Opinion/Middendorf: China is replacing the U.S. as world’s No. 1 navy – Opinion – providencejournal.com
J. William Middendorf, of Little Compton, is a former Secretary of the Navy. His recent book, “The Great Nightfall: How We Win the New Cold War” (www.thegreatnightfall.com), warns that failing to meet America’s crisis of national defense and security will be measured in American lives.
Chinese shipbuilders have produced more than 100 warships in the past 10 years, a build rate easily outstripping that of the U.S. Navy. The Chinese navy is already the largest in the world with an estimated 350 ships and submarines.
The speed with which China’s first aircraft carrier was built is the fastest in the history of aircraft carrier construction. It took only two years from the laying of the hull to its launch. It was delivered to the Chinese navy nearly a year ahead of schedule in late 2019. Three nuclear-powered supercarriers are now under construction and are expected to form the center of carrier battle groups in the 2020s.
China has built six new classes of destroyers featuring more advanced hull designs, propulsion systems sensors, weapons and electronics. The Type 055 destroyers displace 13,000 tons and are 590 feet in length. These massive ships feature multi-mission designs with anti-submarine capabilities.
The Chinese navy’s ballistic submarine fleet is being improved and expanded with the older Type 092 Xia-class nuclear-powered submersible ship ballistic missiles being replaced with several Type 094 Jin-class SSBMs. Four of these newer subs are already operational and are expected to be equipped with the new, longer-range JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles with a range of 5,281 miles.
Most of China’s 1960s era aircraft have been replaced, and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force is now dominated by fourth-generation fighter aircraft. They include the domestically designed and produced J-10 and the Su-27 fighters, which are comparable to our F-15 or F-18 and dominate both the fighter and strike missions.
China’s pursuit of a range of advanced weapons with disruptive military potential is part of its plan to seek dominance in the high-tech weapons area. They include maneuverable missile warheads, hypersonic weapons, laser and beam weapons, electromagnetic rail guns, space weapons, and artificial intelligence-directed robots. We do not have any defense against hypersonic missiles, estimated to have a speed of Mach 20 (about 15,000 mph).
China’s air defenses are rapidly modernizing, with the recently acquired advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system analogous to the American Patriot SAM system. Key industrial and military centers, such as Beijing, are now defended by surface-to-air missile systems. It is also developing its own advanced SAM, the HQ-9, which is deployed both on land and at sea.
On Oct. 6, Defense Secretary Mark Esper rolled out a new 25-year road map with a goal of about 355 manned ships and half as many unmanned surface and subsurface ships. His plan calls for fewer large carriers and more submarines in a Navy of 500 ships or more. He also wants an attack submarine force of 70 to 80 boats, up from today’s 55.
Esper would like to increase the production of Virginia class submarines to three a year, up from the current two. The Navy is also committed to building 12 Columbia-class nuclear ballistic submarines to replace the Ohio-class submarines. The sole mission of the Ohio-class submarines is strategic nuclear deterrence, for which it carries long-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles. They provide the most survivable leg of America’s strategic nuclear deterrence with 70 percent of the nation’s accountable nuclear warheads and its only assured second-strike or retaliatory nuclear-strike capability.
Our greatest danger lies between now and 2031, when the first of the Columbia-class submarines will be deployed. That’s a long period of terrifying vulnerability. Nothing should be done to slow the development and deployment of the Columbia or Virginia class submarines, and we should support any opportunities to speed it up.