The Pentagon Is Freaking Out About A Potential War With China

The Pentagon is expressing concern about a potential war with China, as numerous versions of the above war-game scenario have been enacted in recent years. The most recent enactment took place in April by the House Select Committee.

The war began in the early morning hours with a massive bombardment — China’s version of “shock and awe.” Chinese planes and rockets swiftly destroyed most of Taiwan’s navy and air force as the People’s Liberation army and navy mounted a massive amphibious assault across the 100-mile Taiwan Strait. Having taken seriously President Joe Biden’s pledge to defend the island, Beijing also struck pre-emptively at U.S. and allied air bases and ships in the Indo-Pacific. The U.S. managed to even the odds for a time by deploying more sophisticated submarines as well as B-21 and B-2 stealth bombers to get inside China’s air defense zones, but Washington ran out of key munitions in a matter of days and saw its network access severed. The United States and its main ally, Japan, lost thousands of servicemembers, dozens of ships, and hundreds of aircraft. Taiwan’s economy was devastated. And as a protracted siege ensued, the U.S. was much slower to rebuild, taking years to replace ships as it reckoned with how shriveled its industrial base had become compared to China’s.

The Chinese “just ran rings around us,” said former Joint Chiefs Vice Chair Gen. John Hyten in one after-action report. “They knew exactly what we were going to do before we did it.”

Dozens of versions of the above war-game scenario have been enacted over the last few years, most recently in April by the House Select Committee on competition with China. And while the ultimate outcome in these exercises is not always clear — the U.S. does better in some than others — the cost is. In every exercise the U.S. uses up all its long-range air-to-surface missiles in a few days, with a substantial portion of its planes destroyed on the ground. In every exercise the U.S. is not engaged in an abstract push-button war from 30,000 feet up like the ones Americans have come to expect since the end of the Cold War, but a horrifically bloody one.

Soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army hold up shotguns.
Soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army demonstrate their skill at Stonecutters Island naval base in Hong Kong. In recent years, China has escalated its military spending and its rhetoric against Taiwan. | Kin Cheung/AP Photo

And that’s assuming the U.S.-China war doesn’t go nuclear.

“The thing we see across all the wargames is that there are major losses on all sides. And the impact of that on our society is quite devastating,” said Becca Wasser, who played the role of the Chinese leadership in the Select Committee’s wargame and is head of the gaming lab at the Center for a New American Security. “The most common thread in these exercises is that the United States needs to take steps now in the Indo-Pacific to ensure the conflict doesn’t happen in the future. We are hugely behind the curve. Ukraine is our wakeup call. This is our watershed moment.”

India has rejected the US offer to join NATO, stating that it believes it is capable of countering any Chinese aggression on its own.

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