China added three new warships to its naval fleet last week amid rising challenges from the US-led QUAD bloc in the Indo-Pacific region.
On the 72nd anniversary of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) on April 23, a new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, a guided-missile cruiser, and an amphibious helicopter carrier were inducted into the service.
In the last decade, China has been very assertive about its territorial sovereignty. Its demarcation of the South China Sea — the nine-dash line — is not supported by any international legal framework and intrudes into the sovereignty of other states.
In response, the QUAD, an informal alliance of Australia, India, Japan, and the US, have committed themselves to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
For China, the naval might is important to lay its claim. The latest additions include the Type 075 (Yushen-class) amphibious assault ship Hainan, the Type 055 (Renhai-class) guided-missile cruiser Dalian, and the Type 094 (Jin-class) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine Changzheng-18, which were launched by Xi Jinping in a ceremony last week.
Since Xi began his military modernization program with massive investments in shipyards and technology in 2015, China has become the largest navy in the world. But despite these efforts, PLA Major General Luo Yuan (retired) has stated that the US and Russian navies are more advanced than PLAN. The quantitative growth has not filled the qualitative gap.
For example, China’s submarine fleet is inferior to the American one. China now has six nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines with the addition of the latest Changzheng-18 last Friday. But the US has 14 such submarines, each of which can carry double the ballistic missiles than that of the Chinese capacity.
But in some areas, it is catching up. The Dalian, the second Type 055 cruiser, launched last Friday is comparable to the US Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers. The former’s phased array radar is similar to that of Ticonderoga’s Aegis combat system.
China also boasts superiority in some aspects. Shi Hong, executive chief editor of the Chinese magazine, Shipborne Weapons told the state-owned Global Times that China’s Type 05 amphibious assault vehicle onboard the Type 075 is more advanced than the US’ AAV-7 because the Chinese vehicle is three times faster in water than its US counterpart.
According to the Global Times, China’s first Type 075 amphibious assault ship will carry multiple types of helicopters including those for assault, transport and reconnaissance, which include Z-20 and Z-8 helicopters and helicopter drones.
While launching these new warships, China is still working on upgrades. It is currently constructing Type 096 ballistic missile submarines armed with JL-3 sub-launched ballistic missile as an improvement to the current Type 094 with its JL-2 missiles.
Even if PLAN is able to reach the level of the US Navy, the latter is supported by the navies of its QUAD allies. The Chinese navy, thus, might find it difficult to dominate in its surrounding waters.