Battle in high seas: China's navy now numerically largest in the world, US report shows

Updated: Feb 04, 2022, 12:34 PM(IST)

China’s naval modernisation effort encompasses a wide array of platform and weapon acquisition programs, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and submarines.

'China’s navy is by far the largest of any country in east Asia'

A US Congress report said China’s navy is by far the largest of any country in east Asia and within the past few years it has surpassed the US Navy in numbers of battle force ships making China’s navy the numerically largest in the world.

According to the US Department of Defence (DO), “the PLAN is the largest navy in the world with a battle force of approximately 355 platforms, including major surface combatants, submarines, aircraft carriers, ocean-going amphibious ships, mine warfare ships, and fleet auxiliaries. This figure does not include 85 patrol combatants and craft that carry anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). The PLAN’s overall battle force is expected to grow to 420 ships by 2025 and 460 ships by 2030."

DOD in its report said most of the Chinese navy's expansion will be in surface combatants.

China’s naval ships, aircraft, and weapons are now much more modern and capable than they were at the start of the 1990s, the report noted.


China is now a direct threat to US dominance in western pacific

The DOD said China's navy is now "comparable in many respects to those of Western navies". Some US observers have been raising alarm regarding the pace of China’s naval shipbuilding effort and resulting trend lines regarding the relative sizes and capabilities of China’s navy and the U.S. Navy.

The report said China is now a direct threat to US dominance in the blue-water ocean areas in the western Pacific and it is the first such challenge the US Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War.

China’s naval modernisation 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, unmanned vehicles (UVs).


The Nanning

China had unleashed Type 052D guided-missile destroyer, the Nanning amid tensions in South  China with the United States last year.

China's Global Times daily said, "Four-day-long realistic-combat training exercise in the waters in the South China Sea" was conducted by the PLA.

The Chinese navy put the  Chaganhu and Qilianshan, an amphibious dock landing ship as part of the exercise alongside the Nanning.

Report say China's new warship has been commissioned into the PLA Southern Theater Command Navy.

(Photo Courtesy: China military/Global Times)


Anti-stealth radar

The Nanning has a helicopter flight deck and an anti-stealth radar. Reports say China has built three versions of the Type 052D destroyers with "upgraded variations".

The Global Times quoting a Chinese military expert said the destroyer has been "gaining combat capabilities at a rapid speed".

In March, China had displayed the Suzhou which is "an improved version of the Type 052D destroyer", according to Global Times.

The Chinese daily quoting reports said: "At least four of the improved Type 052D destroyers are known to the general public to have entered service, namely the Zibo, the Tangshan, the Huainan and the Suzhou."


Several variants

China's Type 051 destroyer was the first guided-missile destroyer that was built in the 1970s. It has several variants namely Type 051, Type 051D, Type 051DT, Type 051Z, Luda II and Type 051G.

The rapid deployment of destroyers in the South China Sea has not only created tension among the neighbouring countries who also claim islands in the area but has attracted the attention of the US and NATO as China flexes its military muscle in the troubled waters.


Beijing invokes the so-called nine-dash line

Beijing often invokes the so-called nine-dash line to justify its apparent historic rights over most of the South China Sea, and it has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared this assertion to be without basis.

The United States had warned China against what the Philippines and Taiwan see as increasingly aggressive moves, reminding Beijing of Washington's obligations to its partners.

President Joe Biden has vowed a robust defence of allies and, in a rare point of continuity with his predecessor Donald Trump, has supported strong pushback against Chinese assertiveness.


China fielding two types of land-based ballistic missiles

The US report said China's militarisation is increasingly aimed at Taiwan including the South China Sea region and it wants the navy to act as force that can deter US intervention in a conflict in China’s "near-seas region" over Taiwan.

The planned ultimate size and composition of China’s navy is not publicly known, unlike the US, China does not release a navy force-level goal or detailed information about its forces.

The report says China is fielding two types of land-based ballistic missiles with a capability of hitting ships at sea—the DF-21D, a road-mobile anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) with a range of more than 1,500 kilometers.

The DF-26, a road-mobile, multi-role intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with a maximum range of about 4,000 kilometers that DOD says “capable of conducting both conventional and nuclear precision strikes against ground targets as well as conventional strikes against naval targets.”


China might be developing a YJ-18 launcher

In November 2020, reports had claimed test firing of DF-21 and DF-26 ASBMs into the South China which resulted in the missiles successfully hitting a moving target ship south of the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

China’s extensive inventory of anti-ship cruise missiles including both Russian and Chinese-made designs with advanced and highly capable ones, such as the Chinese-made YJ-18.

China might be developing a YJ-18 launcher that can be packaged inside a standard commercial shipping container, for the potential purpose of surreptitiously deploying YJ-18s on merchant ships which could violate the law of naval warfare, the US report said.



China's flying shark

Most of China’s submarines are non-nuclear-powered attack submarines, the report noted, while adding that . China also operates a small number of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and a small number of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs)

China’s newest series-built SS design is the Yuan-class (Type 039) SS, its newest SSN class is the Shang-class (Type 093) SSN and its newest SSBN class is the Jin (Type 094) class SSBN, it said.

The DOD said "the PRC continues to increase its inventory of conventional submarines capable of firing advanced anti-ship cruise missiles." China’s primary carrier-based fighter aircraft is the J-15 or Flying Shark, an aircraft derived from the Russian Su-33 Flanker aircraft design  that can operate from carriers equipped with a ski ramp rather than catapults.


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