It's Official: China Is the World's Largest Naval Power
In 2000, China’s navy battle force ships numbered 110, compared to the 318 warships in the U.S. Navy. Today, China possesses at least 360 warships in its People’s Liberation Army Navy, most of which are stationed in the South China Sea. The U.S., on the other hand, is struggling to increase its naval force, which lingers at 297 today.
“China's navy battle force has more than tripled in size in only two decades,” read a report by the leaders of the US Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
“Already commanding the world's largest naval force, the People's Republic of China is building modern surface combatants, submarines, aircraft carriers, fighter jets, amphibious assault ships, ballistic nuclear missile submarines, large coast guard cutters, and polar icebreakers at an alarming speed,” it added.
The Naval Today details some of the PLAN’s notable achievements in naval power:
- The commissioning of its first home-built aircraft carrier in late 2019
- A second home-built aircraft carrier is expected in 2024
- The development of its first Renhai-class cruiser in early 2020
- Maintaining 65 to 70 submarines through 2020
- The launch of a second Yushen-class amphibious assault ship in 2020, the first in its class of large-deck amphibious warships.
But according to Nick Childs, a defense analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, numbers alone are not enough to lay claim to the world’s most powerful navy. That title still rightly belongs to the U.S.
Childs tells CNN that the U.S. attack submarine fleet of 50 is entirely nuclear powered, giving it significant range and endurance advantages over the Chinese fleet. Of China’s 62 attack subs, only seven are nuclear-powered.
According to the CNN report, the U.S. Navy still has bigger and heavier armed ships like guided-missile destroyers and cruisers than China. On top of that, the U.S. possesses over 9,000 vertical-launch missile cells on its warships, compared to China's 1,000.
However, the U.S. Navy will have a very difficult challenge in facing China at home—in the South China Sea, where the Chinese keep their fleet of paramilitary ships. These militia ships are lightly armed, but significantly augments China’s formal navy, doubling their strength, according to Childs.
But there is no denying it would only be a matter of time before China catches up to the technology of the U.S. Navy. Right now, China remains the world’s fastest shipbuilder while the U.S. lags behind with debates over military spending and budget cuts.
This has caused the U.S. to rely on its allies for help in containing the military rise of China. The E.U., members of NATO, and a new Indo-Pacific alliance called QUAD, have all shifted some of their focus on China in terms of security issues.
Tensions in the region have also led to new yet unlikely partnerships: India and the Philippines have carried out naval exercises in the West Philippine Sea in August 2021. Earlier in March, the two countries signed a defense procurement agreement, paving the way for the Philippine purchase of India’s famed Brahman missiles.