The Chinese Navy is progressing 7 times faster than the US Navy, and this worries American admirals

For almost ten years, Western specialists in the Chinese Navy have been warning about the immense progress made by the Chinese naval industry, both in terms of quality and quantity of ships produced.

This concern has, for several years, been regularly taken up by the American chiefs of staff, in charge of this theater, while they observe, year after year, the balance of power gradually being reversed in the largest theater. naval aviation of the planet, and that the American options to contain it, are less and less numerous. To the point that we can ask ourselves, today, if facing the United States, China has not obtained, today, a situation of strategic surprise?

15 large Chinese surface units against 2 for the US Navy in 2023

On the occasion of his hearing by the Senate, on February 1, to take the position of commander in chief of the Indo-Pacific theater, the most important American operational post, with that of SACEUR who commands NATO, theAdmiral Samuel Paparo Jr painted a more worrying picture, but not surprising, of the evolution of the balance of power against the Navy of the People's Liberation Army.

Type 055 Heavy Destroyer
The Chinese Navy is using 8 Type 055 heavy destroyers, while the construction of a second batch of 8 new ships has started.

To raise the problem, the current Head of the Indo-Pacific Fleet recalled that in 2023, the Chinese Navy had admitted to service fifteen large surface units, cruisers (in fact Type 055 heavy destroyers), destroyers (Type 052DL) , and frigates (Type 054A), where the US Navy admitted to service only two Arleigh Burke destroyers, the USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee and the A.S.S. Jack H. Lucas.

It will be the same in 2024, with two new Burkes for the US Navy, the USS John Basilone and, perhaps, the USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr., while the Chinese Navy should receive around ten destroyers, including the first Type 055 from the second production batch, as well as Type 054A and B frigates.

« We're not overwhelmed, but I don't like the pace of the trajectory. ", added Admiral Paparo, even if he declared himself convinced that the American forces still had the advantage over their Chinese counterparts. The fact is, facing the Senate, to take command of the Indo-Pacific, expressing more concerns would certainly have been suicidal for the American admiral.

The comparative trajectory of the Chinese Navy vs. US Navy worries the head of the American Pacific Fleet

The comparative trajectory regarding the number of ships available between the two fleets, in fact, is something to worry American strategists, for many reasons. The US Navy still has a clear advantage in terms of tonnage, its surface units being larger and better armed than the vast majority of Chinese ships, but also in the field of nuclear attack submarines, six times more numerous, and naval aviation, amphibious and power projection forces.

SSn Virginia class
The US Navy wants to increase the production of nuclear submarines to 3 ships per year, two SSNs and one SSBN, to meet the Chinese challenge.

However, the production of large surface units, the Type 055 heavy destroyers of 11 tons, and the Type 000DL anti-aircraft destroyers of 052 tons, will allow the Chinese Navy to compete on par with the US Navy, and even exceed it within four years.

In the field of nuclear attack submarines, such as aircraft carriers, it will certainly take more than a decade, perhaps two, for Beijing to come into line with the capabilities available to the US Navy, its 48 SSN Virginia, Sea Wolf and Los Angeles, and its 11 Nimitz and Ford class nuclear aircraft carriers, especially as the latter aims to bring its fleet to 65 SSNs and 12 aircraft carriers.

However, in these areas, the probable zone of engagement, around Taiwan, and within the second circle of islands surrounding the South China Sea, tends to moderate the American advantage, by allowing the fifty or so Chinese Type 039 and 636 conventional attack submarines, as well as land-based Chinese air forces, to compensate for this theoretical disadvantage. This is especially true as Beijing is making significant efforts to produce new large naval ships, as well as new generation nuclear-powered attack submarines.

The question of training and hardening of Chinese crews remains raised

As Admiral Paparo recalled during his hearing, the American forces can still rely on experience and hardening significantly greater than those of the Chinese forces, particularly in the joint aero-naval and amphibious cooperative space. Indeed, the American armies have extensive experience of this type of engagement, which they have been able to use in combat on several occasions in recent decades.

Liaoning aircraft carrier
The two Chinese aircraft carriers currently in service, the Liaoning and the Shandong, have allowed the Chinese Navy, and its naval aviation, to learn to use this type of means.

The Chinese Navy, for its part, has never conducted a long-range power projection operation, whatever the environment. It also carried out, last year, the first exercise of this type, mobilizing for the occasion only a Type 075 helicopter carrier, escort units and a large logistics ship, i.e. a rather limited force. .

Above all, the rapid growth of the format of the Chinese Navy is certainly not without posing significant problems, in order to constitute the required crews, while respecting the essential pyramid of ages, ranks and skills, which make up the The effectiveness of a ship in combat, at least as much as the systems it can carry.

However, the Chinese naval staff is not unaware of these aspects. Thus, all Chinese military naval units participate, each year, in several major exercises, including at least one with live ammunition firing, at a rate significantly higher than that practiced by Western navies, including the US Navy.

In fact, the lack of seasoning of Chinese crews will only constitute a handicap for a few more years, as long as the growth of the format represents a relatively large share of the fleet. Within 4 or 5 years, around 2028 or 2029, it is likely that the vast majority of these problems will be resolved.

The globalization of the US Navy works against it in the Pacific

Added to this already more than worrying picture is an aggravating factor concerning the evolution of the balance of power in the Pacific. Indeed, where the Chinese Navy concentrates most of its naval forces in the Indo-Pacific zone, and more particularly within the second circle of islands surrounding its coasts, the US Navy, for its part, is forced to deploy its fleet in several theaters.

USS Eisenhower Gulf of Aden
The dispersal of the American fleet, like here the USS Eisenhower in the Gulf of Aden, deprives the US navy of half of its fleet in the Pacific facing China.

Thus, to respond to the rise in tensions with Russia, the US Navy dispatched new destroyers to Europe, and more particularly to Rota, in Spain, and to Naples, in Italy. In addition to these European deployments, there are now significant ones in the Middle East, in the Red Sea, in the Persian Gulf and in the Gulf of Aden, against the Houthis and IRAN.

In this context, the theoretical balance of power, obtained by comparing the inventories of the two navies, has little meaning, unless we consider that the US Navy leaves all secondary spaces, creating a potential draft that could lead to the emergence of new tensions, even new conflicts, in these regions.

Furthermore, if the United States has powerful regional allies, such as Japan and South Korea, there is no guarantee that they will decide to intervene in support of the United States, to counter a Chinese offensive on Taiwan.

For Seoul, such a hypothesis, synonymous with a concentration of American resources around the autonomous island, could encourage Pyongyang to launch a military operation against its neighbor. There is no doubt that in such a case, the South Korean armies will want to concentrate all their available means to dissuade Kim Jong Un from acting in this way.

If Japan also has a powerful navy and an important air force, it is very unlikely that Tokyo will decide to intervene alongside the United States to, for example, break a Chinese blockade.

Such a decision would, in fact, be unconstitutional in Japan, while the Japanese self-defense forces can only be used in the event of an offensive against its own territory. As for Australia, it is simply too far away, and has far too limited means, to restore the regional balance of power.

anthony albanese Joe Biden Rishi Sunak San diego AUKUS SSN
Antony Albanese, Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak at the SSN-AUKUS program announcement in San Diego. Many voices have since been raised to question the sustainability of this plan.

Let us also remember that China could certainly count on the support of Russia and the significant Pacific Fleet. Indeed, Moscow would surely not let such an opportunity pass to strengthen its ties with its powerful neighbor, and to create an alliance that would be just as, if not even more, beneficial to it on the Western front.

The planned, but uncertain, increase in US shipbuilding and the bunkerization of Guam

To meet this most difficult challenge, the US Navy has developed a plan based on two main components. The first, which constitutes a short-term response, is based on a considerable strengthening of the defenses of the joint base of Guam.

This will be equipped with reinforced anti-aircraft and anti-missile capabilities, consisting, in addition to the SM-2, SM-3 and SM-6 systems of US Navy destroyers and cruisers, of THAAD, Patriot systems and one of the two Iron Dome batteries acquired from Israel, to contain a possible preventive Chinese attack combining drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, making this base certainly the best protected infrastructure in the Pacific, perhaps on the planet.

Guam naval base
The Guam naval and air base will be equipped with one of the densest anti-aircraft, anti-missile and anti-drone defenses on the planet.

Above all, the US Navy plans to increase the production of its naval units in the years to come, to increase from 1,5 to 2 destroyers delivered per year, to which will be added one to two frigates, perhaps four, if a second shipyard were to be activated for this mission. It would be the same in the field of submarines, with the objective of producing, by 2026, 2 Virginia-class SSNs (2,3 considering the 3 ships to be delivered to Australia), and 1 SSBN class Columbia, each year, compared to 1 SSN today.

The fact remains that this very ambitious plan, which provides for the recruitment of more than 300 people by American shipyards, is being called into question by a growing number of think tanks and organizations independent of Congress, deeming it overly optimistic, while these same shipyards Today, naval vessels are unable to ensure the promised delivery rates due to lack of manpower.

Has China achieved strategic surprise in the Pacific?

We see, from the above, that the situation is now excessively complex for the American forces, and the US Navy in particular, facing the Chinese Navy, in the Pacific. The situation today is far from favorable, even if, through its naval experience and the composition of its fleet, the US Navy can still claim certain operational advantages that can compensate for its numerical inferiority.

Above all, as Admiral Samuel Paparo Jr indicated during his hearing, the trajectory in which the Americans and Chinese are engaged seems far from being to the advantage of the first. Indeed, not only is it heading, today, towards a clear imbalance in favor of the Chinese Navy, at least within a radius of 3000 km around the country's coasts, but also, while the United States- United do not seem to be able to reverse this trend, neither industrially nor militarily, based on their strengths alone.

LHD Type 075
Chinese shipyards deliver, on average, one large aero-amphibious ship, helicopter carrier, assault ship or aircraft carrier, each year.

Obviously, today, Beijing has obtained a real strategic surprise over Washington, since the latter is without a solution, to prevent the deterioration of the balance of power in the years to come, to the point, certainly, of no longer being able to dissuade China from carrying out an operation against Taiwan by the end of the decade.

The only alternative for Washington, in order to meet the Chinese challenge, would be to bring the full weight of its armed forces to bear on this single theater. To do this, it would be necessary for the United States to agree to transfer certain areas of responsibilities to its allies, in particular to the Europeans, notably in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and for the latter to accept the challenge and put themselves into action. situation to raise it.

However, nothing indicates, today, that this could be the case, the Europeans being, never again, fed on American strategic protection, which Washington largely exploits to its advantage. By wanting to win on all counts, it could well be that the United States ends up losing on most of them, taking with them, and with their guilty complicity, a good part of the West, Europe understood.

Article from February 5 in full version until July 18, 2024

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