The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been on a shipbuilding binge, adding 15 surface combatants since the beginning of the year.

On 3 July the PLAN launched two Type 055 guided missile destroyers built by the Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co. shipyard at Dalian to much fanfare, but little attention has been given to the fact that China’s warship production is growing rapidly, reports SouthFront.

The Type 055 DDG is the PLAN’s most powerful surface combatant and the largest surface vessel built in Asia since World War II. But these ships are just one type in a growing fleet of vessels that are adding new power projection capabilities for China.

The three Type 055s added this year (two more are under construction), along with construction on a second aircraft carrier and other surface vessels, highlights China’s increased shipbuilding capacity to produce modern, lethal warships. In addition, the rate China is launching/commissioning warships in and of itself is noteworthy.

Initially, China ordered six of the new DDGs, but SouthFront says the class may expand to eight or even 12.

As for carriers, China is expected to ramp up production in the 2020-2025 period, launching its second carrier — 002/CV-18 — in that timeframe. It’s unclear whether the carrier will launch aircraft using steam or the newer EMALS — electromagnetic aircraft launch system — but it will most definitely be a CATOBAR carrier, whereby planes are launched and recovered using catapults and cables.

“PLAN aviators continue to practice CATOBAR take-off and landings at the Huangdicun Airbase in southern China,” SouthFront notes.

China is also building and operating a significant number of smaller warships — frigates and corvettes — which are primarily designed for coastal defense. But while smaller, they are still heavily armed for their size and would serve as ideal pickets and screening ships to enemy task forces fielding much larger vessels. Also, it’s believed these vessels will begin patrolling waters around China’s manmade South China Sea islands on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef, and Mischief Reef.

Finally, the PLAN is constructing a number of updated, modern ballistic missile and attack submarines, though much secrecy surrounds these programs. Part of the reason why is the facility used to build them.

SouthFront notes: “The Type 095 is being constructed at the new Bohai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Company (BSHIC) submarine manufacturing facility located in Huludao, in the Liaoning province. It is the largest submarine manufacturing facility in the world, with an assembly building measuring some 430,000 square feet (39,948 sq. meters). Completed in 2017, the main assembly hall can accommodate four submarines at any given time. The facility is totally enclosed, and operations cannot be viewed from the air or via satellite surveillance. This also allows manufacturing operations to continue year round regardless of weather conditions. The facility will be used to build all Type 095 SSN and Type 096 SSBN class submarines.”

Analyst comment: In many ways, China’s naval buildup looks a lot like the Japanese Imperial Navy’s buildup in the decades before World War II. Like the Japanese navy, the PLAN is being designed for power projection; the PLAN is no longer just a “brown water” coastal defense force but a “blue water” navy that can operate at greater distances from the Chinese mainland.

As China’s navy continues to expand in terms of surface and undersea combatants, operational capability in terms of at-sea resupply, troop/equipment transport, overall logistics, and ability to operate far from the mainland, it will pose a greater strategic threat to the U.S. Navy by being able to engage in standoff operations — to keep U.S. forces at bay when, say, China decides the time has come to retake Taiwan by force, which remains Beijing’s primary short-term geopolitical objective. 

At present, the U.S. Navy is developing longer-range missiles for aircraft and warships that can outdistance the Chinese, but these will eventually prove to be stopgap measures. The U.S. Navy, in addition to developing a longer reach, will still need to be concerned about other warfighting aspects such as stealth and lethality. And the U.S. Navy can rely upon more than a century’s worth of blue-water tactical and warfighting experience.

That said, Beijing is building a fleet capable of imposing its will when necessary and defending its interests where indicated, on a global scale. 

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