China Has World’s Largest Navy With 355 Ships and Counting, Says Pentagon

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Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning underway. PLAN Photo

China has the biggest maritime force on the globe with an inventory of about 355 vessels, according to a Defense Department report released Wednesday.

With 355 ships in its fleet, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is slated to expand its inventory to 420 ships within the next four years, the Pentagon’s annual China military report estimates. By 2030, the PLAN is expected to have 460 ships.

The 355 estimation accounts for “major surface combatants, submarines, aircraft carriers, ocean-going amphibious ships, mine warfare ships, and fleet auxiliaries,” according to the report, which covers events in 2020.

“This figure does not include 85 patrol combatants and craft that carry anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). … Much of this growth will be in major surface combatants,” the report reads.

The report, which is mandated by Congress each year, describes China’s navy as having growing ambitions to operate with more versatile platforms beyond the Indo-Pacific region.

“Towards the PRC’s goal of building a ‘strong and modernized naval force,’ the PLAN is an increasingly modern and flexible force that has focused on replacing its previous generations of platforms that had limited capabilities in favor of larger, modern multi-role combatants,” the report reads. “As of 2020, the PLAN is largely composed of modern multi-role platforms featuring advanced anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors. The PLAN is also emphasizing maritime joint operations and joint integration within the PLA. This modernization aligns with the PRC’s growing emphasis on the maritime domain and increasing demands for the PLAN to operate at greater distances from China.”

This week’s release of the Pentagon report comes amid heightened tensions between China and Taiwan. Last month, China flew dozens of its aircraft in international airspace near Taiwan.