Kimppis on Chinese Naval Power

This is a very good summary and syncs with how I view things.

To be fair, I respect Mr. Martyanov’s views and also read his blog regularly. It’s true as well that China’s SSN fleet remains a relative weakness, so even in my opinion he’s certainly correct there to an extent. However, I do think he hugely exaggerates those issues for several reasons.

For one thing, as Anatoly and others have already mentioned, it really doesn’t matter that much around the First Island Chain. Many people also don’t seem to know that China’s has by far the largest MODERN diesel sub fleet in the world. Modern Chinese surface combatants have proper ASW capabilities as well. Modern frigates and corvettes are being introduced in huge numbers. The less known Y-8Q maritime patrol aircraft, China’s answer to P-3 Orion and P-8 Poseidon is finally in active service, too.

This weird notion that “China still won’t have modern nuclear submarines by the year 3000” is just part of the overall “China can’t into (military) tech” meme, which still somehow keeps living on. Martyanov thinks that China is not even close to solving its remaining technological bottlenecks. I, on the other hand, argue that the Chinese are close, and that those issues will have been solved by 2025, or even more likely, a few years earlier.

In this context, I feel it’s important to mention China’s progress in aircraft engines. The “anti-Chinese” narrative here is very similar to the submarine one, but it’s possibly even more clearly false, as China isn’t quite as secretive about that sector, and/or the progress is more difficult to hide, for obvious reason. Many seem to simply think that China has not made major advancements in the field. Some even keep suggesting that the relatively slow progress is somehow indicative of some inherent racial/ideological limitations. But how is that really different from the development of basically most/all other countries and their aerospace sectors? Also several countries have actually successfully developed modern fighters, but without domestic engines to power them.

The meme that all (or almost all) Chinese military aircraft are supposedly equipped with Russian engines isn’t true at all. AFAIK, most, if not all J-series Flankers have Chinese engines (the backbone of China’s fighter fleet, hundreds of modern aircraft) and that the Chinese have already tested domestic engines on the 5th-gen J-20, so in reality China hasn’t been one of those aforementioned countries for some time. Russia remains only modestly ahead of China, maybe only by 5 years. 2025!

I also want to point out once more that China has already introduced improved variants of the Type 093 SSN years ago and that Russia has a single (I think?) post-Soviet SSN (Yasen) in active service. Now, it’s of course true that Russia needs a blue water navy and SLOCs much less than China and that upgraded “Soviet-era” boats remain very capable, but considering the fact that even the US Navy is still mostly equipped with “Soviet-era” boomers, it’s very debatable overall how “shitty” the Type 093 actually even is. Certainly the gap between the upgraded variants vs. both the NEWEST Russian and the US subs shouldn’t be more than “a generation.” Type 093 was China’s equivalent Los Angeles class, and the (soon!) upcoming Type 095 will be China’s answer to Virginia and Seawolf, as well as the Type 052D of Chinese nuclear attack subs. That’s it. This isn’t that complicated.

Your assessment might be even more “ambitious” than mine lol, though I certainly agree with 95% of it and I was going to post something similar (“fake edit”: I guess I did it anyway…).

Some additional points:

Yes, Type 055s are certainly “cruisers” according to the current American definition.

The “last” 4 carriers (by around 2030) will almost certainly be EMALS-equipped supercarriers.

Then there’s the relatively little known Type 075 class “large helicopter carriers,” or LHDs. I haven’t been following its progress recently, and to my surprise (actually, not really at this point) China is apparently building 3 (!! Jesus…) such ships simultaneously, at least according to some sources and English Wikipedia (so might still easily be BS). If true, you can probably add six 40,000 ton Type 075s to the list. And a reminder: only the US Navy is equipped with similarly large LHDs currently.

The current rate of 5 destroyers per year sounds insane, and I think something like 3-4 -> 60-80% of the US Navy by 2030 might be more realistic, though probably still more than enough in most scenarios, considering US “overextension.” That said, I think 5 is actually doable for China, and it would make a lot of sense. And of course China has a very large number of modern frigates and corvettes, whereas the US Navy is very top-heavy, an issue it’s trying to solve with the LCS program.

I can still remember all those not-so-old predictions from informed China watchers, maybe from 5-10 years ago. Back then most expected maybe 30 destroyers by 2030…

Overall it must be concluded that China’s declarations about acquiring a “world class navy by 2050” are basically a joke at this point. But even then the uniformed Western media seemed to take them kind of seriously lol. That combined with some unhealthy dose of wishful thinking. “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.” It still works.


  1. prime noticer says

    they can steal most of what they need, so yeah.

    would be nice to just be able to continuously just steal our next 20 years of technology from aliens from some other planet, never having to think much, just copying a steady supply of other people’s stuff, every decade waiting to see what the aliens come up with, then copying that.

    so the chinese are much, much less impressive.

    having said that, it’s still happening. and they have trillion dollar budgets and a billion person population, so if they want a big military to rival the US, in size and scope anyway, if perhaps not capability, then yeah, they can build that.

  2. prime noticer says

    i’m always under the impression what matters here is nuclear submarines, and missiles. so those are what you want to be the best at. the surface fleet being less important. it has functions, but less so in a serious conflict with a real opponent. it’s main function is normal day to day operations and controlling blue water, or engaging weaker opponents with few or no submarines.

    i haven’t been paying much attention to railguns. my basic rule of thumb as always is that the chinese are just copying, then pushing a little further, beyond what the west thought was safe or realistic at the time. i doubt they are anywhere ahead in railguns. but, maybe they are slightly ahead. that is to say, still nowhere near fielding anything serious. but less further away from nothing.

    there’s 20 techs in modern military engineering, you can’t be ahead in everything all at the same time. same thing as universities. your university can’t have the leading department in the nation in every field. sometimes you’re gonna have to accept that ohio state has a better department and cutting edge thinkers in field x, and MIT doesn’t and is behind those guys.

    the soviets, and later, the russians, clearly thought a lot of the same things, and focused on missiles, to great effect. they had better missiles than the US for some things starting in 1957 or so, and have a similar advantage today. a lot of defense development starts on the premise of what you need. so one country might really need something that another country doesn’t need as much of.

    the israelis have some of the best infantry and armor stuff in the world for small time battles, because they fight constant infantry and armor battles. things which big militaries don’t need, so they don’t have it. but they largely came up with a lot of that stuff on their own. similar to south africa, which had to develop it’s own defense industry. now they, were really impressive. there’s like 5 million europeans total in south africa and they were able to build and manufacture tons of in house developed defense industry stuff.

  3. prime noticer says

    can anybody inform on the prospects of satellites rendering the oceans ‘transparent’. something i heard about from time to time. the ability to have sensors which detect thru the water, from the top down, so that essentially you can see the positions of all submarines in the world’s oceans, as long as you have eyes on.

    is this realistic. how far away is this.

  4. I see these kind of discussions all over the internet, the thing is how can these navies actually be used? Any conflict between China and USA will quickly escalate to full nuclear war, so having some naval battles seems like a pointless exercise when most your population has been wiped out.

  5. reiner Tor says

    This is about quality. The Japanese have little hope to match the Chinese Navy in quantity.

    (Apparently a few years ago they stopped using the name PLAN in English language texts and now refer to it simply as the Chinese Navy.)

  6. reiner Tor says

    Any conflict between China and USA will quickly escalate to full nuclear war

    Or maybe it will not. Starting the nukes is a pretty momentous decision, and it’s not at all impossible to imagine a scenario where they won’t do that. China certainly has no intention of using nukes first.

  7. America will use nuclear weapons, I have zero doubts about that. China would probably also use them, I don’t think their principles of no first use will still apply should their fleets start sinking.

  8. Quality trumps quantity. Always has. Or else why did a handful of British rule Asia.

    This is, of course, a heretical position on this blog. Where numbers explain everything. Which is why insects are the true rulers of this earth.

  9. I don’t foresee the US maintaining all three parts of the triad by the time of the “war window” around 2030. One of the three is going to be shut down, probably the silo-based ICBMs which are the oldest and the replacement is only on the drawing board, ideally we negotiate a new arms treaty. Submarines and bomber construction generate far more jobs and political visibility. The new submarine and new bomber already have contracts awarded.

    The flashpoint of a war is either Taiwan/North Korea/ South China Sea.

    If the “sink 2 carriers” threat is viable, the US will not survive the war, it will rip itself apart.

  10. It’s more efficient to steal when you are behind.

    Of course this becomes less true with every year now, so China is beginning to innovate a lot more as well (>50% of US level on The Nature Index as of 2018).

  11. It would make sense for China to be ahead in precisely those areas that are newest, since (by definition) it would not have had to do “catching up” there.

    E.g. China has infamously struggled with fighter engines, but its drones are top notch.

  12. This was a late Soviet technology. Good writeup:

    Obviously no clue to what extent it is effective.

  13. prime noticer says

    there was a lot to read on satellite detection of submarines. though it appears it may be possible, in a limited way, for a few submarines at a time. that seems moderately useful. but it’s not close to some true form of ocean penetrating sensor. which may not be possible. electromagnetic radiation can only penetrate so much water.

    it could become a race between depth of detection versus depth of the submarine. to avoid satellite detection with really good sensors, submarines for war may have to be built to go further down than they do today. similar idea with the bomber era between 1945 and 1960. just fly so high that no fighter aircraft can get there. but there was a practical limit – eventually missiles could get there.

    or it may not be possible to completely hide the submarine at all due to factors that you can’t get around. if you have to move something as huge as a submarine thru the water, that creates a wake thousands of meters wide, and there may be no way to hide that. then the limiting factor is how many eyes you have, how much of the ocean can you scan, how many subs can you track. similar problem for radar. it could even become an AI problem. scan the entire ocean, pick the signal out of the noise. where is the sub?

    not so sure about being able to follow them via satellite then hitting them via ICBM. what is the current russian accuracy capability for that? i’m sure if the MIRV (do they even have a lot of MIRV capable missiles) was accurate, the blast of a 1 MT device would be enough. submarines for war can only go down like 1500 feet. they are not designed for serious depth. so the nuclear device would be able to get them, just from blast alone. you have to be willing to cross the fusion device barrier to do that though. is it possible to develop a chemical explosive payload that can get them? accuracy once they were in the water would have to be really high. it would change from a missile to a torpedo.

    then again for subs that are not moving, they would be the hardest to detect. maybe heat would be the only way? reactors or hulls could probably be altered to radiate less heat.

  14. prime noticer says

    what are the prospects for robot submarines. something with a nuclear reactor for a heart, and a supercomputer for a brain.

    i always envisioned something like that for a tank. but now i think a submarine makes more sense. automonous air vehicles are much less difficult than ground vehicles due to there being not much in the air. water vehicles would be somewhere in between i imagine?

    for submarine detection, what are the prospects of having thousands of small drone sensor detector submarines just fan out in an area? or, launching air drones to the surface, where they can break the surface, then fly upwards several miles, and look down from their current position, with the same submarine detection sensors that the soviets were ostensibly using for their satellite submarine detection.

    isn’t this what US carriers do? minus the submarine detection. this is just for BVR eyes on the surface.

  15. prime noticer says

    also, didn’t china recently complete construction of an enormous ELF transmitter. supposedly so they could communicate with their subs almost anywhere? please advise. and how this compares to US capability.

    sorry for spanming thread.

  16. reiner Tor says

    This must also be the reason why the qualitatively better (better trained, with better morale, and at least on the Eastern Front better quality weapons), but numerically inferior (with fewer weapons and supplies) Germans won WW2.

  17. bob sykes says

    The important issue regarding the Chinese navy is that it is concentrated in the China Seas, whereas the American navy is spread all over the planet. Thus, the Chinese can achieve local naval superiority with a smaller fleet. They might already have done so.

  18. reiner Tor says

    We don’t know. I very strongly believe that the chances of any military confrontation going nuclear are very high. But it’s nowhere near a certainty.

  19. Thanks!

    I’d like to make a correction regarding the Type 075 helicopter carriers. After doing some additional browsing on the subject after a hiatus, it seems China has in fact “merely” ordered 3 LHDs, which is, to be sure, quite different from having all three under construction simultaneously.

    There’s little info available though, so we’ll see. And I think my main point still stands, as that is still a major development and it’s likely that China will churn them out in numbers during the next decade, so a fleet of 4-6 such vessels by 2030 is probably on the cards.

    To my surprise, I also learned that the PLAN might have stopped ordering new frigates. There were signs of this earlier, but on the other hand, rumours (and/or fanfiction) about the succeeding Type 054B/Type 057 have been around for years as well. That would leave China with 30 Type 054A frigates, plus potentially some additional older ships, which of course is still a large number.

    However, this could suggest that the size of PLAN’s frigate fleet won’t actually grow in numbers, and that China is focusing even more on destroyer build-up and blue water operations. I think most PLA watchers didn’t expect this outcome even a few years ago. That said, considering the overall level of OPSEC, nothing’s ever certain.

    Regarding Japan, it doesn’t really have any surface combatants that are fully 1:1 comparable to the Type 055-class. Even looking at the overall inventory, if any quality gap remains past 2020, it will have to be (very) small. This isn’t 2012 anymore, we’re far past that. And as mentioned by reiner Tor, the gap in quantity will only keep growing bigger. A quick glance at JMSDF’s OOB is easily misleading, as most Japanese “destroyers” (in English translations) are actually frigates.

    Lastly, while Japan’s diesel sub fleet is very respectable, for blue water operations it obviously doesn’t have any nuclear subs at all. China also has more than twice as many modern SSKs in service already.

    I was going to recommend the PLA Real Talk blog, but the site seems to be (permanently?) offline. Sad! It was a great resource.

  20. last straw says

    I suspect that in the Taiwan scenario, U.S. submarines will have little advantage because the First Island Chain will be under thorough monitoring by China’s SOSUS system.

    The meme that all (or almost all) Chinese military aircraft are supposedly equipped with Russian engines isn’t true at all. AFAIK, most, if not all J-series Flankers have Chinese engines (the backbone of China’s fighter fleet, hundreds of modern aircraft) and that the Chinese have already tested domestic engines on the 5th-gen J-20, so in reality China hasn’t been one of those aforementioned countries for some time. Russia remains only modestly ahead of China, maybe only by 5 years. 2025!

    I think the reverse is true. Most Chinese fighters and bombers still use Russian engines. However, I agree the situation will change in 5-10 years.

  21. I suspect that in the Taiwan scenario, U.S. submarines will have little advantage because the First Island Chain will be under thorough monitoring by China’s SOSUS system.

    True, but its status seems to be unclear still. I’d imagine things will look quite different in 2025, though.

    The number of available US submarines in the Taiwan scenario would also be quite limited, especially at the early stages of the conflict, made worse (for the US) by the fact that Taiwan’s own submarine capability is pretty much non-existent. And they would have to face the very large Chinese SSK fleet.

    I think the reverse is true. Most Chinese fighters and bombers still use Russian engines. However, I agree the situation will change in 5-10 years.

    I could have phrased that better. I agree, it’s absolutely true that most Chinese aircraft still use Russian engines. But my main point was that domestic engines are also widely in use already and that China is making rapid progress.

  22. I was going to recommend the PLA Real Talk blog, but the site seems to be (permanently?) offline. Sad! It was a great resource.


    Finally, this will likely be the last post I make on this blog, as I will not be renewing the hosting for this domain when it expires later this year. This is partly because I want to put more focus on my real life studies which are very much not related to military or geopolitical affairs. That said my posts on this website have been pretty intermittent over the last few years.

    I will however still be active on the various forums and sites (including Reddit) that I currently frequent. I just can’t be bothered writing up big original pieces anymore.

  23. Godfree Roberts says

    Can you provide us with substantive proof–not allegations–that China has stolen significant technology from anyone?

    And as to ‘a big military to rival the US,..if perhaps not capability’, what military ‘capability has the US demonstrated in the past 50 years other than killing civilians and losing wars?

  24. Thorfinnsson says

    Why can’t you take your own side?

    A relevant example for this topic would be China’s unlicensed production of the Su-27 as the Shenyang J-11.

    The US military is certainly overrated, but Desert Storm caused both Russia and China to alter their military thinking and procurement in response.

  25. Godfree Roberts says

    “China’s unlicensed production of the Su-27 as the Shenyang J-11.”?

    Says who?

    Every competent military makes adjustments after significant battles and wars just as every competent football coach makes adjustments after watching rivals play.

    I don’t take my own side because my own side is losing and I want to draw attention to that fact. Our military losses, though huge, are surpassed by our economic losses and our human rights losses and our credibility losses.

    Because we are not permitted to know about our rivals’ successes we are much further behind them than we realize

    If we don’t examine our own situation dispassionately we’ll be irrelevant in under ten years when, btw, China’s economy will be more than twice as big as ours. Fleets win battles but economies win wars.

  26. “Quality trumps quantity”

    That’s what Hitler would have said

  27. “Sink 2 carriers”

    With hypersonic manuverable anti-ship missiles, how about sink all surface ships in 2 hours.

  28. Quantum computing and encryption, for example

  29. We are approaching real-time coverage of the ocean’s surface. Makes me wonder if a nuclear detonation in space would be an effective countermeasure or not. A lot of the stuff is pretty low – don’t know if that would hinder it or not, but I wouldn’t guess most of it is particularly well-shielded.

    If nuclear weapons are ever used in a war, the first place might be space. Space launch sites and rocket factories might be next. But that would be supposing a very restrained model of exchange, and, I for one believe in the idea of nuclear peace, so see war as unlikely.

  30. Passer by says

    Guys (Martyanov, Karlin, Kimppis), when you make projections about military power for the 2040s you never mention US debts levels, or the IQ levels of future soldiers.

    How the fuck will the US be able to compete with China under such massive debt levels and with IQ of its population dropping? It is simply impossible.

    The US is projected (by its own CBO) to have massive, crippling debt levels in 2050.

    Debt to GDP 160 % and growing.
    Budget deficit 10 % per anum and growing (do you have any fucking idea what this means? It is a disaster!)
    6,2 percent of GDP going for debt servicing, debt interest spending crowding out the rest of spending.

    In my estimates, in order to simply stop the debt from increasing , and keep it at dangerous 160 % (a financial crisis at 160 percent will be horrible and could even cripple the country if it is a large crisis), the US will have to cut 27 % of its spending. This means a 27 % Pentagon cut at 2050 will be needed. Plus Pentagon spending will have to be further decreased due to the massive debt service spending on interest.

    So the US will have to massively cut spending and will still be in very bad position.

    Thus the numbers show that under current projections China will dominate the US by the 2040s and will be indisputably bigger military power by that time. The US will be in very, very bad position.

    Moreover, demographic estimates show that the IQ of the US population will drop by 2 IQ points by 2050, thus the US population will be dumber. And since it is mostly young people in the military, it means that the US military will be a majority minority by 2050. Do you think that 90 IQ hispanics (the predominant young population by 2050) would make good soldiers? No.

    Have you seen the military test scores for hispanic soldiers? The difference between white and hispanic soldiers on the Air Force AFOQT qualification test, as well as on the military ASVAB test is 0,8 SD (12 IQ points). This is massive, massive difference.

    How the fuck will the US military be able to operate with such soldiers?

    All of these numbers simply show a significant decline coming for the US military.

  31. Godfree Roberts says

    Gillian Tett at FT writes, “Last week, Beth Hammack, a senior Goldman Sachs banker who chairs a US government advisory group known as the Treasury Bond Advisory Committee, dispatched a letter to Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, with a bombshell at the bottom.

    According to TBAC calculations, America will need to sell an eye-popping $12tn of bonds in the coming decade, sharply more than it did in the past 10 years.

    This will “pose a unique challenge for the Treasury”, Ms Hammack warned, even “without factoring in the possibility of a recession”. In plain English, the Wall Street luminaries on the committee were asking who on earth — or in global finance — will buy this looming mountain of Treasuries?

    The question is highly timely, if not ironic, given that Mr Mnuchin is heading to Beijing for yet another round of US-China trade talks. In recent decades China has been a reliable source of demand for American debt, as the country amassed vast defensive foreign exchange reserves and its export boom left it with dollars to invest.

    But now a shift is in the air: between May and November last year, China’s holdings of US Treasuries quietly shrank from $1.18tn to $1.12tn, well below the levels seen just three years ago, when China’s holdings topped $1.25tn”.

  32. But he allowed Goering to take charge of the air arm. A disaster.

  33. “Quantum computing” is still 10-20 years away. And may not be possible at all for fundamental reasons ( ) or engineering reasons ( )

    Saying anyone is “ahead” is just wrong-headed.

    Meanwhile, a niche called “post-quantum cryptography” is working on public-key crypto that is impervious to cracking by quantum computing ( ) and for cracking symmetric encryption schemes, the quantum computer nonuseful (same as it is nonuseful for solving NP-hard problems in polynomial time in general)

    And quantum crypto may be hot but it’s also nonuseful:

    Yes, I know that quantum key distribution is a potential replacement for public-key cryptography. But come on — does anyone expect a system that requires specialized communications hardware and cables to be useful for anything but niche applications? The future is mobile, always-on, embedded computing devices. Any security for those will necessarily be software only.

  34. the israelis have some of the best infantry and armor stuff in the world for small time battles, because they fight constant infantry and armor battles.


  35. reiner Tor says

    I think he meant they use tanks in urban warfare against lightly armed forces hiding in buildings. This is very dangerous for tanks designed for WW3, because they can be hit from above where the armor is the thinnest and weakest.

  36. Dominating the South China Sea would not be a sensible priority for China. They may try to give the impression that they regard it as crucial, so that the US thinks it is thwarting China, but such is not the case. If for the sake of argument they were planning to wage an aggressive war starting in a decade they would not be spending on a Tirpitz Plan.

    The French financed building of railways across Russia, especially Siberia, is what inspired Halford Makinder. China’s Keynesian funded infrastructure projects (including the One Belt Road) have so far kept their economy growing and many countries are dependent on China avoiding a bursting of their bubble, yet continued growth and drawing on the resources of the World- Island through the 3,000km Power of Siberia gas pipeline ect is going to make China the most powerful country in the world. So the economic interests of the West, Russia, and India are opposed to their defence-geopolitical interests. China’s defence, economic, international diplomatic and domestic political interests are as one.

  37. They do not just try to give the impression.
    Dominating the SCS has been a Chinese goal for many decades.

  38. The US Navy can sail about, but in a war they would be kept well away from China believe me. China already dominates Taiwan and about a dozen years ago threatened to invade if it declared independence. When the US tried to deter China by threatening (presumably tactical) nuke use China made a thinly veiled threat about its capacity to hit the continental US with a thermonuclear ICBM. More recently China threatened to invade Taiwan if a US warship paid an official visit there.

    It would be nice for China to have peace and quiet in its back yard South China Sea, but they have other priorities like industrial espionage (put Nortel out of business and replaced as world no1 with a Chinese company). The South China Sea is a way for the US to annoy and retaliate against China for its use of N. Korea. Trade talks and Chinese fear of US economic disengagement are at the back of the tensions over NKorea and Tiawan. Xi need not worry, too many Western economies are counting on China as the engine of world growth.