Pentagon: Chinese Navy to Expand to 400 Ships by 2025, Growth Focused on Surface Combatants

China is building more modern surface combatants and expanding its aircraft carrier and logistics force to grow its naval influence further from shore, according to the Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military power. By 2025, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is expected to grow to 400 hulls, up from its fleet of 340, according to […]

People’s Liberation Army Navy aircraft carrier Shandong berths at a naval port in Sanya, China. PLAN Photo

China is building more modern surface combatants and expanding its aircraft carrier and logistics force to grow its naval influence further from shore, according to the Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military power.

By 2025, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is expected to grow to 400 hulls, up from its fleet of 340, according to the Pentagon’s annual China military report estimates released on Tuesday.

“The PLAN is an increasingly modern and flexible force that has focused on replacing its previous generations of platforms that had limited capabilities in favor of larger, modern multi-role combatants,” reads the report.
“As of 2021, the PLAN is largely composed of modern multi-role platforms featuring advanced anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors.”

The report, which sums up Chinese military developments in 2021, pegs the growth to the PLAN adding more major surface combatants. The ship total dipped last year from 355 due to a transfer of more than 20 older corvettes to the China Coast Guard.

“At the close of 2021, the PLAN was building an aircraft carrier, a new batch of guided-missile destroyers (DDG), and a new batch of guided missile frigates (FFG),” reads the report.

The bulk of the surface expansion is contained in two programs, the 7,500-ton Luyang III guided-missile Type-52D destroyers and the larger 13,000-ton Type-55 Renhai-class guided-missile cruisers, according to the report.

Renhai-class cruiser

The Luyang III destroyers are built around a dual-band active electronically scanned array (AESA) air search radar and a 64-cell vertical launch system for multiple missiles similar to the Mk-41 VLS on U.S. surface ships.

The Renhais are much larger with a similar radar and 112 cell VLS cells “and can carry a large load out of weapons including [anti-ship cruise missiles], surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), torpedoes, and anti-submarine weapons along with likely [land-attack cruise missiles] and anti-ship ballistic missiles when those become operational,” according to the report.

As of May, the Chinese have five of the Renhai-class cruisers in commission, according to the South China Morning Post.

The newer classes of ships, with a variety of anti-surface and anti-air missiles, allow the PLAN better protection as its task groups venture farther from the protective umbrella of its shore-based air defense systems and mimic the basic construct of the American Aegis Combat System.

The emphasis on the platforms are anti-surface weapons, according to the report.
“The PLAN recognizes that long-range ASCMs require a robust, over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting capability to realize their full potential. To fill this capability gap, the PLA is investing in joint reconnaissance, surveillance, command, control, and communications systems at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels to provide high-fidelity targeting information to surface and subsurface launch platforms,” reads the report.

The PLAN is developing new submarines more slowly than it’s developing surface ships, “as it works to mature its force, integrate new technologies, and expand its shipyards,” reads the report.
“The PLAN currently operates six nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN), and 44 diesel-powered/air-independent powered attack submarines (SS/SSP). The PLAN will likely maintain between 65 and 70 submarines through the 2020s, replacing older units with more capable units on a near one-to-one basis.”

The Pentagon speculated in the report that China is developing a nuclear guided-missile submarine that would field both anti-surface and land-attack cruise missiles, a new addition this year.

Type-093A Shang-class attack submarine

“By the mid-2020s, China will likely build the SHANG class (Type 093B) guided-missile nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSGN). This new SHANG class variant will enhance the PLAN’s anti-surface warfare capability and could provide a clandestine land-attack option if equipped with land-attack cruise missiles,” reads the report.

In terms of amphibious ships, the report highlighted not only the rapid development of the Yushen-class of big-deck amphibious warships, but also the increased use of civilian roll-on/roll-off car carriers that can go into service for military operations.

“This flexibility decreases the requirement to build additional PLAN amphibious ships to successfully assault Taiwan. This operational flexibility also provides operational and logistics units within the [PLAN Marine Corps] the training and proficiency to move between military and civilian vessels not just in a Taiwan scenario, but in any maritime environment where civilian transport vessels are available to the PLANMC and PLAN amphibious ships are not,” reads the report.

In late August, the PLAN held a major amphibious drill using civilian ferries to launch landing craft from sea, USNI News reported.

The PLAN has two operational aircraft carriers, Liaoning and Shandong, based on the Soviet Kuzenetzov, a short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR). Both carriers have been active in the Western Pacific. A third carrier, Fujian, will feature a catapult launch and arrested landing and is expected to be operational by 2024.

“This design will enable it to support additional fighter aircraft, fixed-wing early warning aircraft, and more rapid flight operations and thus extend the reach and effectiveness of its carrier-based strike aircraft,” reads the report.

The PLAN continues to refine its carrier aircraft – primarily the Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark, which is an unlicensed copy of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 fighter.

A People’s Liberation Army Navy J-15 carrier fighter takes off from Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (16) during a December 2021 deployment. PLAN Photo

“In addition to the standard J-15 fighter that currently operates from PLAN carriers, there is a catapult-capable J-15 variant in development,” reads the report.
“The aircraft is currently testing from land-based steam and electromagnetic catapults. A third J-15 variant, the J-15D, is a two-seat aircraft equipped with wingtip electronic support measures/electronic intelligence gathering pods as well as several conformal antennas. The aircraft is intended to fill a dedicated electronic attack role. China is also developing a carrier capable variant of the fifth-generation J-31 fighter.”

All told, the report concludes that the PLAN is working toward deploying an operational carrier battle group in the next several years beyond the first island chain that doesn’t need the shore-based defenses of the rest of the PLA.

“The PLAN’s ability to perform missions beyond the First Island Chain is modest but growing as it gains more experience operating in distant waters and acquires larger and more advanced platforms,” reads the report.

Report to Congress on Chinese Naval Modernization

The following is the Nov. 10, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress. From the report China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. China’s naval modernization effort has been underway for […]

The following is the Nov. 10, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. China’s naval modernization effort has been underway for more than 25 years, since the early to mid-1990s, and has transformed China’s navy into a much more modern and capable force. China’s navy is a formidable military force within China’s near-seas region, and it is conducting a growing number of operations in the broader waters of the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and waters around Europe.

China’s navy is, by far, the largest of any country in East Asia, and sometime between 2015 and 2020 it surpassed the U.S. Navy in numbers of battle force ships (meaning the types of ships that count toward the quoted size of the U.S. Navy). DOD states that China’s navy “is the largest navy in the world with a battle force of approximately 355 platforms, including major surface combatants, submarines, aircraft carriers, ocean-going amphibious ships, mine warfare ships, and fleet auxiliaries. This figure does not include 85 patrol combatants and craft that carry anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). The… overall battle force [of China’s navy] is expected to grow to 420 ships by 2025 and 460 ships by 2030.” The U.S. Navy, by comparison, included 294 battle force ships at the end of FY2021, and the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission projects that the Navy will include 290 or 291 battle force ships by the end of FY2030. U.S. military officials and other observers are expressing concern or alarm regarding the pace of China’s naval shipbuilding effort and resulting trend lines regarding the relative sizes and capabilities of China’s navy and the U.S. Navy.

China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a wide array of ship, aircraft, weapon, and C4ISR (command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) acquisition programs, as well as improvements in logistics, doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises. China’s navy has currently has certain limitations and weaknesses, which it is working to overcome.

China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is assessed as being aimed at developing capabilities for, among other things, addressing the situation with Taiwan militarily, if need be; achieving a greater degree of control or domination over China’s near-seas region, particularly the South China Sea; defending China’s commercial sea lines of communication (SLOCs), particularly those linking China to the Persian Gulf; displacing U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and asserting China’s status as the leading regional power and a major world power. Observers believe China wants its navy to be capable of acting as part of an anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) force—a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict in China’s near-seas region over Taiwan or some other issue, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. forces.

The U.S. Navy has taken a number of actions to counter China’s naval modernization effort. Among other things, the U.S. Navy has shifted a greater percentage of its fleet to the Pacific; assigned its most-capable new ships and aircraft to the Pacific; maintained or increased general presence operations, training and developmental exercises, and engagement and cooperation with allied and other navies in the Indo-Pacific; increased the planned future size of the Navy; initiated, increased, or accelerated numerous programs for developing new military technologies and acquiring new ships, aircraft, unmanned vehicles, and weapons; developed new operational concepts for countering Chinese maritime A2/AD forces; and signaled that the Navy in coming years will shift to a more-distributed fleet architecture that will feature a substantially greater use of unmanned vehicles. The issue for Congress is whether to approve, reject, or modify the Biden Administration’s proposed U.S. Navy plans, budgets, and programs for responding to China’s naval modernization effort.

Download the document here.

Chinese Launch Assault Craft from Civilian Car Ferries in Mass Amphibious Invasion Drill, Satellite Photos Show

The Chinese military held a major exercise to prove how the People’s Liberation Army Navy could use large civilian ferries to launch a massive amphibious invasion of Taiwan. The PLAN brought amphibious landing craft to a Chinese beach near the Taiwan Strait, according to Aug. 31 satellite imagery reviewed by USNI News. Offshore, the PLAN […]

H I Sutton Illustration for USNI News Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies Used with Permission

The Chinese military held a major exercise to prove how the People’s Liberation Army Navy could use large civilian ferries to launch a massive amphibious invasion of Taiwan.

The PLAN brought amphibious landing craft to a Chinese beach near the Taiwan Strait, according to Aug. 31 satellite imagery reviewed by USNI News. Offshore, the PLAN arrayed several large civilian ferries and warships. The PLA landing craft left the beach, swam to the car ferries and loaded amphibious assault craft aboard at sea via a specially-constructed ramp. The landing craft then left the ferries and returned to their starting point.

Defense analyst Tom Shugart, who monitors Chinese military exercises, followed the drills and tracked seven of the civilian dual-use amphibious ferries during the exercise. Additionally, satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies has provided USNI News with high-resolution images of the August drills, revealing key details.

Chinese Type 05 amphibious fighting vehicle in 2021. CGTN Image

“They ended up parked off the coast in areas that were near other areas where we’ve seen them do amphibious assault training before with commercial ferries,” Shugart told USNI News.
“The numbers were bigger than we’ve seen before.”

The roll-on roll-off (RoRo) ferry has been identified as Bo Hai Heng Tong, a 15,000-ton multipurpose cargo ship. The ferry’s internal parking ‘lane’ is 1.6 miles long and three meters wide, spread across three decks. This translates into a vehicle cargo capacity that’s almost three times that of a San Antonio-class amphibious warship (LPD-17), Shugart said.

“AN LHA or LPD spends a lot of cubic feet [on] Marines able to operate for weeks or months at sea. That’s a lot of wasted space if all you’re doing is making a quick trip across the strait,” he said.

Bo Hai Heng Tong launched in 2020.

This ship is not unique. Her sister ship, Bo Hai Heng Da, was built at the same time with the same specifications. As the name implies, they normally operate in the Bohai Sea. But for the exercise Bo Hai Heng Tong sailed over 1,000 miles south to be opposite Taiwan.

The concept of augmenting amphibious warfare ships with civilian vessels, and ships taken up from trade (STUFT), are not new to the PLAN. The Chinese Navy has been practicing it for years. Many are used for transport, while some carry artillery pieces on their decks for shore bombardment.

However, launching craft – like the 26-ton ZTD-05, an amphibious armored vehicle used by the PLA – at sea is a new development, Shugart said.

“Everybody assumed that you had to seize a port first. That those [ferries] were second echelon forces… Somebody else has got to seize the port,” he said.
“2021 was the first time we saw them dump amphibious assault vehicles right into the water, which means now those ferries can be the first echelon sending assault units straight to the beach.“

Bo Hai Heng Tong

The new RoRo ships – launched in 2020 – are significant in a few ways. They are larger than most other ships in their class. When launched at the CIMC Raffles shipyard in Yantai, the yard described the ships as the largest multi-purpose RoRos Asia. They are multipurpose ships designed from the outset to carry a range of vehicle types and containers and are built with a large helicopter landing deck.

The amphibious exercise came less than a month after U.S. House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taiwan. The visit drew a massive show of force from China as Beijing ramped up military sea and air activity around the island.

Previous norms, such as not sailing warships beyond the median line in the Taiwan Strait, were ignored during the exercise. The new normal sees increased activity, including flying drones over Taiwanese islands. One notable drone incident occurred the same day as the amphibious exercise.

Several Chinese Navy ships were also involved in the exercise. The Type 071 class landing platform dock (LPD), Wuzhishan (987), was present with an older landing ship tank (LST). These also practiced swimming with armored vehicles.

A Chinese amphibious armored vehicle leaving the car ferry Bang Chui Dao in 2020. CCTV image

Shugart said, “China’s roll-on/roll-off ferries are very well-suited to support” any invasion of Taiwan. “Civilian augmentation will be essential, if not providing the majority of the required sealift capacity.”

Since the exercise, RoRo ships have returned to their normal routes, ferrying civilian vehicles across the entrance to the Bohai Sea. But their capability would allow China to switch to invasion mode at short notice.

“What can you come up with that’s better than a ferry? That’s what they do. That’s what they’re designed for, is to quickly move vehicles and people, drop them off and go back and work as efficiently as humanly possible,” Shugart told USNI News.

Report to Congress on Chinese Naval Modernization

The following is the March 8, 2021, Congressional Research Service Report, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress. From the report In an era of renewed great power competition, China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, has become the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. China’s […]

The following is the March 8, 2021, Congressional Research Service Report, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

In an era of renewed great power competition, China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, has become the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. China’s navy, which China has been steadily modernizing for more than 25 years, since the early to mid-1990s, has become a formidable military force within China’s near-seas region, and it is conducting a growing number of operations in more-distant waters, including the broader waters of the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and waters around Europe.

China’s navy is viewed as posing a major challenge to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain wartime control of blue-water ocean areas in the Western Pacific—the first such challenge the U.S. Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War. China’s navy forms a key element of a Chinese challenge to the long-standing status of the United States as the leading military power in the Western Pacific. Some U.S. observers are expressing concern or alarm regarding the pace of China’s naval shipbuilding effort and resulting trend lines regarding the relative sizes and capabilities of China’s navy and the U.S. Navy.

China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a wide array of ship, aircraft, and weapon acquisition programs, as well as improvements in maintenance and logistics, doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises. China’s navy has currently has certain limitations and weaknesses, and is working to overcome them.

China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is assessed as 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 maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ); for defending China’s commercial sea lines of communication (SLOCs), particularly those linking China to the Persian Gulf; for displacing U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and for asserting China’s status as the leading regional power and a major world power.

Consistent with these goals, observers believe China wants its navy to be capable of acting as part of a Chinese anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) force—a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict in China’s near-seas region over Taiwan or some other issue, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. forces. Additional missions for China’s navy include conducting maritime security (including antipiracy) operations, evacuating Chinese nationals from foreign countries when necessary, and conducting humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR) operations.

The U.S. Navy in recent years has taken a number of actions to counter China’s naval modernization effort. Among other things, the U.S. Navy has shifted a greater percentage of its fleet to the Pacific; assigned its most-capable new ships and aircraft and its best personnel to the Pacific; maintained or increased general presence operations, training and developmental exercises, and engagement and cooperation with allied and other navies in the Indo-Pacific; increased the planned future size of the Navy; initiated, increased, or accelerated numerous programs for developing new military technologies and acquiring new ships, aircraft, unmanned vehicles, and weapons; begun development of new operational concepts (i.e., new ways to employ Navy and Marine Corps forces) for countering Chinese maritime A2/AD forces; and signaled that the Navy in coming years will shift to a more-distributed fleet architecture that will feature a smaller portion of larger ships, a larger portion of smaller ships, and a substantially greater use of unmanned vehicles. The issue for Congress is whether the U.S. Navy is responding appropriately to China’s naval modernization effort.

Download the document here.

Report on U.S.-China Competition in East, South China Sea

The following is the Dec. 12, 2021, Congressional Research Service report U.S.-China Strategic Competition in South and East China Seas: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report Over the past several years, the South China Sea (SCS) has emerged as an arena of U.S.-China strategic competition. China’s actions in the SCS—including extensive island-building and […]

The following is the Dec. 12, 2021, Congressional Research Service report U.S.-China Strategic Competition in South and East China Seas: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

Over the past several years, the South China Sea (SCS) has emerged as an arena of U.S.-China strategic competition. China’s actions in the SCS—including extensive island-building and base-construction activities at sites that it occupies in the Spratly Islands, as well as actions by its maritime forces to assert China’s claims against competing claims by regional neighbors such as the Philippines and Vietnam—have heightened concerns among U.S. observers that China is gaining effective control of the SCS, an area of strategic, political, and economic importance to the United States and its allies and partners. Actions by China’s maritime forces at the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea (ECS) are another concern for U.S. observers. Chinese domination of China’s near-seas region—meaning the SCS and ECS, along with the Yellow Sea—could substantially affect U.S. strategic, political, and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere.

Potential general U.S. goals for U.S.-China strategic competition in the SCS and ECS include but are not necessarily limited to the following: fulfilling U.S. security commitments in the Western Pacific, including treaty commitments to Japan and the Philippines; maintaining and enhancing the U.S.-led security architecture in the Western Pacific, including U.S. security relationships with treaty allies and partner states; maintaining a regional balance of power favorable to the United States and its allies and partners; defending the principle of peaceful resolution of disputes and resisting the emergence of an alternative “might-makes-right” approach to international affairs; defending the principle of freedom of the seas, also sometimes called freedom of navigation; preventing China from becoming a regional hegemon in East Asia; and pursing these goals as part of a larger U.S. strategy for competing strategically and managing relations with China.

Potential specific U.S. goals for U.S.-China strategic competition in the SCS and ECS include but are not necessarily limited to the following: dissuading China from carrying out additional base-construction activities in the SCS, moving additional military personnel, equipment, and supplies to bases at sites that it occupies in the SCS, initiating island-building or base-construction activities at Scarborough Shoal in the SCS, declaring straight baselines around land features it claims in the SCS, or declaring an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the SCS; and encouraging China to reduce or end operations by its maritime forces at the Senkaku Islands in the ECS, halt actions intended to put pressure against Philippine-occupied sites in the Spratly Islands, provide greater access by Philippine fisherman to waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal or in the Spratly Islands, adopt the U.S./Western definition regarding freedom of the seas, and accept and abide by the July 2016 tribunal award in the SCS arbitration case involving the Philippines and China.

The issue for Congress is whether the Administration’s strategy for competing strategically with China in the SCS and ECS is appropriate and correctly resourced, and whether Congress should approve, reject, or modify the strategy, the level of resources for implementing it, or both. Decisions that Congress makes on these issues could substantially affect U.S. strategic, political, and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere.

Download the document here.

China Has World’s Largest Navy With 355 Ships and Counting, Says Pentagon

China has the biggest maritime force on the globe with an inventory of about 355 vessels, according to a Defense Department report released Wednesday. With 355 ships in its fleet, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is slated to expand its inventory to 420 ships within the next four years, the Pentagon’s annual China military […]

Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning underway. PLAN Photo

China has the biggest maritime force on the globe with an inventory of about 355 vessels, according to a Defense Department report released Wednesday.

With 355 ships in its fleet, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is slated to expand its inventory to 420 ships within the next four years, the Pentagon’s annual China military report estimates. By 2030, the PLAN is expected to have 460 ships.

The 355 estimation accounts for “major surface combatants, submarines, aircraft carriers, ocean-going amphibious ships, mine warfare ships, and fleet auxiliaries,” according to the report, which covers events in 2020.

“This figure does not include 85 patrol combatants and craft that carry anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). … Much of this growth will be in major surface combatants,” the report reads.

The report, which is mandated by Congress each year, describes China’s navy as having growing ambitions to operate with more versatile platforms beyond the Indo-Pacific region.

“Towards the PRC’s goal of building a ‘strong and modernized naval force,’ the PLAN is an increasingly modern and flexible force that has focused on replacing its previous generations of platforms that had limited capabilities in favor of larger, modern multi-role combatants,” the report reads. “As of 2020, the PLAN is largely composed of modern multi-role platforms featuring advanced anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors. The PLAN is also emphasizing maritime joint operations and joint integration within the PLA. This modernization aligns with the PRC’s growing emphasis on the maritime domain and increasing demands for the PLAN to operate at greater distances from China.”

This week’s release of the Pentagon report comes amid heightened tensions between China and Taiwan. Last month, China flew dozens of its aircraft in international airspace near Taiwan.

A senior defense official this week said those flights could be part of an effort to intimidate Taiwan, which Beijing sees as part of China and aims to reunify with the mainland.

“I think it presumably serves multiple purposes for them. Sometimes I think what they are aiming at is to try to intimidate Taiwan militarily. Sometimes I think they may be trying to send a message to the United States or to other allies and partners, potentially. I think they are also certainly trying to improve their training under realistic conditions – that’s something that they write about a lot in their literature,” the official told reporters Tuesday.

“There’s frequently an external messaging component to it, maybe a training aspect as well, and potentially some messaging for a domestic audience to sort of display their growing capabilities,” the official added. “I think I wouldn’t dismiss that there’s sort of, to some extent, a message that they’re trying to highlight for a domestic audience that’s part of this, in addition to the other factors.”

According to the military report, China is pursuing both new anti-submarine warfare capabilities and long-range strike capabilities, including land-attack cruise missiles that could be launched from surface ships and submarines.

“In the near-term, the PLAN will have the capability to conduct long-range precision strikes against land targets from its submarine and surface combatants using land-attack cruise missiles, notably enhancing the PRC’s global power projection capabilities,” the report reads. “The PRC is enhancing its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities and competencies to protect the PLAN’s aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines.”

The Pentagon expects China to put land-attack cruise missiles on its new surface combatants and nuclear attack boats. For example, the report expects the Renhai class of guided-missile cruisers could field land-attack cruise missiles.

“In the coming years, the PLAN will probably field LACMs on its newer cruisers and destroyers and developmental Type 093B nuclear attack submarines. The PLAN could also retrofit its older surface combatants and submarines with land-attack capabilities as well,” the report reads. “The addition of land-attack capabilities to the PLAN’s surface combatants and submarines would provide the PLA with flexible long-range strike options. This would allow the PRC to hold land targets at risk beyond the Indo-Pacific region from the maritime domain.”

DoD Image

On the submarine front, the report estimates that China will keep building and purchasing conventional submarines, while it also builds new ballistic missile boats and nuclear-powered boats.

“Equipped with the CSS-N-14 (JL-2) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the PLAN’s six operational Jin-class SSBNs represent the [People’s Republican of China]’s first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent. Each Jin-class SSBN can carry up to 12 JL-2 SLBMs. In 2019, Beijing displayed these missiles at the PRC’s 70th anniversary parade, revealing that at least a full complement of 12 JL-2s are complete and operational,” the report reads. “The PRC’s next-generation Type 096 SSBN, which likely began construction in the early 2020s, will reportedly carry a new type of SLBM. The PLAN is expected to operate the Type 094 and Type 096 SSBNs concurrently and could have up to eight SSBNs by 2030. This would align with Chairman Xi Jinping’s 2018 directive for the SSBN force to achieve ‘stronger growth.’”

The Pentagon report estimates that China will maintain an inventory of 65 to 70 boats in the next decade and swap its aging submarines for newer ones “on a near one-to-one-basis.”

“The PRC continues to increase its inventory of conventional submarines capable of firing advanced anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). Between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, the PLAN purchased 12 Russian-built Kilo-class SSK units, eight of which are capable of launching ASCMs. China’s shipyards have delivered 13 Song class SS (Type 039) and 17 Yuan class diesel-electric (SSPs) (Type 039A/B). The PRC is expected to produce a total of 25 or more Yuan class submarines by 2025,” according to the report.

The report notes that China’s submarine inventory is increasing “modestly as it works to mature its force, integrate new technologies, and expand its shipyards.”

As for its nuclear arsenal, the Defense Department says China probably wants to have 1,000 nuclear warheads by the end of this decade, a projection that surpasses the Pentagon’s last estimation of China’s nuclear development pace.

“Last year, DoD estimated that the PRC had a nuclear warhead stockpile in the low-200s and projected it to at least double over the next decade,” the report reads. “Since then, Beijing has accelerated its nuclear expansion, which may enable the PRC to have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027 and likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030.”

DoD Image

The report specifically notes a recent objective China placed on achieving certain modernizing initiatives by 2027, a target the Pentagon says could have implications for Taiwan.

“If realized, the PLA’s 2027 modernization goals could provide Beijing with more credible military options in a Taiwan contingency,” the report reads.

One of those modernization initiatives covers long-range strike capabilities.

“Throughout 2020, the PLA continued to pursue its ambitious modernization objectives, refine major organizational reforms, and improve its combat readiness in line with those goals,” the report reads. “This includes the PLA developing the capabilities to conduct joint long-range precision strikes across domains, increasingly sophisticated space, counterspace, and cyber capabilities, and accelerating the large-scale expansion of its nuclear forces.”

Report on U.S.-China Competition in East, South China Sea

The following is the Jan. 28, 2021 Congressional Research Service report U.S.-China Strategic Competition in South and East China Seas: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report In an international security environment described as one of renewed great power competition, the South China Sea (SCS) has emerged as an arena of U.S.-China strategic competition. […]

The following is the Jan. 28, 2021 Congressional Research Service report U.S.-China Strategic Competition in South and East China Seas: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

In an international security environment described as one of renewed great power competition, the South China Sea (SCS) has emerged as an arena of U.S.-China strategic competition. U.S.-China strategic competition in the SCS formed an element of the Trump Administration’s confrontational overall approach toward China and its efforts for promoting its construct for the Indo-Pacific region, called the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).

China’s actions in the SCS in recent years—including extensive island-building and base-construction activities at sites that it occupies in the Spratly Islands, as well as actions by its maritime forces to assert China’s claims against competing claims by regional neighbors such as the Philippines and Vietnam—have heightened concerns among U.S. observers that China is gaining effective control of the SCS, an area of strategic, political, and economic importance to the United States and its allies and partners. Actions by China’s maritime forces at the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea (ECS) are another concern for U.S. observers. Chinese domination of China’s near-seas region—meaning the SCS and ECS, along with the Yellow Sea—could substantially affect U.S. strategic, political, and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere.

Potential general U.S. goals for U.S.-China strategic competition in the SCS and ECS include but are not necessarily limited to the following: fulfilling U.S. security commitments in the Western Pacific, including treaty commitments to Japan and the Philippines; maintaining and enhancing the U.S.-led security architecture in the Western Pacific, including U.S. security relationships with treaty allies and partner states; maintaining a regional balance of power favorable to the United States and its allies and partners; defending the principle of peaceful resolution of disputes and resisting the emergence of an alternative “might-makes-right” approach to international affairs; defending the principle of freedom of the seas, also sometimes called freedom of navigation; preventing China from becoming a regional hegemon in East Asia; and pursing these goals as part of a larger U.S. strategy for competing strategically and managing relations with China.

Potential specific U.S. goals for U.S.-China strategic competition in the SCS and ECS include but are not necessarily limited to the following: dissuading China from carrying out additional base-construction activities in the SCS, moving additional military personnel, equipment, and supplies to bases at sites that it occupies in the SCS, initiating island-building or base-construction activities at Scarborough Shoal in the SCS, declaring straight baselines around land features it claims in the SCS, or declaring an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the SCS; and encouraging China to reduce or end operations by its maritime forces at the Senkaku Islands in the ECS, halt actions intended to put pressure against Philippine-occupied sites in the Spratly Islands, provide greater access by Philippine fisherman to waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal or in the Spratly Islands, adopt the U.S./Western definition regarding freedom of the seas, and accept and abide by the July 2016 tribunal award in the SCS arbitration case involving the Philippines and China.

The issue for Congress is whether and how the Biden Administration’s strategy for competing strategically with China in the SCS and ECS will differ from the Trump Administration’s strategy, whether the Biden Administration’s strategy is appropriate and correctly resourced, and whether Congress should approve, reject, or modify the strategy, the level of resources for implementing it, or both.

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Report to Congress on Chinese Naval Modernization

The following is the Jan. 27, 2021 Congressional Research Service Report, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress. From the report In an era of renewed great power competition, China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, has become the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. China’s […]

The following is the Jan. 27, 2021 Congressional Research Service Report, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

In an era of renewed great power competition, China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, has become the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. China’s navy, which China has been steadily modernizing for more than 25 years, since the early to mid-1990s, has become a formidable military force within China’s near-seas region, and it is conducting a growing number of operations in more-distant waters, including the broader waters of the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and waters around Europe.

China’s navy is viewed as posing a major challenge to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain wartime control of blue-water ocean areas in the Western Pacific—the first such challenge the U.S. Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War—and forms a key element of a Chinese challenge to the long-standing status of the United States as the leading military power in the Western Pacific. Some U.S. observers are expressing concern or alarm regarding the pace of China’s naval shipbuilding effort, particularly for building larger surface ships, and resulting trend lines regarding the relative sizes China’s navy and the U.S. Navy.

China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a wide array of ship, aircraft, and weapon acquisition programs, as well as improvements in maintenance and logistics, doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises. China’s navy has currently has certain limitations and weaknesses, and is working to overcome them.

China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is assessed as 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 maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ); for defending China’s commercial sea lines of communication (SLOCs), particularly those linking China to the Persian Gulf; for displacing U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and for asserting China’s status as the leading regional power and a major world power.

Consistent with these goals, observers believe China wants its navy to be capable of acting as part of a Chinese anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) force—a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict in China’s near-seas region over Taiwan or some other issue, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. forces. Additional missions for China’s navy include conducting maritime security (including antipiracy) operations, evacuating Chinese nationals from foreign countries when necessary, and conducting humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR) operations.

The U.S. Navy in recent years has taken a number of actions to counter China’s naval modernization effort. Among other things, the U.S. Navy has shifted a greater percentage of its fleet to the Pacific; assigned its most-capable new ships and aircraft and its best personnel to the Pacific; maintained or increased general presence operations, training and developmental exercises, and engagement and cooperation with allied and other navies in the Indo-Pacific; increased the planned future size of the Navy; initiated, increased, or accelerated numerous programs for developing new military technologies and acquiring new ships, aircraft, unmanned vehicles, and weapons; begun development of new operational concepts (i.e., new ways to employ Navy and Marine Corps forces) for countering Chinese maritime A2/AD forces; and signaled that the Navy in coming years will shift to a more-distributed fleet architecture that will feature a smaller portion of larger ships, a larger portion of smaller ships, and a substantially greater use of unmanned vehicles. The issue for Congress is whether the U.S. Navy is responding appropriately to China’s naval modernization effort.

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Report on U.S.-China Competition in East, South China Sea

The following is the Dec. 17, 2020 Congressional Research Service report U.S.-China Strategic Competition in South and East China Seas: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report In an international security environment described as one of renewed great power competition, the South China Sea (SCS) has emerged as an arena of U.S.-China strategic competition. […]

The following is the Dec. 17, 2020 Congressional Research Service report U.S.-China Strategic Competition in South and East China Seas: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

In an international security environment described as one of renewed great power competition, the South China Sea (SCS) has emerged as an arena of U.S.-China strategic competition. U.S.-China strategic competition in the SCS forms an element of the Trump Administration’s more confrontational overall approach toward China, and of the Administration’s efforts for promoting its construct for the Indo-Pacific region, called the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP).

China’s actions in the SCS in recent years—including extensive island-building and base-construction activities at sites that it occupies in the Spratly Islands, as well as actions by its maritime forces to assert China’s claims against competing claims by regional neighbors such as the Philippines and Vietnam—have heightened concerns among U.S. observers that China is gaining effective control of the SCS, an area of strategic, political, and economic importance to the United States and its allies and partners. Actions by China’s maritime forces at the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea (ECS) are another concern for U.S. observers. Chinese domination of China’s near-seas region—meaning the SCS and ECS, along with the Yellow Sea—could substantially affect U.S. strategic, political, and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific region and elsewhere.

Potential general U.S. goals for U.S.-China strategic competition in the SCS and ECS include but are not necessarily limited to the following: fulfilling U.S. security commitments in the Western Pacific, including treaty commitments to Japan and the Philippines; maintaining and enhancing the U.S.-led security architecture in the Western Pacific, including U.S. security relationships with treaty allies and partner states; maintaining a regional balance of power favorable to the United States and its allies and partners; defending the principle of peaceful resolution of disputes and resisting the emergence of an alternative “might-makes-right” approach to international affairs; defending the principle of freedom of the seas, also sometimes called freedom of navigation; preventing China from becoming a regional hegemon in East Asia; and pursing these goals as part of a larger U.S. strategy for competing strategically and managing relations with China.

Potential specific U.S. goals for U.S.-China strategic competition in the SCS and ECS include but are not necessarily limited to the following: dissuading China from carrying out additional base-construction activities in the SCS, moving additional military personnel, equipment, and supplies to bases at sites that it occupies in the SCS, initiating island-building or base-construction activities at Scarborough Shoal in the SCS, declaring straight baselines around land features it claims in the SCS, or declaring an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the SCS; and encouraging China to reduce or end operations by its maritime forces at the Senkaku Islands in the ECS, halt actions intended to put pressure against Philippine-occupied sites in the Spratly Islands, provide greater access by Philippine fisherman to waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal or in the Spratly Islands, adopt the U.S./Western definition regarding freedom of the seas, and accept and abide by the July 2016 tribunal award in the SCS arbitration case involving the Philippines and China.

The Trump Administration has taken various actions for competing strategically with China in the SCS and ECS. The issue for Congress is whether the Trump Administration’s strategy for competing strategically with China in the SCS and ECS is appropriate and correctly resourced, and whether Congress should approve, reject, or modify the strategy, the level of resources for implementing it, or both.

Download the document here.