Video Above: China's Growing Nuclear Arsenal
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy that the Chinese Navy is larger than the U.S. Navy and potentially surpasses the U.S. in some categories of naval military strength.
“Today, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is the largest fleet in the world, with around 350 ships. For the first time since the defeat of the Soviet Union, we have a strategic competitor with naval capabilities and capacities that rival, and in some areas, surpass, our own,” Del Toro said, according to a transcript of his remarks.
Del Toro specified China’s advancements in cyber capabilities, air-defenses and often talked about weapons ability such as anti-satellite capabilities, anti-ship missiles and new integrated air defenses.
Could the PLA Navy Outmatch U.S. Navy?
While many details about just how advanced China’s weapons are, and how many of them are operational in sufficient numbers are likely not available, many may wonder if the PLA Navy could, in fact, outmatch the U.S. Navy.
“Our job is to preserve the peace by making sure the People’s Republic of China doesn’t gain military leverage over the United States, or our allies and partners,” Del Toro explained.
Just how possible or realistic is this idea of China’s Navy having a tactical and military “overmatch” or superiority compared to the U.S. Navy?
Some of the answers may not be “knowable” in many respects, yet there are some measurable realities which might not guarantee Chinese superiority. One clear fact is the power-projection of the U.S. naval force which operates as many as 10 or more aircraft carriers, whereas China is just now emerging with its second and third. It will take many years for China to have an ability to project forward global power the U.S. can.
Pure ship numbers might not be as critical as the pace of information inflow, sensor and weapons ranges and precision, progress with AI and secure data sharing. The exact extent or capacity of Chinese technological Naval sophistication may not be fully understood or known, yet Del Toro does make a point to highlights well documented technological advancements and even breakthroughs in key weapons development areas such as AI-enabled algorithms, cyber warfare and anti-satellite weapons.
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“We must act with urgency now as we rise to meet these unprecedented challenges. It’s this sense of urgency that’s the driving force behind the strategic guidance that I am about to release this week for the Department of the Navy,” Del Toro said.
Navy Seeks to Track & Counter Chinese Global Expansion
Del Toro said he was not only worried about the size and technological sophistication of the growing Chinese Navy but equally troubled by Beijing’s provocations, aggressive behavior and overall action on the international stage.
“II’s not just ships and weapons that concern me. It’s what Beijing does as it strives to achieve leverage over its competitors. It uses every advantage in a coercive, extractive, and dangerously irresponsible manner,” Del Toro told a group of U.S. Navy Academy midshipmen, according to a transcript of the speech.
He cited the often discussed Chinese expansionist tactics, often using economic influence, predatory lending and various kinds of self-directed investment in key foreign areas such as Africa and South America.
“Beijing uses economic leverage like predatory lending to force governments from Asia to Africa to South America to cede critical infrastructure and natural resources,” Del Toro added.
There is also the growth of China’s international footprint, as the People’s Liberation Army built a large military base in Djibouti, Africa right next to a strategically critical U.S. presence in the region.
A growing Chinese Navy can certainly greatly benefit from the addition of more bases, coastal areas and strategically important areas it can travel to and stop at. Should the Navy be able to dock ships at the Djibouti base, then areas of the Middle East could become increasingly vulnerable to Chinese influence.
Del Toro seemed to specify Chinese aggressive tactics, a circumstance for which there continues to be a lot of evidence. For example, China continues to make very aggressive territorial claims regarding the disputed island chains in the South China Sea, regularly conduct bomber and fighter jet patrols along Japanese and Taiwanese airspace and conduct war preparation exercises such as amphibious assault drills.
Perhaps most of all, China’s increasingly aggressive language on the question of Taiwanese independence has generated the most concern. China continues to clearly assert that Taiwan is part of China and that foreign entities or Western proponents of Taiwanese independence are “playing with fire.”
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.