China’s ever-increasing military prowess and growing naval fleet have created anxieties in the West. These fears are not baseless since China has deployed more warships in the region than ever in the last decade.
However, the US Pacific Fleet Commander is optimistic about the readiness of the US Navy in facing China.
China has gone from a fleet of 37 ships in the 2000s to a fleet of more than 350 now. Due to this rapid increase in naval capabilities and fleet size, Pentagon officials stated that China is a ‘pacing threat’ to the US. They also highlighted the need to keep up with China’s swift naval developments, which is still a pressing issue among the top officials of the Pentagon.
The threat of China seems greater when seen against the background of its goal to unite Taiwan with its mainland, ignoring all international condemnation. It is predicted that China could invade Taiwan by 2027, and hence, the major powers, like the US, would like to be prepared for that eventuality. The invasion of Taiwan could also lead to a war between the two superpowers.
Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Samuel Paparo, stated, “We’re ready, yes. I’ll never admit to being ready enough.” He was a “Top Gun” alumnus and a jet pilot before his current position.
When asked which was the most powerful ship in the US Naval fleet, he said it was surely a carrier, without naming it.
“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 added.
The US has 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, whereas China has just two diesel-powered ones- Liaoning and Shandong. China launched a third called Fujian last year. However, it does not pose a threat to the US immediately, per experts.
Even though China has the largest Naval fleet with more ships, it cannot match the capability of the US aircraft carriers, Paparo said.
He added, “that 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.”
In April 2023, China and US deployed their respective aircraft carriers between Taiwan and China. Shandong was seen 200 nautical miles east of Taiwan, while USA’s Nimitz aircraft carrier was seen 400 nautical miles off eastern Taiwan.
USS Nimitz (CVN-68) arrived at Naval Air Station North Island last month after a 7-month deployment to the Indo-Pacific. The 2nd largest carrier in the world, Nimitz air wing 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.
It is succeeded by Ford-class aircraft carriers – the largest in the world, capable of hosting up to 90 aircraft, more than the Nimitz.
Their deck design was also modified to accommodate a higher sortie rate of 160 per day, with surges up to 220 per day during emergencies and intensive air combat.
Two US Carriers are usually stationed in the Philippine or China Seas, south of Okinawa and north or east of Taiwan. The $14 billion, 100,000-ton carriers portray the readiness of the US to protect Taiwan in case of a Chinese attack.
Controlling Taiwan is a strategic necessity for getting direct access to the Pacific and the shipping routes that sustain around 50% of world maritime trade. Per US officials, this is why China is strengthening its maritime warfare capabilities and exploiting its 9000-mile coastline.
While the US Navy is ready to face China, the Pacific Commander said that the decision to go to war is solely in the hands of the President and Congress.
“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.”
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