China’s expanding military power and a swelling fleet of naval vessels have triggered some anxieties in the West. The PLA Navy has deployed more ships in the region than ever in the last decade. However, the US Pacific fleet Commander is optimistic about the US Navy’s readiness.
The US Pacific fleet Commander recently admitted that one thing that has changed about the Western Pacific in the last four decades is that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has gone from building a fleet of about 37 vessels in the early 2000s to over 350 now.
Previously, with an increase in China’s fleet size, Pentagon officials warned that China is a “pacing threat” to the US military and indicated that the US military could not keep up with China’s rapid naval development. This has been a pressing issue among the highest echelons of the US military.
The threat amplifies when viewed against the backdrop of China’s vow to unite self-ruled Taiwan with the Chinese mainland, ignoring international condemnation.
US intelligence officials predict that China could launch an invasion of Taiwan by 2027, and all parties involved appear to be preparing for that eventuality. However, this invasion could also mean that a war between the two superpowers and military giants becomes an unprecedented reality.
While the interview was a long interaction that covered several facets of the US-China rivalry and how seeds of trouble have been sown between the two sides, EurAsian Times decided to focus on the part where the US Pacific Fleet Commander insinuated that he was “ready.”
China Lacks Firepower
Admiral Samuel Paparo recently told CBS News: “We’re ready, yes. I’ll never admit to being ready enough.” Admiral Paparo was a “Top Gun” alumnus and a former jet pilot before becoming commander of the Pacific Fleet.
When probed which was the most powerful ship in the US Navy, Paparo immediately retorted that it was a carrier.
“It’s an aircraft carrier, and its airwing is capable of 150 strike or air-to-air sorties per day, with at its surge levels, the ability to deliver 900 precision-guided munitions every day and reloadable every night,” he described the ability of the US Navy aircraft carrier without naming it.
The US Navy has 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers against just two in the Chinese inventory that are diesel-fuel powered. China has two operational aircraft carriers – Liaoning and Shandong. While the Liaoning aircraft carrier group conducted far sea training in the West Pacific earlier this year, Shandong was spotted near Guam.
Moreover, China also launched a third aircraft carrier Fujian amid much fanfare last year. The indigenously built carrier is currently undergoing testing, but previously obtained satellite imagery indicated cracks on its decks. This made led experts to predict that the carrier does not pose a threat to the US immediately.
The catch for the US Navy is that even though China has the largest navy fleet by size, it cannot match the capability that comes with aircraft carriers.
Paparo said China has two operational aircraft carriers, and “that’s China’s two diesel-fueled carriers, to the US’ 11 nuclear-powered ones that can carry a total of about a thousand attack aircraft… more than the navies of every other nation on Earth, combined.”
The Pacific Fleet Commander was aboard the Nimitz aircraft carrier while giving this particular interview. The pilots on the Nimitz carrier reportedly conduct air-to-air combat or dogfighting drills regularly.
In April this year, China and the US deployed their aircraft carriers in the waterway between Taiwan and China. The PLAN Shandong aircraft carrier was spotted around 200 nautical miles East of Taiwan, while the USA’s Nimitz aircraft carrier was seen about 400 nautical miles off eastern Taiwan.
On its part, the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) pulled into Naval Air Station North Island late last month after a nearly seven-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific.
The Nimitz is the second largest carrier in the world, and its air wing typically hosts F/A-18C Hornets, F/A-E/F Super Hornets, E/A-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft, C-2 Greyhound transport aircraft, and six Seahawk helicopters.
While still slated to remain in service, they are to be succeeded by Ford-class aircraft carriers – the largest in the world. As per reports, the carrier can host up to 90 aircraft, significantly more than the Nimitz. These include the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters, and unmanned air and combat vehicles.
Moreover, the flight deck’s design was modified due to the need for a higher sortie rate of 160 sorties per day, with surges of up to 220 sorties per day during emergencies and intensive air combat.
Two of the US Pacific Fleet’s seven carriers are often stationed in the Philippine or China Seas, to the south of Okinawa and the north or east of Taiwan. These $14 billion, 100,000-ton carriers are often noted as warnings that the US is prepared to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese assault.
The officials noted further that control of Taiwan is a strategic necessity for gaining direct access to the Pacific and the shipping lanes that carry nearly 50% of global trade. According to US officials, this is why China is redefining maritime warfare by exploiting its 9,000 miles of coastline.
However, banking on its aircraft carriers, among other capabilities that the EurAsian Times has focused on in its previous analyses, the US Pacific Fleet Commander seems ready for any conflict between the two states. He says the US President and Congress would make the decision to go to war.
“It’s a decision of the president of the United States and a decision of the Congress. We must be ready for that. But the bulk of the United States Navy will be deployed rapidly to the Western Pacific to aid Taiwan if the order comes to aid Taiwan in thwarting that invasion.”