Defeat at Sea: The U.S. Naval Implosion of 2050

Retired U.S. naval officers dismissed the Iranian threats as unsupportable, and pointed to the huge difference between Iran’s large but inferior navy and the U.S. Navy’s technologically advanced -- but smaller -- number of combatants in the Persian Gulf. Former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Wainwright Thrift said that any attack on the U.S. Navy would be answered by overwhelming force delivered by drones and manned aircraft from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford.

CNN, November 28, 2050: At approximately 18:40 local time a Chinese-owned and operated oil tanker, the Zheng He, loaded with a 200,000 deadweight tonnage cargo of crude oil, was struck by a mine and is now burning out of control in the Strait of Hormuz. The Zheng He was en route to the port of Dalian in northeast China. Three crew members escaped and were rescued by passing vessels. The remainder of the crew is missing and presumed lost. Several minutes later an escorting Chinese Haizhou-class destroyer hit a second mine, and sank with the loss of all hands.

The possible destruction of the Zheng He comes at a difficult moment for the Chinese economy. Decades of strong growth have come to an end last year as energy demand has far outstripped supply, with annual GDP growth falling in reverse proportion to the emigration of young Chinese males who are unable to find marriage-age women.

China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement demanding compensation for the loss of the destroyer, compensation to its crew’s families, and full payment for loss of the Zheng He and cargo. China’s defense minister announced that a battle group composed of three aircraft carriers and accompanying escort vessels had been ordered to leave the Indian Ocean and to sail for the Persian Gulf. They are expected to arrive within eight days.

In Brussels, an emergency meeting of NATO ministers failed to reach agreement on a “proportionate response” to Iran’s attack on Nice. The Frankfurter Allgemeine reported that NATO air strikes against Iran had been ruled out because member states could not defend against subsequent ballistic missile attacks on Europe. Also, NATO ground forces lacked the combat power and amphibious and logistics ships to launch an invasion aimed at toppling the clerical regime. Secretary General Langsam denied reports that air strikes had been ruled out. He repeated an earlier statement that called on Washington to stand by its Article Five obligations, specifically to dispatch ballistic missile defense ships from their current position in U.S. home waters to the Mediterranean and to send “large amphibious forces” to the aid of a fellow NATO-member state that had been attacked. Defense analysts in Washington and London responded with puzzlement to the secretary general’s call, noting that with one remaining division, the U.S. Marines are no longer available for NATO operations. The White House said that it is consulting with NATO and exploring options for a response to the attack against France, but affirmed that the U.S. Navy currently possesses fewer than the minimum number of ballistic missile defense ships required to protect the U.S., and that its first responsibility must be to defend the American homeland against possible similar Iranian ballistic missile attacks.

Washington Post, November 30, 2050: Chinese street protests at the sinking of a destroyer and the mining of the oil tanker Zheng He in Beijing have turned violent. The violence began in front of Iran’s embassy and has spread throughout Beijing. Protests have also begun in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Shanghai, three of China’s largest cities. The protests were originally directed against Iran, but quickly changed into anger over the stagnating Chinese economy and what many of those in the streets now acknowledge as the Communist Party’s alleged failure to sustain the economic progress of the last half-century. A recent cyber attack against Chinese state-owned banks -- for which officials blamed the U.S. government, which has denied the charge -- is also sparking anger as thousands of businesses have seen significant and unaccountable losses in their bank accounts and stock holdings. Chinese premier Sun Mingnan has pledged to retaliate for the sinking of the PLAN destroyer and the mining of the Zheng He. He has tried to rally support for the government by urging citizens to “stand together against the foreign warmongers.” In a similar attempt China’s Central Military Commission has increased the alert status of the naval and rocket forces across the Taiwan Strait where the Republic of China’s Democratic Progressive Party’s military leadership has partially mobilized their air defenses and navy.

Xinhua (Official Chinese government news agency), December 2, 2050: In response to the Republic of China’s partial mobilization of military forces, the Chinese government today announced a partial blockade of Taiwan. The Ministry of Defense in Beijing declared that arriving ships would be allowed through the naval cordon sanitaire, but that ships leaving Taiwan’s ports would be stopped, searched, and turned back if they contained cargoes. Noting the attacks on Chinese shipping and a naval vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, the expansion of anti-government violence in large Chinese cities, and Taipei’s “aggressive efforts to join with imperialist forces that seek China’s destruction,” a Ministry spokesman echoed the Chinese premier’s recent statements: “All of China’s people must come together to defend the motherland. The PLAN’s surface, air, and submarine forces will enforce the blockade and guarantee the unity of the Chinese state,” added the Defense Ministry’s spokesman.

The Wall Street Journal (editorial), December 3, 2050: We regret the Schock administration’s decision not to challenge China’s naval blockade of Taiwan. But with only 35 ships available to be deployed to the Western Pacific and a second dangerous international crisis brewing in the Persian Gulf as the result of Iran’s attack against France, what other choice did the president have? Our former allies Japan, Korea, and Australia have long since made what can only be described as an accommodation with China’s ever increasing navy. This was never an accommodation our former allies desired. But, again, what were their choices? Resistance without the support of a strong coalition leader? This was never an option, and the leaders of our erstwhile allies warned us about the possibility repeatedly and with courage as the U.S. disarmed unilaterally. Following in the footsteps of the Royal Navy’s drawn-out descent from ruling the waves, the U.S. Navy has steadily declined for the past 60 years. Where the U.S. Navy was once composed of about 600 ships, it surrendered nearly half of these within two decades of winning the Cold War. In the years between then and now it gave up another third of its remaining strength. The U.S. fleet today numbers 198 ships, and many of these are not equipped to assert command of the seas in the face of Chinese naval strength. The decisions made years ago to end production of the most survivable portion of the nation’s nuclear deterrence, ballistic missile submarines, were based on financial, not strategic reasons. When added to our insufficient number of ships equipped with defenses against ballistic missiles, the U.S. is only slightly more protected than France proved to be against nuclear attack. The decline of America as a great seapower is a dismal story of bipartisan neglect and strategic dementia for which both the executive and legislative branches are responsible.