The People’s Liberation Army’s Navy is growing fast but we should expect it to grow even faster. The UK Royal United Services Institute expects China to reach a 500 ship navy.
The 500 warships will include aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, amphibious ships and a burgeoning frigate and destroyer force.
Just in the past three weeks a new destroyer and new corvette have been launched and discussion over new carrier-based aircraft has been increasing. The growth in the PLA(N) force structure has been rapid: indeed it is hard to recall growth at a similar pace in any navy across history.
China’s official defense spending is expected to be $233 billion in 2020, up from $123 billion in 2010, according to a new report by IHS Jane’s.
Against this, the US Navy – still the world’s most powerful naval force – has an aspiration of returning to a force design of around 350 units.
Simultaneous development of floating nuclear power stations, permanent military bases in the South China Sea and the full deployment of the BeiDou satellite navigation system are starting to provide Beijing with a competitive edge in the China Seas.
James Fanell, a US Navy captain who retired in 2015 as the Pacific Fleet’s director of intelligence and information, was succinct in his predictions about the PLAN’s growth over the next 15 years. Like others at the conference, he noted China’s increasing shipbuilding capacity, along with continued improvements in modular construction, the use of robotics and virtual 3D manufacturing, along with the Navy’s growing preference for indigenous designs of improving quality.
“The PLAN will continue to expand for the next 15 years,” he said. Active defense in the near seas will grow, far seas operations will increase, and there will be more goodwill deployments. The Navy will be more capable of fielding surge deployments, carrier strike groups will form and deploy and there will be more ballistic missile submarine patrols.
To accomplish this, Fanell said, the PLAN will grow to include 99 submarines of all types, four aircraft carriers, 102 destroyers and frigates, 26 corvettes, 73 amphibious ships and 111 missile craft.
Fanell predicted, the Chinese Navy of 2030 would comprise 415 ships.