The world’s best warships are not American but Chinese. South Korea and Japan are the only ones who can help the US take the lead back from China.
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It’s a growing problem that has United States naval commanders scratching their heads: How to keep up with China’s ever-expanding fleet of warships.
Not only is China’s navy already the world’s largest, its numerical lead over the US is getting wider, with the head of the US Navy warning recently that American shipyards simply can’t keep up. Some experts estimate China can build three warships in the time it takes the US to build one.
It is just one of the concerns, alongside Beijing’s increasing aggression in the South China Sea and around Taiwan, that’s likely to be weighing on the mind of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as he joins top military figures from across the region at this weekend’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
The chance of a breakthrough on any of those issues this weekend appears slim, not least because China has pointedly rejected a US proposal for Austin to meet his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu at the forum.
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But experts who spoke to CNN before the summit say a potential solution to one of them – the Chinese fleet’s numerical advantage – is within reach, if the US is prepared to think outside the box.
Washington, they say, has something Beijing doesn’t: Allies in South Korea and Japan who are building some of the highest spec – and affordable – naval hardware on the oceans.
Buying ships from these countries, or even building US-designed vessels in their shipyards, could be a cost-effective way of closing the gap with China, they say.
Their warships are “certainly a match for their (Chinese) counterparts,” says Blake Herzinger, a research fellow at the United States Studies Center in Australia, while Japan’s warship designers “are among the world’s best,” says Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center in Hawaii.
Both countries have mutual defense treaties with the US, so why doesn’t the US team up with them to outbuild China?
The problem is, US law currently prevents its Navy from buying foreign-built ships – even from allies – or from building its own ships in foreign countries due to both security concerns and a desire to protect America’s shipbuilding industry.
Schuster, Herzinger and others are among a growing body of experts who say it may be time to rethink that law to give the US an edge in the battle for the seas.
Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) Director, Moshe Patel, said that the future of missile defense lies in lasers and beams rather than warheads.