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1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (88 sites): The National Interest: China Could Have More Submarines Than the U.S. Navy

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Peter Suciu

Security, Asia

But is that a reason for concern?

In March, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report warned that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) could overtake the United States Navy in the total number of submarines. The PLAN’s submarine force could surpass the U.S. Navy’s by 2030, but the bigger concern is Beijing’s overall naval modernization efforts.

China surpassed the United States in terms of the largest navy, and the PLAN could have newer and far more deadly submarines, which could replace its fleet of aging Russian-built Kilo-class submarines. Yet, even those Cold War era boats pose a threat. The Kilo-class lacks the virtually unlimited endurance of the United States Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines, but the diesel-electric boats can still run for forty-five days and have a range of 12,000 km. Moreover, the compact size has made the Russian-built submarines ideal for operations in the waters of the South China and East China Seas—and it easy to see why Taiwan has seen the boats as such a credible threat as well.

Now newer and more capable submarines are being developed. The CRS report noted, “China has been steadily modernizing its submarine force, and most of its submarines are now built to relatively modern Chinese and Russian designs. Qualitatively, China’s newest submarines might not be as capable as Russia’s newest submarines, but compared to China’s earlier submarines, which were built to antiquated designs, its newer submarines are much more capable.”

The March report also stated that the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) projected that China’s submarine force will grow from a total of sixty-six boats (four SSBNs, seven SSNs, and fifty-five SSs) in 2020 to seventy-six boats (eight SSBNs, thirteen SSNs, and fifty-five SSs) in 2030.

The U.S. Navy has already announced that it will seek to maintain its edge, and this month the Office of Chief of Naval Operations released its “Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels.” It called for efforts to be stepped up in the size of the submarine fleet, including continued “funds for the Block V multi-year procurement (MYP) FY2019 to FY2023 for 10 Virginia class submarines, 9 with Virginia Payload Modules (VPM) while adjusting funding for up to a 12 ship MYP for Block VI. As discussed in Section VII of this report, analysis is ongoing to reach the goal of more consistently procuring three SSNs per year. Additionally $1.7B was added FY2022-24 for shipyard facilitation to enable increased production of SSNs to three per year.” reported that the U.S. Navy’s sub force will grow from seventy in 2022 to ninety-two in 2051—however, there could also be a “dip in numbers” as older boats are decommissioned faster than their replacements could be built. The low-point be between 2025 and 2030, and this unfortunately could coincide with Beijing’s efforts—including its investments in new construction facilities—could begin to pay off.

The United States could have an edge as it continues efforts to develop its Extra-Large Uncrewed Underwater Vehicles (XLUUVs), which could be capable of performing some of the missions currently handled by crewed submarines. America currently has the lead in the development of such technology and it is unlikely Beijing can close that gap.

Additionally, as noted, the combat potential of submarine fleet isn’t based just on the numbers. The U.S. Navy actually has fewer submarines in service today than North Korea—but numbers aren’t really the biggest consideration. It is the quality of the submarines, and the United States Navy is clearly ahead of the PLAN and most certainly light years ahead of North Korea, which will likely see its aging sub fleet reduce in numbers significantly in the coming years.

However, a final concern is that the U.S. could be spread a bit thin as it much also addresses an Russia’s increasingly aggressive submarine efforts.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Image: Reuters.

The National Interest

1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (88 sites)