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.
Using the its computer assisted Strategic Choices Tool, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s study, “China’s Choices,” found, “the PLA has the resources necessary to continue its modernization over the 2020s,” according to the report.
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 the tool’s model.
In explaining the report and how the tool was used, Jack Bianchi, a principal author, said Thursday 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 U.S. spending percentages for research and development, procurement, sustainment and disposal of a specific weapon systems and applied those to China.
For the Peoples Liberation Army Navy, 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.
“The teams [in their exercises] wanted to develop force structure for regional concerns,” Bianchi said.
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 United States 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.
Bianchi said the CSBA analytical tool tool can be applied to all domains including cyber, space and electro-magnetic warfare.
In addition, he said Chinese expanding nuclear capabilities – to include non-strategic uses – should be more fully explored in the future.
CSBA’s tool can be used in presenting other alternatives and has additional uses in investment and strategy to counter China, Davidson said.
He added its flexibility also means the tool can be applied to improve wargaming. Examples he used for changed circumstances important in gaming included the impact of COVID-19 on global economies, food shortages created by war as is happening in Ukraine, whether President Xi Jin-ping secures a fourth term in 2027 and Chinese acceptance of continued high military spending.