Let me ask you a question: how do you blow up a large boat, like an aircraft carrier?
“That is an inappropriate question,” you might reply. The reality is, those questions have to be asked in order to anticipate the future. So, I’ll ask that question again. “How do you blow up a large boat, like an aircraft carrier?”
There are a few ways. Have a bigger boat. Have more boats. Use jets.
Ships are expensive and vulnerable. Making more ships is also expensive. Jets are also very expensive. All require human interaction and human crews.
Many countries, most in fact, do not spend very much on their military. Not these days, any way. Not like the United States. Add up the military budgets of all countries in the world, and they will nearly equal what the United States spends on our military. Afghanistan and Iraq are not added into the general military budget. When those two actions are included, the United States spends about $750 billion on the military. In comparison, the United States federal government spends about 1/10th that amount on Education.
If China, or North Korea, or Iran wants to counter-act United States military supremacy, how best to do it? When a country’s budget is best spent doing other things, how can a country develop a response to the United States military?
First, analysis of the opponent’s inventory is mandatory. The U.S. has the world’s most powerful navy, no doubt. Ships are vulnerable to two delivery systems. Shore or jet-launched missiles that hug the water are extremely hard to defend against. A missile, similar to a cruise missile, like the French Exocet missile used by the Argentinian navy against the British, are being developed and tested by the Chinese. The Chinese realize that they lack ship-v-ship superiority. A way to balance that score is by using missiles to disable or destroy aircraft carriers and support ships. This method is not news to our Navy and the Chinese conventional missile technology worries the DoD.
Small boats have the potential of disabling our ships, as seen in the Scorpion-v-USS Cole in Yemen. In a war game, the Millennium Challenge 2002, commission by our own DoD, changed the rules mid-contest, when a “significant” portion of the Blue Team (U.S. forces) were sunk by the Red Team (Middle East foes, probably Iran). Commanded by Marine Lt. General Van Riper, missiles coordinated with assaults by small fast boats, were able to decimate U.S. naval forces. The tactics used, called “swarming,” were able to take advantage of fast small boats, missiles, and low-tech communication, to coordinate and attack a larger and technologically superior naval force, and wreck havoc.
The rules of engagement were changed by the war game oversight committee, as they did not think these swarming tactics were realistic. This decision made in spite of Iranian and Somali evidence to the contrary.
Back to the question. Use small fast boats. They are cheap. May not show up as a threat on radar. Can be disguised as tourists, “friendly” or non-combat units, or commercial. Add a missile capability. Or, as it Yemen, load them with explosives and radio-control them. China could develop thousands of these boats, give them a stealthy profile, and change the entire Pacific Theatre.
In conjunction with the manufacture of small fast boats, develop some prototype stealth fighters. As the article states, these jets will not be operational for about a decade. In 10 years, we will still be using F-22s, no doubt about that. Continued research is on-going in the U.S., for sure. Prototype to product takes years, though, and the next generation of jets could be 20 years away. What will that future be like? Unmanned fighters? Drone fighters? Swarm fighters? Only the future will tell.
One thing is for sure. The balance of power is shifting, little by little, in the Pacific.