China is rapidly building a world-class military to secure its status as an emerging global power—and the preeminent power in the Indo-Pacific region. During the past decade, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has increased activities and engagement in Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Pacific, Middle East, and Arctic.
Since the mid-1990s, the PLAN has bought 12 Russian-built Kilo-class diesel-electric (SS) boats. Chinese shipyards have delivered 13 SSs, 17 air-independent-propulsion attack submarines, 6 SSNs, and 4 SSBNs. Construction of China’s next-generation SSBN will likely begin in the early 2020s. Estimates have the Chinese sub force leveling off at 70 boats.
robust surface warship programs are delivering new-design guided-missile cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and corvettes. This will significantly upgrade the PLAN’s air-defense, anti-ship, and antisubmarine capabilities. Various weapons are in service or development, including lasers, supersonic antiship cruise missiles, and hypersonic missiles.
China Coast Guard (CCG)
Working closely with the PLAN, the CCG has more than 130 large patrol ships for maritime rights protection and sovereignty enforcement missions—the largest coast guard in the world.
The People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia
A subset of China’s national militia, this armed reserve force of civilians available for mobilization is organized under the PLA. The militia routinely plays major roles in coercive, short-of-war activities in the South China Sea.
The PLAN Marine Corps (PLANMC)
Just a few years ago, PLANMC topped out at two brigades and about 10,000 personnel. By 2020, the expanding PLANMC will comprise seven brigades with more than 30,000 marines, and it will embrace expeditionary operations well beyond China’s maritime borders. It operates five large amphibious transport docks (LPDs), with three more under construction or outfitting. The PLAN will continue building LPDs while working on a larger, new-design amphibious assault ship that can embark helicopters or drones and PLANMC forces.
Sources: Department of Defense Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019. Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities–Background and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, August 2018.