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.

Defense Primer: Naval Forces

The following is the Nov. 15, 2022, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Naval Forces. From the report “Naval Forces” Refers to Both the Navy and Marine Corps Although the term naval forces is often used to refer specifically to Navy forces, it more properly refers to both Navy and Marine Corps forces, because both the […]

The following is the Nov. 15, 2022, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Naval Forces.

From the report

“Naval Forces” Refers to Both the Navy and Marine Corps

Although the term naval forces is often used to refer specifically to Navy forces, it more properly refers to both Navy and Marine Corps forces, because both the Navy and Marine Corps are naval services. For further discussion, see CRS In Focus IF10484, Defense Primer: Department of the Navy, by Ronald O’Rourke. For a discussion of the Marine Corps that focuses on its organization as a ground-combat force, see CRS In Focus IF10571, Defense Primer: Organization of U.S. Ground Forces, by Barbara Salazar Torreon and Andrew Feickert.

U.S. Strategy and Naval Forces

U.S. naval forces give the United States the ability to convert the world’s oceans—a global commons that covers more than two-thirds of the planet’s surface—into a medium of maneuver and operations for projecting U.S. power ashore and otherwise defending U.S. interests around the world. The ability to use the world’s oceans in this manner—and to deny other countries the use of the world’s oceans for taking actions against U.S. interests—constitutes an immense asymmetric advantage for the United States.

As discussed elsewhere (see CRS In Focus IF10485, Defense Primer: Geography, Strategy, and U.S. Force Design, by Ronald O’Rourke), the size and composition of U.S. naval forces reflect the position of the United States as a Western Hemisphere power with a goal of preventing the emergence of regional hegemons (and otherwise defending and promoting U.S. interests) in Eurasia. As a result, the U.S. Navy includes significant numbers of aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered attack submarines, large surface combatants, large amphibious ships, and underway replenishment ships.

Navy Ship Types

The Navy’s ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) are dedicated to performing a singular mission of strategic nuclear deterrence. The Navy’s other ships, which are sometimes referred to as the Navy’s general-purpose ships, are generally multimission ships capable of performing a variety of missions other than strategic nuclear deterrence. The principal types of general-purpose ships in the Navy include attack submarines (SSNs); aircraft carriers (CVNs); large surface combatants, meaning cruisers (CGs) and destroyers (DDGs); small surface combatants, meaning frigates (FFGs), Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), mine warfare (MIW) ships, and patrol craft (PCs); amphibious ships, whose primary function is to transport Marines and their equipment and supplies to distant operating areas and support Marine ship-to-shore movements and Marine operations ashore; combat logistics force (CLF) ships, which perform underway replenishment (UNREP) operations, meaning the at-sea resupply of combat ships; and other support ships of various types.

The Navy’s aircraft carriers embark multimission carrier air wings (CVWs) consisting of 60+ aircraft—mostly fixed-wing aircraft, plus a few helicopters. Each CVW typically includes 40 or more strike fighters that are capable of air-to-ground (strike) and air-to-air (fighter) combat operations.

Size of the Navy

The total number of ships in the Navy is a one-dimensional metric that leaves out many other important factors bearing on the Navy’s size and capabilities. Even so, observers often cite the total number of ships in the U.S. Navy as a convenient way of summarizing the Navy’s size and capabilities.

The quoted number of ships in the Navy reflects the battle force ships counting method, which is a set of rules for which ships count (or do not count) toward the quoted number of ships in the Navy. The battle force ships counting method was established in the early 1980s and has been modified by subsequent legislation. Essentially, it includes ships that are readily deployable overseas, and which contribute to the Navy’s overseas combat capability. The Naval History and Heritage Command maintains a database on numbers of ships in the Navy from 1886 to the present. (It is available here: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/us-ship-force-levels.html.) Since this database extends back to 1886, it uses a different counting method that is more suitable for working with older historical data. This alternate counting method, however, produces, for the 1980s onwards, figures for the total size of the Navy that are different than the figures produced by the battle force ships counting method. For this reason, using figures from the NHHC database to quote the current size of the Navy can cause confusion.

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Defense Primer: U.S. Special Operation Forces

The following is the Nov. 21, 2022, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Special Operation Forces. From the report Special Operations Forces (SOF) are those active duty and reserve component forces of the military services designated by the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and specifically selected, organized, trained, and equipped to conduct and support special operations. Special […]

The following is the Nov. 21, 2022, Congressional Research Service, Defense Primer: Special Operation Forces.

From the report

Special Operations Forces (SOF) are those active duty and reserve component forces of the military services designated by the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and specifically selected, organized, trained, and equipped to conduct and support special operations. Special operations frequently require unique modes of employment, tactics, techniques, procedures, and equipment. SOF often conducts special operations in hostile, politically, and/or diplomatically sensitive environments, and are characterized by one or more of the following: time-sensitivity, clandestine or covert nature, low visibility, work with or through indigenous forces, greater requirements for regional orientation and cultural expertise, and a high degree of risk. SOF’s core activities are:

  • Direct action
  • Special reconnaissance
  • Countering weapons of mass destruction
  • Counterterrorism
  • Unconventional warfare
  • Foreign internal defense
  • Security force assistance
  • Hostage rescue and recovery
  • Counterinsurgency
  • Foreign humanitarian assistance
  • Military information support operations
  • Civil affairs operations

Selection of SOF Operational Personnel

SOF operational personnel (often referred to as “operators”) undergo a rigorous screening and selection process characterized by a low selection rate. After selection, they receive mission-specific training to achieve proficiency in a variety of special operations skills. SOF operators tend to be experienced personnel and many maintain competency in more than one military specialty. Selected operators have regional, cultural, and linguistic expertise. Some SOF personnel require highly technical and advanced training for anticipated missions such as Military Freefall training, Combat Diver training, and Sniper training.

Command Structure and Components

In 1986, Congress, concerned about the status of SOF within overall U.S. defense planning and budgeting, passed legislation to strengthen special operations’ position within the defense community and to strengthen interoperability among the branches of U.S. SOF. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 1987 (P.L. 99-661), established an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD (SOLIC)) and a new four-star command to prepare Special Operations Forces (SOF) to carry out assigned missions and, if directed by the President or SECDEF, to plan for and conduct special operations.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD (SOLIC))

The ASD (SOLIC) is the principal civilian advisor to the SECDEF on special operations and low-intensity conflict matters. The ASD (SOLIC) has as their principal duty overall supervision (to include oversight of policy and resources) of special operations and low-intensity conflict activities. The ASD (SOLIC) falls under and reports to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (USD (P)). Congress, wanting ASD (SOLIC) to exercise greater oversight of USSOCOM, enacted Section 922, FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 114-328) to facilitate and resource ASD (SOLIC)’s originally intended Service Secretary-like authorities.

U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)

Activated on April 16, 1987, and headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, USSOCOM is the unified Combatant Command (COCOM) responsible for organizing, training, and equipping all U.S. SOF units. Headquarters, USSOCOM consists of approximately 2,500 military and civilian personnel, and overall, the command has more than 70,000 personnel assigned to its headquarters, its service components, and sub-unified commands. The USSOCOM commander is a four-star general officer from any Service, who reports directly to the SECDEF. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, USSOCOM’s responsibilities were expanded in the 2004 Unified Command Plan (UCP), assigning USSOCOM responsibility for coordinating the Department of Defense (DOD) plans against global terrorism and conducting global operations as directed. Since 2016, USSOCOM has also been assigned the roles coordinating authority over countering violent extremist operations (CVEO) and counter weapons of mass destruction (CWMD) operations.

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Defense Primer: U.S. Defense Appropriations Process

The following is the Nov. 17, 2022, Congressional Research Service Defense Primer: Defense Appropriations Process. From the report The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse in Article I, Section 9, which provides that “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” To fulfill this duty, […]

The following is the Nov. 17, 2022, Congressional Research Service Defense Primer: Defense Appropriations Process.

From the report

The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse in Article I, Section 9, which provides that “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” To fulfill this duty, Congress annually considers appropriations measures, which provide funding for numerous activities—such as national defense, education, and homeland security—consistent with policies and priorities established through various enacted measures, such as the National Defense Authorization Act.

The congressional appropriations process includes various rules and practices that Congress has adopted to distinguish appropriations measures and facilitate their consideration. These measures generally provide funding authority in response to the President’s budget request for a fiscal year (October 1 through September 30).

Committees of Jurisdiction

The House and Senate Committees on Appropriations exercise jurisdiction over annual appropriations measures. Each committee has 12 subcommittees, each of which is responsible for developing one regular annual appropriations bill. These measures determine which department activities will be funded. House and Senate Appropriations subcommittee jurisdictions are generally parallel. The main subcommittees that deal with defense matters are:

    • Subcommittees on Defense, with jurisdiction over appropriations for the Departments of Army, Navy (including the Marine Corps), and Air Force (including the Space Force); the Office of the Secretary of Defense; defense agencies; and intelligence activities.
    • Subcommittees on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, with jurisdiction over appropriations for the Military Construction, Chemical Demilitarization Construction, Military Family Housing Construction and Operation and Maintenance, and Base Realignment and Closure accounts; the NATO Security Investment Program; the Department of Veterans Affairs; and other related agencies.
    • Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, with jurisdiction over all defense-related activities of the Department of Energy, including the National Nuclear Security Administration. This subcommittee also has jurisdiction over the civil works activities of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, among other non-defense activities.

The Congressional Budget Resolution

The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-344) provides for the annual consideration of a concurrent resolution on the budget, which allows Congress to establish overall budgetary and fiscal policy to be implemented through enactment of subsequent legislation. The budget resolution, in part, establishes a limit on total new budget authority and outlay levels divided among 20 functional categories—such as national defense, agriculture, and transportation—that set spending priorities.

Section 302(a) of the Congressional Budget Act requires the total new budget authority and outlays in the budget resolution to be allocated among all committees with spending jurisdiction. This establishes ceilings on spending for legislation reported from each committee that can be enforced procedurally through points of order during consideration of the legislation. All discretionary spending is allocated to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, which are required to subdivide this allocation among their 12 subcommittees under Section 302(b) of the Congressional Budget Act. These suballocations are also enforceable during consideration of legislation, preventing the consideration of amendments that would increase funding above these limits. In the absence of agreement on a budget resolution, the House and Senate may use alternative means to establish enforceable limits.

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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.

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Report on Armed Conflict in Syria and U.S. Response

The following is the Nov. 8, 2020, Congressional Research Service report, Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response. From the report In March 2022, the Syria conflict marked its 11th year. Analysts estimate that the conflict has killed over half a million people (including combatants) and displaced half of Syria’s prewar population. Challenges for […]

The following is the Nov. 8, 2020, Congressional Research Service report, Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response.

From the report

In March 2022, the Syria conflict marked its 11th year. Analysts estimate that the conflict has killed over half a million people (including combatants) and displaced half of Syria’s prewar population. Challenges for U.S. policymakers in Syria include countering groups linked to Al Qaeda, responding to the threat posed by Islamic State (IS/ISIS) remnants and detainees, facilitating humanitarian assistance, and managing Russian and Iranian challenges to U.S. operations.

Conflict Status. In early 2022, United Nations (U.N.) Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen described the conflict in Syria—between the Syrian government and its partners on one side and various opposition and extremist groups on the other side—as a “stalemate,” noting that “militarily, front lines remain unshifted.” Pedersen stated that “any of a number of flashpoints could ignite a broader conflagration.” In 2022, incoming U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General Michael Kurilla stated that the Asad government is “positioned to end the civil war militarily,” but noted that the underlying conditions driving the conflict (including political disenfranchisement, poverty, water scarcity, and economic instability) would likely persist.

Islamic State. Despite the territorial defeat in Syria of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or the Arabic acronym Daesh) in 2019 by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces (known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF), IS fighters continue to operate as an insurgency. The SDF holds roughly 10,000 IS detainees—whom CENTCOM officials have described as “an ISIS army in waiting”—in detention facilities described as “overcrowded, ad-hoc structures that were not built to house detainees.” In January 2022, U.S. air and ground forces in Syria joined Kurdish partner forces in a lengthy battle to retake a prison seized by IS fighters, which renewed concern among policymakers regarding the security of IS detainees in SDF custody.

External Actors. Five countries operate in or maintain military forces in Syria: Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and the United States. U.S. and Russian forces operate in close proximity in northern Syria, and maintain a deconfliction channel to avoid inadvertent conflict between the respective forces. Turkey also maintains forces in northern Syria, at times targeting Kurdish elements of SDF forces that the Turkish government views as terrorists. Israel reportedly conducts regular air strikes inside Syria on Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah targets that the Israeli government views as threats to its security.

Humanitarian Situation. According to the United Nations 2022 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Syria, 14.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, an increase of 1.2 million from 2021. In 2014, the U.N. Security Council authorized the provision of cross-border humanitarian assistance into Syria via four approved crossing points; subsequent Russian vetoes have since reduced the U.N. authorization to a single crossing. In July 2022, the U.N. Security Council renewed its authorization for cross-border assistance into Syria for a period of 6 months, following a Russian veto of a 12-month extension. The new resolution is scheduled to expire on January 10, 2023.

U.S. Policy. Biden Administration officials have stated that the United States seeks a political settlement to the conflict in Syria consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015). U.S. policy priorities in Syria include (1) defeating the Islamic State and Al Qaeda; (2) increasing access to humanitarian aid; (3) reducing violence by maintaining local cease-fires; and (4) promoting accountability for atrocity crimes committed during the course of the conflict.

U.S. Military Presence. Roughly 900 U.S. troops operate in Syria in support of counter-IS operations by local partner forces, as part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). U.S. forces in Syria continue to face threats from Iran-backed militias, which have targeted U.S. positions in the country.

Policy Debates. Policymakers are faced with a number of—at times competing—policy priorities in Syria. The Islamic State seeks to exploit deteriorating economic conditions in the country; however, projects to bolster economic activity in Syria may have the unintended effect of aiding the Asad government. Similarly, policymakers disagree on whether the benefits of efforts to alleviate economic conditions in neighboring Lebanon outweigh the risk that these efforts could benefit Asad. Policymakers also face the additional complications of regional states, including U.S. allies, pursuing their own objectives in Syria, whether in the form of military operations or efforts to normalize diplomatic ties with the Asad government.

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Report to Congress on Great Power Competition

The following is the Nov. 8, 2022 report, Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense— Issues for Congress. From the report The emergence over the past decade of intensified U.S. competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) and the Russian Federation (Russia)—often referred to as great power competition (GPC)—has profoundly changed the […]

The following is the Nov. 8, 2022 report, Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense— Issues for Congress.

From the report

The emergence over the past decade of intensified U.S. competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) and the Russian Federation (Russia)—often referred to as great power competition (GPC)—has profoundly changed the conversation about U.S. defense issues from what it was during the post–Cold War era: Counterterrorist operations and U.S. military operations in the Middle East—which had been more at the center of discussions of U.S. defense issues following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—are now a less-prominent element in the conversation, and the conversation now focuses more on the following elements, all of which relate largely to China and/or Russia:

  • grand strategy and geopolitics as a starting point for discussing U.S. defense issues;
  • the force-planning standard, meaning the number and types of simultaneous or overlapping conflicts or other contingencies that the U.S. military should be sized to be able to conduct—a planning factor that can strongly impact the size of the U.S. defense budget;
  • organizational changes within the Department of Defense (DOD);
  • nuclear weapons, nuclear deterrence, and nuclear arms control;
  • global U.S. military posture;
  • U.S. and allied military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region;
  • U.S. and NATO military capabilities in Europe;
  • new U.S. military service operational concepts;
  • capabilities for conducting so-called high-end conventional warfare;
  • maintaining U.S. superiority in conventional weapon technologies;
  • innovation and speed of U.S. weapon system development and deployment;
  • mobilization capabilities for an extended-length large-scale conflict;
  • supply chain security, meaning awareness and minimization of reliance in U.S. military systems on foreign components, subcomponents, materials, and software; and
  • capabilities for countering so-called hybrid warfare and gray-zone tactics.

The issue for Congress is how U.S. defense planning and budgeting should respond to GPC and whether to approve, reject, or modify the Biden Administration’s defense strategy and proposed funding levels, plans, and programs for addressing GPC. Congress’s decisions on these issues could have significant implications for U.S. defense capabilities and funding requirements and the U.S. defense industrial base.

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Report to Congress on Emerging Military Technologies

The following is the Nov. 1, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, Emerging Military Technologies: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report Members of Congress and Pentagon officials are increasingly focused on developing emerging military technologies to enhance U.S. national security and keep pace with U.S. competitors. The U.S. military has long relied upon technological […]

The following is the Nov. 1, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, Emerging Military Technologies: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

Members of Congress and Pentagon officials are increasingly focused on developing emerging military technologies to enhance U.S. national security and keep pace with U.S. competitors. The U.S. military has long relied upon technological superiority to ensure its dominance in conflict and to underwrite U.S. national security. In recent years, however, technology has both rapidly evolved and rapidly proliferated—largely as a result of advances in the commercial sector. As former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel observed, this development has threatened to erode the United States’ traditional sources of military advantage. The Department of Defense (DOD) has undertaken a number of initiatives to arrest this trend. For example, in 2014, DOD announced the Third Offset Strategy, an effort to exploit emerging technologies for military and security purposes as well as associated strategies, tactics, and concepts of operation. In support of this strategy, DOD established a number of organizations focused on defense innovation, including the Defense Innovation Unit and the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group.

More recently, the 2018 National Defense Strategy echoed the underpinnings of the Third Offset Strategy, noting that U.S. national security will likely be

affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war…. New technologies include advanced computing, “big data” analytics, artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics, directed energy, hypersonics, and biotechnology—the very technologies that ensure we will be able to fight and win the wars of the future.

Similarly, the 2022 National Defense Strategy notes that artificial intelligence, quantum science, autonomy, biotechnology, and space technologies have the potential to change warfighting. The United States is the leader in developing many of these technologies. However, China and Russia—key strategic competitors—are making steady progress in developing advanced military technologies. As these technologies are integrated into foreign and domestic military forces and deployed, they could hold significant implications for the future of international security writ large, and will have to be a significant focus for Congress, both in terms of funding and program oversight.

This report provides an overview of selected emerging military technologies in the United States, China, and Russia:

  • artificial intelligence,
  • lethal autonomous weapons,
  • hypersonic weapons,
  • directed energy weapons,
  • biotechnology, and
  • quantum technology.

It also discusses relevant initiatives within international institutions to monitor or regulate these technologies, considers the potential implications of emerging military technologies for warfighting, and outlines associated issues for Congress. These issues include the level and stability of funding for emerging technologies, the management structure for emerging technologies, the challenges associated with recruiting and retaining technology workers, the acquisitions process for rapidly evolving and dual-use technologies, the protection of emerging technologies from theft and expropriation, and the governance and regulation of emerging technologies. Such issues could hold implications for congressional authorization, appropriation, oversight, and treaty-making.

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Report to Congress on Hypersonic Weapons

The following is the Oct. 27, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, Hypersonic Weapons: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The United States has actively pursued the development of hypersonic weapons—maneuvering weapons that fly at speeds of at least Mach 5—as a part of its conventional prompt global strike program since the early 2000s. […]

The following is the Oct. 27, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, Hypersonic Weapons: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The United States has actively pursued the development of hypersonic weapons—maneuvering weapons that fly at speeds of at least Mach 5—as a part of its conventional prompt global strike program since the early 2000s. In recent years, the United States has focused such efforts on developing hypersonic glide vehicles, which are launched from a rocket before gliding to a target, and hypersonic cruise missiles, which are powered by high-speed, air-breathing engines during flight. As former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Commander of U.S. Strategic Command General John Hyten has stated, these weapons could enable “responsive, long-range, strike options against distant, defended, and/or time-critical threats [such as road-mobile missiles] when other forces are unavailable, denied access, or not preferred.” Critics, on the other hand, contend that hypersonic weapons lack defined mission requirements, contribute little to U.S. military capability, and are unnecessary for deterrence.

Funding for hypersonic weapons has been relatively restrained in the past; however, both the Pentagon and Congress have shown a growing interest in pursuing the development and near-term deployment of hypersonic systems. This is due, in part, to the advances in these technologies in Russia and China, both of which have a number of hypersonic weapons programs and have likely fielded operational hypersonic glide vehicles—potentially armed with nuclear warheads. Most U.S. hypersonic weapons, in contrast to those in Russia and China, are not being designed for use with a nuclear warhead. As a result, U.S. hypersonic weapons will likely require greater accuracy and will be more technically challenging to develop than nuclear-armed Chinese and Russian systems.

The Pentagon’s FY2023 budget request for hypersonic research is $4.7 billion—up from $3.8 billion in the FY2022 request. The Missile Defense Agency additionally requested $225.5 million for hypersonic defense. At present, the Department of Defense (DOD) has not established any programs of record for hypersonic weapons, suggesting that it may not have approved either mission requirements for the systems or long-term funding plans. Indeed, as Principal Director for Hypersonics (Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering) Mike White has stated, DOD has not yet made a decision to acquire hypersonic weapons and is instead developing prototypes to assist in the evaluation of potential weapon system concepts and mission sets.

As Congress reviews the Pentagon’s plans for U.S. hypersonic weapons programs, it might consider questions about the rationale for hypersonic weapons, their expected costs, and their implications for strategic stability and arms control. Potential questions include the following:

  • What mission(s) will hypersonic weapons be used for? Are hypersonic weapons the most cost-effective means of executing these potential missions? How will they be incorporated into joint operational doctrine and concepts?
  • Given the lack of defined mission requirements for hypersonic weapons, how should Congress evaluate funding requests for hypersonic weapons programs or the balance of funding requests for hypersonic weapons programs, enabling technologies, and supporting test infrastructure? Is an acceleration of research on hypersonic weapons, enabling technologies, or hypersonic missile defense options both necessary and technologically feasible?
  • How, if at all, will the fielding of hypersonic weapons affect strategic stability?
  • Is there a need for risk-mitigation measures, such as expanding New START, negotiating new multilateral arms control agreements, or undertaking transparency and confidence-building activities?

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Report to Congress on Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding

The following is the Oct. 20, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The current and planned size and composition of the Navy, the annual rate of Navy ship procurement, the prospective affordability of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans, and the capacity of the […]

The following is the Oct. 20, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The current and planned size and composition of the Navy, the annual rate of Navy ship procurement, the prospective affordability of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans, and the capacity of the U.S. shipbuilding industry to execute the Navy’s shipbuilding plans have been oversight matters for the congressional defense committees for many years.

In December 2016, the Navy released a force-structure goal that calls for achieving and maintaining a fleet of 355 ships of certain types and numbers. The 355-ship goal was made U.S. policy by Section 1025 of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2810/P.L. 115-91 of December 12, 2017). The 355-ship goal predates the Trump and Biden Administrations’ national defense strategies and does not reflect the new fleet architecture (i.e., new mix of ships) that the Navy wants to shift toward in coming years. This new fleet architecture is to feature a smaller proportion of larger ships, a larger proportion of smaller ships, and a new third element of large unmanned vehicles (UVs). The Navy and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been working since 2019 to develop a successor for the 355-ship force-level goal that would reflect current national defense strategy and the new fleet architecture.

The Navy’s FY2023 30-year (FY2023-FY2052) shipbuilding plan, released on April 20, 2022, presents the results of three studies on possibilities for the Navy’s successor force-level goal. These studies call for a future Navy with 321 to 404 manned ships and 45 to 204 large UVs. A long-range Navy shipbuilding document that the Navy released on June 17, 2021, and which reflects some of these studies, outlined a future Navy that would include 321 to 372 manned ships and 77 to 140 large UVs. A congressionally mandated Battle Force Ship Assessment and Requirement (BFSAR) report that reportedly was provided to Congress in July 2022 reportedly calls for a Navy with 373 battle force ships.

The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $27.9 billion in shipbuilding funding for, among other things, the procurement of eight new ships, including two Virginia (SSN-774) class attack submarines, two Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) class destroyers, one Constellation (FFG-62) class frigate, one LPD-17 Flight II class amphibious ship, one John Lewis (TAO-205) class oiler, and one Navajo (TATS-6) class towing, salvage, and rescue ship. The Navy’s FY2023 budget submission shows a ninth ship—the amphibious assault ship LHA-9—as also being requested for procurement in FY2023. Consistent with both prior-year congressional authorization and appropriation action and Section 126 of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 6395/P.L. 116-283 of January 1, 2021), CRS reports on Navy shipbuilding programs, including this report, treat LHA-9 as a ship that Congress procured (i.e., authorized and provided procurement—not advance procurement [AP]—funding for) in FY2021. Navy officials have described the listing of LHA-9 in the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission as a ship being requested for procurement in FY2023 as an oversight. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget also proposes retiring 24 ships, including 9 relatively young Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs).

The FY2023 30-year (FY2023-FY2052) shipbuilding plan released on April 20, 2022, includes three potential 30-year shipbuilding profiles and resulting 30-year force-level projections, referred to as Alternatives 1, 2, and 3. Alternatives 1 and 2 assume no real (i.e., above-inflation) growth in shipbuilding funding beyond the level to be attained over the five-year period FY2023-FY2027, while Alternative 3 assumes some amount of real growth in shipbuilding funds after FY2027. Under Alternative 1, the Navy would reach 300 manned ships in FY2035 and grow to 316 manned ships by FY2052. Under Alternative 2, the Navy would reach 300 manned ships in FY2035 and grow to 327 manned ships by FY2052. Under Alternative 3, the Navy would reach 300 manned ships in FY2033 and grow to 367 manned ships by FY2052.

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