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Dire Straits: Potential Naval Shortcomings in Contrast to China
ONC Editorial

Oct 27, 2023

Explaining two schools of thought in current naval operations and how they relate to U.S.-China Relations.

Since 1944, there has been a debate about how to conduct American naval operations. Two schools of thought have developed. The “missile” school focuses on single-use assets like missiles, offering the advantage of reduced costs both up front and over time. On the other hand, the “carrier” school of thought believes that Carrier Battle Groups, which consist of an aircraft carrier along with naval convoys, offer greater tactical and operational flexibility. This, combined with the increase in effectiveness due to pilot skill, might offset the costs of operating a carrier group. 

During the Cold War, these two doctrines split along the lines of East and West. The U.S. built carriers while China mainly focused on missiles. These systems are racing against one another, each trying to get a leg up on the other. 

America's “Big Blue Blanket" combines Carrier Groups, air power and surface vessels in an effort to outmaneuver and overwhelm adversaries. In contrast, China’s missile doctrine, critical to a future South China Sea confrontation, is based around its Dong Feng class missiles. This includes hypersonic missiles, which are theoretically capable of overwhelming and destroying U.S. carriers. 

While the U.S. does have air defense assets — namely the Aegis equipped destroyers, cruisers and frigates capable of launching standard missiles — these are decreasing in number and have significant logistical challenges in combat operation. As things stand, this places the U.S. Navy at a disadvantage against the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), limiting the Navy’s capacity to counteract any move into the Taiwan Straits. That said, any definite conclusions on which naval strategy is superior, and which measures to superiority should be used, are subject to extensive debate. 

Rohan Krishnamoorthy is a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C. where he is pursuing a Master’s in International Affairs at SIS. He is a Foreign Policy and Defense Intern with Our National Conversation (ONC) and has been with the organization since July 2022.


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