Note: The following is the weekly Wicker Report and is provided by Sen. Roger Wicker’s office.
By Sen. Roger Wicker
Current Naval Weaknesses Endanger U.S.
This month, eleven Chinese and Russian ships paraded closer than ever to the edge of U.S. waters. When our two foremost foes conjured this show of force near the coast of Alaska, they sent a clear signal. They mean to strengthen their power in the Pacific and Arctic oceans.
In response, four U.S. destroyers and a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft converged on the scene and followed the enemy ships. This was the strongest response we could muster. The Arctic is crucial to our security, but China and Russia are outpacing U.S. capabilities in the Pacific. Their growing power is one example of a broader trend: Our enemies are boosting their military might. To deter them from attacking the United States, we need to increase our strength.
Adversaries Assert Power in the Arctic
We will need to move quickly. Russia and China have turned the Arctic into a contested zone. The area is the front line of America’s ballistic missile defense system, and its waters are among the world’s most efficient shipping lanes. The United States also relies on intelligence gathered in and around Alaska. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin would like very much to control such a strategic area.
This most recent joint exercise by China and Russia is their boldest statement about their Arctic intentions, but the message is nothing new. Chinese citizens have been accused of posing as tourists and intruding onto military installations in Alaska. Nearly a year ago, seven powerful Chinese ships sailed near our waters in the region.
As Russia faces resistance in Ukraine, it flexes in the High North. It patrols farther and more often and is doing so with China’s blessing. Xi hopes to influence the region via Putin’s existing strength. Unfortunately, Russia’s Arctic naval power far exceeds our own. They have 36 polar icebreakers – ships built to navigate ice blockades – while the U.S. has just two.
Naval Weakness Threatens Our Security
This power imbalance could change our ability to protect our interests in the Pacific and Arctic oceans. It also reflects wider changes that demand we update our national security priorities. We have entered a new era of Great Power competition. During the last one, the sheer power of Ronald Reagan’s 600-ship Navy deterred the Soviet Union from attacking us. We have lived off the remains of his buildup for decades, retiring Reagan-era ships but not replacing them.
Meanwhile, China has gone to work. By the end of this decade, Xi may command as many as 440 warships. According to the Navy’s latest 30-year shipbuilding plan, we may have as few as 290 vessels. China has more capacity in one of its shipyards than we have in our entire industrial base.
Our naval power will be one of the deciding factors in any conflict with China. To compete, we need to make a commitment to our maritime infrastructure. Our shipbuilders stand ready but need investments in machine tooling and materials. We should give the Marine Corps more amphibious warships and provide the Coast Guard icebreakers to patrol our northernmost borders. We also need to double our attack submarine output to support our needs and those of our partners – an increase that will require more U.S. investment. Doing so would tell Beijing that we are serious about countering its aggression.
This year’s defense bill is a step in the right direction. It authorizes procurement for more vessels and invests in American shipbuilding efforts, but it does not go nearly far enough. Our shipyards have secured our safety and prosperity for centuries. It is high time we invested in them again.