Can the U.S. Navy Keep Up With China?

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January 15, 2021 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: CNO NAVPLANPLA NavyChinaU.S. NavyGreat Power Competition

Can the U.S. Navy Keep Up With China?

The service has new plans and strategies in place as it watches Beijing rapidly build more modern and larger fleet.

A new U.S. Navy strategy paper from the Chief of Naval Operations calls China “our most pressing long-term strategic threat,” pointing to the communist nation’s rapid and massive ongoing naval modernization efforts, militarization in the South China Sea, aggressive maritime operations and grand ambitions to emerge as the pre-eminent global superpower.

“China is aggressively building a Navy to rival our own. Already possessing the world’s largest fleet, China continues to build modern surface combatants, submarines, aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, and next-generation fighters,” the CNO NAVPLAN states. “Now, they are extending their infrastructure across the globe to control access to critical waterways.”

Chinese Naval expansion has been on the Pentagon’s radar for many years because of the pace and scope with which it has been adding new platforms, adding new weapons systems and expanding provocative operations in areas near Japan and the South China Sea. The Chinese Navy, which has itself already grown to more than 300 ships, also massively increases its activity through cooperation with other parts of its maritime force.”

“Operating under the cover of the world’s largest missile force, the People’s Liberation Army—Navy (PLAN) deploys alongside the Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia to harass global shipping and exert pressure on regional countries below the level of traditional armed conflict.”

Of equal or greater concern is the reality that China is not only quickly increasing its fleet size but substantially increasing its drills, exercises, combat training operations and other war preparations of concern to the United States, and especially Taiwan.

A new Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard new strategy document, called “Advantage at Sea,” further reinforces the CNO NAVPLAN by taking a hard line on Chinese expansionism and detailing a number of what it states are aggressive Chinese ambitions intended to “corrode international maritime governance, deny access to traditional logistical hubs, inhibit freedom of the seas, control use of key chokepoints and deter U.S. engagement in regional disputes.”

China’s Navy, the strategy explains, has nearly “tripled” in size over just the last two decades, and the PLA Navy plans to operate as many as five carriers, double its fleet of destroyers and add new high-tech, heavily-armed warships, amphibs and coastal patrol boats, among other things.

The other element of Chinese naval military expansion of potential concern to Pentagon planners is its shipbuilding infrastructure, as the country’s industrial capacity is growing at a staggering rate.

“This rapid growth is enabled by a robust shipbuilding infrastructure, including multiple shipyards that exceed those in the United States in both size and throughput. In conflict, excess PRC industrial capacity, including additional commercial shipyards, could quickly be turned toward military production and repair, further increasing China’s ability to generate new military forces,” Advantage at Sea strategy states.

China will be doubling its fleet of destroyers and adding new, stealthy Type 055 destroyers. China has begun sea trials for its second new Type 075 amphibious assault ship and begun construction of a third.

China’s first home-built carrier, the Shandong, has been firing weapons and conducting combat drills on numerous deployments, the most recent one of which being war preparations in the South China Sea. Now that China’s second carrier, the Shandong, is operational and on patrol, China is now already working on a third. China’s first indigenously-built carrier, the second carrier in the fleet overall, is modeled after its ski-jump-configured Ukrainian-built Liaoning.

Now, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is building a larger, flatter, more modern carrier platform with smooth, longer-range electromagnetic catapults similar to the U.S. Ford-class. Developers of the Ford class talk about the electromagnetic catapult in terms of it being a system which enables a smoother, more fluid takeoff, unlike a “shotgun” like steam powered take off.

The third carrier, identified as a Type 002 carrier, is reported to have a displacement of 80,000 tons, considerably larger than the 60,000-ton weight of China’s first two carriers. It will reportedly be able to operate a carrier air wing of more than 40 fixed-wing fighters.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters.