China can't afford to attack an American aircraft carrier

Shortly after the year began we looked at a report out of China where one of their very anti-American admirals had said that China might need to sink a couple of our aircraft carriers just to put us in our place. The guy is known for his hawkish hyperbole, so it didn’t seem that our government was taking him too seriously. But at the same time, the Chinese government didn’t exactly move to disavow his comments either. They’re referring to it as a “bloody nose” strategy, suggesting that if they hit us hard enough on the first shot we’ll turn tail and run. No credible experts seem to expect it to happen, but it was a situation worth monitoring at least.

We weren’t the only ones who noticed the admiral’s remarks. Some other experts in military affairs have begun weighing in on the subject. The majority of observers thus far appear to agree that a massive missile strike on an American carrier group in the South China Sea actually might be able to sink (or at least severely damage) one of our bird farms. But that hypothetical exchange has an end result that the Chinese won’t like at all. (Business Insider)

“The decision to go after an aircraft carrier, short of the deployment of nuclear weapons, is the decision that a foreign power would take with the most reticence,” Bryan McGrath, founding managing director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a naval consultancy, told Business Insider. “The other guy knows that if that is their target, the wrath of god will come down on them.”

McGrath emphasized that threats to US carriers are old news, but that the ships, despite struggling to address the threat from China’s new missiles, still had merit.

“I would have been more surprised if we had seen former Chinese rear admiral say, ‘The fact that we’re building aircraft carriers is one of the dumbest moves of the 21st century given the Americans will wax them in the first three days of combat,'” said McGrath, dismissing Luo’s comments as bogus scare tactics.

The short version of this tale is that if the Chinese actually did decide to open fire on one of our carriers, they might succeed in a surprise attack. But we would be able to decimate all of the useful and powerful elements of their navy in short order. We could also put quite a pounding to Beijing if we were so inclined. And by sinking one of our ships, the Chinese would have committed an act of war anyway so there would be nothing stopping us. Short of going to tactical weapons and given the massive logistical hurdles involved in shipping any significant number of their soldiers anywhere near our mainland, we could probably handle them.

That’s an encouraging analysis, but the news isn’t all good. This story was breaking at virtually the same moment that the Pentagon said our military’s logistics systems for moving and deploying both troops and equipment has “decayed” severely in the past decade and we’re not actually ready for a war with either China or Russia.

The strategic American military system for moving troops, weapons, and supplies over long distances has decayed significantly and needs rapid upgrading to be ready for any future war with China or Russia, according to a report by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board.

A special task force on survivable logistics evaluated the military’s current airlift, sealift, and prepositioned equipment and supplies and found major problems with supporting forces during a “high-end” conflict.

“Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has not fought an adversary capable of the catastrophic disruption of military supply chains and deployment of personnel and materiel,” an unclassified summary of the report states.

That’s worrisome, but not an immediate threat to our security. The fact is that we haven’t been in a war with an actual superpower that would be capable of hitting us back, attacking us on our own soil and possibly defeating us in well over half a century. It’s not hard to believe that some of our capabilities in those specialized areas of warfare have atrophied a bit. I assume the military is already getting started on addressing these shortcomings, providing Congress gives them the money to do so.

In the meantime, the threat of an attack from the Chinese with their “bloody nose” strategy remains thankfully remote. At least for now.