China’s global Navy eyeing sea control by 2030, superiority by 2049

Captain James E. Fanell (Retd)

Published : June 13, 2020, 8:54 pm | Updated : June 14, 2020, 2:13 PM

Visitors hold their mobile phones in front of exhibits showing People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning, during an exhibition on China’s achievements marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the Beijing Exhibition Center, in Beijing, China on 24 September 2019. REUTERS

I assess that the PLA Navy by 2030 will consist of a surface force of over 450 ships and a submarine force approaching 110 submarines, an almost 10% increase from my 2015 estimate. It may still be a low estimate.

In June 2018, I stood aboard the fantail of the PLA Navy guided missile frigate Binzhou in port Kiel, Germany—it was never clearer to me than at that moment that Beijing has the national will to dominate the seas.

Binzhou had been at sea for two and a half months, patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Aden, as part of China’s anti-piracy naval task force. Moored among German, British and United States warships, Binzhou stood out with its immaculate appearance. Staff, ship’s officers and crew exuded confidence and preparedness to get underway…to sea where they looked like they belonged. This contrasted sharply with my recollections from a 2004 visit aboard the destroyer Luhu in Qingdao, as well as many subsequent visits aboard Chinese warships over the course of the next 15 years.

The visit to the Binzhou, in that port halfway around the world from China, crystallized for me that in the short space of a decade and a half I had witnessed the transformation of the PLA Navy from a timid near-seas assembly of ships into a global naval force where their ships and crews were as comfortable, confident and capable mariners as were their German, British, American and Indian counterparts.

A half decade ago the conventional wisdom held that the PRC’s leaders were only focused on “domestic concerns” of regime survival. We were wrong. In hindsight it’s now clear the PRC was building a naval force intended to sail and eventually dominate the seven seas.

After 20 years of transformation, the PLA Navy operates around the world from the Baltic to the South Pacific and from the Arctic to the Antarctic. China’s naval shipbuilding continues unabated in order to support the PLA Navy’s expanding set of missions to fulfill the “China Dream” of national rejuvenation and restoration.

In 2015, I assessed there would be “a massive expansion in the size of the PLA Navy” for the period of 2015 to 2030. While that assessment essentially remains on track, there is one impediment in the strategic environment that could stymie the PRC’s maritime strategy—the Donald Trump administration. The current administration has challenged 40 years’ worth of assumptions about how to deal with the PRC. It’s definitive decision to treat the PRC as a strategic competitor, especially if combined with the deepening partnerships with our allies, may be the only chance to stop the PRC from becoming the dominant global military and naval power over the course of the next three decades.

The PRC’s naval expansion is already well advanced. Since 2008, the PLA Navy has dispatched 35 naval escort task forces through the Indian Ocean and into the Gulf of Aden, and PLA Navy ships have visited over 60 nations. According to the US Navy War College China Maritime Studies Institute, these naval escort task force deployments have provided the PLA Navy with “irreplaceable naval training” and catalyzed “the development of naval skill sets often taken for granted but absolutely critical for long-distance operations”.

In the summer of 2018, the PLA Daily announced the Chinese Navy is no longer worried about warship shortages. Not only were more warships built, but the qualities have also been improved, transforming the Chinese Navy from a green-water navy into a robust blue-water navy. They aren’t building those ships to stay in port, or even to stay in East Asia. They have been in India’s backyard for over a decade.

Perhaps no platform has received more attention than the PLA Navy’s aircraft carrier program. A decade ago, Chinese naval planners were aware of “the problem of a relatively small aggregate tonnage of naval vessels must be resolved, in order to increase the navy’s capability to confront naval hegemonies in the world”.

As of today, the PLA Navy has two operational aircraft carriers and a third under construction. Just how many aircraft carriers the PRC will build is a topic of great discussion in the PRC press. Given the PRC’s penchant for being the “biggest” or “number one”, I believe the PRC is determined to build more carriers than the US, despite their assertions of needing just six. I expect at least ten by 2049. And with this number, the people of India should expect to see PLA Navy aircraft carrier strike groups operating in the Indian Ocean in the next 1-3 years.

Another facet is the dramatic expansion of the PLA Marine Corps to 100,000 strong personnel—a tenfold increase of its Marine Corps of just a few years ago. Reporting indicates some of these new PLA Marine Corps forces will be dispatched to Gwadar, Pakistan or its new PLA Navy base in Djibouti. The growth of PLA Marine Corps personnel is necessary to keep up with the increasing number of high-end, large amphibious warships that China has acquired and is intent on building over the near term. For instance, the PLA Navy has 59 amphibious warships, including the large, modern Yuzhao-class Type 071 amphibious transport docks (LPD), that are perfectly fitted for an amphibious island campaign as they “can carry up to four of the new air cushion landing craft”, as well as “four or more helicopters, armored vehicles, and troops”.

Not content with the Yuzhao, China started building a new generation of Yushen-class Type 075 landing helicopter (LHA) amphibious assault vessels that will strengthen the Navy as it plays a more dominant role in projecting the PRC’s power overseas. Indian Naval officers can expect to see PLA Navy and Marine Corp expeditionary strike groups patrolling in the Indian Ocean within this decade.

Regarding PLA Navy submarines, between 2006 and 2013, PLA Navy submarine operations expanded into the South China and Philippine Seas and became a normalized pattern of activity. Since 2013, PLA Navy submarines have conducted regular deployments into the Indian Ocean and can be expected to be the eyes and ears for future PLA Navy aircraft carrier and expeditionary strike group operations into the Indian Ocean.

As for the number of PLA Navy submarines that can be expected in the future, given the expected increased production from a new production facility in Huludao, the PRC may be able to launch up to two SSNs and one SSBN annually, meaning the PLA Navy could have as many as 24 SSNs and 14 SSBNs by 2030. These are SSBNs that most assuredly will have missiles pointed at the United States, but also India. And while some may scoff at this estimate, recall as late as a decade ago similar doubts existed for Chinese destroyer production.

As a result of the past 20-year trajectory in PRC naval construction, the PRC’s expressed desire and ability to continue to increase its spending on naval shipbuilding, the cost advantages its shipbuilding industry enjoys compared to foreign naval shipyards, and Chinese shipbuilders continued trend of indigenous technical mastery of complex designs and systems integration, I assess the PLA Navy will surpass the combined number of US Navy and Indian Navy warships as early as 2030.

Specifically, I assess that the PLA Navy by 2030 will consist of a surface force of over 450 ships and a submarine force approaching 110 submarines, an almost 10% increase from my 2015 estimate. It may still be a low estimate. The most notable feature of our China assessments is that all of our misjudgements have been in the same direction—underestimating China’s rise in military aggressiveness and capabilities—perfectly fitting the definition of systematic error. The most accurate predictions of the PLA Navy are derived from an in-depth and consistent observation of what the PLA Navy is actually building and where their ships and submarines are actually operating.

So then, what does the future hold for the PLA Navy in the far seas? All indicators point to a global naval presence, first to the Indian Ocean, and then beyond. A future similar to what the world witnessed in the South and East China Seas over the past decade as PLA Navy forces bullied and intimidated weaker nations to comply with Beijing’s dictates.

Given the PLA Navy’s operational and naval construction trajectory, the PRC’s overall economic strength, the PLA Navy’s decade long experience operating in the far seas, and its established track record of intimidating neighbours to forfeit their coastal state rights to China, we can also assess the PRC is on track to able to achieve sea control in the global maritime commons as early as 2030, and potentially even sea superiority by 2049, and it will use its power for the expansion of China’s interests at the expense of others. A global PLA Navy will increasingly threaten US, India and allied interests abroad, increasing, not decreasing the risk of major power war.

It is popular to say that conflict with China is not inevitable. Of course, it’s not. However, the likelihood of conflict will not be wished away by platitudes and more unconstrained engagement. The best option to avert future conflict is for the US and India to adopt a combined effort to significantly enhance our whole of government approach to strengthen and integrate our military capabilities to confront the PRC’s bad behaviour, especially at sea.

Captain James E. Fanell (Retd) was the Director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the US Pacific Fleet.

Source: “China’s global Navy eyeing sea control by 2030, superiority by 2049”

Note: This is’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

15 Comments on “China’s global Navy eyeing sea control by 2030, superiority by 2049”

  1. Steve says:

    Talking about bad behaviours especialy at sea, another US F-15 just crashed into North sea off Yorkshire coast.


    • Good bye China says:

      They train hard. When you train and fight hard there are bound to be accidents and mistakes.


      • Joseph says:

        There have bound to be accidents? That’s the purpose of the training, isn’t it? To eliminate accidents, not to make it a habit and excuse for having accidents. Practice make perfect, not to make excuse for clumsiness. The Chinese only do this for less than a decade, and when one J-15 crashed. One! And the Western media made a celebration out of it. Yet, they pretend to make it normal for the Westerners to crash aircraft, and they have been training hard for decades. If they are really training hard, then their training is wasted, for they do not understand why they are training.
        It should be disputed that the American fight ‘hard’. It is common for the Westerners to praise themselves. But according to the accounts of those to fight along the Americans, it should be the opposite. The Americans do not fight hard, they run away hard. According to the Iraqi commanders, the Americans ran at the sight of incoming ISIS, abandoning their Iraqi soldiers to be taken prisoner in the confusion, and executed. The Iranian general also expressed similar disdain, quoting that the American soldiers should wear dresses, to slow down their runnings. And the American killed him. He was so certain that no American soldier would even dare to try to kill him that he disregarded American penchant for cowardice to use drones from afar. It doesn’t matter if the American think they fight hard and train hard, for in reality they train clumsy and fight even clumsier. There would be accidents and mistakes. That’s to be expected. Let’s just hope, when it those accidents and mistakes happen, it is the American who pay the price for the clumsiness, and not everybody else like those Iraqi soldiers massacred by the ISIS


        • Peter says:

          There are so many gay serving in US armies now, how to fight because these gay are half-women (having the emotion of women) & half-men (no longer having the nature of real men).


      • Steve says:

        It’s the engine, stupid.! Nothing to do with pilot training hard.

        Bill Clinton famously said it’s the economy, stupid. No matter how hard economists work N train, when a nation’s economy collapses, the economist collapse with it.

        In the past month, a f35 N f22 crashed. Why.? It’s engine failure, stupid. Add in the latest crash f15C, that makes it 3 in a row.

        Goodbye Beetle


    • Joseph says:

      For the very least, that F-15 was still flying before it crashed. Indonesian F-16s piloted by American Lockheed-Martin pilots crashed upon delivery in 2016. And they were just finished being ‘refurbished’ at the cost of $121 million, more expensive that the cost of brand new F-35. To appease the Indonesian who refuses to accept more free F-16 ‘gifts’ with the condition of those expensive ‘refurbishment’ and ‘modernization’, the American offered, perhaps coerced the Indonesian to buy the F-35 instead, to avoid refund on the undelivered ‘refurbished’ F-16s. Given the experience that the Japanese F-35 crashed all the same. Although Indonesian American-controled media promotes F-35 heavily, the Indonesian may choose the proven Su-35. For one they do not crash, and they scare the hell out of American aircraft carrier prowling Indonesian waters, with the last to be that 2017 photo show on Indonesia’s Krakatoa Island instead of obeying Trump’s order to dispatch to North Korea. But Indonesia might have to accept the F-35s, the other choice would be to accept overcharged ‘non-lethal’ option of supplies that they coerced Pakistan to accept when the American reneged on the F-16 deal to Pakistan in the 1990s. $1 billion worth of overcharged military uniform, yeah right. Ever wonder why Pakistan is so close to China now? They are still resenting the American from those F-16 turned military uniform deals. Pakistan is not actually a rich country that they could throw away $1 billion for ‘non-lethal’ American supplies that they do not even need. And the American media often talked nonsense about China’s debt traps to build facilities and nuclear reactors in Pakistan. Even if it is really ‘debt traps’, could it be worse than $1 billion military uniform? Facilities benefit the people. Who could benefit from $1 billion military uniform? The American suppliers, of course. Just another American business model. It sure is different from the Chinese, or any other people.


      • Steve says:

        Currently, the 3 US aircraft carriers patrolling the IndoPacific via SCS, it’s just a show of vanity. China’ s DF21D, DF26 will sink those bathtubs. US are more concerned with hegemonial politics by deployment of military assets.


        • Joseph says:

          Do those aircraft carriers have aircraft onboard? Without aircraft, the aircraft carriers are just armed barges, hardly threatening.


  2. johnleecan says:

    “as comfortable, confident and capable mariners as were their German, British, American and Indian counterparts”

    As I were just starting to read this distorted and biased article against China and the above statement appeared, I knew it was going to use India as a pawn to counter and contain China, to constantly instill fear to the Indian government, to let India shoulder some or most of the cost to contain China, and if ever there would be a conflict, it would first sacrifice Indian lives instead of American lives who lives halfway across the world. All the while the Americans would be watching gleefully that the false flag that they planned had successfully started the conflict.

    China’s building their military and navy is just to defend themselves against American aggression. This American and the west aggression should already be evident in what they have been doing for centuries against colored people and continuing up to this day.

    The statement of including the Indians as capable mariners is just to patronize and use the Indians. The west would never include colored people as among their group because racism is very much endorsed and practiced by the western governments.


    • Joseph says:

      As ‘capable’ as the Indian? Capable of what? Running away? For weeks since 5 May the Indian made a noise on the mountain about making war with China. They were talking big for the Western media, while refusing to China’s call for talk to defuse the situation. Then just days after Chinese IFVs rolling in to the border on 3 June, suddenly they are eager to talk? China should keep those IFVs on the border, on the plain sight of the Indian, as a warning of what they are going to face when they are talking nonsense about ‘making war’ again.
      It is actually a strange way for Indian navy to show that they are ‘capable’. Their only operational aircraft carrier caught fire to cause a lieutenant commander dead, their indigenous aircraft carrier got their computers mugged after they left it unattended for 10 years, they lost their $3 billion dollars submarine because they forgot to close the hatch while diving, and they got their frigate tipped over while on the dry dock. And this is ‘capable’? What is the definition of incapable then? Perhaps they should add having their warships to be sodomized by cargo ships to make them as ‘capable’ as the American, but there is no way they are as capable as the Chinese.


  3. Simon says:

    America is a shit stirrer. About a decade ago America kept on goading China to take up global responsibility to send naval patrol to the Gulf of Aden against pirates much against Chinese reluctant. Eventually China relented and immediately America started monitoring Chinese navy movement there and rasing alarm bells about Chinese naval threat in the region.


  4. Steve says:

    Captain Fanell’s report or assessment of China’s PLAN is quite favourable except for the last sentence ‘PRC’s bad behaviour especially at sea,’ … should read ‘PRC’s strategic ploy., especially at sea.’


    • Joseph says:

      ‘Bad behavior’? Why don’t this Captain Fanell describe American bad behaviors at sea, which can be described as Derek Chauvin at sea, ever ready to knee George Floyd. They chokeheld Hawaii into submission, they chokeheld the Spaniards at Phillipines the Philippines itself. Does China ever do those kinds of thing? The precise comparison of China’s ‘bad behavior’ is actually closer to responding road rage at sea, which at best can only be described as standing up to provocations rather than ‘bad behavior’. The American actually tried to chokehold China on their illegal ‘policing’ of the South China Sea. But China is no George Floyd. This ‘George Floyd’ can actually stand up to the likes of ‘Derek Chauvin’ at sea. In the end the American can only do their ‘road rage’ in the form of their childish FONOP. It is what actually happens between China and America on the South China sea, Derek Chauvin doing road rage to George Floyd after failing to chokehold him. Only, China is not the George Floyd type, and America just refuse to admit because its Derek Chauvin style superiority-without-gut ego is very wounded.


  5. More Yellow Peril, FuManchu type scare mongering, what else to Expect from western media.?


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