Why China’s Navy poses a big threat to the United States

Beijing could call up a fleet of 460 ships by 2030 as the battle of the sea lanes escalate

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China’s Navy numbers 355 ships of war, making it the world’s largest maritime force.

Already the sheer scale of Beijing’s military modernization program has created waves in the halls of the Pentagon in the United States. Yet by 2030, that naval figure could rise to 460 vessels, ANI News reported.

The speed of China’s shipbuilding prowess has been staggering. On December 24, three People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, warships put to sea in a single day – a remarkable feat of production.

While two of those were bought by foreign clients, it signaled the rapid evolution of China’s naval forces, Taiwan News reported.

“Sometime between 2015 and 2020, China’s Navy crossed a critical threshold: it fielded more battle force ships than the US, exceeding its American rival. The gap continues to grow rapidly,” The Maritime Executive reported earlier this year.

In contrast, the US Navy has a fleet of 305 ships.

Okinawa Prefecture

“China [also] has two other fleets subordinated to its armed forces: the Coast Guard and Maritime Militia. In total: three sea forces, each the world’s largest numerically, that total over 700 ships even by conservative accounting,” navel website, The Maritime Executive, said.

The number of Chinese shipyards has also rapidly surpassed the US in terms of size and output, with more than 20 military yards and dozens more commercial sites.

Just one day after the three warships were launched, China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier and four other escorts passed through waters between the main island of Okinawa Prefecture and the island of Miyakojima, Japan Times reported at the weekend.

The five vessels sailed north, from the Pacific Ocean to the East China Sea, Japan’s Defense Ministry said.

They were reportedly returning to China after ending a series of exercises, with fighter jets and a helicopter repeatedly practicing landing and take-off protocols from the Liaoning near the Okinawa island of Kitadaitojima.

China’s aircraft carrier the Liaoning during exercises. Photo: PLAN

China has two operational carriers – the Soviet-built and domestically refurbished Liaoning and the first indigenously-constructed ShandongA third carrier, simply known as Type 003, is due to be launched in the coming months.

To combat China’s rise as a major naval power, Japanese and US armed forces announced last week a draft blueprint for joint operations in case of an emergency situation involving Taiwan, according to the Kyodo news agency.

Under the plan, the US Marine Corps would set up temporary bases on the Nansei chain stretching from Kyushu – one of the four main islands of Japan – to Taiwan during the initial stage of a Chinese invasion and would deploy troops, Kyodo said.

The Japanese military would provide logistical support in areas such as intelligence, ammunition, and fuel supplies.

China claims democratic Taiwan as its own “sacred” territory and in the past two years has stepped up military and diplomatic pressure to assert its sovereignty claims. Beijing has also made it clear it would take the island by force if necessary.

Earlier this month, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo and Washington could not stand by if China attacked Taiwan, The Guardian reported.

Military plan

The impetus for the joint military plan is clear. While the PLAN remains concentrated around China and the surrounding region, US Navy task forces are scattered around the globe.

Still, as tension rise in the Indo-Pacific, The Strategist reported this week that Japan may also sell second-hand Oyashio class submarines to Australia. They will act as a stop-gap measure as Canberra awaits its first nuclear submarines as part of the AUKUS partnership with the US.

They are not due to come into service by 2030 at the earliest.

Commissioned between 1998 and 2008, Oyashio class submarines have the range, endurance, and silence-running performance that will allow Australia’s Navy to carry out vital missions.

Before the AUKUS deal earlier this year, Canberra abruptly canceled its contract for diesel subs from France, worth US$66 billion, causing a diplomatic crisis with Paris.

To contain French discontent, President Joe Biden’s administration acknowledged its mistakes in secretive AUKUS negotiations and agreed to “in-depth consultations,” War On The Rocks reported.

A Chinese ship-borne helicopter attached to a frigate flotilla. Photo: chinamil.com.cn

A meeting between Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Group of 20 conference offered a media opportunity to reaffirm the Paris-Washington partnership.

Yet Australia’s decision to shift gears on its submarine technology will have profound ramifications for the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. 

There are key advantages to having nuclear subs in Australia’s fleet. They are able to stay underwater for longer durations than diesel-powered versions. They can also maintain high submerged speeds, with enough fuel to run for years, Modern Diplomacy reported. 

There are 129 indigenously built nuclear-powered subs in the world. They are operated by six nations. The US has a fleet of 68, while Russia has 29, China has 12, and the United Kingdom has 11. France has eight while India has one.

Australia is now poised to join the nuclear sub-club.

Military budget

Amid this military build-up in the region, US officials have described the Indo-Pacific Command as “the single most consequential region for America’s future.” They stressed the need to contain Beijing’s influence by boosting its military presence and strengthening alliances.

On Monday, the White House announced that Biden had signed into law a $777.7 billion US annual military budget weeks after Congress overwhelmingly passed the bill amid protests from progressives and anti-war groups, Al Jazeera reported.

Several US legislators cited countering China as a top priority in the defense budget, formally known as the National Defense Authorization Act.

On the US Navy’s shopping list are two Virginia-class submarines made by Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics, and three DDG 51 Arleigh Burke destroyers also made by General Dynamics, The Daily Mail reported. More will follow.

“The threat that the Chinese military poses is not a distant threat; it’s not something that might happen in 2030, 2035 or sometime in the future,” Republican Senator Jim Inhofe said in April.

“It’s a problem we face today. Right now. It only gets worse over time,” he added.