China’s Navy in the 2020s will have a lot of modern subs, carriers and sea bases

China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a wide array of platform and weapon acquisition programs, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), submarines, surface ships, aircraft, and supporting C4ISR (command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems. China’s naval modernization effort also includes improvements in maintenance and logistics, doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises.

A congressional research service report reviews the situation. The report uses the term China’s near-seas region to refer to the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea—the waters enclosed by the so-called first island chain. The so-called second island chain encloses both these waters and the Philippine Sea that is situated between the Philippines and Guam.

China’s military (including naval) modernization effort has been underway for more than 25 years. China’s effort kicked into high gear after watching the US crush the Iraq forces in the 1991 Desert Storm war and after a 1996 incident where the US forced China to backdown over Taiwan.

China’s naval modernization effort had been focused on modernization and capability improvement. China has begun to also put some focus on quantity.

Some key areas of naval quantity:

* Ballistic missile submarines Through 2008, China had only one ballistic missile submarine. By 2016, that figure had grown to four.
* Aircraft carriers. Until 2012, China had no aircraft carriers. China’s first carrier entered service in 2012. China is building one or two additional carriers, and observers speculate China may eventually field a total force of four to six carriers.
* Corvettes (i.e., light frigates). Until 2014, China had no corvettes. Since then, China has built corvettes at a rapid rate, and at least 31
had entered service as of early 2017, with some observers projecting an eventual force of more than 60

Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBMs) and Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs)

China is fielding an ASBM, referred to as the DF-21D, that is a theater-range ballistic missile equipped with a maneuverable reentry vehicle (MaRV) designed to moving hit ships at sea. A second type of Chinese theater-range ballistic missile, the DF-26, may also have an anti-ship capability.

DF-26 has a reported range of 1,800 miles to 2,500 miles, or more than twice the reported range of the DF-21D. The DF-21D’s warhead apparently uses a combination of radar and optical sensors to find the target and make final guidance updates…. Finally, it uses a high explosive, or a radio frequency or cluster warhead that at a minimum can achieve a mission kill.

China reportedly is developing a hypersonic glide vehicle that, if incorporated into Chinese ASBMs, could make Chinese ASBMs more difficult to intercept.


Many scientists from Los Alamos have returned to Chinese universities and research institutes that people have dubbed them the “Los Alamos club”.

A recent breakthrough allowed them to predict the turbulence generated by a submarine more quickly and accurately. The technology will allow China to build quieter submarines and better detect foreign ones.

By 2020, China should have 70-80 modern submarines.

Aircraft Carrier

China’sfirst aircraft carrier entered service in 2012. China’s second aircraft carrier (and its first indigenously built carrier) was launched in April 2017. China may have begun construction on a third aircraft carrier. Observers speculate China may eventually field a force of four to six aircraft carriers.

China’s third and subsequent carriers may use catapults rather than ski ramps, and that at least some of them might be nuclear-powered rather than conventionally powered.

A March 29, 2017, press report states that that China’s third carrier, referred to as the Type 002 design, “has been under construction at the Jiangnan Changxingdao shipyard in Shanghai since March 2015. It is expected to be launched [i.e, put into the water for the final stages of construction] in about 2021. It is reported to be much bigger and likely nuclear powered.

China reportedly is building or preparing to build one or more large floating sea bases. The bases are referred to in press reports as very large floating structures (VLFSs). They are broadly similar in appearance to a concept known as the Mobile Offshore Base (MOB) that U.S. defense planners considered at one point years ago. VLFSs could be used for supporting operations by aircraft and surface ships and craft.

Two Chinese companies are to build 3.2 kilometer [2-mile] long platforms that could host airstrips, docks, helipads, barracks, or even “comprehensive security bases”.