Why the US can’t win an arms race with China (2)

11 جولائی 2012
Of course, counting ships does not tell the whole story. Even more critical are the missions assigned to these ships and the conditions under which they will fight. In a hypothetical conflict between the United States and China for control of the South and East China Seas, the continental power would enjoy substantial structural advantages over US forces.
China, for instance, would be able to use its land-based air power, located at many dispersed and hardened bases, against naval targets. The ONI forecasts China’s inventory of maritime strike aircraft rising from 145 in 2009 to 348 by 2020. US land-based air power in the Western Pacific operates from just a few bases, which are vulnerable to missile attack from China (the Cold War-era Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty prevents the United States from developing theatre-based surface-to-surface missiles with ranges sufficient to put Chinese bases at risk). A comparison of ship counts similarly does not include China’s land-based anti-ship cruise missiles, fired from mobile truck launchers. Nor does it account for China’s fleet of coastal patrol boats, also armed with anti-ship cruise missiles.
The Air-Sea Battle concept began as an effort to improve staff coordination and planning between the Navy and the Air Force in an effort to address the structural disadvantages these forces would have when going up against a well-armed continental power like China. The concept is about creating operational synergies between the services. An example of this synergy occurred in last year’s campaign against Libya, when US Navy cruise missiles destroyed Libya’s air defence system, clearing the way for the US Air Force to operate freely over the country.
But Air-Sea Battle still faces enormous challenges in overcoming the “home court” advantage a continental power enjoys deploying its missile forces from hidden, dispersed, and hardened sites. In addition, the United States faces a steep “marginal cost” problem with an opponent like China; additional defences for US ships are more expensive than additional Chinese missiles. And China can acquire hundreds or even thousands of missiles for the cost of one major US warship.
( Continued)
Courtesy of Column Foreign Policy