China’s People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), growing rapidly but still only a fraction of the size of the U.S. Navy, might be able to prevail in an ocean battle between the two forces. Several factors would work in China’s favor to tip the balance toward the Middle Kingdom in an intense regional conflict.
A panel devoted to China discussed how that might transpire on Thursday at West 2014 in San Diego. Dr. James R. Holmes, a professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College, explained that the PLAN would be facing only a fraction of the entire U.S. Navy if conflict arose between the two. Any fight would occur in waters not far from China, so it could bring shore-based assets—such as aircraft and missiles—to bear against the U.S. fleet. These assets have ranges as far as hundreds of miles, which would put most U.S. naval forces responding to a crisis in the area well within their reach.
Holmes noted that China is building a maritime force capable of defeating U.S. forces in that region. “China’s is a maritime strategy, as opposed to a naval strategy, through and through,” he declared.
Ultimately, China may not even need to exercise force to fulfill its wishes. Holmes offers that an advanced PLAN may deter any U.S. involvement in an escalating regional dispute by convincing U.S. leaders that the price of involvement would be too great, or that winning would come at too high a cost.