China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is the largest in the world and is continuing to grow rapidly, according to a new Pentagon report released Tuesday.
China’s PLAN overtook the U.S. Navy in 2019, leading with 300 ships to 287 by the U.S. at the time, according to the Pentagon’s 2019 report on China. The latest annual Pentagon report for 2020 notes China has continued to grow its lead, with 350 active ships to 293 for the U.S., as of early 2020.
“The PRC has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants. In comparison, the U.S. Navy’s battle force is approximately 293 ships as of early 2020,” the Pentagon report states.
The new Pentagon report states, “China is the top ship-producing nation in the world by tonnage and is increasing its shipbuilding capacity and capability for all naval classes.”
Chad Sbragia, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for China previewed the Pentagon report during a meeting of the American Enterprise Institute on Monday. In his remarks, Sbragia said China is set to have 360 ships in its fleet by the end of 2020.
While China does lead in the sheer numbers and tonnage of their ships, the U.S. does have 11 aircraft carriers. The U.S. also has eight Wasp-class and two Wasp-class amphibious assault ships, which can be used to launch helicopters and are being considered as potential “Lightning Carriers” capable of carrying the Short Take-Off Verticle Landing (STOVL) capable F-35c joint strike fighters. As of December of 2019, China had one aircraft carrier in service, with the second projected to be operational by 2024, according to the Pentagon report.
The report also highlighted other findings regarding China’s continued military expansion. The report projected China will at least double the size of its nuclear arsenal within the decade, from the low 200s to around 400 nuclear warheads.
The report also found China has continued to grow its arsenal of ballistic and ground-launched cruise missiles to 1,250 and has expanded its air defense systems with Russian S-400 and S-300 missile defense systems and other domestically-produced systems.
The report did note that while China is continuing to grow its arsenal, the PLA still faces shortcomings in terms of its military doctrine. The report goes on to say Chinese leaders “are aware of these problems, and their strategy envisions the PLA undergoing almost 30 more years of modernization and reform.”
The report says that China plans to modernize its military theory by 2035 and to fully transform China’s military units into a “world-class forces” by 2049.