Politicians Pushing War With China While 40% of U.S. Submarines Are Currently Out of Action

us submarine fleet repairs
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Virginia K. Schaefer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The United States Navy has a ship availability problem, and the timing couldn’t be worse. Over a quarter of the naval submarine fleet is docked for repairs, making it difficult for the United States to project power where it needs to the most.

With China making provocative military, diplomatic, and economic moves on the world stage, and American politicians promising war over Taiwan, now is not the best time for the United States to seem disorganized and in disrepair. And yet here we are, with waning munitions supplies and our seafaring battle machines stuck in the shop, so to speak.

While the regular cycle of maintenance on our war machines should be expected, the extent to which we can or cannot churn these beasts of conflict back into the field causes alarm. Let’s take a look and see just how bad our situation is for our water combat vehicles. 

It’s really bad

According to the Congressional Research Service, supply chain issues are partly to blame for 40% of the Navy’s attack submarines out of commission. To put that into a more specific breakdown, 18 of our 49 nuclear-powered attack submarines are in depot maintenance or awaiting maintenance.

While it’d be easy to argue that the supply chain issue is a recent phenomenon due to everyone’s favorite scapegoat – COVID – the reality is, these sorts of defense delays have been the norm for over a decade. Last year the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the Navy lost over 10,000 operational days from 2008 to 2018 due to delays in getting ships and equipment from maintenance into the field. 

Think about that number for a second. In the United States military, every calendar day is an operational day.

So with 365 days in one calendar year, the Navy lost within ten years, the equivalent of a little over 27 years worth of operational time due to delays. Talk about taking one step forward and two decades back.

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To bring it back to a more recent example of our dire naval repair situation, the USS Connecticut that hit an undersea mountain in October of 2021 is estimated not to be fixed until 2026. GAO Director of Defense Capabilities and Management Diana Maurer explains the implications of this one example:

“The Connecticut’s repair saga underscores the Navy’s lack of repair surge capacity. That, in turn, raises questions about how the Navy would execute battle damage repairs in the event of conflict.”

So, how does our competitor fare compared to us regarding a conflict? 

Running laps around us

Defense “experts” have rung the alarm bell for years about how China is set to “outpace” the United States regarding defense assets. I would argue that “outpace” undersells the reality of our situation. 

The Department of Defense released a report late last year officially declaring China as the world’s largest Navy, with 340 ships and submarines plus 125 “major surface combatants.” The future seems just as bleak as the present.

The U.S. Naval Institute predicts China’s Navy will grow to 440 “battle force” ships by 2030. The United States is expected to sit at a much smaller 290 “battle force” ships by 2030. 

For those of you not so good with geography, there is a big blue thing between us and China called the ocean. Furthermore, the proximity of Taiwan to China versus the United States to Taiwan is significantly less.

This means a war with China over Taiwan will require naval strength and dominance, which we don’t currently have and won’t have over China for the foreseeable future. But it’s not just size that matters.

Gatestone Institute senior fellow Gordan Chang points out:

“It’s not just a question of having a larger Navy than ours. It’s also a question that they have types of weapons that we don’t have and which right now we have no defense for.”

No matter how many trillions of dollars Congress throws at the defense machine, its inability and unwillingness to adapt and innovate will continue to bog down the wheels of war – benefiting defense contractors but hurting overall national security.

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Would you like to play a game?

I’m a military woman and believe in the value of having large machines that blow other large machines up, highly trained and skilled warriors adept at snuffing out evil in the world, and ensuring the American flag is the tallest in all the land…preferably perched atop some menacingly sleek piece of battle equipment. But our hyperfocus on military might as a means to “win” or “deter” war with China is short-sighted. 

Politico published a piece last month titled ‘The Pentagon is Freaking Out About a Potential War with China (Because America Might Lose.)’. This alarming headline comes from recent war games that have painted a grim picture of what is to come in a potential war with China.

In the article, the war games were summarized perfectly with this description:

“In every exercise the U.S. is not engaged in an abstract push-button war from 30,000 feet up like the ones Americans have come to expect since the end of the Cold War, but a horrifically bloody one.”

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The war games showed that the U.S. would drain its “key munitions” in a “matter of days.” Besides the massive toll on human life and equipment destroyed, an interesting result for Taiwan emerged: an economy that would be “devastated.” 

Given that our desire to protect Taiwan is rooted in economic reasons versus humanitarian, it’s interesting to note that going to war to “protect” Taiwan would mean decimating the asset we wish to covet.

It’s happening

I have some news for those who think China won’t go to war with us; they are in full preparation mode. The signs that point to this fact aren’t rooted in their defense posture, which is impressive in and of itself, but in its financial moves.

China has taken giant steps to insulate itself from U.S. sanctions like the ones Russia felt when it invaded Ukraine. China has been selling U.S Treasury bills and bonds in massive amounts, cutting off large amounts of economic data from the U.S., diversifying away from the dollar to gold, and stockpiling grain.

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Those are all signs of a nation preparing to invade and go head-to-head with its main adversary. Will we win the day?

That is doubtful, given that the U.S. hasn’t won the day in over 75 years.

Foreign policy analyst Van Jackson explains:

“Nobody can ‘win’ in a war between nuclear powers. The idea that ‘America might lose’ implies that America can win. The United States actually has a terrible track record of ‘winning’ anything other than WWII through the threat and use of force.”

While we likely won’t win a war with China, we will probably do what we do best, lose the war and claim that losing the war was the plan in the first place, and that we did it well. This is the battle cry of the sinking ship that is America.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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