In a report updated just this month, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said the Chinese Navy is seen as posing a significant challenge to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain wartime control of the deep waters of the Western Pacific. The report analyzes multiple purposes for China’s naval modernization, including responding to the situation in Taiwan with military means if necessary, and the U.S. Congress needs to consider whether the U.S. Navy is responding appropriately to China’s naval modernization efforts, and the decisions Congress makes on this issue could affect U.S. and allied security, naval capabilities and funding needs, and the defense industrial base.
The Congressional Research Service, which is part of the U.S. Congress, said in a July 1 update on China’s naval modernization and its impact on U.S. naval capabilities that the Chinese Navy, which has been modernizing for 25 years, has become a formidable military force in China’s offshore regions and is conducting increasing operations in waters farther out, including the vast waters of the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and waters surrounding Europe.
“The Chinese Navy is seen as posing a significant challenge to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain wartime control of the deep waters of the Western Pacific, the first such challenge to the U.S. Navy since the end of the Cold War, and a key element in China’s challenge to the United States’ longstanding position as the leading military power in the Western Pacific,” the report’s summary said.
The report, authored by Ronald O’Rourke, a naval affairs expert with the Congressional Research Service, said China’s military modernization efforts, including its naval modernization efforts, have become a top concern for U.S. defense planning and budgeting in an era of resurgent great power competition.
The report analyzes China’s naval modernization for multiple purposes, including a military response to the situation in Taiwan.
“China’s military modernization efforts, including its naval modernization efforts, are seen as aimed at developing the capabilities necessary to respond militarily to the situation in Taiwan; achieving greater control or dominance in China’s offshore areas, particularly the South China Sea; reinforcing China’s perception that it has the right to regulate foreign in its 200-mile maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ) military activities; defend China’s commercial maritime lines of communication (SLOC), particularly those connecting China to the Persian Gulf; displace U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and maintain China’s position as a major regional power and a world power,” the report said.
The report mentions that some observers believe China wants its navy to serve as part of China’s anti-access/area denial force, a force that could deter U.S. intervention in a conflict over Taiwan or other issues in China’s offshore areas, or failing that, delay the arrival of intervening U.S. forces or reduce their effectiveness.
In recent times, China has increased its military pressure on Taiwan, sending military aircraft to encroach on Taiwan’s airspace. Some even fear that Beijing may seize Taiwan by force in the near future. To counter this possibility, the United States and Japan have recently held secret military exercises and joint military training.
This report mentions that in recent years, the U.S. Navy has taken a number of actions in response to China’s naval modernization, including deploying a larger percentage of its fleet, as well as its most advanced ships, aircraft and best personnel, to the Pacific; maintaining or enhancing its military presence in the region; enhancing training and exercises; engaging and cooperating with allies and other navies in the Indo-Pacific region; expanding the size of its planned navy; initiating, increased or accelerated numerous programs to develop new military technologies and acquire new ships, aircraft, and unmanned vehicles and weapons; and began developing new operational concepts to counter China’s maritime anti-access/area denial forces.
Addressing the overall balance of U.S. and Chinese naval power, the report says that U.S. and other observers generally agree that while the United States has more naval capabilities overall today, China’s naval modernization efforts since the 1990s have significantly eroded U.S. dominance. If the current trend line of U.S.-China naval capabilities remains unchanged, China “could eventually equal or even surpass the United States” in overall naval capability.
The report says some observers fear that China has already equaled or even surpassed the United States in terms of current U.S.-China naval power in the South China Sea. It quotes U.S. Navy Adm. Philip Davidson (D-Mass.), who told a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing on April 17, 2018, that “in every scenario other than war with the United States, China now has the ability to control the South China Sea.”
The Congressional Research Service said that in response to the report, Congress will want to consider whether the U.S. Navy is responding appropriately to China’s naval modernization efforts, and that decisions reached by Congress on the issue could affect U.S. and allied security, naval capabilities and funding needs, and the defense industrial base.
The Congressional Research Service, which specializes in providing policy and legal analysis to committees and members of the U.S. House and Senate, issued a similar report in January of this year. It also published a report on a general overview of the Chinese military.