a larger fleet almost always wins

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) — As China continues to develop what is already the world’s largest navy, a US Naval War College professor has a warning for US military planners: In naval warfare, the largest fleet almost always win.

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

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

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

So to compete, American military leaders are counting on the technology.

That same document says that “the world is entering a new era of warfare, in which the integration of technology, concepts, partners and systems, rather than the size of the fleet alone, will determine victory in the conflict.”

But not so fast, says Sam Tangredi, Leidos chair of future warfare studies at the US Naval War College.

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If history is any lesson, China’s numerical advantage is likely to lead to the defeat of the US Navy in any war with China, according to Tangredi’s research, featured in the January issue of Proceedings of the Journal. US Naval Institute

Tangredi, a former US Navy captain, analyzed 28 naval wars, from the Greco-Persian Wars of 500 BC to recent Cold War conflicts and interventions. He found that in only three cases did superior technology defeat larger numbers.

“All other wars were won by superior numbers or, in wars with equal forces, there was superior strategy or admiralty,” Tangredi wrote. “Often all three qualities work together, because operating a large fleet generally facilitates more extensive training and is often an indicator that leaders are concerned with strategic requirements,” Tangredi wrote.

The three outliers (wars of the 11th, 16th, and 19th centuries) probably aren’t familiar to all but the most passionate scholars, but others showing where numbers trump technology certainly are.

Take, for example, the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century.

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

A lesson from World War II

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Or World War II in the Pacific, where Japanese technology started out as the best in America.

“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.

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

Alessio Patalano, professor of warfare and strategy at King’s College London, praised Tangredi’s work.

“His research is a very good way to reject the silly assumption that mass doesn’t matter in war at sea,” Patalano said.

He emphasized two key points.

A larger size means more leaders are looking to gain advantage in their commands.

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

And he said that a large industrial base is essential, especially to be able to build new units after taking casualties in battle.

“In naval warfare, attrition is a real thing, so replaceability is vital,” Patalano said.

In 1944, an American destroyer escort launched into the Ohio River, as part of the massive American shipbuilding effort during World War II. (Credit: Photo 12/Universal Images Group Editorial/Getty Images)

Tangredi’s look at the aircraft carrier fleets of World War II shows the dialed numbers. Both the United States and Japan began the war with eight aircraft carriers, he said.

“During the war, Imperial Japan built 18 equivalent aircraft carriers… while the United States built 144. Unless the United States chose not to fight, Japan never had a chance,” he wrote.

Shipbuilding was a stronghold of the US when it was the world’s industrial giant in the 1940s. That title now rests with China.

“Most analysts doubt that the US defense industry, which has consolidated and shrunk since the end of the Cold War, can expand fast enough to meet wartime demand,” he wrote. Tangredi.

Ammunition Stock Replenishment

In fact, there is concern that US industry will not be able to meet the demand to provide arms assistance to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion while keeping US weapons inventories at adequate levels.

Admiral Daryl Caudle, commander of US Fleet Forces Command, last week called on the nation’s defense industries to step up their game, saying “they’re not delivering the munitions we need.”

“It’s so essential to win. And I can’t do that without artillery,” Caudle told a symposium in Washington, adding that the United States “is going up against a competitor here and a potential adversary, unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

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

“The US Navy will not be able to match the PLAN missile for missile,” Gilday said.

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

“American leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to gamble on technological—not numerical—superiority in that fight,” he wrote.

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

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