In naval deterrence, numbers matter

Map of Chinese naval operations zones in the West Pacific
China is acquiring the hardware to dominate its home waters (source: macpixxel for GIS)
  • China is outbuilding the U.S. in surface warships at a rate of almost five to one
  • An eroded industrial base hampers the Trump administration’s planned naval buildup
  • Strong contributions from American allies will be needed to deter China in the Pacific

The United States Navy was already overstretched in the Western Pacific before a recent rash of collisions and groundings. The subsequent reduction of available warships to meet a vast range of regional security missions brings to mind two data points from earlier this year, each showing the need for defense officials to focus on the quantity of forces afloat, not just their quality. Each element is indispensable to keeping peace and freedom of the seas, especially in the Indo-Asia Pacific region. As the U.S. defense consultant Thomas A. Callaghan Jr. memorably paraphrased an old Marxist tenet: “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

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