As we stand prepared to move deeper into the 2020s naval power is again becoming a valuable asset among the great powers of the world. In the conflicts of the first two decades of the 21st Century navies became secondary to land, and airpower as the United States and her allies grappled with low-intensity conflicts and insurgencies in the Middle East and Central Asia. Naval arms were ignored to an extent, denied the lion’s share of budget funds, and almost as a rule were first on the chopping block when budget cuts loomed. Gradually, navies have come back into the spotlight given events like China’s rise, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Now in 2020 many global powers are reaching the point where their future ambitions, and economic well-being depend upon the power and capabilities of their navies. The South China Sea and Eastern Med are just two contemporary examples of areas where seapower is directly tied to the economic fortunes of a nation-state. In the coming years other bodies of water will be added to that list, and more nations will grasp and respect the importance of their navies.
The United States and China need not wait. Both nations recognize the value of seapower. For the Chinese, a relative newcomer to the ranks of first-class navies of the world, a powerful fleet is paramount to advancing its territorial ambitions in the region and beyond. China has embarked on a major ship building program that is adding platforms to the fleet in considerable numbers very quick, especially surface combatants, and amphibious assault ships. Two further aircraft carriers are also currently under construction, as well as multiple ballistic missile and attack submarines. China is transforming the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) into a major blue water force.
Then there is the United States, the perennial world naval power. Even though China has overtaken the US Navy in numbers of ships, the US still enjoys major advantages in quality, and technology. After almost two decades of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Navy is finally refocusing its attention on fighting and defeating a near-peer opponent at sea. New weapons and sensors are entering service. Doctrinal changes are in the works, and frequent exercises with allies are improving interoperability. Naval shipbuilding is at lower levels than most leaders would like, however, and there are still a number of challenges to address but the US Navy is on the right path.
Author’s Note: Next week’s Project entries will look at the following:
1.US Navy and PLAN ships, equipment, organization, and strategies
2. How both navies might operate in a hypothetical Sino-US war in the near future