Thursday, September 30, 2010

China’s Naval Build-up Not Over

At a conference last summer, a respected China scholar stated flatly that the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) halted development of its submarine fleet after taking delivery of the last of its Russian-built Kilo-class diesel attack boats in 2006. From such leading indicators he concluded that Beijing can do little more than issue ‘hollow threats’ against US naval operations in Asia. And it’s ‘hyperbole’ to think the Chinese military can contest US Navy access to regional waters.Once the PLAN finishes shedding old assets, the submarine fleet will resume its upward trajectory. Estimates indicate that the navy will add 10 modern Song- and Yuan-class diesel subs by 2015 and an additional 10 by 2020. If such projections are accurate, the fleet will be 78 boats strong.

Between 2001 and 2005, the PLAN laid down six guided-missile destroyer (DDG) keels, namely two Type 051C Luzhous, two Type 052B Luyang Is, and two Type 052C Luyang IIs. DDGs represent the core of Chinese surface action groups and can screen major platforms — Russian-built Sovremenny destroyers or, eventually, aircraft carriers — against air and submarine attack.PLAN has been exploring a wide array of ship classes, combat systems, and weaponry, picking and choosing those best suited to Beijing's operational and strategic needs. China continues to lay down hulls for Type 054A Jiangkai II-class guided-missile frigates (FFGs), the most advanced ships of their type in the PLAN inventory. These FFGs are now entering service. GlobalSecurity.org projects that 12 Jiangkais will be in service by this year, 22 by 2015. 

James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara are associate professors of strategy at the Naval War College and co-authors of Red Star over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to US Maritime Strategy.

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