Defense Nerds: China vs US Hot War In Indochina, Who Wins?

I saw a comment thread recently claiming that it's "an open secred in the department of defense that the US would lose a non-nuclear war against China unless it was on the US' doorsteps".

In my opinion, China has at least 5-10 years to go before their conventional forces can be called a quantitative and qualitative peer to the US and US allies in the region (Japan, India, Australia). 

From my extensive defense-related knowledge, this is the current state of affairs.

Quantitative advantage goes to the US in most arenas, especially the higher tech, PGM and combined arms fields such as fifth-generation aircrafts, supercarriers, submarines and precision guided munitions including cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. However, China is rapidly closing in in terms of their navy and have far more ground-based platforms.

Qualitative advantages in each of the following fields:

Infantry and small arms: US leads by ~5 years (especially small arms, the QBZ is horrific).

PGMs: China leads by ~5 years (especially hypersonic AShMs and VLS-based platforms)

Surface Ships: China leads by 5-7 years (especially non-carrier surface combatants such as destroyers and frigates).

Carriers: US leads by ~7 years (the Type 003 is slightly behind the Nimitz class IMO and China still has some way to go before they possess the institutional knowledge to design, construct and operate CATOBAR CVNs effectively).

Subsurface Ships: US leads by 10+ years (China's submarines are atrocious, especially their SSKs)

Air Superiority/Multirole Aircrafts: Roughly parity (the J-20 is roughly equal to the F-22 and the JC-31 is roughly equal, if not better than the F-35 platform from what I have observed).

Support Aircrafts (AWACS, ASW, Tankers): US leads by ~5 years (China hasn't really neglected their non-frontline aircrafts, but neither have they innovated).

Land-Based Vehicles: US leads by ~5 years (ZTZ-99 is on par with last-generation Abrams and European equivalents, not to mention that Chinese tanks are lighter and thus possess less survivability and firepower due to geographical and doctrinal differences).

Do you guys agree or disagree with my brief analysis above? Once again, I believe that the US will not be conventionally overtaken by the PLA/PLAN/PLAAF until the late 2020s or even 2030, as the US simply spent too much during the Cold War for China to catch up quickly, even if China now possesses a larger economy and far greater industrial capabilities.

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I’m a former Congressional staffer who worked on the Armed Services Committee.

  1. The United States is far and away more advanced and more powerful than any country on earth. The USA could halt all technological progress for 20 years and would still be stronger than everyone else.
  1. The next war will not be a hot one. It will be a war of hackers attacking each other’s power plants and internet. If I was a Chinese general, why would I risk MAD by nuking Chicago when I can just overload the power grid and keep the lights off for months?
  1. Even if there is a hot war, the fighting will be focused on the Air Force and the Navy (i.e. carriers) long before there is man to man. And even then, once air superiority is established, the war is over.
  1. Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.

Ok disregarding points 2-4, let me try to formulate a response.

How is the US "by far and large" the most powerful nation on the planet right now? Economically, China is superior. Population wise, also China. Industrial/manufacturing capability also goes to China. Absolutely bleeding edge technology goes to East Asia (TSMC and Samsung for semiconductors) or Europe (Dutch ASML for lithography machines). 


You obviously know your defense industry, and it’s after midnight, and I don’t have the energy to give a response that isn’t a national security violation.

To keep it simple, you were completely right about our carrier superiority and our submarine superiority. I’d wager you underestimated us.

Once we are dominant in those two operational domains, everything else is irrelevant. As a comparison, yes - the Aztecs were better than the Spaniards at building macuahuitls, but that doesn’t mean the Aztecs were an even match.

You should read 2034 by James Stavridis - he downplayed the strength of the US to make the book more exciting, but he absolutely nailed one thing - the most important warriors in a fight between the USA and China will be the hackers.


Point 1 is simply just not true at all. We could probably halt progress for 5yrs and still be stronger than everyone else, but 20yrs is plain false. There are multiple areas of military & AI where China is already ahead of us and even as per OPs post in other realms China is only 5yrs behind. 20yrs is just egregious, pace of technological change is simply waaaaaaay faster than it has ever been

Point 4 -- love the patriotism but again just plain false (ex-nuclear options but that's basically MAD). If the entire world banded together to invade us, we're screwed (esp with a Top 10 All-Time commander like Napoleon). Simple fact is our lack of manpower. 330ml people is plenty against most foes given our technological superiority but when we're attacked on every front (north, south, east, west), we simply cannot defend every position simultaneously forever. That said, I agree that if China alone came at us with their full might, they're not getting near the Ohio 


Actually the US could solo the world. A single aircraft carrier can win and control an entire front. Not only does the US have 10+ they are nuclear powered which means no refueling. China has 3. Two are Soviet carriers refurbished and their new one is oil powered and has limited tech. To go even further it would take weeks to sink a US super carrier. So tell me how China would win with multiple Carriers landlocking the country.


I'm a former Congressional staffer who worked on the Armed Services Committee.

  1. The United States is far and away more advanced and more powerful than any country on earth. The USA could halt all technological progress for 20 years and would still be stronger than everyone else
  2. 3. Even if there is a hot war, the fighting will be focused on the Air Force and the Navy (i.e. carriers) long before there is man to man. And even then, once air superiority is established, the war is over.

No offense but I think this is largely outdated thinking.

We just lost a war in Afghanistan to a bunch of ragtag losers with AK47s and RPGs. Russia is being completely bogged down by an inferior force despite their control of the skies and artillery dominance.

In the modern world, willpower wins over weapons in a long run war. I would put my money on a billion Chinese with AK47s any day over Gen Z Americans with the best technology in the world.


Willpower does win wars. The US lost the willpower to continue fighting in Afghanistan. Similar thing happened in Vietnam. The US lost the willpower to keep fighting and be as aggressive as necessary while the terrorists in both wars never lost their willpower.

In a more “conventional” hypothetical war with China, I imagine the US would have the proper willpower to fight the war until the end and be willing to do what needs to be done.


This is outdated and a Congressional staffer's view is likely to be extremely narrow compared to industry, even if it is up to date. Recent DoD wargaming suggests substantially more parity between China and the U.S. with critical domains (space, cyber, hypersonics, etc.) going to China. I tend to agree that there's unlikely to be open warfare between the U.S. and China but I'd bet dollars to donuts that the country with more advanced electronic warfare capabilities is going to cause greater disruption to power grids, supply chains, politics, public sentiment, etc. than will the traditional defense giant. 


Bruh if you believe industry is going to do anything more than scaremonger for higher defense contracts, no one on this board will be able to convince you otherwise.


I absolutely would agree that the US still by and large has a fairly large lead versus China in most aspects, especially with regard to the strength of the navy, which limits the power projection capability of the Chinese military. Furthermore, the US military forces have much more operational experience due to how many conflicts the US has been involved in over the past couple of decades, whereas the modern Chinese military is not really battle-tested. As a result, I think it's not really accurate that the US would lose a non-nuclear war against China unless it was on the US' doorsteps, but more of the other way round where the US would likely win a non-nuclear war against China unless it was on Chinese doorsteps. Assuming neither country somehow implodes over the next couple decades, I don't think China can contest the US militarily anywhere outside of Asia within the next couple of decades. However at the same time, such a conflict is unlikely to happen - the current Chinese administration isn't interested in military conflicts outside of its home territory, and their strategy has largely been economic and diplomatic over the past couple of years. This is pretty evident from their military focus - innovation and development have been largely focused on PGMs as you've pointed out as an effective deterrent within its local sphere of influence rather than wasting money maintaining a fleet of carriers which wouldn't be as useful for them.

However, a conflict just off the Chinese mainland (in Taiwan for example) would probably be China-favoured even today. Effective power projection across the Pacific would be difficult even for the US - the Korean war was a good example of this and that was back when China didn't even have a navy or air force. Furthermore, it's doubtful whether the administration would have the political will and power to devote significant resources toward a war so far away from home, especially against another superpower who can likely match their military capabilities in a foreign theatre. 


I would argue that when it comes to recent experience, the US has little to no advantage over China. They have not fought anything resembling a near-peer conflict with both sides utilizing PGMs, electronic warfare, satellites and fifth-generation fighters since WW2, with the possible exception of Desert Storm. Every other adventure across the world (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Grenada, Syria, Libya) had been mostly focused on asymmetrical counterinsurgency suppression and guerilla warfare. This means that not only did the US gain little to no relevant skills except logistics, but it may have hamstrung them, as procurement, doctrines, equipment and habits starts to shift towards asymmetrical combat rather than great powers conflict.


the advantage that comes from those conflicts has nothing to do with weaponry/hardware and everything to do with command structures and logistics. The US has well seasoned NCO corps and logistical expertise that can't be taught in a classroom. 


Any experience is better than none - it's one thing to be familiar with the theory and another thing to actually test it out in real life, and you really don't want to be building your experience from scratch by fighting against the world's strongest military.

Either way, I don't really see a direct conflict happening anytime soon. As you've said, a conflict between two superpowers is likely going to involve unprecedented tactics, and I don't think either side can be confident that they will come out ahead. Any conflicts in the near future would likely be limited to proxy wars where any damage that could potentially be done will not be on home soil.


Do you think the weapons systems that would truly make a difference in a hot war with China are publicly known? I always see these types of analyses and laugh because the informational asymmetry between people like us and the people actually making defense decisions is immense. 


I'm pretty sure the US Navy and Air Force have a combined mission plane to sink the entire Chinese Fleet, Subs included, in 24 hours. War over. Also, China imports almost all of its energy, so in a total war they would not be able to sustain a blockade. It would be economically devastating for both countries, but with NATO & QUAD fighting together, it would be like OP as F*** 


How will the US armed forces cope in 5-10 years at the current rate, if their Chinese opponents start misgendering them on the intercoms during combat?

How much of the US armed forces budget will be dedicated over the next 5-10 years to upgrading all bases to have intersex / non-binary / pony safe space toilets? What impact will that have on requisitions, R&D etc?

serious question.


Tbh it will probably raise our entire military's combat effectiveness by at least 69%. More NB toilets = less time waiting in line to use the restroom = more time eliminating the enemy. You should have been aware of these obvious synergies from the get go, but I'll give you a pass this time


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