Shipbuilding disparity and the USN


I wrote about this before.

It's nonsense for the USN to try compete with the PLAN (PR China) in a shipbuilding arms race. The U.S. has almost no capacity to begin with.

South Korea and Japan are the two other shipbuilding giants, but it would endanger South Korea's security if it became the USN's shipyard and Japan has the same problme to a lesser extent. The Congress of the U.S. would not authorise spending a hundred billion dollars or so in shipbuilding abroad anyway, for building ships abroad costs almost twise as much as building at home (because almost none of the money flows back as taxes and saved social spending).

It's bureaucratic self-interest and path dependency inertia that the USN is building warships at all. They cannot possibly win a surface fleet arms race with China.

There are smart ways, and the U.S. actually has the upper hand. it just needs to be smart enough.

A blockade of China does not require a fleet of surface warships.



and smart diplomacy may reduce the problem anyway:


Not every country with a coastline needs a navy, and not every navy needs a fleet of surface combatants. Smarter thinking leads sometimes to different force designs.

The USN can compete in terms of equipping auxiliary cruisers. It can compete with expeditionary airfields for tactical aircraft, with tanker aircraft (including wartime converison of airliners to tankers) and with transport aircraft for missile saturation attacks on naval convoys/task forces.

Instead, the USN is stuck in a paradigm of land attack (with explosives or marines) and nuclear deterrence. The former is unnecessary to deter or "win" a war because PRC would not prefer a decade of naval blockade and financial/cyber 'warfare' over a solution regarding Taiwan that the U.S. could live with. The latter can nowadays be done with road-mobile semitrailers and thus also with armed merchantmen.


similar topic blog post:






  1. Expecting the CCP/PLAN to honor a Naval treaty is like expecting the IJN to honor the Washington Naval Treaty.

    1. Exactly. The IJN honoured the Washington naval Treaty.

      People claimed that arms control treaties with the Soviet Union would not work, and they did.

  2. The US is investing into getting semiconductor manufacturing into their country, which might be increasingly easier with shipbuilding, which, due to the low birth rates in South Korea and Japan, has to increasingly rely on robots. The US would depend on Europe to recruit the officers for her merchant marine, because home grown resources are meagre, despite the Jones Act.
    China might consider US moves to establish their merchant marine to support expeditionary forces as a war preparation, which could accelerate the slide into conflict thru an act that's not necessary for the functioning of the state, unlike state of the art semiconductors.
    East Asian shipbuilding capability might be overrated, because a ship uses many large and small components built outside East Asia that produces most finished hulls. If crucial small components are missing from the Chinese navy, they can only outbuild the US in hulls, not in working systems. Maybe you could look deeper into this, because I think the Chinese navy faces a number of bottlenecks that restrict their number and which they circumvent by importing dual use items such as ship engines from Germany.

    1. >The US would depend on Europe to recruit the officers for her merchant marine, because home grown resources are meagre

      China has a big demographic crisis in this day.

    2. China has a demographic crisis, but they still have lots of fishermen and a sizeable merchant marine. Some of their fishermen already serve as a naval militia.
      Russia also has a demographic crisis and look what they do.

  3. China has shorter logistics, so they don't need as much tonnage for the same payload, because they don't have to cross the Pacific. India is crucial whether China can secure supply lines in case of a conflict over Taiwan and the independence of South East Asia is not a given in such a scenario. Taiwan can be a far larger war in Asia than just the island.

  4. Taiwan itself doesn't matter much in case of a Sino-American war. China can neutralize its ASuW and counter-air capabilities and then ignore it. If US presence is out of West Pacific, Taiwan and Japanese ECS island could be invaded any time with limited losses.

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  6. I think the US Navy's greatest shipbuilding impediment is incorporating too many developmental technologies into every new class of ship or submarine before the new technology is reliable and maintainable without incurring inordinate cost. Ships built with proven technology clearly won’t be superior in every respect to other similar ships, but the endless series of expensive engineering experiments whittled away at our numbers to a point of being dangerous in a shooting war with a similarly capable opponent. If the Navy demands that single classes of ship provide multiple mission capabilities, then physically larger ships are required to do that. Larger ships don’t actually cost a lot more to build than smaller ships, which is counter-intuitive. Adjusted for inflation, $2.5B purchases a Forrestal class aircraft carrier, San Antonio class amphibious dock, or Arleigh Burke class destroyer.

    On that note, as great as nuclear power is for submarines, it hasn’t saved a single penny in costs for the Navy’s surface fleet. A little over 20 years ago, our government noted that lifetime costs associated with each nuclear powered aircraft carrier ranged between $2B and $3B more than if the aircraft carrier was powered by conventional means. This did nothing to change the thinking about nuclear powered aircraft carriers. The money math says we could’ve built around 45 Forrestal class hulls, at $2.5B per copy, for the same money spent building the Enterprise, Nimitz, and Ford classes, adjusted for inflation. Somewhere between 4 and 6 of those Forrestal class hulls are sufficient to land every fleet Marine presently assigned to any Navy ship. I can’t speak for the Navy, but having 45 super carriers to work with, from the 1950s through to the present day, regardless of what powers them, is infinitely preferable to turning aircraft carriers into expensive science experiments for nuclear physicists and electrical engineers to tinker with. Any level of sophistication beyond what is required to do the job tends to be a waste of time and money, even if it works.

    There was always enough time and money to build enough ships. We simply didn’t use it for the purpose it should’ve been used for. We needed lots of aircraft carriers, destroyers, and oilers. Everything else was a diversionary project pursued at the expense of the great numbers of ships required.

    1. American personnel costs are close to 150,000 $ per year. A ship with 4,000 personnel costs about 600M $ to man for one year + fuel, spares, port fees, repair/refurbishment costs and of course the total costs for multiple DDG escorts and at least one replenishment ship.
      The Ford CVNs are excessively priced, but other than that the biggest budget issue of CVNs is operating costs. This means you can't have much more of an active navy. The USN has manning issues already (in part becuase of its idiotic global patrolling scheme).

      I suppose the USN would need a year to reactivate a big reserve fleet to a useful level of competency and you can't reactivate a reserve fleet 10x as big as the active fleet, for you need training opportunities.

      Overall, I suppose the answer is in land-based assets. The marines should become island airbase defence regiments, there should be plenty (reserve) seabees.
      The USAF needs to get involved in the anti-ship mission for real, at least its C-17s (anti-ship missiles) and F-35s (anti-radar missiles).