Unseen Gains of the PLA: Objects in Mirror Are Closer than They Appear

Analysis is easy when you assume your opponent is just a lesser version of yourself; a likely reason we often defer to simple defense budget comparisons when talking about China. When we focus solely on the dollar-for-dollar budget of the People’s Liberation Army, we’d find it disturbingly close to the U.S. budget and certainly beyond those budgets of U.S. allies. The reality, however, is more complex – but it is even less optimistic.

Though “China is not the United States,” is a simple statement, it digs at many comparative biases we retain when comparing our position to the oncoming PLA freight train. Outside the typical discussion of expanding budgets and the asymmetric advantage through anti-access/area denial (A2/AD), comparative advantages can also be found in China’s superior purchasing power, superior force distribution, and a first-mover advantage. These are the silent advantages missing when we focus narrowly on budgets or tactics.

via Unseen Gains of the PLA: Objects in Mirror Are Closer than They Appear.

Hipple is always worth a read. And while China cannot match us as a global power, they don’t (currently) need to. They have to be able to match us (or surpass us) in the Western Pacific.

The historical model would be the 5:5:3 ratio from the Washington Conference, limiting the naval strengths of the US, Great Britain, and Japan.  Japan knew that even only having 60% of the tonnage of either the US or Britain, she could still build a powerful enough Navy to defeat the combined fleets of the US and Britain, given that both the US and Britain would be compelled to use much of their available tonnage in other theaters.

China can do that math just as well.

6 thoughts on “Unseen Gains of the PLA: Objects in Mirror Are Closer than They Appear”

  1. We are betting that USAF airpower from Japan, South Korea and Guam will augment the Navy. We also could expect assistance from our Pacific allies, if we have any left after two more years of poisonous diplomacy from the US government.

    Plus, 2 of our 4 SSGNs are PACFLT.

  2. There’s also the fact that Japan cheated, most of their ships of the line were well above the treaty tonnage limits. Japan also enjoyed a generally unstable global political environment where the US faced major threats in both the Pacific and Atlantic at the same time. Today there is no threat to US interests in the Atlantic, and no major threats in the Med/Gulf. We could easily afford to transfer a significant portion of the LANTFLT to the Pacific.

    And of course there are all of those SSBN’s just making holes in the ocean.

    1. The Japanese didn’t really cheat. They were deeply distressed that their treaty cruisers consistently came in overweight. That imposed a penalty on speed, endurance, and even the effectiveness of their armor. They also suffered badly from limited reserves of damaged stability as a result of being overweight.

    2. Japan also enjoyed a generally unstable global political environment

      Which they themselves destabilized by Invading China!

      1. Well, the Pacific portion, sure. But they had little to do with the minor contretemps over in Europe, which essentially pinned the US Atlantic Fleet.

  3. One thing to remember is that the US has literally hundreds of thousands of genuine (i.e. been shot at) veterans available, whereas China not so much. Their most recent combat experience was against Vietnam, and they didn’t fare so well then.

    Experience counts.

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