During the past 15 years, China’s ambitious naval modernization has produced a more technologically advanced and flexible force. The PLA(N) currently possesses more than 300 surface combatants, submarines, amphibious ships, and missile-armed patrol craft. Although the overall order-of-battle has remained relatively constant in recent years, the PLA(N) is rapidly retiring legacy combatants in favor of larger, multi-mission ships, equipped with advanced antiship, antiair, and antisubmarine weapons and sensors. Since 2000, the PLA(N) has been on track to dramatically increase its combat capability by 2020 through rapid acquisition and improved operational proficiency.
During 2014 alone, more than 60 naval ships and craft were laid down, launched, or commissioned, with a similar number expected through the end of 2015.
The JIANGKAI-class (Type 054A) frigate series, LUYANG-class (Type 052B/C/D) destroyer series, and the upcoming new cruiser (Type 055) class are considered to be modern and capable designs that are comparable in many respects to the most modern Western warships.
By 2020 the submarine force will likely grow to more than 70 submarines.
The YUAN SSP is China’s most modern conventionally powered submarine. Twelve are currently in service, with as many as eight more slated for production. Its combat capability is comparable to the SONG SS, as both are capable of launching Chinese-built ASCMs, but the YUAN SSP has the added benefit of an air independent power (AIP) system and may have incorporated quieting technology from the Russian-designed KILO SS. The AIP system provides a submarine a source of power other than battery or diesel engines while the vessel still submerged, increasing its underwater endurance, and therefore reducing its vulnerability to detection.
Perhaps the most anticipated development in China’s submarine force is the expected operational deployment of the JIN-class SSBN, which will mark China’s first credible at-sea second-strike nuclear capability. The JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM), has nearly three times the range of the XIA-class SSBN’s JL-1 SLBM, which was only able to range targets in the immediate vicinity of China. The JL-2 SLBM underwent successful testing in 2012 and is likely ready to enter the force.