Congressional report expects China Navy Shipbuilding Technical Proficiency to catch up to Russia by 2020 and the USA by 2030

A 2014 US Congressional report on China’s military capability and production capability provides the following assessment. China’s acquisition of platforms, weapons, and systems has emphasized qualitative improvements, not quantitative growth, and centered on improving its ability to strike opposing ships at sea and operate at greater distances from the Chinese mainland.

China’s power projection capability will grow rapidly between now and 2020 with the addition of up to approximately 60 new submarines and surface ships; China’s first carrier-based aviation wing and second aircraft carrier; and 600 new modern combat aircraft, including China’s first fifth-generation fighters.

Navy Shipbuilding

China’s shipbuilders already have surpassed their counterparts in Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea in terms of the number and types of ships they can produce; China’s shipbuilders could reach the technical proficiency of Russian shipbuilders by 2020 and approach the technical proficiency of U.S. shipbuilders by 2030. China has demonstrated it is capable of manufacturing a wide range of naval combatants, including patrol boats, frigates, destroyers, large amphibious ships, and conventional and nuclear submarines and is developing its first indigenous aircraft carrier. Jesse Karotkin, senior intelligence officer for China at the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), testified to the Commission that ‘‘during 2013 alone, over fifty naval ships were laid down, launched, or commissioned, with a similar number expected in 2014.’

Navy Technology

China is developing its own marine gas turbines and already has produced them domestically for its YUYIclass hovercraft. China likely will develop the ability to mass produce marine gas turbines for larger combatant ships in the next decade. Gas turbines will give PLA Navy ships better acceleration and combat maneuverability than steam turbines that power them today due to their high power-to-weight ratio, speed, fuel efficiency, and compact size. Gas turbines also will allow the PLA Navy to achieve higher readiness rates, because they do not require the start-up time of steam turbines.

From 2000 to June 2014, China’s aggregate number of submarines and surface ships increased slightly from 284 to 290, while its overall capabilities improved significantly as it rapidly replaced legacy platforms with modern ones equipped with advanced, long-range weapon systems and sensors. China’s modern ships also tend to be larger than legacy platforms, allowing them to handle rougher seas, hold more fuel and supplies for long deployments, mount more weapons, and carry larger crews to support a broader set of missions.

As of June 2014, the PLA Navy had 5 nuclear attack submarines (SSNs); 4 nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs); 39 diesel attack submarines (SS); 12 diesel air-independent attack submarines (SSP); 1 aircraft carrier; 24 destroyers (DD) and guided missile destroyers (DDG); 63 frigates (FF), light frigates, and guided-missile frigates (FFG); about 85 missile-equipped patrol craft; and 57 medium and large amphibious ships.

China is pursuing a new class of nuclear attack submarines, the Type 095 SSGN. Although details of the program are unavailable
in open sources, Mr. Karotkin testified to the Commission that the Type 095 may ‘‘provide a generational improvement in many areas such as quieting and weapon capacity’’ and carry the PLA Navy’s first submarine-launched land attack cruise missile.

Furthermore, China is pursuing joint-design and production of four to six Russian advanced diesel-electric attack submarines containing Russia’s latest submarine sonar, propulsion, and quieting technology. The deal would improve the PLA Navy’s capabilities and assist China’s development of quiet submarines, thus complicating future U.S. efforts to track and counter PLA Navy submarines.

China’s expanding inventory of modern submarines has significantly enhanced China’s ability to strike foreign surface ships, including those of the U.S. Navy, near major seas lines of communication in the Asia Pacific