China has surpassed the US Navy in terms of the total number of warships. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), also informally referred to as the Chinese Navy, has hit a landmark of 300 ships, which is thirteen ships more than the US Navy. While this might sound imposing, only having a higher number of ships doesn’t really say a lot about your naval capabilities. In comparison to the Chinese fleet, the American fleet is quite bigger on a ship-by-ship basis. It has eleven nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and about an equal number of amphibious assault ships to hold its own against China.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ China Power project has carried out a detailed analysis of the People’s Liberation Army Navy versus various other navies of the world. With 300 warship hulls, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is definitely the biggest navy in the world. The 300 warship hulls include cruisers, destroyers, aircraft carriers, corvettes, amphibious assault ships, and submarines. According to CSIS, the Chinese Navy has more ships than ‘Germany, India, Spain, and the United Kingdom’ combined.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy has a total of 23 destroyers, 37 corvettes, 59 frigates, thus bringing the total of surface ships to 119. It has 76 submarines that include diesel-electric attack submarines, ballistic missile submarines that are equipped with long-range nuclear missiles, and nuclear-powered attack submarines. However, the Chinese Navy has focused on surface ships that are not considered suitable for expeditionary warfare. For instance, the corvettes, including Jingado-class Type 056 is a small and lightly armed ship that can be used for showing flag and hunting submarines close to China’s coastline. The Jiangkai-II class Type 054A frigate is a bit bigger but still cannot be used for the defense of a carrier battle group. These two ships account for 1/3rd of the Chinese naval forces.
The US Navy has a lesser number of ships as compared to the People’s Liberation Army Navy; it does enjoy a higher ship tonnage by quite an appreciable margin. America’s ships weigh in at about three million tons more than China’s ships. Put simply; an average US warship is considerably larger than China’s warship, thus making them more capable of sailing away from home and more effective in carrying out the assigned tasks.
Chine has made use of its supercharged economy for increasing its defense expenditure by double digits for over twenty years, and it is still not over. China commissioned a total of 18 warships in 2016 and 14 in 2017 whereas the US only commissioned five ships in 2016, and only eight ships in 2017. China is now working on broadening its lead in hulls while also developing more larger-platform ships to its naval forces. If China keeps at it, it will be able to match the US Navy within a few decades.