This article originally appeared in Popular Mechanics on September 6, 2022.
By Kyle Mizokami.
China’s navy could nearly double in just eight years, resulting in a vastly more capable naval force than the one it fields today. Given the right spending priorities, Beijing could build at least two more aircraft carriers and four more ballistic missile submarines, based on a model of China’s defense budget by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Other outside analysts warn the results are highly contingent on the health of a rapidly cooling Chinese economy.
CSBA used an online tool it created, “The China Strategic Choices Tool,” to model how the Chinese government might fund its ongoing military expansion until the year 2030. The tool assumes regular defense spending growth of 3 percent and allows users to make certain strategic choices—say, defund the People’s Liberation Army Ground Forces (army) to fund the People’s Liberation Army Navy (navy). From there, a user could prioritize planes over ships, aircraft carriers over other surface combatants, and nuclear over conventional weapons.
CSBA’s analysts concluded that China could afford to increase its carrier fleet from three to a total of five by 2030, and its number of cruisers and destroyers from 36 to 60. It could also increase the number of Type-094 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines from six to ten. Total tonnage, or the total weight of ships of the Chinese Navy, would increase from today’s 1.3 million tons to approximately two million tons.
The U.S. Navy, on the other hand, has six aircraft carriers in the Pacific Fleet, and 50 cruisers and destroyers. It also has eight nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. This total does not include ships serving in the Atlantic Fleet. The U.S. Navy’s total tonnage worldwide is about 4.5 million tons.
Craig Hooper, a principal at the Themistocles Advisory Group, tells Popular Mechanics it’s important to keep China’s fleet in perspective. “The five carriers, if produced, seem to be relatively in line with other assessments of Chinese military growth. Those five CVNs [nuclear aircraft carriers] would—if built—face not only U.S. carriers, but Japanese and South Korean carriers, as well as new French and U.K. carriers too, so, as far as military balance goes, I don’t see it changing a ton.”
Source: Popular Mechanics