By Jonathan Davis
I’ve made the observation recently that the modernization of the Chinese navy appears to mirror that of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the decade before World War II.
A report by Russia Today notes China’s rapid rate of warship construction:
China might soon shift the world naval balance and unseat the US as the modern master of the seas. The process appears to already be under way, and there is little that Washington can do about stopping it.
Visibly shaken by what it has seen on a photo showing just one of China’s military shipyards near Shanghai, the business magazine Forbes recently told its readers an alarming story about the “impressive rate” and “vast scale” of Chinese naval modernization.
The shipyard in question indeed appears to be an impressive sight to behold. There, one can see a total of nine newly constructed destroyers lined along the quay and docked in an inner shipyard basin. By contrast, the entire UK Royal Navy has a total of just six similar-class vessels, Forbes notes.
As if it was not enough, the same shipyard is also building China’s newest aircraft carrier – the third in a row. The second one, called the Shandong, was commissioned by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) earlier this week. Designed to carry 36 J-15 fighter jets, it is China’s first fully domestically produced carrier.
The one under construction at the Shanghai shipyard is expected to be even bigger and better. In particular, it will have an electromagnetic catapult – just like the US Navy’s newest carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford.
The article — remember, this is semi-official Russian media — contains no small amount of propaganda, but the gist of it is correct: Chinese warship construction is continuing at a rapid pace, and these are blue-water naval vessels, not the ‘brown water navy’ types of ships dominating PLAN fleets for decades.
That said, matching U.S. and allied warships vessel for vessel doesn’t necessarily equate into equal combat power.
American and Japanese destroyers, for example, are equipped with the Aegis Combat System, which uses extremely powerful computer and radar technology to guide U.S. weapons to their target. Aegis is the world’s best naval combat system.
Also, current PLAN aircraft carriers are no match for U.S. nuclear-powered carriers. U.S. Navy carriers carry far more planes and a greater variety of aircraft as well. And being nuclear-powered, they have unlimited range, though they must be kept resupplied with food, ordinance, jet fuel, etc.
Finally, the U.S. Navy has been operating as a global force for centuries, while China’s PLAN is essentially just getting started as a global force. In fact, one could reasonable argue that the PLAN isn’t yet a global naval force. The point is, there is no substitution for operational experience.
Still, it’s obvious that the Chinese are attempting to build a naval force capable of not simply challenging the U.S. Navy, but keeping us out of China’s Asian neighborhood if/when Beijing decides to pull the trigger on reunification of Taiwan.
China’s nowhere near there yet, no matter how many warships Beijing is building. But the PLAN is trending in that direction.