China and the United States military power comparison gap in the end how big (a)

After the end of the Cold War, for the past three decades, the United States was the unshakable world’s number one military power, and the huge gap in military power dramatically reduced the risk of a world war. After entering the 21st century, the Chinese Communist Party has desperately developed its military power, intending to break through the first island chain and separate itself from the United States.

The Chinese Communist Party, which ranks third in the world in military power, has openly provoked the United States; the U.S. military has also officially listed the Chinese Communist Party as its number one adversary. The closer the military power of China and the U.S. is, the more likely it is that the CCP will take the initiative to provoke war. How big is the current gap between the military power of China and the United States?

China-US Navy Comparison

In 2012, the Communist Party of China (CPC) delivered the aircraft carrier Liaoning, demonstrating its intention to build a blue navy and fight at sea. The Chinese Navy is trying to imitate the U.S. Navy by building multiple carrier fleets to compete with the U.S. for naval power.

In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense submitted a report to Congress, “China’s Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Naval Capabilities”. The report counted that the total number of ships in the Chinese Communist Navy has reached 333 over the past 15 years. The U.S. Navy’s major warships, now total 296.

U.S. Department of Defense’s Assessment

The U.S. military report points out that CCP leaders lack a clear understanding of the ultimate size and composition of the Navy; the composition differs significantly between the U.S. and Chinese navies, with the U.S. Navy having more aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines, cruisers and destroyers and the CCP Navy having more diesel attack submarines and frigates.

The report assesses the CCP Navy’s weaknesses, including a lack of joint warfare coordination, anti-submarine capabilities, long-range replenishment capabilities at sea, a large number of new recruits needing to adapt to new ships, and a lack of operational experience; the CCP Navy may also lack effective operational doctrine and tactics, and training levels may be compromised; and the CCP’s projection capabilities have improved, but the ability to influence and win battles is limited.

The report also states that the navy’s operational capabilities are increasingly dependent on shipboard electronics and software, and also include numerous factors such as sensors, weapons, command automation systems, cyber capabilities, stealth characteristics, damage control characteristics, cruise range, maximum speed, and reliability and maintainability.

The report concludes that the Chinese Communist Navy is not yet able to catch up with the U.S. Navy in terms of combined capabilities.

Aircraft Carrier Comparison

The Liaoning is an unfinished Soviet Vagrian, and the second ship, the Shandong, is still a replica; the third and fourth ships under construction are expected to increase in displacement, but will not be able to escape the replica model. The third and fourth ships under construction should increase in displacement, but it is not possible to get rid of the copycat model. The fifth ship was planned to be nuclear-powered, but it should be suspended due to technical problems.

The U.S. military currently has 10 Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, which can be maintained for about six months per ocean deployment. The CCP aircraft carriers are conventionally powered and cannot really deploy to long distances.

  1. Power problem

“The Liaoning has a full load displacement of about 60,000 tons and may accommodate 30 aircraft, including 20 to 24 fighters. “The USS Shandong has a displacement of 70,000 tons and may accommodate 40 aircraft, including 30 to 36 fighters. 003 aircraft carriers may have a displacement of 80,000 tons and are said to be equipped with electromagnetic catapults, but it is estimated that it will be difficult to solve the power problem.

U.S. aircraft carriers are nuclear-powered, with a full load displacement of 100,000 tons, can accommodate 85 to 90 aircraft, including at least 60 fixed-wing aircraft, including 48 to 60 F/A-18 Hornet attack aircraft, the latest F-35C stealth fighters have begun to be equipped; 4 to 6 EA-18G Growler electric fighters; 4 to 6 E-2C/D Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft; the rest are various anti-submarine, search and rescue The rest are various anti-submarine, search and rescue, special mission helicopters and transport aircraft.

The U.S. Army’s Nimitz-class carriers are equipped with four steam catapults, which can eject a fighter aircraft every 20 seconds at the fastest rate, and the carriers’ nuclear reactors support the large amount of energy required for steam catapults. China’s conventionally powered carriers are unable to provide large amounts of energy and cannot be equipped with catapults, so aircraft can only take off from the sliding jump deck, which limits the weight of the aircraft on board and makes lift-off less efficient.

Nuclear power technology determines the basic combat capability of Chinese and U.S. aircraft carriers. The latest U.S. Ford-class carriers have adopted many new technologies and automation equipment, such as electromagnetic catapults, and have reduced their crews from 3,500 to 2,600, and from over 5,000 to 4,000 with the addition of aviation personnel.

The Chinese aircraft carrier “Shandong” has only about 70% of the displacement of the U.S. carriers and less than half of the number of aircraft on board, carrying about 5,000 people, which shows the level of equipment.

  1. Carrier Aircraft

The U.S. F/A-18 Hornet has been famous for a long time. The Chinese J-15 carrier aircraft imitated the Soviet Su-33, which was too heavy to take off with full fuel and ammunition, and could only refuel with each other after takeoff, severely limiting its operational range and capability. The J-15 is not actually in mass production, and the Chinese Communist Party has no other options.

The U.S. carrier has a full range of carrier aircraft, but the Chinese carrier basically does not have a naval early warning aircraft, electric warfare aircraft, defense capabilities become a short board, other auxiliary aircraft are also limited, comprehensive capabilities are clearly lacking.

The Chinese Communist Party is temporarily unable to master the nuclear power technology and does not have suitable carrier aircraft, so the carrier warfare capability will not be able to catch up with the United States for a longer period of time.

The U.S. Army’s Burke class destroyer USS Lawrence (DDG-110). (U.S. Navy)

The U.S. Navy’s SHIELD vs. the Chinese destroyers

The U.S. carrier escort fleet includes at least one Ticonderoga-class cruiser, two to three Burke-class destroyers, and two to three submarines, forming a complete offensive and defensive system. The Chinese Communist Party’s escort fleet is still in the process of figuring out.

  1. SHIELD vs. 055 Destroyer

The U.S. Army has 22 Ticonderoga-class cruisers and 69 Burke-class destroyers in service, all equipped with the SHIELD combat system, which can integrate the anti-submarine, anti-ship, anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons of surface ships for unified management and operations.

The Ticonderoga-class cruisers displace 9,800 tons and are equipped with 122 missile tubes; the Burke-class destroyers displace 8,315 to 9,800 tons and are equipped with 90 to 96 missile tubes. The SHIELD ships all carry Tomahawk surface-to-surface cruise missiles, Standard surface-to-air missiles, Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles, anti-submarine guided rockets and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The newest Jowat-class destroyer, at 15,995 tons, is currently the world’s largest destroyer, fitted with more advanced automation equipment and a significantly reduced crew, with three ships already built.

China’s newest destroyer, the Type 055, with an estimated displacement of about 12,500 tons, has three in service; it has 112 missile tubes and can carry anti-aircraft, anti-ship, and ground attack missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes.

The 055 is equivalent to an expanded version of the 052D destroyer, more closely modeled after the U.S. Army’s Burke class destroyers, with the biggest differences supposedly being radar, combat systems, and missile interception capabilities.

The CCP’s shipboard radar is claimed to be comparable to the U.S. military’s, but the actual detection range, sensitivity and reliability are feared to be greatly reduced; the CCP also claims that the combat system is comparable to the U.S. military’s S.H.I.E.L.D. system, but no verification results have been shown, both of which are key to naval warfare, whether offensive or defensive.

U.S. SHIELD ships have demonstrated missile interception several times, including against the CCP’s Dongfeng-26 and Dongfeng-21 medium-range ballistic missiles.

The biggest weakness of the CCP destroyers should be their lack of missile interception capability. The CCP’s missile interceptor system is still imported from Russia and attempted to be copied; there should be no mature medium- or long-range missile interceptor capability on the destroyer, only Red Flag air defense missiles that mimic the U.S. Rams missiles, and a near-compression intensive array of fast guns. Proximity interception is possible.

Another major deficiency of the CCP destroyer is its anti-submarine capability. Whether it is anti-submarine sonar, combat systems, or anti-submarine weapons, the CCP has a large gap, not to mention no experience in anti-submarine warfare, or even knowledge of how to train, to deal with U.S. submarine attacks. The anti-missile and anti-submarine capabilities of Chinese destroyers have major deficiencies, and they have difficulty defending themselves, so they may have difficulty escorting aircraft carriers.

  1. Other Destroyers

The 055 destroyer, formerly known as the 052D, with 17 ships in service, is the main destroyer of the CCP, with a displacement of 7,500 tons and 64 launch tubes.

The 052 destroyer was initially built on a trial basis with two ships of 4,800 tons displacement; the 052B was built on a trial basis with two more ships; and the 052C was built with six ships with 48 vertical launch tubes and only anti-aircraft missiles and anti-ship missiles. None of these trial products were mass-produced. The Chinese Communist destroyer started from Type 051, and had a trial production of 1 Type 051B and 2 Type 051C, which were not successful. After importing four modern-class destroyers from Russia, the CCP also tried to imitate them, but did not continue, and eventually imitated the U.S. Navy SHIELD.

The Chinese Communist Navy’s major surface warships, both large and medium, are far from the U.S. Navy in quantity and quality.

Submarine Comparison

All U.S. submarines are nuclear-powered, and the CCP is also working hard to develop and produce nuclear-powered submarines, but the gap is also large.

  1. Strategic Nuclear Submarines

The Ohio-class nuclear submarine is the mainstay of the U.S. nuclear strike force, carrying more than half of all active U.S. nuclear warheads, with 18 ever built. After the Cold War, the U.S. retained only 14, and the remaining four were converted to attack submarines. The Ohio-class submarines are 18,750 tons in displacement and each is equipped with 24 Trident II missiles, each carrying 8 to 12 nuclear warheads with a range of more than 12,000 kilometers; they are deployed on a rotating basis around the world and are ready to launch nuclear counterattacks.

China has seven strategic nuclear submarines, two Type 094s and five Type 094As, including one experimental version. The latest model should have a displacement of more than 10,000 tons for the first time; it is said to carry an improved version of the CHIRON-2A missile with an increased range of 10,500 km, or a CHIRON-3 missile with a longer range. The previous model carried 12 Chiron-2 missiles with a range of 7,200 kilometers. The CCP relies more heavily on land-based ballistic missiles for its nuclear weapons.

China has half as many strategic nuclear submarines as the United States, but its submarine-launched missiles have limited range and would need to travel deeper into the Pacific Ocean via the South China Sea to threaten the United States. Therefore, the South China Sea is also an area where China and the U.S. must fight, and the U.S. military needs to monitor the South China Sea at all times. The noise level of CCP submarines should not be able to evade the U.S. military’s anti-submarine detection.

  1. Attack submarines

The U.S. attack submarines, 19 of the Virginia class, have a displacement of 7,900-10,200 tons and are equipped with 12 missile tubes and 4 torpedo tubes, which can carry Tomahawk ground attack missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and can also carry special operations forces and unmanned water downloaders. The former Los Angeles-class submarines have 28 in service; three of the quietest Seawolf-class submarines can carry up to 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles or Harpoon missiles. four Ohio-class missile submarines, each carrying 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, can also carry 66 special operations personnel.

The CCP has eight nuclear-powered attack submarines, Types 093, 093A, and 093B/G, with a displacement of about 7,000 tons, and three earlier Type 091s of about 5,500 tons.

The CCP has more conventional-powered attack submarines, including 12 of the 3,076-ton Kilo class purchased from Russia, 12 of the copied 039A/B type, and 13 of the smaller 2,250-ton 039(G) type, which are used primarily for offshore defense. The remainder were the earlier 2,114-ton 035B and 035G types. The CCP’s copied torpedoes failed to be battle-proven.

Most of the CCP’s attack submarines are difficult to operate far out at sea, are noisy and easily detected. Whether it is submarine warfare or ASW, the Chinese Communist Navy’s equipment and experience cannot be compared to that of the U.S. Navy.

The U.S. Navy’s Wasp-class amphibious assault ships are also the subject of imitation by the CCP’s latest Type 075 amphibious assault ships. (U.S. Navy)

Comparison of amphibious assault ships

The U.S. Navy has two American-class amphibious assault ships and seven Wasp-class amphibious assault ships, both with a displacement of over 40,000 tons, capable of transporting nearly 2,000 Marines and carrying air cushion landing craft, mechanized landing craft, amphibious combat vehicles, tanks, howitzers and other support vehicles. The standard mix of aircraft is six F-35B stealth fighters and 24 other types of helicopters; the attack mix is more than 22 V-22 Fish Hawk tilt-rotor helicopters, which can quickly drop troops in the air; the sea control mix is 20 F-35B stealth fighters and six helicopters, transforming into a light aircraft carrier.

China’s Type 075 amphibious assault ship, which has just been commissioned, is estimated to have a displacement of 40,000 tons and should imitate the U.S. amphibious assault ship. The 075 is limited to landings because it does not have short takeoff and landing aircraft. The Chinese have also attempted to imitate the U.S. military’s use of helicopters to drop troops in the air, but the copycat helicopters may not pass muster.

The U.S. Army also has 11 San Antonio-class amphibious dock landing ships, displacing 25,300 tons; eight similar ships of the Whidbey Island class are in service; and four ships of the Ferry class.

The CCP has five Type 071 amphibious landing ships with an estimated displacement of 25,000 tons, which should imitate the U.S. San Antonio-class dock landing ships; there are also 15 Type 072A landing ships, four Type 072II, and 11 Type 072III landing ships with a displacement of 4,800 tons but with limited capacity. The CCP’s amphibious landing capability is inadequate, and a forceful attack on Taiwan should remain on the lips.

Comparison of small and medium-sized warships

The U.S. military has 10 littoral combat ships (LCS) of the Freedom class and 11 of the Independence class, with an eye on future distributed and rapid combat concepts; displacement of over 3,000 tons, high-speed stealth warships of 47-50 knots (87-93 km/h); highly automated equipment; equipped with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, etc., as well as high-energy laser weapons; capable of rapid conversion between anti-submarine, mine, surface and special warfare mission modules, achieving multifunctionality.

The Chinese Communist Navy has 30 Type 054A frigates with a displacement of 4,053 tons, modeled after the French Lafayette-class cruisers; two Type 054s with a displacement of 3,900 tons. Other anti-ship missile speedboats, 22 Type 056, 50 Type 056A, 22 Type 056, displacing 1,440 tons, and 8 of each of the earlier Type 053, displacing about 2,000 tons.

These Chinese communist warships mainly carry varying numbers of anti-ship missiles for offshore defense operations and have little defense capability of their own, including more than eighty small missile boats. The U.S. military reports an increase in the number of Chinese naval vessels, more of which are small and medium-sized warships.

The U.S. military’s Littoral Combat Ships, which can be used for both coastal defense and ocean-going operations, have been deployed several times on patrols in the Western Pacific and South China Sea.


The U.S. Navy is the largest implementer of a global strategy that moves the defense line forward, defends the enemy beyond its borders, and can readily respond to regional military conflicts. The U.S. fleet can be resupplied at military bases around the world, or in allied ports or through a large number of supply ships, ensuring continuous deterrence and operational capability. The U.S. Navy’s operational experience and training subjects have been referred to and emulated by various countries.

The U.S. Navy also has a significant advantage with approximately 3,900 aircraft of all types, which constitute a powerful air intelligence, early warning, control, command and operations system.

The Chinese navy has tried to transform from near-shore defense to ocean-going operations, but the quality performance and quantity of equipment cannot yet compete with the U.S. military, and it is even difficult to balance both offensive and defensive ends.

The U.S. Department of Defense report says that over the next five to 15 years, if the two sides maintain their current trajectory, U.S. dominance could fade; the United States could still prevail in almost any region, but could suffer unprecedented losses. In certain regional contingencies, Chinese Communist forces may be able to achieve limited objectives, but they will not defeat U.S. forces. (To be continued)