The World’s Most Dangerous Military Balance: US vs. China

In terms of being able to attack, the US has a lot of geographical drawbacks.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

The military balance between the United States and China in Asia is highly precarious. The global hegemon’s situation has worsened in recent years. The altered balance of power makes it less likely that the United States will defend its Pacific allies. Beijing is correct in its forecasting of this turn of events. It plans to make a bid for supremacy when the moment is ripe.

The future of Taiwan is at stake as China becomes a military superpower, and this development casts questions on America’s place in the world. Washington will need to devote more and more resources to the military to maintain its preeminence in light of China’s rising military might. The Atlantic magazine reports that China spent $219 billion on defence in 2018, more than double the amount spent a decade before. The size of China’s budget is still around a third of that of the United States.

Due to these expenditures, China is building up its armed forces in a way that has never been done before. It may be the biggest buildup since World War II. Regarding the number of ships, the Chinese Navy is now bigger than the American Navy and the biggest in the world. China’s air force, the third-largest in the world, keeps working to modernise itself, including by inducting aircraft made in China. It is quickly catching up to air forces in the West. Since 2021, Beijing has built three fields to hold at least 300 new intercontinental ballistic missile forces. The Pentagon thinks that by 2035, China will have 1,500 strategic warheads instead of the 400 it has now.

The Chinese build up these troops where wars are most likely. Beijing has a big edge in the Western Pacific because it is close to Chinese bases on the mainland. Even though the Middle Kingdom hasn’t shown its military power worldwide, only a small part of the United States military troops are stationed in Asia. John Culver, a former CIA analyst, told The Atlantic that if there were a war, the US would have to pull missing assets from other parts of the world. China will start this possible war on its borders.

Americans have repeatedly played out the course of a war between the US and China, and the results have been examined in detail. Most of the time, the United States can stop a Chinese attack on Taiwan from happening with the help of Japan. But the price of success will be out of this world. The Atlantic writes tens of thousands of people died, and hundreds of ships and planes were lost. Politico also says that a few days after the start of the fighting, all long-range air-to-ground missiles would be gone.

Becca Wasser, who portrayed the Chinese leadership in a simulation, told Politico that the impact on US forces would be catastrophic. In all simulations, he said they observed significant losses on both sides. The most common conclusion derived from the performed scenarios is that immediate action is required in the Indo-Pacific region. He stated that this is the only option for the US to prevent conflict. He added that the US is far behind. Ukraine is a wake-up call and a decisive moment for the US.

The magazine provides additional evidence of China’s economic might and resolves to become the preeminent force in the Western Pacific. The US could devote more resources to the arms competition than the Soviet Union because it had a more robust economy. The US was confident that the Soviet Union was falling behind. China, however, is an exception to this rule. China can equip itself at least as fast as its rival if it so chooses. This is extremely likely because China places a higher strategic value on Eastern Asia than the US. The US opposes Beijing’s efforts to become the dominant power in this region. However, The Atlantic states that the Middle Kingdom will battle harder than the US is ready to defend against to achieve this status.

Defence News published an essay by US military veterans Mark Montgomery and Bradley Bowman outlining potential strategies to avoid a military defeat in the Pacific. The United States needs to do two things: (1) increase its ability to fight Chinese forces, and (2) improve Taiwan’s defences. They also stressed the importance of improving the US military’s capacity to fight alongside regional allies, particularly Australia, Japan, and Taiwan and increasing the survivability of forward-deployed US personnel.

In terms of being able to attack, the US has a lot of geographical drawbacks. They are trying to stop a fight from happening in places that are a few hundred kilometres from Chinese ports and airports and about 13,000 kilometres from the US West Coast. Also, Beijing will likely have the upper hand because it will be the first to act. Under cover of another military drill, they will decide where and when the first hit will happen. The authors say that long-range strike weapons are the surest way to win and the best way to cut down on American casualties. Along with expensive, high-powered missiles, the US will need cheaper “swarming” weapons fired from multiple platforms, such as stealth subs, to force the Chinese to spread their defences.

At the same time, the US must help Taiwan reach a certain level of self-defence to survive the first attack from the enemy before allies arrive. In this year’s security budget law, Congress gave Taipei two billion dollars annually, but these funds still need to be transferred and used. Setting goals, speeding up the delivery of military equipment by making bureaucratic processes easier and increasing output, and prepositioning key ammunition for Taiwan are all things that need to be done. In a crisis, both American and Taiwanese troops could use it.

It’s crucial to make forward sites less susceptible to missile assaults so US forces can fight. Defence News talks about how the second island chain – Japanese islands, Guam, Carolines, and New Guinea – doesn’t have enough missile defence. The fact that Beijing’s attacking hypersonic weapons are more advanced than their defences makes it essential to work on defences. If China’s efforts are faster and more successful, it will hurt the credibility and usefulness of American deterrence in a big way.

Montgomery and Bowman say that the US should use its most important advantage over the Middle Kingdom, its allies, to help prepare its forces. Simulations of the war between the US and China are often used to check how well Australia, Japan, and Taiwan are working together, and the results speak for themselves. When US troops and those of its allies work together better, they are more likely to win and likely to lose less. The US can strengthen this factor by doing more war drills with Taiwan. A joint forces command in the Indo-Pacific area can help improve operational cooperation with Australia, Japan, and Taiwan.

As a result of the new security environment, East Asia will seem very different from how it has been for decades. The region is starting to fragment into rival zones of influence. The US will no longer be the unchallenged global superpower. New threats to American dominance and interests arise when the world changes from unipolar to multipolar. However, this does not necessitate a loss of US clout. Washington needs new vows to discourage other aggressive nations and project its influence.


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