FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Does the U.S. Navy still have the reach to discourage Chinese aggression?
The short answer is “no,” according to retired Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix, who sounded the alarm in a Wall Street Journal essay earlier this month.
The Steuben county native tells WANE 15 the Navy has lost sight of the reason to have big deck aircraft carriers: “to project power ashore.”
“We really don’t have the ability, if we’re pressed, to be able to operate and hold China at risk,” he added. “At this point in time, China may feel lucky.”
After decades of naval dominance in the wake of World War II, the U.S. has recently focused on near-range conventional weapons. At the same time, China developed long-range weapons. Hendrix wrote in the WSJ that China “intends to hit the U.S. Navy’s most visible and valuable ships at sea. Yet the American carrier fleet isn’t set up to strike Chinese targets ashore.”
Many Americans might dismiss a war with China as unlikely since the world’s top two economies are so closely intertwined. Hendrix insisted the military must always be ready.
“Those arguments have a certain amount of truth to them,” Hendrix explained. “There is a great deal of interdependence between the American and the Chinese economies. But the fact of the matter is the purpose of the military is to be prepared for war; if you want to preserve the peace, prepare for war. Right now the U.S. military doesn’t seem to take that charge very seriously specifically with regard to the Navy and its aircraft carriers. You have to maintain a conventional deterrent ability to hold them (China) at bay.”
Hendrix is a graduate of of Prairie Heights High School, Purdue University, Harvard University, and Kings College, London. He currently works for The Telemus Group, a military think tank near Washington, D.C.
He says the response to his WSJ piece has been positive. “I had a number of people reach out to me privately via email to say they had read my essay with interest and many of them agreed with me. The question is whether I’ll be able to overcome what we call the ‘bureaucratic inertia’ of the Navy.”
Hendrix worries policy makers are too enamored with the manned aircraft they have and won’t pivot to long-range manned or unmanned aircraft quickly enough.
“We need to broaden and deepen our dialogue about national defense and make people aware of the fact that we are re-entering another era of great power competition or a Cold War, much like it was when I was growing up.
“The fact is, we need to make sure that the people understand this so they can talk to their elected officials. We need to talk to people on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, about the importance of the Navy. This competition with China is going to be carried out at sea – whether it’s in peacetime with a Cold War tension or in war time if we have something really go wrong over Taiwan.
“Right now, our Navy and our nation is ill prepared for that competition.”
Hendrix published a book a year ago with a deeper look at the topic: To Provide and Maintain a Navy: Why Naval Primacy Is America’s First, Best Strategy.