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The Future of Naval Power

How is the rise of China affecting maritime strategies around the world? Reuter's Peter Apps notes:

As the PLAN acquires more sophisticated equipment, including a carrier initially acquired from Ukraine in the late 1990s ostensibly to be used as a floating casino, as well as anti-ship ballistic missiles and submarines, other navies particularly in the immediate region are responding.

Other Asian and Pacific states are building up their fleets and worries over China are also seen as prompting Western states including the United States to focus more on areas such as anti-submarine warfare largely ignored since the end of the Cold War.

Analysts say that in practical terms it is likely to take the Chinese navy years to have a credible carrier operation in Asia's seas, which have largely been the domain of the U.S. navy since World War Two.

Nevertheless, the overall worldwide number of warships will likely drop in coming years, analysts say. Increasingly complex, fast changing technology often makes warships more expensive, prompting a drive to fewer, multi-purpose ships.

Whilst the U.S. Navy is seen remaining by far the world's most dominant, it faces a range of other demands including responding to crises such as Libya and piracy as well as a growing demand for "sea basing" of rapid response land forces -- all at a time of growing financial pressures.

In an era of budget cuts, we are likely to see continued movement away from large ground forces in favor of more mobile, agile units that can project power quickly and show the flag in disparate regions of the world. In the U.S. context, this is likely to put renewed emphasis on naval and marine forces in the coming years. Add to that growing concerns about the reliability of access to large land bases, and this further makes the argument for being able to use sea assets for offshore basing--and the ability to move from one trouble spot to the next, rather than being locked in.

Even with the rise of China, there is not going to be one overarching threat in the 21st century concentrated in one specific region of the world the way the USSR posed a threat to Europe in the 20th. The United States will have to be able to catalyze regional partnerships in various parts of the world, and may find it easier, in an age of austerity, to contribute a majority of the naval and air assets (and related logistical and intelligence support) to a coalition where other partners would be expected to field the majority of ground forces.

The future of shipbuilding will be in favor of cheaper, modular vessels that will be "jack of all trades, master of none."

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