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IISS Says China Now Has More Warships Than U.S.

In a must read article on rising weapons costs and defense spending, the Economist puts up an interesting chart from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) showing that China now has more warships than the U.S. While IISS apparently uses its own definition for what is and is not a warship (the chart puts U.S. warships at a very debatable 150), the long term trend is unmistakable.

As the Economist notes, declining U.S. fleet numbers reflect sharply rising unit costs:

“At some point, as unit prices rise, one of two things must happen: countries must either scale back their ambition, or seek game-changing technology, as they did when the battleship gave way to the submarine and aircraft-carrier.”

– Greg Grant

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{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

Jabongga August 31, 2010 at 11:55 am

of course! It includes Ming Dynasty Rafts!

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lars August 31, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I remember my grandfather, a WW II vet and retired major general, telling me in the early seventies to learn Chinese…seems he was right again…

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FurtiveGlancer August 31, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Meh. AF likes a target rich environment.

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blight August 31, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I wouldn't be surprised, considering how many of the Navy's ships are probably support vessels designed to support long-range deployment. If you're content to be a short-range navy, you can do away with the tail because your tooth is going to be biting anything far away.

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John Moore August 31, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Put a gun on our Coast guard cutters and were back on top!

And quality vs quantity comes to mind

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ZRH537 August 31, 2010 at 3:38 pm

quality only goes so far.. an F15 can surely take down 3 or 4 migs, but outnumber them with 5 or 6, eventually the F15 is gonna lose. samething with subs. Think of it like this. A northern Pike can eat just about any fish it wants, it can even eat a piranha maybe 2 or 3 of them, but get 5 or 6 pirahna the Northern pike loses.

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STemplar August 31, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Yes, but it I say launch 1500 cruise missiles at their strategic petroleum reserves, oil off load terminals, and air fields, will they be able to put their 5 to 6 migs per F15 into the air? If my B2 bombers hit their submarine bases, will they be able to put to sea and even meet my subs?

These ceaseless comparisons of Chinese and US tactical airpower, or select slices of capabilities to one another is interesting, but quite frankly if US aircraft wind up in a dogfight, or there is sub on sub combat, a heck of alot of our plan has failed and raw numbers and tech mean little.

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mike August 31, 2010 at 7:12 pm

but would you even be able to get 1500 missiles there, or fly B2s over their sub bases? Probably not.

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STemplar September 1, 2010 at 3:52 am

4 SSGNs carry 600, the 3 Seawolf class carry 150 total. a typical destroyer can carry 90 total, attack subs carry 12 each, B52s can carry like 20 each, so yes we can comfortably deliver that many cruise missiles on target. After the 1500 cruise missiles hit I'm confident the B2s wont have many issues.

tyler September 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm

as far as the missiles, not sure on that, but the strategic and tactical bombers, definitely. The B2 and F117 are built to penetrate enemy defenses without being detected and they do quite well at it.

Matt August 31, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Think about this though; you need to support fighters in war and with america tankers and awacs vastly out numbering the chinese ones well you figure it out… not to mention chinese pilots are way less trained time wise… besides with the thousands of F16s (or F35s in the future) we arent that out numbered…

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Byron Skinner August 31, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Good Morning Folks,

Nice piece of propaganda here Greg. The number of 150 US war ship I would suggest is not that far from reality, anybody who wants to count armed combat hauls in the USN can see where that number comes from.

Now the details. The PRC has as of last count from goggle earth has 54 Ming/Romeo/Wuhan diesels from the 1950′s. From the overhead it appears few if any ever go to sea or even crewed. If routine maintenance has not been kept up on these boats, which no signs of appear, I would suggest that their operational life is over. Modern conventional submarines serving the PRC included 4 Soviet era Kilos (2 are waiting to going into yard for overhaul in The Russian Federation), PRC manufactured 9 Type 039 Song Class, the sub of Kitty Hawk Fame, maybe 6 are still operational, the current class of PRC conventional submarine is Yuan Type 041, one as of 2008 was operational production wad at one boat a year.

The PRC is currently out of production of all nuclear reactors including maritime reactors. The PRC at this time has perhaps one SSN that can go to sea, it has been seen in in recent years in the Yellow Sea, but not the Pacific. The PRC Has perhaps 4 SSBN’s but none are operational because of a lack of a missiles. The old Jl-1 SSBM has been scraped and the JL-2 is not ready. The two Type 094 Jin’s are in sea caves on Hainan Island in storage and 2 Type 092 Xia are with The Northern Fleet and it appears that one is operational with its principle mission of leading maritime parades.

The inventory of the PRC of surface combat surface hauls is 4 Chinese made DDS and 2 Soviet era Sovremenny Class Guided Missile Destroyers, which are by far the most capable of the PRC surface fleet and by a 2008 count the PRC has 54 amphibious warfare ships of all types and about two dozen unarmed supply/support ships.

According to a report published by the USNI in March 2010 the PRC PLAN is not considered a blue water or a littoral threat to the USN now or for the next 30-50. years.

The PRC has a large number, in excess of 150, and are producing about 10 a year, of littoral/costal patrol boats, missile boats, mine counter mine warfare, customs enforcement, Special Operations and other sundry naval craft that range in size from a few hundred gross tons to about 2,000 gross tons. It appears from current information on the PLAN that many of these smaller boats are increasingly being crewed by the growing PAP and not the PLAN.

At best Greg’s article is misleading. The PRC’s PlAN is not a Peer to the USN, not a Near Peer to the USN, not a regional super power in the area. The PLAN appears to be handing over much of it costal maritime duties to the PAP, which is not in the PLA’s chain of command and is considered by the US to be a domestic civilian law enforcement agency with out any expeditionary capabilities.

A foot note here, the PRC’s PLAN’s Marines has a manpower allocation of 30,000 Marines the current actual force is 7.20 Marines all on Hainan Island.

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

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Singularity August 31, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Satellites? Are you kidding? Hasn't China already show that it can shoot down satellites? And anyway all they have to do is blow up a few of theirs and the debris field would remove anyones satellites from being effective…

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Matt August 31, 2010 at 9:09 pm

a falling/low orbit satellite… not a normal gps one…

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@Earlydawn September 1, 2010 at 2:39 am

You're right. We should de-orbit all elements of our global defense cornerstone immediately.

Get a clue. Shooting down one cooperative satellite does not indicate a mature ASAT capability.

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Relic August 31, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Our Museum Navy would take out most of China's Navy.

USS Wisconsin, USS Missouri, USS New Jersey and USS Iowa would have a field day with sinking their fleet.

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Bob August 31, 2010 at 6:21 pm

I think the USN said the same thing about the Japanese just prior to December/1941. The only reason we ended up beating the IJN was we out produced them and had secure oil supplies. We would have a hard time out producing the Chicoms in this day and age. Quanity has a huge quality of its very own.

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IronV September 1, 2010 at 12:57 am

With all due respect, that's complete drivel. Fatuous nonsense. We beat the IJN for a plethora of political, cultural and operational reasons. The battle of Midway happened 6 months after Pearl Harbor. It was THE decisive naval battle of the Pacific, perhaps the greatest underdog sea action of all time. A stunning victory of a scotched-together pre-WWII US fleet against a nominally superior IJN fleet. The overwhelming U.S. production of high quality men, equipment and arms had yet to occur and we had not yet interdicted their oil supplies.

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OIF_to_USC September 1, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Agreed, we also had an intelligence and fighting doctrine advantage. War with Japan was anticipated as early as the turn of the century with updates figuring in technological and political changes along the way. While naval airpower was adopted with reverence by both countries, there was a relutance to let go of the "big guns" as was seen on both sides throughout the war and especially during the many battleship clashes that made up the Battle of Leyte Gulf after the more air-intensive Battle of the Philippine Sea that preceeded it. The main lesson here is to be ready even when war is not yet likely. We need to plan in advance and fight the way we train.

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Hunter78 August 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Good grief! We have people arguing for technology that was obsolete 70 years ago. The Teabaggers are right, America is in trouble.

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IronV September 1, 2010 at 12:43 am

The IOWA class battleships, while manpower intensive, are still viable assets when appropriately modernized. In fact, they would be the most formidable surface warfare vessels in existence. Their chronological age has nothing to do with their potential fitness for modern combat. It you're going to argue the point, at least argue it based on capability over cost, not subjective rhetoric.

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Hunter78 September 1, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Battleships are better targets than weapons. The ship that cannot be sunk has yet to be built. For the most part battleships of WW2 went down to the bottom not from the gunfire of other ships, but because they couldn't survive bombs and torpedoes- weapons that still exist. Not to mention smart bombs, cruise missiles, advanced torpedoes, etc. And what exactly did battleships strategically accomplish in the war? Demonstrate they could blast away land against dug-in troops as ineffectively as destroyers and cruisers? Air power and undersea power dominate surface ships at the point of attack consistently.

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OIF_to_USC September 1, 2010 at 10:04 pm

While we would have to agree that these battleships really don't have much cruising time on their steam plants, they still would not be viable assests in spite of their many dozens of Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles simply because they are manpower intensive and they cost a fortune to operate. Cost is an important part of the viability of any weapons system. Remember too, their design dates back to the late 1930s. As for their 16" main guns, they are still secondary to the Tomahawks and Harpoons crammed on their spacious decks unless used for offshore gunfire support; pure suicide against a technologically advanced enemy.

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mout911 August 31, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Was in China several years ago and went to Quindao, the largest naval base in China. And while it is true that they had lots and lots of ships, most couldn’t move. It was the biggest rust heap I have ever seen. On the high seas, technology will triumph over mass amounts of ships.

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Tad August 31, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Are they still PGMs if the Chinese take out many of the GPS satellites? I'm not being rhetorical, I'm curious.

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Matt August 31, 2010 at 7:30 pm

They'll be less effective, but still work. PGMs use inertial guidance (INS) to stay on course. INS tends to slowly drift/loose accuracy over time, so GPS data is used to "correct" the PGM's position. Take away GPS, and the bomb looses some accuracy, but not much (this is why GPS jamming isn't terribly effective, by the time the bomb is close enough to be jammed, it's close enough that INS alone can probably ensure a hit).

Also, shooting down GPS satellites isn't easy. The satellite China hit was 537 miles up, while GPS satellites orbit at 12,000+ miles. That extra distance makes the job vastly more difficult (i.e. the satellite now has sufficient warning time to move out of the way). I'm not saying knocking a GPS sat. down is impossible, but it'd be much harder than many make it out to be.

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Dana Shaw August 31, 2010 at 7:05 pm

We gave them the tech and materials to build the fleet so what's the surprise. All their techs were schooled here in US. DUHHH!!

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Stephen Russell August 31, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Better upgrade our Navy big time & museumize some ships.
Buy some from UK, Japan?
Turn Spruance class DD to a USCG cutter?
Re arm, re engineer our ships./
Boost number to 250 min?

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Chris C September 1, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Stephen, I agree the U.S. Navy needs a viable replacement for the Perry class frigate. The LCS is not going to cut it. With regards to the Spruance class, all but one Spruance class destroyer has been sunk for target practice or scrapped. The four Kidd class destroyers have been sold to Twaiwan. The only similar hull is the remaining Ticonderoga class cruisers and only those cruisers with the vertical lanch systems remain active. In the meantime, the current plan is to build additional DDG 51 "flight II" class destroyers (three more have been added) until the plans for the larger flight III version is put in place.

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Byron Skinner August 31, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Good Evening Folks,

Matt. You may be on to something with the satellite intercept. Homing signal maybe?

China has a sorted history with military satellites. Last October for their big 70th. and it’s military exercised they could only get one communications satellite to work for the war games. Their GPS and ISR birds were asleep.

Someone who read my other post brought up Frigates of which China had as of 2008 20-24 operational. The PRC/PLAN is somewhat less concerned about defining a ships class and tend to call any surface ship between 1,500 gross tons and 3,000 gross tons a Frigate. From then on they are classified as Destroyers.

The mystery of the ballistic missile intercept, how can an interceptor with a range of 350 Km. intercept a target at 500Km?

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

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Helloshitty August 31, 2010 at 11:00 pm

MY question is how are they defining warships?….China may have more "hulls" but much of china's fleet are small missle boats designed for coastal defense. When it comes to larger surface combatants, the U.S. has many more, (the chinese only field 26 destroyers- most of them older soviet era models. The U.S. fields 55 destroyers plus 22 cruisers).

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Helloshitty August 31, 2010 at 11:05 pm

My guess is they are counting the Type 22 FAC as warship

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Helloshitty August 31, 2010 at 11:15 pm

a few things you forgot
chinese missles are mostly short range SCUD type; basically non-PGMs

China's airforce may be large, but the majority of their force is still old soviet era fighters, their entire military fields only about 400-600 aircraft (the U.S. maintains a fleet of 3000 comparable aircraft)

the U.S. has experience in projecting power- the chinese don't, just because you own a brand new carrier doesnt mean you know how to use it

if you add up all the firepower that our naval surface combatants have (the VLS tubes) it comes to about 7500; the chinese have less than 1,000

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Subutai September 1, 2010 at 5:16 am

The idea of war with China is for little boys who play video games. In the real world, such a war would destroy the current world order… after all, we are China's biggest customer, and they hold the majority of our debt. Whether we like it not, whether chinese bashing feels good or not, we are destined to co-exist as long as rational adults are in charge. An alliance of the US and chinese Navy would do more to promote world peace than any treaty or peace plan anywhere in the world.
As for combat, after we sink each others ships, then what? How do you defeat 1 billion people? And how would they ever defeat North America? All the rest is a pssing contest to see who's got the biggest wang.

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RonSD September 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Killing one billion people is not the problem. China's peasantry will destroy their corrupt government first before facing the US military. The citizenry of China is not our enemy.

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recision September 2, 2010 at 3:59 am

Lets try an interesting word game…
"Killing 350 million people is not the problem. US citizens will destroy their corrupt government first before facing the Chinese military. The Citizenry of the US is not our enemy."
There, fixed it for ya.

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STemplar September 2, 2010 at 4:24 am

They hold about 6% of our debt, not the majority. The Federal Reserve holds the majority.

Given the Chinese unabashed support for miserable regimes like Burma, North Korea, and the Sudan, I have little interest in mortgaging away all of my principles for an alliance with a country the likes of China.

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Danfried September 1, 2010 at 6:01 am

Sadly typical for Defensetech. Almost 30 comments, and no debate about the article linked to. In fact, only one guy seems to have actually read the article. Instead, a macho pissing contest based just on the Defensetech headline. USN currently stronger? Well, DUH.

Just look at the title of the Economist article: "Defence spending in a time of austerity"…

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blight September 1, 2010 at 11:17 am

The word China only appears twice in the article.

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Lalaland September 1, 2010 at 6:54 pm

True but both those mentions highlight China as the coming military power and drawing comparisons with Japan, Germany and the US at the turn of the century. You don't have to repeat China over and over to make it clear that it is the 'elephant in the room' in defence planning

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Bob September 1, 2010 at 7:53 am

We will not have to fight China. They will just make large enough contributions to the proper political party, and we will mothball, or disband, half of our fleet, army and AF in return. Chicom political contributions have paid off in the past, the mid to late 1990s come to mind.

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OIF_to_USC September 1, 2010 at 10:22 am

In a toe to toe fight right now, the U.S. fleet could outfight the PRC fleet. The question is the rate of technology gain and construction capability as we move into an uncertain future..

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TIGERONE September 1, 2010 at 11:03 am

Your American Tax Dollars At Work - There is the PROOF THAT WAR IS PROFITABLE! Guess that's why we had to home base an Air Craft Carrier in the area, hugh? I think, if I lived in Tiawan, I'd be sleeping very lightly - right about now! China seems a little upset that we are playing in the "SEA" that China Recently Claimed is hers, and hers alone! I'm still concerned that Russia is aiding China in training its pilots - and who knows what else!

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OIF_to_USC September 1, 2010 at 11:25 am

Russia does not have to train Chinese pilots. I have been to China and their industrial and technological capabilities are already entering into that "gray area" with the U.S., Russia and Europe. Likewise, they can forge the necessary "engines of war" in the form of ships, aircraft, tanks, armored vehicles and all the "gray area" high tech to go with it at a fraction of the cost. Our inability to keep pace will be that of the high Western cost to do so.

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Jsmith September 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm

The US has the money — we still have the largest GDP in the world — but our problem is that funds are misdirected to reinforce failure rather than reinforcing success. Throwing millions of dollars at a war on poverty that does nothing to help the poor (more than we spend on defense) while risking our national defense is a road to guaranteed defeat and demise. Can we cut back? Sure we can. I'm not arguing that we should not. But it's equally important to keep it in a larger financial context.

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OIF_to_USC September 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm

We have to get much more for our "defense dollar" than what we are getting now. Look at the F-22 Rapture. The number of aircraft went from 700 F-22 Raptures to replace 700 F-15 Eagles to 400 to just 163, not enough to equip squadrons worldwide. That means we will have to maintain a lot of older aircraft beyond their safe airframe lives. The same story with ships. A whole fleet of modern amphibious warfare vessels less than 15-20 years of age are now serving as artificial reefs while very similar ships were built to replace them. President Eisenhower was right in his farewell speech when he said, “Be wary of the Military Industrial Complex.” They are needed to fight and win wars, but their loyalties and are to themselves and their shareholders first.

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elgatoso September 1, 2010 at 2:41 pm

F-22 Raptor, Not Rapture.A small correction.

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OIF_to_USC September 1, 2010 at 6:15 pm

LMAO. Thanks elgatoso. The F-22 is an impressive fighting machine, but not …that… impressive I guess. I will be more careful in the future. Thanks again.

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Tim Adkison September 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Gee i cant imagine the Chinese are getting are getting all this money from…….hey whats this tag say on my computer…..o weird it says made in China. Maybe we should do something about that Obama?

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Observer September 1, 2010 at 4:53 pm

During the cold war Janes' had our military in Europe out gunned by 100-1. Only problem was that the Soviet Bloc did not have a maintenance program or the technological advantage. Their numbers are just like NK, Iraq, Iran and the rest of these countries that parade their weapons through the streets all painted up with red wheels and shiny guns. When reality hits you find out they are a just a pile of metal waiting to be twisted into a burning hulk. These ships are just another target rich environment for our never been seen before weapons systems. Oh and by the way, wasn't Billy boy who gave some of our technology to the Chi-coms.

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Lalaland September 1, 2010 at 6:47 pm

A target rich environment? Sounds like the last words of a Tiger tank commander at Kursk. Despite all the BS having shinier toys than the other guy rarely lives up to the billing.

Right now I don't think surface hulls matter as much as advanced submarine tech and the US will continue to have the lead there for a long time due to her better reactor designs. Littoral combat in the China Sea would be another matter small cheap missile boats can be a real pain to deal with as recent USN war games have shown. Worse as AIP systems improve diesel/electric submarines will become an ever growing problem as they can run very silent indeed.

China isn't interested in California but in dominating her neighbours, irony of ironies the US may wind up allied with the Vietnamese. They may be red but they've actually fought wars with China and are no great friends with their 'fraternal brothers' these days

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blight September 1, 2010 at 7:54 pm

We should use the PC's as our starting point for littoral combat, and not a frigate-sized monster with modules.

Minesweepers aren't meant for combat, nor are they meant to be zippy and fast. So why are they in a hull that's super-zippy?

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OIF_to_USC September 1, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Lalaland, you may be right about fewer surface hulls and more submarines, at least in a fast paced and hard hitting war with a technologically advanced maritime enemy where the outcome will come quickly and without mercy from either side. Just look at our surface fleet now. While modern, it has been streamlined beyond believe. Almost all of our combat support ships, transports, replenishment ships, and even surveillance and recovery ships that would normally make up 45-50% of a major fleet are now reassigned to the U.S. Maritime Sealift Command. The fist of the Navy, including those proposed, planned and building, has been reduced to fewer than a dozen carriers, fewer than 100 FFG/DDG/CG warships, and 20-25 amphibious warfare ships. Submarines appear to be the Navy’s ace-in-the-hole. They can serve as mobile cruise missile platforms as in the case of converted Ohio-class boats, tactical blue water killers and littoral men-o-war as in the case of attack submarines, and traditional stand-off fleet ballistic missile submarines in the event of the nuclear option. [Continued]

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OIF_to_USC September 1, 2010 at 9:40 pm

[Continued] We cannot stop China, Russia or any other country or unfriendly alliance of countries from building up their war fighting capabilities. Strong militaries, especially the naval forces of maritime countries, are symbols of national sovereignty. We cannot stop it; however, we can prepare to deter or win in battle. While we have the technological knowhow to out-plan, out-design and out-build our adversaries, we also have to contend with a greedy, and I dare say, crooked and corrupt defense industry that practices its own twisted form of market economics. The solution is not to remove the defense industries away from the market, but rather increase their competition as it was in the years immediately after World War II. Instead of “dozens of shipyards and aircraft manufacturers in stiff competition with eachother, we know have both industries controlled by just three huge mega-corporations that have tightly interwoven themselves into the armed forces and the Congress. These near monopolies have to be broken and competition encouraged in order for us to be able to afford the quality and size military we are actually capable of instead of making do with less like we do now.

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Doc61 September 1, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Quantity has a quality all its own…….Besides, once China knocks down the GPS satelites, the new PGM's will turn dumb real quick. I certainly wouldn't want to live on Taiwan in the next, say, 10 years. North Korea is feelin' froggy with Chinas blessing.

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Ron Golan September 2, 2010 at 2:55 am

It was interesting to see all the above comments - almost ALL of them seem to be thinking in terms of wacking the Chinese. Not one of them suggested attempts to improve relationships nor any attempts to understand what the Chinese are thinking - short as well as long term. Some of the comments remind me of the British thinking in WWII about the Japanese military capability - that is before the Japanese wacked them as well.

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STemplar September 2, 2010 at 4:35 am

They support North Korea, whose people drink sewer water and starve while the dear leader has the largest porn collection in the world. They support Burma who locks people up because they would like frivolous things like freedom of speech. The support the Sudan who in turn use militia to commit genocide and mass rapes. So what is it I'm supposed to be sympathetic too?…..

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Jamal Bashiri September 2, 2010 at 6:36 am

Total number of ships does not neccesarily indicate superiority.

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wlverines117 September 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm

People, get your head out of the sand! For years the gov't has been taking our ships and either mothballing them or selling them to other countries. Our President and representatives have been cutting back the number of people in our Armed forces and closing bases to save money but at the same time sending more money to foreign nations.
If Obama has his way he would cut the forces down to 1 carrier and a few support ships. History shows us what happens when we underestimate the potential of other countries abilitiy to wage war and kick our butt. Remember Pearl Harbor?

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ZRH537 September 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm

I do see what you are trying to say. I am in no way saying that china would walk all over us. My fear is that we have people in charge who look at the huge advantage we have now and think that we dont need to keep moving forward, one day we are not going to have the comfort zone militarily we do now

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