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The Chinese Navy Will Soon Overmatch The US Navy

May 4, 2020

Via China Military Online.

A new report submitted to US legislators shows the extent of China’s naval expansion and its likely outcome. By decade’s end the PLAN will possess the world’s strongest navy whose combined surface and sub-surface vessels outnumbers any other maritime branch. The US Navy doesn’t seem to have the proper resources for offsetting this surge and must live with the fact it won’t exercise any meaningful control over the Asia-Pacific beyond the 2030s. The 39 page report China Naval Modernization: Implications For US Naval Capabilities was prepared by the Congressional Research Service and is free to download.

The Congressional Research Service is a non-partisan office responsible for distributing “timely, objective, and authoritative” reporting that serves the goals of the US legislative branch. Its China-specific literature has grown by leaps and bounds these past several years but the publication of China Naval Modernization: Implications For US Naval Capabilities in late April is the most alarming so far because of its contents. The introduction of the report makes it clear China is determined to assert itself as a world power and is pursuing several goals at once. It reads:

China’s military modernization effort…[is] being aimed at developing capabilities for addressing the situation with Taiwan militarily, if need be; for achieving a greater degree of control or domination over China’s near-seas region, particularly the South China Sea; for enforcing China’s view that it has the right to regulate foreign military activities in its 200-mile EEZ; for defending China’s commercial sea lines of communications, particularly those linking China to the Persian Gulf; for displacing US influence in the Western Pacific; and for asserting China’s status as a regional military power and a major world power.

If these goals seem too ambitious and inspire skepticism the concluding remarks on page 25 of the report are succinct and unvarnished. It reads:

…China’s naval modernization effort since the 1990s has substantially reduced the US advantage and if the current US and Chinese naval capability trend lines do not change, China might eventually draw even with or surpass the United States in overall naval capability. [Emphasis by 21AAR.]

To support its claims the report does provide 18 pages with accompanying photos that asses the capabilities of the PLAN’s largest investments as well as the PLA strategic rocket force’s deadliest missiles–the DF-21D and the DF-26, the latter an intermediate-range ballistic missile able to strike US bases in Guam and Okinawa. On page 12 are insightful comments on the PLAN’s aircraft carrier programs. Work is now underway on a 85,000 to 95,000 conventionally-powered CATOBAR carrier designated the Type 002 but the report is unsure of the nuclear-powered Type 003, whose size and range match the US Navy’s Ford-class supercarriers, because its construction might be in limbo. (The aircraft carrier Fujian was launched in June 2022.)

From page 23 of the report.

The detailed tables on pages 22 and 23 remove any doubt about the PLAN’s total strength. Table 1 details all types of surface and subsurface vessel construction since 2005 and what they reveal is the adoption of destroyers, diesel attack submarines, and frigates has ballooned the PLA’s numbers that reached parity with US naval strength in 2019. If the trend continues, however, the US Navy’s aging fleet will not only be facing a new generation of Chinese warships but are badly outnumbered as well. Table 2 on page 23 confirms the same outcome for “battle force ships” or vessels able to engage in combat operations. The US Navy may enjoy an advantage with its nuclear-powered attack submarines and SSBNs but as of this year the PLAN maintain a noticeable bulge in newer battle force surface ships.

The findings inside China Naval Modernization: Implications For US Naval Capabilities aren’t surprising from the perspective of US policymakers and war planners who’ve anticipated a multipolar Cold War since before the Trump administration. China, with its raw economic size and financial clout, is a “pacing threat” whose global influence may surpass the US within a decade, hence a confrontation that seeks to diminish its power is necessary. Current strategies like belligerent rhetoric and trade disputes aren’t working as intended, however, and this document proves it.

Readers who want copies of the report can download it here.


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