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Reports: China to have more subs than US by 2030

Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type-39B submarine. (Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/U.S. Navy)
December 15, 2020

China is on track to have more submarines than the U.S. Navy by 2030, according to a March Congressional report. Popular Mechanics mechanics noted the Congressional report in a Monday article, pointing out that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is on track to have 76 submarines by 2030.

The March Congressional report states the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) “projects that China’s submarine force will grow from a total of 66 boats (4 SSBNs, 7 SSNs, and 55 SSs) in 2020 to 76 boats (8 SSBNs, 13 SSNs, and 55 SSs) in 2030.” Popular Mechanics reported that over the same time, the size of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force will actually drop from 68 submarines to 66.

According to a new U.S. Navy projection of long-term fleet construction, three additional U.S. submarines will be produced per year past the 2026 fiscal year. Though the Navy plans to build new subs, it is also set to decommission 13 submarines by 2026, creating a period where the U.S. will be losing submarines faster than it adds them at some point between 2025 and 2030, Naval News reported.

China’s growing submarine force comes in addition to its overall navy force, which surpassed the U.S. fleet in 2019 with its 300 active warships of any type to the 287 warships that the U.S. had at the time. According to a September Pentagon report, China continued to grow its lead over the U.S., with 350 warships of any type in 2020, compared to 293 for the U.S.

The change over the next decade would see the size of the U.S. Navy’s submarine force coming in at third place behind China’s PLAN and even North Korea’s navy. The exact number of submarines North Korea possesses is not clear, but a 2010 BBC report estimated North Korea has about 70 submarines, including 20 1950’s era Romeo class submarines, 40 1990s era Sang-O class submarines and 10 midget submarines of various classes, including the Yeono class(130 tons).

While China is growing its submarine force in terms of sheer numbers, the quality of its submarines is also improving. According to Popular Mechanics, in 1993, the Chinese submarine force consisted of 47 submarines, including what it reported as “one marginally useful Xia-class ballistic missile submarine, just five noisy Han-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, 34 1950s-era Romeo-class diesel-electric submarines, and six older Ming-class submarines.”

“Simply put, China’s submarine force wasn’t terribly useful and was, at best, a coastal defense force,” Popular Mechanics wrote of China’s 1990’s era submarine force. “Now, after 27 years of double-digit defense spending increases, China’s sub fleet is a different beast altogether.”

Popular Mechanics reported that by 2019, all four of China’s ballistic missile submarines and all six nuclear attack submarines are new types and 42 of its 50 diesel-electric submarines are also newer Russian Kilo-class and Chinese Yuan-class submarines.

In addition to expanding its submarine fleet size, China intends to replace eight of its remaining older Ming-class submarines and possibly two more older models of Russia’s Kilo-class submarines that China purchased in the late 1990s.

The current U.S. submarine force consists of some improved 1980s and 1990s-built Los Angeles-class submarines, three Seawolf-class attack submarines, 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, and 19 Virginia-class attack submarines.