Tracking China’s Naval Power

It is pretty evident that Chinese naval power is growing by leaps and bounds, with a lot of qualitative literature about it:

There have been fewer articles looking at the quantitative side of things, though NextBigFuture does point out that PLAN is slated to overtake USN in warship numbers by 2030.

However, a more accurate measure of relative naval power is warship tonnage.

Now ironically, while there are plenty of these figures for the buildup to both the World Wars – at least they are commonly cited in history books – I have been much less successful at finding analogous tallies for modern navies.

For the post-1990 era, this is the best I have been able to find:

Crisher, Brian Benjamin, and Mark Souva. 2014. “Power at Sea: A Naval Power Dataset, 1865–2011.International Interactions 40 (4): 602–29.

So as of 2010, China was at around 16% of the US level: 429,000 tons to 2,765,000 tons.

But it has been picking up pace since then. When your GDP doubles every eight years or so, it’s not long before you begin to see explosive growth even keeping the share of military spending constant.

According to these graphics from the IISS, in 2012-14, China constructed as many ships as the US, and twice as many in 2015-2017 (in terms of tonnage).

Note that since the US Navy is so much bigger, as well as much older on average, it will also be losing much more tonnage in terms of depreciation every year. In other words, while the US would have been standing still during this time in terms of gross tonnage, China would have added most of the ~625,000 tons it inducted during 2012-2017 to its aggregate total.

Considering a further 50,000 (?) tons of production 2011, plus whatever the figure is for 2018, we can safely conclude that Chinese warship tonnage should now be solidly above 1,000,000 tons and approaching 40% of the US level.

It would also mean that China has gone from rough naval parity with Russia around 2010 to exceeding it twice over, while also becoming much newer and more modern.

If it continues at this pace – increasing production by a mere 33% relative to 2015-17, and then leveling off at one million tons every six years – this will further double PLAN tonnage to 2 million tons by ~2024, and enable it to overtake the USN as early as the late 2020s. (Perhaps Trump’s recent boost to military spending will stave it off to 2030… big difference).

This happens to be even earlier than the original date of ~2040 that I estimated for US-Chinese naval convergence (though those estimates were not based on tonnage, but factors such as cumulative naval spending minus depreciation, and technology).

But whether the crossover point will be closer to 2030 or 2040 isn’t really all that germane. The USN is spread out all over the world; PLAN can concentrate off the Chinese seaboard, within range of its fighters, missiles, and air defense assets both on the coasts and on its artificial islands. I think that so far as any conflict over Taiwan or the Spratly Islands is concerned, we could be looking at emerging Chinese dominance as early as the mid-2020s.

No wonder that Bannon was talking about how there needs to be a war with China within the next 5 years, or 10 at the maximum. There’s not much time left for US naval dominance in the West Pacific.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. reiner Tor says

    Some naval historian on Facebook wrote that the most easy way would be to stay away from the South China Sea and instead just blockade China around Singapore. There’s not yet an obvious Chinese answer to this.

  2. Anatoly, when exactly do you think that China is going to feel sufficiently confident to make a move on Taiwan?

    I mean, it’s been crippling Taiwan by stealing its smart fractions, but so far, that does not appear to have resulted in mass Taiwanese support in favor of rejoining the mainland–which in turn leaves military force as the only way to compel Taiwan to rejoin China.

  3. This hit the U.S. media today:

    Chilling World War III ‘wargames’ show US forces crushed by Russia and China (Fox News)

    Research organization RAND has run dozens of wargames simulating major conflict scenarios in what it describes as Russia and China’s “backyards.” The wargames suggest that the U.S. forces in those locations would get attacked by a vast array of both conventional and cyber weapons.

    RAND Senior Defense Analyst David Ochmanek discussed the simulations at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in Washington D.C. last week. “In our games, where we fight China or Russia … blue gets its a** handed to it, not to put too fine a point on it,” he said, during a panel discussion. Blue denotes U.S. forces in the simulations.

    “We lost a lot of people, we lose a lot of equipment, we usually fail to achieve our objectives of preventing aggression by the adversary,” Ochmanek added during the CNAS discussion.

    Based on the wargames, a clash with Russia in the Baltic states would result in the rapid defeat of U.S. forces and their allies, Ochmanek told Fox News. “Within 48 to 72 hours, Russian forces are able to reach a capital of a Baltic state,” he said. On the other side of the world, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, while a massive military gamble for China, would also pose a huge challenge for U.S. forces in the area, according to Ochmanek.

    The insular and dry world of think-tankery is, every now and then, sensationalistically magnified in pop media. It’s a risk to fully trust someone’s summary, of course, and video of the actual event is viewable in full at the CNAS website for those inclined.

    Caveats: [1] CNAS is a neocon think tank. [2] Ochmanek, quoted here, is not an in-house CNASer but a RANDer, fwiw. [3] Just because the event is at CNAS does not necessarily mean one can/should wave any/all of the analysis away as neocon fluffery, or something.

    Here is the punchline:

    “For a sustained investment of an additional $8 billion a year between 2020 and 2030, the U.S. Air Force could buy the kit needed to make a difference,” he said, noting that similar sums would be required for the Army and Navy.

    $24 billion/year (8 a piece for each the three named branches, every year) in additional military spending to guarantee U.S. dominance in the Pacific through 2030?

    The total, public U.S. military budget for 2020 is $750B. Thus that +$24B suggestion seems small enough it might just end up in future budgets.

    (Tragic coincidence: $24B is also the estimated sum, in full, for the full-scale U.S.-Mexico border Wall. Guaranteeing borders on the other side of the globe, of course, takes precedence: The JohnMcCainization is U.S. politics.)

  4. AquariusAnon says

    The Mainland does have 1 million Taiwanese residing there at any given time, but keep in mind that its not only the smart fractions. A lot of lower middle class Taiwanese are in the Mainland making around USD 2000 a month.

    The effect on Taiwan is not as deleterious as you would expect. There’s so many things that the Taiwanese smart fraction would require being in Taiwan to do. For example most of Taiwanese high tech manufacturing and R&D can’t simply be moved in whole to Mainland China due to multiple reasons.

  5. “The USN is spread out all over the world; Plan can concentrate off the Chinese seabord,,,”

    Perhaps we can learn something from the Chinese. Like using our military to actually defend our country.

    “There’s not much time left for US naval dominance of the western Pacific”.

    And this is a bad thing because? Why should this area of the world, thousands of miles away, be of any concern to the USA?

  6. Of course with a more intelligent foreign policy neither the Baltic or Taiwan would be America’s problem. Americans defend every country but their own.

  7. The new wave of Chinese naval construction that began around 2012 is something which hasn’t been given that much attention in the west in my opinion, in particular the focus on large surface combatants. Between 2014 and 2019, a 5 year period, the Chinese launched 13 Type 052D 7,000 ton destroyers and 4 Type 055 12,000 ton destroyers, one could argue whether they should be called cruisers. In 2018 alone China launched 5 destroyers. In my estimation if the PLAN continues to acquire ships at the current rate, its destroyer fleet in numbers will equal the USN by around 2030, its submarine fleet is already larger although weaker in qualitative terms and China should also have 6 aircraft carriers by 2030, they already have 2 and 2 more will be in commission by 2025 and a further 2 will likely be built in the 2025-2030 time frame. Overall, in terms of tonnage I see convergence by around 2030 and by 2040 thew PLAN will likely be bigger then the US plus its allies in Asia.

  8. The PRC One Belt One Road project where they build a bunch of heavy freight rail and oil/gas pipelines across Central Asia and Russia is their answer. That and some pretty large stockpiles of oil, gas, and other stuff. There’s also the investments they’ve made in the Arctic Ocean shipping routes which will probably be open year long soon (thanks global warming?).

    Of course, the PRC can’t completely wean away it’s dependence on oceanic freight coming through the Suez Canal and Straits of Malacca because of economics. That being said, the land routes and Arctic Ocean route will give the PRC a little bit of breathing room (I’m thinking a year or two) before it’s forced to capitulate due to a far blockade and/or bust out the nuclear weapons.

    I think the most relevant scenario would be a Taiwan straits crisis gone hot. With the margin for error that the land based rail heads and oil/gas pipelines offer, the PRC could keep its war economy going long enough to seize Taiwan and dig in on the island hard enough that the US and allies would be forced to accept the Chinese annexation as fait accompli or escalate to nuclear weapons.

  9. Joe Stalin says
  10. Operationally, the Chinese are still well over a decade or two behind the US Navy. And it’s 3-4 times that with Naval Air Operations. With real combat experience, it’s far far worse.
    The Chinese will huddle under their missile shield, when it’s gone it’s Leyte all over again. Add in the “Silent Service” and it’s a slaughter with nowhere enough time to complete an initial invasion of Taiwan, and no established beachhead at all..
    The US Navy will take some losses, but the Chinese Navy will cease to exist. They will be able to at least withdraw enough of their air force to the interior of their country to preserve a portion of it.
    Their only option would be to escalate, and that would be suicide for their political future. If they believe a surprise EMP strike combined with cyber will give them the edge they need, they are sadly mistaken.
    They have nowhere enough C3 capability to pull of a real surprise strike, and no real capability to absorb the pre-emptive strike by US led regional forces. And they have no real judgement of the level or effectiveness of their intelligence operations, as they are centered around theft and political penetration, which US Mil Intel has always used to “bait” foreign operations.
    Surely they have learned from their Russian “Allies” that the US including parts of Western military forces have long held solely the ability to actually pull off, rather than threaten, a real surprise strike which has the capability of war winning potential. Nuclear escalation being the only real card they hold up their sleeve(s) is a poor hand to fall back on, especially when you were the aggressor party.

  11. I wouldn’t sacrifice one single American sailor for Taiwan. You seem to suffer from a case of Johm McCain syndrome.

  12. This is the answer, already functioning.

  13. They have working AA, and you do not, lol.
    Your “surprise strikes” are preceded by literal media mayhem for weeks which even deaf and blind paraplegic will notice, lol.
    Your “real combat experience” does not include other side firing back, lol.

    Murrica! Numba wan! Hurr durr!

  14. railguns

    Bleh. Missiles is where it`s actually at.

  15. anonymous says
    1. The most ambitious electric car initiative in the world to reduce imported oil
    2. Gwadar to Xinjiang railway and pipeline, the most heavily invested node of the Belt and Road Initiative
    3. Several nodes of the Belt and Road Initiative running through Eurasia (several regular rail services to Europe from central China in Chongqing are currently running)
    4. Burma pipeline
    5. Power of Siberia pipeline

    The biggest danger now is not US/allied sanctions prohibiting US and allies from shipping oil and iron ore or worse yet a military blockade to attack Chinese ships carrying commodities but sanctions prohibiting the export of microchips to China. The “Chip Wars” are now fairly well known. I believe there was even an Economist cover recently.

  16. anonymous says

    The PLA Ground Forces has seen a lot of downsizing. The number of personnel now stand at 975,000, about half of the 2 million strong PLA. Just in the last 5 years, maybe 600,000 personnel were cut from the Ground Forces (some personnel might have been transferred to a joint logistical service serving all branches).

    But despite the huge downsizing, I can’t understand why an army of 1 million men is needed. Anyone more informed on military strategy care to comment? Is there a justifiable threat or is it a misallocation of resources? There seems to be very little interest in India by the strategists. The border with India has around 40,000 military personnel on the Chinese side and no notable increase in forces despite India continuing to bring new armaments on its side of the border. India even plans to raise a 100,000 strong Mountain Corps on its side of the border if it can find the funding. So assuming little interest in turning India into an adversary, what is the purpose of a million man army? Wouldn’t 500,000 be adequate?

    Also Thor’s comment earlier should be noted. A naval buildup at this point seems like a bad idea at this relatively early stage. Chinese GDP was only 67% of US GDP in 2018.

    The naval build up will cause the other powers in Asia to see a mega threat on the horizon and turn to the US for protection at a time when China is not economically important enough to rule out such a geopolitical shift. The best chronology is to first invest in defense that isn’t as visible but adds value (e.g. anti ship cruise missiles and the air defense necessary to protect the cruise missiles). Then move on to a blue water navy. If the rapid stage of the construction of the blue water navy starts at a later point (assuming Chinese GDP reaches 125% of US GDP in 2030), the Chinese economic size might have grown large enough that it will be too hard economically for many Asian powers to tilt towards the US.

  17. TheJester says

    In the next global war (an increasing likelihood given US foreign policy and the pressure for a US “first strike), predict a quick escalation to nuclear exchanges since naval power alone cannot defeat Russia or China. In the context of nuclear war, raw naval tonnage is irrelevant as a measure of national power on all sides of the conflict.

    In efforts to avert its decline, the United States is increasingly behaving like a person wounded by mindless seizures and spasms — death throes — in a desperate attempt to forestall its inevitable death as an imperial power. It is a question of whether imminent economic collapse, a continuing immigrant invasion, another defeat in a regional war, or a nuclear exchange is the “feather that breaks the camel’s back”. Given the large number of pressing internal threats to its survival, the US ability to project regional naval power, regardless of tonnage, is an oxymoron as a contribution to US national survival.

    Hence, given the nature of its internal and external threats, the raw tonnage of its naval assets is irrelevant as a contribution to US survival or as a measure of its national power.

  18. Can somebody explain why total tonnage is so important. Surely what matters is which side has better weapons to sink the enemy ships, then the other side tonnage simply means more tonnage to land up at the bottom of the ocean.

  19. Another German Reader says

    @ everyone:

    How about the fact that the USS Fitzgerald got into an accident, because the two women in charge at that moment could not stand each other right?

    How many of the non-European officers in the US military got there due their exceptional skills, experience and not because of skin-color/having a vagina?

    The only thing that currently separates the US Navy from everyone else is currently the nuclear attack-sub fleet. Because there the personnel standard are still higher and less stuffed with diversity-officers.

    In a maritime conflict (until the mid 2030s) the USA better bet on the subs.

  20. I have been much less successful at finding analogous tallies for modern navies.

    Karlin, how about you concentrate on something you know about, instead of posting sheer amateur hodge-podge you are trying to pass here for “analysis”. Obviously explaining complications of operations by heterogeneous forces in which PLAN, for all US Navy’s legitimate failures, is not even in the same universe, is really difficult but until PLAN has respectable nuclear-powered submarine force even remotely approaching technological and operational (not speaking of numerical) experience of US Navy’s or Russia’s, all these pseudo-“scientific” points are worthless, and, in fact, grossly misleading.

    FYI. Karlin, can you stop flashing you laughable “Comprehensive Military Power” piece since this is not how it works and calculated, because understanding and accounting for operational factor is a must and, surprise-surprise, what passes in most sources you use for it is a baloney and humanities-“educated” technophiles’ delusion. So, can you please resign yourself to fields where you may at least have some clue? Or, maybe as a point try to “research” how PLAN will deal with defending its SLOC in Indian Ocean if shit hits the fan. That will be fascinating to read. No, really–I would love to, if you know what I mean;-))

  21. Another German Reader says

    But despite the huge downsizing, I can’t understand why an army of 1 million men is needed. Anyone more informed on military strategy care to comment? Is there a justifiable threat or is it a misallocation of resources?

    There is actually no big downsizing.

    In the summer 1989 the Beijing Police was not capable crushing/dispersing the protesters. There are rumours that certain army units disobeyed and refused to enter Beijing.

    Then and even today many local Chinese cops were/are not even armed – except for the standard-issue baton.

    Back then many local army-units were often called to help with rioters/event-protection/catastrophies/police-actions.

    Since the Reform Era many Ground Force units have been transfered to the People’s Armed Police. Numbering nearly 1.5 million men.

    The People’s Police itself has grown to 1.9 million men, including many SWAT/special-action units.

    Keep in mind that China needs balance: People’s Police vs People’s Armed Police vs Army Units vs Naval Infantry. Each with their separate chain of command. No chance for a coup d’etat.

    In wartime People’s Armed Police are the light infantry units tasked with defensive operations.

  22. Can somebody explain why total tonnage is so important. Surely what matters is which side has better weapons to sink the enemy ships, then the other side tonnage simply means more tonnage to land up at the bottom of the ocean.

    You are talking here about crucial operational factor (you DO have a point) which is behind overall military power. The best way to get the grasp of that is to (granted, primitively) imagine PLAN’s deployment into Indian Ocean for operations on crucial (for China) SLOCs. Without modern capable fleet of SSNs (nuclear-powered attack subs) the combat stability of PLAN’s surface component there will be approaching zero. There are also huge (legitimate) doubts about Chinese naval weapons , but that is a separate issue altogether.

  23. Operationally, the Chinese are still well over a decade or two behind the US Navy.

    Maybe even three.

  24. Your “real combat experience” does not include other side firing back, lol.

    That is very true, but experience is still there as is a powerful world-class submarine force. It may be hampered within Chinese littoral, but in ocean the game changes. Chinese know this.

  25. The teenager who “geared up” with his daddy’s credit card may actually stumble into a excellent ambush position out of dumb luck and actually figure out enough of his equipment to win a brief tactical advantage in combat. But his odds of emerging victorious against a properly trained, equipped, and experienced foe operating under team concepts long developed in actual use are essentially zero. And this is in an urban, wooded, or jungle environment.

    In the ocean, the ultimate jungle, you don’t get any second chances. There is no “dumb luck” here.
    Hi tech equipment can be more of a liability than an asset, if you haven’t already mastered the basics. Basics which take decades and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And lives.

    Some of these people seem to think the Chinese missile capabilities will dictate what the USN will and will not do. They are of course in error.
    The Chinese are about to learn that combat computing with forward sensors in the combat cloud is HARD. Or maybe they will be smart and skip the class.
    Remember Fish from Deep Impact, ” this is not a video game, son.”

    This scenario has USN personnel watering at the mouth the same way those All Pro NFL cornerbacks are salivating at the prospect of Colin Kaepernick signing with some NFL team.

    Always a pleasure to read your comments, Andrei.

  26. Data from the Military Balance shows a downsizing of almost 600,000 from the PLA Ground Forces from figures in 2014 v. 2018. A joint logistical service of 150,000 is noted in 2018 but not in 2014.

    Did the People’s Armed Police increase by 600,000 in that time?

  27. Get lost, we’ve seen your crappy pieces. You don’t have anywhere the talent that Karlin has for analysis. Also you are completely unable to separate bias for a desire outcome from analysis.

  28. If technology levels are similar, then tonnage can be compared pound to pound. For instance, Britain had a 2:1 advantage over Germany in total tonnage during WW1. This made the large German naval expansion before the war largely null and void, even though German Dreadnoughts were newer and better, because the Brits had the preponderance to keep the Kaiserliche Marine bottled up while still having plenty of naval assets left over to keep things in check in their colonial empire.

    I suspect it is a largely similar situation today. While China might be behind in a few naval technologies (mostly just nuclear subs and aircraft carriers), not only are they rapidly catching up but their fleet, on average, is also much newer than the USN, which should also count for something.

  29. parlaphonerevolver1980 says

    It’s so cute when “Call of Duty” heroes such as yourself expound upon the–ahem– “art of war”. It’s almost as if you actually believe you are something other than a passive observer, like most of the world’s population, to momentum in history.

    I bet the attendees at your fantasy Naval War College are all agog when you take to the podium.

  30. Thorfinnsson says

    There’s a better case for America containing China than there is for us containing Russia.

    This map indicates why:

    If China succeeds in taking Taiwan and vassalizing Japan, then it becomes feasible for China to project power into the Eastern Pacific (i.e. the American West Coast).

    That said, it doesn’t automatically follow from this that our current strategic posture is optimal. Unlike China, our coasts are wide open and don’t offer many basing opportunities for adversaries.

  31. … has respectable nuclear-powered submarine force even remotely approaching technological and operational

    Rapidly getting there (as Kimppis has demonstrated in previous debates with you), and in any case China is already world-class competitive in diesel subs, which would be just as relevant within the first island chain (i.e. the likeliest locus of any near-term to medium-term Sino-American conflict).

    Or, maybe as a point try to “research” how PLAN will deal with defending its SLOC in Indian Ocean if shit hits the fan.

    I think I quite explicitly said that the mid-2020s is when China should acquire preponderance off Taiwan and/or the Spratly Islands.
    RAND would seem to agree, if we are project their 2017 assessment forwards:

    Acquiring blue-ocean dominance is a project for the 2030s. Obviously, there is not much China can do about the US blocking off the Strait of Malacca either now, or even in 2029. But this, too, will change. China plans to build a thousand Xian Y-20 planes; this will increase its strategic airlift capacity by more than an order of magnitude, leapfrogging both Russia and even US capabilities. In tandem with its exploding naval strength, its lead over the US in integrating railguns with its ships (which offer vastly greater bombardment intensity and range relative to conventional naval artillery), it should acquire the capability to kick the US out of the Malacca Strait by 2040.

  32. Of course, the PRC can’t completely wean away it’s dependence on oceanic freight coming through the Suez Canal and Straits of Malacca because of economics. That being said, the land routes and Arctic Ocean route will give the PRC a little bit of breathing room (I’m thinking a year or two) before it’s forced to capitulate due to a far blockade and/or bust out the nuclear weapons.

    While predicting any war is very difficult, I don’t see how even an indefinite American blockade could bring China to its knees.

    The CPC’s approval rating is 90% as it is, there is going to be a surge of patriotism, and increased repression during wartime. So, internal revolution – highly unlikely.

    Economic growth will stutter to a halt, of course, but it will get by. Fuel for motorists will be strongly rationed (as it was everywhere in WW2, even the oil rich US). It produces most of its food, and Russia will fill any gaps. Ergo for fertilizer. China produces plenty of coal on its own; nuclear capacity could be massively stepped up (Kazakhstan or again Russia can supply the raw material). What exactly would make it capitulate? [Short of Russia actually deciding to blockade it as well, for whatever reason].

    The one thing it will be crazy to do is bust out the nukes. It will only scratch the US but cripple its own civilization.

  33. Incidentally, one amusing consequence of a serious Sino-American war, especially over Taiwan, could be that Moore’s Law would grind to a complete halt for a decade or so.

    Chip fabs are incredibly expensive, sensitive to instability, and dependent on ever increasing centralization and economies of scale to continue innovating:'s%20Law

  34. Rapidly getting there (as Kimppis has demonstrated in previous debates with you), and

    Who is Kimppis, and what did he demonstrate?

    RAND would seem to agree, if we are project their 2017 assessment forwards:

    Most “projections” by RAND are as reliable as Wall Street predictions. As an example , Mr. Ochmanek (who specializes in Air Power for decades for RAND) relatively recently produced yet another RAND “study” which is not funny to professionally criticize since it is dramatically unprofessional and wishful thinking typical RANDian product–it is like arguing with a 6-year old kindergarten kid who states that his daddy has a laser gun and knows Superman. Today, two years after that “study” Mr. Ochmanek suddenly sings totally different song. But that is beyond the point. Here is the point:

    Acquiring blue-ocean dominance is a project for the 2030s.

    Until China produces nuclear-powered submarine force which can compete with the US Navy’s, any talk about “blue-water dominance” is for amateurs and fanboys because on outside looking impressive PLAN’s surface component will be nothing but “target rich environment” for a world-class and strongest submarine force in the world today–that of the US Navy. Per purely technological aspect of it–China lags almost two (more like 1.5) generations in nuclear submarines behind US and Russia. This is not going to happen in a foreseeable future. In this case. this:

    I think I quite explicitly said that the mid-2020s is when China should acquire preponderance off Taiwan and/or the Spratly Islands.

    Is rather irrelevant to my explicit point that China is not now nor will be a competitor to US Navy on ocean SLOCs aka Blue-water capability) way into the 203os, maybe even 2040s. It is simple fact of life. That is why China is so happy to partake in Northern Sea Route where US Navy’s threat drops precipitously due to Russia’s infrastructure there, including but not limited to heterogeneous forces of Russia’s Northern Fleet. PLAN’s problems with carrier aviation are also well-publicized and known. But here the issue is not even in J-15 being a lame “copy” of SU-33, it is the fact that China simply has no decent (forget very good) carrier fighter–it is simply not there. Moreover, building carriers is just the first step in what is a complex system of deployment, operation and maintaining of credible carrier battle groups. Money cannot buy this. And then, of course, there is an issue of command corps. That, for now, I will not discuss. In 1976 Admiral Turner in his interview to Christian Science Monitor succinctly, in few phrases, delivered a foundation of (naval) strategy which is as relevant today as it was then–one either is capable to do what’s needed at any given moment or one loses. PLAN can not fight US Navy beyond its littoral and near sea zone because:

    1. It doesn’t have world-class nuclear submarine component;
    2. It doesn’t have real Blue-water capability since US NAVY (with NATO) in case (hopefully not) of real confrontation will relatively easily shut down China’s supply chains.

    To address this requires resources (economic, scientific, organizational etc.) on the order of magnitude larger than manufacturing iPhone or even a car.

  35. Another German Reader says


    Downsizing as reduction of total manpower numbers?

    Yes. Older/Less-skilled/less-trained soldiers/officers are released into the civilian sector.

    Downsizing as in disbanding/disolving unit with skills/task? (European armies after the Cold War)


    Downsizing as e.g. not converting a MiG-21/J-7 squadron to newer planes; disbanding a 3rd line infantry unit, which hasn’t any armored vehicles?


    The Chinese forces are still growing. In firepower. In mobility. In sensor-range.

    In addition the People’s Armed Police is quite well equipped – it could easily take on many other countries’ armies. Well after all it’s the only gendarmerie, which has got artillery howitzers, firefighters and geological mining-survey teams under the same roof.

  36. The one thing it will be crazy to do is bust out the nukes. It will only scratch the US but cripple its own civilization.

    Suppose the reverse scenario: It is the 2030s, and the USA is losing a conventional naval conflict with China, but it still has massive nuclear superiority (say 10-1, vs. today’s 20-1).

    Does the USA simply accept defeat? Or- given that China cannot credibly threaten to escalate to a strategic nuclear exchange- does it bust out the tactical nukes?

  37. Jim Christian says

    All I have to do is see the layout in dollars of the worthless standoff weapons represented beginning with/by carriers and their aircraft which aren’t going to work in missile environments against countries higher up the food chain than say, Iraq.

  38. China has traditionally been somewhat paranoid about its neighbors teaming up on it at once, including SE Asia, Japan, Korea, and Russia. Perhaps, it makes some sense in the context of the international force that was deployed in the Boxer Rebellion. They also have to maintain their political monopoly and that would probably require the army in addition to regular security forces.

  39. worthless standoff weapons

    They are not worthless. In fact we live in s stand-off precision guided weapons paradigm. 3M22 Zircon or Kinzhal, as an example, are classic stand-off weapons and were designed as such from the outset, so is 3M14 or X-101.

  40. Another German Reader says


    To address this requires resources (economic, scientific, organizational etc.) on the order of magnitude larger than manufacturing iPhone or even a car.

    This statement is correct.

    But unlike the USA/EU, the Chinese leadership is not significantly composed of an ethno-religous minority with questionable loyalty, who hates the state-carrying racial majority.

    But unlike the USA/EU, the Chinese leadership is not quandering away 80 billion USD per year to take care of illegal migrants, who live much better than at home, but still hate the natives, who have to work their asses off to feed those ungrateful persons.

    But unlike the USA/EU, the Chinese leadership is largely made of people, who proved themselves as competent local leaders. No vagina/skin-color-bonuses

    But unlike the USA/EU, the Chinese higher education system preserves the national heritage. China’s elite use the heritage to inspire the people to work harder for their nation’s/family’s future.

    But unlike the USA/EU, the Chinese Armed Forces keeps tight control of the borders. THIS IS THE VERY FIRST MISSION OF THE ARMED FORCES OF ANY CLAN/TRIBE/NATION. Since the stone-age.

    @ American & European soldiers: What are you fighting for?

    I do respect the late Roman legions & preatorians, but my bet is on the barbarians.

  41. anonymous says

    What percentage of the PAP are border guards and presumably the units that could support the army in a war? Doesn’t seem high. And would it be ancillary support? Do you have a source for the howitzers?

    Given the levels of capital expenditure for all branches, no doubt the PLA Ground Forces will continue to ascend in firepower. But the drift I get from your responses is that despite the cut of several hundred thousands of troops from the Ground Forces in a short time, the initiative doesn’t represent a big drop in resources allocated to the army. It doesn’t sound convincing.

  42. anonymous says

    A million man army sounds pretty unjustifiable if that is the driver. It sounds dubious the idea that a million man army is needed to hold back a populist uprising. There’s a lot of paramilitary for that function.

  43. A truly pathetic article.

    First, the author tells us what is truly the best measure for comparisons, tonnage.

    Then he tells us he can’t find any comparable data for the chart which ends in 1914. 1914!

    Then we have some weak suppose, suppose stuff.

    Then he quotes Bannon on the need for war with China. My what an authority.

  44. Most “projections” by RAND are as reliable as Wall Street predictions. As an example , Mr. Ochmanek…

    What is he saying different this time? He is saying that Russia would beat NATO in the Baltics, same as RAND said in that 2017 report. (I agree). Says that the US will have a difficult time if China was to attempt to take Taiwan, but it would be incredibly risky on China’s part, and doesn’t say China will take Taiwan. (Also agree).

    Main difference is that this time he is openly shilling for some new weapons system, as Hail mentions above.

    Who is Kimppis, and what did he demonstrate?

    Here is one debate you had with him, there were more.

    PLAN can not fight US Navy beyond its littoral and near sea zone because:

    1. It doesn’t have world-class nuclear submarine component;
    2. It doesn’t have real Blue-water capability since US NAVY (with NATO) in case (hopefully not) of real confrontation will relatively easily shut down China’s supply chains.

    NONE OF WHICH I DISPUTED. At least as of The Current Year (2019).


    1. It is currently the littoral and near sea zone that’s most interesting because if China and the US fight, it will most likely be centered around there. I do not think anybody disputes US ability to blockade China from beyond the first island chain. Certainly I do not.

    2. I think China will start becoming competitive with the US in blue water capability by the 2030s, and surpass it by 2040. You do not. Cool. We’ll see.

  45. OK, I get it–West in general is degenerating fast, agree. However, unless some dramatic earth-shattering event (such as economic implosion or disintegration of the US) removes the United States as a global power from the geopolitical equation, I do not see how China can catch up in submarine development with the United States (and Russia) any time soon. Again, most US weapon systems are enormously expensive and many are dubiously effective but that doesn’t apply to US submarine force. Virginia-class SSNs are the state-of-the-art subs, they are numerous, and US Navy’s sub COs are generally (exceptions do exists anywhere) competent and aggressive. In pure nuclear sub to nuclear sub engagement between latest Chinese SSN and same Virginia-class, my bet is on the US Navy’s submarine.

  46. What is he saying different this time?

    He came up with ridiculous number of aircraft for air operation, to start with.

    Here is original:

    “Force planning” is more like wet dreaming. It took him almost 18 months to figure things out or could it be (well, it is not just could it be, but most likely is) that he knew it all along, such as that Third Offset is an artificial construct, for warmup. It was also RAND-developed “method” of accounting for geopolitical status–a complete malarkey based on grossly unreliable economic data and a complete ignoring of a real structure of military power. No surprise then to observe what we all observe today.

  47. Jason Liu says

    I’m not against a big navy, but the victory scenario for China is still simply befriending the countries in the region. Instead of fear and tensions, friendly navies from SEA countries could work with the Chinese navy, and they wouldn’t feel the need to host American presence in their countries anymore. It really is win-win-win for all sides.

    Too bad Beijing seems to think everything should be done with force or coercion, which is a path to geopolitical defeat. A threatening China just makes it more isolated and hated, and will be ganged up on all over the place. No need to invade Taiwan if Taiwan is a friendly country, independent or not. And it’s actually better to have a close state-level ally on the world stage to backup China’s voice instead of forcibly absorbing Taiwan. And don’t get me started on trying to dominate the Indian ocean.

  48. Britain almost had a Super Dreadnought for each German Dreadnought.

    The best ship the Germans had at the start of the war was a single König class launched in 1913.

    4 Nassau (280) + 4 Heligolands (280) + 5 Kaisers (305) + 1 König (305) vs 4 Orions (343) + 4 Iron Dukes (343) + 4 KGV (343). Germans did have superior protection overall, and better AP shells (until late in the war, post-Jutland) but their ships were shorter-ranged and obviously outgunned.

    By the time Germans commisioned the 4 Königs, Britain had the first Queen Elizabeth in service.

    Britain had 5 Queen Elizabeths with 4 twin 381 sooner than Germany launched 2 Bayerns of 4 twin 380 (balistically inferior) armament.

    British disaster at Jutland was due to foolishness of using ships specifically for what they were designed to avoid using their higher speed – engaging capital ships. British battlecruisers were designed for preying upon cruisers that could threaten Empires trade routes – as Battle of Falkland Islands demonstrated.
    German battlecruisers were a tuning job on their battleships – smallish proportion of armour was sacrificed, but 20% of firepower had to be chopped to give them 5 knot speed advantage while keeping the ability to stand in the main line of battle.
    However, their utility was limited – once 381 mm British ships appeared, their extra armour was inconsequential – Renown, Admiral, QE and Revenge could cripple them at any practical combat range.

  49. China built these huge coast guard cutters …12,000 tons! Unlike Navy vs Navy, size plays a role in CG vs CG confrontations. Maybe Japan, Taiwan, U.S. should have followed suit or repurposed a few destroyers. CG vs CG a good way to let off steam, won’t cause a war.

  50. The driver was the PLA Army being the dominant branch of PLA for a long time.

    While the reforms are not complete, the chapters in this book show how much has been accomplished in a relatively short period. One important judgment is that Xi and fellow PLA reformers have succeeded in forcing the military to adopt needed reforms that previous CMC Chairmen Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao were unable to push through and that the PLA could not adopt on its own. Xi’s political strategy for pushing his reform agenda through bureaucratic opposition appears to have succeeded, with the reforms breaking up the four general departments (previously described as “independent kingdoms”), reducing the institutional power of the pre-viously dominant ground forces and purging the senior PLA officer corps of many potentially disloyal and corrupt elements.

  51. Seems awfully far-fetched to me.

  52. I don’t think even the most hardened China skeptics imagine anything like Chinese military power projection as far as the West Coast of North America anytime soon at all. Maybe in some distant timeframe (late century?) in which prediction is really nothing but hazy guesswork, but certainly not within the next few decades.

    (The more serious ‘Chinese’ threat to the USA is not global-military-strategic but domestic, by which I mean elite Chinese and other Asian presence in America. Possibility of a Chinese-led Asian racial consciousness. Asians increasingly a technocratic elite, with some degree of infiltration of the U.S. ruling class, with inevitable attendant softening of national will, in a more serious manner than Mestizo lawnmowers and gardeners, and underclass types even can. It is much more serious in Australia, where the White-to-Chinese ratio may soon fall to 10-to-1 if it is not there already. Overall White-Chinese numbers in the USA are still pretty favorable at maybe 40-to-1.)

    Remember the “String of Peals”? The ‘pearls’ are directed south and then west, that is south and west of China. None of the ‘pearls’ face eastward towards U.S. holdings in the Pacific, much less the U.S. West Coast. The ‘string’ begins at Hainan (the future Chinese Norfolk/San Diego naval megabase), moves down towards Singapore by way of the South China Sea*, moves thru the Indian Ocean to be hospitably anchored with China’s only real ally on Earth (Pakistan), and then onward towards the Mideast.

      • The Communists’ silly “Nine-Dash Line,” which seems so headshakingly, recklessly, needlessly antagonistic of every single regional actor, is probably only understandable in that Chinese control thereof is so vital for the String of Pearls strategy to work.
  53. Another German Reader says

    Most readers here are not doomsayers, but there is no doubt the Western countries are in a relative decline. This decline will make it harder to maintain the superstructure needed have the upper hand/technological edge compared to China/Russia.

    There is no disagreement between us, regarding the CURRENT qualitative/quantitative superiority of the US Navy’s nuclear attack-sub fleet (augmented by the French’s /British’s units + reinforced by Western/Japanese SSK fleet).

    But with exception of Japan (which does have a certain, but contained level of degeneration) – most Western countries don’t even have the will to defend their borders. Take a look at Spain’s behaviour when a single terror-attack by jihadist led to the withdrawal from Iraq. War is just a contest of will. I’ll expect the Euros to go home as soon as 1/2 destroyers are sunked and 2 subs are lost. US will have to fight alone. It’s that Euro + US combo, that leaders in developing countries fear.

    #2: I been superficially following/reading Western mil-forums for over a decade. I still remember the shock when the first pictures of the J-20 showed up on the net. Many reasonable/respectable/informed forum-posters actually expected the Chinese to have first prototype by the late 201x – early production batch by the mid 2020s. The J-20 made its’ maiden in 2011. One squadron with the stage-one-engine is already operational.

    -> The Chinese are much open/transparent regarding infantry-equipment, land-systems (MBT, SPH etc.), aviation-systems and surface-systems, but they are very discreet regarding the sub development. It’s much harder to follow.

    #3: Capacity: Huludao – the shipyard responsible for the PLAN SSN/SSBN is currently being massively expanded. From what I understand the shipyard can CURRENTLY only build one sub at a time. But those new assembly-halls are massive. Informed forum-readers state, that Huludao could build 4 subs at the same time when expansion is finished.

    #4: Good enough: There was a recent report in German media: According to the majority of German machinery/tool-makers assess that their Chinese competitors are already nearly as good or will be as good in the next 5 years. We should not forget that the Soviet designs were quite good enough, they just lack the very top-end machinery/tools to give their subs the last polish. This won’t be the case with the Chinese.

    -> #3 and #4 combined: The Chinese will start massively gain ground in the late 2020.

    #5: American SSBN/SSN are being built in regions of the United States where the demographics are similar to 1970s/1980s United States. Good luck to Electric Boat/Newsport News in 25 years regarding finding the scientific/engineering talent and hi quality workforce.

    On the other hand from Beijjing over Danang to Jakarta the younger generation are better fed, better educated, better motivated. As a frequent busines-traveller to SEAsia I’m meeting more and more talented people even in smallvilles/provincial backwaters. Currently and in 25 years the ethnic-racial makeup of China and other East/South-East-Asian nations will still be the same.

    Just a few pictures to sum our discussion:

    Vietnamese military-owned shipyard z189 in Haiphong launches the Besant – a submarine-tender:

    Royal Australian Navy’s submarine-tender Besant and a Collins-Class submarine:

    A modified Kia Soul testing autonomous driving algorithm on FPT’s automotive-engineering campus in Hanoi. FPT (Vietnam’s largest IT company) is developing autonomous driving for an undisclosed Californian customer:

    Keep in mind Vietnam is 10/15 years behind China and only the size of a Chinese province!

    My recommendation to you:

  54. This article is an excellent summary.

    I think I will be repeating myself quite a lot…

    Who is Kimppis, and what did he demonstrate?


    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.

    You disagree, fine. We’ll see soon enough. 2025…

  55. 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.