At the epic Battle of Midway during World War II, victory or defeat rested on which side first spotted the other side’s carriers, and then dispatched an airstrike against the vulnerable flattops.
Unknown to the Japanese, US Navy cryptanalysts had cracked the Japanese naval code and determined that the primary target of the forthcoming Japanese offensive was Midway.
Moreover, the Japanese believed they had sunk the carrier USS Yorktown during the recent Battle of the Coral Sea.
Two advantages, that would make a difference.
Based on what happened at Midway, according to Konstantin Sivkov — a member of the Russian Academy of Rocket and Artillery Sciences — if US and Chinese aircraft carriers were to ultimately clash today, the US Navy would triumph.
Sivkov, writing in the Russian defense publication Military-Industrial Courier, argues strongly that superior US reconnaissance capabilities would trump China’s advantages in hypersonic missiles, veteran analyst Michael Peck of National Interest reported.
“The key role that determines the course and outcome of hostilities at sea in modern conditions is played not so much by the power and quantity of strike weapons, but by the capabilities of the reconnaissance system on an ocean theater of operations,” Sivkov writes in this fascinating and detailed battle projection.
“Surpassing the enemy in this respect, the US Navy is able to significantly level the superiority of the Chinese in hypersonic anti-ship missiles.”
While the US has by far the greatest carrier fleet in the world, China already has one carrier, is almost ready to sail another, and may eventually build a half-dozen or more to assert Chinese power in the Western Pacific and beyond, National Interest reported.
Sivkov assumes that because China lacks capabilities such as overseas bases, the battle would be fought closer to bases within 500 to 1,500 kilometers from the coast of China.
Presumably outgunned in a purely carrier battle, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will seek an engagement within range of its hypersonic missiles launched from land and by bombers.
“When the Americans try to impose a battle at great distances from coastal bases, the Chinese will strive to evade it, and if this is not possible, they will try to solve the problem of the quickest withdrawal of their forces from fire, deflecting the enemy’s attacks and inflicting their own,” Sivkov argues.
The smaller Chinese carriers, about half the size of their US counterparts and carrying about half the aircraft, would depend on submarines, land-based H-6K patrol aircraft and satellite surveillance to locate the American carrier force, National Interest reported.
In contrast, the US carriers would have their own onboard E-2 Hawkeye airborne radar aircraft and EA-18 electronic warfare planes, as well as AWACS land-based radar aircraft.
The Northrop Grumman E-2C and D — and their predecessor A and B variants — have served through Vietnam, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the current campaigns in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
Sivkov believes that US carrier group defenses would neutralize Chinese submarines and patrol planes, keeping them from fixing the task force’s location, while Chinese satellites would pass overhead too swiftly to maintain continuous contact.
Meanwhile, US aircraft and submarines, would find the Chinese force, while the American subs would batter the Chinese fleet with anti-ship missiles.
According to sources, the Black V Tomahawk missile is expected to reach ranges in excess of 1,000 miles with a new warhead that will carry a bigger punch than older versions.
While Sivkov doesn’t detail his methodology, he does point to “quantitative estimates” that show that the Chinese battle fleet could only obtain a rough location of American ships, while the Americans would have a much better fix on Chinese ship locations, National Interest reported.
In this scenario, Sivkov estimates that Chinese carriers could only attack with perhaps a half-dozen aircraft, while the rest are retained for defensive combat air patrol.
These strike planes will launch anti-ship missiles that might disable or sink a couple of US destroyers on the carrier group’s outer screen.
But the US carrier can muster a strike force of 30-plus aircraft, which will destroy some Chinese escorts. To destroy the Chinese carrier, the American flattop would need to launch a second strike.
Meanwhile, four or five Chinese destroyers will try to advance into missile range of the American task force, with each ship firing 16 YJ-18 missiles each, a 6-plus missile salvo that destroys the US carrier, National Interest reported.
The US will try to advance the carrier escorts to head this off and use the carrier’s air wing to try to destroy the Chinese surface ship threat.
“A missile salvo of 30 to 40 YJ-18 anti-ship missiles, taking into account the possible weakening of the American defenses after the previous hostilities, will put the American aircraft carrier out of action with a probability of 20 to 30 percent.
“The effectiveness of the second strike by US carrier-based fighter jets (about 24 aircraft) against a Chinese aircraft carrier is estimated at 40 to 50 percent.”
Sivkov assumes that at this stage, the Chinese force will withdraw, while the American force will pursue and try to mount one last airstrike.
“Bottom line: the Chinese aircraft carrier will be severely damaged and disabled, or even sunk, along with four to five guard ships, one or two submarines and more than half of the carrier-based aircraft,” Sivkov concludes.
The US carrier group will lose “two to three warships and 17 to 20 percent of the carrier-based aircraft. The American aircraft carrier will receive relatively little damage or none at all.
“In other words, the PLAN carrier group will be defeated and lose the ability to continue fighting. The US carrier group will emerge from the collision only slightly weakened.”
Interestingly, during recent weapons testing and development phases, the US Navy put its carrier defenses through an intense set of tests against advanced and highly lethal enemy weapons systems.
USS Gerald R. Ford crew members fired RIM-116 missiles, sea sparrow missiles, and rounds from the Mk-15 Phalanx Close-in Weapon System during testing, a Navy report said.
The CIWS is a particularly relevant and interesting weapon, as it can fire as many as 4,500 rounds per minute to disable, derail or destroy approaching enemy attacks.
Also, given that the Ford-class will be expected to sustain a higher sortie rate than previous carriers due to its larger flight deck capacity and electromagnetic catapult, the combat preparations included massive efforts to conduct take-offs, landings and fighter-jet air attacks from the ship.