Search Penny Hill Press

Monday, January 4, 2010

China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress

Ronald O'Rourke
Specialist in Naval Affairs

In the debate over future U.S. defense spending, including deliberations taking place in the current Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a key issue is how much emphasis to place on programs for countering improved Chinese military forces in coming years. Observers disagree on the issue, with some arguing that such programs should receive significant emphasis, others arguing that they should receive relatively little, and still others taking an intermediate position. The question of how much emphasis to place in U.S. defense planning on programs for countering improved Chinese military forces is of particular importance to the U.S. Navy, because many programs associated with countering improved Chinese military forces would fall within the Navy's budget.

China's naval modernization effort encompasses a broad array of weapon acquisition programs, including programs for anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs), surface-to-air missiles, mines, aircraft, submarines, destroyers and frigates, patrol craft, and amphibious ships. In addition, observers believe that China may soon begin (or already has begun) an indigenous aircraft carrier construction program. China's naval modernization effort also includes reforms and improvements in maintenance and logistics, naval doctrine, personnel quality, education, training, and exercises. Although China's naval modernization effort has substantially
improved China's naval capabilities in recent years, observers believe China's navy continues to exhibit limitations or weaknesses in several areas.

DOD and other observers believe that the near-term focus of China's military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, has been to develop military options for addressing the situation with Taiwan. Consistent with this goal, observers believe that China wants its military to be capable of acting as a so-called anti-access force—a force that can deter U.S. intervention in a conflict involving Taiwan, or failing that, delay the arrival or reduce the effectiveness of intervening U.S. naval and air forces. DOD and other observers believe that, in addition to the near-term focus on developing military options relating to Taiwan, additional goals of China's naval modernization effort include improving China's ability to do the following: assert or defend China's claims in maritime territorial disputes and China's interpretation of international laws relating freedom of navigation in exclusive economic zones (an interpretation at odds with the U.S. interpretation); protect China's sea lines of communications to the Persian Gulf, on which China relies for some of its energy imports; and assert China's status as a major world power, encourage other states in the
region to align their policies with China, and displace U.S. regional military influence.

A decision to place a relatively strong defense-planning emphasis on countering improved Chinese military forces in coming years could lead to one more of the following: increasing activities for monitoring and understanding developments in China's navy, as well as activities for measuring and better understanding operating conditions in the Western Pacific; assigning a larger percentage of the Navy to the Pacific Fleet; homeporting more of the Pacific Fleet's ships at forward locations such as Hawaii, Guam, and Japan; increasing training and exercises in operations relating to countering Chinese maritime anti-access forces,
such as antisubmarine warfare (ASW) operations; and placing a relatively strong emphasis on programs for developing and procuring highly capable ships, aircraft,and weapons.

Date of Report: December 23, 2009
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: RL33153
Price: $29.95

Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail or call us at 301-253-0881.