Pacific Vanguard 2020 exercise

Three Critical Challenges for the Navy’s New Chief of Operations

At long last we have an announced pick for Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Admiral Lisa Franchetti. She takes the helm of the Navy in a time of increasing strategic danger. History will judge her based on a single exacting standard — that of preparedness for the next war.

Adm. Franchetti must be aggressive and decisive, galvanizing the Sea Services and equipping American sailors with the tools to fight. This involves, most fundamentally, an expansion of U.S. shipbuilding, a freeze on ship retirements, and an alliance with Congress to expand the defense budget over the next five years.

Wars seldom come as bolts from the blue. The recent exception to this rule, the 2001 Afghanistan War, came as a shock only because of its unique nature following the Sept. 11 attacks. Typically, wars have an extended period of early warning. The precise shape of a conflict will always be in doubt, from beginning to end. War, after all, inhabits the domain of chance.

Yet, usually, the warning signs exist.

China’s long-term ambitions are manifest: It seeks to dominate the Asian-Pacific region and use this as a springboard to reorder the Eurasian security system. China’s short-term objective is the conquest of Taiwan, which it believes will break the U.S.-led security system in Asia. Thus, the next war the U.S. Navy must fight at scale will almost certainly find as its foe a Chinese amphibious operation against Taiwan that expands throughout the Western Pacific.

We have some understanding of how this war will be fought. The objective of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is to ensure that U.S. heavy-strike assets — its carrier-based aircraft that can launch long-range missiles, and its heavy bombers — remain at a distance, at least 600 to 1,000 miles away from Taiwan. To this end, the PLA now fields several long-range strike assets whose density compresses as one approaches the Chinese coastline. China needs time, ideally several months, to overwhelm Taiwan’s defenses and then begin a strategic strike campaign aimed at the capitulation of Japan, the Philippines, and likely Australia and South Korea.

A long war may be the inevitable consequence of most great-power conflicts. Even the hybrid great-power war in Ukraine has dragged on. There is no reason to expect that, beyond a strategic nuclear exchange, either China or the United States would gain a rapid victory. What can be planned for, on the American side, is a conflict in which the U.S. sunders the Chinese reconnaissance-strike network — the term for China’s mix of sensors, missiles, and delivery mechanisms — to enable combat far closer to the Chinese mainland.

Read the rest at The Messenger.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.

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