Reagan against China (and F-35B first blood), December 2016-early 2017. Hypothetical/Historical Scenario.
A Harpoon Commander's Edition scenario for EC2003 Battle for the Western Pacific BattleSet and the new HCDB2-170401 (Previously 170122) 1980-2025 era Platform Database. This scenario is designed with advanced Scenario Editor and to be run with HCE 2015.008+ or later.
Image: Aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14 perform a diamond formation flyby over the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) during a Tiger Cruise air power demonstration. U.S. Navy photo of 18 October 2009 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Torrey W. Lee/Released, and took from Wikipedia Commons.
This scenario is designed to be played from the US/Blue side or from the Chinese/Red side. To avoid spoilers you should play a few times first the US/Blue side, and only later play the Chinese/Red side.
The scenario is based in current historical events, mainly the steaming of the just formed Chinese aircraft carrier CV-16 Liaoning CVBG thought the Bashi Channel in the contested sea area from 26 December 2016. But it was very improbable the political motivation in either side capable to generate an open war. At least President Obama had wanted to leave to posterity and to President-Elect Trump a strange and complicated legacy, to force the new incumbent to keep a very strong and militant posture against China.
Also, one of the aims of this scenario is to show how numerous and modernized are the Chinese forces at the current times, forgetting the usual conception about they're obsolete and simple forces (but depicting also his lack of enough naval helicopters, tankers and EW aircrafts).
Is showed the more accurate possible Chinese order of battle (December 2016) of his three fleets attack submarine force, his People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) air elements, some very few People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) combat elements, and a few PLAAF strategic elements, as UAVs, AWACS or ELINT aircrafts.
Worth of remembering is, after the full of naval, military and security incidents year of 2014 the World was beginning the so-called Second Cold War. Mostly as result of President of Russia Vladimir Putin (ex-KGB lieutenant colonel) actions, provoking in succession the Crimea, Ukraine, Donetsk, Baltic States, October 2014 Swedish submarine incursion, G-20 Brisbane meeting naval crisis, November 2014 Faslane submarine incident, frigate Yaroslav Mudryy February "Channel Dash", April 2015 Finnish submarine incursion (for many observers causing the pre-mobilization of Finland reserve forces), Russian intervention in Syria from 30 September 2015, March 2016 detection by the French of a Russian submarine near Bay of Biscay, the propaganda stunt of the deployment of the only one Russian aircraft carrier Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov steaming (a lot, literally) from Kola Bay towards Eastern Mediterranean from October 15, 2016, and with constant and multiple Russian overflies with military warplanes entangled in potential incidents with commercial flights in Europe. That without counting in other unrelated naval incidents, just as the Iranian seizure of the Maersk Tigris in 28 April 2015 (and neither counting in landlocked actions, as the counter-ISIS operations in Middle East).
But meanwhile, more towards Far East a less perceived and growing problem was China, as reflected in the transfer of the 60% of the USN and USAF combat forces to the Pacific Theater of Operations from 2012, move to be completed by 2020.
In some places of the South China or East Philippine Sea multiple countries claimed Spratly Islands archipelago (Chinese: Nansha islands, Filipino: Kapuluan ng Kalayaan, Malay: Kepulauan Spratly and Vietnamese: Quan dao Truong Sa), China was for years mongering his plans and established a permanent base at least from 1987, and 1988 included a naval battle against Vietnam, the Johnson South Reef Skirmish. Also at least from 1995, as denounced by Philippines, China was building structures with military capabilities, including from 2012 more relevant structures, as the 3000+ meters long (Very Large Airport in Harpoon parameters) runway in Fiery Cross Reef (finished at March 2016) and other smaller finished in Mischief Reef, and more important, building artificial reefs and islands above previous simple shoals for claiming territory, and equipping them with advanced weapons. At last in an undetermined date late April 2015 China claims as territorial waters the 12 nautical miles circling his "new" islands.
As the US official doctrine is Freedom of Navigation (FON) worldwide on international waters, and as in this case with fears about a decision not to send naval vessels into the zone would inadvertently help the Chinese build their own case for sovereignty in the area, some air and surface elements of US Navy begin to orbit near the Chinese claims, but not crossing the 12 nm line.
Between the first incidents were a VP-45 Pelicans' P-8A Poseidon in surveillance mission carrying a CNN TV team inside, warned by the Chinese to no flight 12 nm near of Fiery Cross Reef on 20 May 2015, and the trailing for some hours of the USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) by the Chinese frigate Yuncheng (571) on 11 May 2015. Late, from 26 October 2015, USS Lassen (DDG-82) implement the Freedom of Navigation (FON) near the Chinese occupied Subi and Mischief Reefs in the Spratlys, and a clash of destroyers was possible, but avoided with the humble and shy behaviour of the US side, transiting without radars illuminating or the helicopter flying.
Other previous very important situation, and after some months without US aircraft carriers in the region, was from 1 to 8 March 2016, when the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) Carrier Strike Group (JCSCSG or Carrier Strike Group Three) transited the Luzon Strait on the contested area. Other possible incident in our timeline was the sailing of the cruiser USS Chancellorsville between Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Mansiloc Spanish historical name) and Mischief Reef on late March 2016, when was persistently trailed by Chinese frigate Yueyang (575) but the action was limited to an exchange of weather pleasantries.
But perhaps in the December 2016 transit of the Liaoning CVBG another outcome would have been possible ...
Enrique Mas, 24 January 2017.