Expert warns US Navy on China: Larger fleet almost always wins – CNN

Expert warns US Navy on China: Larger fleet almost always wins – CNN

Seoul, South Korea CNN —

As China continues to expand what is already the world’s largest navy, a professor at the US Naval War College has a warning for American military planners: In naval warfare, the larger fleet almost always wins.

Sam Tangredi writes in the January issue of the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, if history is a lesson, that China’s numerical advantage is likely to result in US Navy defeat in any war with China.

Tangredi, the Leidos Chair in Future Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College and a former US Navy captain, looked at 28 naval wars, from the Greco-Persian Wars of 500 BC to 500 BC. to recent proxy conflicts and Cold War interventions. He found that superior technology only defeated larger numbers in three cases.

“All other wars have been won by superior numbers or, when between equal forces, superior strategy or admiralty,” Tangredi wrote. “Often all three qualities work together, as operating a large fleet typically facilitates more extensive training and is often an indicator that executives are concerned with strategic needs,” Tangredi wrote.

The three outliers – wars of the 11th, 16th and 19th centuries – are probably not known to all but the most ardent scholars, but others showing where numbers beat technology certainly are.

Take for example the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century.

“French warships were superior in the technology of ship design and construction, but ultimately it was the sheer number of ships in the Royal Navy that prevented Napoleon from crossing the (English) Channel,” Tangredi wrote.

Pentagon leaders have identified China as a “rapid threat” to the US military. But naval size figures show that the US military cannot keep up with China’s naval growth.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) surpassed the fleet size of the US Navy sometime around 2020 and now has around 340 warships, according to the Pentagon’s 2022 China Military Power Report released in November. China’s fleet is expected to grow to 400 ships in the next two years, the report said.

Meanwhile, the US fleet is below 300 ships, and the Pentagon’s goal is to have 350 manned ships by 2045, still well behind China, according to the US Navy’s 2022 Navigation Plan released last summer.

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So, to be competitive, US military leaders are turning to technology.

According to the same Pentagon document, “The world is entering a new era of warfare where the integration of technology, concepts, partners and systems—more than just fleet size—will determine victory in conflict.”

But Tangredi points to World War II in the Pacific, where Japanese technology began as the better of America’s, as an example of why the Pentagon’s conclusions are not necessarily accurate.

“Imperial Japan entered the war with some superior technologies: the Zero fighter, the Long Lance torpedo, and aerial torpedoes that could strike in shallow water,” Tangredi wrote in Proceedings.

“However, it was the overall power of US industry and the size of the US fleet (particularly its logistics and amphibious ships) that established the victory over the Imperial Japanese Navy,” he said.

Alessio Patalano, Professor of War and Strategy at King’s College London, praised Tangredi’s work.

“His research is a very good way to disprove the stupid assumption that mass doesn’t matter in naval warfare,” Patalano said.

He emphasized two key points.

Larger size means more leaders are trying to gain an advantage in their commands.

“A larger fleet tends to be more competitive in terms of training staff development and operational capacity,” Patalano said.

And he said a large industrial base is essential, especially to be able to build new units after they have suffered casualties in combat.

“In naval warfare, attrition is a real thing, so the ability to exchange is critical,” Patalano said.

In 1944, an American escort destroyer entered the Ohio River as part of the massive US shipbuilding effort during World War II.

Tangredi’s look at the aircraft carrier fleets of World War II shows the stark numbers. Both the US and Japan started the war with eight carriers, he said.

“During the war, Imperial Japan built 18 carrier equivalents…while the United States built 144. Unless the United States decided not to fight, Japan never stood a chance,” he wrote.

Shipbuilding was a US strength when they were the industrial giant of the world in the 1940s. That title now goes to China.

“Most analysts doubt that the US defense industry — which has been consolidating and shrinking since the end of the Cold War — could expand fast enough to meet wartime demand,” Tangredi wrote.

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Indeed, there are concerns that US industry will be unable to meet demands for arms assistance to Ukraine in fighting the Russian invasion while maintaining US arms stockpiles at reasonable levels.

Admiral Daryl Caudle, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, last week urged the country’s defense industry to up its game, saying, “They’re not supplying the artillery that we need.”

“It’s so important to win. And I can’t do that without the ordnance,” Caudle said at a symposium in Washington, adding that the US “here’s going against a competitor and a potential adversary that’s like nothing we’ve ever seen.”

In an online forum last week, Caudle’s Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Gilday, also pointed out the numbers problem the US faces in a potential conflict in the Pacific.

“The United States Navy will not be able to compare PLAN missile by missile,” Gilday said.

And if the US Navy can’t match China’s missile for missile or ship for ship, Tangredi wonders where it can find an advantage.

“US leaders must ask themselves the extent to which they are willing to rely on technological – rather than numerical – superiority in this fight,” he wrote.

“I’m not saying that a smaller, more technologically superior fleet could never defeat a much larger fleet, I’m just saying that – with the possible exception of three instances in the last 1,200 years – none have.”

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