Here’s why China does not have the World's Largest Navy, in any Meaningful Metric

Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Could Have 5 Aircraft Carriers, 10 Ballistic Missile Subs by 2030

By Dario Leone
Aug 23 2022
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The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy possesses the resources to field up to five aircraft carriers and 10 nuclear ballistic missile submarines by 2030.

According to a new think tank report on Beijing’s ongoing military expansion, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) possesses the resources to field up to five aircraft carriers and 10 nuclear ballistic missile submarines by 2030.

As reported by Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s study, “China’s Choices,” “the PLA has the resources necessary to continue its modernization over the 2020s.”

For “China’s Choices,” CSBA assumes, as a starting point, Beijing’s military will grow at a rate of 3 percent above inflation into the early 2030s.

According to USNI News, in explaining the report and how the tool was used, Jack Bianchi, a principal author, said on Aug. 18, 2022 that CSBA was not trying to predict China’s actual defense budget since Beijing is no longer breaking out equipment, training and sustainment and personnel costs in figures it releases.

CSBA also did not try to determine the cost of a frigate or aircraft, but rather looked at the military from a “broad, strategic level,” Bianchi said.

CSBA used using US spending percentages for research and development, procurement, sustainment and disposal of a specific weapon systems and applied those to China.

For the PLAN, this can translate into more frigates, missile-boats and diesel electric submarines that can be used for regional defense as well as pressure Taiwan, as China aims to unite the island with the mainland.

They also looked to cutting the army’s size as a potential bill-payer, as well as ridding the air force of legacy aircraft to modernize, he said.

For power projection far from China’s mainland, the report predicted sufficient funds available for “aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, blue water logistics vessels, strategic bombers, and strategic transport and refueling aircraft” into the 2030s.

Former commander of Indo-Pacific Command retired Adm. Phil Davidson said this fits with Beijing’s “long-range goal to achieve great power status by mid-century.” It also aligns with the Chinese Communist Party’s securing its pre-eminence domestically.

The US retains undersea superiority over China, Davidson said, adding that it is an advantage the country should look to expand.

The Chinese, in the last decade, grew its capabilities of sustaining operations far from the mainland in its operations in the Gulf of Aden, as well as quickly learned how to integrate new capabilities across its joint forces, Bianchi and Davidson noted.

As already reported, a clear photo of People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force’s (PLANAF) J-35 carrier-capable stealth fighter appeared on Chinese social media in July.

Designed by Shenyang, the twin engine aircraft will be flown by the PLANAF from China’s future Type-003 Fujian-class aircraft carriers.

Although most open sources call it “J-35” or “J-XY, the official designation of China’s new twin-engine stealth fighter aircraft is not known yet, some even calls it a variant of the FC-31. A full-size mock-up of the stealth plane first appeared in June 2021 on a full-sized mock-up of a real Chinese Navy aircraft carrier, located at Wuhan land based testing facility.

As told above, the aircraft will be operated from the Type-003 Fujian-class aircraft carriers the first of which was launched in June. The Type-003 is China’s biggest most modern and most powerful aircraft carrier. As reported by News18, at 80,000 tons and 318 meters, the Fujian is named after the Chinese province that sits across from Taiwan.

Unlike Liaoning and Shandong, the other two PLAN aircraft carriers, that feature a ski jump (a ramp at the bow of the ship that helps jets take off from the carrier’s short runway), Fujian is reported to have electromagnetic catapult launch systems (EMALS).

The ski jump launches are extremely restrictive as they impose big constraints on the size, weight and payload of the aircraft being launched. Instead EMALS’ main advantage is that it accelerates the aircraft more smoothly, putting less stress on their airframes. Furthermore, it weighs and costs less and also requires less maintenance than a steam piston-driven system. It also reduces the carrier’s requirement for fresh water, thus reducing the demand for energy-intensive desalination. Most US carriers have steam-driven catapults except the new USS Gerald Ford class.

Clear Photo Of People's Liberation Army Navy Air Force’s J-35 Carrier-Capable Stealth Fighter appears on Chinese social media
PLANAF J-35 carrier-capable stealth fighter

Photo credit: U.S. Navy and Weibo


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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