersea Warfare (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2014), 8.
7. David Reade, “New Developments: Worldwide P-3 Status Report,” Maritime Patrol Aviation, September 1992, 62.
8. David Reade, “P-3 Operations in the War on Terrorism,” Wings of Gold (Summer 2002): 70–72.
9. David Reade and Rick Burgess, “Outlaw Hunter,” Naval Aviation News, November-December 1992, 20.
10. Sydney J. Freedberg, “U.S. ‘Gets Its Ass Handed to It’ in Wargames: Here’s a $24 Billion Fix,” Breaking Defense, 7 March 2019.
11. Hobbs and Spears, “A Bomber for the Navy.”
12. Kristen Pate, “Sniper ATP-Equipped B-1B Has Combat First,” 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, 11 August 2008.
13. Yash Rojas, “Air Force, Navy Join Forces for B-1 Naval Mine Development Training,” 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs, 10 June 2014.
14. Sydney J. Freedberg, “Navy Warships Get New Heavy Missile: 2500-Lb LRASM,” Breaking Defense, 26 July 2017.
15. U.S. Navy, “Fact File: Harpoon Missile,” navy.mil.
16. Aircraft availability considers total inventory minus a portion of each type down for maintenance or other contingency.
17. Wayne P. Hughes and Robert P. Girrier, Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations, 3rd ed. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2018), 158.
18. Numbers are notional. Actual numbers required would vary based on environmental and operational considerations and likely would be much higher.
19. Numbers are based on weapons required for F-kill and do not account for transit times, search area sizes, and aircraft returning to and from station with unused weapons. Actual weapon requirements are likely much higher. However, based on aircrew turnaround times, the number of sorties per day are fairly representative for this narrow scenario.