The most worrying thing about the Chinese Navy is that by 2030, it is likely to develop a surface combatant fleet of more than 450 and 1,109 submarines.

illustration: Chinamil
illustration: Chinamil

The ambitious scenarios of the Chinese Navy

In a recent article published in the Sunday Guardian, Captain James E. Fanell, former Director of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet Intelligence and Information Campaign, made a terrible prediction: By 2030, the Chinese Navy will be able to rise to the forefront, and by 2049 these forces will occupy the dominant position in the world.

James Fanell wrote: “After 20 years of transformation, the PLA Navy operates around the world from the Baltic to the South Pacific and from the Arctic to the Antarctic.”

According to James Fanell, PLAN is now no longer concerned about the shortage of warships but more focused on developing aircraft carriers and Landing helicopter assault (LHA) such as Type 075.

The most worrying thing in James Fanell’s prediction is that by 2030, PLAN will be able to develop a surface combatant force of more than 450 and a submarine force of 1,109.

That figure is 10% higher than Fanell’s previous forecast for 2015. The goal of China is to increase its naval presence globally, first in the Indian Ocean and then beyond.

Liaoning aircraft carrier combat group of the Chinese Navy. Photo: Cimsec
Liaoning aircraft carrier combat group of the Chinese Navy. Photo: Cimsec

A number of goals set by China have come true as the PLAN is constantly expanding its first military base at Djibouti on the Red Sea coast.

This base is located near the US Navy Expeditionary Base. China invested US $ 590 million in 2017. Although Djibouti is only one of the very small countries in Africa, it has become an important strategic partner of Beijing.

James Fanell is not the only one who expressed concern at China’s naval expansion. Last month, a research report by the US Congress said that Beijing’s naval modernization programs were very worrying.

The report specifically highlights plans that China is actively pursuing, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), submarines and surface warships, unmanned submersibles, and C4ISR systems (command, control, information, computers, intelligence and reconnaissance).

Has the dream of ocean hegemony come true?

Although the above information is worrying, according to Peter Suciu of the National Interest (USA), Beijing is also facing very serious problems.

First, China’s naval modernization program is far more complex than merely pure growth in numbers. In addition, the corruption that is raging at the country’s shipyards is very serious.

The more money China spends on shipbuilding, the higher the chance of corruption for officials. Will Beijing solve the problem thoroughly?

Conventional Song Class submarines of PLAN. Photo: CNC
Conventional Song Class submarines of PLAN. Photo: CNC

Second, history has shown a number of lessons. The Royal Navy had previously adopted a strategy called the “standard of two great powers”, whereby they had to maintain the number of warships at least equal to the power of their two adjacent naval forces. At that time it was France and Russia.

This requirement became a real problem when the Royal Navy embarked on the construction of the HMS Dreadnought, reducing investment in other classes of warships. As a result, Britain lost its advantage over other naval powers.

For China, if Beijing wants to gain a naval dominance, it must be able to launch and maintain more aircraft carriers than the number 11 the U.S. Navy currently operates.

Not to mention that China has to compete with other navies such as Britain, France or Australia. Once NATO exists, the problem with China is not only 11 US aircraft carriers but also all other allied countries.

As such, let China pour money into developing a navy if it sees it as an option. However, maintaining it, combining with dealing with corruption as well as ambition to try to create a “multinational standard”, the results may not be like what China bet.


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