When the Kii's are understood they are going to cause a lot of head scratching because as you say there isn't a counter, anything that can catch them will lose, anything that can beat them is 5 knots slower. While their build has been delayed I would have thought that their rough outline would be know shortly after they were laid down. Japan isn't a hermit Kingdom at this point, it's still a fairly "liberal" place so I would think by late 1923 the wider world knows the Japanese are building two big fast battleships and would certainly know by the late 1924 prior to the second pair of Columbia's being laid down.On the other hand, we have the Japanese 'Kiis', which are certainly fast battleships, although with the armour a bit on the light side. No one has responded to them yet, partly because they not sure what they are yet, due to building being delayed by the earthquake.
So far, nothing except Furious could both catch and kill a Kii, and I wouldn't bet on Furious in the engagement (plenty of other more powerful ships about, but they're all slower than the Kiis).
Agreed, that's why I was surprised to see them built at this point, the Japanese cruisers are a problem that needs a solution but to my mind the Kii's are a bigger problem that needs to be solved first, but it's not my story and maybe it's for the best that the RN and USN have time to think about the Kii problem and have a well thought out rather than kneejerk response.I see the Columbia's as being 'Large Cruiser' hunters - a recycling if you will of the original job of the first battlecruisers - that is the hunting down of 'Fast armoured cruisers' such as the new ships coming out of the Netherlands.
I do not see them as intended to go toe to toe with the Kii's or other, what are effectively 'Fast Battleships'.