‘‘Navies are in a new tactical era characterized by missile warfare.1’’ —Captain Wayne Hughes, U.S. Navy (Retired)
Politicians, military leaders, and analysts have spent years debating the correct number of ships the Navy needs—355, 500, or any other number—but that is the wrong metric. Far more relevant is how many missiles the Navy can bring to bear in a great power confrontation. In a fight with China, the U.S. Navy would be outnumbered and outranged in both ships and missiles.
As of September 2020, the Navy counts 293 battle force ships, but this includes auxiliaries.2 By contrast, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has 355 battle force ships, not counting auxiliary and support ships.3 While individual U.S. ships may be more capable, the U.S. Navy has to operate globally, while the PLAN sails mostly in Asia. Thus, on any given day, the PLAN outnumbers the Seventh Fleet by about 10 to 1 in the western Pacific, without even counting PLA land-based missiles and aircraft.
1. CAPT Wayne Hughes, USN (Ret.), Fleet Tactics and Coastal Warfare 2nd. ed., (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000), 167.
2. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2020 Annual Report to Congress,” vii.
3. Ronald O’Rourke, “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 30 August 2019, 18.
4. Jerry Hendrix, “Navy Must Boost Carrier Air Wing’s Range, Size & Lethality,” Breaking Defense, 19 June 2017.
5. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019,” 2 May 2019, 47.
6. Thomas Shugart and Javier Gonzalez, “First Strike: China’s Missile Threat to U.S. Bases in Asia,” Center for a New American Security, June 2017.
7. Robert O. Work and Greg Grant, “Beating the Americans at Their Own Game: An Offset Strategy with Chinese Characteristics,” Center for New American Security, June 2018, 5.
8. Jon Harper, “Cost Estimates Questioned for New Navy Frigate,” National Defense, 18 June 2020.
9. Yuav Zitun, “In First, Classified Israeli Missile Hits 400 km Target Range,” i24News, 2 June 2020, www.ynetnews.com/business/article/HkWgzk4hL.
10. “China Is Building Long-range Cruise Missiles Launched from Ship Containers,” navyrecognition.com, 8 April 2019.
11. Zhang Hongzhou, “China’s Fishing Industry: Current Status, Government Policies, and Future Prospects,” Center for Naval Analyses, 9 July 2015.
12. Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, “Kratos: XQ-58A Valkyrie,” kratosdefense.com.
13. Joseph Trevithick, “This Containerized Launcher for the XQ-58A Valkyrie Combat Drone Could Be a Game Changer,” The Warzone, thedrive.com, 16 October 2019.
14. CAPT R. Robinson Harris, USN (Ret.); Andrew Kerr; Kenneth Adams; Christopher Abt; Michael Venn; and Col T. X. Hammes, USMC (Ret.), “Converting Merchant Ships to Missile Ships for the Win,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 145, no. 1, (January 2019).
15. Congressional Research Service, “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” 8 June 2020, 2; Gary Wetzel, “The Slow Death of the Carrier Air Wing,” Jalopnik, 19 July 2017.
16. Eric Wertheim, “The U.S. Navy’s Future Frigate,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 141, no. 7 (July 2020): 91.
17. Darrell Etherington, “Rocket Lab’s Launch Fails During Second Stage Burn, Causing Loss of Vehicle and Payload,” TechCrunch, 4 July 2020.
18. Michael Sheetz, “Space Start-up Relativity Verified Its 3D Printing Process Works to Build a Rocket,” CNBC, 12 May 2020.
19. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, “Summary of The 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America,” Department of Defense (2018), 7.
20. Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “US ‘Gets Its Ass Handed To It’ in Wargames: Here’s a $24 Billion Fix,” Breaking Defense, 7 March 2019.