A new study finds that the Chinese Navy may overtake the US Navy within 15 years as global superpower.
On November 28th, the Asia Times published an article by Peter J. Brown, which mostly cites an essay written by Boston College Political Science Professor Robert Ross, an expert on Chinese defense and security policy, which appeared in the influential Lawfare blog on November 18th.
It is titled “The End of US Naval Dominance in Asia,” and claims that the US Navy is not receiving enough funding and requires more so as to secure its position as the world’s dominant naval power.
“The rapid rise of the Chinese Navy has challenged US maritime dominance throughout East Asian waters,” Ross writes. “The US, though, has not been able to fund a robust shipbuilding plan that could maintain the regional security order and compete effectively with China’s naval build-up. The resulting transformation of the balance of power has led to fundamental changes in US acquisitions and defense strategy. Nonetheless, the US has yet to come to terms with its diminished influence in East Asia.”
Ross also stated that China’s fleet will soon outnumber the US one, and it will also be more modern. “From 2017 to 2018, for example, as China’s Navy grew from 328 to 350 ships, more than 70% were of the latest designs – up from 50% in 2010, based on a RAND Corp study.”
“China is the largest ship-producing country in the world and at current production rates could soon operate 400 (naval) ships. It commissions nearly three submarines each year, and in two years will have more than 70 in its fleet. The Chinese Navy also operates growing numbers of cruisers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes, all equipped with long-range anti-ship cruise missiles. Between 2013 and 2016, China commissioned more than 30 modern corvettes. At current rates, China could have 430 surface ships and 100 submarines within the next 15 years,” the essay reads.
Ross reiterates that currently the US Navy retains its maritime superiority in East Asia, however the trend is not so optimistic. “In 12 years, the active US naval fleet will decline to 237 ships and in six years, the US submarine fleet will decline to 48 boats, according to Ross’ data.”
“Both the navy and the White House have pushed to grow the US fleet, but budgets have not kept pace with their plans,” Ross writes. “In 2015, the navy planned to increase the fleet to 308 ships by 2022, and the Trump administration plans a 355-ship navy. To reach 308 ships, the navy will have to spend 36% more than the average shipbuilding budget over the past 30 years, requiring a one-third increase in its current budget.”
Ross concluded that there is a necessity for a large increase in budget, however it is unlikely that one would be provided.
“If funding continues at the same average maintained for the last three decades, the US Navy will likely purchase 75 fewer ships than planned over the next three decades. To reach a fleet of 355 ships, the navy will need a budget 80% higher than the average shipbuilding budget over the past 30 years, and approximately 50% more than the average budget of the past six years,” Ross found.
Ross also focused on the apparent reluctance or maybe even inability of the US Navy to address the situation it faces. Furthermore, he claimed that strained relationships with traditional allies in East and Southeast Asia are becoming more apparent.
“Developments in the maritime balance have weakened the confidence of East Asian countries in the ability of the United States to fulfill its security commitments and they are improving security cooperation with China,” Ross said.
He also cited Seoul’s recent steps to “calm” China over the deployment of a Theater High-Altitude Terminal Air Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea.
“South Korea recently reached an agreement with China to limit missile-defense cooperation with the US and security cooperation with the US-Japan alliance.”
Furthermore, South Korea appeared to be improving its relationship with the North, with Chinese assistance and despite opposition by the US.
There appear to be signs of insecurity among the US ASEAN partners. Furthermore, ASEAN countries appear to be improving relations with Russia and China.
“The Philippines has reduced the scale of its defense cooperation with the United States and improved security ties with China. Beijing now constrains Vietnamese defense cooperation with the US, as well. And China and Malaysia have begun joint military exercises and Malaysia has not supported US policy on Chinese claims in the South China Sea,” writes Ross.
In November 2018, “the [US] Navy carried out its largest-ever exercise with Japan,” Ross says, and goes on to add a cautionary note:
“But increased up-tempo US naval presence in East Asia without the requisite underlying naval capabilities to contend with China’s rise will neither constrain China’s naval activism nor reassure US Allies.”
Meanwhile, China is working on its third aircraft carrier, in addition to unmanned radar and optical monitoring stations are being established in the South China Sea. Artificial Intelligence submarines are also in development, in addition to the unmanned missile boat which was unveiled in early November.
On November 20th, Defense One reported that Western observers likely underestimated the number of Chinese nuclear submarines in development. They have, however, overestimated how many are operational, according to an analysis by Catherine Dill and Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
It appears that only half of China’s nuclear-armed SSBNs appear to be in operation. Photos of the Bohai Shipyard and the Longpo Naval Facility produced by Planet Labs suggest that “China does not yet have a credible sea-based deterrent,” Dill said. Two of China’s four JIN (or 094)-class subs “appear to not be in operation and are undergoing maintenance or repairs at the Bohai shipyard, suggesting to us that credibility is still in question.”
That is in contrast to the Defense Department’s 2018 China Military Report and CSIS’s Chinapower group, both of which claim China had four operational 094-class submarines.
Dill and Lewish also discovered that China had one more nuclear submarine in development than was previously believed. There were three at Longpo and two at the Bohai shipyard, suggesting that China is well on its way to meeting its goal of eight.
“China is continuing to modernize its nuclear weapons program, broadly,” Dill said. “There’s a big emphasis on the SSBN program because all of their deliverable nuclear weapons are on land-based systems. Expanding into these SSBNs gives China more flexibly and credibility.”
Thus, it appears that China’s constant reported progress may actually put the country ahead, amid the US military’s constant need for more and more money for some of their “money pit” projects.