A team of Wall Street Journal reporters has a good overview today of China’s military buildup. They focus on the development of long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles which put at risk U.S. aircraft carriers, including the newest one, the USS Gerald R. Ford, which is still under construction. They raise legitimate if hardly new questions about whether aircraft carriers are relics of a past age of naval warfare.
Those kinds of questions are almost impossible to settle in peacetime; it was only after the Pacific War broke out, for example, that it became clear to strategists of all nations that battleships were outdated and aircraft carriers were the new capital ships of the future. Some visionaries had foreseen this eventuality in the 1930s but no navy–not even the Japanese, whose development of aircraft carriers made possible the raid on Pearl Harbor–was willing to stop building battleships and invest all of its resources in carriers. Likewise today, it is hard to imagine the U.S. Navy deep-sixing aircraft carriers even if they are increasingly vulnerable to Chinese attack if for no other reason than they remain such valuable instruments of power projection near countries such as Iran or Pakistan which lack China’s military capabilities.
But the Journal article does raise the need, which is undeniable, to diversify our arsenal–and especially to build longer-range unmanned fighter and bomber aircraft that could project power against China from a safe distance. That points to the need to continue spending lots of money on defense–just at a time when, as I argue in the current issue of COMMENTARY, Washington seems to be bent on a suicidal binge of defense cuts.
The only way to ensure we will not have to fight a war against China is to keep our deterrent strong. That means projecting a full spectrum of costly military capabilities. This is only one area of many where the political imperative to cut defense costs today could prove highly costly in the future.