PLA navy became the largest fleet in the world

Chinese President Xi Jinping at a Navy ceremony. Photo by Xinhua

On September 1, the US Department of Defense published a new report, “Military and Secure Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2020”, dedicated to the defense capabilities of the People’s Republic of China. Along with other topics, the document examines the development of the naval forces. According to American experts, the PLA’s fleet has already become the largest in the world in terms of the number of combat units.

General trends

The report notes that by now the PRC has created a fleet, which includes approx. 350 pennants. This number includes more than 130 ships of the main classes. Such successes are due to the development of the design school and the shipbuilding industry. In terms of tonnage and the number of ships under construction, China now surpasses any other country.

For comparison, the overall performance of the second largest fleet, the US Navy, is given. At the beginning of 2020, there were 293 ships in service. Thus, military shipbuilding has become one of the areas where the PRC equaled or surpassed the United States.

The development of the PLA Navy continues. Its main method is the gradual abandonment of old offshore platforms with limited capabilities in favor of modern multipurpose combat units. To date, the core of the fleet is made up of new-built ships with expanded anti-aircraft, anti-ship and anti-submarine capabilities.

Destroyer “Nanchang” pr. “055”. Photo

In this case, we are talking about the development and construction of ships of all main classes and ranks. At the same time, aircraft carriers, destroyers, landing ships, submarines of various classes, etc. are under construction. Much attention is paid to the development of technologies and the creation of new ship systems for various purposes.

In the recent past, the main goal of the development of the fleet was to ensure maximum combat capability within the nearest seas. The current doctrine provides for further improvement of the Navy for effective work in remote areas.

Underwater priorities

The Pentagon believes that one of the priority areas in the development of the PLA Navy is the development and construction of new submarines. Now the PRC has only four nuclear strategic missile carriers, and two more are under construction. There are also six multipurpose nuclear submarines and 50 diesel-electric ships. It is assumed that until the end of the twenties, the submarine forces will be maintained at the level of 65-70 pennants.

Corvette “Type 056”. Photo Wikimedia Commons

One of the main tasks in the context of submarine forces is the construction and deployment of strategic SSBNs. Type 094 submarines are under construction, capable of carrying 12 JL-2 ballistic missiles. Last year, at the parade in honor of the 70th anniversary of the PRC, a dozen such SLBMs were shown – which indicates the readiness of at least one ammunition for the submarine. Thus, “Type 094” becomes the first full-fledged representative of the maritime component of the strategic “nuclear triad”.

Construction of a new generation SSBN Type 096 is underway. The Pentagon believes that due to this, by 2030, the PLA Navy will have up to eight strategic missile carriers of two projects.

In parallel, the construction of underwater “hunters” with a nuclear or diesel power plant continues. Diesel-electric submarines of pr. “Type 039A / B” are produced in large series. By 2025, their total number will exceed 25. The appearance of an improved multipurpose nuclear submarine “093B” is expected, capable of attacking surface and coastal targets.

Surface achievements

At the end of last year, the first aircraft carrier of its own construction, Shandong, was admitted to the Navy. We have also developed our own project, according to which the next ship is now being built. It will be larger than its predecessors, will receive a flat flight deck and launch catapults. It is expected that such an aircraft carrier will join the ranks of the Navy no later than 2024, and after it new ships will be built.

Strategic missile submarine pr. “094”. Photo US Naval Institute

Ships of other classes are being built at a high rate. So, at the end of 2019, the laying of the sixth Type 055 destroyer took place. The lead ship of this project was handed over to the Navy in January; three more will follow by the end of the year. By the beginning of this year, the construction of the 23rd Type 052D destroyer was launched. In the following months, two more buildings were laid. Construction of a series of 30 Type 054A frigates was completed last year.

Measures are being taken to increase the potential of the Navy in the coastal zone. The main one is the construction of Type 056 (A) corvettes. Of the 70 planned for operation, 42 have been commissioned. Such corvettes are distinguished by their modular architecture and can be equipped with different equipment. In particular, the latest ships of the series are optimized for anti-submarine missions.

The construction of the amphibious fleet continues. In 2020, the introduction of the eighth Type 071 UDC is expected. Also this year, the lead ship, project “075”, launched in 2019, will begin service. Completion of the second UDC of this type has already begun, and the third is also laid. Three ships with a displacement of 40 thousand tons will significantly expand the landing capabilities of the Navy.

Missile potential

The main strike means of the surface forces of the Navy and multipurpose nuclear submarines are cruise missiles of various types. So, on modern low-rank ships and on modernized old ships, YJ-83 missiles with a range of up to 180 km are used. More modern combat units receive YJ-62 products, flying 400 km. Some of the latter ships are equipped with the YJ-12A complex (285 km).

Launching the head UDC “Type 075”, September 2019 Photo of the PLA Navy

The command of the Navy speaks openly about the difficulties with the introduction of long-range missiles. Their use requires special means of reconnaissance and target designation, capable of identifying targets beyond the radio horizon of the carrier’s radar. In this regard, the development of a variety of ship, aviation and satellite systems is required.

The problem of mass character

Pentagon analysts counted in the Chinese Navy approx. 350 warships, boats and submarines of various classes and designs. In terms of the size of the payroll, the Chinese fleet is indeed the largest in the world and surpasses all rival navies, including the American ones. However, such findings from a recent report only take into account quantitative indicators, not qualitative ones.

The most popular model in the PLA Navy is the Type 022 missile boat. The boat has a displacement of only 220 tons and carries eight C-801 missiles with a firing range of less than 200 km. “Type 022” have been under construction since the beginning of the 2000s, and to date, more than 80 units have been delivered to the fleet. Thus, almost a quarter of the payroll of the Navy falls on the “mosquito fleet” of boats of just one project. At the same time, one should not forget about the less massive missile and artillery boats in the amount of several dozen.

UDC pr. “071” accompanied by two boats “Type 022”. Photo US Naval Institute

However, even larger ships – the corvettes of the project “056 (A)”, reached mass production. These ships with a displacement of 1,500 tons and a length of 90 m carry a multipurpose weapon system for work on various purposes. So, the main striking means are YJ-83 missiles in the amount of 4 pieces. The Navy wants to get 70 of these corvettes, and more than half of these plans have already been completed.

We should also recall the 7500-ton Type 052D destroyers, ordered in the amount of 25 units. More than half of such an order was successfully completed, and the ships entered the combat composition of the fleet.

Larger combat units, such as destroyers or UDCs, have to be built in much smaller batches, although they regularly leave the stocks and replenish the Navy. Aircraft carriers, in turn, are “piece goods” and may appear no more often than once every few years. However, such ships are not required in large numbers.

Quantity and quality

The total number of pennants in the PLA Navy is of some interest, but attention should be paid to the trends in the development of the fleet. First of all, the pace and volume of construction attracts attention. The forces of several large factories ensure the parallel production of ships of different types, and annually they hand over up to 12-15 large orders, not counting various boats, auxiliary vessels, etc.

The boat “Type 22” is the most massive model of the Navy. Photo US Naval Institute

Multipurpose destroyers of several types are gradually becoming the backbone of the fleet in quantitative and qualitative terms. With their help, the Navy is able to display the flag at a great distance from the bases and solve combat missions within the close “chains of islands”. Measures are also being taken to develop the aircraft carrier and amphibious fleet, taking into account the basic needs of the Navy and current threats. Construction of a full-fledged naval component of the strategic nuclear forces has begun.

Thus, the Chinese naval forces are gradually becoming one of the key “players” in the region, and only the US Navy can compete with them on an equal footing. China’s shipbuilding plans are scheduled for several years ahead and provide for the further development of the fleet. The growth of its indicators and the expansion of capabilities will affect the military-political situation in the Pacific Ocean. And therefore, the current Pentagon report is unlikely to be the last document with frightening details of the development of the PLA.

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