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U.S.

-China Economic and Security Review Commission Staff Research Backgrounder August 26, 2013

China’s Naval Modernization and Implications for the United States
by Craig Murray Senior Policy Analyst, Military and Security Affairs Andrew Berglund Research Fellow, Military and Security Affairs and Kimberly Hsu Policy Analyst, Military and Security Affairs

Disclaimer: This paper is the product of professional research performed by staff of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, and was prepared at the request of the Commission to support its deliberations. Posting of the report to the Commission’s website is intended to promote greater public understanding of the issues addressed by the Commission in its ongoing assessment of U.S.-China economic relations and their implications for U.S. security, as mandated by Public Law 106-398 and Public Law 108-7. However, the public release of this document does not necessarily imply an endorsement by the Commission, any individual Commissioner, or the Commission’s other professional staff, of the views or conclusions expressed in this staff research report.

research and development.S.Executive Summary In the late 1980s. particularly U. China’s interests expanded beyond the country’s territorial boundaries in the late 1970s and early 1980 as China’s economy grew and threat perceptions evolved. Offshore Defense is a flexible concept that the PLA Navy updates as necessary to incorporate its growing capabilities and force restructuring.3 China’s Naval Strategy China’s naval modernization is guided by an overarching strategy. Offshore Defense seeks to achieve the following strategic objectives: In this report.2 In 2004. However. platforms. not quantitative growth. Beijing issued a directive to the PLA to prepare for nontraditional missions beyond China’s immediate periphery. defend against a foreign amphibious invasion. In Beijing’s view. China’s increasingly advanced and adaptive naval capabilities – many of which appear to be designed to restrict U. freedom of action throughout the Western Pacific – could undermine U. portray China as a responsible player on the world stage. these missions are essential to China’s development because they help extend China’s global influence. Trends in China’s defense spending. if necessary. and shipbuilding suggest the PLA Navy will continue to modernize through at least 2020.S. the PLA Navy was a coastal force comprised of large numbers of low capability platforms. long-range. and centered on improving its ability to strike opposing ships at sea and operate at greater distances from the Chinese mainland. humanitarian assistance. This led Beijing to accelerate its naval modernization and to focus on developing capabilities to counter foreign intervention in Chinese affairs. deployment of two aircraft carrier battle groups during the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995-96 – demonstrated to Beijing that the United States might be willing to intervene in a regional conflict involving China and could do so effectively. and support international stability. precision strikes in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and the U. lessons learned from exercises and training. and counterterrorism. including international peacekeeping operations. * 2 . The PLA Navy has made significant progress. Its primary mission was supporting the army’s efforts to deter and. which Chinese documents refer to as Offshore Defense (jinhai fangyu). interests and security in the region.S. particularly since the late 1990s. China began a modernization program to transform the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy from a coastal force into a technologically-advanced regional navy. it is able to conduct high intensity operations in China’s immediate periphery and carry out low intensity operations around the world. China’s acquisition of platforms. and systems has emphasized qualitative improvements.S. weapons. and systems that are designed for use in the maritime domain. “naval modernization” refers to the modernization of the PLA Navy. Today. Linking China’s economic and strategic interests abroad to the PLA created a requirement for the PLA Navy to be able to project power on a limited basis. 1 Events of the 1990s – including the success of U. naval and air operations in a Taiwan contingency. as well as to the modernization of other Chinese weapons.S. This incentivized Beijing to pay more attention to the maritime domain and to build a modern navy capable of playing a larger role in China’s national security. and the most recent high-level guidance and threat assessments. Drivers of China’s Naval Modernization* For over 30 years following the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) establishment in 1949.

Offshore Defense emphasizes gaining control of China’s near seas † and steadily expanding China’s maritime perimeter out to the Second Island Chain. and information fusion The primary objectives of China’s nuclear deterrence strategy are to deter nuclear and conventional attacks. and South China Sea. Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2013 (Washington. Deter and defend China against foreign military intervention in Chinese affairs. navigation satellites. ** C4ISR refers to command. analysts agree the PLA Navy will continue to focus on China’s near seas and will not soon develop capabilities for persistent global power projection.” reflecting its perception that such operations are reactive. data links.S. U. and more regular and robust military missions other than war.‡ During wartime.* Deter and defend against threats to China’s maritime trade routes.5 The U. intelligence collection systems. the Mariana Islands. sovereignty. Department of Defense. Deter and reverse any moves by Taiwan toward de jure independence. East China Sea. survive a nuclear attack and conduct a nuclear counterstrike.6 There are indications Beijing is considering a new naval strategy. The major difference between Offshore Defense and Distant Sea Defense is that the latter envisions the PLA Navy conducting longer-range surface and submarine patrols.” China. and resources. overwhelming those forces as they approach China. and strengthen China’s global image.800 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland. DC: 2013). prevent an adversary from using the threat of nuclear weapons to coerce China or compel it to back down. most U. Whether or not China continues to adhere to Offshore Defense or adopts a new strategy. the strategy calls for engaging opposing naval forces as far from the Chinese coast as possible and.7 Select Elements of China’s Naval Modernization C4ISR** China is deploying a new generation of C4ISR systems and networks.4      During peacetime. ‡ The Second Island Chain refers to a line that stretches from the Kurile Islands through Japan. if necessary. however. the Bonin Islands. * 3 . 29-31. such as peacetime foreign military operations near China that Beijing judges threaten its interests and foreign amphibious invasions. Develop a sea-based nuclear force to support Beijing’s nuclear deterrence strategy. blockades. East China Sea. and South China Sea. § China typically describes its “distant seas” as waters that are outside of the Yellow Sea. It encompasses maritime areas out to approximately 1. uses the term “counterintervention. control. including communications networks. computers. should deterrence fail. defense of more distant maritime trade routes. the Caroline Islands. intelligence. and strikes against the Chinese mainland. Deter and defend against challenges to China’s maritime territory. and reconnaissance. The most important wartime task is to prevent foreign military forces from interfering with China’s wartime objectives. pp. communications.§ to provide a better framework for the PLA Navy to pursue the greater range and complexities of its expanding roles and missions. and Indonesia.S. † China usually defines its “near seas” as waters within the Yellow Sea.S. often referred to as Distant Sea Defense (yuanhai fangwei). Department of Defense (DoD) characterizes these operations as “anti-access/area denial. Annual Report to Congress on China’s Military Power. Protect China’s interests abroad. surveillance.

MD: 2009). Aircraft Carriers In 2012. development. surface combatants. China also is developing an indigenous supersonic ASCM.S. The DF-21D. which has a range exceeding 810 nautical miles (nm). China’s ASCM and SAM research. the YJ-82 (65 nm). These C4ISR capabilities will be the key factor in the PLA’s ability to coordinate operations within and among its ground.and ground-based LACMs and ballistic missiles. throughout the Western Pacific. naval.12 The JL-2.S. provides Beijing with the ability to threaten large surface ships. and the YJ-8A (65 nm). Department of Defense. and production has accelerated since the early 2000s. China also has deployed multiple classes of surfaceto-air missiles (SAMs) on its modern destroyers and frigates. such as the SS-N-22 (130 nm) and the SS-N-27 (120 nm). and lethality of the PLA Navy’s nuclear deterrent. The JIN SSBN/JL-2 weapon system will have a range of approximately 4. as well Chinese SAMs. Office of Naval Intelligence. mobility. China commissioned its first aircraft carrier. lethality. and conduct time-sensitive. 6.and surfacelaunched land attack cruise missiles (LACMs).S.14 China also is developing its next generation SSBN. p. such as the YJ-62 (150 nm). U. enhancing Beijing’s flexibility for attacking land targets throughout the Western Pacific and beyond. allowing the PLA Navy to target the continental United States from China’s littoral waters . U.13 China has deployed three JIN SSBNs and plans to field as many as five by 2020. These include Russian ASCMs. it currently does not have the ability to strike land targets. stealth. such as the SA-N-20 (80 nm) and the SA-N-7 (12-20 nm). These include Russian SAMs. and employment flexibility. after approximately six years of renovation work on the Ukrainian-built hull and one year of sea trials. and aircraft) and to land-based units along the Chinese coast. However. as well as Chinese ASCMs. such as U. the Type 096. Annual Report to Congress on China’s Military Power. the YJ-83 (95 nm). when mated with the PLA Navy’s JIN nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). A future sea-based LACM will complement the PLA’s air. 23. The PLA Navy operates one nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN)/submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) weapon system with the XIA-class SSBN and the JL-1 SLBM. will give China its first credible* sea-based nuclear deterrent. the LIAONING aircraft carrier (CV).systems. such as the HHQ-9 (55 nm) and the HHQ-16 (20-40 nm). * 4 . long-range strikes with its ballistic and cruise missiles. Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2013 (Washington. the PLA Navy recently began to develop submarine. Navy aircraft carriers. DC: May 2013).S.8 Antiship Ballistic Missiles In 2010. the status of this weapon system is unclear. detect and track foreign military activities throughout the Western Pacific.9 Cruise Missiles China has fielded multiple classes of antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs) aboard the PLA Navy’s growing inventory of mobile launch platforms (submarines. and future missiles will have longer ranges and enhanced survivability. and the U. China is fielding additional DF-21Ds and may be developing a variant capable of reaching ships at longer ranges.000 nm.10 Although the PLA Navy has a significant inventory of ASCMs. However. China deployed the DF-21D antiship ballistic missile (ASBM). and missile forces.15 which probably will improve the range. p.11 Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarines China’s JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) likely will reach initial operational capability by late 2013. air. The People’s Liberation Army: A Modern Navy with Chinese Characteristics (Suitland. Department of Defense does not consider it to be a credible threat.

some of which will include an air-independent power (AIP) system that allows for extended duration operations.24 In 2012. the PLA Navy commissioned two new YUZHAO amphibious transport docks (LPD). more than any other country in the world except for the United States. the PLA Navy had large numbers of antiquated and low-capability submarines and coastal patrol boats. The PLA Navy since then has shed many of its legacy units and acquired – through a combination of indigenous development and Russian acquisition – more stealthy and lethal submarines and larger and more capable surface combatants.20 This carrier could become operational before 2020. The YUZHAO LPD can carry a mix of air-cushion landing craft. This provides the PLA Navy with enhanced flexibility for a range of missions.19 the first of which appears to be under construction at Shanghai’s Changxing Island Shipyard . including airborne early warning. and counterpiracy.18 China likely intends to follow the LIAONING CV with at least two domestically produced hulls. 23 China’s growing inventory of nuclear and conventional submarines will significantly enhance China’s ability to strike opposing surface ships throughout the Western Pacific and to protect future nuclear deterrent patrols and aircraft carrier task groups. and humanitarian assistance. by 2018.21 Submarine and Surface Forces In 1990. while the PLA Navy’s total number of submarines and surface ships declined from 1990 to 2010. and counterpiracy. China is developing two new classes of nuclear submarines – the Type 095 guided-missile attack submarine (SSGN) and the Type 096 SSBN – and may jointly develop four advanced conventional submarines with Russia. such as defense of distant maritime trade routes. 17 A fully operational LIAONING CV with an attached air wing will allow Beijing to project more air power against less advanced navies in the region and improve the PLA Navy’s ability to conduct a range of missions. Furthermore. such as amphibious assault. China continues to steadily increase its inventory of modern submarines and surface combatants.16 Officially classified as a research and training vessel. China also continues serial production of the JIANGKAI II guided-missile frigate. China may build additional YUZHAO LPDs and plans to introduce a new landing helicopter assault ship.22  In 2012. China began building four “improved variants” of its SHANG nuclear attack submarine (SSN). China also continues production of the YUAN conventional submarine. Thus. the LIAONING CV will serve largely to build the PLA Navy’s proficiency in aircraft carrier operations until the navy develops a carrier aviation capability in 2015 or later. and marines. amphibious armored vehicles. as well as large amphibious ships and logistics ships. Most of these units will be available by 2015. humanitarian assistance.26   5 . South China Sea. China launched two new classes of naval combatants – the LUYANG III guidedmissile destroyer (DDG) and the JIANGDAO corvette – and resumed construction of the LUYANG II DDG after a brief hiatus. called the Type 081. and the JIN SSBN (discussed above). the force experienced significant qualitative improvements over this timeframe. China is building at least seven major classes of submarines and surface ships simultaneously. East China Sea. and Western Pacific and to fulfill the PLA Navy’s growing missions in China’s distant seas. bringing its total number of LPDs to three. humanitarian assistance. The PLA Navy’s expanding and modernizing surface force will improve Beijing’s ability to project power in the Taiwan Strait. helicopters.The prestige and political value of China’s aircraft car rier program currently outweigh its military utility.25 In 2012. command and control.

S. Total Numbers Type 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 Diesel Attack 88 43 60 51 54 57-62 Nuclear Attack 4 5 5 6 6 6-8 Nuclear Ballistic 1 1 1 2 3 3-5 Total 93 49 66 59 63 66-75 2020 59-64 6-9 4-5 69-78 Sources: Numbers from 1990 to 1995 are based on information from various editions of The International Institute for Strategic Studies.S. The Military Balance.”28 Figure 1: PLA Navy Submarine Orders-of-Battle 1990-2020. U.S. DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies. “…by 2015. 2013. 2013). U.S. pp.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. barring a U. Suitland. it is possible that China will become the world’s leading military shipbuilder in terms of numbers of submarines. PLA Navy Orders of Battle 2000-2020. 2013. June 24. bringing its total number of AORs from five to seven..S. Office of Naval Intelligence. reprinted in Anthony H. Modern submarines are those able to employ submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles or antiship cruise missiles. U. Cordesman et al. * 6 . MD. 2013. reprinted in Anthony H. Figure 2: PLA Navy Submarine Orders-of-Battle 1990-2020. China added two upgraded FUCHI auxiliary replenishment oilers (AORs) to its fleet. surface combatants and other naval surface vessels produced per year… [and] with respect to overall shipbuilding. 2013). Numbers from 2000 to 2010 and projections for 2015 and 2020 were provided by the U. DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies. written response to request for information provided to the U. Suitland. Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: A Western Perspective (Washington. PLA Navy Orders of Battle 2000-2020. Cordesman et al. MD. Office of Naval Intelligence.S. China will likely be second globally in numbers of large warships built and commissioned since the Cold War’s end… by 2020.S.S. PLA Navy Orders of Battle 2000-2020. Office of Naval Intelligence.. In 2013. Approximate percentages from 2000 to 2010 and projections for 2015 and 2020 were provided by the U. Approximate Percent Modern* Type 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 Diesel Attack Nuclear Attack 0% 0% 0% 0% 7% 0% 40% 33% 50% 33% 70% 70% 75% 100% Sources: Approximate percentages from 1990 to 1995 are based on information from various editions of The International Institute for Strategic Studies.S. China will likely reach 2013 Russian technical-proficiency levels by 2020 and may even reach 2013 U. written response to request for information provided to the U. June 24.S. 157-163. pp. Suitland.27 According to China military analysts Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins . technical levels by 2030. Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: A Western Perspective (Washington.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. MD. written response to request for information provided to the U. The Military Balance. 157-163. Office of Naval Intelligence. June 24. Office of Naval Intelligence. naval renaissance. The increased number of naval support ships better equips the PLA Navy’s modern surface ships and future aircraft carriers with the means to sustain high-tempo operations at longer ranges.

Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: A Western Perspective (Washington. those subordinated to the China Coast Guard under the new structure might now be authorized to carry light weapons.S.. Figure 4: PLA Navy Surface Orders-of-Battle 1990-2020.31 Furthermore.S. June 24. PLA Navy Orders of Battle 2000-2020. Fisheries Law Enforcement Command. PLA Navy Orders of Battle 2000-2020. Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: A Western Perspective (Washington. 157-163. China’s MLE force. * 7 . 157-163. China consolidated the assets of all but the Maritime Safety Administration and China Rescue and Salvage into the new China Coast Guard. Total Numbers Type 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 Aircraft Carriers 0 0 0 0 0 1 Destroyers 19 18 21 21 25 28-32 Frigates 37 37 37 43 49 52-56 Corvettes 0 0 0 0 0 20-25 Amphibious Ships 58 50 60 43 55 53-55 Coastal Patrol 215 217 100 51 85 85 (Missile) 239Total 329 322 218 158 214 254 2020 1-2 30-34 54-58 24-30 50-55 85 244264 Sources: Numbers from 1990 to 1995 are based on information from various editions of The International Institute for Strategic Studies. all with separate and sometimes overlapping missions.S. Office of Naval Intelligence. The Military Balance.S. Suitland. Approximate percentages from 2000 to 2010 and projections for 2015 and 2020 were provided by the U.. † The former six chief MLE agencies were China Maritime Surveillance. June 24. Numbers from 2000 to 2010 and projections for 2015 and 2020 were provided by the U. U. MD. The Military Balance. written response to request for information provided to the U. Office of Naval Intelligence.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. like the PLA Navy. 2013. Cordesman et al. pp.050 patrol craft and smaller boats. Most of these units will be larger and more capable than previous ones. 2013). In June 2013. and some will Modern surface ships are those able to conduct multiple missions or that have been extensively upgraded since 1992. DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies.S. and China Rescue and Salvage. Suitland.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Office of Naval Intelligence. MD. 2013. written response to request for information provided to the U.S. June 24. China officially consolidated four of these six agencies into the new China Coast Guard† in an effort to address longstanding shortcomings in its coordination of maritime policy and centralize control of China’s MLE operations . Office of Naval Intelligence.30 While most of these ships previously were unarmed.29 China’s MLE agencies altogether operate approximately 110 ocean-going ships and 1. 2013).S. pp. Maritime Law Enforcement Ships China previously had six chief Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE) agencies. written response to request for information provided to the U. PLA Navy Orders of Battle 2000-2020. reprinted in Anthony H. DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies.S. U. Cordesman et al. U. reprinted in Anthony H.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. China Coast Guard. is in the midst of a modernization program and by 2015 will introduce at least 30 new ocean-going ships and more than 100 smaller patrol boats. 2013. Office of Naval Intelligence. Maritime Safety Administration.Figure 3: PLA Navy Surface Orders-of-Battle 1990-2020. Approximate Percent Modern* Type 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 Destroyers Frigates 0% 0% 5% 8% 20% 25% 40% 35% 50% 45% 70% 70% 85% 85% Sources: Approximate percentages from 1990 to 1995 are based on information from various editions of The International Institute for Strategic Studies. Maritime Customs Service. MD. Suitland.

it will free the PLA Navy’s modern surface combatants to conduct missions farther from the Chinese mainland.S. As these reforms continue. it will be important for the United States to remain deeply engaged in the region and demonstrate that it has the capacity and resolve to actively shape – and offset – China’s growing naval capabilities.S. China accepted the U. which historically had limited the availability of trained sailors for large portions of the year due to the stringent conscription induction and training cycle. To protect and advance U. the PLA Navy now is able to maintain higher day-to-day readiness rates and conduct longer-range and more frequent. Most important.35 Implications for the United States The PLA Navy’s expanding role in military missions other than war and new willingness to operate in distant seas creates opportunities to enhance maritime cooperation between the United States and China. and systems and conducting large-scale.S. Furthermore. the PLA Navy gradually will become more proficient and confident operating its advanced weapons. freedom of action throughout the Western Pacific – could undermine U. sophisticated operations. 36 However. The United States and China already conducted their first and second bilateral counterpiracy exercises in September 2012 and August 2013. interests and security in the region.S. Beijing’s ever improving anti-access/area denial capabilities raise the costs and risks to the United States for intervention in a potential regional conflict involving China and increase the operational and fiscal commitments required by the United States to maintain open and secure access to the maritime commons in the Western Pacific.33 Personnel and Training Reforms The PLA Navy over the last decade has implemented comprehensive institutional reforms designed to raise the quality of its personnel. offer to participate in the U. Furthermore. robust. which could help to build trust between the two militaries and contribute to stronger bilateral ties.32 China’s expanding and modernizing MLE force will strengthen Beijing’s ability to maintain robust presence patrols throughout China’s claimed waters for extended periods. platforms. the PLA Navy’s rapidly advancing regional power projection capability likely boosts Beijing’s confidence in its ability to assert its maritime claims in the East China Sea and South China Sea and to respond forcefully to perceived challenges by rival claimants. respectively. At the same time. This has reduced the PLA Navy’s reliance on volunteer conscripts. MLE agencies also will continue to acquire decommissioned ships from the PLA Navy – a practice that has increased in recent years.34 Largely due to this shift.-led multilateral Rim of the Pacific exercise in 2014.have the ability to embark helicopters. China’s increasingly advanced and adaptive naval capabilities – many of which appear to be designed to restrict U.S. interests in Asia. The two countries also agreed to hold a bilateral search and rescue exercise and their first bilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise later in 2013. and realistic training. 8 . the PLA Navy has streamlined its recruitment and retention policies and expanded the size and responsibilities of its noncommissioned officer corps.

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