The Diplomat has an excellent report entitled “Predicting the Chinese Navy of 2030.” It is apparent the Chinese are now building at a rate that exceeds that of the US. They started behind. Already they are the largest navy in the world in terms of numbers of ships. In terms of personnel, it is about 80% the size of the USN. Every year the US margin in both quantity and quality for each type of ship narrows. Plus the US Navy is scattered all over the world while their fleet is concentrated in the Western Pacific, although it appears they will be creating Carrier Strike Groups and Amphibious Ready Groups which will mirror the US Navy’s ability to project power anywhere in the world.
The bottom line projections in the Diplomat article are:
- At least four aircraft carriers (two ski jump, two catapult)
- 16-20 055/A destroyers (12,000 ton category)
- 36-40 052D/E destroyers (7,000 ton category)
- 11 older destroyers
- 40-50 054A/B frigates (4,000-5,000 ton category)
- 12 older frigates
- 60 056/A corvettes
- Anywhere from eight or more SSBNs (including four to five existing SSBNs)
- Anywhere from 16 or more SSNs (including six to eight existing SSNs)
- Approximately 60 SSKs
- At least three 075 LHDs (36,000 ton category)
- At least eight 071 LPDs (25,000 ton category)
- 25 to 30 type 072 LSTs (4,800 tons)
At least some of the approximately 83 Type 022 catamaran missile boats built 2004 to 2011, are likely to be around as well.
For comparison, the current US Navy fleet can be found here. Despite the proclaimed intent of having 355 ships in the US “battle force” actual number (currently about 288 including 60 logistics and support ships) will change only slowly, with most of the changes being in number of small surface combatants (Littoral Combat Ships and Frigates). The number of submarines will actually decline.
Based on the Navy’s “Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year 2019” page 12, table A3-4, the Navy’s 2030 inventory of comparable combatants will be:
- 11 Carriers
- 97 Large surface combatants (CG/DDG)
- 41 Small surface combatants (LCS/FFG)
- 11 Ballistic missile submarines (SSBN)
- 45 Nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN)
- 37 Amphibious assault ships (I think 12 big deck LHA/LHD and 25 LPD/LSD)
To make this clearer I will aggregate the results as fractions with the Chinese numbers on top as the numerator and the USN numbers on the bottom as denominator (Chinese/USN). A + sign is to indicate there may be more.
- 4/11 carriers
- 63/97 to 71/97 large surface combatants
- 112/41 to 122/41 Small surface combatants
- 8+/11 Ballistic missile submarines (SSBN)
- 16+/45 Nuclear powered attack submarines (SSN)
- 60/0 conventionally powered submarines (SSK)
- 3+/12 big deck amphibs (LHA/LHD)
- 8+/25 medium amphibs (LPD/LSD)
- 25-30/0 smaller amphibious assault ships (LST)
The size of the Chinese submarine fleet may not increase, it is already more numerous than the US fleet, but the increasing quality, including more SSNs is troubling.
Unless the US increases its warship construction rate, the comparison for 2040 will look much worse. Equipping modern Coast Guard vessels for naval missions as part of the “National Fleet” could make a huge difference in any future conflict.