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The Pentagon’s ambitious plan to boost the U.S. Navy—which came amid the escalating tension in the disputed South China Sea—has raised concern as well as a question over whether both sides will engage in a possible military confrontation.

Major Boost to the US Navy

Pentagon boss Mark Esper revealed the plan to strengthen the US Navy fleet by bringing up the amount of ships to more than 355 from the existing 293. This will require an additional budget of billions of dollars that will be disbursed starting from this year until 2045.

“To achieve this outcome, we must increase funding for shipbuilding and the readiness that sustains a larger force. Doing this, and finding the money within the Navy budget and elsewhere to make it real, is something both the Navy leadership and I are committed to doing,” Esper stated.

Valiant Shield

The Pentagon’s latest information on September 20 stated that the U.S. Navy ship USS Antietam (C.G. 54) Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser carried out a Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile (TLAM) strike plan, with the Farallon de Medinilla range near Guam as the target.

The strike exercise is a part of Valiant Shield, a biennial military exercise focusing on integration involving all military divisions (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force).

Guam’s military exercise strengthens Esper’s statement in his address last week that China poses a significant threat in the Pacific Rim.

The US Navy vs. the Chinese Navy: a Comparison

The Pentagon report submitted to Congress admitted that China has the larger navy with around 350 submarines and ships, including more than 130 main surface combatants.

China is planning to add more vessels to 360 by the end of 2020, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for China Chad Sbragia said.

The Pentagon even hailed China’s Navy for making significant progress in shipbuilding, ballistic and cruise missile development, and integrated air defense.

However, China snubbed the Pentagon report, calling it full of bias. The information was published during the ongoing tension between Beijing and Washington in the South China Sea, where China increased its military activity.

Popular Mechanics reported that China’s defense budget has grown sixfold in the last six decades, focusing on modernizing combat troops and building strength projection-especially for the Navy.

How Would a US-China Naval Conflict Play Out?

Many often speculate about who would win if both countries engage in a confrontation in the South China Sea. Yet, the answer is not that simple.

The US is still considered the world’s foremost military superpower with sophisticated weapon systems equipped with the latest technology. Washington would be unstoppable and undefeated in the case of a war erupting.

China may have more ships, but it cannot beat the US Navy, Esper emphasized.

“Even if we stopped building new ships, it would take the [People’s Republic of China] years to close the gap when it comes to our capability on the high seas. Ship numbers are important, but they don’t tell the whole story,” Esper stated.

At this time the US has 11 active aircraft carriers, while China only has two, while the US has 74 submarines, and China 66.

Even though the US fleet is seen as superior, it is divided around the world. In contrast, China can focus on countering the US in the Pacific.

Closing the Innovation Gap

China’s rapid military modernization has closed the gap with the S. Therefore, innovation is compulsory for the Pentagon

Using Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and equipping ships and warplanes with a long-range missile to sink an enemy’s ship can be the best option for the Pentagon, as Elbridge Colby wrote in Foreign Policy. 

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