Battleship War: What If China and the U.S. Navy Come To Blows In 2026?

Harry J. Kazianis

Key point: Big ships vs. Chinese missiles.

Despite years of negotiations and what amounts to a ‘frozen conflict’ on the water, China, the Philippines and Vietnam are more deadlocked than ever before when it comes to various claims and counterclaims in this hotly contested sea. Tensions are now near the boiling point as Beijing has finally begun reclamation work at Scarborough Shoal, blockaded once again Second Thomas Shoal and placed multiple oil rigs off Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone in response to another loss in the international court of arbitration in the Hague, this time brought by Vietnam.

But that is not all. In this fictional drama, Beijing seems set to not only reinforce its claims but is now ready for military conflict if the region does not collectively backdown. Indeed, Chinese officials have warned their American counterparts that if they were to intervene in any possible kinetic conflict Beijing would have no choice but to attack any and all U.S. assets in the region with “maximum force.” And if the point was not reinforced enough, Beijing tests and sinks a decommissioned destroyer with the much-debated DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile at a range of 1250 kms.   

So what is America to do in such a fictional nightmare? Washington sends two Aircraft Carrier Battle Groups to the South China Sea, one based in Japan and another moving at full speed from the Middle East. But what has China really concerned is not the mighty flattops Washington has at its disposal, but two rebuilt and essentially brand new Iowa-class battleships, armed to the teeth with the latest land-attack tomahawk missiles and long-range anti-ship weapons. Yes, you got that right, America has brought back the battleships--well, at least in this fantasy.

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