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China’s Navy is Larger than the US Navy, but can it Compete?

A Warrior Maven Exclusive Conversation with Industry Experts: David Forster, Chairman, Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition & Rick Giannini, Chairman, Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven

Hello and welcome to the Center for Military Modernization, Warrior Maven, very significant conversation today in a changing global threat environment. We are joined by two representatives of industrial base coalition's one for the amphibious warfare ship based coalition, as well as one for the aircraft carriers who have a specific expertise with construction and development of aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships.

So let's make sure to welcome Captain Dave Forster, who is actually a former Navy captain, who was manager for the integrated combat system on the USS Zumwalt the well known famous stealthy destroyer program, and a former surface warfare officer. 

And then Mr. Rick Giannini, who's in charge of the aircraft carrier industrial base coalition. He is also the CEO of the Milwaukee Valve Company. So both of these experts have a deep knowledge of Navy needs. And of course, the Navy's situation. Thanks for both of you. Joining us today. Glad to be here. 

Chinese Navy

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven

I recall writing years ago about how the Chinese navy was on track to pass the US Navy. And sure enough, in terms of just sheer numbers, that's been the case. Now, of course, it doesn't mean there's an actual overmatch or superiority in any way. But if you read the Chinese papers, the oh seven, five Amphibs that I believe they're on the second or third. 

There's the new quasi stealthy kind of Zumwalt DDG 51, like 55 destroyer. And then of course, there's the second and third carriers that have worked, they kind of copied the US Navy with dual carrier operations to show they could compete in terms of power projection in this Pacific in the Pacific. 

USS Zumwalt

USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) transits the Atlantic Ocean during acceptance trials April 21, 2016. US Navy Photo

So what are some of your thoughts about how that's seems to clearly be continuing to drive the threat equation and the need for the US Navy to retain? What by any estimation is it's clear superiority despite China's numerical advantage? So what are some of your thoughts on on that issue? Let's start with Anthony's.

Chairman, David Forster

So as the Chairman of the Amphib coalition, I'm reluctant to respond to that question from a perspective for the coalition. But as a professional sailor, you have sailed the seas and saw the threat briefs, you know, I got out of the Navy about seven years ago, it causes concern, and it causes in you're seeing the response, both in seeing those naval strategy and you're seeing the response with respect to either DMO or the decentralized type of warfare or the disparate warfare with autonomous vessels. 

The speed at which that response comes to fruition actually has some bearing on your previous question, which is, the rate of those technical advancements put into the aircraft carriers, can be frustrating at times. And what do I mean, they don't always go well, with the first ship.

The DG 1000 is a great example. Where we do see that capability be realized and become cost effective, slash realized capability at a right price point, usually third, fourth, fifth unit. 

So what we're gonna see is this Dave Forster's professional opinion not the coalition, we're going to see us make some, some very good investments in R&D you see that in the budget document. We're gonna need to advance those R&D projects faster, to keep up with the threat of the pace in order to try and compete with a very high number I number, quantity, type of enemy.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven

Do well, Mr. Giannini, on the carrier front, certainly the Chinese indigenously built carriers, some of them the newer ones look kind of like Ford rip off, they don't have that ski jump, they have the larger deck space and straight away to carry the carrier air-wing. 

J-31

Shenyang J-31 twin-engine fifth-generation fighter jet (Picture source: Chinese Internet)

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They're also fast developing the J-31 5th generation aircraft to be carrier launched, etc. So what are some of your thoughts given their lesser number of carriers but rapid progress and much of what they report about their capable industrial base to build these in large numbers, build these faster? How quickly could they catch your kind of try and close the gap with US carriers?

Chairman, Rick Giannini

I can't really speak to their actual technology. I don't know that any of us could. But what I do know is that in terms of numbers of ships, They're building them faster than we are. They're not physically building the ships any faster. They have many more shipyards, and one of their largest shipyards is almost four times the size of Newport News, shipbuilding. So what that will tell you is that the threat for them to be around for many decades is real. 

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And I think American technology today goes beyond just the ship, the whole carrier fleet strategy, the strategic strike group, the way they all communicate together is an advantage today that we hold over our competitors in China. And, and I think our advances continue, as we look that's going to continue with 80 and 81, will be even more advanced and 78 and 79. And I'm certain that this trend will continue and we get to the next block by of 82 and 83. We'll have even more technology to keep us but we have to increase the build rate, we have to maintain a minimum of 11 carriers, we as an industrial base would love to see us go to 12 and combat that threat head on.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven

I'm glad you mentioned that I'd want to talk for hours about multi domain networking and being so key to the strategy moving forward with JADC2 two and things along those lines.

New JADC2 Strategy Highlights Importance of Mission Partner Information Sharing

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My question which is pretty significant is this sense of power projection? Certainly when it comes to stopping any kind of rapid fait accompli what China trying to annex Taiwan, Navy forward presence, just thinking about it could kind of save the day, there's a real Pacific emphasis, there's a real forward presence, which is so key as a deterrent, it seems quite clear that F-35, even if even carriers might be in range, should the presence be close enough to impact that potentially deter it, or even destroy it If it starts? 

Chairman, Rick Giannini

I would say you know, I'm I'm more of a supply base guy. I'm not the technical guy. But But ……..I can agree with you that the presence of carriers in any domain are the greatest determinant we have as a nation. We have the ability to fly 70-75 aircraft off of that carrier very quickly. And it's the most survivable airfield possible because it moves around you don't know where it's going to be. It's not fixed. We just deployed the Truman, to the Ukraine. So we're doing the same thought process that you just mentioned right there right now. I think it will be able to help. No question

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven

So thanks for staying with us and embracing a handful of questions. And thank you so much for your time.

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Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization