While the naval modernization race between the United States and China has global implications, the biggest potential flashpoint is the Asia-Pacific region.
Michael Swaine, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a Chinese security studies specialist, anticipates a long-term competition.
"The greatest strategic challenge that Beijing's naval modernization will pose for the U.S. and its allies over at least the next decade will occur in the Indo-Pacific, and especially in the Western Pacific within the first and second island chains," he wrote in a paper last year titled, "The PLA Navy's Strategic Transformation to the 'Far Seas': How Far, How Threatening, and What's to Be Done?"
"This amounts to a fundamental shift in the maritime power environment within that critical region from one dominated by U.S. military power to something approaching an unstable balance between the U.S. and allied forces on the one hand and Chinese forces on the other," he added.
Geography would be a critical factor during any major conflagration in that area of operations, analysts say. The U.S. Navy has global responsibilities, and much of its fleet is based on the Atlantic Coast or other locations far from Asia. Chinese forces, on the other hand, aren't stretched as thin, and they would also enjoy homefield advantage.
"Only a certain portion of the U.S. Navy might be available for a crisis or conflict scenario in China's near-seas region, or could reach that area within a certain amount of time. In contrast...