Seaborne commerce is an essential part of Chinese trade. According to recent Chinese statistics published in the 2010 China’s Ocean Development Report, ocean commerce in 2008 alone represented 9.87 percent of China’s gross domestic product, with a valuation of nearly 3 trillion RMB (approximately $456 billion). Moreover, some 85 percent of its international trade moves by the sea lanes.
China became the world’s largest shipbuilder in 2010, eclipsing long-time leader South Korea; “China built ships with a total deadweight capacity of 65.6 million tons, accounting for 43 percent of the deadweight capacity of ships built in the world.” Chinese shipbuilders are not simply servicing Chinese companies, however. In 2010, Chinese shipyards also captured a majority of new orders for ships worldwide.
China has continued to produce missile-armed fast attack craft, however. The most numerous single ship class has been the Type 022 Houbei missile-armed catamaran. The PLAN has deployed over 60 of these 022s since 2007. These vessels, carrying the sea-skimming YJ-82 supersonic anti-ship cruise missile, are far more capable than the vessels they are replacing.
China has reduced the number of larger combatants in its navy, choosing instead platforms with much greater individual capabilities. The Type-052C Luyang-II destroyer, for example, is equipped with a phased-array radar for its HQ-9 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. The HQ-9 is believed to be comparable to early-model Patriot missiles with its ability to combat most air-breathing systems and a limited anti-ballistic missile capability. Similarly, the Type 054A Jiangkai-II frigate is equipped with the HQ-16 SAM system, which is much more effective than previous Chinese naval air defense systems.
China has been building only a handful of each new class of destroyer and frigate (typically, between two and four). It is quite possible that the Chinese have been using each new class as an opportunity to test different weapons and electronics suites, as well as to improve habitability, until they find an optimal design for larger-scale production.
China has consistently fielded between 50 and 60 diesel-electric submarines, but has been swapping out older subs with newer subs.
China will likely first build two non-nuclear medium-sized carriers similar to the 50,000-ton ex-Soviet/Ukrainian Project 1143.5 carrier Varyag being rebuilt in Dalian Harbor. These carriers started initial construction in 2009. Beginning in 2020 or soon after, two 60,000-plus-ton nuclear-powered carriers would follow, based on plans for the Soviet-designed but never built Project 1143.7 Ulyanovsk class
The PLA is also building escort ships for its carrier fleet. In the autumn of 2009 it appeared that two Chinese shipyards were building two new destroyer classes, but their configurations and equipment are not apparent. The PLA is expected to build up to 18 modern Type-065A air-defense frigates. Two new Type-093 nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) have been built, and a more capable Type-095 SSN is expected.
China is taking rapid strides towards creating a network of reconnaissance satellites that could enable it to perfect a ballistic missile capable of sinking American nuclear supercarriers at long range, a report has claimed.
Tokyo has reaffirmed its plan for a 2014 first flight of its experimental Mitsubishi ATD-X Shinshin stealth demonstrator, while it also considers three fighters for its F-X requirement. Tokyo expects proposals to be submitted by the end of September. The defence ministry said it will request that funds for the F-X purchase be appropriated for FY2012, with the aim of inducting the aircraft in 2016.
The longer-term outlook for the F-35 is uncertain. Its costly capabilities are intended to make it effective against the air defences of a sophisticated enemy, such as China. But the growing vulnerability of American aircraft carriers to Chinese missiles will mean operating from well beyond the F-35’s 600-mile (1,000km) range.
Some military strategists already think that the job the F-35 is meant to do can be better handled by cruise missiles and remotely piloted drones. In many roles, unmanned planes are more efficient: they carry neither a bulky pilot nor the kit that keeps him alive, which means they can both turn faster and be stealthier. And if they are shot down, no one dies. Even the F-35’s champions concede that it will probably be the last manned strike fighter aircraft the West will build.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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