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Report to Congress on Chinese Naval Modernization

The following is the Nov. 10, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is the top focus of U.S. defense planning and budgeting. China’s naval modernization effort has been underway for more than 25 years, since the early to mid-1990s, and has transformed China’s navy into a much more modern and capable force. China’s navy is a formidable military force within China’s near-seas region, and it is conducting a growing number of operations in the broader waters of the Western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and waters around Europe.

China’s navy is, by far, the largest of any country in East Asia, and sometime between 2015 and 2020 it surpassed the U.S. Navy in numbers of battle force ships (meaning the types of ships that count toward the quoted size of the U.S. Navy). DOD states that China’s navy “is the largest navy in the world with a battle force of approximately 355 platforms, including major surface combatants, submarines, aircraft carriers, ocean-going amphibious ships, mine warfare ships, and fleet auxiliaries. This figure does not include 85 patrol combatants and craft that carry anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). The… overall battle force [of China’s navy] is expected to grow to 420 ships by 2025 and 460 ships by 2030.” The U.S. Navy, by comparison, included 294 battle force ships at the end of FY2021, and the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission projects that the Navy will include 290 or 291 battle force ships by the end of FY2030. U.S. military officials and other observers are expressing concern or alarm regarding the pace of China’s naval shipbuilding effort and resulting trend lines regarding the relative sizes and capabilities of China’s navy and the U.S. Navy.

China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a wide array of ship, aircraft, weapon, and C4ISR (command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) acquisition programs, as well as improvements in logistics, doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises. China’s navy has currently has certain limitations and weaknesses, which it is working to overcome.

China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is assessed as being aimed at developing capabilities for, among other things, addressing the situation with Taiwan militarily, if need be; achieving a greater degree of control or domination over China’s near-seas region, particularly the South China Sea; defending China’s commercial sea lines of communication (SLOCs), particularly those linking China to the Persian Gulf; displacing U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and asserting China’s status as the leading regional power and a major world power. Observers believe China wants its navy to be capable of acting as part of an anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) force—a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict in China’s near-seas region over Taiwan or some other issue, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. forces.

The U.S. Navy has taken a number of actions to counter China’s naval modernization effort. Among other things, the U.S. Navy has shifted a greater percentage of its fleet to the Pacific; assigned its most-capable new ships and aircraft to the Pacific; maintained or increased general presence operations, training and developmental exercises, and engagement and cooperation with allied and other navies in the Indo-Pacific; increased the planned future size of the Navy; initiated, increased, or accelerated numerous programs for developing new military technologies and acquiring new ships, aircraft, unmanned vehicles, and weapons; developed new operational concepts for countering Chinese maritime A2/AD forces; and signaled that the Navy in coming years will shift to a more-distributed fleet architecture that will feature a substantially greater use of unmanned vehicles. The issue for Congress is whether to approve, reject, or modify the Biden Administration’s proposed U.S. Navy plans, budgets, and programs for responding to China’s naval modernization effort.

Download the document here.